Archive of March 24, 2012

Transplant strengthens priest's heart, faith

Bronx, N.Y., Mar 24, 2012 (CNA) - On the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the Church celebrates the opening of St. Paul’s heart to the love of God. For one Bronx priest, that day will forever be associated with the day that he himself received a new heart, and a new chance at life.

On St. Paul’s feast day, Jan. 25, Father Aloysius Thumma, an international priest who serves as parochial vicar at Our Lady of the Assumption in the Bronx, received a heart transplant at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. The six-hour surgery was performed by a team of five doctors and nine nurses.

“It is very clear to me the integration of God’s hand in my life,” said a joyful Father Aloysius in an interview that took place at the convent of the Sisters, Servants of Mary in the Bronx two weeks after he left the hospital. Father Aloysius has been staying at the convent under the care of Mother Sylvia, S.M., the superior and a registered nurse.

For the past few years, the health of Father Aloysius, who suffered from congestive heart failure, had been slowly deteriorating.

On Nov. 14, Father Aloysius visited the sisters’ convent to celebrate Mass—he has been chaplain there for some 10 years. Mother Sylvia noticed that he was not well and told him that he would not be able to celebrate Mass. She placed him in the sisters’ infirmary where he was given oxygen. Two days later, his vital signs were worsening, so Father Aloysius was taken to New York Westchester Square Medical Center in the Parkchester section of the Bronx.

On Nov. 18, he was moved to New York-Presbyterian and placed on artificial life support to keep his heart beating. For 10 weeks, he remained on life support while he waited for a heart transplant.

He told Catholic New York that he never became discouraged about his worsening physical condition because of “the gift of faith.”

“When you are so sick, the eternal hope of seeing God face to face is so real. It doesn’t threaten you, it gives you strength,” he said.

Without a hint of darkness or morbid thought, he reflected on what he was feeling as he was wheeled into the operating room, and said he knew no matter how the surgery went, one way or another he would be free of pain. “That profound feeling was not out of nothingness, it was out of faith,” he said.

After the successful surgery, Father Aloysius moved into the guesthouse at the sisters’ convent in the Bronx. “I came home on Valentine’s Day with a new heart,” Father Aloysius said.

Mother Sylvia continues to care for Father Aloysius’ health—particularly with the distribution of the many pills he takes daily. “All of the Sisters, Servants of Mary, we really appreciate and love what he does for us. All the sisters helped me out. Everyone was praying for him and we are pleased to see that he’s back and back to his ministry,” she said.

She told CNY that the priest’s recovery has been amazing. “He was about to die,” she said. “A couple of times, we thought we were losing him.” She added joyfully that she and the sisters’ are happy to see him in recovery. “I know how much he went through and how strong he is in the faith,” she said.

Even though the surgery was a success, the risks to his health have not vanished. The possibility that his new heart will be rejected will remain throughout the rest of his life. However, with proper care and medication, that risk is reduced.

With sincere gratitude Father Aloysius spoke about the precious gift he received. “I pray for my donor every day, and their family,” he said.

He said that his heart was from a 25 year old, but he does not know any other details about the donor. He also said that he is now an organ donor himself. “That would be the greatest gift I could give,” he said.

He has been invited to tell his personal story at a prayer service for organ donors and recipients in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Saturday, April 14, and he hopes to be well enough to attend.

He also plans to return to active ministry within a few weeks. He told CNY that he credits the support he received from those around him with his recovery. Along with Mother Silvia and the sisters, he noted the assistance of Theresa Broglio, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Assumption in the Bronx, who continues to drive Father Aloysius to his medical appointments and visited him daily in the hospital.

“The emotional support, physical support and moral support was very important,” he said. He also noted that Cardinal Dolan called him three times to see how he was doing. Parishioners from the Bronx sent him get well cards and Mass cards throughout his illness, he said.

Msgr. Anthony Marchitelli, administrator of Our Lady of the Assumption, and Msgr. Donald Dwyer, pastor of Resurrection in Rye, N.Y. and a former longtime pastor of Our Lady of Assumption, as well as his other brother priests were also supportive.

In fact, he said that the first words he heard after surgery were spoken by Msgr. Dwyer who told him that his surgery went well. Father Aloysius said upon hearing those words, “I squeezed his hand. That was my first feeling of new life.”

