Today: 11.29.06

Today’s Readings

First Reading: Revelation 15:1-4
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 98:1, 2-3, 7-8, 9
Gospel: Luke 21:12-19

Today in the Diocese

   BIG SPRING – Bishop Pfeifer at Mass for inmates at Federal Prison.

Today’s Catholic Headlines


Panelists say ’98 religious freedom law having an affect on diplomacy

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Though it has plenty of weaknesses and flaws, the system put in place by a 1998 law to monitor and protect religious freedom internationally has begun to change how the United States and other countries approach religious rights, said panelists at a Washington forum. Among the problems of trying to protect religious rights abroad, according to speakers at the Nov. 20 forum, are too little emphasis on advocacy as opposed to sanctions in the current diplomacy system, and a risk of other countries misunderstanding the goals of the U.S. policy. The law that created the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also set a formal approach for evaluating how various countries treat religious rights and established an office within the State Department to oversee how diplomats deal with the issue. The State Department now prepares an annual report on the state of religious freedom in each country, while the commission issues its own reports focusing on select countries about which its members are particularly concerned.

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Islamic studies find niche on Catholic college campuses

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Universities have long offered courses in comparative religions, but the demand for classes specifically on Islam has increased in recent years. Catholic colleges are keeping pace by offering individual courses and seminars on Islam, advanced degree programs in Islamic studies and campus centers aimed to promote Muslim-Christian understanding. For Amir Hussain, a Muslim professor in theological studies who teaches Islamic courses at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the experience has been a rewarding one. He said the classes are particularly beneficial to Catholic students, who make up about half the student population. “To be Catholic is to be informed by other religions” he told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview, adding that amid the diversity of Los Angeles students “need to be aware of other traditions.” In his classes he is able to point out some of the connections between Catholic and Islamic traditions.

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Muslim students find welcoming presence on Catholic college campuses

WASHINGTON (CNS) — On Catholic college campuses across the country, it is not uncommon to find Muslim students praying in a makeshift prayer room or campus mosque five times a day. At Georgetown University in Washington, Muslim students also can speak regularly with an imam since the school became the first American university to hire a full-time Muslim chaplain seven years ago. Although there are no accurate figures on the number of Muslim students at Catholic colleges, the numbers have gone up in recent years, according to administrators who have seen more students participate in campus-sponsored associations for Muslim students. This increase is not just in large urban colleges either. At Benedictine University, just outside Chicago, approximately 15 percent of the school’s 1,800 undergraduate students have identified themselves as Muslim, according to Mercy Robb, the university’s executive director of public relations. Robb told Catholic News Service that the university attracts a lot of Muslim students because the school’s “values are a fit for them personally.”

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Catholic Extension hopes to fulfill mission parishes’ ‘wish list’

CHICAGO (CNS) — At St. Patrick Mission in Pueblo, Colo., teachers are hoping to replace the old blackboards with dry erase boards. At St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Bruce, Miss., a kitchen sink is needed to replace a small washbasin. And Father Joe Richards of St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Hawley, Minn., needs a processional cross — and is willing to make it himself if he could get the materials. These are among the wishes and needs of U.S. mission parishes that are featured on the Catholic Church Extension Society’s 2006 Christmas wish list, posted online at “Many of these items may seem like standard pastoral necessities, but for Catholics who worship in poor and isolated parts of our country with sparse income, they present a real challenge to their budgets,” said retired Bishop William R. Houck of Jackson, Miss., who is president of the Chicago-based Catholic Extension.

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‘Picturing Mary’ documentary ready for debut on public television

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Rosemary Plum can catch her breath and give her well-thumbed-through passport a rest for the time being. Plum recently returned to her London home from Mexico City, the last of 22 cities in 13 countries where she and her crew shot footage for the new documentary “Picturing Mary,” funded in part by the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Communication Campaign. That’s not to say, however, that she’ll be less busy only because she’s more stationary. Plum and her crew were editing footage even as they were shooting the 60-minute documentary. “We’ve been editing whilst we’ve been filming, doubling up so we can save as much money as possible to get as much as possible up on the screen,” she said during a telephone interview with Catholic News Service from London. After the documentary has been viewed on public television in December, a 90-minute DVD version will be made available for sale and will include even more images of Mary, according to Plum. Copies of “Picturing Mary” on DVD will be available for purchase at $19.95 from USCCB Publishing online at:, or by phone at: (800) 235-8722.

