Archive of September 24, 2011

Vietnamese-American family visits to give thanks to adoptive parish

Rockford, Ill., Sep 24, 2011 (CNA) - Tue and Ro Pham prayed the rosary every night with their children in a village near Saigon in Vietnam.

Praying the rosary as a family was one of the traditions the Pham’s brought to the United States after the Viet Cong invaded their village in 1975. That journey with five children ages one to nine took them through several refugee camps right into the welcoming embrace of St. James Parish in Rockford, Ill. Once here, their shared faith and parishioners’ kindness helped them feel at home beyond the limitations of language.

Ro, five of her children, two of their spouses and four of their children returned over Labor Day weekend to thank St. James Parish and visit with some parishioners who have kept in touch with them for more than 30 years.

Loss prompts visit

Tue’s death three months ago prompted them to “look at our lives again, at our history, and we wanted to come and say ‘thank you,’” says the oldest son, Tuan.

“It is our chance to see our original (American) home again and see people who gave us a second life,” he adds.

With the help of her daughter-in-law Ngoc, Ro expresses her gratitude for all the kindness shown them by St. James parishioners during and beyond their four years in Rockford. Ngoc wipes her eyes as she speaks of how Ro said she felt when she first walked into the family’s home, lovingly refurbished by parishioners.

“It felt like she was home,” Ngoc says, communicating with tears her mother-in-law’s heart on that long-ago day.

“St. James Parish has always been good at welcoming people,” says Father David Beauvais, who headed Catholic Charities in 1976 when the Rockford Diocese was asked to sponsor 108 mostly-Catholic Vietnamese refugees. He and Bishop Arthur J. O’Neill decided to turn to the parishes of the diocese for help.

“Parish involvement was quite critical,” Fr. Beauvais says, remembering that eight parishes stepped up to help. “The parishes did a super job,” he says.

St. James parishioner Mary Parry remembers that “the list went on and on” when the parish asked its members to sign up and say how they could help. Parry recalls one man in particular who planted flowers outside the parish-refurbished house — just so the Pham’s would feel at home.

Phams feel fortunate

“So many were not as fortunate as us,” says Trang Pham-Bui, the oldest daughter who is a television journalist and 2009 Emmy winner for a documentary she made about her travels back to Vietnam. She describes other refugee families they know who experienced harsh conditions in the U.S.

“We came over, and we had people who loved us,” Trang says, “(and) they still care about us after all these years.”

Grinning, she shows off a photo of herself on the St. James girls’ basketball team. St. James School educated them, parishioners provided medical and dental care, clothing and household goods and gave their photographer father a job. Parishioners also invited them for holidays, taught them how to cook an American Thanksgiving dinner, gave them Christmas presents and always remembered their birthdays even after the family moved south after four Illinois winters to help their father’s health, Trang says.

“If not for (St. James), we wouldn’t be where we are today,” she says.

Tu Pham, a circuit court judge, was chosen by his siblings to publicly speak their thanks to the parish. They teased him before Mass about the “bangs all around his head” in the family photos taken back in the 70s.

“Dad was still perfecting his hair cutting skills,” Tu says with a smile, cringing just a little as he points to himself in a picture.

The boys’ girlish hair and clothing on their arrival is “one of our funny stories,” laughs Trang. “It confused the people who came to meet us.”

In his formal thanks to the parish, Tu shared that “what we experienced here always stayed with us,” adding that all his brothers and sisters had attended college and were successful in their careers.

The Pham family includes the five oldest children plus one who was born during their four years in Rockford and one later in Louisiana.

Tu concluded his remarks by saying that he sees the kindness shown to them by St. James parishioners as “an example of the human spirit — the goodness in people, the American spirit — embodying all that is good about America, and the Holy Spirit — carrying out the message of God.”

As St. James continues their tradition of welcome by assisting families who recently fled the country of Myanmar (formerly Burma), the Pham family shines out as an example of the good that can come from that spirit-filled, parish-based kindness.

Printed with permission from the Observer, newspaper for the Diocese of Rockford, Ill.

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Catholic ethicist calls for transparency in organ donor controversy

Philadelphia, Pa., Sep 24, 2011 (CNA) - A top Catholic ethicist is calling for donor guidelines that are clear to the public after a proposal was made to allow surgeons to retrieve organs from donors less than two minutes after their hearts stop beating.

“The tendency to want to shorten the waiting period, admittedly out of a desire to help those in need of organs, raises the danger of using the dying to benefit others,” said Dr. John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, Pa.

“It is important that the facts of the case are clearly and consistently articulated by the transplantation community,” he underscored. “There will be no organ transplantation without the trust of the public.”