Msgr. Dwyer said that Father Aloysius is a “dedicated and humble priest who has worked in the Bronx for 15 years. He is a remarkable man who approaches life with an equal measure of passion and compassion.”

He added, “As St. Paul’s heart was changed after an encounter with Jesus, may Father Aloysius’ story be a source of strength to those feeling sick and downhearted.”

In emphasizing how important the support he received from others was to his recovery, Father Aloysius told CNY that his family is from India, so his friendships with others lifted him up. “However much faith you have, you are human,” he said. “You need affection, love, concern.”

He added, “Why did Jesus have his mother at the cross? Because it was a great support.”

Posted with permission from Catholic New York, newspaper for the Diocese of New York.

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Contraception mandate violates federal law, say legal experts

Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2012 (CNA) - Legal experts believe that the Obama administration’s contraception mandate fails to meet requirements needed to limit freedom of religion under federal law.

George Mason University law professor Helen Alvaré argued that “in many Catholic institutions, such as hospitals and universities, the refusal to insure for contraception is the single clearest statement the Church makes.”

The contraception mandate will prohibit these institutions' ability to witness to their faith through their actions, she said.

Alvaré participated in a March 22 panel on “Religious Freedom and Healthcare Reform,” sponsored by the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

Panel participants discussed a controversial federal mandate that will soon require employers to offer health insurance plans that include coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

The mandate sparked a storm of protest that led the Obama administration on Feb. 10 to promise an “accommodation” for religious freedom. Instead of directly purchasing the coverage that they find objectionable, the “accommodation” would require employers to contract with insurers that would provide the coverage for free.

Supporters of the mandate suggested that the accommodation offers an acceptable level of protection for religious freedom and stressed the benefits of contraception.

However, Alvaré pointed to data indicating that contraception does not necessarily benefit society.

She noted that rates of unintended pregnancy, abortion and non-marital childbearing have all increased since the Supreme Court recognized a “right” to contraception several decades ago.

In addition to the fact that birth control regularly fails, it gives people a false sense of security, making them more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior than they otherwise would, she explained.

Michael McConnell, a former federal judge and current law professor at Stanford University Law School, explained that at its core, the debate over the mandate is a question of religious freedom.

“I do not share the Church’s theology with respect to contraception,” said McConnell, who is not Catholic.

Yet he explained that the real issue in this case is not contraception, but the government’s “unprecedented decision” to require American individuals and institutions to act in a way that violates their religious beliefs.

In addition to Constitutional protections under the First Amendment, there is also support for religious freedom in statutory law, McConnell said.

He explained that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 makes it clear that the federal government may not “substantially burden” the exercise of religion unless it is furthering a “compelling government interest” and employing the “least restrictive means” of doing so.

In this case, he said, it is “rather obvious” that the mandate imposes a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion by requiring religious individuals and organizations to participate in something that they consider gravely immoral. 

Furthermore, in granting an exemption at all, however narrow, the administration was acknowledging that “this would be a burden” on the free exercise of religious groups that find it objectionable, he said.

He added that the mandate would impose a substantial burden even with the administration’s promised accommodation, which he said is “no difference in substance whatsoever” than the original regulation. 

Turning to the standard for a “compelling government interest,” McConnell explained that the federal government issued the mandate because it believes that contraception coverage is important and wants to place the cost of covering it on employers.

This is “not a compelling interest at all,” he said.

He noted that multiple states have contraception mandates in place, but none of them implement them in the same sweeping way with such a narrow exemption as the federal mandate does.

If it were a compelling government interest, the regulations would not have included any exemption at all, he explained.

Finally, McConnell said, the mandate is not the “least restrictive means” of carrying out the government’s goal.

The administration could achieve its objective in another way, such as expanding Title X funding of contraception, without forcing religious employers to violate their consciences, he observed.

Because it fails to meet the standards set out for religious freedom cases, the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and should not be allowed to stand, he said.

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Neighborhood rallies against plan to build strip club near convent

Springfield, Ill., Mar 24, 2012 (CNA) -

More than 500 people gathered in prayer and protest in Chicago's suburb of Stone Park on March 22, raising their voices against the plan to open a strip club next to a convent of nuns.

