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Archive of December 16, 2011

US bishops' campaign draws attention to domestic poverty

Washington D.C., Dec 16, 2011 (CNA) - The U.S. bishops announced the launch of a renewed media effort to promote a better understanding of poverty in America. 

The new initiative unveiled by the bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development will include a refurbished website, a new social media presence and daily events for Poverty Awareness Month in January.

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, who leads the bishops’ efforts to fight poverty through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, explained that the culture of life must start with a love “that binds us to the hopes and joys, the struggles and the sorrows” of the poor and afflicted in society.

According to the U.S. bishops’ conference, 15 percent of total Americans and nearly 25 percent of children live in poverty.

The Poverty USA campaign will feature updated statistics in a special section on the bishops’ conference website. A new Facebook page has also been launched for the campaign, providing resources for families, individuals and parishes.

Visitors to the page can also participate in Poverty Awareness Month by joining the Facebook event and taking part in daily activities during the month of January to increase their understanding of domestic poverty.

Noting the widespread scourge of poverty in America, Bishop Soto spoke of the importance of solidarity with those who struggle in any capacity.

“We march with immigrant families toward a society made stronger and safer by their inclusion,” he said. “We embrace the mother and her unborn child, giving to both of them hope and opportunity.”

“We measure our own health by the quality of care we give to those most vulnerable,” he added. “We labor with those whose work is burdensome.”

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Knights of Columbus urge millions to 'Keep Christ in Christmas'

New Haven, Conn., Dec 16, 2011 (CNA) - The Knights of Columbus' annual campaign reminding millions of Americans to “Keep Christ in Christmas” is in full swing with radio ads, signs, billboards, Nativity scenes and Christmas cards.

“In a society where Christmas has often become shorthand for shopping, many who celebrate Christmas can lose sight of its true meaning,” Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson said Dec. 15.

“Those who celebrate Christmas give gifts to each other because it is the day on which we celebrate the greatest gift: God’s gift of his son to the world,” he explained. 

“Christmas is about 'peace on earth toward people of good will' and we think that’s a message worth remembering.”

The campaign's list of initiatives this year include English and Spanish-language radio spots encouraging people to remember Christmas in various ways, such as helping those less fortunate. The Knights of Columbus have also sent a public service announcement to television networks and hundreds of local broadcast stations and cable systems.

The global Catholic fraternal order has led the “Keep Christ in Christmas” program since the early 1960s. It was originally organized by the Christian Mothers of Milwaukee, which later became the Council of Catholic Women.

Last year, the public service announcements reached more than 38 million television viewers and 34 million radio listeners.

Locally, Knights of Columbus councils have been busy placing billboards and signs, sponsoring Nativity displays or selling religious Christmas cards.

The national organization also encouraged the councils to hold a Christmas tree or Nativity scene lighting ceremony on the first Tuesday of December. The Supreme Council has erected a nativity scene on the Green in New Haven, Conn., near the organization’s headquarters and is organizing a “Posada” Christmas procession on Dec. 20.

In New Jersey, however, a “Keep Christ in Christmas” banner sponsored by a local council in the town of Pitman garnered opposition from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

A local man complained that the banner hangs from two town-owned light posts over a street and was posted by members of the town’s fire department.

The town mayor Michael Batten told Fox News that a similar banner has hung over the street during the holiday season for the last half century. He says the present banner hangs on private property above a county road and will remain posted until he hears otherwise from the town’s attorney.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson told Fox News that the controversy is “politically correct nonsense.”

“We're trying to remind Christians that Christmas is a religious holiday,” he said. “It's not about shopping. By keeping Christ in Christmas, we're just underlining the first six letters in the word Christmas. That's the message we're trying to remind people.”

In 1995, the Knights of Columbus won a U.S. Supreme Court case that secured the right to display a crèche on the Town Green of Trumbull, Connecticut.

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Record drop in US marriages caused by social changes

Washington D.C., Dec 16, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The fact that the number of Americans getting married is at a record low is due to changes in society’s values, public policy decisions and economic factors, says sociologist Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox.

He was responding to a Dec. 14 Pew Research analysis that indicates marriage rates in the U.S. are at a record low, as young couples are delaying marriage longer than ever before.

