Archive of August 1, 2013

In tough times, Catholics of Detroit provide 'voice of hope'

Detroit, Mich., Aug 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - In the wake of Detroit’s decision to file for bankruptcy, Catholics in the city are using a variety of venues to provide essential services to neighbors in need.

“The reality here in Detroit is that we have been dealing with a down time in the economy for several years now,” explained John Kohn, director of public relations for the Archdiocese of Detroit.

But in the midst of ongoing struggle, he told CNA, “one important thing that the Church in Detroit can be is a voice of hope and that reminder that Christ is with us in the hard times.”

Both Detroit’s population and manufacturing industry have been in steady decline for several decades, and the city has been experiencing profound economic troubles in recent years. In March, Governor Rick Snyder declared a financial emergency in Detroit, and on July 18, city emergency manager Kevyn Orr announced that the city would be filing bankruptcy.

The bankruptcy, if approved by a judge, would be the largest municipal bankruptcy in United States history. Orr estimated Detroit’s long-term debt to be paid on loans, pensions, and health care for former employees to be $20 billion.

The sweeping economic crisis within the city has had an immense effect on people living in the Detroit area. In four decades, what was once the fourth-largest city in the nation has shrunk from a population of nearly 2 million people to barely 700,000.

Reports from “Data Driven Detroit” state that three out of every five children in the city live in poverty, and state unemployment reports charge that nearly one in five adults are unemployed – a rate that more than doubles the national average.

The financial troubles striking the city have also had an impact on the Archdiocese of Detroit, which is the sixth largest diocese in the United States.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron explained in 2009 to the archdiocese that “financial realities of our current circumstances are sobering.” In recent years, the archdiocese has faced small vocations classes, Catholic school closings and parish mergers as a result of the financial situation in the city.

In addition, due to the dramatic decrease in the city’s population, a smaller number of people in the parishes are trying to “provide the same kinds of social service and outreach” that they always have, Kohn said.

The good news, he continued, “is that there are very generous people” and “there are good people doing a lot of really good things” in the city. In addition, the bishops “have taken a number of steps to ensure that Church services are there for people in need.”

The archdiocese is part of the Religious Leaders Forum, an interfaith outreach group that works to promote literacy among citizens of Detroit and supports warming campaigns to help those who are without heating in the cold Michigan winters.

In addition, Catholic Charities offices in the southeastern part of the state have recently moved to consolidate forces and resources, in order to better serve those in the Detroit metropolitan area. They have opened a new office, Catholic Charities of Southeastern Michigan.

The new organization is beginning to work “with city officials, community leaders, social service groups, and all the good people of Detroit” in identifying needs and preparing “solutions guided by the social teaching of the Catholic Church,” said Jason Shanks, CEO of Catholic Charities of Southeastern Michigan.

He told CNA that decision makers should be “mindful of those in need, especially the poor and vulnerable, throughout the city.”

Individual Catholic parishes, religious orders and societies provide invaluable assistance to those in need in Detroit and surrounding areas as well.

On the east side of the city, Capuchin Soup Kitchen feeds tens of thousands of people per year and offers clothing to those in need, hosts an urban farm and provides services to those recovering from substance abuse.

In the southwest, the Cabrini Clinic, one of the oldest free medical clinics in the country, offers “education, prevention and treatment without charge.”

The St. Vincent de Paul Society assists 30,000 households each year by providing food, clothing and emergency assistance, while St. Leo’s Soup Kitchen, health clinics run by the Knights of Malta, and a variety of other parish initiatives help people find work, housing, and other services.

As Catholics work across Detroit to help their neighbors in need, the archdiocese itself is moving its chancery and offices from various sites across the diocese, to a centralized location in the heart of the city.

“This move will bring us figuratively and literally closer together,” Archbishop Vigneron said in an April 30 press release on the topic.

“In making this move, we are giving a good example,” he explained, saying that this option was more affordable than maintaining four buildings and keeps the archdiocese offices close to those most in need.

“Together, we refocus on our mission - Sharing Christ in and through the Church,” the archbishop said.

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North Carolina pro-life law praised as positive step

Raleigh, N.C., Aug 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pro-life advocates are praising North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory for signing into law a multi-part pro-life bill that rasies abortion safety regulations in the state.

“While we pray for the day when there is no longer a need for any clinic that performs abortions, this bill is a positive step,” Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh said.

“But there is more to be done. We will continue to witness, advocate, educate and most importantly pray for the protection of all human life. Our work is ongoing.”

The bill bans sex-selection abortions, in which an unborn child is targeted for her or his sex; “telemedicine” abortions, in which a doctor prescribes abortion drugs remotely; and insurance plans that cover abortion from the state insurance exchanges now required by federal law. The health care plans of county and city governments may no longer cover most abortions.

The new law also requires that a doctor be present during any type of abortion. It instructs the state health department to regulate abortion clinics in a similar manner to ambulatory surgical centers.

Additionally, it extends conscience protections to all medical professionals with religious or moral objections to participating in an abortion. Previously, only objecting doctors and nurses were protected.

Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislation for National Right to Life, praised the move.

“Today, North Carolina will be safer for unborn children than it was yesterday,” she said July 30.

She said the law’s provisions are “protective and common-sense measures” that echo “growing public discontent” with abortion law.

“Mothers and their unborn children deserve better than the violence of abortion, and the American people continue to support measures that encourage a culture of life,” she said.

Some opponents of the bill said it would close most of the state’s 16 abortion clinics, since only one clinic meets the bill’s health standards. The construction of an ambulatory surgical center costs about $1 million more than present abortion clinics, though the costs of converting existing clinics to these types of centers is not clear, the Associated Press reports.

Almost half of U.S. states now require abortion clinics to meet standards similar to ambulatory clinics. Twenty-three states have opted out of abortion coverage in federal insurance exchanges. Seven states bar sex-selection abortion and 15 bar abortion drugs administered via telemedicine.

Bishop Burbidge said the bill is “pro-woman.”

“It is designed to ensure the health and well-being of all those involved, but most importantly the women, to guarantee that required care that is needed is present at all times,” he said.

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Slovenia's two archbishops resign amid financial crisis

Rome, Italy, Aug 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The only two archbishops in Slovenia have resigned at the invitation of Pope Francis, after two financial companies associated with the Archdiocese of Maribor collapsed.

“I hope and pray to God that this step I have taken will help restore credibility to the Slovenian Church, as it deserves it,” Archbishop Anton Stres of Ljubljana said in a July 31 statement.

Archbishop Marjan Turnšek of Maribor also resigned his office on July 31 and said at a joint press conference with Archbishop Stres that he hopes “this gesture can contribute to the renewal of the Slovenian Church and give its representatives more strength in promoting new evangelization.”

Although he was the head of the Ljubljana archdiocese until yesterday, Archbishop Stres was involved in the affairs in Maribor as its coadjutor archbishop between Jan. 31, 2009 and Nov. 28, 2009. He also served as an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese between June 2000 and April 2006.

Both prelates said that they were not the main people who made the poor financial decisions that led to the financial meltdown, but they took responsibility for their part in the matter.

“It is not the diocese which brought down Zvon I and II, but it was the two Zvons which brought down the archdiocese,” Archbishop Stres said, referring to the two companies.

The news of financial problems in the Archdiocese of Maribor was first made public by the Italian news magazine L’Espresso in Jan. 2011, when it reported that the two financial firms, Zvon Ena Holding and Zvon Dva Holding, had racked up 800 million euros ($1 billion) in debt from bad investments.

The fallout from the disaster hit the Maribor archdiocese hard since it was a majority owner in the firms.

Soon after the investment companies declared bankruptcy, Mirko Krašovec, the chief of financial operations at the Maribor archdiocese, left his post, which was followed by Archbishop Franc Kramberger resigning as head of the Maribor archdiocese in Feb. 2011.

According to The Slovenian Times,     the cumulative debt for the two firms plus Gospodarstvo rast, the company through which the archdiocese managed the two investment funds, is 1.7 billion euros ($2.2 billion).

Besides all of the country’s banks being hit by the collapse, 65,000 small-scale investors stand to lose some of the funds, the Slovenian paper said.

Pope Francis has appointed two apostolic administrators for the vacant sees, the only two archdioceses in Slovenia, until he is able to name their new bishops.

Bishop Andrej Glavan of Novo Mesto will oversee the Ljubljana archdiocese, while Bishop Stanislav Lipovsek of Celje will serve as the apostolic administrator of the Maribor archdiocese.

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Boy who embraced Pope receives hero's welcome at school

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug 1, 2013 (CNA) - The young boy who brought Pope Francis to tears during World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro was greeted with cheers from his classmates when school resumed on July 30.

According to Brazil’s O Globo TV network, nine-year-old Nathan de Brito was received amidst applause from his schoolmates in the city of Cabo Rio. Wearing World Youth Day apparel and a cross, he was “given a hero’s welcome,” the network reported.
“Everyone already knew about his desire to be a priest and wanted to know about his encounter with the Pope and how he found the courage to get past the security guards.”

His friends said they were excited to know that one of their own was very close to the Pope, and de Brito’s family said they feel “very blessed.”

“I need to learn a little bit of theology,” the boy said with a smile, adding that he is ready for “everything” that the priestly vocation demands.

During the papal motorcade through Rio on July 26, de Brito broke through the security barrier and climbed onto the popemobile to greet Pope Francis. He expressed his desire to be a priest, and the Holy Father said he would pray for him.

Keyla Fernandes, one of his teachers, said de Brito has excellent grades and behavior.

“His good behavior shows the Christian principles that have been rooted in him, such as obedience,” she stated.

Father Valdir Mesquita, the pastor of the parish where de Brito attends Mass, predicted that his encounter with the Pope “will inspire many others to want to be priests.”

Ever since age five or six, “he was already saying he wanted to be a priest,” Fr. Mesquita said. “This encounter will certainly remain in his heart and will forever change his life.”

