Woonsocket, R.I., Apr 29, 2012 (CNA) -
A longstanding memorial to veterans killed in two world wars, topped by a non-descript, three-and-a-half foot white Latin-style cross is the latest target in the Ocean State of a self-described atheist and agnostic freethinkers group.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, a group dedicated to the separation of church and state, is calling for the immediate removal of the memorial from public property where it rests on a small island outside the City of Woonsocket’s Fire Department headquarters. The group has also asked that two items displayed on the Fire Department’s Web site — the Fireman’s Prayer and a graphic of an angel consoling a grieving firefighter that appears on a page under construction to honor brethren who have died in the line of duty — also be removed.
In letters received by the mayor and fire chief on April 16, the Freedom From Religion Foundation asked the City of Woonsocket, R.I. to relocate the memorial to private property and for the Fire Department to remove the prayer and graphic from its Web site.
In an interview provided to the John DePetro Show on News Talk 630 WPRO and 99.7 FM, Mayor Leo T. Fontaine of Woonsocket. indicated he would not capitulate to the group’s request.
“I’m not going to fold. This monument is not going to go away,” Mayor Fontaine said.
The mayor did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but said in the radio interview that he has received hundreds of e-mails from all over the country from people offering their support to the city, including pro bono legal representation if the organization decides to file suit against the city.
In the Freedom From Religion Foundation's letter to the city, Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca Market notes that it is illegal for the city to display “patently religious symbols and messages on city property.”
Market said that both the Web site and the Latin cross demonstrate a preference for religion over nonreligion.
“Such government endorsements of religion run afoul of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Market said in the letter, which requests a written response from the city outlining the steps it intends to take in resolving this matter.
Fire Chief Gary Lataille, in an interview with Rhode Island Catholic Wednesday at his office in Fire Station 2, which overlooks the memorial, said he has no plans to take any action at the request of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
“When the mayor, as public safety director or a court orders me to remove it, I will,” Lataille said.
The chief said that the department’s Web site has existed for about 10 years, and in that time, he isn’t aware of any complaints about the prayer, which is universally accepted among the brotherhood of firefighters, or any imagery depicted.
The memorial, first dedicated in 1921 to city of Woonsocket resident William Jolicoeur, who is hailed as a “World War I Hero,” has begun to show signs of age.
Several cracks are present in the base of the monument, and a large chunk of the pedestal supporting the cross has eroded from one corner.
The mayor said that although ironic, it might prove to be the complaint about the monument that will eventually save it from falling into a deeper state of disrepair.
“If anything … they have brought this monument into greater prominence,” Mayor Fontaine said in the radio interview.
According to Msgr. John Allard, chaplain of the Fire Department and pastor of St. Agatha and Precious Blood churches in Woonsocket, the cross is a “landmark” that has existed for almost a century in a city heavily populated by the descendents of French-Canadian immigrants who settled in the area during the early 1900s and who worked in local textile mills.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Msgr. Allard, a Woonsocket native. “I think that there are many serious issues in the country. This is a distraction.”
Eleanor Michaud, a St. Agatha parishioner, said the Fire Department should not have to remove the prayer and graphic of the angel from its Web site.
“They have the right of free speech,” Michaud said.
Roger Fisette, a parishioner at St. Joseph Parish, also supports keeping the prayer and graphic on the Web site, but feels moving the monument to private property may be the best option.
“If it were on private property, it would cause less commotion,” Fisette said, noting how organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation can benefit from the increased exposure they receive in such cases.
Lifelong Woonsocket resident Bernard Fontaine, an employee of the Museum of Work and Culture, doesn’t understand why the monument is suddenly a topic of controversy after not drawing much attention for several decades.
“It’s just a simple landmark and meaningful to those who believe,” he acknowledged.
The monument was erected in 1921 in memory of William Jolicoeur, a member of the American Expeditionary Forces killed in France during World War I. In 1952, it was rededicated by the Disabled American Veterans in honor of three brothers, Alexandre, Henri and Louis Gagne, all killed during World War II.
According to the Woonsocket Centennial History, 1888-2000, the 1921 dedication was an international event, with a high-profile visit by Marshall Ferdinand Foch, commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War I. Foch participated in the dedication of “Place Jolicoeur,” the monumental plaza alongside Fire Station 2.
The site where the monument rests was once a traffic island in the middle of a busy roadway. But when flooding prompted the city to change the traffic pattern, “Place Jolicoeur” became part of the fire station’s parking lot.