On Sept. 19, the Washington Post highlighted the United Network for Organ Sharing's new proposed rules that would permit surgeons to proceed with organ removal before the current deadline of two minutes after a donor’s heart stops beating. The move would decrease the chance that a patient's heart could spontaneously restart.

Supporters of the new rules argue that the guidelines will ensure that a patient's wish to donate his organs will be respected. Critics, however, state that the proposed changes run the risk of dehumanizing patients into mere sources for materials.

In an interview with CNA on Sept. 21, Haas was wary of media hype potentially obscuring the real facts in the situation. He said that the Catholic Church and organ transplant professionals in the U.S. have been very clear about the importance of maintaining the “Dead Donor Rule,” which states that there must be “moral certitude” that a person is dead before the removal of organs for transplant.

However, he also said that the National Catholic Bioethics Center sides with the Institute of Medicine, which recommends waiting five minutes after the heart has stopped beating to declare a patient's death.

“It is critically important to develop consistency with respect to the waiting period after the cessation of heart beat,” Haas said, adding that some transplant centers in the U.S. are pushing for the waiting period to be shortened to as little as 75 seconds. 

“The greatest bioethical danger in our day is the tendency to depersonalize and dehumanize the individual person,” he noted, “particularly the weak and vulnerable, so that they become the source of biological material for research or for the benefit of others.”

Haas explained that the Church and all 50 states hold that death can be determined using cardio-pulmonary or neurological criteria.

“Traditionally a person was declared dead when the heart stopped beating and he or she stopped breathing,” he said. “A person could also be declared dead if it was determined that the brain had died, that is, there was no blood flow or electrical activity.”
However, because of highly controlled situations in hospitals, Haas said there was an eventual return to the traditional cardio-pulmonary criteria for declaring death.
“If life support was removed from a person who was dying and could no longer be helped by it, physicians would wait until the heart stopped beating, wait a specified period of time and declare death.” 

Haas said that the new proposal to change the language in the guidelines is actually more in line with the statutes defining death as the “irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions.” 

“The old language 'Donation after Cardiac Death' was a bit of a misnomer because the heart was not dead,” he said. “Otherwise it could not be transplanted and restarted.” 

“The death of the person can occur without individual organs being dead,” he explained. “Otherwise, life-saving organ transplantation could not take place. The proposed change of language is actually more consistent with the facts of the case and of the law.” 

However, in his view, the new language proposals are  “not entirely satisfactory,” given that the term “Donation after Cardiac Death” is now redefined as “Donation after Circulatory Death.”

“Organisms and organs die,” Haas observed, “Circulation doesn't die. One can understand the desire to have the terminology shortened for practical purposes but it seems it would be more accurate to speak of 'Death by Cardio-Pulmonary Criteria.'” 

Ultimately, Haas said, it's “absolutely essential that the transplant community adhere resolutely to the 'Dead Donor Rule' and not engage in practices which suggest that they are ready to sacrifice the weak and the dying for the benefit of others.”

“Even if the changes reflect the reality of the situation more accurately,” he added, “there is the danger of misunderstanding on the part of the public if the language and terminology keep changing. It can raise suspicions that there are hidden agendas at work.”

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US ban on human embryo patents draws praise

Washington D.C., Sep 24, 2011 (CNA) - Pro-life leaders welcomed the recent passage of the “Weldon Patent Ban,” which makes permanent a prohibition on patenting human embryos. Previously, the ban had to be annually renewed.

“Human kind should not be for sale at any state of development,” said Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life.

“Making permanent this important pro-life policy to ensure human organisms are never patented is a notable victory for Americans who believe that human beings – regardless of their stage of development – are not considered property to be licensed for financial gain.”

The Weldon ban was included as part of the 58-page America Invests Act, which was signed into law by President Obama on Sept. 19. The act makes various changes to laws regulating the activity of the U.S. Patents and Trademarks Office. 

The key language is found in Section 33 of the bill. It reads, “Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, no patent may issue on a claim directed to or encompassing a human organism.”
The Weldon amendment was introduced into the bill by Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

It was also supported by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and other key lawmakers. Both the House and Senate approved the America Invests Act without a separate vote on the ban.

In 2003, pro-life doctor and Congressman Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) initially proposed a similar provision, which was approved by Congress. However, because the ban was attached to an annual appropriations bill, it had to be re-approved each fiscal year.

The passage of the Weldon Patent Ban will make that prohibition permanent.

“Enactment of the Weldon Amendment is not a cure-all, but it may serve as an important bulwark against some of the darker trends in contemporary biotechnology research,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.

