Atlanta, Ga., Dec 14, 2012 (CNA) - The outreach organization Catholics Come Home has announced new campaigns for Advent and the Year of Faith while launching a revised website to encourage non-practicing Catholics to return to the Church.
“We hope that our updated website, Advent campaigns, and Year of Faith mini-campaigns will contribute to a greater revitalization of the Catholic Faith during this year in the Church,” Tom Peterson, founder and president of Catholics Come Home, said Dec. 13.
This Advent, the Georgia-based organization will launch its first full campaign outside the U.S. in Canada’s Archdiocese of Vancouver. Commercials will begin in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati on Dec. 14.
Catholics Come Home has created special TV and radio “mini campaigns” for its original diocesan partners. Participants in these campaigns include the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the Diocese of Colorado Springs and the Diocese of Venice, Fla.
The organization’s website has been revised to improve its design, make it easier to navigate, and include new content.
The website has sections for non-Catholics, Catholics who do not attend Mass, and those who are “proud to be Catholic.”
Last year, Catholics Come Home launched a major project to air evangelization commercials on U.S. television networks from mid-Advent to after Christmas. The English- and Spanish-language ads ran over 400 times.
The ad used in the campaign notes the beauty and history of the Catholic Church. It mentions Catholics’ traditions of prayer, help for the poor, and work in education.
“Guided by the Holy Spirit, we compiled the Bible,” it says, stating that the Church was “started by Jesus.”
The ad encourages viewers to “come home” to their parish.
Catholics Come Home began media campaigns in 2008. Its leaders cite an average 10 percent increase in Mass attendance in targeted markets as evidence of the campaign’s success.
The website for the organization is CatholicsComeHome.org.
San Francisco, Calif., Dec 14, 2012 (CNA) -
A move by San Francisco's city officials to support a celebration of the 40th anniversary of legalized abortion in the U.S. has been interpreted by some as an attempt to discourage a local pro-life rally.
“San Francisco City government, as well as many local residents, cannot abide the fact that the Walk for Life can attract over 40,000 participants annually to oppose a cause that their worldview holds as gospel,” said Vicki Evans, Respect Life coordinator for the San Francisco archdiocese.
Despite low attendance of a similar abortion advocacy event last year, San Francisco Supervisors Malia Cohen and David Campos introduced a resolution to the city’s Board of Supervisors to support the “Celebration of Women, Life and Liberty” event on Jan. 26, 2013.
The event, which aims to commemorate the Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade four decades ago, was approved in a resolution which passed 10-0 on Dec. 12.
In a Dec. 12 interview with CNA, Evans pointed out that the actual anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the U.S. is Jan. 22.
However, she said, organizers of the pro-abortion rally chose Jan. 26 because it falls on the same day as the increasingly popular Walk for Life West Coast, a rally dedicated to changing “the perceptions of a society that thinks abortion is an answer.”
Since its beginning in 2005 the interdenominational pro-life event has grown substantially each year from its first crowd of roughly 5,000 participants, but it has also consistently been met with opposition from city officials.
“Since day one of the Walk for Life in 2005, the City's pro-abortion forces backed by the San Francisco Mayor, Attorney General and Board of Supervisors have attempted to discourage us,” Evans said.
In spite of this opposition, “they had little success against us,” she said. “Our numbers grew, theirs dwindled.”
The event that gained the support of city officials will take place immediately before the Walk for Life West Coast and will use the same location that the pro-life march has used as its ending point in the past.
“To ignore the pain of millions of women and their dead babies who commiserate 40 years of abortions under the yoke of Roe v. Wade is an admission by the Supervisors that they devalue women who don’t count in their books,” Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King and a speaker at the 2008 Walk for Life West Coast, said in a Dec. 12 statement.
“Their sense of injustice is a threat to justice everywhere,” Dr. King added.
