Archive of February 19, 2012

A lifetime of learning to trust God

Springfield, Va., Feb 19, 2012 (CNA) - When you see Bob Ward, it’s safe to assume his wife, Beverly, isn’t far behind.

The nickname of “Boberly,” given to the couple by accident during a wedding toast 47 years ago, has proven throughout the years to be a fitting appellation for the two local Catholics who rarely spend time apart.

The Wards, parishioners of St. Raymond of Peñafort Parish in Springfield, Va. taught religious education together, attend daily Mass together, fostered 18 newborns together and pray daily together. They are regular speakers at Conferences for the Engaged, hosted by the Diocese of Arlington, Va. Office for Family Life, where they draw on life experiences to help counsel those preparing for marriage.

“Nobody sees us without us being together,” Bob said. If they do get separated in a crowd, Beverly added, they have to be careful not to repeat the same stories to the same people.

As strong a unit as Bob and Beverly are, it’s important to acknowledge they started off as two individuals from very different backgrounds.

Beverly grew up in Junction City, Kan., as a cradle Catholic. A small-town girl, she loved the saints and dreamed of being a cloistered nun. Bob, born in Spartanburg, S.C., lived around the world with his Army father and grew up as a staunch Protestant. Bob attended Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., before he, too, joined the Army.

What the two had in common, though, was their devotion to their particular faith traditions. This, Bob said, was what attracted him most to Beverly. (Not to mention, Bob added, that “she was gorgeous.”)

When Bob was transferred from Fort Riley, Kan., where he and Beverly had met, the two kept in touch via letters. They learned that, though they had different faith backgrounds, they had similar values.

“There was just something so special, and I think through correspondence we really got to know each other because we wrote a lot,” Bob said. As they got more serious, they began praying their one common prayer — the Our Father — after speaking every night.

After eight months apart — while Bob was in Germany — he and Beverly were reunited.

“I was so smitten that … they sent me on the advanced party (back to the United States),” Bob said. “They knew that I had to be (with Beverly).”

The couple married Aug. 8, 1964.

As a compromise, the couple agreed never to argue about their separate faiths, and they supported one another by attending both Mass and a Methodist service every Sunday for 12 years. Bob and Beverly both remained involved in their separate faiths, teaching religious education and Sunday school.

As time went on, the couple had two children, Rob and Sheri, while Bob was going back and forth to Vietnam. When Bob was assigned to Korea, the family went with him, living on economy so they could be together.

While in Korea, Bob found himself more drawn to the Catholic faith. He read books and got into passionate debates with an Italian priest chaplain on base.

“He would give books to Beverly that he knew I would read,” Bob said. “And I did.”

Bob realized that he had acquired “a set of false understandings” of the Catholic faith. Through logical analysis, “slowly but surely everything Catholicism taught made sense,” he said.

Beverly never put any pressure on him, he added; rather, “it was truly the Holy Spirit calling me to seek this out on my own initiative.”

Bob compared his experience with that of theologians Scott and Kimberly Hahn.

Rome Sweet Home (the book chronicling the Hahns’ conversion) is exactly what I went through,” he said.

Bob was received into the Church March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, at the private residence of the papal nuncio to Korea.

“I was on fire from that day forward and it’s just been a continuous journey,” he said.

Bob’s conversion only increased the already happy bond between him and Beverly. In addition, his excitement for the Faith and for praying together “made such an impact on our children,” Beverly said. They would pray the rosary together, mapping out Mary’s progress from one place to the next.

After Korea, the family moved to Fort Bragg near Fayetteville, N.C. Beverly suffered three miscarriages in a row (in addition to one before Sheri was born) before becoming pregnant with James, the couple’s youngest son. After a difficult and dangerous birth, the doctors told the Wards they were still able to get pregnant, but if they had another baby neither Beverly nor the new life would survive.

After using contraception for a while, Bob and Beverly realized they didn’t feel as connected to one another. When a priest pointed them toward natural family planning (NFP), it changed their lives.

