Archive of November 12, 2011

Visitation of saint's relics draws Catholics in NJ

Trenton, N.J., Nov 12, 2011 (CNA) - It has been more than 150 years since St. John Neumann – then the 4th bishop of Philadelphia – crossed the Delaware River by launch for a pastoral visit to St. Peter Parish in Riverside, N.J.

On Oct. 30, appropriately enough, just two days before the Feast of All Saints, an ornate wooden reliquary housing vestments and objects St. John Neumann used in his life, and a first-class relic – a piece of the saint’s vertebra – crossed the river once more and was borne to St. Peter Church, a worship site of Jesus, the Good Shepherd Parish, Riverside.

There, a solemn, seven-hour diocesan visitation among the faithful unfolded. The day opened with the weekly Spanish Mass and included a presentation on the life and spirituality of St. John Neumann and a prayer service during which participants had the opportunity to venerate the relics.

 The closing Mass was celebrated by Trenton's Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M. who, in his homily, encouraged the faithful to follow St. John Neumann’s example of honoring God by sharing the faith at every opportunity.

The visitation of the reliquary to the church, said to be the only one in the diocese established and visited by the saint, was but one stop on a year-long “Neumann year” tour of the relics by his religious order, the Redemptorists, marking the 200th anniversary of his birth.

And though, as Redemptorist Father James Gilmour who spoke throughout the day, phrased it, St. John Neumann was not there among the faithful as he had been on that first visitation, “to hear Confession or give Holy Communion,” still, his strong, sacred and saintly presence sanctified the day and heartened those who came from around the area, Pennsylvania and coastal counties of the diocese.

The day began with Spanish Mass as an homage to the saint’s abiding mission to immigrants, said Father Gilmour who noted that he, himself wasn’t “here today because I speak English. I’m here because I speak Spanish.”

In his Spanish homily, Father Gilmour, who served in the mission fields of Latin America, encouraged the Latino community to “walk in the way” and the light of St. John Neumann.

Father Gilmour spoke of how the saint made his own “Camino” as he discerned how to be a mission priest in America and carried the word of God on horseback and by carriage.  After the Mass, Father Gilmour said he considered this “another pastoral visit” which presented the faithful with the opportunity to experience the saint who had reached out to the struggling immigrant Catholics of his day in a manner that resonates well today.”

And resonate well it did with faithful such as Rose Thomas of Jesus, the Good Shepherd Parish and her mother, Rose Baker, of Resurrection Parish, Delran, who came not only to venerate his relics, but to pray for his intercession on behalf of Catholic education.

Noting that St. John Neumann had laid a firm foundation for Catholic education in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, Rose Thomas said, “He founded this parish and I went to school here and my sons went to Holy Cross (high school in Delran).

“I’m a firm believer in Catholic education and I came here to pray that Catholic schools find new strength.”

Jean and Edward Klements of St. Peter Parish, Point Pleasant Beach, who have a long devotion to St. John Neumann, said they had come because he is “so special in our family. We have prayed to him in times of sickness. There have been many miracles. We have visited the shrine many times and we thought we would like to be here today.

“It was very special to be here with the relics. We had never seen the reliquary before. It was a very beautiful day.”

Father Edward Blanchett, pastor of Jesus the Good Shepherd Parish, said the visitation was “just so appropriate the weekend before All Saints Day. It was a wonderful way to tie the past and the present together. He had visited us in the past and now he has visited us again.”

Printed with permission from the Trenton Monitor, newspaper for the Diocese of Trenton, N.J.

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New Catholic iPhone app ‘ignites’ prayer communities

Dallas, Texas, Nov 12, 2011 (CNA) - A new iPhone app called “Ignio” is designed to help Catholics deepen their faith by featuring a digital flame that grows and shrinks according to how much the user prays for friends, attends Mass or reads Scripture.

“It enables Millennials and others to connect, ignite and unite their faith through a technology portal,” developer Andres Ruzo told CNA, adding that it will help give the younger generation “a better connection with their faith.”

While Facebook allows its users to have thousands of virtual “friends” around the world, Ignio designers intended to create a different “spiritual community” that allows real time connection through prayer.

To light the candle and activate the app, the user must physically bump iPhones with someone else who has the program.

After activation, users join small prayer circles no larger than 12 people. They can “check in” each time they participate in religious activities, notifying those in their circle about their actions. Each action grows the digital candle’s flame by a preset amount.

Users can also share prayer intentions on a prayer wall and read a private report about their past actions.

Ignio, whose name comes from the Latin word for “ignite,” is the project of WeDoBelieve, an organization of Catholic businesspeople that funds trend savvy evangelization efforts and products.

The app development team included the organization’s five co-founders: Roberto Skertchly, Andres Ruzo, Flip Caderao, Jonathan Ogle and Brandon Copely.

Ruzo—CEO of the telecommunications company LinkAmerica—explained to CNA on Nov. 10 that the virtual candle’s changing size is “a way to tell you if you’re really engaging with your spiritual life, and if it’s really an important enough priority.”

