Providence, R.I., Dec 3, 2011 (CNA) - A 17-foot Colorado blue spruce is standing tall at the center of controversy in the Rhode Island State House rotunda for what is being – or more importantly, not being – called.
Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee has invited the public to a “Holiday Tree Lighting” ceremony next Tuesday at the State House, leaving many, including Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, to question the governor’s choice of such secular terminology in referring to a symbol most commonly associated with the Christian celebration of Christmas.
"Governor Chafee's decision to avoid the word Christmas at the State House ceremony is most disheartening and divisive," said Bishop Tobin, in a statement released to the media Tuesday night.
"It is sad that such a secular spirit has swept over our state. The Governor's decision ignores long held American traditions and is an affront to the faith of many citizens. For the sake of peace and harmony in our state at this special time of the year, I respectfully encourage the Governor to reconsider his decision to use the word Christmas in the state observance."
Earlier Tuesday, Gov. Chafee said in a statement that he is only following in the footsteps of how previous governors have termed the event.
“Use of the term ‘holiday tree’ is a continuation of past practice, and does not represent a change of course on my part,” the governor said.
The governor, attempting to diffuse the controversy, then suggested that those with opinions on both sides of the tree issue instead refocus their energy on helping the less fortunate.
“I would encourage all those engaged in this discussion – whatever their opinion on the matter – to use their energy and enthusiasm to make a positive difference in the lives of their fellow Rhode Islanders.”
Father Timothy Reilly, chancellor of the diocese, reaffirmed the irony of Chafee’s message.
“In the governor’s attempts to unify, his decision has done quite the opposite,” Fr. Reilly said. “The irony is that we see more confusion and lack of unity. Christmas is a precious and sacred word in our faith vocabulary.”
Fr. John Codega, pastor of St. Brendan Church, Riverside told WPRO News that Christians are “frustrated” with Chafee’s decision.
“The governor is continuing to turn his back on the faith community,” Fr. Codega continued, adding that by suggesting that Rhode Island lawmakers and others involved in the debate should focus their energy and enthusiasm on feeding those less fortunate, Chafee is insulting the faith community.
“These are the people that are serving the poor,” Fr. Codega emphasized, noting that St. Patrick Church on Smith Hill, the site of a Christmas tree lighting scheduled for next Tuesday, Dec. 6, serves those less fortunate through several outreach ministries including a soup kitchen and food pantry.
According to Fr. James Ruggieri, pastor of St. Patrick Church, the tree lighting will begin at 5 p.m. with a prayer service on the front lawn of the church, located at 244 Smith St. The service will be led by Bishop Tobin, and will be followed by the singing of Christmas carols.
“The idea is to light a Christmas tree, not a holiday tree,” said Fr. Ruggieri. “It’s to call attention to the true meaning of Christmas, which exists because of Christ’s birth.”
Rep. Doreen M. Costa, (R—Exeter, North Kingstown), who sponsored a resolution passed by lawmakers in January, declaring the annual State House tree to be called a “Christmas tree and not a ‘holiday tree’ or any other non-traditional terms.”
Costa, a parishioner of St. Francis de Sales Church, North Kingstown, said, “I think that the governor has overstepped his bounds. This is one way of keeping Christ out of Christmas and I won’t allow that.”
The lawmaker added that there would be a “Christmas tree lighting” outside of her office, Room 106, on Dec. 6 at 6 p.m. She asked those attending to bring nonperishable food items to be distributed to local food pantries.
Joseph Cavanagh, a Pawtucket attorney, asked, "Is there really any question that Dec 25th is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ?”
Cavanagh argued that civilization has used the Christmas tree for centuries to remind people of “that momentous event which forever changed the world.
“Why then does our governor insist on ignoring reality as he unfortunately does with so many other fundamental issues, such as marriage and abortion, the intentional killing of defenseless children?” Cavanagh questioned.
Cavanagh emphasized that members of the faith community need to pray, then act, to stop the spread of “dangerous secularism, which the governor espouses.
“The notion of a "holiday" tree is sad nonsense,” he said.
Printed with permission from the Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence, R.I.
Freiburg, Germany, Dec 3, 2011 (CNA) - In a case that brought amusement to the Vatican, a German court decided to throw out charges against Pope Benedict for not wearing a seat belt during his recent papal visit to the country.
“There will be no fine for the Pope,” city spokeswoman Edith Lamersdorf told German news agency Badische Zeitung on Nov. 30. “The charges were quashed.”
Lawyer Christian Sundermann had filed a complaint on behalf of an unnamed Dortmund resident who voiced concern over the Pope's safety. In August, the pontiff visited his native country, making stops in the cities of Berlin, Freiburg and Erfurt, where he greeted locals from his popemobile.
Officials ruled on Wednesday that although Germany requires all citizens to wear seat belts—even in slow-moving vehicles—the law didn’t apply to the Pope since he was on public streets that were closed for papal events.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., said on Nov. 30 that the charges provoked “curiosity and smiles of amusement” at the Holy See, “beginning with the Pope himself.”
He explained the need for Pope Benedict to not be restricted by seat belts during his visits, since he “turns continually to the right and to the left to greet and bless the faithful.”
“Often he gets up and takes in his arms babies to bless, to the joy of the parents and everyone present,” Fr. Lombardi said. “All these gestures presume a certain freedom of movement.”
The spokesman was, nevertheless, “grateful for the affectionate concern for the Pope's safety.”
Pope Benedict could have been fined 30 to 2,500 euros ($40 to $3,300) if he was found guilty of the charges.
Attorney Sundermann clarified that her client's intent was to draw attention to the importance of supporting seat belt law enforcement rather than level an attack on the Church.
