Hollywood, Calif., Feb 17, 2012 (CNA) -
Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B., a former actress turned cloistered nun, will attend her first Academy Awards show since 1959 to show support for “God is the Bigger Elvis,” an Oscar-nominated documentary about her and her abbey.
Mother Dolores, 73, was an award-winning actress who performed in two Elvis Presley movies. In 1963, she was about to sign a seven-figure contract and was engaged to a Los Angeles businessman when she decided to join the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn, where she is now prioress.
The 37-minute documentary talks about Mother Dolores’ story and about life at the abbey. It is an Oscar nominee for best documentary short category and will premiere April 5 on HBO.
“I adored Hollywood. I didn't leave because it was a place of sin,” she told USA Today.
"I left Hollywood at the urging of a mysterious thing called vocation. It's a call that comes from another place that we call God because we don't have any other way to say it. It's a call of love. Why do you climb a mountain?"
The nun said she allowed cameras to access the abbey to help those who are soul-searching.
“We wanted to invite the world into another order of life that might give some hope,” she said.
The documentary interviews Mother Dolores and other nuns like Sister John Mary, 44, a former Oxford-educated advertising executive who came to the abbey after a period of addiction.
It also covers the last meeting of Mother Dolores and her ex-fiancé Don Robinson, who never married. He continued to visit and help the abbey until his death in December 2011.
The documentary’s director Rebecca Cammisa said she made the film to explore what makes someone with Mother Dolores’ level of success choose the religious life. Cammisa was previously nominated for the Oscar for the feature documentary “Which Way Home,” about Mexican migrant children.
Mother Dolores was a presenter at the 1959 Academy Awards. She remains a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In January, she made a rare speaking appearance at the Central California Marian Eucharistic Conference.
Washington D.C., Feb 17, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
An amendment providing a religious exemption to the Obama administration's contraception mandate was prevented from coming to a vote in the U.S. Senate on Feb. 15.
“This is supposed to be a body where we have open discussion, where any member can offer any amendment to any bill at any time,” said Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.).
He criticized Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for shutting off the opportunity to introduce new amendments to a bill that was under discussion in the Senate.
“I think the American people want more than that,” he said.
Coats is one of several senators who has spoken out strongly against a controversial insurance mandate announced recently by the Obama administration. Critics of the mandate argue that it forces religious employers to purchase health insurance plans that violate their consciences.
In recent days, Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has attempted to introduce a bipartisan amendment that would have allowed employers to opt out of providing coverage that violates their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
Sen. Reid had initially indicated that he would allow the amendment to be introduced on Feb. 15.
However, he then blocked it through a procedure known as “filling the tree,” by which the majority leader fills all possible openings for amendments on a piece of legislation, thereby preventing other senators from offering further amendments.
Reid had criticized the proposed amendment, saying that it was “senseless” and premature because all of the details regarding the mandate are not yet clear.
The Obama administration has been the center of controversy over its new mandate, which would require many religious employers to purchase insurance plans including contraception, sterilization and early-abortion drugs.
Faced with outcry from both religious and secular groups, President Barack Obama on Feb. 10 announced an “accommodation” for religious freedom. Instead of having employers purchase the controversial coverage directly, the new policy would require them to buy health care plans from insurance companies that would be required to offer such coverage free of charge.
Blunt called the new policy an “accounting gimmick,” joining with numerous other critics who argued that the “accommodation” failed to provide adequate protection for religious freedom.
He argued that his amendment was important to safeguard the rights laid out by the American founders in the First Amendment.
By amending a transportation bill that was already up for debate in the Senate, Blunt’s proposal would have given the issue immediate attention in the Senate.
However, other legislative efforts to fight the mandate are already underway.
Among the most prominent of these efforts is the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, introduced by Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), which currently has 190 cosponsors in the House of Representatives.
In addition, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has introduced the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 2012, which has 29 cosponsors in the Senate.
The U.S. bishops have called for continued legislative efforts to oppose the mandate and defend the religious liberty of the American people.
Denver, Colo., Feb 17, 2012 (CNA) -
Denver Theology on Tap has found a new place to meet after it was told by a previous bar to find a different venue due to a “controversial” talk by Auxilary Bishop James D. Conley.
Katie Mullen's Irish Restaurant and Pub opened its doors to a crowd of Catholic young-adults from around the archdiocese on Feb. 15, where Dr. Tim Gray of the Augustine Institute spoke on “Religionless Christianity.”
“They welcomed us with open arms,” Chris Stefanick, archdiocesan director of youth, young adults and campus ministry, told CNA on Feb. 16.
Stefanick was glad the group was able to find a new venue for Catholics to gather in a public place and said Katie Mullen's welcomed their business.
“There was nothing remotely awkward about the experience,” he said.