“It keeps you accountable,” he said, noting that the program is intended to reach out to the “Millennial” generation born after 1980.

“What we’re trying to do is bring to this material world a connection to the virtual world that is more connected to the spiritual side. How do you do that? Through creating communities,” Ruzo said.

Bishop Kevin J. Farrell of Dallas formally launched the app on Aug. 21 at Dallas’ Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The app was released to the public on Oct. 21.

“I applaud the efforts of these faithful Catholics to join our Holy Father in using technology to evangelize, and I appreciate their work to bring all of us, especially young people, a very relevant way to deepen our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ,” the bishop said ahead of the launch.

There are about 5,000 users of the app so far, Ruzo reported. The iPhone app is available free of charge in the iTunes app store. A version for the Android operating system is under development.

The app’s website is

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Dawn Eden: Penn State scandal a reminder of abuse victims’ needs

Washington D.C., Nov 12, 2011 (CNA) - The Penn State sex abuse scandal is a time both to remember the harm done by abuse and to help abuse victims heal, Catholic writer Dawn Eden said.

“The current stories are heavy on outrage, which is good—the public should be outraged,” Eden wrote Nov. 10 on her blog “The Dawn Patrol.”

“But talking about abuse without giving guidance for those who have suffered it can ultimately re-victimize people who have already been hurt so much—turning them into political footballs, if you will. Those living with the wounds of abuse need to learn that there is hope for healing.”

Priests and other pastoral caregivers should be aware that survivors of childhood sexual abuse are likely to have “highly painful memories” return because of media coverage and they should be prepared to help them.

Eden, the author of the forthcoming Ave Maria Press book “My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints,” said that news stories about abuse can help raise awareness about the “grave harm” of abuse, but the coverage can also cause stress for victims.

Pennsylvania State University trustees fired famed football coach Joe Paterno and the university president Graham Spanier on Nov. 9 for their handling of child sex abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

In 2002 Mike McQueary, a graduate student who later became an assistant football coach, told Paterno that he witnessed Sandusky sexually assault a young boy in a shower at the campus football complex. While Paterno alerted the school’s athletic director, no officials called police. They banned Sandusky from having children from the charity he founded, Second Mile, visit the football building, CNN reports.

In her blog post, Eden stressed victims’ need for healing.

“Christians know that healing is to be found in and through Christ. As a Catholic, I have found the source of healing to be in and through Christ and His Church—in prayer, in the sacraments, and in communion with one another and all the Communion of Saints,” she said.

She suggested that priests and caregivers who respond to abuse victims should help them understand the nature of forgiveness, which Christians must practice. According to Eden, forgiveness differs from reconciliation with abusers, which Christians are not commanded to do.

Those who were abused by their parents or other relatives sometimes fear that their failure to reconcile keeps them from “being right with God.”

In the Catholic Sacrament of Penance, abuse victims who confess resentment towards a family member sometimes receive incomplete advice from their confessors, who do not know the larger context.

“For the penitent who thinks forgiveness requires reconciliation, such an instruction may only aggravate his sense of hopelessness—as though God were ordering him to put himself at risk of further emotional or physical harm,” Eden said.

“The good news is that forgiveness, being an act of grace, does not depend on our own efforts. It is a work accomplished not by us, but in us, through the Holy Spirit that we received in our baptism. Our job is to ask the Spirit to forgive through us, turning our will to make us want God's best for the offender.”

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Senate requests details on HHS denial of grant to bishops

Washington D.C., Nov 12, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Twenty-seven U.S. senators requested information on how the Department of Health and Human Services graded applicants for anti-trafficking grants and asked why the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services was denied one.

CNA obtained a copy of a Nov. 9 letter—signed by legislators including Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)—which gives department secretary Kathleen Sebelius until Nov. 18 to ensure that the department respected the bishops' conscience rights “and did not violate current law in awarding this grant.”

The senators asked for “a full explanation of your department’s decision” and whether the bishops' “position regarding abortion referrals was a factor in your department’s decision making.”

They also requested a list of grant applicants, their applications, scores and comments from an independent review, as well as all department documents and communications related to the funding decision.

From 2006 to 2011, the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services held a federal contract to provide food, housing, medical services and other aid to trafficking victims in more than 44 states. The bishops’ group was consistently given excellent ratings.

New instructions for grant applications in 2011 indicated that the grant program would give “strong preference” to applicants that would offer referrals for “the full range of legally permissible gynecological and obstetric care.”

In keeping with Catholic teaching, Migration and Refugee Services does not offer referrals for abortion or contraception.

The group was denied their bid for a new contract, and questions were raised amid allegations that the grant process had been manipulated.

A Washington Post article on Nov. 1 suggested that senior political appointees at the department awarded the grants to other groups, ignoring the recommendation of career staffers that an award be given to the bishops’ group, based on its excellent scores from an independent review board. 