According to Pew Research Center’s analysis of U.S. Census data, only 51 percent of adults in the U.S. are currently married, compared to 72 percent in 1960. In addition, new marriages in America dropped by five percent between 2009 and 2010.

While the decline in marriage is taking place among all age groups, it is most drastic among young adults. The analysis observed that only 20 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 are married, a drop from 59 percent in 1960.

Part of the decrease in currently married individuals may be tied to young adults delaying marriage, the report said. Both men and women are about six years older when they enter into their first marriage than couples 50 years ago were.

The analysis suggested that divorce is a factor in the decreasing percentage of adults who are currently married. However it noted that divorce rates have leveled off in the last 20 years after climbing in previous decades.

A similar decline in marriage has been observed in most other “advanced post-industrial societies” and in some less developed nations as well, said the report, noting the trend has continued in both good and bad economies. 

Wilcox attributed the decline in marriage to multiple social changes in recent decades.

Difficulties in finding stable work may lead couples to cohabit or delay marriage, he told CNA.

In addition, the culture has shifted, becoming more individualistic and accepting of alternatives to marriage, including premarital sex and cohabitation.

Wilcox also pointed to how marriage is no longer privileged in many public policies and is sometimes even financially penalized by law, creating an incentive for couples to remain unmarried.

Religion also makes a difference, he said, pointing to a 2010 report on marriage in America that the National Marriage Project coauthored. 

The report found that non-religious people are “much more likely to divorce than are the religiously committed” and that cohabitation is more common among non-religious people.

Americans have become increasingly disengaged with institutions, including churches, which have reported declining membership over recent decades, Wilcox observed.

The decrease in couples who marry could harm American society, he said.

Married couples are statistically happier and children do better when they are raised by married parents, exhibiting a lower likelihood of being depressed or using drugs.

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Young people give Pope hope for 2012

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI believes the various crises that afflicted society in 2011 can be met with hope in the coming year if parents introduce young people to Jesus and teach them Christian values.

“It is not ideologies that save the world, but only a return to the living God, our Creator, the guarantor of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true,” the Pope says in his message for the 45th World Day of Peace, which will be observed Jan. 1, 2012.

“And what could ever save us apart from love? Love takes delight in truth, it is the force that enables us to make a commitment to truth, to justice, to peace, because it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,” he writes.

The World Day of Peace is marked by the Church each year on Jan. 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It was first introduced in 1967, inspired by Pope John XXIII’s encyclical “Pacem in Terris” (Peace on Earth), which was published in 1963.

Pope Benedict XVI’s message for this year’s celebration was unveiled on the morning of Dec. 16 at a Vatican press conference hosted by Cardinal Peter Turkson, chairman of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and the council’s secretary, Archbishop Mario Toso.

In his address, the Pope says that people should look to 2012 with an “attitude of confident trust,” despite the “crisis looming over society, the world of labor and the economy” in 2011. He describes how, for many, “a shadow has fallen over our time, preventing us from clearly seeing the light of day.”

And yet “human hearts continue to wait for the dawn” with that type of expectation that is “particularly powerful and evident in young people,” Pope Benedict says, explaining that the idealism and enthusiasm of the youth are the reason he chose the theme “Educating Young People in Justice and Peace” for his 2012 message.

He is convicted that “the young, with their enthusiasm and idealism, can offer new hope to the world.”

The Pope says that realizing this hope will involve “communicating to young people an appreciation for the positive value of life” and “awakening in them a desire to spend their lives in the service of the Good.”

This job of education in justice and peace, adds the Pope, must be carried out by adults who do not “simply parcel out rules and facts” but who are “authentic witnesses” that live out what they teach.

The Pope notes that this education takes place first in the family, which is where “children learn the human and Christian values which enable them to have a constructive and peaceful coexistence.” It is also in the family that they “learn solidarity between the generations, respect for rules, forgiveness and how to welcome others.”

These lessons and values require that children have “the most precious of treasures: the presence of their parents,” he says, although recognizing that the pace and demands of modern life can sometimes make this difficult due to “working conditions which are often incompatible with family responsibilities.”

Pope Benedict also mentions the role of professional educators, calling on them to reinforce the values children receive at home, so they will “reassure families that their children can receive an education that does not conflict with their consciences and their religious principles.”

