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Archive of May 5, 2012

Adopt-a-Seminarian program offers prayers, support for vocations

Granger, Ind., May 5, 2012 (CNA) - When Deacon Jacob Meyer comes home from Pontifical College Josephinum during school breaks, he often brings fellow students with him. Kurt and Julie Meyer, Deacon Meyer’s parents, observed that some of his fellow seminarians don’t always get to travel home because of distance and travel costs.

After the Meyers discussed their concern with their son, Deacon Meyer went to St. Pius X pastor Msgr. Bill Schooler of Granger, Ind. to consider a program at the parish that would spotlight the needs of these young men. The Adopt-a-Seminarian program was developed to encourage financial and spiritual support for all Fort Wayne-South Bend seminarians.

Msgr. Schooler thought it was a great idea because “it connects young men studying for the priesthood with our parishioners and it is a good way to promote vocations within our parish.”

Betsy Quinn, director, Evangelization and Stewardship at St. Pius X, invited the Meyers to become a part of a committee, which would oversee the program. During two weekends in February, multiple copies of information sheets for each diocesan seminary student were distributed to interested parishioners after every Mass.

Each information sheet included the seminary student’s picture, home parish, birthday, year in seminary and anticipated graduation date. The sheets also communicated some of the student’s favorite things such as treats, sporting team, stores and needs such as laundry and toiletry items. Parishioners were also given a prayer card for vocations to read throughout the year for each seminarian’s spiritual needs.

Seminary student Bill Meininger, who is spending his pastoral year at St. Pius X, emphasized the Adopt-a-Seminarian program provides the opportunity for a greater feeling of connection for the student with the home diocese while away.

“Knowing that we have so many people praying for us and supporting us in other ways is very encouraging and at the same time humbling, as we are reminded that we aren't going through these years of study and formation for ourselves, but for the faithful of the diocese,” noted Meininger.

“With so much talk of the priest shortage in the Church today, the Adopt-a-Seminarian program is a wonderful way for the laity to get involved and, in a very real way, support the vocations we do have and encourage and pray that more men are willing to answer the call,” Meininger added.

Committee members Angie and John Miller expressed excitement about the development of the program at St. Pius X going forward.

“While the intent in phase one of this program was to initiate a simple exchange of a gift from a family to an individual seminarian, our long-term goal is to have a more ongoing and enduring relationship where the family is in touch on a more regular basis with letters, Facebook posts, You Tube videos, etc,” John emphasized.

“We also hope that we can expand into the classrooms of St. Pius X School next year and get all the kids involved to further extend the bond.”

Angie adds, “Our hope is also that classrooms will respond in some way so our students can look to the seminarians as healthy role models.”

Out of town guests from Indianapolis who attended Mass during the Adopt-a-Seminarian kickoff were intrigued by the program’s concept and asked for contact information to start a similar program in their parish, the Meyers noted.

At least one St. Pius X family decided to deliver their gifts to their adopted seminarian in person. The Scott Null family, on vacation in Rome during this year’s spring break, met seminarian Royce Gregerson and presented him with a duffel bag full of gifts. Gregerson is currently studying in Rome at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.

Kurt Meyer summed up the importance of parish support of vocations. “Parishioners are always looking to help. Impressed with the faith, determination and sacrifice of these young men the Adopt-a-Seminarian program seemed like a nice way to help them with basic needs during school. They represent the future of our Church and this program can be a significant blessing to each of these young men."

Posted with permission from Today's Catholic, official newspaper of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind.

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Bullying accusations against Dan Savage continue

Washington D.C., May 5, 2012 (CNA) - A teacher whose students walked out on a recent talk by a gay activist and anti-bullying advocate defended their decision, saying that they were simply reacting to bullying behavior.

“Their only way to respond to this bully was to do what we teach our students to do when confronted by a bully – walk away,” said Rick Tuttle, a journalism teacher at Sutter Union High School in California.

Tuttle recently accompanied six students from his school to a national high school journalism conference in Seattle, Wash. 

One of the speakers at the conference was Dan Savage, a gay sex advice columnist who founded the “It Gets Better” campaign to prevent bullying of gay youth.

In his April 13 talk, Savage told his audience that they should “learn to ignore the bullsh-- in the Bible about gay people.”

Dozens of students began to leave as Savage continued to mock the Bible, and he taunted those who left, calling them “pansy-a--ed.”

Tuttle told CNA on May 3 that he thinks Savage exhibited bullying behavior.

“If you single out one group’s beliefs using condescending, profane language, I believe that qualifies as bullying,” he explained.  

Furthermore, he said, Savage should realize that “targeting a persecuted minority” as they try to leave the room in order “to escape that verbal abuse” is unacceptable. 

Tuttle said he originally thought Savage would be speaking about his “It Gets Better” project and how students “could use their publications to curb bullying on their campuses.”

Because he knew that some of his students were Christians and may disagree with some of the things that Savage would say, he discussed with them the “value in hearing various and different viewpoints to help us develop and strengthen our own stance on issues.” 

But Tuttle was not expecting the vulgar and offensive speech that Savage was about to give.

