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Archive of June 30, 2012

Turning work into prayer

Atlanta, Ga., Jun 30, 2012 (CNA) - Mention the word “work” and many people cringe. As for me, the moment I was old enough to wield a broom, I labored along with my mother and sister to get our Miami home into tiptop shape.

We scoured tubs, polished dressers, changed linens and tackled a pile of clothes waiting for the sizzle of the iron.

In high school I had simple jobs like babysitting and gift wrapping presents in a department store. In college, I waited tables, sold cosmetics door-to-door and tutored homebound children.

Next was the “real” world of work, which first meant being a college teacher, and eventually moved on to becoming the assistant director of a university publications office.

Unfortunately, as the years went on, the responsibilities increased, the stress levels became unbearable—and I found myself cringing as I drove into work each day.

I wish I had known then about a Spanish saint whose feast day is June 26. His name is Josemaría Escrivá, and he was born in northern Spain in 1902. He became a priest in 1925, devoting attention to the poor, the incurably sick and the dying.

A few years later, he had a vision of ordinary Christians doing everyday work and realized we can sanctify ourselves through our labor. He then founded the organization Opus Dei (the work of God) to help people find and love Christ in the context of everyday life. The author of seven books, he died in 1975.

St. Josemaría’s insights can help anyone struggling to find meaning in their work. Perhaps you are at home teaching your children, a demanding job indeed. Perhaps you are an engineer, an architect, a doctor, a laborer, a salesperson, a cook.

If we keep our hearts set on Christ while we work, says St. Josemaría, we can turn ordinary jobs into saintly accomplishments. This doesn’t mean winning gigantic honors but rather just doing the task well—and doing it for the love of God.

“Anything done out of love is important however small it might appear,” he says in his book “The Way.”

So many workers—and I was among them—while away their hours pining for the weekend. But St. Josemaría underscores that work is part of being human. After all, in Genesis we read that

“The Lord God took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate and take care of it.”

So even in paradise, Adam and Eve had jobs to do. They weren’t just lolling about in lawn chairs staring at the horizon!

Sadly, though, work that is done with little thought of God can be debilitating, demoralizing and depressing. It can lead to someone sitting in a lonely cubicle wondering, “Is this all there is?” That was a question I often asked myself at my high-stress publications job.

How I wish someone had answered, “No, there is much more!” You just have to realize that Christ is there in the cubicle with you. As St. Josemaría notes, God “waits for us every day,” whether we are in the shop, the classroom, the factory, the fields or the home.

In another book “Friends of God,” he writes,

“Our Lord wants you to be holy in the place where you are, in the job you have chosen for whatever reason.”

He emphasizes the importance of meeting our responsibilities and avoiding the temptation to do a shoddy job. As he puts it,

“What use is it of telling me that so and so is a … good Christian but a bad shoemaker?”

We really are not alone. God is watching us as we fold the laundry, fix the computer or fax the report.

“Since we are convinced that God is to be found everywhere,” St. Josemaría writes, “we plough our fields praising the Lord, we sail the seas and ply all other trades singing his mercies.”

And by offering the Lord our efforts, however mundane and menial, we can turn our cubicle into a chapel—and our work into a prayer.

Lorraine Murray’s recent books include “The Abbess of Andalusia,” a biography of Flannery O’Connor, and “Death of a Liturgist,” a mystery set at a fictional church in Decatur.

Posted with permission from the Georgia Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Georgia.

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Cardinal Schönborn: Loss of Mid-East Christians would be 'tragedy for the region'

Washington D.C., Jun 30, 2012 (CNA) - World leaders and diplomats must help prevent a total loss of Middle Eastern Christianity, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna warned in a June 26 panel discussion in Washington, D.C.

“Religious geography is mobile. And as things go, it may happen that the Near East will undergo the fate of the North African Christianity in the seventh century,” Vienna's archbishop told listeners at the Hudson Institute. That “flourishing” North African Church, he recalled, “vanished completely.”

“It would be a deep wound for Christianity to lose the homeland, the land of origin, of Christianity, if it remained only a 'museum' for pilgrims,” Cardinal Schönborn said. “And it would be a tragedy for the region.”

The Austrian Church leader spoke at Tuesday's roundtable, entitled “Persecuted Christians and Other Religious Minorities in the New Middle East: Formulating an Effective U.S. Policy Response,” along with Lebanese professor Dr. Habib Malik, and Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.

In his keynote remarks, the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna recalled the seventh-century Islamic conquest of Damascus, Jerusalem, Egypt, and North Africa. While Christianity disappeared from some of these regions, it survived in others up to the present day.

But new religious and political realities – including the revolutions of the “Arab Spring,” as well as the impact of the Iraq war – now threaten the Church's survival even in countries like Syria, Iraq, and Egypt, where it persisted after the initial Muslim conquests of the seventh century.