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Pope arrives in Turkey, hopes to improve ties with Orthodox, Muslims

ANKARA, Turkey (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Turkey at the start of a challenging four-day pilgrimage aimed at improving ties with Orthodox Christians and Muslims. The pope’s chartered Alitalia jet landed Nov. 28 in the capital, Ankara, and the pontiff was quickly escorted to a VIP airport lounge for a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Before departing from Rome, the pope told reporters on his plane that he considered the trip pastoral, not political. He said he hoped it would underline the value of dialogue in “this difficult moment in history.” “The aim of this trip is dialogue, fraternity and the commitment to understanding between cultures, for an encounter of cultures and religions, for reconciliation,” he said. The pope said he wanted in particular to promote dialogue between Christianity and Islam, and “with our Christian brothers and sisters, especially the Orthodox Church of Constantinople.”

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African bishops call for more holistic look at causes of AIDS crisis

ACCRA, Ghana (CNS) — Catholic bishops from Africa called for a deeper look at the causes of the AIDS pandemic and called for a more holistic approach to the problem. “As the church’s mission is to address the whole person in all dimensions of life, we feel the special responsibility to revitalize the strong moral values in our societies. That is what will lead to a true, sustainable solution to AIDS in Africa,” said the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar. The symposium, representing nearly 50 national bishops’ conferences, issued the statement to mark World AIDS Day Dec. 1. The theme of the 2006 World AIDS Day is “Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise.” The bishops said it is not enough for people to be offered “only knowledge, ability, technical competence and tools.” Despite education, the bishops said, “many people remain ignorant about AIDS or still deny it.” And more people are dying despite a greater availability of treatment, they added.

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Sri Lankan archbishop calls for prayers for peace during Advent

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNS) — Archbishop Oswald Gomis of Colombo asked Catholics to undertake special spiritual exercises during Advent for peace in Sri Lanka. The archbishop urged Catholics to “make every Sunday a special day of prayer for peace,” with a half-hour devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, reported UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand. He called for “a special prayer for peace at every pre-Christmas gathering for carols and also a moment of silence” as a sign of “our solidarity with all our brothers and sisters throughout the country afflicted by the war.” “The peace process in the country has reached a point of crisis. The much-hoped-for peace talks did not take place as anticipated, and now we are back to square one,” he said in a Nov. 19 message for Advent, which begins Dec. 3. The most recent round of the stop-and-start talks between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan government were held in Geneva Oct. 28-29, but they collapsed without setting a date for further talks.

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Left-leaning Canadian Catholic newspaper publishes last issue

TORONTO (CNS) — Catholic New Times, Toronto’s herald of left-leaning Catholicism, has ceased publication after 30 years. Spiraling mailing costs and dwindling subscribers doomed the publication, which rose to challenge The Catholic Register, also based in Toronto, in 1976. The final press run was 4,200 copies for an issue dated Nov. 29. A little more than a decade ago, subscriptions peaked at more than 12,000. Diane Bisson, editor and publisher, said the paper “had a very important role to play. I don’t think that need for a progressive voice within the Canadian Catholic Church is gone.” Bisson said she predicts the paper and the community of writers, artists and activists behind it will rise again in some other form, possibly as a Web site. “It’s important to understand that it is the paper that’s coming to closure,” she said. “If we profess the paschal mystery, by definition Christians believe that when something dies then there is the possibility for rebirth.”