Alexandria, Va., Dec 3, 2011 (CNA) - For Irish immigrant Pat Troy, “faith is everything.” At age 70, Troy is surrounded by his family and friends and owns Ireland’s Own, a thriving pub in Alexandria, Virginia.
He has also met every U.S. president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama.
But life has not always been easy for Troy, who grew up in a poor farming community in a small town in County Offaly, Ireland.
In a Nov. 29 interview with CNA, Troy recalled working hard as a child, both on a farm and for a nearby community of nuns.
The Catholic faith was important to him from a young age, he said, remembering how he would attend Mass with his grandfather every Sunday. He also developed a special devotion to Padre Pio and the Virgin Mary, whom he believes has been instrumental in his life.
“The Blessed Mother was always looking after me,” he said.
At age 16, he was recommended by his parish priest to be trained as a butler at Birr Castle, where he worked for five years, serving prominent members of Irish society and European royalty.
Things happen for a reason, said Troy, who sees Divine Providence in the chance encounter he had with a stranger in Ireland in 1962, who encouraged and helped him immigrate to the United States at age 21.
He also sees the guidance of God at work during the years that he struggled to support his wife and two children in Washington D.C. after he immigrated, working as an insurance salesman and later buying an Irish import store where he sold authentic Irish products and gifts.
Eventually, Troy bought a pub—which he named Ireland’s Own—and which would become a center for the Irish American community in the area.
As its reputation grew, Troy found himself meeting numerous famous actors, athletes and politicians.
These meetings were all overshadowed, however, when Troy and his wife had the opportunity to meet Pope Benedict XVI in Rome in September 2008.
Troy said that “nothing can compare” to the experience of looking into the eyes of the Pope and realizing that you are indeed “close to God.”
Today, Troy loves visiting and sharing his experiences with the people who stop in at his pub. He also sees it as an opportunity to help others.
Over the years, he said, he has had many chances to talk through people’s problems with them. In offering them support and advice, he often encourages people to pray about their difficulties. He believes that God has given him a special ability to speak and connect with people, and that he should use this gift to help others.
All Catholics are called to be “charitable people,” he explained, and we can all do something “in our own little silent way.”
One of the ways in which Troy tries to give back to the community is by hosting Theology on Tap, a program that is sponsored by the diocese of Arlington. He welcomes young adults to his pub multiple times each year to hear speakers on a variety of topics involving faith and contemporary life.
Troy said that he has had a “wonderful” experience hosting Theology on Tap over the years, and that it has become a kind of “family community.”
He recalled a particularly touching experience several years ago, when he asked Theology on Tap participants to pray each week for his new granddaughter, Mairead, who weighed less than two pounds at birth.
Everyone did, and today, Mairead is a healthy 4-year-old girl, whom Troy has even brought into the pub on several occasions.
Troy has returned multiple times to visit Ireland, a country that has undergone significant changes since his youth. He reminisced about the days when the churches in Ireland were nearly full. Now, he noted, they are almost empty.
Troy said that he is sad to see so many young people leaving their faith. But he believes that the Blessed Mother “will intervene” on behalf of Ireland and the country “will come back” to the Catholic Church.
Despite any challenges that the future may hold for him, Troy is confident that God will continue to guide and bless him. “It all comes because of your faith,” he said.
Vatican City, Dec 3, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
On the evening of Dec. 2, Pope Benedict XVI enjoyed a traditional Bavarian Advent without leaving Rome courtesy of a German television company that hosted a Christmas special from the Vatican.
“I thank Bavaria Broadcasting,” he told participants, “you have all brought a little bit of the customs and sense of typical Bavarian life into the home of the Pope. I can only tell you from my heart, ‘May the Lord make you blessed’ for this gift.”
As the Pope entered the Clementine Hall of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, an ensemble of traditional Bavaria musicians greeted him with a performance of an “Alpine Christmas Oratorio,” under the direction of the Bavarian composer Hans Berger.
The Pope, along with his invited guests, then sat down to view Bavaria Broadcasting’s new film “From Heaven to Earth: Advent and Christmas in the Bavarian Alps,” which was projected onto a large screen erected in the hall. The film chronicles how families, towns and parishes in Pope Benedict’s native land of Bavaria traditionally celebrate both Advent and Christmas.
Pope Benedict responded to the festive occasion by saying he hoped “our Italian friends” had “fun with this enculturation of the faith in our land.”
“(E)specially you, Your Eminence,” he said, turning affectionately towards his Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was celebrating his 77th birthday.
The Pope then explained what Advent means to the predominantly Catholic people of Bavaria.
“With us, as has been seen, Advent is called ‘silent time’ – ‘staade zeit,’” he explained. This is a time when “nature takes a break, and the earth is covered by snow; you cannot work outside in the rural world; all are necessarily at home.”
This silence of the home, though, becomes “for the faith, awaiting the Lord, the joy of his presence,” and so “we have all these melodies, all these traditions that make it a little – as has been said today – heaven present on earth.”
The Pope recognized that today Advent “is often precisely the opposite” and has become a time of “unbridled activities, buying, selling, preparations for Christmas, the big lunches, and so on.” However, the popular traditions of the faith “have not disappeared” but have been “renovated, deepened, updated” for a new era.
These traditions help to create “islands for the soul, islands of silence, islands of faith, islands for the Lord, in our time.”
Before he imparted his blessing, the Pope thanked all those in families and parishes throughout the world who make present “the reality of faith in our homes, in our time.” He hoped that such traditions will increasingly help more people to live Advent as God wishes, “towards the Lord.”