Colorado Springs, Colo., Oct 8, 2011 (CNA) - The first thing one notices when entering Santa Luisa School is the massive, solid metal fencing and doors that shield it from one of the roughest neighborhoods of San Salvador, El Salvador. Once those doors close, the chatter of the marketplace and the blaring car horns and police sirens are replaced by the voices of children playing during gym class or shoes shuffling from class to class.
For the more than 500 boys and girls — mostly from poor or destitute families — who get a K-9 education at Santa Luisa, the school is an oasis from a city suffocating from drugs, gangs and violence. For many students, Santa Luisa represents their best chance to break out of the cycle of poverty that surrounds them daily.
Santa Luisa is beginning its 76th year and would not have reached its milestone 75th year without the aid of a group of alumni from the University of Scranton (Pa.). Led by Jesuit Father Brendan Lally, who now serves as a spiritual director at St. Joseph University in Philadelphia, the non-profit Salvadoran Children of the Poor Education Foundation (SCOPE) has helped Santa Luisa meet its annual budget and supply basic needs for the past decade.
SCOPE is the product of two immersion programs Fr. Lally steered over two decades at the University of Scranton. The first, International Service Program, began in 1987 and takes students and alumni to two homes for street children in Mexico City for six weeks of the summer. Its success spawned a second program, Bridges to El Salvador, formed after Father Lally’s heart was moved by the Catholic witness of the people there.
A visit to Santa Luisa School has always been part of the Bridges itinerary. Fr. Lally has taken groups of students, professors, university staff, fellow priests, seminarians and alumni through the streets of San Salvador, including to the martyrdom sites of Archbishop Oscar Romero (1980), the six Jesuits gunned down at the University of Central America (1989) and the three American nuns and church worker who were kidnapped, raped and shot in December 1980.
“I wanted (pilgrims) to meet the people and to discover the reality of their lives, to experience their faith, to listen to their stories and to let them know that their sisters and brothers in faith from the U.S. cared about them and were united with them,” he said. “We were also seeking our own conversion, so that we could discover the Gospel alive amid the materially poor — the gospel that Archbishop Romero died for, the gospel that could change our own lives and attitudes.”
Founded in 1935 by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, Santa Luisa currently has a staff of 23 lay teachers and four Sisters of Charity. Fr. Lally said that he has great admiration for the staff’s passion to be both educators and positive role models for the students.
“Santa Luisa caught my imagination because it was doing something concrete to make a difference in the lives of those children each year. It was being led by heroic and generous nuns and dedicated lay teachers. It was giving the children one gift that so many of us take for granted — opportunity,” Fr. Lally said. “This was not lost on the children. They knew they were getting an opportunity to change their lives and hopefully not have to fall back into the unemployment and poverty of their families. While there are no guarantees regarding their futures, this is the best possible gateway to a better life.”
One of the school’s former students, Maria Menjivar, now works as an accountant in Maryland. She attended Santa Luisa from 1977-82, which overlaps with the beginning of the bloody El Salvador civil war from 1980-92 that claimed the lives of an estimated 75,000 people — including Archbishop Romero, who was assassinated while celebrating Mass. She recalled how it was common for armies from both sides to try to recruit children at schools, so the nuns would funnel the children to a hiding place in a nearby church until the soldiers left. Her family would emigrate to the United States in 1986 to escape the bloodshed.
Three decades after she left Santa Luisa, Menjivar fondly recalls her time there as one where she received an excellent education and was formed solidly in her faith. While a student there, she received the sacrament of confirmation from Archbishop Romero. Menjivar said Santa Luisa was where she developed strong senses of discipline and responsibility.
“Santa Luisa was very Catholic. The values are there,” she said. “When I attended, the nuns were very strict and very good teachers.”
Menjivar said that admission to Santa Luisa was in great demand because it charged a small tuition and yet offered the opportunity to get the education of a more expensive private school. She remembers beginning each day lined up outside with other students for prayer and a uniform check. Not much has changed three decades later, as students still wear uniforms and prayer is still a big part of the daily life there.
Teacher Norma Peña has rotated between grammar, literature and science at Santa Luisa since 2002. She said the teachers are focused on full formation of the person, not just education in various subjects.