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Vatican officials give thumbs up for ‘The Nativity Story’

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Vatican officials have given the latest Hollywood re-enactment of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth a thumbs up after hosting the film’s world premiere Nov. 26. Praise for “The Nativity Story,” due out in U.S. theaters Dec. 1, came from the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano; the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone; and the head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, U.S. Archbishop John P. Foley. “It’s well done,” Cardinal Bertone told journalists after seeing the film in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall together with more than 7,000 other invited guests. Pope Benedict XVI, who was due to fly to Turkey less than 40 hours later, did not attend the evening event. “It retells this event which changed history with realism but also with a sense of great respect of the mystery of the Nativity,” said Cardinal Bertone, adding that he found it to be “a good cinematic” feature. The benefit event raised money to build two new schools in the Israeli village of Mughar in Galilee. Christian, Muslim and Druze students will attend the elementary and middle schools.

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Cardinal criticizes Scottish society for ‘blatant anti-Catholicism’

LONDON (CNS) — A Scottish cardinal criticized the “blatant anti-Catholicism” in his country after a study revealed that Catholics were five times more likely to become the victims of a religious hate crime than Protestants. Cardinal Keith O’Brien of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said the findings of a Scottish government report were a “matter of grave concern.” In a statement Nov. 27, the day the report was published, Cardinal O’Brien challenged the popular belief that most incidents occurred at either sectarian parades or at soccer matches between Glasgow Celtic, a team with a large Catholic fan base, and the Glasgow Rangers, which has a huge following among Protestants. He said the figures showed 70 percent of the cases between Jan. 1, 2004, and June 30, 2005, did not take place at soccer venues and that the violence was “deeper, wider and altogether more pervasive” than “drink-fueled post-match rivalry.”

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Pope says dialogue can help end terrorism, war, religious strife

ANKARA, Turkey (CNS) — Addressing international diplomats on his first day in Turkey, Pope Benedict XVI said respectful dialogue must be the basis for ending terrorism, wars and religious differences in the world. Religions have a key role in this dialogue, but on the condition that they “utterly refuse to sanction recourse to violence as a legitimate expression of religion,” the pope told a gathering of about 90 ambassadors in the Turkish capital of Ankara Nov. 28. The pope, on his first trip to a predominantly Muslim country, made a point of expressing his “great esteem” for Muslims. He also cited Turkey’s constitutional protection of religious freedom, and said every democratic state was duty-bound to guarantee those rights. The papal speech came at the end of a long day of activities in Turkey, where the pontiff was making a difficult four-day pilgrimage aimed at building ecumenical and interreligious bridges. He met the diplomats in a small auditorium at the apostolic nunciature.

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In Turkey, pope offers friendship to predominantly Muslim population

ANKARA, Turkey (CNS) — Acknowledging that his four-day trip to Turkey would be largely symbolic, Pope Benedict XVI opened his visit by paying respect to the Turkish state and extending a hand of friendship to its predominantly Muslim population. On the plane from Rome Nov. 28, Pope Benedict told reporters, “We must not exaggerate; one cannot expect great results in just three days. The value (of the trip) I would say is symbolic, the fruit of the encounters themselves, of encounters in friendship and respect.” The pope’s first formal speech in Turkey came in an address at the government’s religious affairs directorate, which controls Turkey’s mosques and Muslim schools and implements government policy on religion. Before giving their speeches in the building’s auditorium, Pope Benedict and Ali Bardakoglu, the office’s director, met for about half an hour with members of the papal entourage and Turkish Muslim officials, including the grand muftis of Ankara and Istanbul.

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Ghanaian bishops urge citizens to rid country of vices

NSUTA, Ghana (CNS) — The Ghana Bishops’ Conference has urged Ghanaians to rid the country of the vices of armed robbery, murder and reckless driving. “We have drawn attention time and time again to the obnoxious nature of such evils, yet they seem to be on the ascendancy,” the bishops said in a statement issued at the end of their Nov. 20-24 annual meeting. The bishops also mentioned drug abuse, sexual immorality, homosexuality and rape. They cited poverty as Ghana’s greatest problem. An examination of Ghanaian society “will reveal clearly” that Ghana has “fallen deeper into an abyss” of moral decadence, the bishops said, adding that it was born out of an inordinate pursuit of wealth, prestige, honor and false solidarity. The craze for more money has led to such crimes as bribery and corruption that have become endemic in all sections of Ghanaian society, the bishops said.

