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Archive of September 19, 2012

Group aims to influence Chicago archbishop appointment

Chicago, Ill., Sep 19, 2012 (CNA) - A Massachusetts-based Catholic lay group, Voice of the Faithful, is making efforts to sway the selection of Chicago's new archbishop by getting feedback from local church-goers.

Colleen Dolan, director of communications for the Chicago Archdiocese, says that it may be helpful for the group – which has no official affiliation with the archdiocese – to encourage participation, but that locals should  “send their responses directly to the Apostolic Nuncio.”

Following Church procedure, Cardinal Francis George, who has served as Archbishop of Chicago since 1997 and is currently undergoing four months of chemotherapy, submitted his retirement Jan. 16, 2012 upon reaching his 75th birthday.

However, “Cardinal George understands that his retirement will not be accepted for two years,” Dolan told CNA Sept. 18.

According to Church custom, the new leader of a diocese or archdiocese is chosen by the Pope based on the recommendation from the Apostolic Nuncio after his consultation with current local bishops and diocese, including members of the laity.

In this case, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who has served as Apostolic Nuncio to the United States since 2011, will make his recommendation to the Pope in the near future.

But on their website, Voice of the Faithful assert that this custom “deprives the process of consultation with all the laity,” saying that they should have a greater input on the choice of bishop.

Quoting Canon Law 212, “Christ's faithful are at liberty to make known their needs, especially their spiritual needs, and their wishes to the Pastors of the Church,” Voice of the Faithful says they have a “right” to provide greater say in the selection of the new archbishop.

Dolan noted that the “Apostolic Nuncio has said that, 'any initiative, however, to organize group responses constitutes a parallel procedure that would not be part of canonical selection process.'”

Voice of the Faithful's 15 question online survey asks the respondent to rate statements regarding the “ideal candidate for Archbishop” on a scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.”  

One statement asks the respondent to rate whether or not they think the new archbishop should have “an encouraging appreciation of laywomen's contributions and support increasing their pastoral opportunities.”

Formed in 2002 in the basement of a Wellesley, Mass. church in response to clergy sexual abuse scandals, Voice of the Faithful boasts the motto of “Keep the Faith, Change the Church” and has “more than 25,000 members in the United States and other countries.”

Dolan said this is not the first interaction the Archdiocese of Chicago has had with Voice of the Faithful.

In an Oct. 11, 2010 press release, the group made several claims against the archdiocese such as in “2009, one in five institutions in the archdiocese still had a credibly accused priest in residence.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago refuted these claims calling them “completely false” while pointing out that, there “are no priests in ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago that have an affirmed claim of sexual abuse of a minor against them.”

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Campus tour invites college students to vote pro-life first

Washington D.C., Sep 19, 2012 (CNA) - A new nationwide initiative is asking young American voters to remember the importance of life when they cast their ballots this November.

“We wanted to find a way to engage young pro-lifers in this election,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, the country’s largest pro-life youth organization.

Hawkins told CNA on Sept. 14 that the group is launching the “I Vote Pro-Life First Initiative” to educate young voters and encourage them to vote for candidates who respect life.

The project is being carried out by a coalition that Students for Life worked to form with other pro-life groups, including The Frederick Douglass Foundation, Pro-Life Action League, Rock for Life and Live Action.

Hawkins explained that a five-day college campus tour will be “kicking off our election efforts,” which will ultimately seek to mobilize young people across the nation, recruit 1,200 volunteers and educate 300,000 voters before Election Day.

Young adults will be invited to sign a pledge stating that a candidate’s position on life will be the most important issue they consider in an election.

On Sept. 17, the initiative’s campus tour began its trek through Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In five days, the tour will reach nine major universities in four swing states. The diverse colleges include University of Michigan, Purdue University, Ohio State University and Franciscan University of Steubenville.

Hawkins explained that this election has important implications for the pro-life movement.

“We know this election is going to be a close election,” she said, explaining that success in swaying even a portion of one demographic could make a critical difference in the outcome of prominent races.

While young people have historically had low rates of voter turn-out, Hawkins pointed to a recent poll conducted by the organization showing that college students are expected to vote in large numbers this November.

She explained that many of the voters in this age group are undecided because they like and dislike different aspects of each candidate.

The goal of the campus tour is to encourage a shift in the way that pro-life issues are considered, from being “just one issue” to being “the top issue,” she said.

Hawkins stressed that if candidates cannot be trusted with the most basic issue of protecting innocent human lives, they cannot be trusted with other issues such as the economy and foreign policy.