“One of the challenges is trying to teach them that violence will be outside and maybe for a long time. We’re trying to interest each kid and teach them how to say ‘no’ when they need to say ‘no,’” she said. “We want to make an impression on how to be a better person and prepare them for high school.”
Peña said that, among the spiritual activities at Santa Luisa are daily prayer, monthly Mass and the celebration of the feast days of Santa Luisa and St. Vincent de Paul.
She added that the school’s many needs include a science lab and updated computers.
“Right now, we do everything verbally and don’t do any experiments,” she said.
Santa Luisa runs a deficit each year in the thousands of U.S. dollars, and the board members of SCOPE, along with dedicated volunteers, try to raise the difference. The nuns at Santa Luisa also subsidize the school by running a shop that makes Communion hosts for local parishes.
Even though parents of Santa Luisa students are required to pay as much tuition as they can (a full year is about $50 U.S. per student), the nuns at Santa Luisa also do not want to turn any children away. So, SCOPE is helping the staff create a sustainable business model and is also building a principal fund with the hope that the interest will be enough to subsidize whatever the school cannot collect. Because everyone involved in SCOPE volunteers their time, 100 percent of donations go to Santa Luisa. SCOPE’s overhead expenses are covered by its members.
“You can educate an entire school for less than it costs to send one U.S. college student to a private school for one year,” said SCOPE president Matthew O’Rourke of Denver.
In his trips to El Salvador over the years, O’Rourke said he has experienced a country decimated by unemployment and broken families due to emigration to the United States and other countries to find work. Many of these families send children to Santa Luisa.
“This is the pilgrim church, the church marginalized, the aching wounds of Christ, his Body scourged and his poor marginalized,” he said. “(SCOPE) is a work of mercy.”
Fr. Lally calls Santa Luisa a “city of joy in the midst of the poverty and the discouragement it brings. It is a school for the poorest of the poor, and its mission is aimed at the heart of the problems in society.”
“If the life of one innocent child is saved from the filth and death of the streets, it will all have been worthwhile,” he added. “But we have the opportunity here to give over 500 children each year the gift of life and hope and joy. Each of us have had that gift as a given in our lives. I think it is time now to pass that gift on.”
(To learn more about SCOPE, go to www.scopefoundation.com. Bill Howard is editor of The Colorado Catholic Herald in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs. He is an alumnus of the University of Scranton and serves on SCOPE’s board of directors.)
Printed with permission from the Catholic Herald, newspaper for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.
Albany, Ga., Oct 8, 2011 (CNA) - A low-budget film on the crucial role of fathers debuted as the number one new movie during its opening weekend in theaters across the U.S.
“There is an opportunity for fathers to step up in our culture and take more of a spiritual role and to affirm and love their kids and to prepare them for what should be a Godly legacy among families,” Alex Kendrick, actor and director for “Courageous,” told CNA on Oct. 6
“We see too many men accepting a 'good enough' mentality when their role is crucial to helping each child realize that God loves them.”
“Courageous,” has now ranked as the number four movie in the country, despite opening against six other movies with almost three times as many screens. The film opened on Sept. 30 to over 1,100 theaters across the U.S.
Kendrick, who works with the Sherwood Pictures production company that also produced the 2008 hit “Fireproof,” explained that the film follows the lives of four police officers who grapple with their identity as men, fathers and societal leaders.
“We saw a correlation with the motto of law enforcement, 'to serve and protect,' with that of fathers and many ways he serves the family as spiritual leader protector to provide for them,” Kendrick said.
“When a father is engaged and loving his children the way he should it's easier for them to believe that God loves them,” he added, “if they're not engaged, it's more difficult for them to believe that God loves them.”
“The father's role is crucial in that regard and we wanted to remind men of that and in a larger context, remind parents of their role to love and nurture their children.”
On what served as the inspiration for the film, Kendrick said that between movies, the company goes through what they call a “season of prayer” to discern what their next step should be.
“We've learned that the more we seek God, the more we seek his favor, the more he tends to direct and bless us.”
The group then “delved into the Scriptures and asked 'what does God say about fatherhood?' and then pulled those elements out and formed our plot around that.”
