Rome, Italy, May 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican’s sports office has paid tribute to Chelsea striker Didier Drogba after the Catholic soccer star gave credit to God for his team’s UEFA Champions League victory.
“The Vatican and the Holy Father is always very interested in such athletes as they are role models for others,” Father Kevin Lixey, the director of the Vatican’s Office of Church and Sport, told CNA in a May 21 interview.
He explained that “if they give thanks to God for their talents, it is good for the young people who admire these star athletes.”
Drogba and his Chelsea teammates clinched European soccer’s ultimate prize against Germany’s Bayern Munich on May 19, with the Ivory Coast striker proving to be the hero of the night for the London club.
Drogba’s heroics began with him evening the score at 1-1 with only two minutes left on the clock. The game was still a draw after extra time expired, leading to a shoot out in which Drogba drove home the winning goal.
On both occasions the African player celebrated by blessing himself with the Sign of the Cross.
“It was fate, I believe a lot in destiny. I pray a lot. It was written a long time ago. God is wonderful. This team is amazing,”34-year-old Drogba told the media after the game.
Saturday is not the first time that Didier Drogba has thanked God for his soccer skills. Before leaving in 2004 from his previous club, Olympique de Marseille in France, he gave his team shirt to the local Cathedral of Notre-Dame de la Garde, where it is still on display.
Away from the soccer pitch, Drogba has attempted to use his fame to bring peace to his native Ivory Coast. The small West African state has been plagued by civil wars during the past decade. Drogba is one of 11 members of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and last year was named in Time magazine's 100 most influential people in recognition for his work.
Fr. Lixey, an American priest based in Rome, drew a parallel between Didier Drogba’s comments and the conduct of American football player Tim Tebow.
He explained how the New York Jets backup quarterback also recognizes that he has “a short time to witness to his faith” and views his career as “a window of opportunity” to evangelize.
Fr. Lixey believes there is “no correlation between victory and their prayers,” but he does think that Christian sportsmen are more likely to “give more to others in the team and can get along better with teammates.”
Washington D.C., May 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The NAACP's recent endorsement of “gay marriage” drew harsh criticism from within the African American community for misrepresenting civil rights and undermining families.
Pastor Derek McCoy, executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, said that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's “unfortunate” stance on the issue will contribute to the “further demise of the family.”
McCoy told CNA on May 21 that the NAACP is “endorsing an epidemic” of fatherless households, a “tragic” phenomenon in the United States and particularly in the African American community.
On May 19, the association released a statement in support of redefining marriage to include gay couples. The announcement came ten days after President Barack Obama announced his unprecedented support for “gay marriage.”
McCoy said that despite its long record of important work, however, the NAACP's latest move does not reflect the views of its constituents.
According to an April 2012 survey by Pew Research Center, only 39 percent of African Americans are in favor of redefining marriage. Voters across the country have consistently affirmed measures to defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
McCoy said that redefining marriage is redefining the family in a way that is “hazardous” for children.
“Gay marriage” teaches that fathers and mothers are both dispensable, he explained, and “this is absolutely going to harm the family.”
The absence of a father has been linked to higher rates of crime, poverty, drug abuse and teenage pregnancy throughout the U.S.
In his 2011 Father’s Day proclamation, President Obama noted the importance of fatherhood and said that his administration was making support of fathers a priority. “A father's absence is felt by children, families, and communities in countless ways, leaving a hole that can have lasting effects,” he said.
Statistics show that more than half of black children live in single-parent households, often lacking the presence of a father.
Support for “gay marriage,” McCoy underscored, reiterates the message that “one of the parents is no longer valid.”
Both fathers and mothers become “optional” in a society where having one father is viewed as no different from having two or none at all, he said.
The pastor explained that government has always recognized marriages in order to “look out for the best interest of the child.” Studies clearly show that a family with a mother and a father “is the best place for kids to be raised,” he noted.
McCoy also said that the effort to redefine marriage “does not compare to civil rights.”
He dismissed attempts to compare people who reject “gay marriage” to those who oppose interracial marriage.
“That’s not the same issue at all,” he said, reflecting that racial differences are irrelevant to marriage, but sexual complementarity is at the heart of marriage by its very nature.
“The core essence of a marriage is the two sexes coming together,” he said.
