Archive of November 25, 2011

Indiana couple visits Holy Cross missions in East Africa

Granger, Ind., Nov 25, 2011 (CNA) - For Jerry and Lillian Smith of Granger, Ind., a recent September visit to see Jerry’s brother, Holy Cross Father Tom Smith, in East Africa, is something they will not soon forget.

Fr. Smith is a missionary priest living in Kitete, Tanzania. The Smiths, parishioners of Sacred Heart Crypt Parish, Notre Dame, also visited Uganda and Kenya.

“Much poverty exists in East Africa,” said Jerry Smith in an email to Today’s Catholic. “Missionaries there work with poverty-stricken families and are truly performing a wonderful service for these children of God.”

Despite the problems, however, the Smiths observed that those in poverty seem to be very happy people.

Smith said the prominent religion among the Christians is Catholicism.

“Churches are often full on Sundays and feast days with women and children and a few men,” Smith noted. “Many of the men do not attend liturgies, which usually last for around two hours on Sundays.”

When describing the Masses, Smith said, “The people love music, and Church liturgies on Sundays and feast days include much singing and dancing, more often by the children but occasionally by the women.”

“Generally, many are uneducated, without electricity, without vehicles or other means of transportation, and without home phone service,” Smith said. “The cell phone business really prospers.”

Smith said most homes of the impoverished are with thatch or tin roofs with walls made of manure and sticks — the better ones — with mud and sticks. Some of the homes also have an outer coating of cement.

Some of those living in various degrees of poverty, according to Smith, have shops along the roads, usually quite a few next to each other, most of which are without lighting, appear to be quite dilapidated, dark and unclean, without flooring of any kind and with dirt or extremely dusty clay as their base.

“Generally all side roads and many of the main roads are very difficult to travel on,” Smith said. “It is virtually impossible to explain how bad the roads actually are.”

There is nothing that he is aware of in the United States, which can even come close to comparing how bad the dirt- and clay-based roads in East Africa actually are.

Traffic, especially in the cities, can be horrendous. “There are vehicles, motor bikes, bicycles, animals and people all competing for space on many of the roads,” Smith added. “Virtually all of those in severe poverty walk everywhere as they have no money to purchase other means of transportation.”

Smith said most of the impoverished live off of the land and their animals.

“You see cattle, sheep and chickens everywhere, with many families owning one or a few cows or sheep, often tied down on the side of the roads,” he said. “They try to fatten the cattle and sheep up and then sell them. They cannot eat them as they have no means of refrigeration.”

He added, “Very often you also see young boys or men shepherding flocks of cattle and/or sheep, which they are moving along the roadsides and pastures, trying to find grass for them to eat. Driving around them can be very tricky as they often make their way on the roads.”

Farming is another business frequently labored by those in poverty, Smith noted. Banana  groves, charcoal, coffee, tea, chickpea, corn, wheat and various other grains are raised in several of the countries wherever conditions are favorable for growing. Water can be extremely scarce and is a real concern for many who are attempting to farm and grow crops during the dry seasons.

Smith, who has been speaking to members of the Serra Club and religious within the Congregation of Holy Cross, offered the following recommendation: “All who can afford to travel to impoverished areas in East Africa should do so, especially those of us who have been given much in material gifts by Our Lord.”

“It is so moving to experience the life styles of those living in poverty in Africa, to see how happy these people appear to be and how warm and loving they are,” Smith said. “They have so little in material things and yet seem to be so much at peace with their life’s burdens. One has to wonder whether in the whole scheme of life they really are the more fortunate children of God.”

Printed with permission from Today's Catholic News, newspaper for the Diocese of Forth Wayne – South Bend, Indiana.

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US religious freedom commission granted brief extension

Washington D.C., Nov 25, 2011 (CNA) - A federal commission that advocates for religious freedom around the world has been given a four-week reprieve from closing its doors on Nov. 18.

Funding for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was included in a “minibus” spending bill to fund the federal government through Dec. 16, amid continuing budget-reducing negotiations.

The bill was approved by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on Nov. 17 and signed into law the next day by President Barack Obama.

Originally set to expire at the end of September, funding for the commission had already been extended through Nov. 18. At that date, the commission would have come to an end if Congress had not approved continued funding for another four weeks.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom now hopes for a Senate vote on a separate reauthorization bill to prevent it from going out of existence on Dec. 16.

In September, the House of Representatives voted 391 to 21 to approve a bill that would extend funding of the commission for two more years.

However, the process came to a halt in the Senate when a single anonymous senator reportedly placed a “hold” on the bill, preventing it from coming to a vote. The reasons for the hold were not disclosed.  

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was originally created by Congress in 1998 to promote religious freedom by calling attention to religious persecution in countries around the world.

The independent, bipartisan commission advises the president, Congress and the State Department on the status of religious freedom overseas.

It presents an annual report on religious freedom around the world and recommends the designation of “countries of particular concern” for nations that tolerate “particularly severe” violations of religious liberty.

The U.S. bishops, observing the importance of religious freedom as a foundation for other human rights, have urged the Senate to reauthorize the commission.

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chair of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, called in an Oct. 27 letter for the work of the commission to be continued.

“Ongoing attacks against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East and in other parts of the world point to the need to pay more, not less, attention to religious freedom,” he said.

Abolishing the commission, Bishop Hubbard argued, would send the unintended message “that the United States is not committed to the protection of religious liberty.”

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Critic points out media bias against adult stem cells

Seattle, Wash., Nov 25, 2011 (CNA) - After researchers in California called off a major U.S. embryonic stem cell study, a legal expert says that most major news outlets have given zero coverage to the far superior benefits of adult stem cells.

