A Look at Today: 12.11.06

Today’s Readings

First Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14
Gospel: Luke 5:17-26

Today’s  Events, Appearances

   SAN ANGELO, Bishop’s Residence – Christmas Party for Staff at 6 p.m
   CHRIST THE KING RETREAT CENTER, San Angelo — Heart of Mercy Prayer Group

Today’s News from Catholic News Service

U.S.

Spirit of Christmas, more prosaic concerns motivate year-end giving

WASHINGTON (CNS) — It’s the most wonderful time of the year. That’s what many of those who run the nation’s charitable organizations might say about the period that includes Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as the end of the tax year. But Mark Melia, director of fundraising for Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore, thinks it is the spirit of Christmas rather than the thought of tax deductions that drives increased giving during the holidays. “This is the season that calls giving to mind,” as Christians reflect on God’s great gift of his Son to the world, he told Catholic News Service. To help others is “an expression of our faith,” he added. CRS, the U.S. Catholic overseas relief and development agency, receives 42 percent of its total private donations during the months of November, December and January, Melia said. At Catholic Charities USA in Alexandria, Va., and its member agencies around the country, the Christmas season is both a time of increased giving and a time of increased need.

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Catholics’ approval rating for bishops rises for first time in years

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (CNS) — For the first time since before the clergy sex abuse scandal broke in early 2002, the percentage of Catholics who think the U.S. bishops are doing a “good job” is higher than the previous year, according to results of the Contemporary Catholic Trends poll conducted by LeMoyne College in Syracuse and Zogby International. In the fall 2006 Contemporary Catholic Trends survey, 71 percent of Catholics said they strongly agreed (29 percent) or somewhat agreed (42 percent) that “the U.S. bishops are doing a good job leading the Catholic Church.” That percentage had been 83 percent in the fall of 2001; the U.S. clergy sexual abuse crisis erupted in Boston in January 2002. The percentage dropped as low as 58 percent in 2004. Last year, 67 percent of Catholics said the bishops were doing a good job. The latest survey results, made public Nov. 30, had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points. Zogby conducted telephone interviews of 1,505 self-identified Catholics chosen nationwide.

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Author Clark assists with Catholic Extension’s short-story contest

CHICAGO (CNS) — Best-selling novelist Mary Higgins Clark, who sold her first short story for $100 to Extension magazine in 1958, is serving as honorary chairwoman of the Catholic Church Extension Society’s short-story contest for Catholic high school students. For the contest, Catholic high school students from across the country are asked to submit fiction manuscripts up to 2,000 words on the theme “An Affirmation of Faith.” The submission deadline is Jan. 15. The first-place winner will receive a $1,000 prize and have an opportunity to meet Clark. His or her story will be printed in a future issue of Extension magazine, Catholic Extension’s monthly publication. The second-place winner will receive $500 and four third-place winners will each receive $250. All the winning entries will be published on Catholic Extension’s Web site. Complete information about the contest, including guidelines, entry forms, a downloadable flier for teachers and parishes, and Clark’s original story published in Extension magazine are available on the Web site http://www.catholicextension.org.

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WORLD

Pope says Christians are urged to become immaculate in love like Mary

ROME (CNS) — All Christians are called to become “holy and immaculate in love,” just as Mary was, Pope Benedict XVI said. The pope celebrated the Dec. 8 feast of the Immaculate Conception by reciting the Angelus prayer at the Vatican and by making an afternoon visit to a Marian monument in the center of Rome. During his afternoon visit, the pope blessed a large basket of pink roses set at the foot of a column topped by a statue of Mary. The statue commemorates Pope Pius IX’s proclamation in 1854 that Mary was conceived free of original sin. Earlier in the day, Rome city firefighters had hung a wreath of flowers from the statue’s outstretched arm. In his Angelus address, Pope Benedict said that, while it would be impossible to know why God chose Mary from among all women, the Bible makes it clear that “God was attracted by the humility of Mary.”

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Plurality in Islam: Muslims have debated Quran, laws from the start

ROME (CNS) — New ways of understanding the Quran, the sacred book of Islam, and applying Islamic law have been debated among Muslims almost since the beginning of Islam. While the prophet Mohammed was alive, he was the undisputed earthly reference point. Faithful Muslims in every part of the world hold the same basic creed and are bound by the same basic obligations. But because Islam has neither a universally recognized central authority figure nor a hierarchy, Muslims are fairly free to choose those trends that make sense in their understanding of the faith and to reject those that appear unorthodox. For Catholics used to taking guidance from the Vatican, dialogue with members of the diverse Muslim community can be confusing. Who does the dialogue partner represent? If agreements are made, how can the Muslim side make sure they are implemented? And, more broadly, who speaks for the Muslim community? What trends and developments are legitimate?