Speakers for the 2013 rally include Lacey Buchanan, a mother whose video about herself and her blind son encouraging people not to choose abortion has drawn over 11 million viewers on YouTube; Elaine Riddick, who was forcibly sterilized at age 14 at the orders of North Carolina’s Eugenics Board; and Rev. Clenard Childress, the founder of the BlackGenocide.org website.
Lansing, Mich., Dec 14, 2012 (CNA) - Catholic commentators have weighed in on both sides of the controversial “right to work” labor bill in the longtime union stronghold of Michigan, with some warning that the law puts workers’ rights at risk while others say the bill reflects workers’ individual choices.
Dr. Maria Mazzenga, an education archivist at the Catholic University of America’s American Catholic History Research Center, said the passage of the law in Michigan is “a sign of labor’s declining power in the face of corporate interest.”
“Michigan has been a leader in unionization historically, and labor leaders and union workers might use this as an opportunity to rethink strategies, do some self-evaluation, and arrive at renewed ways of guaranteeing worker rights,” she told CNA Dec. 13.
On Dec. 11, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law “right to work” legislation that makes union dues voluntary for employees of unionized private employers and of most unionized government agencies, with the exceptions of police and firefighter unions.
The Republican-controlled Michigan House passed the bill 58-51 over the objections of labor leaders. The vote attracted thousands of protesters and caused turbulent demonstrations which ended in the arrest of two demonstrators who tried to enter the building that houses the governor’s office.
Republican Gov. Snyder characterized the legislation as “an opportunity to stand up for Michigan’s workers” at a Dec. 11 press conference.
Mazzenga was critical of the bill.
“Historically, ‘right to work’ legislation has harmed the labor movement,” she said, calling the phrase “a misnomer.”
“These laws do not guarantee any ‘right to work,’ and the phrase itself is used by anti-union folks to make it appear that their anti-union legislation actually guarantees the rights of workers to work.”
She cited the labor mediator and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops staffer Msgr. George Higgins, who died in 2002. He criticized the “right to work” phrase as “a verbal deception, a play on words used to cloak the real purpose of the laws, which is to enforce further restrictions upon union activity.”
“‘Right to work’ laws did not come from employees seeking rights, they come from, as we see in Michigan, employer-backed sources seeking to curtail the power of labor,” Mazzenga said.
Father Sinclair Oubre, Spiritual Moderator of the Texas-based Catholic Labor Network, also criticized the legislation. In “right to work” states, he said, workers have had “a much harder time exercising their right to associate into unions.”
“In addition, ‘right to work’ legislation allows some workers to benefit from the collective effort of other workers without standing in solidarity with them,” he explained. “This is similar to someone going to Mass and not contributing to the collection, claiming a right that it is their decision to give or not to give.”
Among the bill’s Catholic supporters is Father Robert Sirico, president of the Michigan-based Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.
“Who knows best what workers need? It seems to me that workers themselves know best what they need,” Fr. Sirico said.
“This legislation, to my understanding, will not stop people from joining unions. What’s stopping people from joining unions is pricing the work out of the market. That seems to be the judgment of most workers in Michigan, at least in the private sector,” he said.
Fr. Sirico cited the decline in private sector union membership in Michigan, saying that workers “feel that their interests are best served by being able to negotiate their own contracts in a competitive market.” He said Catholic teaching holds that the right to join a union is “rooted in the natural right to association” which means people have “the right to associate or not associate.”
The priest added that the Catholic Church has no policy position on particular legislation but rather “a set of principles” concerning justice and “the best prudential opportunities that are available to workers for the sake of their families, and the well-being of the community as a whole.”
Fr. Oubre rejected any depiction of the legislation as a workers’ initiative.
“It was backed by large funders whose goal is to undermine unions till they don't matter. Then workers will be standing alone in relationship with their employers. When that occurs, workers will be back to conditions of Leo XIII in 1891.”
Pope Leo XIII helped collect and promulgate Catholic social teaching through several encyclicals that responded to the rise of capitalism and socialism and the injustices of both systems. Since the 19th century, Popes have continued the tradition through their own encyclicals.
