Archive of February 25, 2012

Teachers take day off to serve the needy

New Orleans, La., Feb 25, 2012 (CNA) - Ursuline Academy’s faculty and staff of New Orleans, La. don’t just “talk the talk” when it comes to helping the least of their brothers.

An annual, hands-on service retreat enables these adult leaders to show their students that they are also willing to “walk the walk.”

On Feb. 3, Ursuline students from toddler age through high school were given the day off so their school’s 91 employees could spend the day working with the St. Bernard Project, a non-profit organization founded after Hurricane Katrina that rebuilds homes for senior citizens, people with disabilities and other families that cannot afford to have the work done.

After an on-campus prayer service, the volunteers divided into seven teams to take on light to moderate construction tasks at homes in various stages of renovation in New Orleans East, Gentilly, Mid-City and Broadmoor, La.

“At Ursuline it isn’t just ‘the lower school,’ ‘the middle school’ and ‘the high school.’ We all come together at various times of the year, and I love that,” said middle school social studies teacher Stacie Bourgeois, whose crew laid flooring, painted interior walls and installed porch lights at a double on South Tonti Street in New Orleans that saw nine feet of water after Katrina.

“There’s a job for everybody – the non-coordinated and the coordinated,” Bourgeois chuckled. “I’ve been relegated to cleaning the paint buckets, which I’m very happy to do.”

Bourgeois said she was eager to tell her students the story of the house’s 87-year-old owner, who would soon be able to move back to her tidy neighborhood after being victimized three times by fraudulent contractors.

“I’m sure she’ll be so happy to see her house finished, and to know that there are good people in the world – that it’s not all bad,” said Bourgeois, singing the praises of the St. Bernard Project, which has helped more than 420 families move back into their homes since March 2006.

“Their hearts are in it!” Bourgeois said. “After six years you’d think people would get burned out and move on, but they’re still so dedicated.”

Service part of school fabric

The faculty-staff effort came on the heels of a Jan. 27 service day in which every class of Ursuline students volunteered at a nursing home, homeless shelter or some other service site to mark the feast of St. Angela Merici, foundress of the Ursuline Sisters. In addition to this student service day – a school tradition for 10 years – Ursuline’s innovative high school service model assigns each grade level a specific community need on which to focus its efforts for the entire school year, with the ultimate goal of exposing every student to five concerns – from childhood literacy to elder issues – over the course of her five years of high school. Fittingly, the 285-year-old academy’s motto is “Serviam” – I Will Serve.

“Service has just became such a daily part of the girls’ lives that we thought it was really important that the faculty set the example and do the same thing that they’re asking the girls to do,” said campus minister Kim Otto, taking a brief break from prepping sub-flooring at the South Tonti Street site.

Otto said that in the days leading up to last year’s faculty retreat, which also served the St. Bernard Project, a few teachers were “hesitant and nervous” about being up to the tasks of construction.

“Also, a lot of our faculty went through Katrina themselves and had to redo their own homes – so it brought up a lot of emotions in them,” Otto said. “After they were finished they saw how much they could do – things they never thought they could do before,” Otto said, noting that those who were physically unable to do the “heavy lifting” lent moral support to their co-workers.

Encouraging teamwork

Covered in debris after waterproofing the underhouse insulation of his assigned home in Gentilly, Louisiana’s Edgewood Park neighborhood, Jonathan Baynham, an Ursuline High theology and psychology teacher, said he was enjoying the opportunity to bond with his fellow faculty members. The volunteers were deliberately grouped by retreat leaders to build collaboration among people who didn’t normally work together.

“We’re all underneath the house right now, so we’re communicating in a different way,” Baynham said. “At school we’re communicating, ‘These are the principles we want to be teaching,’ or we’re rarely interacting with each other because we’re interacting with the students – everyone is in their own classroom doing their thing,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to actually talk to each other as we’re doing something.”