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Chinese diocese schedules bishop’s ordination without papal approval

HONG KONG (CNS) — Xuzhou Diocese in eastern China has apparently scheduled the ordination of a bishop without papal mandate for Nov. 30. If the ceremony takes place, this would bring to three the number of illicit bishops ordained this year. Various sources told UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand, that Father John Wang Renlei, diocesan vicar general, would probably be ordained a bishop on the feast of St. Andrew at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Xuzhou city, Jiangsu province. A local source told UCA News Nov. 27 that the ordination was announced Nov. 26 during Mass at the cathedral. Catholics were asked to register for places, because the church can hold only 500 people, he said, adding that booklets for the ceremonial rites have been prepared.

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Muslim chaplain is familiar face on Catholic college campus

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Immediately after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Imam Yahya Hendi’s phone started ringing off the hook. Everyone, from White House officials to major media outlets, wanted to talk to the full-time Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, hoping he could explain Islamic tradition or at least place it in a modern context. “They were all searching for answers,” he said five years later in an interview in an office at Georgetown University’s campus ministry building. These days, his interview schedule might lack that same degree of urgency, but he isn’t any less busy with meetings, e-mail correspondence, teaching and ministry. His work still primarily involves interreligious dialogue and is driven by a strong belief that people need to be educated about one another’s faith traditions.

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Israeli Catholic scientist wins grant for devices to find cancer

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Four months after completing his postdoctoral research in chemistry and chemical engineering at the California Institute of Technology, Hossam Haick had just gotten used to the idea of heading his own little lab when he became the recipient of the largest European Union grant given to an Israeli scientist. Haick, a 31-year-old Catholic resident of Haifa who grew up in Nazareth, was given the grant of $2.26 million to develop nanometric devices to sniff out cancer like an “electric nose.” The devices will be about 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a hair, he said. Haick is a researcher and senior lecturer in the chemical engineering department and the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute, both at the Israel Institute of Technology, or Technion, in Haifa. With the EU grant, Haick hopes to create nanometric devices sensitive enough to sniff out people with cancer as well as detect the stages and location of about 90 percent of cancerous diseases by smelling people’s breath.

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Catholic, Muslim students share traditions on college campuses

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Sometimes more can be learned over a dinner-table discussion than from a lecture. That’s the basis of college campus dinners hosted by Muslim student associations and campus ministry groups at Catholic colleges across the country. At a recent dinner at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, breaking the daylong fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a former president of the university told Muslim participants he hoped they would help other students understand their customs and faith traditions. “We have to respect each other’s consciences, and we all want to foster the spirit of peace in the world,” said Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh during the Oct. 2 dinner sponsored by the university’s campus ministry group. After a prayer ritual, the students gathered in the student lounge for a Middle Eastern halal, or meal prepared according to Islamic law. According to The Observer student newspaper, Father Hesburgh told guests during dinner that, “at a Catholic university, we’re all praying to the same God, and we have a lot to learn from each other.”

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‘Dumb Irish luck’ got ‘Nativity’ screened at Vatican, producer says

WASHINGTON (CNS) — It was “dumb Irish luck” that got “The Nativity Story” its Nov. 26 screening at the Vatican, according to Marty Bowen, the film’s Catholic producer. “I was altar boy of the year at Holy Family Church in Fort Worth, Texas, in ’82 and ’83. When you have that kind of clout, you can make things happen,” Bowen joked. In a more serious vein, Bowen said, “The church is looking for entertainment that will embrace its values, rather than be on the defensive with films like ‘The Da Vinci Code.'” Bowen talked to Catholic News Service from Rome, where he was spending a week in preparation for the Vatican screening. He said that when Italians asked him where he was from he had to stop himself to answer “Los Angeles,” rather than his native Texas, since he has lived on the West Coast for the past 15 years, spending most of that time as an agent before getting into the movie production business with “The Nativity Story.” “But if you really ask me where I’m from, I’ll still answer St. Mary’s Church in Mexia, Texas, where I had my first Communion and was baptized,” Bowen said.


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