Fr. Oubre cited Pope John Paul II’s encyclical “Laborem Exercens,” which said unions “defend the existential interests of workers in all sectors in which their rights are concerned” and are “an indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies.”
The priest said the Church’s relationship with unions is “both supportive and challenging.”
“Without endorsing every tactic of unions or every outcome of collective bargaining, the Church affirms the rights of workers in public and private employment to choose to come together to form and join unions, to bargain collectively, and to have an effective voice in the workplace,” he said.
“At their best, unions are important not just for the economic protections and benefits they can provide for their members, but especially for the voice and participation they can offer to workers.”
Fr. Oubre said Catholic social teaching promotes “a vision of co-responsibility to promote the common good” in economic effort. Both labor and management are “intrinsically tied together.”
“When either side tries to reduce the voice and place of the other, the potential for injustice grows, and co-responsibility is undermined,” he said.
Fr. Sirico said employers have the responsibility to pay their employees “living wages” and to be “competitive in the market” and profitable “because that’s the only way in which the workers can be paid.”
“Owners have to provide an environment that is decent, that protects the dignity of the worker, that ensures for a vibrant business,” he continued.
He said Catholics should decide the extent to which they cooperate with organizations that promote policies that are “intrinsically evil.” He said all the unions in Michigan favor abortion rights and mandatory employer coverage for contraception.
At the same time, Fr. Oubre argued that Catholic action can reform unions.
“The problem with the unions taking some of these positions on these cultural war issues is that we did not have enough Catholics in the discussions, or, we had Catholics who were not faithful to their faith sitting on the committee that developed these positions,” he said.
“The way to change this is not to abandon the only institution that is working for worker justice and which the workers themselves oversee, which would be so contrary to the call of Vatican II to engage the world, but by better catechizing our Catholics, encouraging them to move toward leadership in labor unions, and better engaging the leadership of the unions on these issues. This is what we did in the 1940s and 1950s to halt the influence of communism in the unions.”
Vatican City, Dec 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - This Christmas season visitors to St. Peter’s Square will get a chance to see a Nativity scene that is set amid a famous city of ancient cave dwellings from southern Italy.
“The Nativity Scene reminds us of what is important about the mystery of Christmas,” Bishop Giuseppe Sciacca, Secretary General of the Governorate of Vatican City State, told CNA on Dec. 13.
“It’s not about a fact that took place in the past and was sealed in time and space,” he explained. “The mystery of Christmas strongly represents the real, living presence of Christ and his Church and spirit.”
“That mystery of Christmas is represented and renewed every time the Church, in the Eucharistic celebration in the Sacramental sign, celebrates Christmas,” he said.
At a Dec. 13 press conference, Vatican officials announced that this year’s Nativity scene would be donated by southern Italy’s Basilicata region. This is the first year that the annual crèche is being donated, which will result in significant savings for the Vatican, they said.
The depiction of Christ’s birth will be set in the “Sassi di Matera,” ancient stone cave dwellings in the Basilicata area.
The city of Matera, where the cave dwellings are located, is a U.N. World Heritage site. The caves have made the area famous throughout the world, and they even served as a filming location for Mel Gibson's film, “The Passion of the Christ.”
Construction of the set is already underway and expected to be completed by Christmas Eve.
The tradition of building a Nativity scene at the Vatican was started in 1982 by Pope John Paul II. Each year, the display includes similar elements, but it often features a different theme.
Past themes have included an emphasis on events in the life of the Virgin Mary and Filipino figures to recognize 60 years of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and the Holy See.
The display this year will include more than 100 terracotta statues of varying height, depicted in an intricate system of scenery and lighting on a raised platform.
The crèche is being designed by Italian artist Francesco Artese, whose previous work – including other acclaimed nativity scenes – has been exhibited around the world. Artese was born in Matera in 1957.