Baynham said the service day brought to life many of the lessons he teaches his students in their study of the New Testament.

“Most of the retreats I’ve been on (solely consist of) prayer and reflection,” Baynham said, “but sometimes you have to stop talking and start doing, and then you can have something to reflect on. Sometimes it takes doing something to have something to reflect on. It’s not just lofty language anymore,” he said.

Inspired by student crosses

At the pre-retreat prayer service, 10 students from Ursuline’s Peer Ministry group went to campus on their day off to help send forth the faculty-staff volunteers. One peer minister noted how the service she was doing at Ursuline had inspired her to volunteer in Guatemala and told the adults that Ursuline students would be praying for their teachers on service day. The peer ministers gave faculty and staff members handmade crosses, each inscribed with a different quote from Scripture.

“They said to us, ‘We know that you (teachers) have crosses that you bear, and we know that you are going out to try to help families lessen their burdens and bear theircrosses, so here is a (real) cross you can keep in your office for the rest of the year as a reminder of the families that you are helping today,’” said Otto, tearing up at the memory of the morning send-off.

“Christ is calling us to work with the poor, to work with people who don’t have the same things that we have,” Otto said. “It’s part of our faith to do something – not just to talk about things.”

Posted with permission from the Clarion Herald, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, La.

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Catholic women rally against contraception mandate

Denver, Colo., Feb 25, 2012 (CNA) -

Despite claims that only male clergy and politicians oppose the Obama administration's contraception mandate, Catholic women across the nation are objecting strongly to the federal rule.

In recent posts on CNA's Catholic Womanhood page, columnists attacked the mandate from various angles – some addressed the issue of religious freedom while others questioned the validity of abortifacients, sterilization and contraception being labeled as “basic medical care” for women.

The articles come amid a storm of protest over the administration's Jan. 20 announcement that religious institutions will have to cover these services in employer-provided health insurances plans. 

Public speaker and content editor of Heroic Media, Jenny Uebbing, said in her column that in the midst of the debate, women need to examine the basic problem of how contraception undermines them.

A 29 year-old mother of two, Uebbing said that birth control teaches women that their natural fertility is something that needs to be reduced in order to “level the playing field” with men.

“We were told, with the advent of the birth control pill, that we might at last grasp and achieve 'equality' with men,” something that fertility and childbearing had somehow “denied us.”

Uebbing argued that the mandate seems to promote the idea that a woman's ability to conceive children shows something is “wrong” with her body and needs to be corrected when the opposite is true.

Award-winning writer and Catholic Womanhood contributor Marianna Bartholomew also voiced concerns about the mandate's harmful effects on the nation's women.

“As a journalist,” Bartholomew said, “I see facts refuting the notion that flooding our nation with free contraceptives will lead to honoring women.”

The widespread use and availability of contraceptives has instead ultimately lead to women “being used for recreation, then discarded,” she noted.

Columnist Rebecca Teti also criticized the mandate but from the perspective of religious groups being forced to violate their beliefs.

“Why would anyone distort the Bill of Rights to compel private institutions built by private citizens to buy and distribute products that poison their consciences?” she asked the Obama administration.

The columnists' remarks come as former New York Times editorial writer Maura Casey attempted to garner support from Catholic women for the contraception mandate.

In a Feb. 23 article for the Hartford Courant, she called the U.S. bishops out of touch and highlighted what she called the “vast disconnect between Catholic teaching and the reality of our lives.”

Casey also cited statistics – recently debunked by Washington Post contributor Glenn Kessler – which claim that 98 percent of Catholic women have used artificial contraception.

She then referenced personal experiences and the opinions of her Catholic acquaintances who use birth control as support for the mandate.

“Like me, many would consider themselves irresponsible mothers if they did not tell their children to ignore the church's teaching on contraception.”

If women do not “speak up” and support of the HHS mandate, Casey said, “scores of male commentators will get away with the pretense that they are speaking for us.”