Kendrick said that the movie is unique in that it was made in Albany, Ga. “You can't get any further outside Hollywood,” he laughed, adding that the actors were also selected based on their embodiment of the film's message.
“We look for people who resonate with the story, the purpose behind the movie,” he said. “When the movie's over they don't look at it as a 'gig' or as just a job but they expect it to change culture and glorify God.”
“Those are the kind of people we look for and we're happy to have found them. Who you see on screen in real life all believe what this movie is about and are speaking for it.”
Kendrick observed that the success of the film can be traced to the hunger many Americans have to see basic virtues portrayed in movies – a rarity in today's cinematic culture.
“I think they respect the values presented on screen,” he said. “For many, they want these values in their own life.”
“It's really going after that part of us that wants that higher calling, that wants that more noble life and noble standard and a life that honors God.”
With a modest budget of less than $2 million, and a cast of “no-name” actors, Sherwood Pictures has been thrilled with the unexpected response to the movie.
“We take joy in doing something that requires faith and gives God the opportunity to do only what he can do,” Kendrick said. “We make the movies but God changes the heart.”
He added that the personal feedback the company has gotten from moviegoers has been astounding.
“We're hearing so many testimonies from people all over the U.S. and Canada—hundreds and hundreds of emails and Facebook notes and things like that, even phone calls” from people relaying how touched they were by the film.
“It's been very, very exciting to see the response to this movie.”
Rome, Italy, Oct 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - An American bishop has predicted that government authorities may one day attempt to silence the Catholic Church in the United States.
“We could see the possibility of it within the United States where we are no longer free to preach the truth from the pulpit or to present Catholic teaching,” Bishop Samuel J. Aquila of Fargo, North Dakota, told CNA on an Oct. 7 visit to Rome.
“It will then become important for us to take a very strong stand, as we have done with human life and the unborn child, to continue to speak the truth and to speak it clearly and with charity.”
Bishop Aquila cited two recent examples where he believes religious liberty is being undermined: the closure of Catholic adoption agencies in states that have legalized same-sex “marriage” and the new government health mandate requiring private insurers to provide women with coverage for contraception and sterilization.
“It’s very, very important for us to realize that we are in a very real clash between the culture of death and a culture of life,” said Bishop Aquila, summing up the former culture as one where “rights are eroded and where lies are being presented as truth.”
Bishop Aquila said he doesn’t know how the present stand-off between Church and state will be resolved, but he is certain that Catholics “will have to stand for the truth” and “speak clearly to the truth no matter what the cost.” He doesn’t rule out the possibility of civil disobedience.
“Either we’re going to have to enter into conscientious objection and say we won’t do this or we will need to cooperate – which we cannot do and still be faithful,” he said.
And he worries that the preaching of the faith may also eventually face legal sanction in those states where the practice of the Catholic faith in areas such as adoption and foster care has been declared illegal.
“I tell our seminarians: you must be prepared to enter into this battle because it’s a battle we need to enter into and speak the truth,” he said.
Bishop Aquila was in Rome for the ordination of one of those seminarians to the diaconate, one of four new deacons for the Diocese of Fargo this year. His words of congratulation to them, though, have also been mingled with words of warning.
“There will be people who will hate you because of the stand which you take, there will be people who ridicule you, yell at you,” he said. "And they did all the same things to Christ when he proclaimed the truth and we can expect no less in the times in which we live.”
Denver, Colo., Oct 8, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - A recent experiment cloning human embryos for potential stem cell use did little to advance a medical breakthrough and violated human life, Catholic experts said in reaction to the news.
“The attitudes of the scientists involved,” said Fr. Thomas Berg, head of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, show a “profound disrespect for the goods inherent to natural procreation and a demeaning of human life.”
In an experiment publicized Oct. 5 in the scientific journal “Nature,” scientists created 13 early-stage human embryos that were partial genetic clones of diabetic patients.
Each embryo carried an extra set of chromosomes—three instead of two—which led the researchers to say the embryos were abnormal and would not have been viable if implanted in a womb.
In order for the technique to potentially create usable stem cells to treat diseases, scientists would have to eliminate the extra set of chromosomes to effectively create an embryonic human clone.
