Archive of December 2, 2012

Mountain rescuer keeps faith while seeking the lost

Anchorage, Alaska, Dec 2, 2012 (CNA) - Geologists Katharine Bull and Robert Gillis only planned to work for a couple hours in the mountains around Portage Glacier on Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The weather was clear, but that changes on a dime in Alaska.

Shortly after a helicopter dropped them off in separate locations, the weather turned, making it too dangerous to return. Bull and Gillis spent the night alone in the cold, whipping rain and murky fog.

The next day, as bad weather continued, the volunteer Alaska Mountain Rescue Group (AMRG) was asked to help. Upon receiving the call, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church parishioner and expert mountain-climber Greg Bragiel suited up and headed into the wilderness.

Bragiel’s team — assigned to locate Gillis — took a helicopter as far up the mountain as possible. Flying into wild weather can be the most dangerous part of a rescue mission, Bragiel told the Catholic Anchor in a recent interview.

“You could barely see anything” that day, he said. On the choppy flight, “I was saying my prayers…and making the Sign of the Cross both for myself and for the people I was with and for the helicopter pilot and that the person that we were going to look for up by Portage was still alive and safe.”

When the helicopter could go no farther, the rescuers were dropped off to hike in the rest of the way. They climbed about 2,000 feet, into the night. The next day they found Gillis, cold but uninjured. The rescuers fortified him with dry clothes and food and fluids, and then they led him down the mountain to the helicopter pick-up point – and to safety.

Mountaineering for God

For Bragiel climbing high-angle cliffs and sifting through avalanche-covered mountainsides to find those “‘lost sheep’ and bring them back to their families,” as he put it, is spiritual work.

“I know I’m here on earth to know, love and serve my creator, and secondarily to help other people. I’m just using the things that I know and my skills to do that,” he observed.

Bragiel is demure about his death-defying works of mercy. He acknowledges only that he has “some skills” which some others don’t have — namely, specialized mountaineering skills honed across years climbing the cliffs and crags of Alaska’s mountain ranges.

In 2005 he joined the Anchorage Mountain Rescue Group, a non-profit volunteer search and rescue organization. Its members search for people who are lost, injured or stranded in Alaska’s backcountry – and if necessary they retrieve the bodies of the deceased. Their missions involve lost hikers, hunters and children, those fallen on mountainside cliffs, buried in avalanches and trapped in crashed planes.

This summer Bragiel and his fellow rescuers took part in the effort to find the missing Michael LeMaitre, a runner in the Mount Marathon race, bushwhacking through the woods and brush on the famous mountain in Seward.

As with his teammates Bragiel is on-call 24 hours a day. Additionally he is the group’s equipment manager and board member. “I’m just a little part of it,” Bragiel insisted.

Physical and spiritual discipline

Although the job is unpaid, Bragiel takes it to heart. In each mission the lives of the stranded as well as fellow rescuers are on the line, he said. So the dentist-by-day regularly trains in the gym and on the mountain, making Bragiel leaner than most 20-year-olds. His close-cropped hair is graying but looks prematurely so. It doesn’t seem possible that he has just turned 60.

In addition to physical training, Bragiel reviews notes on rescue techniques while at home. It’s about minimizing risk, he explained.

“We don’t risk lives and put our rescuers at great risk if we know there’s going to be a bad outcome,” he said, adding, “We don’t want to have more people dead.”

There isn’t an ounce of bravado in the soft-spoken Bragiel.

“I’ve been in the mountains enough to know what my limits are,” he said.

A Higher Power

When on missions, Bragiel prays “plenty of Our Fathers” and “lots of Hail Marys” for those he’s searching for and for the rescuers.

Entrusting her husband to God, Bragiel’s wife Mary Beth prays too.

“I don’t fear for him. When it’s his time to go, it’s his time to go…but I do certainly pray and ask God to protect him and to protect the others,” she said. “I believe that prayers are extremely beneficial and that God listens to all of us, even if things don’t turn out the way we might like them to.”

Physical and spiritual disciplines help Bragiel do what seems impossible to many — rescue people deep in the wilderness and in sometimes dangerous, sub-freezing temperatures.

Such was the case on a frigid day in late February four years ago when three skiers veered off Indian Trail near Girdwood. They had been out for hours. As the light waned and their strength and water supply disappeared, the group was far from home. By the time they called 911, the clouds and wind prevented the state troopers’ helicopter from coming.

