A Look at Today (12.21.06)

Today in the Diocese

   No events scheduled

Today’s Readings

   First Reading: Song of Songs 2:8-14, or Zephaniah 3:14-18
   Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21
   Gospel: Luke 1:39-45

Today’s headlines from Catholic News Service 


New Jersey legislators reject bishops’ advice, approve civil unions

TRENTON, N.J. (CNS) — Rejecting the advice of New Jersey’s Catholic bishops, the state Legislature approved a bill allowing civil unions for same-sex couples, giving them all the rights and privileges available to married couples under state law. Gov. Jon S. Corzine has said he will sign the bill, which was written after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in October that the state’s ban on same-sex marriages resulted in “the unequal dispensation of benefits and privileges to one of two similarly situated classes of people.” The court had set a 180-day deadline for the Legislature to revise the marriage laws to provide for equal treatment of same-sex couples. The bishops, in an open letter to legislators Dec. 6, said they understood “the constraints under which you are working to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision in Lewis v. Harris.” “Please know that we share your desire to bring about a law that will treat people with justice and respect,” they said, adding that “a need for justice … may indeed exist” in such areas as health and retirement programs, property rights, tax advantages and inheritance laws. But “this need should not be determined solely on the basis of a sexual relationship,” said the bishops, who represent the state’s five Latin-rite and two Eastern Catholic dioceses.

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Muslim, Jewish, Christian leaders gather to pray for peace in Lebanon

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CNS) — Imams and rabbis joined Catholic bishops and Protestant clergy as they offered prayers for peace in Lebanon at an interfaith prayer service at Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood. “We pray that dialogue will replace war,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, who co-hosted the Dec. 6 event based on the evening prayer of the Maronite Catholic Church with Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour. Bishop Mansour said most of the Lebanese Maronites who worship at the church have families in Lebanon, which was marred by war this past summer. “This event this evening was born in the hearts of parishioners who felt that they had to do something” about the effects of that war, he said. Although they had participated in public relief efforts by sending goods to their families, “there was always one (more) thing we wanted to do and that was to pray,” Bishop Mansour said. “We often felt alone. So, Bishop DiMarzio and I, with the inspiration of our parishioners, decided that we should pray — not alone — but together with each other.”

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Souper Bowl hopes for big increase in Catholic youth participation

COLUMBIA, S.C. (CNS) — Leaders of the Souper Bowl of Caring based in Columbia have set an ambitious goal for participation by Catholic youth groups in the annual Super Bowl Sunday food drive. Last year’s figure was 1,245. For 2007, Souper Bowl leaders want 2,007 Catholic youth groups participating, a 61 percent increase. “The Souper Bowl of Caring teaches young people the joy that comes from serving others and concretizes Catholic social teaching,” said Bob McCarty, executive director of the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry in Washington. The federation is one of several community partners supporting the event. “We encourage Catholic youth groups to join this ecumenical movement that embodies Jesus’ teaching to ‘love thy neighbor’ and work to transform Super Bowl weekend into the largest weekend of giving and serving in our country,” McCarty said in a statement.

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New Orleans archbishop issues pastoral letter on racial harmony

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) — In a pastoral letter Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans said the Gospel impels Christ’s followers to end racial, ethnic and cultural prejudice. “Working for racial and cultural harmony is imperative, if we are to live the Gospel message of Jesus Christ,” he said. The archbishop’s pastoral, released Dec. 15 and published in the Dec. 16 issue of the archdiocesan newspaper, the Clarion Herald, is titled “Made in the Image and Likeness of God.” It has also been posted on the newspaper’s Web site, http://www.clarionherald.org. Originally slated to appear in September 2005, the letter was delayed because of the devastation caused just weeks earlier by Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans. It was also rewritten to reflect experiences since the hurricane that demonstrated the long-lasting effects of racism and racial discrimination in the archdiocese.

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Muslim, Christian dialogue must be lived, say missionaries

SAN ANTONIO (CNS) — Sister Perlita Ponge, a Missionary Sister of St. Columban from San Antonio, has had plenty of firsthand experience establishing interfaith dialogue. For the nine years she was based in Pakistan with other sisters from her order, the sisters’ primary mission was to establish an interfaith dialogue in a predominantly Muslim country. “We did our best to show them that we were not there to proselytize, but to have a dialogue. We believe it is by living side by side with them that they will know that we are all alike,” she told Today’s Catholic, the newspaper of the San Antonio Archdiocese. “They say that as a missionary you give,” Sister Perlita said. But she ended up receiving much more from the people of Pakistan and learned a lot from the faith of the Muslims, she added. “Their faith deepened my faith,” she said.

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Amid creche debate, pope says birth of Jesus offers peace to world

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Even if many people do not realize they are looking for the Savior, humanity yearns for the peace and renewal that will save each person and the whole world, Pope Benedict XVI said. “Born in the poverty of the manger, Jesus comes to offer everyone that joy and that peace that alone can fill the yearning of the human soul,” he said Dec. 20 at his last general audience before Christmas. Speaking to Italian pilgrims, in the midst of a public fray over the appropriateness of continuing to display Nativity scenes in public schools and offices, Pope Benedict said the scenes are part of Italy’s culture as well as its spiritual heritage. “Christmas is in a few days and I imagine that you are finishing setting up the Nativity scenes in your homes,” he said. The pope said he hoped the tradition of setting up the creche would be “a simple and eloquent way” to remember the real meaning of Christmas.

