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Archive of August 31, 2011

Catholic Charities organizes help for Irene’s victims

Burlington, Vt., Aug 31, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - As Catholic Charities agencies respond in the aftermath of the hurricane and tropical storm Irene, Bishop Salvatore R. Matano of Burlington has expressed his “prayerful support” for Vermonters suffering the storm’s effects.

With the guidance of Vermont Catholic Charities, the Church in the state is assessing the extent of the storm’s devastation to determine the particular needs of the  people, the Diocese of Burlington said on Aug. 30.

Irene dropped up to 11 inches of rain on Vermont over the weekend and caused normally small mountain streams to flood. The floodwaters smashed buildings and ripped homes from their foundations, surprising many.

As of Aug. 30, the death toll for Hurricane Irene stood at 42 people, and of that number, at least three were from Vermont.

The flooding caused by Irene has also isolated people, closing 260 roads and 30 highway bridges.

Vermont Catholic Charities has previously established a disaster relief fund and has asked for contributions to help Irene’s victims.

“Every dollar received will be distributed to those who have been adversely impacted by the storm,” the Diocese of Burlington said.

The East Coast agencies of Catholic Charities USA are assessing the damage of Hurricane Irene and are prepared to meet the food, shelter and other immediate and long-term needs of affected families and individuals.

“In many ways, we were blessed--Irene came with less intensity and impact than what we expected, but there are still thousands of people dealing with power outages, property damage, and personal loss,” Kim Burgo, vice president of the national agency’s disaster operations, said in an Aug. 30 statement.

Roger Conner, senior director of communications for Catholic Charities USA, told CNA the organization has been “very busy” in response to the storm.

He pointed out that Catholic Charities in the Virgin Islands and in Puerto Rico have already helped respond to those affected there.

The organization’s various agencies are “assessing the need and helping where we can, as we always do, in tandem with other agencies on the ground.”

Frank Morock, communications director with the Diocese of Raleigh, said the storm’s damage there was much less serious than it could have been.

However, there was “widespread flooding” in coastal areas and in some communities up to 100 miles inland. At least 18,000 homes and businesses were affected, hundreds of thousands of people have lost power, and roads have been washed out.

“Diocesan churches and schools fared well with only some minor roof leaks or flooded basements. Nothing extensive,” he said on Aug. 30.

North Carolina Catholic Charities offices are surveying parishes that experienced heavy wind and rain to determine the needs of local communities. The agencies are providing food vouchers for parishes to distribute to those in need.

National officials emphasized the organization’s longstanding commitment to those in need of assistance.

“As the nation moves on from this hurricane, and the headlines cover the next story, we cannot forget about the people that have been affected. Catholic Charities will be there to help,” Burgo said.

While Catholic Charities and organizations like the Red Cross are involved in immediate response, Conner said, Catholic Charities is “particularly well known” for providing long-term aid.

“After immediate needs are met, there tend to be a lot of ongoing needs where people’s lives are affected,” he said.

Catholic Charities USA said that its resources have been “strained” by numerous spring and summer disasters and asked people to donate to help those in need.

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Voucher movement gains traction as new school year kicks off

Washington D.C., Aug 31, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - As U.S. Catholic schools gear up for a new academic year, some have seen a spike in enrollment due to more states offering school voucher programs.

“The school choice movement has picked up during this last year and it's gained a lot of momentum,” Sr. Dale McDonald, director of Public Policy and Educational Research at the National Catholic Educational Association, told CNA in an Aug. 30 interview.

As of August 2011, 18 states as well as the District of Columbia have enacted policies that support school vouchers.

“School choice should be promoted because parents are the primary educators of their children and should have the right to choose the best school,” Sr. Dale stressed.

Although some parents have the means to send their children to their preferred school, “others are denied that choice because of their economic situation,” she pointed out.

“We've always felt that parents of low and modest income should have the kind of choices that parents of higher income have for their children.”

Sr. Dale's remarks come just months after Speaker of the House John Boehner (R–Ohio) showed his support for Catholic education and school choice.

During the week of the State of the Union Address on Jan. 26, he announced the introduction of a bill that restored funding for school vouchers in Washington, D.C. 

Although the D.C. program first received authorization in 2004 – and enabled 1,700 children to attend private schools – President Obama defunded the program in 2009.