During a late evening dinner, Bragiel received the page. He and his teammates snowshoed into the dark night searching for the group. Between 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning, the rescuers arrived. They accompanied the desperate skiers down the trail to snowmachines, which then carried them the rest of the way to safety.

“I was really happy to bring people back to their family,” Bragiel recalled. “It’s pretty easy to lose faith and just give up, and that’s unfortunately what happens with people sometimes. When they’re just exhausted and they’re out of resources and in over their head, they just kind of give up and look for help, and that’s where we are – to give them that help and that hope.”

Bringing the Dead 'Home'

But sometimes rescues turn into recoveries of the dead. That is an equally necessary job, Bragiel believes. These people need to come “home” too, he explained.

Three years ago Bragiel and his teammates were called to Seattle Creek, near Turnagain Pass, to search for snowmachiners lost in an avalanche. There was too much risk for another avalanche so the rescuers waited more than a week to begin searching. Finally they were able to head in and dig out the deceased from the snowslide.

And two years ago Bragiel took part in the well-publicized search for the president of Conoco Philips and his friend killed in an avalanche in Grandview Valley.

“It took us three full days of probing and searching and poking holes in the snow,” Bragiel said.

God First

These are missions Bragiel thinks “a lot about,” he said, hinting at the spiritual and emotional weight of the work. But Bragiel strives to keep his priorities – God, family and others – in order.

“Ever since I’ve known him, he has talked about the balance of life,” Mary Beth said of her husband.

Bragiel believes helping others is just one part of his mission on earth. “The other part of my faith walk is you go to church and you do Bible study and you spend time with your wife and family,” he explained.

That it all starts with God is evident at the 7 a.m. daily Mass that the Bragiels attend at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage.

“We just get up early and go visit Jesus first and then go do our work,” Bragiel said.

Serving others is his way of saying “‘Thank you’ to God,” Mary Beth observed.

In addition to mountain rescues Bragiel volunteers at the Brother Francis Shelter for the homeless, teaches mountain safety and, together with his wife, volunteers for Special Olympics and Marriage Encounter – a marriage enrichment program.

Why add dangerous alpine rescues to an already busy schedule? “I’m trying to make God smile,” Bragiel said.

Posted with permission from Catholic Anchor, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.

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St. Clement of Alexandria historically celebrated Dec. 4

Denver, Colo., Dec 2, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Dec. 4 was once the traditional feast day of an early Christian theological author whose legacy is controversial, but who is cited as a saint in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and has been described as such in several addresses of Pope Benedict XVI.

The writer in question is Saint Clement of Alexandria, who led the city's famous Catechetical School during the late second century.

Clement is not always referred to as a saint in Church documents, and his feast day was removed from the Western liturgical calendar around the year 1600 due to suspicions about some of his writings. Eastern Christian traditions also seem to regard him with some reluctance. On the other hand, he is called “St. Clement of Alexandria” not only in the Catholic catechism, but also in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

On Oct. 28, 2012, during his homily at the closing Mass for the Synod on the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI made a notable public reference to him as “Saint Clement of Alexandria,” as he has done elsewhere. On that occasion, the Pope concluded his homily with a long quotation from St. Clement. However, the title of “saint” was dropped during the Pope's earlier April 2007 audience talk on his life and writings.

In that general audience, however, Pope Benedict described Clement as a “great theologian” whose Christ-centered intellectual vision “can serve as an example to Christians, catechists and theologians of our time.” Nine years earlier, Blessed John Paul II had cited his pioneering integration of philosophy and theology in his 1998 encyclical “Fides et Ratio.”

Clement's date of birth is not known, though he was most likely born in Athens, and converted to Christianity later in life. His intellectual curiosity prompted him to travel widely and study with a succession of teachers in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Eventually Clement settled in Egypt where he studied under Pantaenus, a teacher at the Catechetical School of Alexandria.

Located in a cultural and commercial center, Alexandria's Catechetical School played an important role in the development of theology during the Church's early centuries. Clement served as an assistant to Pantaenus and eventually became a teacher himself, taking a position of leadership in the school around 190. His theological writings circulated before the century's end, and he may have become a priest.