Other African American leaders have also criticized the NAACP’s endorsement of “gay marriage” in recent days.
Dr. Alveda C. King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said that neither her grandfather nor her uncle “embraced the homosexual agenda that the current NAACP is attempting to label as a civil rights agenda.”
“We who marched with Rev. King did not march one inch or one mile to promote same-sex marriage,” agreed Rev. William Owens, founder and president of the Coalition of African American Pastors.
He explained that redefining marriage is counter to Dr. King’s work because it is a political attempt to “declare that an act contrary to God's law and to the natural law is a civil right.”
“We call on all Americans to respect the legitimate civil rights of gay people to be free from violence, harassment, to vote, to hold jobs,” Owens said. “But none of us has a moral or civil right to redefine marriage.”
Naples, Fla., May 23, 2012 (CNA) - Ave Maria University has become the second Catholic college to announce it will discontinue its student health insurance plan due to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.
In a May 21 statement, university president Jim Towey called the mandate “an affront to our core values.”
“Ave Maria University will not offer or pay for health insurance plans that violate our deeply-held religious beliefs,” he said.
The announcement comes amid continued controversy over a federal insurance mandate that will require employers and colleges to offer health care plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.
The mandate has been widely criticized for the threat that it poses to religious freedom. Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable agencies have warned that they will be forced to consider closing their doors rather than comply with the mandate and act against the beliefs.
In choosing to cut its student health insurance plan, Ave Maria is following in the footsteps of Franciscan University of Steubenville, which also recently announced that it would be dropping its student policy to avoid participating in a plan that violated Catholic teaching.
Towey said it was “regrettable” that the “long-standing tradition” of protecting religious freedom was being fiercely attacked and that college students at religious institutions would be among the “first victims.”
He explained that since its founding, Ave Maria University has offered its students an inexpensive health insurance policy, which specifically excludes coverage of products and procedures that violate Church teaching.
However, that changed when the university was recently notified by its insurance carrier that coverage of these objectionable “preventive care services” would soon be required despite the school’s religious opposition to them.
In addition, the insurance carrier said that university students would face both a 66 percent increase in their premiums and an increase in their deductible as a result of requirements under the Affordable Care Act.
“It is a sad day when Ave Maria’s students are forced to choose between enrolling in a health insurance plan that is both costly and offers morally objectionable benefits, and having no coverage at all,” said Towey.
Ave Maria filed a lawsuit seeking relief from the mandate in February. Towey said he is confident in the favorable outcome of the suit and applauded the other Catholic groups that have joined in the effort of “taking this battle to the courts.”
On May 21, a wave of new lawsuits against the mandate was announced. Forty-three Catholic dioceses and organizations across the country are filing lawsuits in 12 different jurisdictions.
Bishops from dioceses across the country have warned that the contraception mandate could threaten the valuable contribution offered by Catholic education, health care and social services in the U.S.
Towey also addressed this point, explaining that Ave Maria University offers scholarships and strives to make its education as affordable as possible for students.
“At a time when the issue of the affordability of college education is at the forefront of the public debate, the Federal government’s mandate is hurting the cause, not helping,” he said.
Valencia, Spain, May 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - An elderly woman considered the “dean” of the Caritas volunteers in the Archdiocese of Valencia, Spain celebrated her 100th birthday this past weekend with a Mass of thanksgiving.
Clotilde Veniel, who continues to visit the sick and to actively work with Caritas in Valencia – which she helped found – celebrated her birthday surrounded by friends and family, including two of her sons, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
After the Mass, she and her family celebrated with a dinner at their home, which was decorated with one hundred roses and balloons.
According to the AVAN news agency, Veniel is known in Caritas for her joy and commitment to pastoral work.
“When I visit the sick, sometimes I tell them jokes or I recite some poems to entertain them,” she told the agency. “We talk about joyful things of the past, like when we would go on walks with our boyfriends, which is much better than talking about our sorrows.”
The “dean” of the Caritas volunteers began her work with the agency in 1989, when the local pastor, Father Pascual Ripoll, “encouraged us to form Caritas. We had hardly anything, and another girl and I asked people for donations,” she recalled.
Nowadays, Veniel helps to collect donated clothing and bakes pastries and other sweets to raise money for the Medieval Festival held each year in the town of Bicorp, where she resides.
