A Look at Today (02.13.07)

No diocesan wide events

Bishop Pfeifer in Austin for the Texas Conference of Churches

Today’s Readings

First Reading: Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 29:1-2, 3-4, 8, 9-10
Gospel: Mark 8:14-21

Today’s Headlines from Catholic News Service

U.S.

Protect poor, common good in acting on global warming, bishop says

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Congress should heed the warnings of a recent report on global warming, with priority given to how climate change will affect the poor, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Policy urged. In a Feb. 7 letter to congressional leaders, Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., said the recently released report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has clearly and compellingly outlined the case for urgent action to address the potential consequences of climate change. The letter urged the U.S. government to base responses to global warming on the common good “rather than the demands of narrow interests,” and to place priority on the poor “who will bear the greatest burdens and pay the greatest price for the consequences and costs of climate change.” In a June 2001 statement, “Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good,” Bishop Wenski noted, the bishops said climate change “is not about economic theory or political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest-group pressures. It is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family.”

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New Jersey bishops designate day of prayer to preserve marriage

CLIFTON, N.J. (CNS) — The Catholic bishops of New Jersey have designated Feb. 25 as a day of prayer for the preservation of marriage. In a letter read to Catholics at Masses Feb. 10-11, the bishops said they are concerned that legislation on civil unions signed into law recently by Gov. Jon Corzine “not undermine the institution of marriage as a union between one man and one woman. This is critical as marriage is the foundation of the family. The family, in turn, is the basic unit of society.” The Civil Union Act gives same-sex couples the legal right to all of the benefits and responsibilities of marriage. The bishops’ letter was released by the New Jersey Catholic Conference, public policy arm of the bishops. Besides being read at Masses, it was to be inserted in parish bulletins for distribution.

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Proposal to split public, private school athletic events draws fire

ST. LOUIS (CNS) — Some Catholic and public high school officials in the St. Louis area said they are against a proposal to create separate state athletic championships for private and public schools. Private and public school educators and coaches contacted by the St. Louis Review, newspaper of the St. Louis Archdiocese, noted that their students enjoy the competition against each other. The proposal before the Missouri State High School Activities Association stems from a petition begun by Belle High School in Belle. It would apply to about a dozen sports played at the 506 public schools and 72 nonpublic schools in the association. In recent years, several Catholic schools in the St. Louis Archdiocese have won state titles in soccer, tennis, golf, baseball, volleyball, track and basketball. Other private schools, such as Rockhurst in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, also have been known for successful sports programs.

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Social ministry central to church life, social ministry leaders told

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The church’s social justice mission is an integral part of its life, and “this is a time for mission,” John Carr, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ secretary for social development and world peace, told a national gathering of Catholic social ministry leaders Feb. 12. Carr noted that several national figures in Catholic social ministry will be leaving the USCCB staff in coming months as a result of the bishops’ recent decision to downsize their national offices. Among them are Timothy Collins, executive director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development; Thomas Quigley, veteran head of the Latin America desk of the Office for International Justice and Peace; and Walter Grazer, head of the environmental justice and Europe desks of the Office for International Justice and Peace. “The USCCB is not broken, but frankly it is a little shaken,” Carr said. But he added, “Even if there are fewer of us, the mission hasn’t changed. … The question is not who occupies the boxes, the question is how the mission gets done.” He said the mission remains — to “bring good news to the poor” and to “set the downtrodden free.”

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Debt cancellation, relief still a top issue among social activists

WASHINGTON (CNS) — In January, as many of the world’s political movers and shakers met in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum, thousands of would-be societal movers and shakers met in Nairobi, Kenya, for the seventh World Social Forum. According to two U.S. participants in the social forum who recently returned from Kenya, there was one message aimed at participants of the economic forum: Debt cancellation and relief for the world’s poorest nations are still high on the to-do list. “Debt is a big object of talk in international circles and civil-society groups,” said Marie Dennis, director of the Washington-based Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. She was one of about 15 from Maryknoll attending the Jan. 20-25 social forum, which she said drew 70,000 participants from all over the world. Father Seamus Finn, director of the Justice, Peace & Integrity of Creation Office for his order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, was one of 27 Oblates at the social forum; 12 were from Africa, representing eight African nations.

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Remember social justice roots are ancient, speaker tells activists

WASHINGTON (CNS) — For people doing Catholic social justice work who may have a sense of fatigue, it’s important to recognize that the entire movement is relatively new, yet is supported by theology dating to the time of the Old Testament prophets, said the plenary speaker at an annual social ministry gathering. Oblate Father Ronald Rolheiser, author of numerous books on spirituality and president of Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, urged people to be heartened by their scriptural mandate as they work to improve the lot of the world’s poor and needy. Some critics of the church’s social justice emphasis point to its relatively short 35-year history to say the movement is not based upon theological tradition. But Father Rolheiser said the fact is that until about that time, “Roman Catholics were the poor.” It’s only recently that enough of the Catholic population, especially in the United States, was well-educated and affluent enough to start asking questions about poverty, treatment of laborers and immigrants, the environment and other social issues, he said. He spoke Feb. 11 at the opening session of the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.