When Tom Poole, a disabled Marine Corps veteran heard about the call for the monument’s removal, he spent several hours keeping vigil by it Tuesday and Wednesday in a show of respect for the departed soldiers it represents.
He disagrees with the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s view of the memorial as a religious symbol.
“This was a memorial to some people who paid the ultimate sacrifice during two of our wars,” said Poole, 53, a Woonsocket native.
“Who do these people from Wisconsin think they are coming into our backyard and telling us what to do?” he said.
Bert Paul, a parishioner at All Saints Parish who retired 12 years ago as Woonsocket’s deputy fire chief after nearly 31 years of service, said during a visit to the memorial site Wednesday that he was stunned by the recent turn of events.
“I was stationed here for 30 years, and we never had any problem with that at all. Most of us are just flabbergasted by this,” he said.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has taken this action on the heels of a recent federal court ruling calling for the removal of a prayer banner from the auditorium of a public high school in Cranston, R.I. The organization had offered its support, and later awarded a scholarship to the plaintiff, Jessica Ahlquist, an atheist and student at the school.
Joseph V. Cavanagh, a First Amendment attorney and member of the legal team which represented the City of Cranston in the recent suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union over the removal of the prayer banner at Cranston West High School, believes the motivation to oppose the monument and Web site prayer is a direct attack on the faith.
“This seems to be yet another alarming example of the insidious effort to drive religion and therefore God, out of our lives here in America,” Cavanagh said. “Our freedom to believe, to worship, and to practice our faith is clearly under attack. All of us need to pray more for fortitude and for the perseverance to battle peacefully but vigorously for our rights to freely practice and embrace our beliefs, or else we will soon look back with great regret for the freedom we have given up not only for ourselves but for the generations to come.”
Posted with permission from the Rhode Island Catholic, official newspaper for the Diocese of Providence.
Denver, Colo., Apr 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - On May 5, Catholics celebrate Saint Hilary of Arles, a fifth-century bishop who gave up wealth and privilege in favor of austerity and sacrifice for the sake of the Church.
Hilary was born during the year 401, most likely in the present-day French region of Loraine. He came from a wealthy background and received a traditional aristocratic education in philosophy and rhetoric, which he expected to put to use in a secular career.
One of Hilary’s relatives, Honoratus, had founded a monastery in Lerins and given his life to the service of the Church. Honoratus was deeply concerned for Hilary’s salvation, and urged him with tears to abandon worldly pursuits for the sake of following Christ.
“On one side,” Hilary later recalled, “I saw the Lord calling me; on the other the world offering me its seducing charms and pleasures. How often did I embrace and reject, will and not will the same thing!”
“But in the end Jesus Christ triumphed in me. And three days after Honoratus had left me, the mercy of God, solicited by his prayers, subdued my rebellious soul.”
Hilary returned to his relative, humbling himself as Honoratus’ disciple and embracing his life of prayer, asceticism, and Scripture study. He sold his property, gave the proceeds to the poor, and wholeheartedly embraced the monastic life of the community in Lerins.
In 426, Honoratus became the Archbishop of Arles. Hilary initially followed him, but soon returned to the monastery at Lerins. Honoratus, however, insisted on having the assistance of his relative and disciple, and traveled to Lerins himself to retrieve him.
When Honoratus died in 429, Hilary again attempted to leave Arles and return to his monastery. But the faithful of the city sent out a search party and had him brought back, so that he could be consecrated as Honoratus’ successor.
Though he was not yet 30 years old, the new archbishop was well-prepared by his years in religious life and the time spent assisting his predecessor. As archbishop, he maintained the simplicity of a monk. He owned few possessions, put the poor ahead of himself, and continued to do manual labor.
Known for his kindness and charity, the archbishop was also remembered for publicly rebuking a government official who brought shame on the Church. He also warned lukewarm believers that they would “not so easily get out of hell, if you are once unhappily fallen into its dungeons.”
Hilary helped to establish monasteries in his diocese, and strengthened the discipline and orthodoxy of the local Church through a series of councils. He sold Church property in order to pay the ransoms of those who had been kidnapped, and is said to have worked miracles during his lifetime.
St. Hilary of Arles died on May 5, 449. Although his life was marked by some canonical disputes with Pope St. Leo I, the Pope himself praised the late Archbishop of Arles in a letter to his successor, honoring him as “Hilary of holy memory.”
Washington D.C., Apr 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops' anti-poverty program won support for defunding a Colorado immigrant aid organization over its intricate involvement with a coalition that violates Church teaching.
