Edinburgh, Scotland, Jun 20, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A Scottish schoolgirl who raised money for a Catholic charity by posting photos of her school lunches online has beat an official ban trying to prevent her from doing so.
Nine-year-old Martha Payne, who attends Lochgilphead Primary School, began posting photos in late April of her daily lunch on her blog titled “NeverSeconds.” She gave each one a score for healthiness, tastiness and the number of mouthfuls it took to consume.
Her aim was to raise $11,000 for Catholic charity Mary’s Meals to allow them to build a kitchen in a school in Malawi in Africa. Within a few weeks, Martha’s site had received more than two million hits and a third of the donations required to build the kitchen.
However, after the success of Martha's blog was highlighted in a national newspaper June 14 – under the headline “Time to fire the dinner ladies” – she was told to stop her activities by school officials.
“This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office,” she informed her blog readers June 14.
“I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today,” she said, adding “I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals.”
Following 24-hours of widespread negative publicity, however, authorities quickly repealed their decision.
“It is a good thing to do, to change your mind, and I have certainly done that,” said Roddy McCuish, Leader of Argyll & Bute Council, announcing his policy switch on BBC News June 15.
The temporary ban has actually generated more traffic towards Martha’s blog and more money for Mary's Meals. Within one day, donations surpassed the $50,000 mark – more than 500 percent of Martha's initial target.
“We are overwhelmed by the huge response to her efforts today which has led to so many more people donating to her online donation page,” said Mary’s Meals spokesman, Daniel Adams, June 15.
Founded in 2002, Mary's Meals aims to provide school meals for children in the developing world. The charity now feeds over 600,000 children in 16 of the world’s poorest countries.
Denver, Colo., Jun 20, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Blogger Leah Libresco, known for writing about ethics and religion from her perspective as an atheist, announced June 18 that she now believes in God and intends to enter the Catholic Church.
“For several years, a lot of my friends have been telling me I had an inconsistent and unsustainable philosophy,” the Washington, D.C.-based author of the “Unequally Yoked” blog wrote in a post announcing her intention to convert.
The 22-year-old Yale graduate says she came to believe “that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth. And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth.”
“When I was talking to a post-modernist friend afterwards,” Libresco said to CNA on June 19, “I told him, 'I guess you were right. (The concept of) “Truth” was a gateway drug.'”
“He replied, not very much in jest: 'Told you so.'”
In recent years, the writer and researcher had – despite her atheism – developed an interest in Christian accounts of morality, developed by authors like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and Alasdair MacIntyre. Her blog, “Unequally Yoked,” chronicled her engagement with Christian theological claims.
Raised in a non-religious household, Libresco explained in a biographical statement that she “met smart Christians for the first time” during college. She was “was ready to cross-examine them” from her perspective as an atheist, but found there were “some big gaps in my defense of my own positions.”
“I realized I didn’t have a clear enough idea of what Christianity entailed to be able to imagine a world where it was true. I felt embarrassed and told my friends to take their best shot at convincing me.”
Through her blog, the atheist thinker looked to test her arguments against belief, seeking out “people to ask me tough questions and force me to burn off the dross in my philosophy.”
The odyssey was personal as well as philosophical, involving a romantic relationship with “one of these smart Christians.”
“I talked with deacons, priests, and Dominicans and attended RCIA classes – until I got kicked out,” she wrote in the biographical statement, composed before her conversion.
“Neither my boyfriend or I looked likely to switch teams in the near future, and, after two years of dating, we were at the point where a relationship that was incompatible with marriage seemed foolish, so, regretfully, we had to split up.”
But she continued “seriously exploring Christian claims,” in light of her own belief in philosophical concepts including objective morality. Her blog featured a “test” in which atheists and Christians swapped roles, composing answers to questions from the perspective of the opposing worldview.
Libresco's atheism finally ended after a recent Yale alumni debate, where a friend “prodded me on where I thought moral law came from in my metaphysics.”
“I talked about morality as though it were some kind of Platonic form, remote from the plane that humans existed on. He wanted to know where the connection was.”
Pressed to define the connection between humanity and the moral order, Libresco came up short: “I don’t know. I’ve got nothing.” Then she remarked: “I guess Morality just loves me or something.”
In Monday's blog entry, the “Unequally Yoked” author said her writings, hosted by the Patheos website, would move from the service's “atheist channel” to its “Catholic channel.”
Libresco said she had been using the Church's Liturgy of the Hours, as well as the ancient “Breastplate of Saint Patrick,” for most of her “prayer attempts.” Despite lingering “confusion” about some Catholic teachings, Libresco has begun RCIA classes at a Washington, D.C. parish.
The former atheist summed up her feelings about her announcement with a quotation from Tom Stoppard's play “Arcadia”: “It’s the best possible time to be alive, when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong.”