Speaker Boehner's efforts, which included meeting personally with several Catholic education officials, were seen “not only a symbolic commitment to choice but something that was very much in demand by the parents here in D.C.,” Sr. Dale recalled.

She noted that the D.C. program set an example which other states are beginning to follow.

In April, the Indiana Legislature provided vouchers that allow low-and middle-income families to use public funds to help pay private school tuition.

The Indiana program, which is only the second statewide program in country, has enabled 240 religious schools, mostly Catholic, to enroll students with vouchers.

“The Indiana voucher program is a big one this year,” Sr. Dale said. “It's a victory that we're happy to promote.”

A victory, however, that may be short lived.

Opponents of the program recently filed a lawsuit claiming it violates the Indiana constitution's required separation of church and state, given that most of the non-public schools so far approved for the voucher program have religious affiliations.

Other states have encountered similar obstacles.

In Colorado, Denver judge Michael Martinez ordered the state’s Douglas County to immediately stop its scholarship program on Aug. 12. Judge Martinez similarly ruled that the initiative violates provisions in the state's constitution.

“I think it's a weak argument,” Sr. Dale said in response to the claim that vouchers threaten to blur the line between church and state.

“If the scholarship is given to the parents and the parents make the choice about where to go to school, then the government hasn't made the choice – it's provided parents with a check to make the choice.”

Sr. Dale likened vouchers to Medicare or other government assistance.

“When you're given a Medicare check or a Social Security check, you can spend it however you want it,” she said. “If I take my Social Security check and decide to give it all to the Church, nobody questions it – this is the same thing.”

“This is giving parents the money to make the choice,” she underscored. “Not all of these vouchers are used for religious schools. Some are independent or private schools.”

Sr. Dale said that an improved understanding of how vouchers actually work will eventually show individuals that “constitutionally, school choice can be supported.”

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Uganda's economic woes threaten to stunt growing seminaries

Kampala, Uganda, Aug 31, 2011 (CNA) - Rampant inflation and other severe economic troubles are threatening to close seminaries in Uganda, despite the growing number of priestly vocations in the country.

Monsignor Cosmas Alule, rector of Alokolum Major Seminary, said that increasing fuel prices have driven up the cost of food with staple commodities quadrupling in price over the last year.

Since August of 2010, the rate of inflation has risen from 1.7 percent to approximately 19 percent.

“We can hardly meet the costs of our basic needs, despite the fact that we grow rice, beans, maize and vegetables in our gardens in order to reduce our food costs,” he told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

Msgr. Alule said that the causes of the economic crisis in Uganda can be traced not only to widespread drought, but the costly parliamentary election campaign last February.

“The government has spent money irresponsibly for political purposes, instead of looking after the well being of the people,” he charged.

Alokolum Seminary is based in an area that has endured over 20 years of civil war between the Ugandan government and the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Although the seminary is suffering from a severe shortage of space, it has had to stop all building because materials have become increasingly expensive.

However, with 209 students expected this new academic year – 26 more than the previous year –building has become necessary.

Msgr. Alule said that the economic situation is affecting other seminaries in the east African country as well.

He also added that despite over 1,000 young men preparing for the priesthood in the country’s five seminaries last year alone, there is still a shortage of priests in many parts of the country.

Forty five percent of Uganda’s population of 33 million, he explained, is Catholic.

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Eliminating religious symbols ignores history, warns Argentinean bishop

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug 31, 2011 (CNA) - Bishop Antonio Marino of Mar de Plata, Argentina recently criticized a proposed law in Buenos Aires that would remove religious symbols from public spaces.

He said such a measure would mean ignoring the historical and cultural identity of the country.
 
In a column published in the Argentinean daily La Capital, Bishop Marino criticized the sponsor of the bill, Maria Jose Lubertino, for invoking a supposed “right to not believe.”
 
“To take seriously the proposal to eradicate religious symbols from civil institutions and public spaces would have far-reaching consequences,” the bishop said. “The consistent and systematic application of this principle which a minority is pushing for would seem to entail that in organizing a society one can ignore its past and its historical and cultural identity.  This would be the equivalent of attempting to re-build our country upon foundations that differ from the ones already in place.”
 
“We would have to change the preamble of the National Constitution in which we invoke God as ‘the source of all reason and justice.’  We would also have eliminate article 2, which establishes the Catholic Church as an institution of public right,” he added.
 
