Archive of November 19, 2011

Illinois food pantries experiencing increased demand for services

Springfield, Ill., Nov 19, 2011 (CNA) - The still-faltering economy is adding unwanted stress to low-income families as they prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2011. So as the holidays approach, food pantries across the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois are asking for assistance from the public to aid those who will come to them for help.

"The economy is definitely affecting the pantries in this area," said Janet Nelson, supervisor of Holy Family Food Pantry in Springfield. "At Holy Family, we're struggling to keep the basics that we need. I'm talking about things like peanut butter, jelly, canned goods, and boxes of macaroni and cheese.

"This year I've noticed we've even been low on canned fruit," Nelson said. "Luckily the farmers have been good about bringing in fresh fruit and vegetables, but now that it is fall, they won't have those available."

“St John’s Breadline will serve an estimated 900 individuals a traditional Thanksgiving meal,” said Nelson. “Meanwhile the Food Pantry is planning on serving 450 families for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, so we need both turkeys and hams.”

With the high price of fuel and food the last several years, Nelson said more working families are finding it difficult to make ends meet. "We've really gotten a lot of new families this year and we're seeing a lot more working families — families where two parents are working and they still can't make ends meet."

"We have more people coming in for help all the time," said Sister Carol Beckermann, OSF, director of Catholic Charities in Effingham. "Last week we had 100 families come for help in one day. We're seeing families that are larger (as they sometimes have grown children or grandchildren move back home), new people we've never seen before, and people that we served before who haven't been in lately but all of the sudden they are coming back."

At Thanksgiving, Sister Carol said the local firefighters collect money, give those funds to Catholic Charities to choose the food, and then the firefighters help put together food baskets. "The firemen fix baskets for the larger families," she said. "This year we have an individual who has been soliciting donations from people to help out Catholic Charities. He is going to help provide for the smaller families.

"You know, we see a lot of people that are termed 'working poor,'" Sister Carol said. "There are, of course, people who are unable to find jobs, but there are others who are working two or three jobs. They are truly working and trying to make it, but they just can't. You know, gas prices go up and down but once food prices go up, those prices stay up."

At Christmas, Effingham Catholic Charities in Illinois will collaborate with another faith-based organization, providing clothing and food for families in need, Sister Carol said.

"We know that it's hard for people to ask for help," said Marie Rademacher, director of Decatur Catholic Charities, noting that their office will be giving out baskets of food for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. "We just had the community food drive and that helped tremendously, but overall we have a lot of new families coming in for food. We've had a 6 or 7 percent increase lately."

Although Nelson has a great number of contributors who fill Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets each year, she is still worried about the holidays this year. "We are planning on feeding 450 families for each holiday and like I said, we're really struggling," she said. "It seems like the shelves just aren't where they need to be at this point. It worries me."

Nelson recommends that people, no matter where they reside in the diocese, donate what they can this holiday season to their local Catholic Charities or public food bank, either through their parishes, schools, a community food drive, place of employment, or individually.

"I think people are really scared in this (economic) situation, where they can't plan ahead for the holidays," Nelson said. "Really, the holidays are the only time that some people ask for help."

Printed with permission from Catholic Times, newspaper for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.

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New journal offers Catholic view of human experience

Washington D.C., Nov 19, 2011 (CNA) - Experts from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C. have launched a free online journal called “Humanum” to address issues surrounding the family, marriage, love, health and human life. 

“Humanum is all about 'the human,'” said editor Stratford Caldecott, “what makes us human, what keeps us human, and how to rescue our humanity when this is endangered.”

“The journal has a particular concern with issues that directly affect the poor and the vulnerable in our society,” he said.

The Center for Cultural and Pastoral Research, a recently founded subgroup of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, launched its new quarterly online review on Nov. 15.

The Fall 2011 issue features prominent Catholic writers such as David L. Schindler, Father José Granados, and Ellen Roderick, and focuses on the theme of the child—“the first and purest expression of what it is to be human,” said center director Margaret H. McCarthy.

McCarthy said that “Humanum” aims to engage contemporary themes such as childhood, bioethics, education, work, ecology, medicine, health and also review “important and influential books.”

She explained that initiative is intended as a free service to researchers and students in the social sciences, medicine, and theology, as well as to pastoral and health care workers, catechists, parents and teachers.

The journal “is one of several expressions of the center’s effort to bring sustained anthropological and theological reflection to the pressing cultural issues of our time, particularly as these affect children and the most vulnerable members of society, including the aged and infirm,” McCarthy said.