Atlanta, Ga., Jun 20, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - At the recent spring meeting of the U.S. bishops, Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, highlighted the work that the charitable agency is doing around the world on behalf of the Church.
“We serve wherever there is a need,” she told the U.S. bishops, who were gathered at their spring general assembly in Atlanta, Ga., June 13-15.
Woo’s address marked the first time that she had spoken to the bishops’ conference since becoming the head of the charitable organization on Jan. 1, 2012.
In her presentation, Woo explained that Catholic Relief Services strives to serve the “common good” with “uncommon excellence.”
She told the bishops that the organization is “always innovating” and “always improving to make sure that our work is good.”
Founded in 1943, Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the U.S. It reaches more than 100 million people in over 100 countries, providing both disaster relief and long-term development aid.
The agency works closely with local institutions to serve all those in need, regardless of their religion, race or nationality. It serves a broad range of needs, responding to emergencies, promoting education and health, fighting disease, and supporting peace and justice in societies throughout the world.
In addition, it engages Catholics in the U.S. to live in solidarity with those who are impoverished and suffering across the globe.
The organization is governed by a board of directors that consists of clergy – primarily bishops – as well as religious and Catholic laity.
Woo explained that Catholic social teaching is the “foundation” of the agency’s mission as it works to uphold the dignity of all human life, foster justice and serve those in need.
The agency serves those in the poorest nations, she noted, adding that “when a country becomes rich, we leave.”
In addition to working with a variety of partners, particularly Catholic organizations, Catholic Relief Services is working to expand its “involvement with universities and corporations,” she reported.
As an example of the group’s work, Woo pointed to efforts in Haiti to “build back better” after the January 12, 2010 earthquake that killed some 300,000 people in the country and caused billions of dollars of damage.
Catholic Relief Services is working to build secure and sustainable structures, create a “teaching hospital” in Port-au-Prince and help local educational groups develop a vision for the future of Catholic education in the country, she said.
It is also teaching farmers how to add value to their crops and continuing the work of community recovery, offering shelter, safety, clean water and other necessities for families returning to their neighborhoods.
Woo also outlined ways in which the bishops can help Catholics Relief Services in its mission.
She encouraged the bishops to link to the organization on their own diocesan websites and to help integrate Catholic social teaching into formation programs.
In addition, she welcomed the bishops to travel overseas with Catholic Relief Services, to see the work that the agency is doing around the world.
Woo also addressed the bishops’ concerns about certain federal contract proposals last summer that would have required the distribution of contraceptives. About 70 percent of Catholic Relief Services’ funding comes from U.S. government, and about 80 percent comes through a competitive process.
Woo said that the agency worked with the government, and as of February, the problematic language had been “eliminated.”
She assured the bishops that the organization is still “monitoring this issue very closely” to ensure that future proposals do not “embed that language.”
Avila, Spain, Jun 20, 2012 (CNA) -
Pope Benedict XVI has made the Shrine of St. John of Avila in Montilla, Spain, where the future Doctor of the Church is buried, into a minor Pontifical Basilica.
The Diocese of Avila reported that the decree raising the shrine to the status of a minor basilica was announced June 20 and signed by the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera.
The cardinal will visit the city on June 25 and together with Bishop Demetrio Fernandez of Cordoba, he will process to the new Pontifical Basilica in Montilla. There they will celebrate a special Mass of Thanksgiving for the pontifical designation.
The term basilica comes from the Greek and means “royal house.” In Greek and Roman times it referred to a majestic public buildings used as tribunals of justice. It became part of the Catholic vocabulary when various of these buildings were turned into Christian places of worship.
The few major basilicas worldwide include four in Rome – St. John Lateran, St. Peter, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul Outside the Walls – although the churches of St. Laurence Outside the Walls and St. Francis in Assisi are also major basilicas. There are some 1,500 minor basilicas globally.
Washington D.C., Jun 20, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Knights of Columbus has filed a formal comment with the Department of Health and Human Services asking the Obama administration to expand religious exemptions or rescind “altogether” the mandate for insurance coverage of sterilization and contraception.
“It is time for this administration to chart another course,” said the June 19 letter, signed by Supreme Knight Carl Anderson.
The organization said the HHS mandate requires private Catholic individuals and entities, including the Knights of Columbus, to “violate their most deeply held religious beliefs” in apparent violation of federal law and the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
The Catholic fraternal and charitable group said “it is improper to deny statutory and First Amendment rights to religious liberty in order to create an entitlement to sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception.”
The Knights advocated for an expanded religious exemption that protects “all objecting individuals and organizations from cooperating in actions that genuinely offend their religious beliefs and moral convictions.”
They also stated that the right to individual free exercise of religion and the right of institutions are “inseparably linked.”
“Both must be protected.”