“Despite its claims to the contrary,” the southwestern Colorado nonprofit Compañeros played a major role in a statewide coalition promoting homosexual behavior, said Michael Hichborn, spokesman for a Catholic watchdog group.
Hichborn told CNA on April 27 that the bishops' program made the right call in axing funds to Compañeros, a founding member – with representation on the board of directors – of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, which actively supports gay unions.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which serves as the U.S. bishops’ program to fight domestic poverty, made national headlines when it recently decided to cut funding of Compañeros, an immigrant rights organization in Pueblo, Colorado.
Like other groups across the country that receive funding from the Catholic Campaign, Compañeros had signed a pledge agreeing that it would not publicly stand for anything that violates Church teaching.
But Hichborn said that Compañeros is “intimately linked” with the Colorado Immigrant's Rights Coalition, to the point that “there is no way to distinguish the actions” of one from the other.
He pointed to numerous recent examples of efforts by the coalition to advocate same-sex unions.
Multiple officials from the coalition have publicly criticized the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman in the U.S.
The coalition has participated in a 2010 gay pride parade in Denver and has praised the efforts of gay activist groups towards greater recognition of same-sex couples.
The group also voiced support for “transgender rights” in a public statement and sponsored a community organizing retreat with the Gay and Lesbian Fund.
In its 2011 legislative report, the coalition said that it was “proud to actively support the 2011 civil unions bill” in the state and looks forward to doing so again in the future.
It also applauded the work of “our sister coalition for LGBT justice, One Colorado,” an organization dedicated to promoting “gay rights” within the state.
Katherine Chrisman, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Pueblo, confirmed that the decision to defund Compañeros was due to its formal connection with the Colorado Immigrant's Rights Coalition.
She explained that the organization’s leaders were “offered repeated and extended opportunities to change their mind” but instead chose to remain a member of the coalition.
Compañeros’ executive director Nicole Mosher told the New York Times that she was “shocked” and “confused” by the decision.
“We have no reason to believe that we are in any way going against Catholic teachings,” she said.
The decision to defund the organization also upset Catholics United, a left-leaning social justice group, which responded to news by leading efforts to raise money for Compañeros through private donations.
The D.C.-based organization helped to create With Charity For All, an “alternative donation site” for organizations that lose funding from the Church because they violate Catholic teaching.
The With Charity for All website criticizes the recent funding decision, calling it “tragic” and accusing the U.S. bishops of promoting a “right-wing political agenda.”
Hichborn, however, believes the Catholic Campaign for Human Development was right to withdraw funding from a group whose actions contradict “immutable Catholic moral teaching.”
He explained that Catholics have an obligation “to avoid even the appearance of scandal.”
“When a Catholic-run agency gives money to an organization that is intimately involved with groups promoting abortion or homosexuality, it gives the appearance of scandal,” he said.
Vatican City, Apr 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Sunday, the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, Pope Benedict XVI asked families, communities and local parishes to help young men in discerning their vocation to the priesthood.
“Dear friends, pray for the Church, every local community, that they are like a garden in which can germinate and ripen all the seeds of vocation that God sows in abundance,” said the Pope in his midday Regina Coeli address to pilgrims in St. Peter's Square April 29.
“In particular, families are the first environment into which ‘breathes’ the love of God, which gives inner strength even in the midst of the difficulties and trials of life.”
Earlier in the morning Pope Benedict XVI had ordained nine new priests for the Diocese of Rome in St Peter’s Basilica. He explained that those young men were, in fact, “no different from other young people” apart from the fact that “they had been deeply touched by the beauty of God’s love, and could not help but respond with their whole lives.”
The Pope gave thanks to God for the ordinations, deeming them a sign of God’s “provident and faithful love for the Church.” He asked pilgrims to pray that “all young people be attentive to the voice of God that speaks inwardly to their heart and calls them to break away from everything to serve Him.”
“The Lord is always calling” he said, adding that “many times we do not listen” due to being “distracted by many things” or by being “afraid to hear the voice of the Lord because we think it might take away our freedom.”
The answer to these fears is the recognition that our freedom is “fully realized” in responding to love and, in particular, to the love of God.
The newly ordained priests, the Pope said, had met this love of God through “Jesus Christ in the Gospels, the Eucharist and the Church community” where they too discovered that “the life of every man is a love story.”
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!” Pope Benedict continued, quoting the famous phrase of St. Augustine’s “Confessions.”
Recent statistics have shown the numbers of men applying for the priesthood around the world is on the rise. The Pope commended all those discerning such a vocation to the Virgin Mary, calling her “mother of every vocation in the Church.”