“This law recognizes that human life is not a commodity, and that a member of the human family can never be regarded as a mere invention, or as ‘intellectual property.’”

Dr. Yoest called passage of the ban an indication that “members of Congress are beginning to appreciate the discomfort people feel with life-altering technology.”

“Human beings should never be property or a commodity,” she said. “The intrinsic value of human life should not be measured in dollar signs.”

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Saints change the world, Pope declares

Erfurt, Germany, Sep 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

“Saints, even if there are only a few of them, change the world,” Pope Benedict XVI said to a congregation of over 50,000 in the German city of Erfurt on Sept. 24. 

“The saints show us that it is truly possible and good to live our relationship with God in a radical way, to put him in first place, not as one concern among others,” observed the Pope during the open-air Mass in the city’s Domplatz, the Cathedral Square.

“The saints help us to see that God first reached out to us, he revealed and continues to reveal himself to us in Jesus Christ.” 

The Pope’s comments come on the third day of his state visit to his homeland. He was particularly keen to highlight the life and legacy of the saints who had established the Christian Gospel in the Erfurt area.

These included St. Severus from Italy in the fourth century, St. Killian from Ireland in the seventh century, St. Boniface from England in the eighth century and St. Elizabeth of Hungary in the 13th century. The Papal liturgy used texts specific to the Diocese of Erfurt for the veneration of St. Elizabeth.

Pope Benedict held each one of them up as a model of how a Christian should use prayer to fathom the will of Christ in their lives.

“They, as it were, reached out to him from deep within themselves in the ongoing dialogue of prayer, and in return they received from him the light that shows where true life is to be found,” said the Pope.

Each is also a reminder of the missionary nature of the Catholic faith, said the Pope, as the Church “does not stop at national borders, as we can see from the nationalities of the saints I mentioned earlier: Hungary, England, Ireland and Italy.”

“Here we see the importance of spiritual exchange, which encompasses the entire universal Church,” he said.

Until German re-unification in 1990, Erfurt lay within the communist German Democratic Republic. Prior to that, it had also endured dictatorship under the Nazis. The Pope paid tribute to the local Catholics who “had to endure first a brown and then a red dictatorship, which acted on the Christian faith like acid rain.”

Such a saintly witness, he said, invites others to “discover with us the fullness of the Good News.” And he drew a comparison between a life of holiness and the famous “Gloriosa” bell of the Cathedral of Erfurt. It is the largest free-swinging medieval bell in the world.

“It will ring out once more at the end of today’s solemn Mass,” concluded the Pope.

“May it inspire us, after the example of the saints, to ensure that witness to Christ is both seen and heard in the world in which we live.”

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Pope greets people of Freiburg

Freiburg, Germany, Sep 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Pope Benedict XVI told the people of Freiburg that he had come “in order to pray together” and “to proclaim the word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist.”

The trip to the city in the south west of Germany is the third and final leg of the Pope’s state visit to his homeland. Unlike his previous destinations, Berlin and Erfurt, Freiburg is predominately Catholic. Its residents opted out of the Protestant Reformation in 1520.

Pope Benedict arrived at the nearby Lahr Airport just before 1 p.m. From there, he made his way to the local cathedral, the “Munster,” which is dedicated to Our Lady. The pontiff made the last part of the journey by Popemobile, much to the delight of the sizable crowds.

After praying the Angelus in the cathedral, the Pope then emerged to greet local people gathered in the town’s Cathedral Square. He began by reminding them of the motto for his visit: “Where God is, there is a future.”

“As the Successor of Saint Peter, who was commissioned by the Lord to strengthen his brethren, I too have come willingly to you, in order to pray together with you, to proclaim the word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist,” said the Pope.

He then asked for their prayers so that “these days will be fruitful, that God will deepen our faith, strengthen our hope and increase our love.”

The itinerary for the Pope’s visit to Freiburg includes a prayer vigil with young people this evening and an open-air Mass tomorrow. He said he hoped the events of the next 24-hours will help the people of the city “become aware once more how much God loves us and how good he is, so that we may trustingly place ourselves and all our cares and concerns into his hands.”

“In him our future is assured,” said the Pope. He added that Jesus “gives meaning to our lives and can bring them to fulfillment.” He then imparted his apostolic blessing.

The Pope followed his public address with a private meeting with the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Chancellor Kohl, now aged 81 and in a wheelchair, oversaw the reunification of East and West Germany in 1990. Pope Benedict himself specially requested the meeting.