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Pope Francis calls faithful to deeper encounters with others

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug 1, 2013 (CNA) - In an interview with the O Globo TV network before leaving Brazil, Pope Francis emphasized the “culture of encounter” that must characterize the Church.

The interview, which O Globo called historic, was taped at the Sumare House, where the Archbishop of Rio lives and where Pope Francis stayed during his visit to Brazil. It aired on Sunday evening after the Pontiff had departed for Rome.

The Pope described the “warm welcome” that he had received in the country, saying that the “Brazilian people have a big heart.”

Discussing the security situation during his visit to Brazil, the Pope said that he was “not afraid,” trusting that when it is his turn to die, “whatever happens will be what God allows.”

He explained that it was his desire to be close to the people that led him to request changes in transportation, from a bullet-proof vehicle to one that would allow him better access to those in the streets.

“When you go to see someone, you don’t do so from inside a glass box,” he said, adding that he was grateful to the Vatican and Brazilian security team for their work.

Pope Francis also spoke about the role of priests, who are called to serve their people humbly.

“For me it is essential that the Church be close,” he said.“The Church is mother. Neither you nor I can know a mother who communicates through letters.”

He also addressed the need “to bear witness to a certain simplicity, even poverty,” saying that it offends the people when “those of us in the consecrated life are attached to money.” 

Regarding various scandals at the Vatican, the Holy Father stressed that the Roman Curia contains “many holy cardinals, bishops, priests and lay people” who are “people of God who love the Church.” 

However, “a tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that grows,” he explained, adding that those who commit crimes – such as illegally funneling money across national borders – should be punished, and reform instituted.

Also on the topic of reform, the Pope said that the eight cardinals appointed to help with the renewal of the Curia have already made serious proposals.

“The Church is always in need of reform,” he said. “There are things that were useful in other eras and that now are no longer useful and must be adjusted.”

During the interview, Pope Francis also denounced the “ferocious idolatry of money” that exists throughout the world today. Warning against “inhumane humanism,” he cautioned against falling “into the globalization of indifference.”

Today, the Pope lamented, a worldwide economic policy without ethics neglects the two extremes of society - young people and the elderly.

He called the unemployment rate among young people in Europe “alarming.” On the topic of youth protests in Brazil, he said, “I don’t like a young person who doesn’t protest,” while adding that the youth should be listened to and cared for so they are not manipulated.

Asked about interactions with other religions, the Holy Father said it was important “to foster a culture of encounter throughout the world.” 

“Egoism must be pruned,” he explained, and people of all faiths should be concerned about taking care of the hungry and need.

People of faith “cannot sleep in peace knowing that there is one child dying of hunger,” he stressed. “We are going to be judged by our works of mercy.”

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Illinois cardinal defends marriage, decision to defund campaign

Chicago, Ill., Aug 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, Ill., is defending his decision to cease funding of an immigration organization after it declared support and encouragement for same-sex “marriage.”

The board of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights “broke faith with its member organizations when it publicly supported so called 'same-sex marriage,'” said Cardinal George in a July 29 statement.

“For its own political advantage, it introduced a matter extraneous to its own purpose and betrayed its own members, who were not consulted.”

In May 2013, the Immigration Coalition published a statement supporting “marriage equality,” saying that “full equality and civic participation should extend to recognition of all families, including those involving same-sex partnerships.”

They stressed the importance of same-sex “marriage” in their mission, saying that recognition of such unions should be extended to “our immigration laws, our family laws, and to other areas of law that affect our families.”

After the publication of this statement, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, an anti-poverty campaign run by the U.S. bishops, cut off all funding for the Immigration Coalition.

Cardinal George said that he did so in order to not betray donors, who “give to this anti-poverty organization with the understanding that their money will be passed on to organizations that respect the teachings of the Catholic faith.”

In an open letter published in the Chicago Tribune on July 29, the Campaign for Human Development was accused of “turning her back on the poor.”

Responding to this letter, Cardinal George stated, “Without betraying its donors or the Catholic faith, the Catholic Church’s long-standing work for immigrant groups and for immigration reform remains intact.”

“It is intellectually and morally dishonest to use the witness of the Church’s concern for the poor as an excuse to attack the Church’s teaching on the nature of marriage.”

He quoted Pope Francis, saying that marriage should be “a stable union of man and woman,” and that “this union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God's own love.”

Further quoting Pope Francis, he said that this union is also born of “the acknowledgement and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh and are enabled to give birth to a new life.”

In his statement, Cardinal George criticized those who signed the open letter challenging the decision made by the bishops’ group, while at the same time proclaiming their commitment to the Church.

“The Church is no one’s private club,” he said, “she is the Body of Christ.”

Of those who signed the letter, he said that because they are Catholic, they know that “in a few years, like each of us, they will stand before this same Christ to give an account of their stewardship.”

“Jesus is merciful, but he is not stupid;” he said, “he knows the difference between right and wrong. Manipulating both immigrants and the Church for political advantage is wrong.”

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