Pro-life students accept this view, she said, because they “believe that life is intrinsically valuable.”

Seeking to “speak the truth in love,” members of Students for Life will work with pro-life student groups on each campus, registering people to vote and inviting them to sign the pledge that they will only support candidates who protect unborn children.

“We’re doing this right in the middle of campus,” Hawkins said. “I think that’s going to make a real impact.”

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House passes bill to promote human rights in Vietnam

Washington D.C., Sep 19, 2012 (CNA) - A bill to encourage freedom and respect for human rights, including religious liberty, in communist-run Vietnam was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 11.

"It is imperative that the United States Government send an unequivocal message to the Vietnamese regime that it must end its human rights abuses against its own citizens," said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who authored the bill.

Smith, who chairs a House subcommittee on human rights, explained that the bill would place limitations on U.S. aid to Vietnam until the government improves its human rights record, while at the same time allowing humanitarian assistance to continue as needed.

In a discussion on the House floor, Smith pointed to a hearing held earlier this year, at which witnesses testified about the nation’s continuing and sometimes increasing persecution of religious and political dissenters, as well as the Vietnamese government's failure to investigate and persecute human trafficking violations.

The Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2012 states that Vietnam's "transition toward greater economic freedom and trade has not been matched by greater political freedom and substantial improvements in basic human rights for Vietnamese citizens."

It also observes that the U.S. had agreed to Vietnam’s acceptance into the World Trade Organization in 2006 “amidst assurances that the Government of Vietnam was steadily improving its human rights record and would continue to do so.”

However, six years later, actions taken by the Communist Party of Vietnam continue to raise serious concerns about respect for human rights within the country, it says.

The legislation lists examples of the arbitrary arrests and imprisonments of numerous individuals - including Father Nguyen Van Ly – who has peacefully advocated religious freedom and human rights in the country.

It also notes "a pattern of violent responses by the Government to peaceful prayer vigils and demonstrations by Catholics" whose property had been confiscated by the state.

"Protesters have been harassed, beaten, and detained and church properties have been destroyed," the bill says.

"Catholics also continue to face some restrictions on selection of clergy, the establishment of seminaries and seminary candidates, and individual cases of travel and church registration," it adds.

In one 2010 case, more than 100 villagers in a Catholic parish in Da Nang were injured and at least three were killed in the violence that erupted as police tried to prevent a religious burial in the village cemetery.

The legislation also draws attention to the persecution of other religious minorities in the country, as well as attempts to intimidate and silence political dissenters and continuing problems with human trafficking.

The bill, which drew bipartisan support, prohibits an increase in non-humanitarian assistance to the Vietnamese government unless it makes "substantial progress" towards securing human rights within the country.

These improvements would require a repeal of laws that prohibit peaceful demonstrations and “unsanctioned religious activity,” as well as the release of religious and political prisoners.

In addition, the legislation would demand significant government improvement in the area of respecting fundamental rights, including the freedom of religious expression.

It would also require the Vietnamese government to respect the human rights of ethnic minorities and improve its work to fight human trafficking.

While blocking an increase in U.S. funds, the bill would allow for increased humanitarian aid for food, water and medicine if deemed necessary.

Smith praised the passage of the bill, which he described as an important step in implementing “effective measures towards improving human rights in Vietnam.”

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Opposition leaders suspend hunger strike after dissident is released

Havana, Cuba, Sep 19, 2012 (CNA) - Thirty Cuban opposition leaders suspended their hunger campaign after the government gave in to their demands that it release dissident Jorge Vazquez Chaviano from prison.

The measures taken by 67-year-old Cuban dissident leader Marta Beatriz Roque and the other members of the opposition were followed by the international community and by the Church in Cuba.  

The spokesman for the Archdiocese of Havana, Orlando Marquez, told international reporters, “We are following the news and praying for her, for her health and for other persons who are in a similar situation.”

However, Marquez noted that the Church does not support hunger strikes because they are a form of “self-aggression.”

“The Church rejects violence inflicted upon any person for any reason, in same way that she rejects methods of self-aggression, when one is demanding the right to that same life,” he said.

Jorge Vazquez Chaviano is a member of the Central Opposition Coalition. He was supposed to be released from prison on Sept. 9 after serving a sentence for “illicit economic activity.”

However, his sentence was extended until April 2, 2013, which led Roque and the other dissidents to launch their hunger strike.