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Pope promotes Catholic-Orthodox defense of traditional values

Freiburg, Germany, Sep 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Pope Benedict XVI has urged Catholic and Orthodox Christians to work together to defend human life and promote the traditional family.

“The common engagement of Christians, including many Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians, makes a valuable contribution to building up a society equipped for the future, in which the human person is given the respect which is his due,” said the Pope at a meeting with Orthodox leaders in the German city of Freiburg Sept. 24.

At the Archdiocese of Freiburg’s seminary, the Pope highlighted areas where co-operation is particularly needed in order to reverse “the present climate, in which many would like, as it were, to ‘liberate’ public life from God.”
In the pro-life struggle both Catholic and Orthodox can “speak up jointly for the protection of human life from conception to natural death.” They can also work together to promote “the value of marriage and the family,” particularly when defending “the integrity and the uniqueness of marriage between one man and one woman.”
There are an estimated 1.6 million Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians in Germany today.

Among Christian Churches and communities, the Orthodox are “theologically closest” to the Catholic Church because they both have the same basic structure “inherited from the ancient Church,” the Pope said. He hoped “that the day is not too far away when we may once again celebrate the Eucharist together.”

Pope Benedict explained that over the years he had “come to know and love Orthodoxy more and more” through personal friendships with Orthodox leaders since his days as the Archbishop of Munich and Freising.

However, he added, work is still required to “clarify theological differences” whose resolution is “indispensable for restoration of the full unity that we hope and pray for.”

Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, hailed Saturday’s meeting as “another ecumenical high point.” He said the Catholic Church was now “fully aware of all that it shares with the Orthodox and Oriental Churches in matters of faith and ethics.”

Following his meeting with Orthodox leaders Pope Benedict then spent some time with about 60 seminarians for the Archdiocese of Freiburg. They gathered together in the chapel for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament before adjourning for a photo opportunity. This was followed by a brief, informal talk by the Pope in which he spoke about the importance of Sacred Scripture and the relationship between faith and reason.

Freiburg in southwest Germany is the third leg in the Pope Benedict’s state visit to his homeland. Unlike his two previous destinations, Berlin and Erfurt, the city of Freiburg is overwhelmingly Catholic. The Pope will return to Rome Sunday evening.

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Church in West suffering crisis of faith, says Pope

Freiburg, Germany, Sep 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

“The real crisis facing the Church in the western world is a crisis of faith,” Pope Benedict XVI told gathering of lay Catholics Sept. 24.

“We see that in our affluent western world much is lacking.  Many people lack experience of God’s goodness,” the Pope said to the Central Committee of German Catholics on the third day of his state visit to Germany.

“They no longer find any point of contact with the mainstream churches and their traditional structures.”

The Central Committee of German Catholics is an apostolate founded in 1952 as a forum for lay Catholics. It draws together individuals who hold positions of responsibility in civil society. Today’s meeting took place in the diocesan seminary in the southwestern city of Freiburg.

Using Catholicism in Germany as an example, the Pope said that while the German Church was “superbly organized” it was perhaps lacking in a “corresponding spiritual strength, the strength of faith in a living God.”

“We must honestly admit that we have more than enough by way of structure but not enough by way of Spirit.  I would add: the real crisis facing the Church in the western world is a crisis of faith.”

For anybody coming from the developing world to the western world, this crisis can be seen in the “poverty in human relations and poverty in the religious sphere” brought about by “a subliminal relativism that penetrates every area of life,” he said.

This is observed, said the Pope, “in the inconstancy and fragmentation of many people’s lives and in an exaggerated individualism,” such that many people “no longer seem capable of any form of self-denial or of making a sacrifice for others.”  Meanwhile others “are now quite incapable of committing themselves unreservedly to a single partner.”
To tackle these problems at their root, the Pope explained, he had created the Pontifical Council for New Evangelization. Established last year, it has a particular mission to re-evangelize those traditionally Christian countries that have seen a decline in belief and practice in recent years. The Pope stressed, however, that without a renewal in faith “all structural reform will remain ineffective.”

Hence the need for new places where those who lack experience of God’s goodness can encounter it, said the Pope. He suggested that small communities could be one such path where “friendships are lived and deepened in regular communal adoration before God.”
There, said the Pope, “we find people who speak of these small faith experiences at their workplace and within their circle of family and friends, and in so doing bear witness to a new closeness between Church and society.”  Such encounters, he suggested, lead people to recognize the need for “this nourishment of love, this concrete friendship with others and with the Lord.”

He concluded by praying that God “always point out to us how together we can be lights in the world and can show our fellow men the path to the source at which they can quench their profound thirst for life.”

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