“Since embryonic stem cells were first derived, the media has told a materially unbalanced story,” said Wesley J. Smith, a lawyer and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center on Human Exceptionalism.

Smith said in a Nov. 23 interview with CNA that successful adult stem cell clinical trials “have either been ignored totally, or generally underplayed as story after story has claimed adult approaches offer more limited benefits than embryonic.”

His remarks come as the California-based biopharmecuetical company Geron announced on Nov. 18 that it has dropped a widely publicized embryonic stem cell research study.

Geron said that the FDA-approved study, which began in 2009 in attempt to treat spinal chord injuries, would have to end due to “capital scarcity.”

Fr. Tomasz Trafny, a member of the Vatican’s Council for Culture, said the move shows how  companies are beginning to see that it's “not worth it to invest money, energy,” and “human potentiality” in embryonic stem cell research.

The decision by Geron to end its study is significant “because they publicly acknowledge that that they don't see any significant improvements in that research,” he told CNA on Nov. 23.

Fr. Trafny said the shut down is also important because “it shows that those who focused on adult stem cells were right not only because of potential clinical applications but also from ethical point of view.”

The priest is a key player in the Vatican's recent and unprecedented contract with NeoStem, a public firm pioneering new medical research with adult stem cells.

He noted that stem cells are the body’s master cells from which all of the body’s 200-plus types of tissue ultimately grow. Their versatility allows for potential in providing replacement tissue to treat countless illnesses and disorders.

However, despite the widespread advances of adult stem cell research as a potential cure, Wesley argued that media coverage on the topic has been scarce if not non-existent.

“No one forced editors and reporters to ignore the press releases and published studies that described the ongoing and very encouraging adult stem cell successes. They simply usually chose to overplay embryonic and underplay adult stem cell research in their reporting.”

Smith believes that a contributing factor to this is that the media generally view issues through a political or religious lens.

He said that “disdain for pro-life views” as well as “anti-Catholic” sentiments can impact a particular  news outlet's analysis “of what constitutes an important story.”

“The media are particularly biased on 'cultural' issues and the embryonic stem cell controversy fits right in with that paradigm,” he added.

Smith said that in order to counteract this dynamic, alternative media “has to keep setting the record straight” and stay factually accurate in their reporting.

“In doing so, it is important that they not engage in the same journalistic malpractice from the other side,” he noted. “In other words, stick to the facts and don’t engage in the same kind of hype that the pro-embryonic stem cell research media have.” 

Smith also said it's necessary to remind people “that the field is still young and many of the encouraging adult stem cell successes constitute early experimentation.” 

“This is important both as a matter of credibility—the double standard that cuts against 'conservative' views may be unfair but it isn’t going away—and as an example of what real journalism looks like.” 

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New York priest tipped as next Irish Nuncio

Vatican City, Nov 25, 2011 (CNA) - Monsignor Charles Brown, a 52 year-old New York priest who currently works in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is rumored to become the Pope’s next apostolic nuncio to Ireland.

“If that rumor is true I’d say hallelujah,” Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York told CNA Nov. 24.

“What a good guy he is,” the archbishop added. “He’s a young, vibrant, very theologically savvy but pastorally sensitive guy.”

Archbishop Dolan added that Msgr. Brown has “loved in New York” and has “a wonderful pastoral side to him” due to his work in university apostolates. 

“So if that rumor is true, then praised be Jesus Christ!” 

The news of Msgr. Brown’s possible appointment emerged earlier this week following a meeting of the Irish cabinet in Dublin where the Holy See’s nomination for a nuncio was discussed and approved. If appointed, Msgr. Brown would replace Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza who was reassigned to the Czech Republic in September.

It is widely recognized that relations between the Holy See and Ireland are currently at their lowest point since the two states established diplomatic relations in 1929.

Earlier this month, Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore announced the closure of Ireland’s embassy to the Holy See after 82 years. His claim that the decision was taken solely on economic grounds was met with skepticism by many leading Irish Catholics.

The decision to close the embassy followed harsh words spoken against the Catholic Church in July by Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in the Dublin parliament. Prime Minister Kenny accused the Vatican of attempting to “frustrate an inquiry” into clerical abuse in the Diocese of Cloyne, County Cork.

The Vatican rejected this accusation and a spokesperson for the Prime Minister later confirmed that he had not been referring to any specific incident. Prime Minister Kenny has yet to withdraw his remarks or issue an apology.

Irish-Vatican relations could face hope, however, with the possible appointment of a new nuncio.

A native of New York, Msgr. Brown studied history at the University of Notre Dame before going on to study theology at Oxford and medieval studies at the University of Toronto. He also has a doctorate in sacramental theology from the Pontifical University of Saint Anselm in Rome.

Since 1994 he has been an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith where he worked closely with Cardinal Ratzinger—now Pope Benedict—up until 2005. The congregation is also the Vatican body that deals most closely with issue of clerical abuse.

Those who have worked with Msgr. Brown say he is much loved in the Roman curia and have  described him as a good and holy man. Over many years, Msgr. Brown has given up much of his spare time—including holidays—to work with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in some of the poorest parts of the world.

Given his position as a Vatican official, Msgr. Brown has given few media interviews during his many years in Rome. However, in 2008 he spoke with a female Canadian journalist who described him as “handsome, smart, young and funny, with a New Yorker’s easy way of keeping his cool.”

The Vatican press office has not yet confirmed his appointment but it could be officially announced by the Secretariat of State as early as Nov. 26.

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