“Ours was really a life/death situation and yet we really trusted,” Beverly said. “And NFP really works. Very conservative we were, but it works.”

Unable to have any more biological children, Bob and Beverly turned to Catholic Charities soon after moving to Springfield in 1980. They fostered 18 newborn babies over seven years, caring for the children anywhere from four months to two years.

Extremely active in the Faith, both Bob and Beverly taught different religious education classes. After attending a Marriage Encounter retreat, they decided to start doing everything as a couple.

Together, they taught religious education for 11th- and 12th-graders. For 12 years, they prayed regularly at the abortion clinic on Duke Street in Alexandria, Va. They did, and still do, attend the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. For the past 17 years, the couple has helped couples prepare for marriage.

Still, though, they were not done learning — and learning together.

In the mid-1990s, “I came home and announced to Beverly that we were going to go to graduate school,” Bob said.

Beverly, though at first nervous about taking classes for credit, agreed. They both earned a master’s in theology from Christendom College’s Notre Dame Graduate School in Alexandria — Bob in 1999 with a discipline in scripture and Beverly in 2001with an emphasis in spirituality.

For eight years, while the new St. Raymond Church was being built, they became co-directors of religious education. Though no longer working in a formal capacity for the church, Bob (using his notes from graduate school) teaches two Bible studies every Tuesday — one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

Beverly, of course, goes to every class. She’s the one who’s good with names.

Bob now “lives to teach,” he said — both the Bible studies and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults for anyone interesting in learning more about the Catholic faith.

“My joy is to have been given this knowledge,” he said, and passing it along is essential to him.

Ultimately, the Wards built on their foundation of faith and friendship to continue to grow in their love of Catholicism and their love of one another.

“Love is a decision of the will,” Bob said. “You choose to love (the other).”

“The thing that keeps the spark in our marriage is that we’re always dating,” Beverly said. “We have a date every two weeks to go to confession. We do everything together.”

They’ve gone from praying the Our Father — the only prayer they had in common — to attending daily Mass, praying the Liturgy of the Hours and maintaining an entire prayer regimen at home.

The time together as a couple helps keep them focused on the sacrament of marriage, Bob said.

“You get the sacramental graces,” he said. “We’ve really grown closer together by being together.”

Posted with permission from the Arlington Catholic Herald, official newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington, Va.

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Obama’s revised mandate fuels Bishop Rhoades’ reflections

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades watched from Rome with disappointment as President Barack Obama announced his “accommodation” to the contraception mandate last week. But that news reinforced for him that being a bishop today is about lovingly suffering for and with your flock.
Bishops from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin gathered on the evening of Feb. 10 around a television at the Pontifical North America College. Their attention was on President Barack Obama as he announced an “accommodation” to his contraception and sterilization mandate.
“I was very disappointed,” said Bishop Rhoades of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese, in a Feb. 17 interview with CNA. “My expectations were not high because when I heard the word ‘compromise,’ I thought to myself, ‘Well, how do you compromise on religious freedom?’ But I wanted to see what he had to say, though. I was open-minded.”
What resulted “wasn’t even an accommodation,” said the bishop, but another “denial of our rights of conscience and right to religious freedom. So it makes us very sad. I think it is something we need to fight.”

For Bishop Rhoades, being a bishop in the United States is no longer a position of “prestige or honor” but is about “loving service that includes sacrifice.”

He has been in Rome since Feb. 9 on an “ad limina” visit with 27 fellow bishops from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. As part of these visits, bishops make a pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul, as well as attend meetings with the Pope and numerous Vatican departments.

“Praying at their tombs was very moving, to recognize that, yeah, to follow Christ and to be a bishop today means we must take up our cross.”

That “requires us to love our enemies, you know,” he said, “and that is the hardest part, I think, of living the Gospel.”

He stressed that the model for all Catholics has to be Jesus Christ, “who said that his disciples would have to suffer and experience persecution. But we look to Jesus, we look to his cross, we look at how he forgave from the cross and, so, there’s a call to bishops today.”