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Pope appreciated chance to comfort his children, renew call for dialogue

Vatican City, Sep 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - In keeping with tradition, Pope Benedict XVI spent today’s general audience reflecting on his recent apostolic trip to Lebanon, calling it an opportunity for dialogue and an opportunity for solidarity with those in “difficult circumstances.”

“It was,” he said Sept. 19 in Paul VI Hall, “a journey I was very keen to make despite the difficult circumstances, because a father must always remain alongside his children when they face serious problems. I was moved by the desire to announce the peace which the risen Lord left to His disciples in the words: 'My peace I give to you.'”

“During my visit, the people of Lebanon and the Middle East … were able to enjoy an important experience of mutual respect, understanding and fraternity, which constitutes a powerful sign of hope for all humankind,” the Pope added.

The trip was important both for his chance to be present to Catholics as his spiritual children, but also to meet with Christians of other traditions and Muslims living in the region.

“It was a poignant ecclesial event and, at the same time, an opportunity for dialogue in a country which is complex but emblematic for the region, thanks to the tradition of cohabitation and diligent collaboration between its various religious and social components,” he said.

Pope Benedict did not neglect to mention the ongoing conflict in neighboring Syria and to appeal for peace in the nation and the region at large. The Syrian uprising has led to some 20,000 deaths and at least 200,000 refugees, and has caused spill-over violence in Lebanon.

The Pope said he appreciated the fact that thousands of Lebanese Catholics came to see him despite the trying circumstances, and he praised those who live a life of “faith and witness” in their country.

“I was able to see directly how the Lebanese Catholic communities … offer an important and highly appreciated contribution to the daily life of all the country’s inhabitants,” he recalled.

His trip was the occasion for delivering the post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in Medio Oriente” (On the Church in the Middle East), which was signed at the Melkite Basilica of St. Paul in Harissa. The document was meant to support Catholics of the region in “their faith and communion” and in the New Evangelization.

“I invited Middle Eastern Catholics to fix their gaze on the crucified Christ in order to find, even at times of difficulty and suffering, the strength to celebrate the victory of love over hatred, of forgiveness over revenge, of unity over division,” he said of the document.

Middle Eastern Catholics, the Pope noted, have the “good fortune to live in that part of the world where Jesus was crucified and rose for our salvation, and where Christianity developed,” and exhorted them to “love for their land, despite the difficulties caused by lack of stability and security.”

He was pleased to see young Christians and Muslims celebrate together and encouraged them to “harmony and reconciliation.”
He said, “I am sure that the people of Lebanon, in its varied but well blended religious and social make-up, will know how to witness with renewed impetus to the true peace that comes from faith in God.”

“I hope that the messages of peace and respect that I sought to give, will help the governments of the region to take decisive steps towards peace and a better understanding of the relationship between Christians and Muslims.”

He thanked the Muslim community for welcoming him with “great respect and sincere consideration.”

“Their constant affable presence gave me the opportunity to launch a message of dialogue and collaboration between Christianity and Islam. I believe the time has come to bear sincere and definitive witness together against division, violence and war,” he stated.

Pope Benedict also spent time urging government leaders to dialogue and create a sense of fraternity and solidarity based on the dignity of the human person.

The Pope made the 3-day trip Sept. 14-16 at the invitation of the country's prime minister Najib Mikati last November.

Pope Benedict concluded his reflections on the visit by saying that the “days spent in Lebanon were a wonderful manifestation of faith and religious feeling and a prophetic sign of peace.”

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Philadelphia archdiocese auctions priests' vacation villa

Philadelphia, Pa., Sep 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has sold at auction a South Jersey shore vacation villa for elderly priests at a price of $4.5 million, continuing its efforts to meet a major budget shortfall.

“An auction like this is certainly a new experience of the archdiocese,” Donna Farrell, the director of communications for the archdiocese, told CNA Sept. 19. “We went in this direction because the villa is such a unique property.”

The Villa Saint Joseph by the Sea, located in Ventnor, N.J. minutes from Atlantic City, was built in 1905. The 9,800-square-foot mansion is on a half-acre property with 17 feet of beach. It has 11 bedrooms, each with its own private bath.

Since 1963, it has served as a summer vacation home for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s retired priests.

The villa was assessed at $6.2 million. The property was auctioned off Sept. 15 at an event conducted by the Max Spann Real Estate & Auction Co.

Max Spann, the president and CEO of the real estate firm, said Sept. 15 that the auction was the “quickest and most efficient way” to sell the unique villa.