Father Ripoll said the 100-year-old volunteer is “very beloved and attends all the Caritas meetings. She has a lot of initiative,” he said.
Raised in a family of six sisters and one brother, Veniel said her longevity is the result of hard work. “I have worked a lot, almost since I learned to walk,” she said.
Vatican City, May 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Dads who are absent from their family make it more difficult for their children to understand God as a loving father, Pope Benedict XVI said on May 23.
“Perhaps modern man does not perceive the beauty, grandeur and profound consolation contained in the word ‘father’ with which we can turn to God in prayer, because the father figure is often not sufficiently present in today’s world, and is often not a sufficiently positive presence in everyday life,” the Pope said in his weekly general audience address.
He underscored that the “the problem of a father not present in the life of the child is a big problem of our time” because it can become difficult for those children “to understand in its depth what it means to us that God is Father.”
In the U.S., over one-third of all children live apart from their biological father.
The Pope delivered his remarks to over 20,000 pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square. His reflections, which today focused on two passages from St. Paul on the Holy Spirit enabling people to call upon God with the intimate term ‘Abba,’ continued his series on the role of prayer in the story of salvation.
In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul wrote that “As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” St. Paul also wrote to the Romans, “you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’”
Pope Benedict noted that the familial Aramaic word “Abba” is also used by Jesus “even at the most dramatic moment of his earthly life,” thus demonstrating that he “never lost faith in the Father and always invoked him with the intimacy of a beloved son.”
Similarly, through baptism, every Christian also becomes a beloved son or daughter of God, “sharing by adoption in the eternal sonship of Jesus.”
In the selected passages, the Pope explained, St. Paul also demonstrates that “Christian prayer is never unidirectional, from us to God.” Instead, it is “an expression of a reciprocal relationship in which it is always God who acts first.”
Therefore, whenever we address the Father in prayer, even silently or privately, we are never alone, since “we are within the great prayer of the Church, we are part of a great symphony which the Christian community in all places and times raises to God,” he said.
It is this “prayer guided by the Spirit” that causes Christians to cry out “Abba! Father!” both “with Christ and in Christ,” Pope Benedict taught.
“It makes us part of the great mosaic of the family of God, in which everyone has an important place and role, profoundly united to all things.”
The Pope concluded his address by suggesting to pilgrims that they should “learn to appreciate the beauty of being friends, or rather children, of God,” and to invoke God the Father in prayer “with the confidence and trust of a child addressing his parents who love him.”
He then led those present in the sung recitation Our Father in Latin before imparting his apostolic blessing.
San Salvador, El Salvador, May 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Jose Luis Escobar Alas of San Salvador supports efforts to mediate a local truce between two rival gangs, stressing that the country must work together to achieve peace.
“We are now at a stage in which society as a whole needs to take action in order to guarantee that the progress achieved with the gangs is not frustrated,” Archbishop Escobar Alas said.
The two gangs, known as Mara Salvatrucha and Mara-18, are considered the main instigators behind the violence that has plagued El Salvador in recent years. With 65 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, El Savaldor has become the second most violent country in Latin America.
In recent comments to reporters, Archbishop Escobar Alas praised the work being carried out by Archbishop Fabio Colindres of the Military Archdiocese, who worked with former guerilla leader Raul Mijango on March 9 to achieve a truce between the gangs.
However, while the rate of violence in the country has declined, he said, this does not mean that both gangs have disappeared.
“The efforts of Archbishop Colindres, with all due respect, were only an act of mediation,” Archbishop Escobar Alas added.
“I sincerely don’t think the solution to the problem of gangs is in the Church’s hands. Society as a whole and the government, with the support of various social sectors, have the responsibility.”
Washington D.C., May 23, 2012 (CNA) - Bishops nationwide have voiced support for a wave of recent lawsuits against the federal contraception mandate, explaining that the dioceses that did not take legal action are represented by those that did.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta explained that the lawsuits “represent a concerted effort to exemplify the broad spectrum of Catholic institutions that are directly impacted by the HHS mandate.”
He said that while many other Catholic organizations “would certainly seek to join this legal action,” the most important actions are prayer and support for initiatives to protect religious liberty.
In a May 23 statement, Archbishop Gregory emphasized his full support for several recent lawsuits challenging the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.
Forty-three Catholic dioceses and organizations across the country announced legal action against the federal government on May 21.