Casey said that women, who are the “authorities on the importance of birth control to our health and freedom” know that “pregnancy is far more than a nine-month inconvenience.”

She also likened women who support the mandate to Galileo, saying that the Church has essentially forced women to whisper their support for something they were forced to renounce just as the astronomer did his scientific findings.

But Cathy Cleaver Ruse, senior fellow of Legal Studies for the Family Research Council, criticized Casey's “voice-of-the-oppressed” argument. 

She pointed out that “the Church can only propose the truth of its beliefs” but not force anyone to accept them, as Casey suggests.

Ruse observed to CNA on Feb. 23 that within her circle of friends, she could name dozens of women who do not use contraception and “are not in the least bitter about it.”

Instead, women who refuse to contracept “do so because of love,” she emphasized.

This “is God's law, given not to oppress but to guide us to a more authentic freedom...we live this teaching out of love for Him and his Church.”

Other recent opposition to the mandate includes a list of over 60 prominent women professionals – compiled by National Review Online editor Kathryn Jean Lopez – who condemned the federal rule. 

A Feb. 17 open letter telling President Obama, Kathleen Sebelius and members of Congress, “Don't claim to speak for all women,” has already received 2,300 signatures from women across the nation.

Helen M. Alvaré, associate professor of law at George Mason University School of Law, and Kim Daniels, former counsel to the Thomas More Law Center, initiated the letter in response to House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other supporters of the mandate who have repeatedly suggested that few if any women in the U.S. oppose it.

During a Feb. 16 Congressional hearing on religious freedom, Allison Garrett, senior vice president at Oklahoma Christian University and Dr. Laura Champion, medical director of Calvin College, both gave testimonies against the mandate.

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Boys Town founder to be named Servant of God

Omaha, Neb., Feb 25, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Father Edward Flanagan, the founder of the famous Boys Town orphanage, will be declared a “Servant of God” next month as the Archdiocese of Omaha opens his cause for beatification.

“For years many in the Omaha community and beyond have venerated the memory of Fr. Edward Flanagan,” Archbishop George Lucas said Feb. 21. “I am happy that we can begin the process of examining the holiness that was apparent in his life and ministry, to see if he might be canonized.”

The archbishop started the process at the request of the Father Flanagan League Society of Devotion. The league was formed in 1999 to advocate the opening of the cause for Fr. Flanagan’s canonization and to educate people about his life and his mission as a mentor and protector of youth.

The league’s president, Steven Wolf, said the organization is “humbled and overjoyed” by the archbishop’s acceptance of the petition to examine the priest’s heroic virtue and sanctity.

Fr. Flanagan is most famous for founding Boys Town, an orphanage for boys that grew into a major provider for at-risk children and families.

He was born July 13, 1886 in County Roscommon, Ireland. He traveled to the U.S. in 1904. He was ordained a priest in 1912 and assigned to what was then the Diocese of Omaha.

After a period of working with homeless men in Omaha, he founded a boarding house for all boys, regardless of their race or religion. He soon moved his work to Overlook Farm on the outskirts of Omaha, where he cared for hundreds of boys.

The home became known as the Village of Boys Town, growing to include a school, dormitories and administration buildings. The boys elected their own government to run the community, which became an official village in the state of Nebraska in 1936.

One of his famous phrases was “There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking.”

The priest rose to national and international prominence for his work. Actor Spencer Tracy won an Oscar for his portrayal of Fr. Flanagan in the 1938 movie “Boys Town.” The actor later donated the award to the priest.

U.S. president Harry Truman asked Fr. Flanagan to travel the world to visit war orphans and to advise government leaders on how to care for displaced children.

He died of a heart attack in Berlin on May 15, 1948. His remains are interred in Boys Town’s Dowd Memorial Catholic Chapel.

Fr. Steven Boes, national executive director of Boys Town, said the organization is “extremely happy” that its founder is being considered for sainthood.