During the early third century, persecution against the Church prompted Clement to leave Egypt for Cappadocia in Asia Minor. One of his former students in that region, a bishop named Alexander, was jailed for his faith, and Clement stepped in to give direction to the faithful in Caesarea during their bishop's imprisonment. Clement died in Cappadocia in approximately 215.

Clement and other Alexandrian teachers sought to express Catholic doctrines in a philosophically-influenced, intellectually rigorous manner. Later Church Fathers, especially in the Greek tradition, owed much to their work. But the school's legacy is mixed: Origen, one of its main representatives and possibly Clement's student, is associated with doctrines later condemned by an ecumenical council.

Three of St. Clement of Alexandria's works survive: the “Protreptikos” (“Exhortation”), which presents the Christian faith in contrast with paganism; the “Paedagogus” (“The Tutor”), encouraging Christians in the disciplined pursuit of holiness; and the “Stromata” (“Miscellanies” or “Tapestries”), which takes up the topic of faith in its relationship to human reason.

In a passage of the “Protrepikos” quoted by Pope Benedict XVI at the conclusion of the Synod for the New Evangelization, St. Clement encouraged his readers: “Let us put away, then, let us put away all blindness to the truth, all ignorance: and removing the darkness that obscures our vision like fog before the eyes, let us contemplate the true God ... since a light from heaven shone down upon us who were buried in darkness and imprisoned in the shadow of death, (a light) purer than the sun, sweeter than life on this earth.”

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Doctor charges governments with ignoring causes of infertility

Rome, Italy, Dec 2, 2012 (CNA) - An Italian doctor who specializes in treating newborns says governments are not working to prevent infertility because of financial reasons.

"They would have to get rid of mercury in food, environmental pollution and endocrine disrupting chemicals, which cause infertility, and that would cost money," Doctor Carlo Bellieni said in a Nov. 28 interview with CNA.

"The State isn't encouraging public debate because it would mean possibly having to change its policies," the neonatologist charged.

According to him, the main contributor to the growth in infertility is women waiting longer to conceive children.

"The government tells you to wait as long as you want to have children, and if you have a problem, just get treatment," he said.

Bellieni also took issue with the lack of a public debate around the fertility treatment called In Vitro Fertilization, or IVF.

In a Nov. 28 article published in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Bellieni about the "absence of detailed debate on IVF and a silence on the prevention of sterility, to which many newspapers seem to have only one answer: fertilization in the laboratory."

"The State doesn't want to be unpopular, and it's not fashionable to talk about IVF," said Bellieni.

But it is “not a good scientific service to the community to offer only treatment, because medicine deals with both treatment and prevention," he added.

"I really hope that the future will be preventing sterility," said Bellieni, who has been a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life for the past seven years.

"The solution to all of this is to prevent it by fighting against pollution and delayed childbearing."

The U.K.'s National Health Service, funded by the government, currently offers free IVF treatment for women aged 23 to 39, who have been infertile for at least three years or have an unidentified cause of infertility.

And treatment could also be offered beginning in 2013 to same-sex couples and women aged up to 42, according to a May 22, 2012 Health Service article.

In vitro is commonly used for women who have problems with their fallopian tubes and involves a scientist fertilizing an egg in a petri dish. The new child is then implanted in the womb.

The Church explained its teaching on IVF in the 1987 document "Donum Vitae" (Gift of Life). The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith maintained in the document that a child has ''the right to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents."


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Parishes in Queens remain ravaged by Hurricane Sandy

Brooklyn, N.Y., Dec 2, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The faith and generosity that Catholics in the borough of Queens are displaying as they struggle to get through the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Sandy are an inspiration to Father Richard J. Ahlemeyer.

St. Camillus and St. Virgilius parishes are in the Rockaway area of Queens in New York City, and are among the worst affected parishes in the Diocese of Brooklyn. The faithful there, however, are rising to the challenge brought them by providence.

“I'm humbled by the faith of the people, by the generosity of the people, and by the spirit of the people, even in the face of such great adversity,” Father Ahlemeyer, pastor of the two parishes, told CNA on Nov. 30.

“They've banded together, and they have worked together, shared together, and they're doing that now … It's really been a remarkable experience of what was always there, a community and a cohesiveness of people wanting to work together.”

The experience is still not an easy one, though. Fr. Ahlemeyer estimates that even now, a whole month after Hurricane Sandy made landfall, just over half of his parishioners have electricity and heat in their homes.