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Archbishop says Catholic social justice work builds kingdom of God

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl Feb. 11 encouraged Catholic social ministry activists meeting in Washington to continue building the kingdom of God on earth. He celebrated the opening liturgy for the Feb. 11-14 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, organized under the theme “Bringing Good News to a Broken World: Overcoming Fear with God’s Love.” Some people view their work as only a job, or a way to earn a living, Archbishop Wuerl told participants. Instead, by looking through the eyes of faith, Catholics who work for social justice are “not only changing the world, but helping God’s kingdom break through this world,” the archbishop said. “It just depends on your perspective.” Working for peace and justice, he continued, is mandated by Gospel teachings, “a ministry of bringing about a realization in our world of those values Christ proclaimed.”

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Public TV, Toledo women’s orders produce program on religious life

TOLEDO, Ohio (CNS) — Like moviegoers everywhere, the 100-plus people who filled the auditorium at WGTE-TV in Toledo on a recent evening were looking forward to the show — complete with popcorn and beverages. But this was no ordinary “night at the movies.” It was the result of two years’ work and a partnership between Toledo’s public television and the eight congregations of women religious who serve in the area. The crowd gathered Jan. 17 for the premiere of “Hearts Afire,” a 30-minute made-for-PBS TV program which showcases the histories, contributions and contemporary lives of Catholic sisters who have been a part of the Toledo scene for more than 160 years. The program was broadcast to the public the following night at 8 p.m. as part of the station’s regular lineup. Represented in the program are the Sisters of the Precious Blood of Dayton, Ursuline Sisters, Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of Notre Dame, Grey Nuns of Montreal, Sisters of St. Francis of Tiffin and Sylvania, and Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help of St. Louis. All of these congregations either currently serve in and/or sponsor institutions in the Toledo Diocese.

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WORLD

Vatican stats confirm growth of church, especially in Asia, Africa

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The latest Vatican statistics confirm that the church’s population and ministerial workforce are continuing to shift to developing countries, especially those in Africa and Asia. Figures released Feb. 12 showed that the overall number of Catholics increased to nearly 1.12 billion at the end of 2005, an increase of 1.5 percent from the previous year. The Catholic growth rate was slightly higher than the rate of overall population increase, which was 1.2 percent. Catholics now represent 17.2 percent of the global population, the Vatican said. The statistics were released in connection with the presentation of the 2007 edition of the Vatican yearbook, known as the Annuario Pontificio, which catalogs the church’s presence in each diocese. The church’s population grew fastest in Africa, where the number of Catholics increased 3.1 percent in 2005, about half a percentage point higher than the overall population growth rate on the continent. In Asia, the number of Catholics was up 2.7 percent, and in the Americas up 1.2 percent. In Europe, there was a very slight increase in the number of Catholics, the Vatican said.

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Pope: Catholics must ensure affection, spiritual support for the sick

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Catholics must ensure that people who are sick, especially the terminally ill, receive affection, spiritual support and medical care to keep them comfortable, Pope Benedict XVI said. Marking the World Day of the Sick Feb. 11 during his midday Angelus address and an evening meeting with a Rome pilgrimage for the sick in St. Peter’s Basilica, the pope offered his prayers and his encouragement to the suffering and to those who care for them. During the Angelus, the pope called on physicians and researchers to do more to develop palliative care for those with incurable illnesses, ensuring them pain relief, loving attention and spiritual care. In his evening address, the pope focused on the day’s feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and why so many sick people have found comfort in Mary. Appearing in 1858 to Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, Mary reminded believers of God’s special love for the poor and sick, and she demonstrated the value of serene trust in God, even in situations of extreme suffering, the pope said.

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Australian bishop reiterates call for release of U.S.-held prisoner

SYDNEY, Australia (CNS) — The head of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council has reiterated calls for the release of an Australian imprisoned at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bishop Christopher Saunders of Broome, the justice council head, joined the increasing criticism of the Australian government’s efforts on behalf of David Hicks, a 31-year-old imprisoned at Guantanamo. U.S. forces captured Hicks in Afghanistan in 2001 and charged him with providing “material support” for the international terrorist organization al-Qaida. In early February, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said he might have secured Hicks’ release any time during the last five years but did not because that “would not be fair” to U.S. authorities. Bishop Saunders called Hicks’ continued incarceration an “affront to human dignity and unacceptable to anybody who holds in high regard due processes of law and human rights in any real democracy.”

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Pope says living in society means recognizing others’ rights, beliefs

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When the church calls for adherence to basic values to promote the common good, it is not placing the individual second, but reflecting the truth that being human means having a relationship with others, Pope Benedict XVI said. Pope Benedict said the modern world seems to be losing touch with the fact that living together in society requires an acknowledgment of the rights, needs and beliefs of others. “The reflection and action of authorities and of citizens must be concentrated on two elements: respect for each human person and the search for the common good,” the pope said during a Feb. 10 meeting with members of the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences. “Subjectivism, according to which each person tends to consider himself as the only reference point and believes that only his ideas have the character of truth,” threatens peaceful coexistence and true progress both for individuals and for societies, he said. Members of the French academy study questions related to individual rights and public policy. The pope, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was one of the few non-French members of the academy from 1992 until his election as pope.