As he returns to the United States, Bishop Rhoades is reassured that in the battle for religious liberty, a united Catholic voice seems to be holding together, despite offers of “compromise” from the White House.
“I think it looked like it was starting to fracture, but what I’ve heard in the last day or two is that there have been some clear statements, which I’ve been very happy to see.”

He particularly applauds the statement of support from Catholic Charities USA, “even though it had been reported by the White House that they were supportive of the accommodation,” as well as from major Catholic colleges and universities like Notre Dame, which is based his diocese.

“I am very pleased with Fr. Jenkins statement in solidarity with the position of the bishops. And I guess we’ll have to see with the Catholic Health Association, but hopefully they will also be in solidarity, too.”
The bishop also offered his reflections on what was his first ad limina visit to Rome, calling it “an unexpectedly grace filled, peaceful time.”

“I didn’t know what to expect and, really, it’s been almost like a little retreat for me, very spiritually enriching.”

One moment that was a highlight for the bishop came on the first day, when he and the other bishops from Indiana and Illinois met with Pope Benedict XVI, an event he described as “a beautiful experience.”

He also relished being able to offer Mass at the tomb of Blessed Pope John Paul II on Feb. 11.

“That was very moving to me,” he said, “I was a seminarian and served Mass for him. And I was also one of the last bishops he appointed before he died, so that was an emotional moment for me.”

In fact, Bishop Rhoades said he has “thought a lot” in recent days about the example Pope John Paul gave through “his courage and his love.”

“In my own prayer this week, I see that need to be courageous in proclaiming the truth and also to have that spirit of love and charity for all whom we are called to serve.”

The visit concluded on the morning of Feb. 17 with Mass at the tomb of Blessed Pope John XXIII in St. Peter’s Basilica.

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Former Cuban political prisoner testifies about torture

Washington D.C., Feb 19, 2012 (CNA) - Prominent Cuban dissident Dr. Óscar Elías Biscet testified recently at a congressional hearing about the “systematic and flagrant violations against human rights” carried out by the Cuban regime against political prisoners.

“The Cuba in which I live is a society full of fear,” Biscet said at a U.S. House joint subcommittee hearing on Feb. 16.

Biscet, a medical doctor and founder of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights, testified through a phone call from Havana, with the help of a translator present at the hearing.

His identity was not announced before the hearing, out of fear that the Cuban regime would detain him to prohibit him from testifying.

Since 1959, the country has been run by a “totalitarian socialist regime” that is “characteristically anti-American, anti-Semitic and anti-black,” Biscet said.

“Its permanence in power is due to the use of terror and extreme police control over its citizens.”

Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) chaired the hearing, which examined the ongoing human rights violations of Cuban political prisoners, under the brothers Fidel and Raul Castro.

Smith described the Cuban government as a repressive regime that crushes those who dare to dissent.

In recent years, he has participated in a documentary film on Biscet and launched an initiative for Congress members to “adopt” Cuban political prisoners in order to highlight their dire situation.

In 2011, Smith led Congress and members of the international community to nominate Biscet for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Biscet said that he has endured torture and inhumane cruelty at the orders of a dictatorship seeking to coerce him to stop his work to promote human rights in Cuba.

He told of the abuse that he suffered at the hands of the political police, who beat him, disfigured his face and broke his foot.

He and his family were tortured, he said, and three assassination attempts were made against him.

Biscet has been arrested multiple times, including once after he accused the Cuban government of allowing and hiding botched abortions.

While in prison, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush for opposing the Castro regime.

The Catholic Church in Cuba helped secure Biscet’s release – along with over 50 other dissidents – in March 2011. After his release, he chose to remain in Cuba and continue fighting for human rights.

In his testimony, Biscet described the cruel treatment he suffered and observed during almost 12 years in prison.

The Cuban regime does not follow U.N. standards for the treatment of imprisoned people, but instead treats them with “no human dignity at all,” he said.