Cardinal Schönborn's remarks came just days after the election of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi as Egypt's new president. Meanwhile, Syria's ongoing conflict is increasingly seen as a civil war, while bombings and other attacks in Iraq killed around 180 people during June 2012.

Iraq has lost more than half of its Christian population since 2003. Observers have warned that Syria and Egypt could suffer similar losses, if Christians opt to flee the sectarian violence and political pressure brought by the new Arab revolutions.

In Tuesday's speech, Cardinal Schönborn advised Western politicians and diplomats to deepen their awareness of religious factors at work in the Middle East – which have been “seriously neglected,” to the detriment of vulnerable groups.

Western nations must also “insist on the importance of the secular state” for the future of the Middle East. If U.S. policymakers want to help the cause of Arab democracy, they should “help the Christians and the other minorities to breathe,” the cardinal advised.

“The Christians and other minorities in the Near East know that their only chance for survival is a secular state, with real religious freedom,” Cardinal Schönborn observed. All religions, he said, must must reject theocratic ideas that lead to “totalitarianism” by identifying God's kingdom with the state.

He also warned political leaders “not to repeat, in Syria and elsewhere, the mistakes of Iraq,” where the unleashing of sectarian conflict led to the devastation of the Christian population.

Cardinal Schönborn concluded his remarks with a mention of the new Christian migrant-worker populations that have come to the Middle East in recent years, mostly from countries such as India, the Phillipines, and Sri Lanka.

“One million Catholics are living in Saudi Arabia – as servants, as housemaids, as workers – with no religious rights at all,” he stated.

The U.S. “has an enourmous influence in Saudi Arabia,” Vienna's archbishop pointed out. “The question of religious freedom from these large minorities should not be forgotten on the political agenda.”

Cardinal Schönborn's keynote speech was followed by an analysis of regional factors by Dr. Habib Malik, a Catholic scholar and human rights advocate who teaches history at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.

Malik's remarks on the “so-called 'Arab Spring'” outlined the “very real fears being felt and expressed daily” by religious minorities, “regarding the disturbing trends and emerging ominous outcomes of this new Middle East taking shape.”

The region's “repressive dictatorial regimes,” established and solidified during the mid-20th century, are now “collapsing like dominoes before our very eyes,” Malik noted.

But today, 18 months after this process began in Tuniasia, “what remains of the anticipated 'Spring' is a jumble of disturbing outcomes and ominous tendencies, that resemble anything but a democratic new birth.”

Western media initially hailed the regional revolutions as the moment of emergence for a new “Facebook generation” of Arab youth, expected to promote democracy and human rights. But these activists, Malik said, failed to maintain their momentum or make a lasting political impact.

“Instead, as has happened in Egypt, the revolution was hijacked along the way,” by hardline Salafist Islamists, who were “better-organized, better-funded, and better-motivated” than the region's emerging liberal elements.

Now, Egypt and the rest of the region have been placed “on the precarious incline toward greater empowerment of Salafist ideology.” Throughout the Arab world, “the voice of the liberals is giving way to defiant chants of 'Allahu Akbar.'”

“Indigenous Middle Eastern Christians do not see a 'Spring' anywhere in sight,” he pointed out. “To them, the term 'Arab Spring' actually sounds increasingly like a bad joke, black humor. They see, instead, the makings of a 'Arab nightmare'” – with dire consequences for the region and the world.

The opposition Free Syrian Army is “looking increasingly like a militant Islamist grouping” – with its long beards, kidnappings, beheadings, and internet footage of attacks on the regime accompanied by religious chanting.

Malik believes that states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which enjoy “unwavering Western backing,” have no real interest in promoting a liberal and democratic replacement for the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Rather, the professor said, “everything they are doing there seems to be furthering a militant Sunni, Salafi, Wahhabi replacement” in Syria, “and indeed, anywhere else in the region they can manage it.” Western powers, meanwhile, are pursuing “short-sighted policies” that play into this agenda.

Syrian Christians “are not blind supporters of the bloody regime,” but are caught between “bad or worse” options for their country's future. In Egypt, likewise, Christians face “awful choices” between military rule and political Islam.

If the Middle East loses its Christians and other religious minorities, Malik warned, then “pluralism is all but dead” in the region – “and along with it, any real chances for genuine freedoms and democracy.”

The professor credited certain U.S. government figures, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, for adopting a more cautious line of “prudent reluctance” toward the Syrian opposition in recent weeks.

Rather than allowing radical Islamic elements to take power, the U.S. and its Western allies should “protect and preserve whatever meager freedoms already exist in parts of the Middle East, and build upon them. This means, among other things, active protection for minority rights and for pluralism.”

Potential persecutors of these communities should be put on notice “that they will be watched like a hawk by the international community.” Lebanon, an “oasis of freedom” in the region, should be “protected” and “nurtured” as a model of pluralism.