According to the article, some staff members in the Department of Health and Human Services had protested that the process was “unfair and politicized,” saying that it was “clearly and blatantly trying to come up with a certain outcome.”

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, SM, director of media relations for the U.S bishops’ conference, told CNA on Nov. 11 that the bishops’ group was passed up for funding while two others that received grants had “scored so low they did not make the cutoff when evaluated by an independent review board.”

Sr. Walsh said that Migration and Refugee Services met all of the required criteria laid out by the Funding Opportunity Announcement explaining how the selection would be made.

In addition, she said, the group met the criteria to be given special preference, based on their experience and ability to serve underserved populations in a variety of locations, including those with high incidences of trafficking. 

The only specification that the bishops’ group did not meet was a willingness to offer referrals for abortion and contraception.

However, Sr. Walsh explained, that element was not a requirement, but rather a matter of “strong preference,” meaning that the Migration and Refugee Services should not have been disqualified because of it.

In a Nov. 7 blog post for the bishops’ conference, Sr. Walsh charged that the department’s action violated an executive order issued by President Obama in 2010.

The order stated that decisions about federal aid awards “must be free from political interference or even the appearance of such interference and must be made on the basis of merit, not on the basis of the religious affiliation of a recipient organization or lack thereof.”

Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services have denied charges of manipulation and said that the department followed standard procedure in awarding the grant.

George Sheldon, acting assistant secretary at the Administration for Children and Families, said that the awarding of grants is based upon a number of factors, “including, but not limited to, the scores given by reviewers.”

He said that according to standard protocol, the review scores are merely “an advisory factor for the consideration of the program and agency leadership who always serve as the official decision makers on grant awards.”

Sheldon said that he is “fully confident that the organizations best suited to provide comprehensive case management to victims of trafficking were awarded the grants for these services.”

Sr. Walsh responded to Sheldon’s assertion by maintaining that “experience indicates that career staff generally make awards pursuant to the recommendations from these review panels.”

She noted that career staffers had been upset by the decision and indicated that it had deviated from the normal procedure.

Sr. Walsh said that the bishops’ conference filed a Freedom of Information Act request on Oct. 27. The Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged the request but has not yet provided the requested information. 

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Vatican official urges calm in theology of the body debates

Rome, Italy, Nov 12, 2011 (CNA) -

Bishop Jean Laffitte, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said it is important for scholars of Pope John Paul II’s teachings on human sexuality not over emphasize their points of disagreement.

“We should not develop too much the disputes,” Bishop Laffitte told CNA Nov. 11.

Recently several voices—including Bishop Laffitte—expressed concern that some scholars may be overemphasizing the sexual aspect of Blessed John Paul II’s widely known “theology of the body.” The late Pope developed his insights into human sexuality and love in a series of 133 talks given between 1979 and 1984.

“It is true that when you have such a thought of John Paul II then it is huge—600 pages, 133 catechesis on human love—so I think it is possible to forget one element, even an important thought,” Bishop Laffitte said.

The bishop took part in an international three-day conference on the topic which concluded Nov. 11 at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum University.

“I think it’s been an excellent conference,” said Dr. Janet Smith, Professor of Moral Theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, to CNA.

“I love the international dimension both among speakers and the audience and I think it gives us an opportunity to see how the theology of the body is studied worldwide,” Smith said, adding that “the more people who study it, the more great riches the theology of the body we will discover.”

She said that, for her, the conference once again highlighted the “multitude of angles from which we can study the theology of the body,” as “it is going to be decades if not centuries,” before Pope John Paul II’s thought in this area is fully understood and developed.

Speakers over the 3 days included Monsignor Savio Hon Tai-Fari of the Pontifical Council for the Evangelization of Peoples; Dr. Rocco Buttiglione, Vice-President of the Italian Parliament’s House of Deputies; Professor Michael Waldstein of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida; and Christopher West of the Theology of the Body Institute of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

A common theme over throughout was the part which the theology of the body can play in the Church’s new evangelization of the western world. Smith believes that role can be significant as “it speaks very directly to a particular problem of our age which is sexual confusion.”

She believes it helps introduce people to salvation history, a life of mystical prayer as well as healing their “sexual wounds.” The fact that “one work is doing all of these things is spectacular” she said.

Bishop Laffitte added that “the theology of the body is something very modern and it can help many, many people to get reconciled with the idea of human love, sexuality, human body, masculinity and femininity and so on.”

He believes young people—especially when preparing for marriage—are particularly drawn to a vision of human sexuality by which “the communion between a man and a woman can be perceived as an image of the divine communion between the divine persons.”

The conference did not focus on the current debate among experts on how to best present John Paul II's teaching on human sexuality. Controversy over the issue can be traced to Christopher West's 2009 interview on 60 Minutes when he compared the late Pope to playboy founder Hugh Hefner. In response to the program, West said that ABC tried to make his points understandable but sensationalized and misrepresented his views.

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