On Jan. 26, Bishop Conley spoke to over 300 young adults at Stoney's Bar and Grill in Denver – less than five blocks from Denver’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception – on the topic of “Atheocracy and the Battle for Religious Liberty in America.”
Organizers of the event were told shortly after to find a different location because the bishop's talk was “too controversial.” Some of the bar staff also refused to work the event again.
At the Feb. 15 Theology on Tap event, Dr. Gray spoke about the trend of “Religionless Christianity” as most recently seen in Jefferson Bethke's viral YouTube video which professes love for Jesus, but hate for religion.
Not only has Christianity been pushed out of the public sphere, according to Dr. Gray, but American Christianity has sought to distance itself from the Church.
He added that among many non-denominational Christians, there is a common perception that the Church is “unnecessary,” but a relationship with Jesus Christ is “essential.”
However, Christians cannot accept the King and reject his Kingdom of the Church, Dr. Gray said. “That is foreign to the Scriptures and the plan of God.”
Even during his ministry, Christ's words were not fully welcomed wherever he went, Dr. Gray noted, citing Luke 4:28-30 which recounts the people of Nazareth attempting to drive Christ off a cliff in response to his controversial teachings.
Dr. Gray's quip that Jesus must have been preaching at Stoney's received loud cheers from the crowd.
Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Feb 17, 2012 (CNA) - Church leaders around the world grieved over the deaths of 355 inmates in a Honduras prison fire and urged officials to ensure that a tragedy of this kind never happens again.
Clergy members voiced solidarity with the families of the victims and called the incident “a very sad tragedy that has disturbed all our leaders and the entire country,” said Msgr. Carlo Magno Nunez, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Tegucigalpa.
“The Church in Honduras and especially in Comayagua, is close to the families of the deceased to give them whatever assistance possible,” he told CNA on Feb. 16. “ I ask all to pray for the families of the victims, who are being helped by the Church.”
Pope Benedict also issued a statement on Feb. 17 saying he was “deeply saddened” by the event and offered his prayers and blessings to the victims and their families.
The news “raises fervent prayers to the Almighty for the eternal repose of the dead,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone told the country on behalf of the Pope.
Local Bishop Roberto Camilleri of Comayagu called the fire another major “disaster to take place in the Honduran prison system” in recent times despite Comayagua being considered the most secure facility in the nation.
“We consider the inhuman conditions of overcrowding and insecurity experienced by the prison population in our country to be regrettable, especially at the Comayagua Prison Center, which was built to hold 250 inmates but whose prison population had swelled to 852,” the bishop said on Feb. 16.
He urged the “institutions of Honduran society to ask our leaders to guarantee the integrity and dignity of prisoners, so that this unfortunate tragedy affecting so many Honduran families will never happen again.”
“We ask the Christian community to raise its prayers to the God of life, that He welcome into His glory our deceased brethren, and to their families we say: you are not alone, God is with you during these difficult moments,” the bishop said.
Archbishop Luigi Vivanco, the Apostolic Nuncio to Honduras, celebrated a Mass on Wednesday for the victims of the fire at the Parish of St. John Bosco.
On Thursday coroners began working on identifying the remains of the 355 inmates who died trapped inside the facility.
Officials have not yet determined the cause of the fire, which is being considered the most devastating prison tragedy within the last ten years.
Madrid, Spain, Feb 17, 2012 (CNA/Europa Press) - A finance official for the Spanish bishops noted that Catholic schools save the country more than $4.5 billion U.S. dollars, as they provide education for some 1.3 million students.
In comments to the Cope radio network on Feb. 16, Fernando Gimenez Barriocanal – the Vice Secretary for Economic Affairs of the Spanish bishops' conference – also noted that the Church provides “hundreds of millions” of dollars in health care, aid to immigrants and to victims of domestic violence, soup kitchens and rehabilitation for drug addicts, reported Europa Press.
He also discussed a recent poll that suggested that the Church's position in Spanish society is weakening but said the “most important poll” on public opinion is the fact that 9.2 million taxpayers in Spain make a contribution of 0.7 percent of their taxes to the Catholic Church.
In his estimation, the increasing figure is “a very important step” for the Church in the country.
Barriocanal explained that a significant portion of these funds go to maintaining the 22,700 parishes, the work of evangelization and aid to bishops' conferences in the third world and the Holy See or Caritas – which has received a 25 percent increase in assistance from the Spanish bishops during the country’s economic crisis.
He added that the situation facing Spaniards would be much worse without the work of Caritas, as many career professionals are out of work and are eating in Church-run soup kitchens and receiving help to pay their utility bills.
Priests live “modestly” and do not receive a salary, he noted, except for those who work in schools, institutes or other educational institutions. They live on what the bishop designates from them according to Canon Law, which in Spain is around $1100 per month.
Vatican City, Feb 17, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - In remarks to the Pope and the College of Cardinals, Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan outlined a seven-point “creative strategy of evangelization” to counter secularism and bring people to Jesus.
