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Archive of October 31, 2012

Catholic music label to release nuns' album for Advent

Denver, Colo., Oct 31, 2012 (CNA) - Kevin and Monica Fitzgibbons left lucrative positions in the entertainment industry to found a company that helps unique new artists – and their De Montfort Music label will soon release an album by contemplative Benedictine nuns.

“We want to be able to bring these beautiful hymns across the ages, and chant and polyphony, and the Benedictines of Mary are extremely talented,” Monica Fitzgibbons told CNA Oct. 25.

“When we heard their music, we knew that there was something really special going on there musically that would fit in with our mission for the label.”

Monica and Kevin met through the entertainment industry, where Kevin worked at Columbia and Sony and she was part of DreamWorks. Both grew up as Catholics, but during their careers they experienced a kind of conversion or “completion” of their faith.

“After we got married and started to have kids, we both realized...how do we reconcile this and what our identity is going to be as married people with these children?” Monica said.

She credited God for this interior transformation, who she said worked through both religious and laity to encourage them in the deepening of their faith.

With “truth in charity, those little seeds were planted and it helped us realize that we did want to be part of music and entertainment and film, and to help bring that out in the world.”

She said that in the entertainment industry, “every now and then there would be something that was new, and it would always have a deeper, spiritual underpinning to it.”

From that basis, the Fitzgibbons founded Aim Higher Media in 2007, to “help encourage artists to listen to that inner voice.”

Out of that grew De Montfort Music in 2012.

“We really wanted to have something...that could be for religious communities to put their music out where it would be a nice, purer place for just that genre” of sacred music, Monica said.

“We could be the bridge between the global entertainment industry, so their music could get out but that the world would not be getting in.”

The couple's latest produced album, “Advent at Ephesus,” is by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles. An order of cloistered, contemplative Benedictine nuns in the Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph, they are “so faithful” to both the Magisterium and the Pope, Monica noted.

The sisters' life is marked by obedience, stability, and what they call conversion or “continually turning” towards God. They have Mass daily according to the extraordinary form and chant the psalms six times a day from the 1962 Monastic Office. They also support themselves by producing made-to-order vestments.

Between the sisters' obedience and the beauty of their chant, Monica said that “it's like a slice of heaven when you're around them.”

After hearing the sisters' self-released CD, the Fitzgibbons were inspired to contact them about releasing a new album.

With a distribution deal through Decca Records, the largest international distributor of classical music, De Montfort Music enlisted a Grammy-award winning producer and engineer to “essentially build a recording studio in the sisters' chapel.”

In three days of recording, the Benedictine nuns laid down 16 tracks for the release, all of them music for the Advent season. “Maybe that's what this whole thing is about” said Monica, “shining the light on Advent through this beautiful music.”

Monica pointed out the importance of beauty in music, and the centrality of that in De Montfort Music's mission.

“If there is a high bar of musical quality to the projects we put out, we believe that will draw in all kinds of people, whether they're faith based or not, seeking the faith or not.”

“We want to project to the world what's true and beautiful, especially when done in magnifying God.”

The Benedictines' CD, “Advent at Ephesus,” will be in stores Nov. 20, but is available now for pre-order at www.demontfortmusic.com. The sisters also have their own website, benedictinesofmary.org.

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North Dakota bishop stands by pastoral letter on election

Bismarck, N.D., Oct 31, 2012 (CNA) - Bishop David D. Kagan of Bismarck defended his letter on the election which was read this weekend at parishes in North Dakota, against demands by a state senator that it be withdrawn or changed.

“It's with a properly formed conscience, which we regularly nourish with prayer, the sacraments, and continued study, that we can...set a good example, which ultimately isn't about you or me,” Bishop Kagan told CNA Oct. 30.

The example we set, he emphasized, presents Christ to other people.

Bishop Kagan is the ordinary of Bismarck, and is serving as the apostolic administrator of Fargo while the see is vacant.

As part of his role, Bishop Kagan issued the letter asking parishioners “to vote as a Catholic citizen with a properly formed Catholic conscience.”