“Though the process will be investigating proven miracles associated with Fr. Flanagan, we know that miracles occurred every day in his work to heal children in mind, body and spirit. These everyday miracles still occur as Boys Town continues Flanagan’s work by saving children and healing families today,” he said.

Before the cause can open, Archbishop Lucas will post a notice on the doors of Omaha’s St. Cecilia Cathedral on Feb. 27. The notice will be on display for two weeks to alert the public about the cause and to invite them to share their thoughts with the tribunal in charge of the investigation, archdiocesan chancellor Deacon Tim McNeil said.

The cause will formally open on March 17 with a 9 a.m. prayer service at Boys Town’s Immaculate Conception Church. Fr. Flanagan will receive the official title “Servant of God.” The local tribunals of religious officials and experts responsible for investigating Fr. Flanagan’s virtues and interviewing witnesses will also be sworn in.

At the conclusion of the archdiocese’s investigation, the cause’s documentation is sent to the Congregation of the Causes of Saints at the Vatican. The congregation can recommend that Pope Benedict XVI declare Fr. Flanagan to have demonstrated heroic virtue and is worthy to be declared “venerable.”

This action would allow prayer cards and other material to be printed to encourage the faithful to pray for Fr. Flanagan’s intercession and canonization. If anyone gives credible evidence of a miracle through his intercession, he may be beatified. An additional miracle is then required for canonization—the declaration by the Church that it is as certain as it can be that he is in heaven.

Wolf said the Father Flanagan League Society of Devotion sees the opening of the cause for beatification “as a response to the Holy Spirit that is moving through an international groundswell of devotion.” His group estimates that there is devotion to Fr. Flanagan in nine countries and 36 U.S. states.

Deacon McNeil said the canonization of Fr. Flanagan could inspire the more than 230,000 Catholics of northeast Nebraska.

“If he could live a holy and exemplary life in Omaha, why can’t we all?” he asked.

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Further details of Pope’s Lenten spiritual exercises revealed

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Pope Benedict XVI’s spiritual exercises for Lent will include contemplative prayer and meditations on spiritual themes like the communion of the Christian with God.

Over seven consecutive days starting Sunday Feb. 26, the Pope and senior members of the Roman Curia will dramatically reduce their usual workload to make time for daily mini-retreats.  They undertake the exercises collectively during the seasons of Advent and Lent with the aim of growing closer to Christ.

The titles of each of the seven days of mediations are: “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”; “Communion and Life”; “Communion and Mercy”; “Breach of communion, sin”;  “God is love”; “Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and Prayer - The Holy Spirit”; and “Love and Faith.”

The meditation “God is Love” will explore themes like the death of a priest, penance and reconciliation, fraternal love, and the Virgin Mary as “Mother of Believers” who is “a model of communion with the Father and the Son.”

The Pope’s spiritual exercises will take place in the Vatican’s Redemptoris Mater Chapel. The theme is taken from the New Testament letter 1 John 1:3:  “And our fellowship is with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.”  This year the exercises will be guided by Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa in the Congo.

The exercises begin at 6 p.m. on Sunday with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Evening Prayer, and a meditation followed by adoration and Benediction. After that the daily routine will be see the first mediation begin at 9 a.m. after Morning Prayer. At 10:15 a.m. Mid-Morning Prayer will be followed by the day’s second mediation. The third and final mediation will then take place at 5 p.m. whereupon it will be followed by Evening Prayer, adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

Since 2007 the 72-year-old Cardinal Monsengwo has been Archbishop of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was elevated to the Sacred College of Cardinals in 2010. He was a pivotal figure in the Congo’s transition from dictatorship to democracy in the 1990s and continues to be an outspoken critic of corruption in public life.

In recent years other notable clergy who have been invited to preach to the Pope during Lent have included the emeritus Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Marco Cé, the emeritus Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, and the French Discalced Carmelite and theologian Fr. François-Marie Léthel.

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