After the fall journal, “Humanum” will launch a four-issue cycle on “Recovering Origins,” which will explore how children may be compromised by divorce, artificial reproduction, same-sex unions, and delinquent fatherhood.

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Pope to African leaders: have the courage to do what is right

Cotonou, Benin, Nov 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Pope Benedict XVI has called upon the political leadership of Africa to govern with wisdom and integrity. 

“Adopt a courageous ethical approach to your responsibilities and, if you are believers, ask God to grant you wisdom! This wisdom will help you to understand that, as promoters of your peoples’ future, you must become true servants of hope,” the Pope told a gathering of political and religious leaders in Benin’s Presidential Palace in the city of Cotonou Nov. 19.

Alluding to the continent’s history of corruption and cronyism amongst its elites, the Pope recognized that it is “not easy to live the life of a servant, to remain consistent amid the currents of opinion and powerful interests.” Power, he warned, “easily blinds,” especially when private, family, ethnic or religious interests are at stake.

The event was the Pope’s first public engagement on the second day of his visit to Benin.

His audience included Benin president Thomas Boni Yayi along with members of the country’s government and diplomatic corps. The presidential palace in Cotonou was constructed in 1960 to mark Benin’s independence from France.

Despite its troubled past, the Pope contended that Africa is “a continent of hope.” He added that he was not “indulging in mere rhetoric,” but was “simply expressing a personal conviction which is also that of the Church.”

This hope is to be found both in the continent’s economic life and in interreligious dialogue.  

The Pope reflected upon recent events across Africa. He said many of its people have shown their desire for liberty, their need for material security, and their wish to “live in harmony according to their different ethnic groups and religions.”

In the north of the continent many dictatorial regimes have recently been swept away as part of the “Arab Spring,” while the people of South Sudan have gained their independence. 

In charting a new socio-economic way forward for Africa, the Pope said, “the Church does not propose any technical solution and does not impose any political solution,” given that “we know that no political regime is ideal and that no economic choice is neutral.”

What the Church can provide, however, is “a message of hope,” which “generates energy, which stimulates the intellect and gives the will all its dynamism.” For while despair is individualistic, he said, hope is communion.

He quoted Cardinal Jules-Géraud Saliège, the mid-twentieth century Archbishop of Toulouse in France, who said that “to hope is never to abandon; it is to redouble one’s activity.”

“The Church accompanies the State and its mission; she wishes to be like the soul of our body untiringly pointing to what is essential: God and man,” explained the Pope.

So while Catholicism takes on great works in education and care across Africa “above all,” he said, the Church is “she” who “prays without ceasing, who points to God and to where the authentic man is to be found.”

Turning to the issue of interreligious dialogue, the Pope rejected intolerance and violence between religions.

“Aggression is an outmoded relational form which appeals to superficial and ignoble instincts.”

The starting point of dialogue, he suggested, is a greater knowledge and practice of one’s own faith. Someone cannot love unless he loves himself, and this love “can only begin by sincere personal prayer on the part of the one who desires to dialogue.”

In this prayer the believer should ask God “for the gift to see in the other a brother to be loved and, within his tradition, a reflection of the truth which illumines all people.”

The Pope rejected “muddled thinking” and “syncretism,” saying these can result from “interreligious dialogue when badly understood.” He charted practical ways in which religions can work together, such as cooperation in social or cultural areas. This collaboration can advance mutual understanding and help people “live together serenely.”

In ordinary life in Africa, he said, many families have members who profess different beliefs, and yet remain united.

He concluded by using the image of a hand to explain himself. “There are five fingers on it and each one is quite different,” yet “each one is also essential and their unity makes a hand.”

There is a “vital duty,” he said, to have good understanding between cultures, consideration for each other that is not condescending, and respect for the rights of each person.

“This is my wish for the whole of Africa, which is so dear to me! Africa, be confident and rise up! The Lord is calling you.”

After his address, Pope Benedict held a brief private meeting with President Yayi Boni where he met the president’s family and exchanged gifts.

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Pope signs apostolic exhortation ‘Africae Munus’

Cotonou, Benin, Nov 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Pope Benedict XVI has signed his Apostolic Exhortation “Africae Munus,” a teaching document which charts a future for the Catholic Church in Africa.

“Africa, land of a New Pentecost, put your trust in God! Impelled by the Spirit of the Risen Christ, become God's great family, generous with all your sons and daughters, agents of reconciliation, peace and justice!” the Pope said at the signing ceremony in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in the southern Benin city of Ouidah Nov. 19. 