“According to the same logic that sees in religious symbols a threat to democracy and freedom, we should also change the names of innumerable cities, provinces and streets of a Christian and Catholic origin,” Bishop Marino continued.
 
He also noted that the Spanish language is filled with words and expressions that come from Christian tradition and the Bible and that therefore to adopt such a law would lead to “the denial of the history and culture of the West itself.”
 
Christianity was the spiritual force that led to a proper distinction between spiritual power and temporal power, he said, and the secularity of the State properly understood has its origins in the Christian faith.  Secularism is something different, he noted, as it seeks to marginalize God from public life and relegate Him to the realm of conscience and to the sacristy.
 
Bishop Marino concluded by questioning the so-called “right to not believe.”  “Is anyone persecuted for not believing? Should we not be speaking instead about the right to believe?  Or in order to defend the right of minorities we should attack the convictions of the majority? 

“Moreover, should our country renounce its past and its historical and cultural identity?” the bishop asked.

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Tropical Storm Irene makes modest impact on Rhode Island parishes

Providence, R.I., Aug 31, 2011 (CNA) - It won’t be remembered as the storm of the century, but Tropical Storm Irene did leave her mark on several Rhode Island parishes.

Compared to previous hurricanes and tropical storms that have roared ashore in southern New England with a damaging tidal surge and heavy rains, leaving flooding in their wake, it was Irene’s strong, gusty winds that mostly made her presence felt over the course of some eight hours Sunday, knocking out power to more than 300,000 Rhode Islanders.

While parishes along the coast had very little, if any damage to report, several inland parishes were contending with downed trees and minor structural damage Monday.

A 10-foot decorative steeple atop Our Lady of Mercy Church, East Greenwich, was toppled by the strong winds.

Providence Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans, who is in residence at the parish, reported to the pastor, Msgr. John C. Lolio that he heard squeaking noises while he was praying in the church during the height of the storm Sunday morning.

Msgr. Lolio subsequently learned that there were trees down in the nearby St. Patrick Cemetery, and others blocking streets leading to the church. At 11:30 a.m., a sexton informed him that the steeple had toppled over on the roof.

“It was worse then we thought,” said Msgr. Lolio.

But ironically, the pastor observed, the metal cross that decorates the top of the steeple was bent in such a way that it prevented the wooden structure from sliding off the roof and possibly injuring someone.

Although the church lost power at 7:45 a.m., three Masses were still celebrated Sunday morning. The power was not restored until 4:30 a.m. Monday.

“We celebrated Mass by candlelight and flashlight,” Msgr. Lolio said, noting that the 7:30 a.m. Mass was the most heavily attended, with about 200 worshipers present. The two later Masses had only a handful of participants each.

While an early forecast track last week placed the eye of the then Category 2 storm over Providence late Sunday, Irene’s actual path nudged slowly to the west as the week progressed. After brushing the Outer Banks of North Carolina Saturday as a Category 1 hurricane, Irene made a second landfall in New York City as a diminished, but still potent tropical storm, with hurricane-force wind gusts reaching out 150 miles from the center, buffeting parts of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

At St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish, Pawtucket, those winds punched out a board covering a 4-by-4-foot clover-shaped opening high up on the southern face of the steeple that once contained an ornate stained glass window.

“We believe the original window was blown out in the ’54 hurricane,” said the pastor, Father William J. Ledoux.

After celebrating 11 o’clock Mass in the lower church Sunday, Fr. Ledoux went upstairs to check the building.

“The chandeliers in the upper church were swinging, and the door was banging in the choir loft,” Fr. Ledoux observed.

When he approached the choir loft and could feel a breeze, he knew immediately that one of the wooden panels, about 120 feet up in the steeple, had been breached.

When he checked outside, he saw the board lying on the front steps of the church.

Fortunately, in times of inclement weather, when Masses are celebrated in the lower church, the front stairs are roped off, so no one was in the area at the time the board fell to the ground.

“It could have been a lot worse,” he said.

At Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Community in Exeter, Sister Antoinette Jacques reported Sunday night that 15-20 tree limbs were down on the property from the storm.

She said that the situation was tense there Saturday night, when high winds began impacting the rural area.

“That was more worrisome,” said Sr. Antoinette, the church’s pastoral assistant.