“In many of the countries represented in this college, the ambient public culture once transmitted the Gospel, but does so no more. In those circumstances, the proclamation of the Gospel -- the deliberate invitation to enter into friendship with the Lord Jesus -- must be at the very center of the Catholic life of all of our people,” he said on Feb. 17.
The Archbishop of New York’s comments came during the College of Cardinal’s day of prayer and reflection, held at the Vatican’s New Synod Hall one day before the Feb. 18 consistory that will create 22 new cardinals.
New York’s cardinal-to-be delivered his speech in Italian in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the college’s dean. He drew on the words of Pope Benedict, Pope John Paul II, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, and famous saints, urging the cardinals to remember the potential of all people for conversion.
“(W)e believe with the philosophers and poets of old, who never had the benefit of revelation, that even a person who brags about being secular and is dismissive of religion, has within an undeniable spark of interest in the beyond, and recognizes that humanity and creation is a dismal riddle without the concept of some kind of creator,” he said.
Cardinal-designate Dolan repeated the biblical exhortation “be not afraid,” stressing the need for confidence while also rejecting “triumphalism” in the Church. He said the recognition that the Church herself needs evangelization gives Catholics humility and awareness of the Church’s “deep need” for interior conversion.
“God does not satisfy the thirst of the human heart with a proposition, but with a Person, whose name is Jesus,” he stated. The New Evangelization invites people not to doctrine, but to know, love and serve him.
The cardinal-designate also said that the missionary and the evangelist must be “a person of joy.”
He recounted a story of a man dying of AIDS at the Gift of Peace Hospice in the Archdiocese of Washington who sought baptism because the Missionaries of Charity sisters who cared for him were so “very happy” because of Jesus.
“The New Evangelization is accomplished with a smile, not a frown,” Cardinal-designate Dolan summarized.
This evangelization is also about love incarnated in care for children, the sick, the elderly, the orphaned and the hungry.
“In New York, the heart of the most hardened secularist softens when visiting one of our inner-city Catholic schools,” he said.
“When one of our benefactors, who described himself as an agnostic, asked Sister Michelle why, at her age, with painful arthritic knees, she continued to serve at one of these struggling but excellent poor schools, she answered, ‘Because God loves me, and I love Him, and I want these children to discover this love.’”
The cardinal-designate’s most sobering words came with his seventh strategy for the new evangelization: the blood of the martyrs.
He cited the Pope’s speech for presenting the red biretta to new cardinals: “know that you must be willing to conduct yourselves with fortitude even to the shedding of your blood.”
Though Cardinal-designate Dolan jokingly asked the Pope to omit that passage from his presentation, he also said that cardinals must be aids for Christians called to be “ready to suffer and die for Jesus.”
The “supreme witness” is martyrdom, he noted.
“While we cry for today’s martyrs; while we love them, pray with and for them; while we vigorously advocate on their behalf; we are also very proud of them, brag about them, and trumpet their supreme witness to the world.”
Their stories still have an impact, he told his fellow bishops.
“A young man in New York tells me he returned to the Catholic faith of his childhood, which he had jettisoned as a teenager, because he read The Monks of Tibhirine, about Trappists martyred in Algeria fifteen years ago, and after viewing the drama about them, the French film, ‘Of Gods and Men.’”
“Tertullian would not be surprised,” concluded Cardinal-designate Dolan, citing the Church father who said the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.
As he closed his wide-ranging address to the College of Cardinals, he emphasized the need to communicate simply, as to a catechism class for children.
“We need to speak again as a child the eternal truth, beauty, and simplicity of Jesus and His Church,” he said.
Ontario, Canada, Feb 17, 2012 (CNA) - Students at the Canadian University of Brock in Ontario raising money for a charitable program abroad have been harassed by protestors over the program's connection with the Christian Life Movement.
The protestors, who call themselves “Occupy Brock,” appear to be linked to a campaign by Ana Isla – an associate professor in Women’s Studies at the school – who has been working to halt the university's Solidarity Experiences Abroad (SEA) program.
Isla has said she opposes the program because it was created through the work of Catholic campus minister and member of the Christian Life Movement Brother Raoul Masseur.
Since 2006, Isla has been pressuring the University of Brock to drop programs linked with religious organizations, which she charges are homophobic and opposed to “women's rights.”
On Feb. 13 the protest group issued three action alert messages on Facebook, urging people to demonstrate against the SEA's recent fund raising for projects in Latin America and Africa. One of the messages asked locals for help to “stop this homophobic, misogynistic, and racist organization.”
The protestors are said to have harassed students attending the fund raiser and distributed fliers with claims against the SEA program that have already been dismissed in an investigation by the school's Advisory Internationalization Committee.