Bishop Kagan wrote that the teachings of the Church are “the means for us to properly form our consciences so that we seek always what is true and good.”

He went on to say that intrinsically evil actions, such as abortion and euthanasia, “must always be rejected and opposed,” and that issues that do not directly affect the life and dignity of people are secondary to these.

Though Bishop Kagan “will not tell you how to vote,” he wrote that “I ask you to vote for the candidates who represent you as Catholic citizens. Please do not vote for the candidate who is most likeable.”

Responding to an advance copy of the letter, however, state senator Tim Mathern asserted in an Oct. 23 statement that the obligation to “follow your conscience” is in conflict with the obligation of Catholics to form their conscience according to Church teaching, and that Bishop Kagan's teaching “short circuits conscience formation.”

Mathern's statement also characterized Bishop Kagan's letter as “a request on voting for or against a specific person or party,” thus risking the Church's non-profit status.

Though no candidates or parties are mentioned by name in the letter, Mathern believes Bishop Kagan's plea not to vote for the “most likeable” candidate is too particular.

“North Dakotans who have been exposed to political coverage or advertisements this election season can readily identify the candidate who is considered the 'most likeable,'” he said. “Repeatedly, newspaper reports use this designation for one candidate, as do ads against her candidacy.”

Bishop Kagan responded to CNA, however, that he wrote the letter out of concern for the souls of the Catholic faithful under his charge.

“There isn't a circumstance that can ever justify you or me checking our faith at the door, and then going in and doing something that is contrary to what we say we believe.”

“It does a great disservice to other Catholics, and to those who are not Catholic, if we create one of those artificial divisions between what I believe as a Catholic and what I do as a Catholic.”

Bishop Kagan added that “conscience can be in error,” and that while there are things that are “easily recognized” by individual consciences as true or false, there are also matters “in between.”

“And that's where the relationship between Church authority and conscience...becomes so necessary and essential, because it's not always clear what is the Truth, and therefore what is the good.”

“So it's that recognition that there is an authority...that can inform and properly form one's conscience so it recognizes the Truth, and then directs the person to seek that which is true and good.”

He said the relationship between authority and conscience is a “complementary” one, and that authority and conscience are not meant to be “at odds” with one another.

“For a Catholic to properly form and inform his or her conscience, so that the truth is recognized and the good is pursued...one has to be able to look to the authentic teaching of that truth,” he offered.

“I was taken aback when my use of an adjective (likeable) was interpreted as endorsing one candidate over another,” Bishop Kagan said. “I'm not singling out anybody, I'm talking about all candidates, and I stand by that...I don't regret using that adjective.”

“Why would I base my choice of a candidate on likeability rather than a reasoned examination of the candidates' positions all of the important issues?” he asked.

The bishop noted that the response to his letter has been overwhelmingly positive. Of over 400 emails he has received about it, only 6 have objected to the letter. And the Bismarck diocese's Facebook page "likes" have more than doubled since Friday.

“The response I've seen has been overwhelmingly in support...so that as many Catholics as possible are reminded of essential Catholic Church teachings as we are to apply these in daily life, whether it's voting in an election, or business  practices or whatever it may be,” he said.

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Faith is lived in community, Pope Benedict reflects

Vatican City, Oct 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Although faith is intensely personal, it is necessarily transmitted and lived through relationships with others, Pope Benedict XVI said at his general audience on Wednesday.

“I cannot build my personal faith in a private dialogue with Jesus, because faith is given to me by God through a community of believers,” the Pope said in a rain-soaked St. Peter's Square Oct. 31.

“The Church, and I become part of the multitude of believers in a community that is...rooted in the eternal love of God.”

Responding to the question of whether or not an individual can live his faith in isolation, the pontiff said the answer is found in the sacrament of baptism, where the believer's acclimation of faith draws him into a community of believers.

“The 'I do'” of the profession of faith “is not the product of my own thoughts, but it is the result of a relationship, a dialogue in which there is a listening, and receiving and response,” he said.