Political prisoners are held alongside those who have committed actual crimes to make them feel as though they are also criminals, he explained.

They are stripped naked and tortured with taser guns, left in the dark with no medical attention, drinkable water or ventilation, he said. They are not allowed to access a restroom or speak to anyone else.

He described how some prisoners are left dangling with their hands bound above their heads and their feet barely touching the ground for up to 24 hours.

Biscet stressed the need for a greater awareness of these human rights violations within the international community.

“They seem not to be getting the point or understand that this is really happening,” he explained.

Biscet also fears another missile crisis – involving Iran, Venezuela and the U.S. – if action is not taken to intervene.

He added that he hopes Pope Benedict XVI will be able to advocate for freedom in his visit to Cuba next month.

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Monk-reformer St. Peter Damian celebrated Feb. 21

Denver, Colo., Feb 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Feb. 21, Catholics honor Saint Peter Damian, a Benedictine monk who strove to purify the Church during the early years of its second millennium.

In his Sept. 9, 2009 general audience on the saint, Pope Benedict XVI described him as "one of the most significant figures of the 11th century ... a lover of solitude and at the same time a fearless man of the Church, committed personally to the task of reform."

Born during 1007 in the Italian city of Ravenna, Peter belonged to a large family but lost both his father and mother early in life. An older brother took the boy into his household, yet treated him poorly. But another of Peter’s brothers, a priest, took steps to provide for his education; and the priest's own name, Damian, became his younger brother’s surname.

Peter excelled in school while also taking up forms of asceticism, such as fasting, wearing a hair shirt, and spending long hours in prayer with an emphasis on reciting the Psalms. He offered hospitality to the poor as a means of serving Christ, and eventually resolved to embrace voluntary poverty himself through the Order of Saint Benedict.

The monks he chose to join, in the hermitage of Fonte Avellana, lived out their devotion to the Cross of Christ through a rigorous rule of life. They lived mainly on bread and water, prayed all 150 Psalms daily, and practiced many physical mortifications. Peter embraced this way of life somewhat excessively at first, which led to a bout with insomnia.

Deeply versed in the Bible and the writings of earlier theologians, Peter developed his own theological acumen and became a skilled preacher. The leaders of other monasteries sought his help to build up their monks in holiness, and in 1043 he took up a position of leadership as the prior of Fonte Avellana. Five other hermitages were established under his direction.

Serious corruption plagued the Church during Peter's lifetime, including the sale of religious offices and immorality among many of the clergy. Through his writings and involvements in controversies of the day, the prior of Fonte Avellana called on members of the hierarchy and religious orders to live out their commitments and strive for holiness.

In 1057, Pope Stephen IX became determined to make Peter Damian a bishop, a goal he accomplished only by demanding the monk's obedience under threat of excommunication. Consecrated as the Bishop of Ostia in November of that year, he also joined the College of Cardinals and wrote a letter encouraging its members to set an example for the whole Church.

With Pope Stephen's death in 1058, and the election of his successor Nicholas II, Peter's involvement in Church controversies grew. He supported Pope Nicholas against a rival claimant to the papacy, and went to Milan as the Pope's representative when a crisis broke out over canonical and moral issues. There, he was forced to confront rioters who rejected papal authority.

Peter, meanwhile, wished to withdraw from these controversies and return to the contemplative life. But Nicholas' death in 1061 caused another papal succession crisis, which the cardinal-bishop helped to resolve in favor of Alexander II. That Pope kept the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia occupied with a series of journeys and negotiations for the next six years.

In 1067, Peter Damian was allowed to resign his episcopate and return to the monastery at Fonte Avellana. Two years later, however, Pope Alexander needed his help to prevent the German King Henry IV from divorcing his wife. Peter lived another two years in the monastery before making a pilgrimage to Monte Cassino, the birthplace of the Benedictine order.

In 1072, Peter returned to his own birthplace of Ravenna, to reconcile the local church with the Pope. The monk's last illness came upon him during his return from this final task, and he died after a week at a Benedictine monastery in Faenza during February of that year.