Over 200 letters of support from alumni of the SEA program have flooded the school in recent weeks after Isla in December of 2011 urged the university to end the program and remove “all ties” to local partners of the trips.
In a three-page memo to the Sociology Department, she criticized the placement of Brock students in Christian Life Movement facilities and projects while abroad. Although most of Isla's charges were leveled against the Christian Life Movement and unrelated to the program, she claimed that the SEA allowed untrained students to provide medical care at charity clinics in Lima, Peru.
“The Committee after thorough research and investigation of the allegations presented against me and local partners determined that there is no evidence to support those claims,” Br. Raoul Masseur told CNA.
“Therefore,” he added, “there is no longer any question about the integrity of the individuals involved nor of the organizations involved.”
Br. Massuer also said he was grateful and “very impressed” with the “articulated content of these letters of support from many students, also senior administrators and staff members that participated in SEA Programs.”
Since its creation in 2004 as a non-religious program, SEA has allowed thousands of students from Brock and 16 other universities “to develop their careers in solidarity and service to those most in need,” he said.
The SEA program has spread to Ecuador, South Africa, Namibia, Costa Rica and Brazil, with trips organized by chaplains from different denominations. In Peru alone, the program has brought assistance to more than 100,000 people of low income.
Br. Masseur and other parties involved Isla's attempts to remove the SEA program have submitted religious discrimination claims to the school, which are currently being processed by the Office of Human Rights at Brock University.
Denver, Colo., Feb 17, 2012 (CNA) - Catholic News Agency has launched a new section to give readers better access to the latest coverage of the debate over the Health and Human Services contraception mandate.
“We hope this page is a service to the Church and everyone interested in this crucial issue of religious liberty,” said editor-in-chief David Scott on Feb. 17.
“CNA's coverage has been outstanding and this new page brings it all together in one place.”
The new section features stories from across the nation and exclusive commentary on the Catholic response to the controversial mandate.
On Jan. 20, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the Obama administration would not expand a religious exemption for employers who object to its “preventative services” mandate which would force religious organizations to pay for contraception, abortifacients and sterilization as part of health insurance.
After a storm of opposition from religious leaders, President Obama offered a “compromise” on Feb. 10 to those who morally oppose contraception and said that insurance companies, not employers would have to pay for “preventative services.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has opposed the accommodation because it would still force “religious people and groups to violate their most deeply held convictions.”
For the latest news on the Catholic response to the HHS mandate, please visit: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/mandate/.
Rome, Italy, Feb 17, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Over 1,000 Americans are arriving in Rome for the elevation of Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York to the College of Cardinals. But few know him better or love him more than his sister, Debbie Williams.
Williams described Feb. 17 how “wonderful” it has been to travel to Rome for her brother’s elevation on Saturday.
“It’s a little hard to comprehend when it’s your brother, and that’s who he is to us first and foremost, our brother, but we certainly realize the importance of all of this. For us it is just a great family reunion and a chance to share in his honor and his joy.”
“We’re ecstatic. It’s exciting,” Williams told CNA.
She is in Rome this weekend with her husband Fred and another 20 or so immediate Dolan family members. That includes the archbishop’s other sister, his two brothers and their 83-year-old mother Shirley.
“My mom is great. She’s kind of laying low today so she’s ready for the big day tomorrow. She just had a little jet lag yesterday, so she stayed behind today and rested,” Williams said.
This morning Cardinal-designate Dolan was addressing his fellow cardinals-in-waiting as part of a day of a day of reflection and prayer at the Vatican, which was presided over by Pope Benedict. Meanwhile, the rest of the Dolan family took to the sunny streets of Rome for a day of sightseeing.
Williams said her brother has always been a “family man first and foremost.” She summed him up as “happy, joyful, just (a) great personality.” She is confident her brother’s elevation to the College of Cardinals means that “there will be someone as a spokesman for the Church who is down to earth and can relate to people and hopefully let everyone see a better face of the Church.”
The Dolan family grew up in Ballwin, Mo. – a western suburb of St. Louis – where they attended Holy Infant parish. Their late father, Robert, was an aircraft engineer with the St. Louis firm McDonnell Douglas.
When she was asked if she ever imagined her big brother would be a Prince of the Church, Williams said, “in some ways, no, because it’s just so big, you know.
“But it doesn’t surprise me either because he is definitely cut out for what he does. So we are not shocked – but it is hard to imagine.”
After being ordained a priest in 1976, Fr. Timothy Dolan spent several years at churches in the St. Louis area. Many of his former parishioners have also made the pilgrimage to Rome for this weekend’s consistory.
“Archbishop Dolan is a friend of the family from his days at Little Flower Church in St. Louis,” 39-year-old attorney Mark Mueller explained to CNA.
“He’s just a big teddy bear, stands by his principles, and is everything good you’d want in a Catholic bishop or cardinal.”