“Having this strip club in our backyard goes against everything we stand for as religious women and it tears at the fabric of our whole community,” said Sister Noemi Silva of the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo Scalabrinians.

“We are appalled this strip club was built not only next to our convent, but also right next to the residential homes where children live. This is unacceptable.”

The evening prayer vigil was organized in response to the plan to open the $3 million “Get It” club, Stone Park's sixth “adult entertainment” business, on April 1. The date coincides with the Church's celebration of Palm Sunday, just before the beginning of Holy Week.

Outrage has erupted over the club's presence in the community, particularly because of its location next to the missionary sisters' convent. Proprietors of the club have been accused of breaking state law, which requires a one-mile “buffer zone” between places of worship and such businesses.

On Thursday night, hundreds of community members offered their prayers – and their chants of “Get It, Get Out!” 

According to organizers, it was the largest prayer vigil in Stone Park history – drawing more than 500 people in a town with fewer than 5,000 residents.

Community member Rosa Hernandez, who has lived in Stone Park for almost 20 years, said she had “never seen so many people come together for such an important cause. It is powerful to see so many people saying enough to strip clubs!”

As a mother, she is “outraged by the building of another strip club in our community.” The new 18,000 square foot club is surrounded by residential homes.

“We’re worried about the future of our children,” Hernandez said. “We stand against this strip club because it will only bring negative things to our community. It will downgrade Stone Park.”

Dayana Moreno, a 13-year-old resident of the town, agreed that the town's sixth “adult” establishment would bring “shame to our community.”

“My home is behind one already, and I often hear loud noise late at night when fights break out or drunk people leave,” she said.

“These places aren’t good for youth in our community. We’d rather have a library, which we don’t have in Stone Park,” Moreno observed.

Chicago's Thomas More Society has offered free legal aid to the town of Stone Park, if it joins the missionary sisters and community members in opposing the club's opening.

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Pope's first Mexican address offers encouragement to faithful

Leon, Mexico, Mar 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - At 4:12 pm local time on March 23, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Mexico for his first visit to a Spanish-speaking country in Latin America. In his first speech, the Pope said he came to encourage the faithful in their commitment to Christ.

“I come as a pilgrim of faith, of hope, and of love,” Pope Benedict declared. “I wish to confirm those who believe in Christ in their faith, by strengthening and encouraging them to revitalize their faith by listening to the Word of God, celebrating the sacraments and living coherently.”

“I am very happy to be here, and I give thanks to God for allowing me to realize the desire, kept in my heart for a long time; to confirm in the faith the People of God of this great nation in their own land,” he affirmed after receiving greetings from Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

Amid the applause and cheers of the thousands of Mexicans present, Pope Benedict offered his greetings to “all Mexicans” along with “all the nations and peoples of Latin America,” represented at the gathering by several bishops.

He said their meeting, near the monument to Christ the King on Mount Cubilete, “gives testimony to the deep roots of the Catholic faith among the Mexican people, who receive his constant blessings in all their vicissitudes.”

The Pope noted that Mexico, together with most other Latin American nations, had recently been celebrating 200 years of independence, marking the bicentennial with both civic and religious celebrations.

He observed that the Virgin Mary “has kept vigil over the faith of her children in the formation of these nations and she continues to do so today as new challenges present themselves.”

Latin American believers, he said, should seek to “share their faith with others as missionaries to their brothers and sisters and to act as a leaven in society.”

In this way, they can contribute “to a respectful and peaceful coexistence based on the incomparable dignity of every human being, created by God, which no one has the right to forget or disregard.”

“This dignity is expressed especially in the fundamental right to freedom of religion, in its full meaning and integrity.”

With faith in God, the Pope said, believers can be certain of “meeting him,” and “receiving his grace.” This hope enables Catholics to change society for the better, and to help “those who do not see meaning or a future in life.”

Mexico, and the whole of Latin America, “are called to live their hope in God as a profound conviction, transforming it into an attitude of the heart and a practical commitment to walk together in the building of a better world.”

He went on to describe charity, together with faith and hope, as an essential part of the Church's mission.

“Nobody is excluded on account of their origin or belief from this mission of the Church, which does not compete with other private or public initiatives,” he noted.