“It is communicating with Jesus that takes me out of the 'I' that is enclosed in on myself to open up to the love of God the Father.”

Pope Benedict also noted that the profession of faith recited in the Creed at Mass, while personal, is corporate as well.

The individual “I believe” uttered by the individual Catholic is “united to that of an immense choir in time and space, in which everyone contributes, so to speak, for a harmonious polyphony of faith.”

During his remarks, the Pope reiterated that faith cannot be built on a “personal faith in private dialogue with Jesus,” since “the faith is passed on by a community of believers.”

In embracing this community, one becomes part of that “multitude of believers...rooted in the eternal love of God.”

Because of this, he noted, it is wrong to adhere to the “contemporary tendency to relegate faith to the private sphere” because that “contradicts its very nature.”

“The new life I live in Christ through the gift of his Spirit is received and nourished within the Church’s communion,” the Pope added.

“Dwelling in the Church’s living tradition, may we mature in the faith we have received and, by putting it into practice, become beacons of Christ’s light and peace in our world.”

He concluded his general audience message with prayers for Americans affected by Hurricane Sandy, which smashed the Eastern coast early this week, leaving over 40 dead.

The Pope offered his “prayers for the victims and express my solidarity with all those engaged in the work of rebuilding.”

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Pope offers prayers for Hurricane Sandy victims

Vatican City, Oct 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - At the Oct. 31 general audience, Pope Benedict offered prayers for the victims of Hurricane Sandy which ravaged the East Coast of the United States early this week.

“Conscious of the devastation caused by the hurricane which recently struck the East Coast of the United States of America, I offer my prayers for the victims and express my solidarity with all those engaged in the work of rebuilding,” he said at the conclusion of his address in St. Peter's Square.

Hurricane Sandy struck the mid-Atlantic region earlier this week, leaving more than 60 people dead in its wake, according to an Associated Press count. Over 6.2 million homes remain without power. The monstrous storm killed almost 70 people when it swept through the Caribbean prior to making landfall in southern New Jersey.

The flooding and winds from the historic storm inundated entire towns, downed power lines and caused fires. Hurricane Sandy also shut down New York and New Jersey’s train lines, and officials are uncertain when they will be able to reopen.

Pope Benedict used today’s general audience to continue his series of reflections on faith, emphasizing that although it is deeply personal, it is necessarily lived and transmitted in community and in relationship with others.

“I cannot construct my personal faith in a private dialogue with Jesus, because faith is given to me by God through a believing community which is the Church. And faith makes me part of the multitude of believers bound by a communion which is … rooted in the eternal love of God,” he expressed.

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Cuban recovery from Hurricane Sandy will take years, agency reports

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, Oct 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The secretary general of Caritas Cuba said it will take years for the eastern section of the country to recover from Hurricane Sandy but that the local Church is bringing relief to thousands of victims.

Maritza Sanchez told CNA on Oct. 29 that the situation in Cuba “remains very difficult, especially in the city of Santiago, because the damage has been so severe.”

“The hurricane practically devastated the city and nearby towns,” she said. “It also damaged towns in the provinces of Guantanamo and Holguin.”

In addition to the large number of homes that were damaged, coffee and plantain fields, as well as phone and power lines and other infrastructure were also destroyed.  

“The military is helping with the cleanup on many roads. It will take time to recover despite the efforts. The recovery will take years,” Sanchez said, adding that 90 percent of the churches in the Archdiocese of Santiago, as well as numerous convents and rectories were also damaged in the storm.

“Caritas is trying to help, but the truth is that the damage is overwhelming. However, the Church must always do whatever possible to try to alleviate suffering and give hope to the people, and that is objective of our work right now,” Sanchez said.

While the Cuban government plays the key role in providing assistance, she continued, the Church is helping wherever possible and is seeking “to officially collaborate with the structures of the State in order to broaden our efforts.”

She said priests in hardest hit areas are identifying the families that have been most affected and are helping to distribute the food and water provided by Caritas. In some areas make-shift soup kitchens have been set up to help those whose needs are critical.