St. Camillus school was so badly damaged that it is unusable for the time being. The students there are being bused to Howard Beach, Diocese of Brooklyn communications director Stefanie Gutierrez said. “So, two school communities are stuffed into one building.”

“We're beginning to realize the enormity of the personal loss,” said Fr. Ahlemeyer.

“They go back to their apartments and houses and they have no electricity, or they have no boilers during the cold.”

Heating tents are being set up where people can stay “where they'd be warm, with the weather now getting colder,” he explained. Both St. Virgilius church and the rectory at St. Camillus remain without electricity.

St. Camillus is located in Rockaway Park, about two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. St. Virgilius is in Broad Channel, in Jamaica Bay, across the peninsula from the ocean.

Of about 1,000 houses located in Broad Channel, Fr. Ahlemeyer said only one was unaffected by water damage from the hurricane.

“Now the problem is there are no boilers available, there are no parts available, and not that many electricians are available. And if there are, then getting materials to do the work … people are coming back to apartments, they don't have boilers or they can't get the parts, or they can’t get a plumber because there's a waiting list, or the electricity is not done.”

“I've heard of people who have driven to Pennsylvania to get parts. My brother James was coming down today from Albany, my brother Byron called and gave him a list of electrical supplies that are needed for the house in Broad Channel … and when he came down today he'd bring the stuff with him.”

Fr. Ahlemeyer reports that a day or two after the storm, he and Father Jimmy Dunne, who is in residence at St. Camillus, walked along the boulevard in Broad Channel to talk to people and see how they were doing.

“Everyone was just pulling out everything from their houses … the places now are just shells, and then they had to rip out all the walls because of the mold, and now they're just empty exposures.”

“You know 9/11 made us appreciate in New York the framework of the first responders … Hurricane Sandy's gonna make us appreciate the sanitation department because of the work they're doing removing the garbage. And it’s not even garbage, it's people's lives, it's everything.”

He also recounted how in the aftermath of the hurricane, the parish continues to experience deaths related to it “among our elderly, who were displaced and are now beginning to suffer shock because of that.”

Fr. Ahlemeyer's mother's best friend, Eileen, was buried recently. “The day before the funeral, the restoration company had come and they cut out all the walls of the church four feet up, and it had to be done because of the mold … and the water was up over the pews.”

“Plus, there are real needs right now. We have a food program running out of our gymnasium. 100 people a day are coming to get food and hot meals, because they don't have any place to cook, and there are no places to buy food on the peninsula – no stores are open.”

“It's nice to hear the generosity of people, and the extraordinary response from other areas outside of the New York area … and it’s needed, it’s needed. This is going to be a problem that won't be solved in a day or a week.”

Fr. Ahlemeyer concluded by relating an inspiring conversation he had with a parishioner on the first Saturday after the hurricane struck.

“I went back to St. Virgilius, and one of the parishioners was there with a whole bunch of firemen who were ripping up the carpet in the church, because of the oil smell. I had been in the church and I had to get out, I couldn't even stay in there two minutes.”

“So these guys were ripping up the carpets and one comes over to me and says, 'Now Father, we are having the 10 o'clock Mass tomorrow, right?'”

“I said, 'Well I know we can't say Mass in here with the oil being what it is, because people couldn't stay in here more than five minutes.'”

“He said, 'Well that's why we took the carpet up. We're going to put the benches back, and we'll get the word out, Father, that there is Mass, 'cause I think the community needs Mass, we need to be able to come together.'”

“So,” Fr. Ahlemeyer recounts, “I said Mass at 10 at St. Virgilius, and people came and they cried together, and they talked, and they held each other.”

“And I think that's what the people needed, the people needed to be able to come together and reassure each other and support each other, and they wanted to do it in the context of the Mass.”

Donations for the parishes in the Brooklyn diocese impacted by Hurricane Sandy can be made to Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens at

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Pope says Advent is a time to listen to God

Vatican City, Dec 2, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has said Advent is a time to extend God’s “kingdom of love” and to reflect on the coming of Jesus into the world.

“Amid the turmoil of the world, or the deserts of indifference and materialism, Christians accept salvation from God and witness with a different way of life, like a city set on a hill,” said Pope Benedict during his Dec. 2 Angelus comments at St. Peter’s Square.