“In fact, the Church willingly works with those who pursue the same ends. Nor does she have any aim other than doing good in an unselfish and respectful way to those in need, who often lack signs of authentic love.”

Pope Benedict promised Mexicans that during his trip he would “pray to the Lord and to Our Lady of Guadalupe for all of you so that you may be true to the faith which you have received and to its best traditions.”

“I will pray especially for those in need, particularly for those who suffer because of old and new rivalries, resentments and all forms of violence. I know that I am in a country which is proud of its hospitality and wishes no one to feel unwelcome.”

“I already knew this, and now I can see it and feel it in my heart,” the Pope reflected.

“I sincerely hope that many Mexicans who live far from their homeland will feel the same way and that nothing will cause them to forget it or to lose the wish to see it growth in harmony and in authentic integral development. Thank you!”

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Pope's use of cane is nothing new, Vatican clarifies

Vatican City, Mar 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Pope Benedict XVI's use of a cane during his trip to Mexico is not a new development or a sign of “debility,” according to the vice-director of the Vatican Press Office.

“It’s nothing new,” Fr. Ciro Benedettini told CNA, explaining that the Pope “uses the cane while passing through the Vatican Gardens.”

“At almost 85 years of age, it’s prudent for him to walk with a cane,” the Vatican spokesman noted. “There is no reason for alarm, nor anything new in reference to the Pope’s health.”

Fr. Benedettini's clarification came in response to a Reuters report that mentioned Pope Benedict's use of a cane to walk to the plane that would take him to Mexico on March 23.

On that occasion, the Pope used a black cane as he walked from the helicopter that took him to the airport, while conversing with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.

Reuters, which has caused controversy over alleged inaccuracies in its past reporting on Pope Benedict's statements, claimed that the cane was “a symbol of his growing physical debility.”

The Holy Father boarded the plane without help, and used only the staircase railing.

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In Guanajuato, Pope Benedict delivers 'lost' message of John Paul II

Leon, Mexico, Mar 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict has delivered a message to the people of Guanajuato from his predecessor Blessed John Paul II, which was given aboard the late Pope's plane but virtually “forgotten” after 1979.

“It would be very pleasing to have visited your beloved land, but circumstances have not permitted the time for it,” Pope John Paul II said in words originally directed to the people of Guanajuato as his plane passed over the Sanctuary of Christ the King in 1979.

The late Pope's words were nearly lost for more than three decades, appearing only in a single book prepared by the Mexican Catholic Episcopal Conference. On March 23, Pope Benedict began his speech at Guanajuato's airport by delivering the message from his predecessor.

“I exhort you to remain faithful in your faith, to love Christ and the Church, in intimate union with your pastors,” Pope John Paul II declared in the message, which cannot be found in any other record of Papal speeches from the 1979 trip. 

“I also pray for you all, especially for the sick and those who suffer,” the message read. “As a sign of my great affection for you all I offer a special blessing, thanking you for your affection for the Pope and your fidelity to the Lord. May God bless you always.”

At the International Press Office set up at the Hotsson Hotel for Pope Benedict's current visit to Mexico, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi explained that the words of Bl. John Paul II, delivered by Pope Benedict on March 23, were nearly “unknown” until now.

Fr. Lombardi said Pope Benedict's delivery of the message was “very significant and expresses a relationship in continuity” between his mission and that of his predecessor – who visited Mexico five times, but never made it to Guanajuato.

The Papal spokesman acknowledged that Pope Benedict's voice had been slightly hoarse during his first address in Mexico. But he said the Pope's condition was “fantastic,” explaining that the hoarseness was due to atmospheric conditions on the 14-hour flight to Mexico.

After noting the Pope's prayerful preparation for his speeches and appearances, Fr. Lombardi said the trip had great significance for all of Latin America.

“Benedict XVI’s desire is to continue John Paul II’s mission; to follow his same path, his mission and work in Mexico and Cuba,” he added.

Fr. Lombardi also pointed out that the Pope's speeches “are for meditation since their richness can only be understood with more than one reading.”

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At Guanajuato Airport, Catholics overjoyed by Pope's Mexico visit

Guanajuato, Mexico, Mar 24, 2012 (CNA) - Catholics at Guanajuato Airport were joyful, proud, and thankful for the chance to welcome Pope Benedict XVI on his first visit to a Spanish-speaking Latin American country on March 23.