An effective official response to the changing Arab world, Malik said, would also involve U.S. and European pressure against Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to “temper Sunni agitation, and stop fanning the flames of Sunni fanaticism with money, arms, and propaganda.”

“Blowing up the entire region is not the way to change a dictator in Syria, or elsewhere,” he stated. “This charade of arch-repressors like Saudi Arabia and Qatar leading a crusade versus regional dictators, with American and Western backing, has to end.”

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Archbishop Fulton Sheen beatification could come 'very quickly'

Peoria, Ill., Jun 30, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A priest connected with the cause of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen has said the “historic speed” with which he was declared "venerable" could be the sign of a rapid beatification and canonization process for the famous U.S. television evangelist.

Msgr. Stanley Deptula, the executive director of the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation, told a June 29 telephone press conference that only God knows whether and when Venerable Fulton Sheen will advance to sainthood.

However, the speed of Archbishop Sheen’s cause has been “remarkably quick.”

“This cause enjoys the support of cardinals and bishops and priests around the world, so much does Fulton Sheen mean in their own lives and own vocations,” the monsignor said.

“We might be very hopeful that with this level of support, and the importance Fulton Sheen means to the Church in the modern world, we might see that these next steps progress very quickly.”

Ven. Fulton Sheen’s cause has support from cardinals, bishops and priests around the world because he meant “so much” in their own lives and vocations, Msgr. Deptula explained.

On June 28 Pope Benedict XVI authorized a decree that recognized the heroic virtues of the beloved host of the “Catholic Hour” radio show and the ABC television show “Life is Worth Living.” Ven. Fulton Sheen authored many books and headed the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. He served as an auxiliary bishop of New York and as Bishop of Rochester.

He continued to be a leading figure in U.S. Catholicism until his death in 1979 at the age of 84.

His cause for sainthood was opened in 2002. An authenticated miracle is now needed for Ven. Fulton Sheen to be beatified, the last step before canonization.

Msgr. Deptula said that three “fully documented alleged miracles” attributed to Archbishop Sheen’s intercession have been collected. However, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Saints asked those presenting his cause, known as “postulators,” to submit only one case.

The postulators chose to submit the case of James Fulton Engstrom, a boy born apparently stillborn in September 2010 to Bonnie and Travis Engstrom of the Peoria-area town of Goodfield. The child’s mother and her husband prayed to Archbishop Sheen to heal their son.

Although the baby showed no pulse for an hour after his birth, his heart started beating and he escaped serious medical problems.

“If all goes well, that miracle will be presented to the Holy Father for his authentication,” Msgr. Deptula explained. “Only God works a miracle, but only the Church can authenticate a miracle.”

Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill. and several other priests addressed the June 29 press conference.

The bishop said that Ven. Fulton Sheen “displayed virtues that the rest of us can try to imitate.” He was a “pioneer” in using media to proclaim the gospel and preached and taught “relentlessly.”

“We are so happy that His Holiness has declared Fulton Sheen venerable,” Bishop Jenky said.

At the start of his priestly life in Peoria, Ven. Fulton Sheen went door to door evangelizing “a dying parish,” powered by his continual prayer life.

“He always believed that the miracle of bringing more people to Christ came from the time spent on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament,” the bishop said.

“Perhaps most importantly, he was a man of holiness, of intense daily prayer,” he said. “That is an example that I believe the Church needs to imitate in these days.”

Msgr. Deptula said Sheen’s example can give Christians guidance on how to better engage the world by “using every tool at our disposal to bring the eternal and perennial Good News of Jesus Christ to our brothers and sisters today.”

Ven. Fulton Sheen also dedicated the profits from his books into foreign missions.

Fr. Andrew Small, OMI, the current head of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, said that these efforts had brought “great fruits” in 1,150 dioceses around the world encompassing half the globe.

Sheen’s work has helped create 9,000 clinics, 10,000 orphanages, and 1,200 schools. The institutions his donations support now educate 80,000 seminarians and 9,000 vowed religious.

He said that Sheen is “beloved around the world” and very few new possible saints are known as globally as him.

“As Americans that’s something we can be proud of,” said Fr. Small.

Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR, the vice-postulator of Archbishop Sheen’s cause, called the evangelist “a true disciple of Jesus.”

He cited Sheen’s essay “America Needs a Saint” in which the archbishop talked about “having a homegrown American saint, someone who grew up here in our country, to show that the Church had reached a maturity to produce saints.”

Fr. Apostoli recounted: “As I thought about that, I said to myself ‘God willing, he’s the saint we need’.”

Bishop Jenky will preside at a Sept 9 thanksgiving Mass at Peoria’s Cathedral of St. Mary.

“Fulton Sheen plays very well in Peoria,” the bishop said. He reported that the cathedral has been filled at every Mass commemorating the archbishop.

In response to the Vatican decree, the Archbishop Fulton John Sheen Foundation has launched a website about the celebrations at www.celebratesheen.com.

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December 21, 2014

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