Sanchez noted that Caritas Cuba has already received financial assistance from the United States and Switzerland and Germany.

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Miracle could allow canonization of first Colombian-born saint

Medellin, Colombia, Oct 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A second miracle confirmed on June 14 by doctors appointed by the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints could advance the sainthood of Blessed Laura de Jesus Montoya Upegui.

According to the newspaper El Tiempo, Vatican officials are expected to issue a decision on the miracle on Dec. 10. A decree by Pope Benedict would pave the way for Blessed Laura's canonization as Colombia's first native-born saint.

The miracle that occurred through the 20th century blessed's intercession was the healing of Dr. Carlos Eduardo Restrepo, who was suffering from lupus, kidney damage and muscular degeneration. After praying the Blessed Laura one night, the doctor woke up the following morning completely cured.

“Mother Laura,” he prayed that night, “If you heal me of this, I will tell the world about your miracle so that you will be raised to the altars.”

“My mind has gone blank. I don’t know if I had an out-of-body experience or if I imagined it, or if it was my subconscious, but when I entrusted myself to Blessed Laura I felt a wonderful sense of peace,” he said.

“If this isn’t a miracle, I don’t know what is,” Doctor Restrepo told the Colombian newspaper.

Sister Aida Orobio, superior of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Siena – which was founded by Blessed Laura – said, “Not even her in her homeland do people realize how brave and marvelous this woman was.”

“In an era in which women were supposed to stay by men, Laura dared to follow God’s call, even though she was called crazy,” she added.

The sister noted how Blessed Laura's conversion began when she encountered a group of local Indians who were being mistreated and dehumanized.

“How is it possible that they lived so marginalized and estranged from God, if they were just as Colombian as anyone else and were the first inhabitants of these lands,” Sister Orobio reflected.

Eventually, Blessed Laura moved into the Colombian rain forest and began to live and work with the Indians, despite difficulties and attacks from landowners in the region.

She died on Oct. 21, 1949 in a home in Medellin that is today a museum and convent. Her congregation has spread to Africa, America and Europe.

Those who knew her recalled that during her last days, “She had a great sense of humor. She poked fun at everything in a pious way, especially of herself.”

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Sistine Chapel reveals light of God, Pope says on 500th anniversary

Vatican City, Oct 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Sistine Chapel ceiling is celebrating its 500th anniversary today, and Pope Benedict XVI followed in the footsteps of his predecessor Pope Julius II, who unveiled the masterpiece by saying vespers there.

Pope Benedict said in his Oct. 31 address that he was marking the anniversary of this “liturgical classroom” with vespers because “the works of art which decorate it, especially the frescos, find in the liturgy … their living environment.”

“It is as if during the liturgical action, the entire symphony of figures comes alive, certainly in the spiritual sense, but also…in the aesthetic sense,” the Pope remarked. “The Sistine Chapel, encompassed in prayer, is even more beautiful, more authentic; it reveals all of its treasures.”

He also reflected on what it must have been like to see the ceiling when it was first unveiled on Oct. 31, 1512.

The frescoes exude light, but they are also permeated with the idea of the light of God, the Pope observed.

“That light, with its power, conquers the chaos and darkness to give life; in creation and in redemption. The Sistine Chapel tells the story of light, liberation, salvation; it speaks of God's relationship with humanity,” he declared.

Vatican Museums Director Antonio Paolucci described the Sistine Chapel as having “a fatal attraction.”

“It is an object of desire, that essential point of arrival … for migrants of so-called ‘cultural tourism,’” Paolucci said in an Oct. 30 L’Osservatore Romano article.

Despite concerns about damage caused by the presence of some five million visitors per year, he explained that the chapel will remain open to the public.

Dust and humidity from human perspiration can harm the paintings in the long-run, he wrote, but the chapel will remain open to a limitless number of visitors unless it increases “beyond a reasonable level.”

In the meantime, measures will be taken to preserve the frescoes, which Michelangelo spent four years painting (1508 to 1512).