The Basilicata regional government was able to fundraise for most of the money to complete the project, which will cover more than 1,600 square feet and feature statutes of St. Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus, shepherds, the three wise men and animals, among others.
The Vatican’s 70-foot Christmas tree, which was donated by the Molise region of Italy, stands next to the manger scene and was lit during a ceremony at sundown on Dec. 14.
The manger will be unveiled on Christmas Eve, and Pope Benedict will celebrate the Christmas vigil Mass at 10:00 p.m. inside St. Peter’s Basilica.
Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Religious freedom experts are decrying a recent announcement by the French government that it will deport and dissolve groups that are labeled extreme and appear to suffer from “religious pathology.”
“It is a gross violation, in fact a negation, of basic religious freedom for the state to determine which religious beliefs are mainstream and which are radical for the purposes of banning the latter,” said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.
“Subjective terms such as 'radical' and 'religious pathology' open the door to the repression of beliefs and practices unpopular with the prevailing powers,” Shea told CNA on Dec. 13.
At a Dec. 11 conference, French interior minister Manuel Valls announced that new government surveillance policies will be aimed at shutting down religious groups including traditionalist Catholics if they show signs of a “religious pathology” that could lead to violence, reported Reuters.
The conference was held two days after French president Francois Hollande announced the creation of a new agency, the “National Observatory of Secularism,” to observe and promote secularism in the nation.
The agency will also propose ways to promote secular values in schools. Education minister Vincent Peillon said this education must renew an emphasis on the French values of equality and fraternity.
Peillon told a French newspaper that secularism “is not about simple tolerance” but is instead about “understanding what is right and being able to distinguish good from evil.”
Secular morality, he stressed, “is a set of values that we have to share.”
Under the new surveillance policy, the French government will monitor various groups for indications of a “religious pathology” so that officials can determine when to “intervene” by disbanding them or expelling them from the country before they become violent.
A once Catholic country, France has been an officially secular nation since 1905, pushing aside faith in the public square and prohibiting sects that are seen as a threat to the public order.
Valls said at the conference that the current Socialist government sees a need to reinforce the country’s secularism, known as “laïcité,” because it had grown lax under the nation’s former president, Nicolas Sarkozy.
Religious extremism is “an offense to the republic” that the government cannot tolerate, he said.
As examples of religious extremists, he pointed to creationists, radical Islamists, strongly traditionalist Catholics and ultra-Orthodox Jews “who want to live separately from the modern world,” Reuters reported.
According to the news agency, Valls announced that the government will monitor Salafi Muslims, who sometimes “control youths seeking an identity,” as well as the Catholic group Civitas, which is connected to the Society of St. Pius X.
The government is considering “dissolving” Civitas, whose protests against “gay marriage” and other secularist and anti-Christian policies border on “the limits of legality,” he said.
Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the D.C.-based Center for Religious Freedom and author of numerous books on religion and politics, said that France’s new policy “is probably aimed first of all at radical imams who teach and support violence.”
At the conference, Valls pointed to the murder of seven by an al-Qaeda supporter in March as an example of how religious radicalism can quickly lead to violence.
However, Marshall explained, “to avoid the impression that it is singling out Islam, it says it targets all religions.”
A similar approach was taken when the country banned face veils, he told CNA, noting that it “also restricted ‘conspicuous’ religious symbols by any religious group.”
Such policies, however, can have far-reaching consequences, Marshall warned.
“The result of these restrictions is that instead of enforcing restrictions on violence, the state starts seek(ing) to extend its controls on what religious beliefs people may hold,” he said.
Bridgeport, Conn., Dec 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Several priests of the Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport responded quickly to the mass murder of adults and schoolchildren at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school, rushing to the scene to comfort victims and their relatives.
Brian Wallace, the diocese’s director of communications, said that priests from St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, the only Catholic parish in Newtown, are actively responding.
“The parish is huge and extremely active and it’s just up the street,” Wallace told CNA Dec. 14.
