Archive of September 10, 2011

Arkansas diocese to connect online with fallen away Catholics

Little Rock, Ark., Sep 10, 2011 (CNA) - Social media sites are a popular way to connect with family and friends, and a new diocesan Facebook page will do just that with Catholics who have left the Church in Arkansas.

"At the Chrism Mass, (Bishop Anthony B. Taylor) talked about the need to welcome home those Catholics who've been away. I thought 'we've got to offer more.' Statistics out there say that fallen away Catholics are the third largest denomination in the United States," said Chuck Ashburn, diocesan director of religious education and Christian initiation.

More Catholics live in Arkansas than most think, if you count those who no longer count themselves as members of the Church.

Ashburn, who began working for diocese in July, wants to extend that reach to Catholics who have left the Church or don't come regularly.

"That is one of the greatest media sites to reach people. I never would have been on Facebook if it wasn't for Bishop Taylor," he said. "I know how I've found friends from high school that are all over the country. And I thought that is a great forum to give those who have fallen away -- to offer them a way back home."

"Arkansas Catholics Coming Home" will debut on Facebook Sept. 10, to coincide with the bishop's homily, "Open Your Hearts in Welcome."

The page will host weekly discussion on issues and topics related to those who have left the Church. It will also guide them to information available at the Diocese of Little Rock website and to parishes in their area.

"We're not looking to find the Catholics who've gone away and teach them about the Catholic faith. This is a healing ministry. These people who've left the Church in some way have been wounded -- in countless ways from the sexual abuse scandals, to the myths about being excommunicated, to a priest who said something that they didn't like or hurt them," he said. "We need a program in place that will let them tell their stories and let them experience healing, and then integrate them back into the parish and educational things."

Ashburn's not new to the Church in Arkansas, as he began studying for the diaconate four years ago. He worked for 11 years at Catholic High School in Little Rock, serving five years as vice principal.

His journey to the Office of Religious Education and Christian Initiation ties in with the theme of returning home.

"When I came back in 2000, it was like coming home. Catholic High is my home. I loved being there and working with the boys. I loved my job," he said. "Now, I have the opportunity to reach out and touch the lives of 110,000 Catholics. At Catholic High, I had 700. God had been preparing me along the way for this."

As part of his welcome process, he plans to travel to as many parishes as he can. He wants to help the people working in the parishes, by providing tools they can use in reaching out to others.

"In the Scripture, Jesus uses the parable of the lost sheep," Ashburn said. "The shepherd who has a 100 sheep and he loses one; wouldn't he leave the 99 to go find the one? And the rejoicing that will happen when he finds the lost sheep. In my mind if we find the one, only one, then we have rejoicing because we brought one person back home."

Several parishes around the state are already using programs to welcome back Catholics. To make the process easier for those who want to start a ministry to welcome Catholics back to the Church, Ashburn wants to offer a selection of programs and resources for parishes.

His goal is to eventually have a program welcoming back Catholics in all parishes.

"We are the body of Christ. We have to be his open, welcoming arms," he said. "As Christ put the sheep on his shoulders -- the lost one that he found -- and carried him back. That's why we need to welcome them home, because that's who we are, that's what the Catholic Church is."

Bishop Taylor's video and audio recordings in English and Spanish, and many other resources:

Printed with permission from Arkansas Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Little Rock, Ark.

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Ten years later, World Trade Center cross still consoles

New York City, N.Y., Sep 10, 2011 (CNA) - Editor's Note: This story was originally published on July 29, 2011 and it being republished in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The World Trade Center cross is still a “sign of comfort” to many people, says the Franciscan priest who describes himself as its “unofficial guardian.”

On Sept. 13, 2001 construction worker Frank Silecchia found a 20-foot, cross-shaped T-beam from World Trade Center 1 standing almost upright in the wreckage of World Trade Center 6.

Fr. Brian Jordan, O.F.M., blessed the cross later that year on Oct. 4 and promised that it would be preserved.

Now almost 10 years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the priest again blessed the cross in a July 23 ceremony before its relocation to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

“It’s a sign of consolation and comfort for those who lost loved ones,” Fr. Jordan told CNA on July 28. “For the dead, the cross signifies the death of Jesus Christ. It also gave hope and support to the living, especially the rescue and recovery workers, the firefighters, polices officers, construction workers and many others.”

The Franciscan priest, who is in residence at New York City’s Holy Name Parish, played his own role in responding to the destruction which killed thousands. He ministered among construction workers, worked with family members and uniformed service members, and blessed “many bodies and body parts.”
“We saw evil at its worst, but goodness at its best,” Fr. Jordan said. “The goodness was that Americans came together in those weeks. New York City came together in those weeks. People of all ethnic and religious groups and economic backgrounds came together. I was very proud of that.”