At the same time, the Pope warns that education can be distorted and destroyed by a “dictatorship of relativism,” which obscures the fact that “deep within his conscience, man discovers a law that he did not lay upon himself, but which he must obey.”

It is in recognizing this natural moral law, he says, that people are best able to exercise their freedom and live a “just and peaceful coexistence.”

Conversely, “human rights are seriously threatened by the widespread tendency to have recourse exclusively to the criteria of utility, profit and material possessions” in making decisions about life.

Pope Benedict concludes with a challenge to young people “not yield to discouragement in the face of difficulties and do not abandon yourselves to false solutions which often seem the easiest way to overcome problems.”

Young people should not be afraid of commitment, hard work, sacrifice and the choice of paths in life that “demand fidelity and constancy, humility and dedication,” he writes.

“Be confident in your youth and its profound desires for happiness, truth, beauty and genuine love! Live fully this time in your life so rich and so full of enthusiasm.”

In doing so, young people can be assured that they are “never alone,” because the Church offers them confidence, encouragement and “the most precious gift she has: the opportunity to raise your eyes to God, to encounter Jesus Christ, who is himself justice and peace.”

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100,000 northern Peruvians celebrate Marian feast day

Lima, Peru, Dec 16, 2011 (CNA) - Some 100,000 Catholics gathered in the northern Peruvian city of Otuzco to celebrate the feast day of Our Lady of the Gate on Dec. 15.

Otuzco – located 8,000 feet above sea level in the Andean region of La Libertad – welcomed the crowds, who prayed, sang and performed traditional dances. 

Participants crafted and donated hundreds of different vestments for the statue of Our Lady of the Door, with enough for the figure to be decorated each year until 2022.

According to local history, Dutch pirate ships arrived at the Peruvian port city of Trujillo in 1674 to continue the pillaging they began in Guayaquil and Sana. Residents became alarmed and sent messengers to all the neighboring towns to warn of the danger, including the city of Otuzco.

Citizens in Otuzco decided to place a state of the Immaculate Conception at the entrance gate to the city. For three days, they prayed to the Virgin Mary and the pirates never disembarked from their ships.

The event was seen as miracle and the people of Otuzco decided to build a shrine on the spot where the statue had been placed and dedicate it to Our Lady of the Gate.

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Vatican Christmas tree lights up St. Peter’s Square

Vatican City, Dec 16, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - As dark fell over St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 16, a young Ukrainian boy switched on the lights for the Vatican’s Christmas tree, a 98-foot spruce donated by his homeland.
 
The tree is “a significant symbol of Christ’s nativity because, with its evergreen boughs, it reminds us of enduring life,” said Pope Benedict XVI at a meeting earlier in the day with a group of Ukrainian bishops – Catholic and Orthodox – that oversaw this evening’s ceremony.

“The spruce is also a sign of popular religiosity in your country,” he told them, “and of the Christian roots of your culture. My hope is that these roots may increasingly reinforce your national unity, favoring the promotion of authentic shared values.”

The tree is decorated with 2,500 silver and gold ornaments and topped with a bright star. This evening’s lighting ceremony combined traditional folk music from the Ukraine, provided by a youth choir in national costume, with operatic Italian music played by the Vatican’s Gendarmerie band.

The thousand-strong crowd seemed to be equally Ukrainian and Italian, with many blue and yellow Ukrainian flags in evidence.

In his earlier remarks, Pope Benedict touched on how Ukraine “has been a crossroads of different cultures” over the centuries, a “meeting point for the spiritual richness of East and West.” He urged Ukrainians to “tenaciously” adhere to the values of the faith as they live out their “unique vocation” of being a crossroads.
 
The Pope said he hoped today’s events in Rome would inspire in all Ukrainians “a renewed desire to live and witness to the faith with joy and promote the values of life, solidarity and peace, that the Nativity of Christ every year before us again.”

The Ukrainian tree is located next to the central obelisk in St. Peter’s Square. Alongside it is the soon-to-be-unveiled Vatican nativity scene. These Christmas displays are a fairly recent tradition, having started in 1982 during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.

Pope Benedict said these seasonal traditions are a “part our communities' spiritual heritage … which we must seek to conserve, even in modern societies where consumerism and the search for material goods sometimes seem to prevail.”

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