“Within minutes (of the shooting) the pastor, Msgr. Bob Weiss, was at the scene of the tragedy working with families,” he said.
“He quickly alerted other priests from the parish who joined him. As this unfolded, and the significance of it became apparent, we also alerted all our clergy in the upper Danbury area.”
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary on the morning of Dec. 14 left at least 27 people dead, including 18 children.
A law enforcement official told the Associated Press that the attacker was a 20-year-old man with ties to the school. He apparently had two guns.
Wallace said the murders have had a deep impact. “We’re disoriented by it,” he said. “It is so profoundly disturbing.”
“It’s a very difficult time. I think it’s going to get worse. The indications are that there may be a number of children who were killed.”
CBS News reports that the gunman was the father of one of the students and is from New Jersey. A possible second shooter is in custody.
Wallace also noted that many Catholic clergy have responded, including those in local medical facilities.
“Our chaplains in the hospitals are meeting with people. Our priests are on the ground doing everything they can to deal with grieving families and with people who have good news but are totally traumatized by what has occurred.”
Newtown is a small town of only 27,000 people.
“We don’t know yet who the victims are,” Wallace said. “We assume that a number of victims may be parishioners or their relatives.”
Monsignor Jerald A. Doyle, administrator of the Bridgeport diocese, promised the prayers of Catholics in the diocese and shared their "collective sense of grief, shock, and loss.”
“We are all deeply saddened and shocked by this unthinkable tragedy, and our hearts go out to the entire Newtown community,” he said Dec. 14.
“Catholics throughout the Diocese are urged to join us in prayer for the victims and their families.”
Catholic Charities of Fairfield County has a trauma team with experience in counseling those in crisis. The team will be available to help victims in the local parish and Catholic school. The agency is open to the wider community but at present is focused on those most likely to be part of Catholic organizations.
“Our focus is dealing with any families that are members of the parish who will need counseling immediately,” Wallace said.
“The diocese at this point is on the ground doing what it can,” he added. “People will rally around.”
St. Rose of Lima will have a special Mass tonight at 7 p.m. for the victims of the shooting.
Updated Dec. 14, 2012 at 1:02 MST. Adds commentary from Msgr. Doyle, administrator of the Bridgeport diocese.
Rome, Italy, Dec 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A pro-life group in Italy is calling on government officials in the region of Tuscany to implement a fiscal policy that allows Italians to verify that their taxes are not being used to finance abortion.
The organization Scienza & Vita said pro-life Italians want their tax contributions to be used to finance pro-life institutions and assist pregnant women in need before, during and after birth.
It also noted that according to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Health, 7665 abortions took place in Tuscany in 2010 and 7479 in 2011, at a cost of more than $9 million dollars in tax payer funds.
This money “could have been used to reduce the deficit” of various organizations charged with providing health care in the region, the organization said in a petition sent to the governor of Tuscany.
Since 1978, abortion has been legal in Italy up to the third month of pregnancy.
“Those of us who support this petition strongly desire not to collaborate, not even in directly, in paying for services that are immoral, such as the taking of an innocent and defenseless human life,” the organization said in its petition.
“We do not want to be accomplices in acts that are contrary to our consciences, which include all those that contradict the general principal against murdering the innocent.”
Vatican City, Dec 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A young boy named Mario had the honor of lighting a majestic Christmas tree in St. Peter's Square on the evening of Dec. 14.
At 5:00 p.m., the lights of the 70-foot silver fir donated by the small town of Pescopennataro, Italy bathed the iconic square in a soft white light.
"Christmas trees are a sign of God's light, which continues to shine despite attempts to put it out," Pope Benedict XVI told a delegation from Molise, the region where the tree came from.
People gathered to sing Christmas carols and read Bible passages about Jesus' birth at Saint Peter's Square after the tree was lit.