“However it is necessary to implement the most advanced technological provisions capable of ensuring the removal of dust and pollution, the fast and effective exchange of air, and temperature and humidity controls,” Paolucci said.

No artist has achieved quite the same effect as Michelangelo, who “radically changed” the history of art in Italy in particular, and Europe in general, he wrote.

The likes of his artistic genius will never be seen again, he said, but modern art preservation techniques can keep his illuminating paintings in the Sistine Chapel forever bright.

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Catholic Charities works to assess, relieve damage from Hurricane Sandy

Washington D.C., Oct 31, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholic Charities agencies along the East Coast are working to assess the damage left by Hurricane Sandy and respond to the needs of those left in its wake.

Kevin Hickey, executive director at Catholic Charities of Camden, N.J., told CNA on Oct. 31 that while there is significant flooding and damage throughout the six southern counties that make up the diocese, “the main focus is the coast.”

“The devastation there is enormous,” he said, especially on the barrier islands of Ocean City and Atlantic City, which took a direct hit from the storm. Because access to the two sites is restricted, emergency workers cannot get there and do not know when they will be able to do so.

Hickey added that Catholic Charities has an office in Atlantic City, but said that he is “fairly confident that is underwater.”

New Jersey is one of several states that were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, a massive storm that made landfall in the U.S. on Oct. 29 and proceeded to sweep through the northeast, killing dozens and leaving some 6 million people without power.

Hickey predicted that there will be “a tremendous need” for food, as well as water and shelter, in the coming days.  More long-term needs include arrangements for those who were evacuated from the barrier islands, he said, adding, “I think that’s going to become a challenge.”

One estimate predicted that power would be restored to most of the mainland by the weekend, but there is less certainty about when it will be restored to the barrier islands.

Catholic Charities’ staff members are experienced in responding to disasters, Hickey said. The Camden agency assembled an Incident Command Team before the storm to ensure that recovery efforts would run safely and smoothly.

That team is currently working to gather information, conducting driving tours of four New Jersey counties and reaching out to Catholic parishes to see if they can be used as distribution sites, he explained.

Once those distribution sites are set up – which will likely be by early next week – they will be able to handle significant material donations, he said, adding that money is often the most helpful donation because it allows for the local purchase of whatever supplies are needed.

Monsignor Roger McGrath, vicar general of Camden, said he was “very proud of our Catholic Charities and all the work they do,” adding that the primary focus in the coming days is to “make sure the people are taken of.”

Throughout the region, other Catholic Charities agencies are working to offer similar aid, despite obstacles including power outages, flooding and transportation difficulties.

In the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Catholic Charities is keeping its homeless shelters open from Oct. 29 until 7 a.m. on Nov. 1 so that all residents are able to remain inside during the storm.

The agency also posted a shelter hotline number on the internet and encouraged people to call if they saw someone out on the streets of the nation’s capital in need of shelter.

According to the agency’s Twitter account, approximately 1,100 people stayed in its shelters on the night of Oct. 29, and the staff was able to provide extra food to 800 homebound seniors in advance, to ensure that they would be fed during the hurricane.

In West Virginia, where the storm brought blizzard conditions when it collided with an arctic blast, Catholic Charities is dealing not only with power outages due to fallen trees, but also ice damage, treacherous roads and more than a foot of snow in many areas.

The agency said that it is working with parishes throughout the state to access capabilities for providing food and shelter to those who have been forced to leave their homes.

Mary Ellen Ros, director of Hudson Valley Services for Catholic Charities of New York, said that the agency’s downtown offices do not have phone connectivity but staff members are working to perform a damage assessment.

The group is reaching out parishes to offer support and see what is needed, she explained, adding that it is also working closely with both government and other disaster relief partners.

As in Camden, one of the biggest current difficulties is traveling to the places that were hit the hardest, such as Staten Island, Ros said. The agency is trying to determine the needs of the people in different areas and will also help staff a disaster assistance center that is being created.

Once an initial evaluation is completed, Catholic Charities will be able to provide both immediate relief and long-term aid in rebuilding, she said.

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