Steve and Ilene Berger of Newtown Square, Pa. placed the final bid. They told the Philadelphia Inquirer they plan to use the villa as a family vacation for their children and grandchildren. They will retain the property’s caretaker and hold an annual party for the priests who used to vacation at the villa.

Farrell said the archdiocese is “very pleased” with the auction and wishes the Bergers “many years of happiness in the home.”

She said it is “such a lovely and generous offer” to hold an annual party for the priests.

The archdiocese faces an operating deficit of at least $6 million for the fiscal year beginning in July 2012. Legal costs for sex abuse cases could run over $11 million.
 
Other properties up for sale include the Archbishop of Philadelphia’s residence.

St. Joseph’s University has signed a letter of intent to buy the residence and its 8.9-acre property at an expected cost of $10 million. The property adjoins the university’s 48-acre Philadelphia campus.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia said Aug. 13 that selling the properties will help the archdiocese ensure “long term financial stability” and position itself for further growth.

“It will also allow us to remain committed to the services and support we provide to the faithful as well as the broader community,” he added.

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Cardinal Dolan and Stephen Colbert talk faith at Fordham

Washington D.C., Sep 19, 2012 (CNA) - Fordham University students were treated to a rare opportunity last week when they packed an auditorium to hear Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and television comedian Stephen Colbert trade jokes and discuss faith.

Cardinal Dolan told Colbert that “part of my admiration for you is that, while you often tease and joke about your faith and the Church, there’s no denying that you take your faith seriously, and look to the Church as your spiritual family.”

“In fact, when I met you last spring at a very glitzy gathering where you were the MC, the first thing you said to me was, 'Cardinal Dolan, tomorrow night I’ll be with my son as he receives the sacrament of confirmation. Say a prayer for him, would you?'”
 
The event occurred Sept. 14 at Fordham University before an audience of 3,000 students.

Colbert hosts Comedy Central's “The Colbert Report,” a faux news show in which he plays a caricature of conservative political commentators.

The evening was an opportunity for the two to trade jokes while also being open and honest about faith and spirituality.

“My assignment was to share with you for a few moments what you might call the 'theological reasons' for laughter. Why would a person of faith be cheerful?” Cardinal Dolan asked.

“Here's my reason for joy: the cross. You heard me right: the cross of Christ!” he said.

Even though Jesus died “on that Friday strangely called 'Good,'” and “it seemed we could never smile again,” “then came "the Sunday called Easter … and God had the last word.”

The resurrection and its message of the triumph of hope and light, Cardinal Dolan told his hearers, is the reason for Christian joy.

Both pointed to joy as an infallible sign of the presence of God.

The two took questions from the student audience, one of whom said he is considering priesthood and asked if it would be prudent to avoid dating.

Cardinal Dolan responded that dating can be good, helping one to discern, adding “let me give you the phone numbers of my nieces.”

Colbert joined in and said that it's “actually a great pickup line: I’m seriously considering the priesthood. You can change my mind.”

When asked about his favorite beer, Cardinal Dolan responded, “Why don’t you take me out and see?”

The event started when Colbert and Cardinal Dolan went onstage. When Colbert went to shake the cardinal's hand, Cardinal Dolan instead bent down to kiss Colbert's ring in a humorous role-reversal for the prelate.

After that Cardinal Dolan told Colbert it was good to be with him, and that his nieces were fans and excited for the event. He ribbed Colbert, though, saying that “tonight would pale compared to being with Clint Eastwood two weeks ago at one of the two national conventions.”

Colbert discussed his Catholic faith and how he treats of it in his comedy. He is active in his parish, helping to teach religious education to children. He acknowledged that the Church is flawed and human, while affirming that there absolutely is “great beauty” in her as well.

“The real reason I remain a Catholic is what the church gives me, which is love.”

“I love my Church, warts and all.”

He is adamant about his faith on his show; in a 2006 episode even recited the Nicene Creed on national television.

He doesn't joke at religion's expense on his show, but will take on individuals' misuse of religion.

“If Jesus doesn't have a sense of humor, I'm in huge trouble,” he said.

Cardinal Dolan assured him, “He does. He chose me to be a priest.”

Colbert joked about the new English translation of the Missal, with its ten-dollar words such as “consubstantial.”

He said, “It's the creed … not the SAT prep.”

The event was hosted by Father James Martin, SJ. He often appears as a guest on “The Colbert Report” and is the show's “official chaplain.”

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