"Within the diocese there's this little town called Pescopennataro, which has given the Holy Father this tree to enrich the festivity of Christmas and give splendor to St. Peter's Square," the Bishop Domenico Scotti of the Trivento diocese told CNA during the celebration.
"This tree lives in a very particular town of Pescopennataro; it has very interesting characteristics. But that which gives more vigor to the whole territory is that this tree has such a majestic presence," added the bishop.
A young Italian girl at the square also liked the new tree.
“This tree is really beautiful, and I like the fact that it's so tall,” Serena Iluotso said, adding that its height matches the size of the buildings in the square.
"I like Christmas, especially because there are a lot of presents," she added.
The tree, which is placed on the right of the Nativity scene still under construction, arrived at the Vatican on Dec. 6.
The decoration of the tree was done on Dec. 10.
The region of Alto Molise has over 2,600 different plant species.
"This helps understand the reality of the region of Alto Molise, which is a garden," Bishop Scotti explained.
"When one has the possibility of visiting it, one realizes that there is a very beautiful richness of the nature."
Pope John Paul II began the tradition of having a Christmas tree placed in St. Peter's Square in 1982.
This time it came from Pescopennataro, a town with a population of only 300 people.
After Christmas, the tree will be used to create children's toys, so that the wood is not wasted.
"The relationship our diocese has with the Pope is that John Paul II was in Agnone, a city of our diocese, and my predecessor welcomed him and it was a very beautiful moment," he said.
"From that moment we began a relationship, which became stronger with the Holy See."
"With John Paul II, many faithful enlarged their hearts, and with Pope Benedict XVI we also have a beautiful relationship …” Bishop Scotti said.
Vatican City, Dec 14, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - More than anything else, the path to peace involves “respect for human life in all its many aspects,” Pope Benedict XVI said in his message for the annual World Day of Peace.
“At the birth of Jesus, the angels proclaim the message ‘glory to God on high, and on earth peace to men of good will.’ With the birth of the savior, peace was wished for the earth, for humanity,” Cardinal Peter K. Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, remarked to CNA Dec. 14.
“Peace was offered and declared for humanity. My hope for next year is that this becomes real for humanity, that humanity begins more and more to realize the peace that was declared and announced at the birth of the Lord.”
The World Day of Peace is celebrated each year on Jan. 1, but the Pope usually releases his message for occasion in advance, as he did today. This year’s celebration will be the 46th time the day has been observed since it was established by Pope Paul VI.
“The many different efforts at peacemaking which abound in our world testify to mankind’s innate vocation to peace,” Pope Benedict wrote in his message for the coming year, entitled “Blessed are the Peacemakers.”
He also pointed out that in “every person the desire for peace is an essential aspiration which coincides in a certain way with the desire for a full, happy and successful human life.”
“The desire for peace corresponds to a fundamental moral principle, namely, the duty and right to an integral social and communitarian development, which is part of God’s plan for mankind.”
Cardinal Turkson reflected on how peace is experienced “always in communion with God. There's a transcendent part of it. Related to and in communion with God, we seek to undertake this venture on earth.”
Pope Benedict underscored the same theme when he said that denying “the true nature of human beings … his intrinsic capacity to know the true and the good and, ultimately, to know God Himself, jeopardizes peacemaking.”
“Without the truth about man inscribed by the Creator in the human heart,” he wrote, “freedom and love become debased, and justice loses the ground of its exercise.”
“The path to the attainment of the common good and to peace is above all that of respect for human life in all its many aspects, beginning with its conception, through its development and up to its natural end,” he stated.
“True peacemakers, then, are those who love, defend and promote human life in all its dimensions, personal, communitarian and transcendent.”
The Pope also took up peace and its relationship with economies around the world.
Economic models, he said, must be based on solidarity and the common good rather than profit maximization.
Pope Benedict’s message finished by saying that teaching on peace is needed, so that there will be a greater orientation to good will, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
His full message can be found at: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/peace/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20121208_xlvi-world-day-peace_en.html