Though the study sparked intense media interest, Catholics in the fields of science and bioethics are warning against potential “hype,” saying that the experiment not only fails to mark a significant development but also signals a blatant disrespect for human life.
“In some restricted sense it is a 'breakthrough' to the extent that it constitutes a tweak to the cloning process,” said Fr. Berg, who is also a professor of Moral Theology from New York's St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers.
However, he added, “in terms of eventual therapeutic uses, it would appear there is little to no benefit.”
Fr. Berg explained that human cloning as an avenue for stem-cell based therapies has become “a scientific side-show” in the past few years and is rapidly losing the interest and appeal “that once captivated the biotech world.”
“This novel experiment does nothing to change that,” he said, “on the contrary, it simply highlights just how non-mainstream the cloning enterprise has become in the world of stem-cell science.”
Fr. Berg said that the study ultimately provides no practical help for people with illnesses “in any foreseeable future,” and that the media coverage surrounding it hearkens “back to the stem-cell hype of the past mid-decade.”
“That decade demonstrated in spades that such hype was no service to persons who hope to benefit therapeutically today from stem cell science,” he remarked. “The only place that is happening actively is in the arena of adult stem cell research.”
Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Yale University and education director for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, agrees.
In an Oct. 6 interview, he said that although researchers are now able to get a “variant” of a cloned human embryo to grow for a longer time period, the development “is of doubtful significance to the human embryonic stem cell project.”
Even more problematic, he added, is that the researchers claim to be creating “defective” embryos, but “defective embryos are still embryos and likely to be human beings.”
Fr. Pacholczyk explained that most naturally-occurring “triploid” (extra chromosome) human embryos do not progress completely through development because of their serious abnormalities.
“However, some will make it to term and can be born alive, generally only surviving for a short time,” he said. “Given these facts, such embryos should not be created for the purposes of harvesting them for stem cells.”
“Using human beings with disabilities or defects for research experiments is just as reprehensible as using healthy human beings,” he underscored.
“Perhaps it is actually more objectionable, since one is taking advantage of the specific weakness and vulnerability of another human in order to satisfy one's own goals.”
But it's not only embryos that are ethically violated in this situation—it's also women, Fr. Pacholczyk noted.
He said that the recent cloning experiment, like all human cloning, require women's eggs, and that raises two concerns: risks to women's health and coercion of women by offering payment for their eggs.
Significant risks to women who donate eggs involve superovulation and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can cause abdominal pain, blood clots, strokes, kidney failure and other life-threatening conditions.
He also documented that women consistently refuse to donate eggs for research experiments if asked to do so voluntarily. Unless they are coerced by large sums of money—thousands of dollars in most cases—they won't typically donate.
“Such monetary coercion is ethically unacceptable,” Fr. Pacholczyk stressed.
For Fr. Berg, the issue that tops the list of ethical problems with the recent experiment is that it is another example of human sexuality being reduced and demeaned.
“The fundamental ethical problems in this experiment are the same as those underlying human cloning: violation of the values inherent to human sexuality.”
This study attempted “the creation of human life apart from the act of human procreation in the proper context of marital union—the crass conceptual reduction of human life to the level of 'useful' laboratory material,” he explained.
Fr. Pacholczyk took issue with the secular media coverage of the experiment, noting that “when the media covers stories like this they have an obligation to discuss the ethics carefully.”
“If science is permitted to operate without a correct moral compass, it becomes a danger to society, and the media can serve as a major force for curtailing such ethical abuses.”
“We have a duty as a society to be informed about any morally problematic research that scientists may be undertaking,” he said, “especially when our tax money may be involved in funding such studies and when such studies appear to involve direct exploitation of early-stage human beings.”
Markus Grompe, M.D. and professor of Molecular and Medical genetics at Oregon Health and Science University, summed up the problem in an Oct. 6 e-mail to CNA.
“Obviously nobody has successfully generated cloned human embryos before, however defective,” he said. However, “this new method does not have any medical applications or relevance.”
“The reason this is getting so much attention is not because it is a scientific breakthrough, which it isn't, but because they cloned human embryos, albeit useless for even disease studies in the dish,” Grompe added.
“They violated human life for nothing.”