The lawsuits, which are being filed in 12 dozen different jurisdictions across the country, challenge a federal regulation that will require employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
Bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have spoken out against the mandate, warning that it poses a serious threat to religious liberty and could force Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable organizations to shut down.
The Archdiocese of Atlanta is not one of the plaintiffs in the new lawsuits, but Archbishop Gregory made it clear that he supported the efforts of his brother bishops.
A member of the religious freedom committee for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he explained that the conference “has tried negotiation with the Administration and legislation with the Congress. No resolution has been made as of this date.”
Now, he said, the bishops must turn to the court “to protect our valuable ministries and fundamental right to practice religion without government interference.”
Known for his work in the African American community and for the critical leadership he provided in developing the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Archbishop Gregory served as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2001 to 2004.
As the archbishop of Atlanta, he will be hosting the bishops’ upcoming Spring General Assembly in June.
Pat Chivers, communications director for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, explained that while the archdiocese is not being legally represented in the newest wave of lawsuits, its interests are being represented by the dioceses that are filing the suits.
Archbishop Gregory has written a letter that will be read at all Masses next weekend “to show that we are in support” of the legal action taken by several dioceses across the country, she told CNA.
Chivers explained that Jones Day, the law firm that is filing the lawsuits, has an office in Atlanta, and the archdiocese has therefore been “part of the legal strategy” behind the effort.
The goal was not to have every diocese in the U.S. to file a lawsuit, she said. Rather, the dioceses that did file them offer a broad and diverse representation of the concerns, situations and interests of dioceses across the country.
Bishop George V. Murry of Youngstown, Ohio agreed.
“The particular plaintiffs in this lawsuit were chosen by legal counsel at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,” he explained. “They are representative of dioceses and Catholic institutions across the nation.”
Bishop Murry explained that his diocese “unambiguously supports” the legal action to defend religious freedom, which “is a cornerstone of basic human rights and is necessary for the flourishing of a just society.”
Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of Cincinnati echoed his remarks. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has not filed a lawsuit, but it is unnecessary “for every diocese to join the suits in order for them to be effective,” he said.
“The various plaintiffs reflect a broad cross-section of Catholic institutions, and together they represent the wide variety of issues, impacts, economic consequences, and divergent facts that exist among Catholic organizations nationwide,” Archbishop Schnurr observed.
He voiced support for the recently-announced lawsuits, saying that litigation has become “the only way left to fight for our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion.”
Geneva, Switzerland, May 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Vatican’s head delegate to the World Health Assembly said that while the Church supports universal health care access, states must respect and welcome the efforts of the private sphere in achieving that goal.
In each nation, “the progress towards universal coverage cannot be the effort of the state machinery alone. It requires support from the civil society and communities, whose contribution to health service delivery is fundamental,” Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski said in his May 23 address to the World Health Assembly.
The assembly is the forum through which the World Health Organization is governed by its 194 member states. It is the world's highest health policy setting body, and is composed of health ministers from member states.
In his address, Archbishop Zimowski said that states should “generously acknowledge and support initiatives” aimed at helping those in need, including those that come from faith-based organizations.
The Catholic Church, he noted, is helping to provide affordable, universal health coverage all around the world and, most often, in an amicable partnership with the state.
At the same time, Archbishop Zimowski cautioned governments to respect the principle of subsidiarity and called on them to respect the legitimate autonomy of Church’s health care institutions and the freedom of conscience of Catholic healthcare workers.
“The efforts and contribution of such organizations and institutions towards universal access, merit the recognition and support of both the state and the international community, without obliging them to participate in activities they find morally abhorrent,” he stated.
At the global level, the Catholic Church is a major provider of health care, a fact that the archbishop noted comes from a commitment to charity. He informed the assembly that the Church runs “over 120,000 social and health care institutions worldwide,” and is in “many developing countries, one of the key partners of the state in health care delivery, providing services in remote areas to rural low-income populations.”
According to the Catholic Health Association, the Church operates 12.6 percent of U.S. hospitals and accounts for 15.6 percent of hospital admissions and 14.5 percent of all hospital expenses. In addition, more than 400 health centers and 1,500 specialized homes are operated by the Catholic Church.
However, the U.S. Catholic Church is fighting a mandate from the Obama administration that requires employers to offer insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.