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Vatican officials gauge life span, geographic reach of Turkey visit

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Buoyed by Pope Benedict XVI’s successful visit to Turkey, Vatican officials began trying to gauge its long-term effect on ecumenical and Catholic-Muslim dialogue in other parts of the world. Would the rave reviews and upbeat headlines carry over into coming weeks and months? And in the case of Islam, would the pope’s outreach to a Muslim population on the edge of Europe make a similar impact in Arab and East Asian countries? Vatican and other experts gave a tentative but hopeful “yes” to both questions. At the same time, they cautioned that ecumenical and interreligious dialogues are long projects, involving historical tensions that reach far beyond the 24-hour news cycle. The most dramatic advance appeared to come in the Vatican’s relationship with Islam. Several observers said that by praying in a mosque next to an Islamic cleric the pope showed that prayer carries at least as much weight as intellectual arguments in the difficult dialogue between the two faiths.

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Bishops oppose proposals to close, merge Northern Ireland schools

DUBLIN, Ireland (CNS) — The Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland have opposed British government proposals to close or amalgamate more than a third of Northern Ireland schools. The bishops expressed concern in a statement Dec. 6 that the proposal would “pose a serious threat to the right of parents to choose a Catholic education for their children.” The proposals would put the administration of educational services under a new Education and Skills Authority to decide which schools will close. All types of schools in Northern Ireland — Catholic, Protestant and integrated — share the problem of falling pupil numbers. As many as 54,000 school desks are empty. “The proposals will radically undermine a long cherished Catholic education system which has been recognized for the strength of its distinctiveness, and the richness of its tradition and diversity as contributing to the raising of school standards and the promotion of a culture of tolerance and understanding,” the bishops said.

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Christian dalits fast in India’s capital to protest for equal rights

NEW DELHI (CNS) — Catholic laypeople have been fasting in India’s capital for nearly two weeks to end discrimination against Christian dalits, or low castes without equal rights. “The (church) hierarchy has been rather lethargic to our cause,” said Franklin Thomas, coordinator of the National Council of Dalit Christians. Thomas spoke to Catholic News Service Dec. 6 on the 10th day of the hunger protest. The activists were reigniting the demand for Christian rights while the Indian Parliament was in its winter session. The Scheduled Caste Act of 1950 permitted Hindu dalits to have free education and reserved government jobs to improve their social status. The benefits were extended to Sikh dalits in 1956 and Buddhist dalits in 1990. Muslim and Christian dalits have not been granted similar rights and are confined to remedial jobs. Hindu nationalist groups fear Hindu dalits would convert to Christianity if Christian dalits were granted rights.

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PEOPLE

Mary not just for Catholics anymore

WASHINGTON (CNS) — As publications from Time magazine to Christianity Today have discovered recently, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is not just for Catholics anymore. Features on Mary are perennial favorites for editors looking for a religion-themed story before Christmas, and in the last few years many of these articles have focused on the increasing popularity of Mary among Protestants. Marianist Father Thomas Thompson, editor of the Marian Library Newsletter at the University of Dayton in Ohio, points out that the expanding Protestant acceptance of Mary is based upon a strictly scriptural view of her, rather than on any change in Protestant theology. Some Catholic doctrines about Mary, such as the Immaculate Conception — the belief that she was conceived without sin — remain controversial among Protestants, Father Thompson said. But as anti-Catholicism has waned among Protestants, the barriers to Episcopalians, Baptists and evangelicals turning to Mary have faded as well. “We’re very happy to see others taking an interest in Mary,” he said in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service.

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Jeane Kirkpatrick, first woman to represent U.S. at U.N., dies at 80

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, whose work as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Ronald Reagan made her the first woman to actively participate in U.S. foreign policymaking, died in her sleep Dec. 7 at her home in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Md. Kirkpatrick, who had Cabinet status as U.N. ambassador, once described herself as a “lifelong Democrat” but joined the Republican Party in 1985 as she was completing her four-year term at the United Nations. In the 20 years since her U.N. post, Kirkpatrick, a Presbyterian, worked at Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington and at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research in Washington, specializing in issues of defense, national security, the United Nations, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and Russia. At Georgetown she held the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey chair in the government department from 1967 to 2002. Before that she was an assistant professor of political science at Trinity College (now University) in Washington from 1962 to 1967.

END

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