Despite calls for an evacuation on Saturday in some parts of the seaside community of Narragansett—which did not include St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish, located three blocks inland from Scarborough Beach—the pastor, Father Francis Kayatta, went ahead with the planned wedding of a couple from Chicago. The groom’s family has ties to St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish.

The bride, he said, took the whole thing in stride, even as a reporter from The Weather Channel prepared for a standup report nearby.

“We never lost electricity at the parish,” said Father Kayatta. “We prepared for the worst, but hoped for the best.”

The pastor rode out the storm in the church’s rectory, a Cape Cod-style house.

The arrival of Irene brought mixed feelings from those enjoying one of the last traditional summer weekends of the year on Block Island.

“For the visitors, we are calm, cool and collected. For the visitors, the vacationers, it’s like pandemonium,” said Father Joseph Protano, pastor of St. Andrew Parish, of the disparity in the tenor Friday night between those who routinely cope with rough weather blowing in off the Atlantic as a way of life, and those who don’t.

The pastor of the only Catholic church on the resort island which sits about 13 miles off Rhode Island’s southern coast, reported Sunday that there was no damage to the church property and very little damage overall on the island due to the storm.

“I think we’re very fortunate to have escaped a very bad storm,” Fr. Protano said.

Printed with permission from the Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence, R.I.

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Pope Benedict describes how beautiful art can lead to God

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Aug 31, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Artistic beauty can lead the human heart to God, said Pope Benedict XVI at his Aug. 31 general audience.

“Art is capable of making visible our need to go beyond what we see and it reveals our thirst for infinite beauty, for God,” the Pope said to over 5,000 pilgrims at his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, 15 miles to the south of Rome.

“Dear friends, I invite you to be open to beauty and to allow it to move you to prayer and praise of the Lord.”

The Pope explained how this “path of beauty” can be “an open door on the infinite” and is something experienced by all people, not merely by those who regard themselves as cultured.

He observed that when people stand before a sculpture or painting, read a few verses poetry or even listen to a song, everyone has “experienced deep within us an intimate emotion, a sense of joy.” This sensation, he said, is an interior recognition that says that was is being seen or heard is “not only mere matter” but “something bigger, something that speaks, capable of touching the heart, of communicating a message; of elevating the soul,” and leading people, ultimately, to God.

Pope Benedict also noted that there are “artistic expressions that are true paths to God, the supreme Beauty,” and that these works can “help nurture our relationship with Him in prayer. These are works that are born of faith and express faith.”

The Pope then illustrated his point using his own personal experience. He recalled attending a performance of the works of J.S. Bach, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, in Munich.

“After the last piece of music, one of the Cantate, I felt, not by reasoning, but in my heart, that what I heard had conveyed to me truth, something of the truth of the great composer’s faith and this pressed me to praise and thank the Lord.”

The Pope said he was so moved by the experience that the turned to the Lutheran Bishop of Munich sitting next to him and exclaimed, “Hearing this we understand: it is true, true faith is so strong, and the beauty of it irresistibly expresses the presence of God's truth.”

The Pope also described how various artists themselves had observed the same in their own artwork. He recalled how the 20th century expressionist artist, Marc Chagall, once wrote “that for centuries painters have dipped their paintbrush in that colored alphabet that is the Bible.”

This is why forms, colors and light that are “the fruits of the faith of the artist,” such as painting or frescoes, can “direct our thoughts to God and nourish in us the desire to draw from the source of all beauty,” said the Pope.

One dramatic example Pope Benedict offered was the life of 19th century French poet and playwright Paul Claudel.

An anti-clericalist, he had attended Christmas Mass at the Basilica of Notre Dame in Paris in 1886 “in search of arguments against Christians.” Instead, Claudel was instantly converted to Catholicism by the beauty of the basilica choir’s as they sang the Magnifcat. The Pope described this moment as the grace of God working in his heart.

Pope Benedict concluded by inviting everybody “to rediscover the importance of this path for prayer, for our living relationship with God,” pointing out that most towns and cities across the world “preserve works of art that express the faith and remind us of our relationship with God.”

He said that visiting churches, art galleries and museums “is not only an occasion for cultural enrichment” but can also be “a moment of grace, an encouragement to strengthen our relationship and our dialogue with the Lord.”

It is “where we can to stop and contemplate, in the transition from simple external reality to a deeper reality, the ray of beauty that strikes us, that almost wounds us in our inner selves and invites us to rise towards God.”