The pontiff said that the community of believers is “a sign of the love of God, his justice that is present in the history but that is not yet fully realized, and that we therefore must always be waiting and seeking it with courage and patience.”

He said Advent begins a new liturgical year that this year is “further enriched” by the Year of Faith, which also marks the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.

The word “advent” means “coming” or “presence.” In ancient times, it originally meant the visit of a king or emperor, but for Christians it now refers to the coming of God, the Pope explained.

Advent refers to two moments related to the first and second coming of Jesus, he added. The first is the Incarnation and the second is his coming at the end of time.

Pope Benedict stated that these two moments "touch us deeply, because by his death and resurrection Jesus has already accomplished that transformation of humanity and of the cosmos that is the final goal of creation."

The Virgin Mary, he said, perfectly embodies the spirit of Advent, which involves both listening to God and having deep desire to do his will in joyful service to others.

“Let us be guided by her, because some are closed to or distracted from God,” he said. “May each of us extend a little of his kingdom of love, justice and peace.”

The Pope referred to the Sunday reading from Gospel of Luke, which says, “'Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life ... Be vigilant at all times and pray,' inviting them to simplicity and prayer."

He also spoke of St. Paul’s exhortation to “increase and abound in love.”

Turning to more specific concerns, the Pope appealed to governments to promote disabled people's full participation in society.

“Each person, despite his physical and psychological limits, even serious ones, is always invaluable, and must be considered as such,” he said.

The Pope encouraged church communities to be attentive and welcoming towards them and urged governments to “protect people with disabilities and promote their full participation in society.”

Dec. 3 marks the International Day for People with Disabilities.

Pope Benedict also mentioned the beatification of Devasahayam Pillai, an Indian lay Catholic from the 18th century who died as a martyr.

“We join the joy of the Church in India and pray that the new blessed sustain the faith of the Christians of that great and noble country,” he said.

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Pope calls on bishops to run charities better

Vatican City, Dec 2, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has released an apostolic letter on charitable activities that asks bishops to improve their supervision of local charities and ensure that these groups’ work does not contradict Catholic teaching.

The Pope’s six-page letter, released Dec. 1, notes the duty of the diocesan bishops and parish priests to see that in charitable service the faithful “are not led into error or misunderstanding.”

Bishops and parish priests “are to prevent publicity being given through parish or diocesan structures to initiatives which, while presenting themselves as charitable, propose choices or methods at odds with the Church’s teaching,” he said.

Benedict XVI's “motu proprio” letter, a document written on the Pope’s own initiative, gives new regulations on how to better organize the Church's charitable activities.

“I intend to provide an organic legislative framework for the better overall ordering of the various organized ecclesial forms of the service of charity,” said the Pope, referring to those organizations closely related to the ministry of the bishop and the “diaconal nature” of the Church.

“These works should always be welcomed by the Church's leaders as a sign of the sharing of all the faithful in the mission of the Church,” he added.

The Pope noted that the diversity of those initiatives is “a manifestation of the freedom of the baptized, who use their own unique gifts to respond to the call of charity.”

The pontiff said that these initiatives must adhere to Catholic teaching, conform to the intentions of the faithful and respect legitimate civil regulation, adding that it is the bishops’ responsibility to ensure this.

“Above all it's important to remember that practical actions are never enough,” he said.

“Charity must express a genuine love for people, a love animated by a personal encounter with Christ,” Pope Benedict said, warning that Catholic charities must avoid becoming “just another form of organized social assistance.”

“In carrying out charitable works the Catholic organizations shouldn't limit themselves merely to collecting and distributing funds, but should also show special concern for individuals in need,” he continued.

“They should exercise a valuable educational function within the Christian community, helping people to appreciate the importance of sharing, respect and love in the spirit of the Gospel of Christ.”

The Pope had specific praise for the international Catholic charity Caritas, which works in disaster relief and in human development. He said that Caritas is an organization that has earned the esteem and trust of people around the world for its “generous and consistent witness of faith and ability to respond to the needs of the poor.”

“The bishop is to encourage in every parish of his territory the creation of a local Caritas service or a similar body, which will also promote in the whole community educational activities aimed at fostering a spirit of sharing and authentic charity,” he said.

The U.S. members of Caritas are Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities U.S.A.

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