Never formally canonized, St. Peter Damian was celebrated as a saint after his death in many of the places associated with his life. In 1823, Pope Leo XII named him a Doctor of the Church and extended the observance of his feast day throughout the Western Church.

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Cardinal Dolan happy with new role but would rather be a saint

Rome, Italy, Feb 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York says he is happy to be a cardinal but that he is aiming for a higher calling.

“As grateful as I am for being a Cardinal, I really want to be a saint,” Cardinal Dolan said to the media after the Feb. 18 ceremony. “I mean that, and I’ve got a long way to go but it is all about holiness, it is all about friendship with Jesus and it is all about being a saint. And that’s what I want to be.”

Cardinal Dolan said he was particularly moved by the announcement of two new American saints at the conclusion of the consistory.

In total, Pope Benedict announced seven new saints who will be canonized on Oct. 21. The group includes Blesseds Marianne Cope and Kateri Tekakwitha, who will become the first Native American to be declared a saint.

Cardinal Dolan said he recognized this week that his elevation means having to resist the unholy lure of power and prestige.

“I said, ‘Dolan you got temptations.’ I’ve always had them, but now I’ve got one that could go to my head – literally,” he said, pointing to his new red biretta hat. He told himself,” ‘you can’t (let that happen) because it is all about humility and it is all about service and love and staying close to God and his people. That’s what it’s about, it’s not about power and prestige.’”

Standing on the steps of the Pontifical North American College, he recalled being particularly taken aback when he attempted to hang his new soutane in his wardrobe earlier this week. There he found a red cassock belonging to the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia, who died this past month.

“And I thought to myself, ‘Dolan, in the future somebody is going to be taking down your stuff because you are going to be gone.’ And that is what it is all about. It is all about eternity. It is not about all these passing things.”

The 62-year-old Archbishop of New York has made headlines in the Italian newspapers for his Feb.17 address to his fellow cardinals-in-waiting, as part of their day of reflection and prayer at the Vatican. While he was referred to as “Papabile” in one paper, and in another he was labeled a “rock star.” 

“Well when you use ‘rock’ in the Vatican you have something else in mind. St. Peter, right? That’s what his name means, ‘rock.’ So if I can be a rock like him, not bad,” he replied. 

“And what about becoming the next Pope?” asked one American journalist. “Non parlo inglese” (I don’t speak English), quipped Cardinal Dolan in Italian to roars of laughter from the press.

His talk to his 21 fellow new cardinals was on the challenge of the new evangelization, with an eye to the upcoming Year of Faith. He explained to the media that he believes “the Gospel has always been well received, in that people read and say, ‘boy, that’s nice’.” But “it is putting it into practice that challenges us, and the same is true of the new evangelization. Now doing that is where the rubber meets the road.”

As a cardinal, the New York archbishop will now take titular possession of a parish in the Diocese of Rome. In his case it is Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in the Monte Mario area of the city.

Despite the grandeur and solemnity of the consistory ceremony, it was observed by many that Cardinal Dolan was still his usual cheerful self throughout. Indeed, he was the only cardinal who bounded up the steps of the high altar in St. Peter’s Basilica to receive his red biretta and cardinal’s ring from the Pope.   

“You just got to be yourself,” he told journalists, “why put on airs or try to be somebody different? The Italians say you make the gnocchi with the dough you got – and Lord knows I got a lot of dough,” he laughed pointing to his stomach, “so, you’ve just got to keep at it.”

“It’s a great day for all of New York,” said Cardinal Dolan summing up events in Rome, while holding aloft his new red biretta. 

“This is the hat I want to put on the top of the Empire State Building, the home plate at Yankee Stadium and the Statue of Liberty. So this is for the whole of New York. It’s not for me.”

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Catholic Church only exists to unite God and man, Pope teaches

Vatican City, Feb 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - In the presence of 22 cardinals who were elevated yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI said that the Catholic Church only exists for the purpose of bringing people to Jesus and not for her own sake.