In addition to profanity throughout the talk, Savage made inappropriate sexual comments, at one point describing how good his partner looked in a Speedo and saying that if he were there on stage, the audience would have to “pry him off him.”

Such comments at a high school journalism conference “wouldn’t have been appropriate coming from a heterosexual either,” Tuttle said. 

He added that while Savage has a right to express his views, he did so in a “very unprofessional, condescending way,” in a venue that was similar to a school environment.

At one point, he noted, Savage said his “It Gets Better” project, which has been supported by President Barack Obama and other leaders throughout the country, gives “the middle finger” to parents and educators who did not want him speaking to gay teens.   

However the talk turned from inappropriate to “hostile” when Savage “singled out one religion and began tearing down its sacred text,” explained Tuttle.

He said that Savage had clearly “veered off the topic” when he started “squarely attacking the Bible – and by extension those who find it sacred.”

When three of his students politely asked to leave, he agreed.

“As an educator I take very seriously my responsibility to protect all students from bullying for any reason,” he said, adding that this was the initial reason that he had wanted to bring his students to the talk.  

He explained that his fellow teacher chaperone escorted the three students out of the room, where they joined the other students and advisors who had left.  He remained with the three other students, whom he believes also wanted to leave but felt intimidated by the crowd of 2,800, many of whom were cheering as Savage spoke.

Tuttle described his students as “pretty well shell-shocked” after the speech.

In discussions after the event, he and his students agreed that Savage could have spoken against bullying “in a more professional, appropriate way,” without attacking religion and using bullying tactics himself.

“Unfortunately, that’s not the direction the speech went,” he said.    

Corrected at 9:30 a.m. MST on May 7, 2012: article incorrectly described the national high school journalism conference as taking place at Elmhurst College, Illinois. The April 13 event took place in Seattle, Washington.

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Plight of Chen's family, friends raises concerns

Washington D.C., May 5, 2012 (CNA) - Amid news of a possible opportunity for pro-life activist Chen Guangcheng to leave China and come to the U.S., concerns are being raised about the welfare of his friends and extended family.

The U.S. State Department announced on the morning of May 4 that “Chen has been offered a fellowship from an American university, where he can be accompanied by his wife and two children.”

The Chinese government stated that Chen has the same right to travel as any other citizen and can apply to study at a foreign college.

According to the U.S. State Department, China “has indicated that it will accept Mr. Chen's applications for appropriate travel documents.”

The U.S. government expects that these applications will be processed quickly and pledged that it would then give “priority attention” to visa requests for Chen and his immediate family. 

A self-taught lawyer who has been blind since he was young, Chen has spent several years in prison and house arrest after speaking out strongly against China’s one-child policy and the brutal forced abortions and sterilizations that are often used to implement it.

He escaped house arrest on April 22 and was transported to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. After several days of discussions, he agreed to leave the embassy on May 2 and be taken to a local hospital.  Once there, however, he began telling media outlets that he was scared for the safety of his family and wanted to leave the country.

The announcement that Chen may be able to come to the United States to study has drawn both cautious praise and concern from human rights advocates, who applaud the move but say that it fails to account for the plight of Chen’s extended family and friends, who are also in danger.

Human rights group Amnesty International said that the pledge “seems empty” given that the Chinese government has been “targeting” Chen’s family and friends.

"The US and other governments must demand that the Chinese government’s retaliation against Chen’s wider family and network of supporters stops now,” said Catherine Baber, the group’s Asia-Pacific deputy director.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who helped draw attention to Chen’s situation by organizing a May 3 emergency hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, voiced similar concerns in an interview with MSNBC.

He called for the government and media to keep their focus on those individuals who may be subject to Chinese aggression “as soon as the lights go out.”

Testifying via phone at the emergency hearing, Chen said that his biggest concern is the safety of his brother and elderly mother, whose condition he has not been able to confirm.

Reports have indicated that his brother is currently in police custody and his elderly mother may also have been detained, along with his cousin and sister-in-law.

In addition, human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong was reportedly beaten for trying to visit Chen at the hospital.

A witness at the hearing said that she had previously spoken to Chen’s nephew who was “on the run” after slashing Chinese officials with a knife. He was concerned because a black car was following him, she said, and he later tried to surrender himself to Chinese authorities. His current status is not clear. 

At a May 3 press conference, Reggie Littlejohn, who runs an international coalition to oppose forced abortion in China, publicized the plight of He Peirong, who played a key role in helping Chen escape.

Littlejohn said that she had been talking with He – known by her screen name “Pearl” – via Skype on the night when the Chinese discovered that Chen was missing. She said that He was alone and scared. They talked on an off throughout the night, until He suddenly stopped answering.

She “has not been heard from since,” Littlejohn said, adding that she was “very concerned that she is being tortured” by the Chinese government to get information on the other people involved in Chen’s escape.

On May 4, news broke that He had been released from custody and was safely home. In an interview with the BBC, she said that she had been confined to a hotel room, but was no longer worried when the story became public.

While she is “relieved and delighted” that He has been released, Littlejohn has emphasized that she must be included in whatever deal is struck to ensure the safety of Chen and his family. 

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