The document contains the Pope’s conclusions following the Synod of African Bishops held in Rome in 2009.

After a brief moment of Eucharistic adoration, the Pope explained what he hoped the 2009 synod had achieved. He also explained his hopes for his new exhortation, which will be presented to the bishops of the continent at a Mass in the city of Cotonou tomorrow morning.

He told the African bishops that the Synod had benefited from Pope John Paul II’s 1995 Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Africa.” That document stressed “the urgent need to evangelize” the continent and viewed evangelization as an activity inseparable from the work of human development.

The earlier document also developed the concept of the Church as “God’s Family,” something that had borne “many spiritual fruits” for the Church and for the activity of evangelization in African society as a whole. Increasingly, he said, the Church is called to see herself “as a family.”

This, for Christians, means being “a community of believers which praises the triune God,” and which celebrates “the great mysteries of our faith.” It also means to “enliven with charity” the relationships between individuals, groups and nations above and beyond ethnic, cultural and religious differences.

This love is not confined to Catholics, but is offered to everyone in Africa. Pope Benedict said the Church is open to cooperation with “all the components of society,” including other Christian groups and non-Christians, including Muslims.

The principal theme of the synod, the Pope explained, was reconciliation with God and neighbor.

“(A) Church reconciled within herself and among all her members can become a prophetic sign of reconciliation in society within each country and the continent as a whole.”

Touching upon the continent’s slave trade history, the Pope said the Church is now impelled to “combat every form of slavery,” including those forms which undermine peace and justice in present day Africa.

“Peace is one of our greatest treasures,” he told the basilica. To attain peace, “we need to have courage and the reconciliation born of forgiveness, the will once more to live as one, to share a vision of the future and to persevere in overcoming difficulties.”

The attainment of peace with both God and neighbor leads men and woman to work for greater justice in society. Justice according to the Gospel, he said, means “above all doing God’s will.”

It is this “fundamental resolve” to do God’s will that spawns “countless” initiatives aimed at promoting justice in Africa and the welfare of all its peoples. He particularly noted the most disadvantaged in society, such as those in need of employment, schools and hospitals.

Pope Benedict concluded his address with a rallying cry: “Africa, Good News for the Church, become Good News for the entire world!”

After the address, he signed the apostolic exhortation and imparted his blessing on the congregation, after which he departed by car for the city of Cotonou.

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Pursue holiness, Pope tells African seminarians

Cotonou, Benin, Nov 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

During his visit to Benin on Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of young African aspirants to the priesthood that the first purpose of their time at seminary is to pursue holiness. 

“Without the logic of holiness, the ministry is merely a social function,” he said during an address at the Seminary of St. Gall in the southern Benin city of Ouidah on Nov. 19.

“The quality of your future life depends on the quality of your personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ, on your sacrifices, on the right integration of the requirements of your current formation.”

The Pope addressed a gathering of hundreds of priests, religious, seminarians and lay people gathered in the courtyard of the seminary building on the second day of his visit to the West African country, which presently has nearly 500 seminarians.

He encouraged the seminarians in his audience to place themselves “in the school of Christ” to acquire virtues which will help them to live the ministerial priesthood as “the locus of your sanctification.” 

The Pope told them that for a priest to be a credible witness to “the service of peace, justice and reconciliation,” he must be “a humble and balanced man, one who is wise and magnanimous.”

“(A)fter sixty years in priestly life, I can tell you, dear seminarians, that you will not regret accumulating intellectual, spiritual and pastoral treasures during your formation,”  he added.

Pope Benedict also gave particular advice to the other groups assembled at the late morning gathering. He gave particular focus on how each, in their own way, can help build an Africa based on “peace, justice and reconciliation.” These are the three themes of his post-synodal apostolic exhortation on the future of the continent, Africae Munus, which was published today. 

He told priests that the “responsibility for promoting peace, justice and reconciliation,” fell to them in a special way, as they are called to be “men of communion” by dint of their ordination and celebration of the sacraments.

“As crystal does not retain the light but rather reflects it and passes it on, in the same manner the priest must make transparent what he celebrates and what he has received,” he told them. “I thus encourage you to let Christ shine through your life.”

He recommended they live in communion with their bishop and brother priests and show “a profound solicitude” for each of the baptized, giving “great attention” to each person.