Appropriately, the Pope’s comments come hours ahead of a classical concert being hosted in his honor at Castel Gandolfo. Various compositions by Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci, the Director of the Sistine Chapel Choir, will be performed by a combination of vocal soloists, choir and orchestra.

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Madrid World Youth Day's shortcomings offer lessons for Rio

Madrid, Spain, Aug 31, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - It was one of the most remarkable global manifestations of the Catholic faith in recent memory. But since pilgrims have started returning home from World Youth Day, some are talking about the disorganization they experienced and how the event could be improved.
 
“My sons went to World Youth Day in a group of 29,” wrote one mother from St. Joan of Arc parish in Denver, Colo.
 
“When they got to the Vigil on the Saturday night they were turned away, and flatly refused admittance despite their WYD credentials and being at the correct section. Basically they were told the section was full. No admittance. As you can imagine, the kids were very upset.”

Their story has been repeated in other personal anecdotes: the pilgrims were on time, at right venue, and had the correct passes but were refused entry. Organizers estimate that around 100,000 of the 1.5 million pilgrims were affected by such problems.
 
Although pilgrimages usually contain some form of penance, many pilgrims were not expecting the lack of portable toilets at the venue, the condition of those that were available, and the lack of transport to and from downtown Madrid. When it came to redeeming pre-paid food vouchers at the designated outlets, some pilgrims were told after waiting in line three to four hours that all the food was gone.

Yago de la Cierva, Director of Communications for WYD 2011 in Madrid, told CNA Aug. 31 that what happened at Cuatro Vientos “is that we are talking about young people, and in many countries, a wall is seen not as a barrier but an invitation to jump and go forward.” The communications director said that this attitude resulted in many young people simply abandoning their designated areas in search of a better vantage point.

Another issue was that many groups arrived with unregistered pilgrims and so used their limited passes on a repeated basis. “We are not talking about a few cases, but something done in an organized way,” he said.
 
The result was a greater number of people in the venue and too many of them in the wrong zones. Hence the authorities decided to close the entry gates due to prevent unsafe overcrowding.

“It really was a pity, but in any event, people’s safety comes first,” said de la Cierva.

It is estimated that around 75 percent of all pilgrims were unregistered. While 445,000 had registered beforehand, as many at 2 million young people descended on Madrid for the week’s events. Spanish telecommunications companies confirmed that there were over 1.5 million individual cell phone numbers at the Sunday morning closing Mass.

“At the same time, we have to put this in context: less than 5 percent remained outside for the vigil and everybody who wanted was able to come in for the Mass the next day. Each person left outside is important for us and we are sorry that it happened, but the proportion of people inside was quite high, I must say.”

So what lessons can be learned from Madrid for the next World Youth Day, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2013?

The Rio organizational team, aware of the fact that they only have 23 months to prepare for their gathering, traveled to Madrid earlier this month to learn any lessons they could. The Madrid organizers will also draw up a final audit of their event to be presented to both the Rio team and the Vatican.

What might surprise some is that World Youth Day has no central organizing committee, an arrangement that de la Cierva thinks should change. In his view, World Youth Day “should work towards professionalization.”

“It’s really a pity that some of the experience accumulated in these three years will be lost, because in many aspects Rio will start almost from scratch. Unfortunately, that was what happened in the past with Cologne, Sydney and also Madrid.”

His solution is to have a core of experienced people who can advise local committees on best practices. This is what happens at Olympic Games. “Let’s not forget that, in terms of participation, a WYD could be three or four times bigger than the Olympics.”
 
Despite any disappointments with the organization of World Youth Day Madrid, the overwhelming majority of pilgrims did seem to have a very positive experience.

“Yes, overall it was a very good experience even though we didn’t see the Holy Father,” said Fr. Joseph Cao, who led the group from St. Joan of Arc.
 
“It was truly a pilgrimage and that always comes with suffering,” observed Fr. Cao whose group also got lost in Madrid at one point. “But we still got the spiritual benefits of pilgrimage, and I’m sure the kids will grow in the faith of the Catholic Church as a result.”

“We do know that we made mistakes,” concluded Yago de la Cierva, “but pilgrims and volunteers together gave an incredibly powerful testimony of how the person and the message of Jesus can be the secret for happiness for many young people.”

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