 “The Church does not exist for her own sake, she is not the point of arrival, but she has to point upwards, beyond herself, to the realms above,” he said Feb. 19 to a packed St. Peter’s Basilica. 

“The Church is truly herself to the extent that she allows the Other, with a capital ‘O,’ to shine through her – the One from whom she comes and to whom she leads.”

The Pope made his remarks in his homily for the Mass of the Solemnity of the Chair of St. Peter.

Dwelling upon the Gospel passage in which Peter proclaims Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” the Pope explored the significance of Christ’s response that Peter would be “the rock” upon which the Church was built.

The Pope explained how the old covenant between God and the Jewish people was first made with Abraham, of whom the Prophet Isaiah writes, “look to the rock from which you were hewn ... look to Abraham your father.”

Therefore, just as Abraham “the father of believers” is seen as “the rock that supports creation,” so too is Peter the basis for a new covenant. He is “the rock that is to prevail against the destructive forces of evil.”

The Pope then turned his gaze towards Bernini’s 17th-century bronze sculpture, the Chair of Peter, which dominates the apse of St. Peter’s Basilica.

He described it as an “enormous bronze throne that seems to hover in mid air, but in reality is supported by the four statues of the great Fathers of the Church from East and West.” Above it, he noted, are “triumphant angles suspended in the air” and the “glory of the Holy Spirit” depicted in the oval window above. Given today’s feast, the sculpture was adorned with 144 burning candles.

Pope Benedict proposed that the statue “represents a vision of the essence of the Church and the place within the Church of the Petrine Magisterium.”

The Church “is like a window, the place where God draws near to us, where he comes towards our world,” where God “reaches” us and where we “set off” towards him, the Pope explained.

The Church “has the task of opening up, beyond itself, a world which tends to become enclosed within itself, the task of bringing to the world the light that comes from above, without which it would be uninhabitable.”
Inside the magnificent bronze throne is a wooden chair which was thought for many centuries to have belonged to St. Peter himself but was later discovered to be a 9th century gift to the Pope from the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the Bald.

“Saint Peter’s chair, we could say, is the throne of truth which takes its origin from Christ’s commission after the confession at Caesarea Philippi,” said Pope Benedict.

He also described it as a visible reminder of the famous expression of the early Church Father, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who described the Church of Rome as “she that ‘presides in charity’.”

“In truth, presiding in faith is inseparably linked to presiding in love. Faith without love would no longer be an authentic Christian faith,” he said.

To “preside in charity,” the Pope taught, “is to draw men and women into a Eucharistic embrace – the embrace of Christ – which surpasses every barrier and every division, creating communion from all manner of differences.”

Pope Benedict also reflected on the importance of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture for the Petrine ministry. It is Sacred Scripture, interpreted with the authority of the Catholic Church and “in the light” of the Church Fathers, which sheds “light upon the Church’s journey through time, providing her with a stable foundation amid the vicissitudes of history,” he said.

Therefore, he concluded, by considering the Altar of the Chair “in its entirety” we can see “twofold movement” of “ascending and descending” which depicts “the reciprocity between faith and love.”

“Whoever believes in Jesus Christ and enters into the dynamic of love that finds its source in the Eucharist,” he stated, “discovers true joy and becomes capable in turn of living according to the logic of this gift.” 

“True faith is illumined by love and leads towards love,” just as “the altar of the Chair points upwards towards the luminous window, the glory of the Holy Spirit, which constitutes the true focus for the pilgrim’s gaze as he crosses the threshold of the Vatican Basilica.” 

Pope Benedict later returned to similar reflections after Mass as he addressed pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square for the Sunday Angelus address, which he delivered from the window of his apartment.

“The Chair of St. Peter,” he told them, “is a symbol of the special mission of Peter and his successors to shepherd the flock of Christ, holding it together in faith and charity.”

Before praying the midday Marian prayer, he entrusted the new cardinals “to the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy, asking that she always assist them in their service to the Church and sustain them in any trials they may face.”

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