By Catholic News Service
Court won’t force legislators to vote on same-sex marriage amendment
BOSTON (CNS) — The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts said Dec. 27 that it could not force the state’s legislators to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but they should take the vote. The court said it could only seek to persuade legislators to act in good faith, since “there is no presently articulated judicial remedy for the Legislature’s indifference to, or defiance of, its constitutional duties.” Less than a week earlier the bishops who head the state’s four Roman Catholic dioceses wrote to all legislators urging them to move the proposed amendment forward Jan. 2 so that the people will be able to vote on it by popular referendum, as provided by the state constitution. “Efforts to evade a vote will prolong a contentious constitutional debate,” the bishops said. As a result of a 2003 Supreme Judicial Court decision, in 2004 Massachusetts became the only U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriages. About 8,000 such marriages have been performed since then.
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Migration week theme is ‘Welcoming Christ in the Migrant’
WASHINGTON (CNS) — “Welcoming Christ in the Migrant” is the theme of the U.S. Catholic Church’s National Migration Week Jan. 7-13. “I invite you to welcome Christ in the migrant through prayer, education and parish outreach,” said Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, Calif., chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration. He said Jesus’ biblical admonition that what one does to a stranger is done to him “is particularly timely” in the current immigration debate. “Our nation’s legitimate security concerns have been distorted by some who would foment anxiety, fear and a distrust of migrants,” he wrote in a letter accompanying parish educational materials for this year’s migration week. “The present immigration reform debate has lost much of its reason and is often being fueled by raw emotions,” he added. He urged Catholics to become involved in the Catholic immigration reform initiative described on the Web site http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org.
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Jewish foundation pledges $3.5 million to Baltimore Catholic schools
BALTIMORE (CNS) — A Baltimore-based Jewish foundation is pledging $3.5 million to Catholic schools in Baltimore in an effort to boost enrollment and attract even more financial support for urban-based Catholic education. In a Dec. 14 event at the Catholic Center in Baltimore, Cardinal William H. Keeler of Baltimore and Donn Weinberg of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation announced that the foundation would donate $500,000 in 2006 and $1 million for the next three years to benefit at-risk students in kindergarten to 12th grade at one of 17 Catholic elementary/middle schools and three high schools. The grant is contingent on the Archdiocese of Baltimore finding matching grants from other donors. The 20 schools are part of the archdiocesan Partners in Excellence program, known as PIE, which provides tuition assistance for low-income families. Since its inception in 1996, the program has provided more than $13 million in tuition assistance to more than 14,000 children.
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Catholic Medical Mission Board gets $1.7 million grant to fight AIDS
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Catholic Medical Mission Board has received a grant of approximately $1.7 million for HIV prevention and care services abroad, through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The award to the New York-based organization was part of the first round of grants by the New Partners Initiative, announced by President George W. Bush at the conclusion of a round-table discussion about global HIV and AIDS at the White House on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1. The Catholic Medical Mission Board will use its three-year grant for programs in Zambia aimed at prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission. Specifically, the funds will be used to implement Men Taking Action, a program developed to enable men to become part of the solution to prevent transmission of the HIV virus from mother to child.
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Catholic Kolping Society marks 150th anniversary in United States
WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Catholic Kolping Society, founded in Germany as a support system and social action movement for young workers and men in transition, marked its 150th anniversary in the United States in 2006. With some 2,500 U.S. members in 12 Kolping branches in California, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the society is part of an international movement based in Cologne, Germany. There are currently an estimated 470,000 members in 59 countries worldwide. Established in 1849 by Father Adolph Kolping, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1991, the organization was brought to the United States in 1856 by German immigrants in St. Louis. It was originally organized around Kolping Houses, community homes where journeymen working away from their family homes could learn and practice good moral and social skills while being provided the basic needs of good meals and sleeping quarters at a nominal cost.
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Vatican says more than 3.2 million attended papal events in 2006
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — With two public events still to go in 2006, the Vatican reported Dec. 28 that more than 3.2 million people attended papal audiences and liturgies during the past year. Almost 1.3 million people joined Pope Benedict XVI for the recitation of the Angelus on Sundays and feast days at the Vatican and at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, the Vatican reported. The statistics, compiled by the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household, do not include figures from Pope Benedict’s four trips abroad in 2006, or from his trips to different Italian cities. The Vatican said 539,200 people had attended papal liturgies at the Vatican and at Castel Gandolfo during the year. Another 357,120 people took part in special audiences for particular groups. In addition, the Vatican said a total of just over 1 million people attended one of the pope’s weekly general audiences on Wednesdays at the Vatican or Castel Gandolfo.
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Filipino workers living in Israel celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) — For many of the nearly 50,000 Filipino workers living in Israel, spending Christmas Day in Bethlehem has become part of their local tradition. Alona Asuncion, 33, watched her 1-year-old son toddle around what Catholics regard as Shepherd’s Field, in Beit Sahour, West Bank, as buses lined the streets leading up to the field. Groups of Filipinos from across Israel were waiting for the buses that would take them to Bethlehem for Christmas Day Mass at St. Catherine’s Church, which adjoins the Church of the Nativity. Asuncion already had attended a special Mass said by Franciscan Father Angelo Ison, chaplain for the Filipino community in the Holy Land, amid the ruins of a sixth-century monastery at the site believed by Catholics to be where the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. Asuncion told Catholic News Service that in Bethlehem the Filipino community feels the spirit of Christmas. “In Jerusalem it is different,” she said.