In the months afterward, the cross “dramatically” affected others, both Christians and non-Christians.

He particularly recalled a Mother’s Day Mass in 2002, when mothers who lost children or grandchildren and their husbands all gathered at the cross.

Two groups of U.S. Army special forces also attended, without telling anyone else in advance.

“One group had just returned from Afghanistan, while the other was preparing to go,” the priest reported.

“At the kiss of peace, to see these mothers embrace these young men who came from war, who were about to go, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Fr. Jordan said. “I don’t care if you are John Wayne. Anyone who has any heart or emotion in them will start crying when they see the mothers who lost their children embracing soldiers who are going to war.

“They looked at the cross, and they knew that Catholics were with them.”

He noted that what people call the “cross” is simply an interpretation of the T-beam shape. But even so, he explained, the shape has significance of for Christians.

Jesus is “both the victim and the victor of the cross.” Despite the cruelty of his death, Jesus is also the victor of Resurrection, of life over death.

“The cross, (is) for us, we were all victims on 9/11. We’ll be victorious,” he said. “America and the rest of the free world will roll over terrorism and show the poignance of God’s overwhelming love for all people.

Joe Daniels, president of the 9/11 Memorial, said that the cross will be an important part of the memorial’s commitment to “bring back the authentic physical reminders that tell the history of 9/11 in a way nothing else could.”

The group American Atheists has filed a lawsuit to stop the display of the cross, claiming it is a “government enshrinement” and an “impermissible mingling of church and state.”

Fr. Jordan was not sympathetic to their claim.

“They don’t have a prayer. Not to be facetious,” he said, noting that the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows many religious icons, as does the Holocaust Museum, on public land.

The cross is “an interpretation,” he repeated.

“They’re going to judge interpretations? Then move every telephone pole out of New York City, because those look like a cross to me too,” he countered.

“These people are just looking for 15 minutes of fame. They’re exploiting 9/11 for their own selfish public posturing and they should be ashamed of themselves because of this baseless lawsuit.”

Fr. Jordan closed his remarks by recommending the Decalogue of Assisi, a short 2002 document signed by world religious leaders that rejects violence and advocates peace and religious dialogue.

“God bless America,” he said.

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Lack of clergy at Sept. 11 memorial prompts separate prayer event

New York City, N.Y., Sep 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Some Christian ministers have objected to the 9/11 Memorial Service’s failure to include members of the clergy and have scheduled a public prayer service for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, a Reformed Presbyterian Church minister who is director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said it was “extremely troubling” for Mayor Bloomberg to “exclude public prayer and expressions of faith” from the memorial.

“During the past 10 years, it has only been faith in God and prayer that has enabled so many to move forward and rebuild their lives and protected America from another major terrorist attack,” he said.

Organizers of the memorial service said that the event follows the custom established for the previous memorial events.

“The structure for this program was designed 10 years ago, with the consultation of a lot of families of those who died, and it is primarily for the families,” Stu Loeser, Mayor Bloomberg’s press secretary, told the New York Times.

He said it was wrong to say the ceremony excludes prayer or clergy members. Chaplains from the Fire and Police Department and Port Authority police often attend. Loeser said most people use the events’ moments of silence for reflection and prayer.

At the official event the names of the victims are read aloud continuously for hours, allowing four breaks for moments of silence at the times when the hijacked planes struck the two World Trade Center towers and the times when the towers fell. This Sunday there will be a total of six moments of silence for the plane that hit the Pentagon and the plane that crashed near Shanksville, Pa.

Participants in the service will meet in front of St. Paul’s Chapel at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10. They will then walk to West Broadway and Vecsey Street where they will begin a prayer service in front of the PATH Train entrance.

Rev. Mahoney thought it was “imperative” to have a public prayer service at Ground Zero during the anniversary weekend. While the absence of prayer at the official service may seem reasonable to some, he suggested, “it will only compound the pain and the loss of others.”

“During our prayer time at Ground Zero, we will seek God for His continued protection, especially with new credible terrorist threats, pray for those who lost loved ones, pray for our leaders and elected officials and turn to God in repentance recognizing only He can bring healing and restoration to our nation,” he said.

Chris Slattery, founder of the pro-life pregnancy center organization Expectant Mother Care, said the exclusion of prayer excludes “one of the most important factors in helping millions of Americans get through the shock and grief of that brutal attack.”

“We are going to pray at Ground Zero because it is essential that we honor God and continue to look to Him for strength and protection,” Slattery said.

Catholic ceremonies and Masses are also being held throughout New York City, and in Brooklyn, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Newark.

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