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Zambian church official says foreign companies need to be monitored

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) — Foreign companies in Zambia need to be monitored more closely to protect workers’ wages and safety, said a Zambian church official. Father Joe Komakoma, general secretary of the Zambian bishops’ conference, said working conditions in foreign companies are often “very bad,” and safety standards are inadequate. In Chinese-owned companies “workers are paid less than the minimum wage and are laid off before their period of work reaches six months” when they would automatically be entitled to medical benefits, housing and transport allowances, said Father Komakoma. Thousands of Chinese investors have set up businesses in the mining, agriculture, construction and manufacturing sectors of Zambia, where only about 400,000 people in a population of more than 10 million have formal employment, reported the U.N. news agency IRIN. The country’s minimum monthly wage is only $90.

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Thousands of Cubans make pilgrimage to sanctuary honoring St. Lazarus

EL RINCON, Cuba (CNS) — Thousands of Catholic Cubans expressed their faith and devotion to St. Lazarus by making a pilgrimage to a sanctuary in El Rincon, located less than 20 miles west of Havana. The devotion to St. Lazarus, known in Cuba as the miraculous saint and sometimes called “Old Lazarus,” is one of the island’s deepest. The pilgrimage to the sanctuary, which was built in 1917, is comparable in grandeur to the Sept. 8 festivities of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patroness. The sanctuary pilgrims, many of them barefoot, arrived several days before the feast of St. Lazarus Dec. 17. They paid tribute to the saint by leaving offerings of flowers, candles, Havana cigars and cash. Diverse in age and hometown, some pilgrims were in wheelchairs and some walking on foot. A number of pilgrims came with their families.

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European bishops urge EU to acknowledge Europe’s Christian heritage

OXFORD, England (CNS) — European Catholic bishops have urged European Union officials to acknowledge Europe’s Christian heritage in a major declaration marking 50 years of European integration. “For many founders, the Christian imprint on the European project has been an indisputable fact,” said the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, known by the acronym COMECE, in a Dec. 11 statement to EU officials. “For a majority of EU citizens, their Christian faith is the living source for their support of our common values and ambitions.” The declaration, which will be published in March in Berlin, will be a “unique opportunity” for EU officials to “set out the values they share,” the commission said. EU politicians have been accused of ignoring the role of churches and religions which were not mentioned in EU documents until the late 1990s.

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HIV/AIDS programs need to target married women, says UNAIDS official

ROME (CNS) — Prevention and education programs need to target the newest victims of HIV/AIDS — married women — said a United Nations official at an HIV/AIDS conference. Karen Stanecki, a UNAIDS senior adviser, told the conference that although transmission of the virus in some countries is still highest among homosexuals, intravenous drug users and sex workers the rate of new infections for these groups has drastically declined since it peaked in 2001. Instead, she said, in some countries the number of married women contracting the virus has been steadily increasing every year. Stanecki was a speaker at a Dec. 20 conference on how governments, the church and pharmaceutical companies are partnering to help provide care, support and treatment for the nearly 40 million people with HIV/AIDS. The U.S. Embassy to the Vatican sponsored the one-day conference in Rome.

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Pope accepts resignation of Bishop Friend of Shreveport

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Bishop William B. Friend of Shreveport, La., who is 75. He was named bishop of Alexandria-Shreveport in 1982 and first bishop of Shreveport when it was split off from Alexandria to form a separate diocese in 1986. Canon law asks all bishops to submit their resignation to the pope when they turn 75. Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States, made the announcement in Washington Dec. 20. Bishop Friend was chairman of the drafting committee for a pastoral letter on campus ministry adopted by the bishops in 1985. Over the years he has served on a number of bishops’ committees and headed several, including the Committee on Science and Human Values (twice) and the committee on what is now the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. He was secretary of the bishops’ conference from November 2000 to November 2003.

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Burritos for the soul: Student turns contest winnings into ministry

DAYTON, Ohio (CNS) — Some college students barely know how they’ll feed themselves let alone 800 others during the year. University of Dayton student Joe Melendrez is using meals he won in a local Chipotle contest to spread his school’s Catholic mission of leading through service. Melendrez recently won three burritos a day for a year plus four 20-burrito parties. The aspiring Christian rapper unveiled his ode to the Chipotle restaurant and then issued an open dinner invitation to talk about faith, life, service work, solidarity with the poor and equality, all of which are backbones of the Marianist-run university’s mission. “I have a responsibility to share this,” said Melendrez, who held one of the burrito parties for homeless in the area. “You live the Marianist mission by focusing your efforts on the well-being of others and working to fix problems in the community.” Melendrez, who has shared a meal with at least 80 people already, was booked through late 2006.

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Part-time Christmas tree business becomes family tradition for many

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (CNS) — The question made Duane Olberding laugh: Are you as jolly as Old St. Nick? “I don’t know about being as jolly as Old St. Nick, but I do enjoy helping people get a nice Christmas tree,” said Olberding, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Leavenworth. Olberding, who recently retired as a guidance counselor at Immaculata High School in Leavenworth, has played a key role in making Christmas merry for Leavenworth families since 1984. He’s watched families grow up as they have come back year after year. Olberding is a Christmas tree farmer. Getting a tree for a family makes him feel like he’s part of their Christmas celebration. “It’s probably why I’ve done this for so many years,” he told The Leaven, newspaper of the Kansas City Archdiocese. “If I thought about all the work I have to do with the trees in June, I would have probably quit a long time ago. But at this time of the year the people come out, the kids are laughing, and they’re happy with their tree. It’s something I can add to their family tradition, and I do enjoy that.”


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