The Department of Health and Human Services is holding a comment period on proposed rules for preventive services under the 2010 health care legislation known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
On Jan. 20, the federal department finalized a rule which required employers’ health plans to provide no co-pay coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs, as “preventive care” for women. Because of the narrowness of the mandate’s religious exemption, many Catholic institutions fall under the requirement despite their moral objections to the procedures and drugs.
On Feb. 10 the Obama administration made a proposal to require insurance companies, not employers, to provide the coverage. Catholic and other faith leaders said the proposal is still unacceptable.
The present HHS comment period on that proposal could help determine the outcome of the conflict.
The Knights of Columbus has 1.3 million U.S. members, who donate millions of dollars to charity and work millions of volunteer hours each year.
Other Catholic organizations are also submitting comment for new proposed rules.
The Catholic Health Association argued for a broader religious exemption in a June 15 letter, reversing its earlier support for the Obama administration’s accommodation that would require insurance companies to foot the bill for the mandate.
On June 18, the National Catholic Bioethics Center submitted a letter calling for the full rescinding of the mandate. At minimum, it said, the government should provide a “robust, non-discretionary exemption” for any employer, insurance company, college, or individual with religious objections.
A comment was also filed today by the Bioethics Defense Fund. The fund focused on how the accommodation still involves material cooperation with evil and also presented a scientific argument that the mandated drugs are capable of terminating human life.
Vatican City, Jun 20, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI says the life and writings of St. Paul should remind all Christians that the surest guide through the trials of life is prayer.
“Paul’s prayer invites us to contemplate the unfolding of God’s saving plan in history and to discern the signs of its presence in our own lives and in the life of the Church,” the Pope said during his June 20 general audience.
“In our own prayer, may we praise the mystery of our election in Christ, and open our hearts and lives ever more fully to the transforming presence of the Blessed Trinity.”
Pope Benedict delivered his remarks to thousands of enthusiastic pilgrims who were gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall. Continuing his weekly catechesis on prayer, he turned his attention to the “great prayer of praise and blessing” that is to be found at the beginning of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.
In it St. Paul blesses God the Father for making known “the mystery of his will,” through which God “chose us in Christ,” before the creation of the world, to be his adopted children and receive a glorious inheritance.
St. Paul reminds us, said the Pope, that while “our prayers are often a request for help in our hour of need” there is also cause to give thanks to God “because we receive so many good things” from him.
Therefore, our prayer “should also be praise and, if we open our hearts, we come to realize that, despite all problems, creation is beautiful and good.”
The Pope also reflected on the meaning of the phrase the “mystery” of God for Christians. He explained that for Christians this term “does not so much mean the unknown as the merciful will of God, his plan of love which was fully revealed in Jesus Christ.”
Pope Benedict then outlined the key reasons given by the Apostle for giving thanks to God, starting with his “marvelous design for humankind” that calls everybody “into existence” and “to sanctity.”
“We have been in his plan and his thoughts forever,” said the Pope, noting that the vocation to holiness and communion is “part of his eternal plan, a plan which stretches over history and which includes all the men and women of the world, because the call is universal.”
St. Paul’s primary reason for giving praise to God, however, is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, which was “the unique and unrepeatable event by which the Father demonstrated in a brilliant way his love for us, not just in words, but in concrete terms.”
So concrete and tangible is this divine love, Pope Benedict explained, that “it shares not only in our life, but also in our suffering and in our death.”
Finally, St. Paul looks to the future when redemption reaches its fullness and “those whom God has acquired will be completely saved.”
In giving our “yes” freely to God, said the Pope, each of us can “travel this road of redemption together with Christ and thus redemption is fulfilled.”
In conclusion, Pope Benedict said that the example of St. Paul shows how in prayer “we grow in the love of God, opening the door for the Blessed Trinity to come and dwell among us, bringing us light and warmth and guiding our lives.”
The result is prayerful men and women who are “not animated by egoism, the desire to possess and the thirst for power” but by “gratuitousness, the desire to love and serve.”
In short, he said, they become people who are “animated by God,” and “only in this way can we bring light into the darkness of the world.”
Washington D.C., Jun 20, 2012 (CNA) - The Catholic Association has released a 14-point “action plan” for those who want to participate in the “Fortnight for Freedom” religious liberty advocacy event from June 21-July 4.
“It is so critical that Catholics stand together in defense of religious freedom and to preserve Catholic and other religious institutions’ and employers’ rights and ability to serve the common good,” association senior policy advisor Maureen Ferguson said June 19.
She said the mandate forces faith-based entities to comply with a rule that “so deeply violates our faith and conscience” or pay “crippling” fines.
Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow with The Catholic Association, said the activities are non-partisan.
“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue, this is a freedom and First Amendment issue,” she said.