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Gates make Holy Land prelate’s usually public greeting not so public
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) — The traditionally public Christmas greeting of Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem took place behind a towering cement wall and sealed metal gates this Christmas. According to the centuries-old Status Quo, an agreement that regulates the jurisdiction of and access to key Christian sites, the patriarch’s greeting must take place in front of Rachel’s Tomb. But Rachel’s Tomb and an adjacent building, part of which was sold to a Jewish group along with about an acre of land, has been closed off from the main Bethlehem road by a series of sliding metal gates and a 20-foot wall. Only Jewish worshippers are permitted into the enclosed area. Two apartments and a yeshiva, a traditional place of Jewish study, have been built in the building which is now connected to the tomb.
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Vatican warns retired Paraguayan bishop not to run for president
ASUNCION, Paraguay (CNS) — The Vatican warned an inactive Catholic bishop that he faces suspension from the priesthood if he pursues his goal of winning opposition support to run for the Paraguayan presidency. On its Web site, the Paraguayan bishops’ conference posted the warning, signed Dec. 20 by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. Bishop Fernando Lugo Mendez, the 57-year-old retired bishop of San Pedro, announced publicly Dec. 25 that he intended to leave the priesthood to run as the presidential candidate of an opposition party or coalition in the April 2008 elections. Cardinal Re wrote to Bishop Lugo, “In the name of Jesus Christ, I exhort you to reflect seriously on your behavior and on the effect this could have on you and on the church.” The letter said the Vatican learned “with surprise” of his intention to run for the presidency.
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British cardinal denounces secularization in Great Britain
LONDON (CNS) — A British cardinal said Great Britain is being reduced to a “profoundly needy land” by attempts to purge religion from public life. Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor of Westminster, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said secularization has led to the collapse of shared moral values and has created a sense of despair. “Our nation is in great need because it is deprived of some of the greatest values of life which are reasons for meaning and reasons for hope,” he said in a midnight Mass homily in London’s Westminster Cathedral. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said this resulted from the emergence of a culture which denied the existence of God but espoused “individual freedom as the fundamental value.” He said, “Our culture represents a truly radical break, not only with Christianity, but with the moral and religious traditions of humanity.” The cardinal denounced secularists attempting to squeeze the role of Christianity from the life of the nation, and he encouraged Christians to express their faith without fear.
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Catholic centenarian stays on the move with multiple parish duties
HAMDEN, Conn. (CNS) — Mike Mele, a dapper, diminutive and downright engaging centenarian who works out three times a week at a local health club and just gave up riding his horse, Coco, celebrated his 100th birthday Dec. 16. “I can’t believe it myself,” he said in an interview with The Catholic Transcript, Hartford archdiocesan newspaper, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Hamden, where he serves as a lector, catechist for fourth-graders, altar server and extraordinary minister of holy Communion. He also has been the parish’s choir director and, years ago, directed parish variety shows. “You’ve got to keep active mentally and physically,” said Mele. As is typical for him, Mele (whose name is pronounced “MEE-lee”) is wearing a suit and tie, with gold cuff links protruding from his sleeves. “I’m interested in a lot of things,” he added.
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Jesuit priest among Newsweek’s people to watch in 2007
NEW YORK (CNS) — Newsweek magazine has named Jesuit Father John P. Foley, president of the national Cristo Rey Network of Catholic high schools, among “the people to watch in the year ahead.” The look-ahead feature was part of the magazine’s final issue in 2006, most of which was devoted to reviewing news of the past year. In 1996 Father Foley opened Cristo Rey Jesuit High School as a college prep school in Chicago’s predominantly Hispanic Pilsen/Little Village neighborhood, which has the city’s least educated population. In collaboration with more than 100 area corporations, the school operates a work/study program that has every student working five days every four weeks and attending classes 15 days in that time. Father Foley, now 71, is a Chicago native who joined the Jesuits 53 years ago. He told Catholic News Service he had spent most of his Jesuit life as an educator in Peru before he was called back to Chicago to form Cristo Rey. The name is Spanish for “Christ the King.”
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Hospital chaplain ‘puts good and welcoming face on Catholicism’
MERRILLVILLE, Ind. (CNS) — When Joseph Uko was born in Nigeria, his family probably never would have guessed that his life journey would lead him half a world away to northwest Indiana to become the first Catholic priest chaplain on staff at the Methodist Hospitals. A former chaplain to soldiers, schools and colleges in his native land, Father Uko left Nigeria to pursue advanced degrees in educational policy and administration at Marquette University in Milwaukee. It was there that he learned about certification for chaplaincy. Father Uko, who said he “had never heard of clinical pastoral education,” went on to earn certification as a chaplain at St. Luke Medical Center in Milwaukee. Father Uko started his position as Catholic priest chaplain at the hospital in July 2005. Christina Hernandez, an employee in the computer department at the hospital’s Northlake campus, answered a request for assistance at hospital Masses. She soon discovered a sympathetic ear and comforting presence in Father Uko. “He is a healing person,” Hernandez said. “In a community not largely Catholic, he puts a good and welcoming face on Catholicism.”