Being “modeled on Christ” means they should never substitute their priestly being with the “ephemeral and at times unhealthy realities which the contemporary mentality tends to impose on every culture.” 

Addressing the vowed religious, the Pope said that poverty and chastity make them “truly free to obey unconditionally the one Love which, when it takes hold of you, impels you to proclaim it everywhere.”

This “thirst for God,” and “hunger for his Word,” is transformed into service of those who most “deprived of justice, peace and reconciliation,” as the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience transform religious into “a universal brother or sister of all,” helping  them to “walk resolutely on the way of holiness.”

The lay faithful, for their part, are to find holiness “at the heart of the daily realities of life” where they are to be “the salt of the earth and light of the world.”

This mission, explained the Pope, means creating families “built according to the design of God and in fidelity to his plan for Christian marriage” so that they become “true domestic churches.” He particularly encouraged parents to have a “profound respect for life” and to “bear witness to human and spiritual values” before their children.

“By having love and forgiveness reign in your families, you will contribute to the upbuilding of a Church which is beautiful and strong, and to the advent of greater justice and peace in the whole of society.”  

Finally, he praised the work of catechists, who number over 11,000 in Benin. They make an “outstanding and absolutely necessary contribution to the spread of the faith through fidelity to the teaching of the Church.”

He concluded by encouraging all those gathered to have “an authentic and living faith” which is the “unshakable foundation of a holy Christian life” and is “at the service of the building of a new world.”

Many new converts to Catholicism in Benin still retaining aspects of their traditional African religions. The Pope said that love for the Church and the sacraments are an “efficacious antidote against a syncretism which deceives” and help new Christians rightly integrate their culture into the Christian faith.

Prior to the papal address, Pope Benedict prayed at the tomb of his friend, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, who died in 2008. Cardinal Gantin was the first African to head a dicastery of the Roman Curia. He worked alongside Pope Benedict for many years in Rome. Yesterday the Pope described him as “a great friend” and “a great representative of Catholic Africa, civilized and human Africa.”

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Benedict XVI reflects on prayer in address to children

Cotonou, Benin, Nov 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI spoke of his prayer life as he encouraged the children of Benin in their love for Christ.

“The day of my First Holy Communion was one of the most beautiful days of my life.  It is the same for you, isn’t it? And why is that?” asked the Pope.

“It’s not only because of our nice clothes or the gifts we receive, nor even because of the parties!  It is above all because, that day, we receive Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time!”  

The Pope addressed over 800 children gathered at St. Rita’s parish in Benin’s largest city, Cotonou. His talk followed a visit to a nearby shelter for abandoned, sick and malnourished children run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. There the children sang and danced for Pope Benedict.   

His meeting with the children at St. Rita’s began with Eucharistic adoration. He told the children that Jesus, “who loves us very much, is truly present in the tabernacles of all the churches around the world.” Therefore, he said, “I ask you to visit him often to tell him of your love for him.”

Moving onto his own prayer life, he explained that “when I receive Communion, Jesus comes to live in me,” so “I should welcome him with love and listen closely to him.”

“In the depths of my heart, I can tell him, for example: “Jesus, I know that you love me.  Give me your love so that I can love you in return and love others with your love.  I give you all my joys, my troubles and my future.” 

As a model of youthful piety, he held up the example of the 19th century Ugandan martyr Saint Kizito who “was put to death because he wanted to live according to the baptism which he had just received,” said the Pope.  “Kizito prayed,” he said, because “he realized that God is not only important, but that he is everything.”

Prayer, he told the children, “is a cry of love directed to God our Father, with the will to imitate Jesus our brother.” So, just as Jesus went off to pray by himself, the Pope too “can find a calm place to pray where I can quietly stand before a Cross or a holy picture in order to speak to Jesus and to listen to him.”

Alternatively, he told them, “I can also use the Gospels,” so that, “I keep within my heart a passage which has touched me and which will guide me throughout the day.” 

Even just staying with Jesus “for a little while,” helps “fill me with his love, light and life!” he said.

He told them that this love which is received in prayer should call them, in turn, to give it “to my parents, to my friends, to everyone with whom I live, even with those who do not like me, and those whom I do not appreciate enough.”

“Dear young people, Jesus loves you,” said the Pope, urging the children to ask their parents to pray with them. “Sometimes you may even have to push them a little.  But do not hesitate to do so.  God is that important!”

Finally, he said he entrusted each one of them to the Virgin Mary who can “teach you to love more and more through prayer, forgiveness and charity.”

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