A Department of Health and Human Services mandate requires employers, including many Catholic institutions, to provide employees with no co-pay insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception. The mandate’s narrow religious exemption has drawn fire from Catholics and others who say providing the coverage violates their religious and moral beliefs.
Catholic and faith leaders others say a purported compromise from the Obama administration does not adequately address their concerns.
Many Catholic dioceses are organizing “Fortnight for Freedom” events to rally support for religious liberty.
The Catholic Association, a new group which says it aims to be “a faithful Catholic voice in the public square,” has also published its own suggestions.
They are urging concerned citizens to call members of Congress to ask him or her to support religious freedom efforts and to oppose the HHS mandate.
“Tell the staff person you speak with that you would like a response from your representative and make sure they take down your address,” the association suggests.
The association also echoed the Catholic bishops’ call for prayer and fasting.
It said Catholics should pray the Fortnight for Freedom’s “Prayer for Religious Liberty” or say a decade of the Rosary for religious freedom.
The Catholic Association noted that institutions that violate the mandate as currently written face a fine of $100 per employee per day, which it described as a “fine on faith.”
The group suggested that Catholics respond by donating $14 to their favorite Catholic institution.
Churches will ring their bells in a coordinated act at 12 p.m. Eastern time July 4. The Catholic Association said that Catholics and others should send out a Facebook post or a tweet with the phrase “I Stand for Religious Freedom” at the same time.
Participants can share with others the U.S. bishops’ document “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.” They can also sign petitions like the Beckett Fund’s “I Still Believe” petition, the “Women Speak for Themselves” petition and the “Conscience Clause” petition.
The association also suggests participants invite14 friends to see the movie “For Greater Glory.”
For more information, visit: http://www.thecatholicassociation.org.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jun 20, 2012 (CNA) -
Bishop Fernando Bargallo of Merlo-Moreno, Argentina has asked forgiveness for recently-surfaced photos of him shown with a woman on a beach in Mexico.
“I regret that that situation, which was imprudent on my part, could lead to misinterpretations. I sincerely ask for forgiveness if this incident has caused or could cause any harm,” Bishop Bargallo said in a statement issued on June 19.
The bishop explained that the published photos were taken two years ago during a meeting “with a childhood friend – whom I have known practically since the time I can remember – in Mexico.”
He added that the two were in Mexico at the same time but for different reasons and were surrounfded by multiple acquaintances who were not shown in the photos.
“I have been a close friend of her family my entire life,” he said.
Bishop Bargallo said he wished “to clearly state that I am totally committed to God and to the Church in the mission that has been entrusted to me in this beloved diocese of Merlo-Moreno and in my other responsibilities in service to others.”
“I have very deep feelings for the priesthood and my dedication to the Lord Jesus and I wish to persevere in them until the end,” he noted.
The 57-year-old bishop was president of Caritas Argentina until last year and is currently president of Caritas Latin America. He has served as bishop of Merlo-Moreno since May of 1997.
Vatican City, Jun 20, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - One of the most striking sights in Rome appears every Wednesday afternoon in St. Peter’s Square when newly married couples, resplendent in their wedding attire, emerge after being blessed by Pope Benedict XVI.
“I had never been to Rome before and could only imagine how beautiful and how sacred this place is … so I could not be happier than to get married and have that marriage blessed by the Pope,” said new bride Anna Barella, a 26-year-old from Naples, Florida.
Standing next to her was her husband, 25-year-old Kyle. They were married in Rome on Saturday, June 16 at the Church of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini. On June 20 they were one of over a dozen couples to experience the papal tradition of newlyweds being blessed at the weekly general audience.
“I think it is great,” said Kyle, “I mean there is no better way to start your marriage than with a blessing from the Holy Father, and hopefully we’ll get a lot out of it.”
The Barellas applied for their special newlywed or “Sposi Novelli” tickets through the Bishop’s Office for U.S. Visitors to the Vatican, which is based in Rome.
Couples must have been married in the Church for two months or less, something that has to be verified by a valid Catholic sacramental marriage certificate. This is often further inspected by ushers before the papal audience itself. Both bride and groom are also encouraged to don their wedding attire.
“It was a great experience,” said the tuxedo-wearing German Axel Dreyer. The 40-year-old from Dusseldorf got married 10 days ago to 32-year-old Susie, and they are now enjoying a Roman honeymoon.
“Well, we always planned that when we got married we wanted to get a blessing from the Pope, because it is just like a second wedding and we loved it,” said Axel.
Wearing her wedding dress beneath the blistering mid-afternoon sun, the new Mrs. Dreyer remarked that “it is so hot I’m feeling that I have to jump into one of the fountains.”
She fully believed, however, that the discomfort was worth it to receive a blessing directly from Pope Benedict XVI.
Susie hopes that they will have a “good family life and that our children, when we have some, will also grow up in the beliefs of Jesus and the Catholic Church.”