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Pope: Weak are at mercy of others when laws not based on morality

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When laws are based on compromise or consensus instead of moral values, anyone too weak or without a voice to participate in the debate is left at the mercy of others, Pope Benedict XVI said. The pope decried the loss of a firm moral foundation in law and scientific research when he met Feb. 12 with participants in a Feb. 12-14 conference on natural law and morality. Natural law refers to a common human code of right and wrong, a code that people access through use of their consciences and reason. The most basic expression of natural law, he said, is “to do good and avoid evil” and from that flows a recognition of other values, such as respect for human life and dignity, freedom, justice and solidarity. Those values, the pope said, are “norms that precede any human law” and not simply rights granted by a legislature or an international agreement. In fact, he said, “every legal order — internal or international — draws its ultimate legitimacy from being rooted in natural law.” Natural law “is the only valid bastion” against the whims of the powerful or the deceit of those who try to manipulate public opinion, the pope said.

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Palestinian Christians show support for Hamas-Fatah pact

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Palestinian Christians voiced support for the Hamas-Fatah power-sharing pact as Palestinians celebrated the recent agreement for national unity, said a local Catholic priest. “We want to convince them the people are happy they have united, and we were anxious and sad because they fought against each other,” said Msgr. Manuel Musallam of Holy Family Parish in the Gaza Strip. He spoke with Catholic News Service in a telephone interview Feb. 12. As soon as Palestinians heard reports that the pact was signed Feb. 8 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, people spilled out into the Gaza streets, singing, shouting, clapping and shooting off guns in celebration, Msgr. Musallam said. But the most significant sign was the many Muslims who went to mosques to pray in thanksgiving, he added. “This is what we Christians were praying for,” said Msgr. Musallam.

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Pope says life will be judged on acts of charity toward others

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI said people’s lives will be judged not on the basis of abstract ideals but on the concrete acts of charity. In a Feb. 10 talk to Italian volunteer groups that provide medical assistance and blood donation programs, the pope said the organizations were helping to spread the “Gospel of God’s love for all people.” Citing the Gospel of St. Matthew, he recalled that when Christ spoke of the last judgment he said people would be asked whether they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger and opened their hearts to the needy. “In a word, God at the final judgment will ask us if we have loved not in an abstract way, but with concrete acts. At the end of life, as St. John of the Cross liked to repeat, we will be judged on love,” the pope said. In the contemporary era marked by so many human and spiritual challenges, it is especially necessary for Christians to proclaim God’s merciful love with good works, he said.

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PEOPLE

Syro-Malankara Church elects Tiruvalla prelate as major archbishop

TRIVANDRUM, India (CNS) — The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church has elected Archbishop Isaac Cleemis Thottunkal of Tiruvalla as its new leader. The Eastern Catholic church’s major archbishop was announced Feb. 10 at Pattom, a suburb of Trivandrum and the church’s base in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Earlier in the day, the Syro-Malankara synod received the Vatican endorsement of its Feb. 8 secret vote. The synod, the church’s supreme body, includes one retired and six active prelates. As major archbishop, Archbishop Thottunkal, 47, will head the Trivandrum Archdiocese. He serves as second vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

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Pope elevates church’s organizational structure in Nepal

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI has elevated the church’s organizational structure in Nepal, home to a tiny but active Catholic community. The Vatican said Feb. 10 that the pope had established the Apostolic Vicariate of Nepal. The pope appointed Jesuit Father Anthony Sharma as its first apostolic vicar and named him a bishop. Bishop-designate Sharma, 69, is a native of Katmandu, the Nepalese capital. The move raises the profile of the Catholic Church in Nepal, a Himalayan country bordered by China and India. The Catholic mission was established in Nepal in 1983 and had been organized as an apostolic prefecture since 1996. Nepal has only 6,681 Catholics in a total population of 23.7 million; most Nepalese are Hindus, with Buddhism and Islam the two biggest minority religions. The Catholic Church, however, maintains an active presence in society, operating 44 educational institutes and 16 charity organizations.

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Dominican sister honored for work on addiction treatment and recovery

SAN DIEGO (CNS) — Dominican Sister Maurice Doody was given the Sister Ignatia Gavin Award for her work in the field of chemical dependency. The award was given during the joint conference of Guest House and the National Catholic Council on Alcoholism and Related Drug Problems, held Jan. 24-26 in San Diego. Guest House, based in Michigan, is a treatment center for Catholic clergy and religious who are suffering from alcoholism and other dependencies. Sister Maurice is a consultant to religious communities on chemical dependency. She was the first woman to chair the Catholic alcoholism council’s board of directors. In 1975 she founded the Office of New Directions, a full-time ministry devoted to educating religious communities about alcohol, alcoholism and chemical dependency, and has directed spiritual weekends for self-help groups since 1979.

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