Many of them told CNA that it was “a marvelous experience.”

Benita Espinoza, who arrived from Mazatlán in the state of Sinaloa, didn't expect to feel the way she did when Pope John Paul II visited to the country. But when she saw Pope Benedict XVI, she said, “I felt something incomparable. That’s why I give thanks to God for allowing me to be here.”

Father Julio Salcedo, of the Missionaries of St. Joseph, noted that the Pope arrived “with great joy.”

“His happiness is immediately apparent,” the priest said. “He’s wanted to come to Mexico for some time. I do think he will offer us a message of peace.”

The experience of welcoming the Pope was “unforgettable” and is “something we will always have in our memories,” according to 21-year-old Victor Martin.

“The words and the speech he gave to the Mexican people were very beautiful – that we may work for our society, the youth and our people,” Martin said.

Celia Elías later said that she felt “great satisfaction to have seen the Pope, who will give us hope for the country. Having seen him is without a doubt something divine.”

Roberto Antonio Velásquez Nieto, a Mexican expert on the Vatican archives, is grateful for the Pope's “message of faith, hope, love, and reconciliation for all Mexican people,” amid the “ravaging effects of the organized crime and violence that plague Mexico.”

“I think this is the most transcendent visit of his entire pontificate,” said Nieto, who also observed that Pope Benedict “comes to put an end to the dictatorship of relativism that currently reigns.”

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Pope offers his blessing to handicapped children in Mexico

Leon, Mexico, Mar 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Following his first speech in Mexico on March 23, Pope Benedict XVI drew near to the faithful who awaited him on the runway of the International Airport of Guanajuato. Among those he greeted were handicapped children with Down Syndrome, whom he blessed and showed signs of affection.

Accompanied by President Felipe Calderon and his wife Margarita Zavala, Pope Benedict greeted the children with Down Syndrome and the handicapped who, with the help of volunteers, sought to draw close and take pictures.

One by one, the Pope gave them his blessing, stretching out his hand and kissing their cheeks as a sign of affection and fatherly love.

Previously, before the welcome speech, the Pope received a group of indigenous children dressed in traditional clothing. 

Among the children were Gilberto Moreno Vasquez and Araceli Esteban Lorenzo, both eight years of age and from the municipality of Cochoapa El Grande, which is located in the high region of Montaña de Guerrero. It is one of the poorest areas of the region.

Upon finishing this first meeting with the Mexican people, the Pope returned to the airport. He was accompanied by his entourage as well as Church and civil authorities, on the way to Colegio Miraflores where he will spend the night.

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Thousands of Catholic youth await Pope Benedict at Miraflores School

Leon, Mexico, Mar 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Outside Miraflores School, where Pope Benedict XVI is staying in the Mexican city of León, thousands of young people have gathered to show their support and love.

“I’ll be here 20, 30, or 100 hours, whatever it takes, anything to see him. The Pope is my great inspiration,” Francisco Javier Aguilar told CNA on March 24.

The 15-year-old said he is waiting for the Pope “because he has been a huge inspiration for me. He holds an important place in my life because he deserves it and has done so many things.”

Aguilar is one of thousands watching for Pope Benedict, who will depart from Miraflores School late in the day for a meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderón. After the meeting, the Pope will greet children gathered in Guanajuato's Plaza de Paz

“Being here with the Pope is hugely emotional,” said Laura Fuentes, another member of the crowd outside Miraflores School.

“There’s no experience like it. I ask everyone to come and see him because they’ll have a great experience in their hearts.”

Abraham Sánchez Ramos agreed that it would be a “great experience” to see the Pope. “It’s a chance that may never present itself again.”

For Juan León, the Pope's presence “is hugely emotional and a blessing. I have the hope to see him up close. It’s something you can’t explain, but feel in your heart. I know that his coming will bring many spiritual benefits.”

Valentín Padilla, married and the father of three girls, is outside Miraflores School “to see if God grants me the blessing of seeing the Pope. It make me so happy that he’s visiting us.”

“Seeing him is enough for me. In fact, I left work and am not going back,” he confessed.   

“Let everyone see that we are Catholic,” said Padilla, urging Mexicans “to come with us in force to see if the Pope comes out.”

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