A Look at Today (03.01.07)

Today in the Diocese

Bishop Pfeifer at St. Margaret’s, San Angelo, for Lenten NIght of Prayer for priests, sisters, deacons and their wives, of the San Angelo deanerym 7 p.m.

ACTS Retreat for women from St. Ann’s Midland, and Kerrville, through Sunday, Christ the King Retreat Center.

Today’s Readings

First Reading: Esther C:12, 14-16, 23-25
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 138:1-2, 2-3, 7-8
Gospel: Matthew 7:7-12

Today’s Headlines from Catholic News Service

U.S.

San Diego Diocese, facing sex abuse suits, files for bankruptcy

SAN DIEGO (CNS) — The San Diego Diocese has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to handle more than 140 clergy sexual abuse claims equitably. It is the fifth and largest U.S. diocese to do so since 2004. San Diego Bishop Robert H. Brom announced the decision Feb. 27, the day before the first abuse lawsuit was to go to trial, after a last-minute flurry of negotiations between diocesan and plaintiffs’ lawyers brought no agreement. “We put money on the table that would have stretched our financial capability to the limit, but demands were made which exceeded the financial resources of both the diocese and our insurance carrier,” Bishop Brom said in a statement posted on the diocesan Web site. The bankruptcy proceedings, which will be conducted under the jurisdiction of the federal bankruptcy court in San Diego, effectively put any civil lawsuits on hold. “We have decided against litigating our cases because of the length of time the process could take and, more importantly, because early trial judgments in favor of some victims could so deplete diocesan and insurance resources that there would be nothing left for other victims,” Bishop Brom said.

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Mexican official opposes U.S. border wall to curb immigration

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Mexico opposes a wall along its border with the United States and believes both countries share responsibility for solving border security and illegal immigration problems, said Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs Patricia Espinosa Cantellano. Mexicans need a wider legal path into the U.S. because both countries benefit from migration across their common border, she said in a Feb. 27 speech in Washington. Immigration issues have been a major theme of the Catholic hierarchy in both Mexico and the U.S. in recent years. Cooperative efforts have included a 2002 joint pastoral letter, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” which supports measures to legalize the status of many immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. “Mexico will never approve the building of walls or fences,” said the Mexican official. Mexico prefers a “legal framework” that would allow Mexicans to travel to the U.S. to seek work in an orderly way, Espinosa said.

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Tennessee parishioners on a mission to supply Mass kits to world

COLUMBIA, Tenn. (CNS) — While the United States may be at war against terror, a small grass-roots group of individuals at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church in Columbia is waging peace by sending out Mass kits rather than mess kits, hosts instead of hostilities. “These Mass kits contain everything a priest needs,” said parishioner Gale Wheaton, “and where there is a priest, all seven sacraments are available to the people.” Tucked inside a case the size of a child’s lunchbox are a paten, chalice, stole, basic linens, a purificator, crucifix, two candles, a pyx and reliquary, a rosary, wine and water cruets, and an oil supply. There is also an image of the Divine Mercy. The Mass kits came out of an idea Wheaton had during adoration, that it would be simple to send unconsecrated hosts to priests in need. “Originally I had Sudan in mind,” she told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Nashville Diocese. Then hurricanes devastated the Philippines and Haiti.

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Pittsburgh black Catholics hold day of reflection on July congress

PITTSBURGH (CNS) — Pittsburgh’s black Catholic community has played a significant role as delegates to the National Black Catholic Congress and as members of the local Black Catholic Congress leadership team. A day of reflection was held in January at Holy Rosary School in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood to discuss the 10th national congress set for July 12-15 in Buffalo, N.Y. Participants discussed a pastoral plan of action and some of the topics to be discussed there. The event was sponsored by the Pittsburgh diocesan Department for Black Catholics, Ethnic and Cultural Communities. There is a wealth of history related to the national gatherings, which often served as catalysts for action in the church and society. “We have come to talk about our needs as a people, and by conference and consultation to try and devise ways and means of bettering our condition both religiously and socially,” said William Smith on New Year’s Day 1889 at the first National Black Catholic Congress, held in the nation’s capital.

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Archbishop says Iowa vote to OK cloning of human embryos regrettable

DES MOINES, Iowa (CNS) — Archbishop Jerome G. Hanus of Dubuque reacted with “deep sadness” after the Iowa House of Representatives Feb. 22 passed a bill to allow the cloning of human embryos for research. “With deep sadness, I regret the recent action by the Iowa House and Senate to change Iowa’s law which banned human cloning,” he said. The measure, H.R. 287, passed with a 52-46 vote. Fifty-one votes were needed for passage. One Republican apparently accidentally voted for the bill. A week earlier the legislation moved swiftly through the Senate, passing with a 26-24 vote. The bill moves to Gov. Chet Culver’s desk. He has said he will sign it. “In recent weeks and months, I strove to explain Catholic teaching,” the archbishop said. “This teaching is inspired by Jesus’ call to respect every human being, especially the most vulnerable among us. Catholic thought also supports scientific research based on sound ethical principles. Experimentation on nonembryonic stem cells has produced many medical therapies which have helped persons suffering from a wide range of ailments. Let us pray that Iowa tax dollars will be used only for these efforts,” he said.

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WORLD

Historians, diplomats cast doubts on KGB plot against Pope Pius XII

BUCHAREST, Romania (CNS) — Historians and communist-era diplomats have cast doubts on a former Romanian general’s claim that he helped with a KGB plot to portray Pope Pius XII as a Nazi sympathizer in order to weaken the Catholic Church. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, a Romanian intelligence chief under dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, said that between 1960 and 1962 he recruited three Romanian spies to disguise themselves as priests and gain access to the Vatican Secret Archives. Their objective was to steal documents for the KGB, the former Russian secret police and intelligence agency, so the documents could be manipulated as evidence against Pope Pius, who died in 1958, said Pacepa. Pacepa, who defected to the United States in 1978, said these documents also contributed to a devastating anti-Pope Pius play, “The Deputy,” which opened in Berlin in 1963. He said a KGB chief of disinformation created an outline for the first draft of “The Deputy,” which helped popularize the notion that Pope Pius supported Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. His claims were included in an article, “Moscow’s Assault on the Vatican,” posted in late January on the National Review Online.

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Church aid officials say influx of Iraqis puts burden on Jordan

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — The enormous influx of Iraqis over the past five years has put a large burden on Jordan, said church aid officials trying to help the refugees. Though official estimates put the number of Iraqi refugees in Jordan at about 1 million, Catholic groups working with the refugees say that number is closer to 1.5 million. “Overall the situation is very difficult,” said Ra’ed Bahou, director of the Pontifical Mission for Palestine in Amman. “Most of the refugees are very poor, and this country does not have the resources” to deal with the situation. The arrival of the Iraqi refugees in this landlocked nation of some 5 million people — more than half of whom are former Palestinian refugees — has caused prices to skyrocket, making the cost of living for the average Jordanian almost prohibitive, said Hania Bsharat, assistant manager of the Extremely Vulnerable Individuals project of Caritas Jordan, the local church’s charitable aid agency. “Most Jordanians do not welcome the Iraqis,” she said. “We are a poor country…. There is no way they can go back to Iraq.”

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Iraqi Christians face danger; some say it was better under Saddam

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — Seen as allies of the West, Christians and their institutions have become targets of extremist Islamic groups in Iraq, say Iraqi Christians. “Christians are facing a big problem in Iraq. Maybe all Iraqis are facing big problems, but I am talking about the Christians now,” said Ra’ed Bahou, the Pontifical Mission for Palestine’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s regime — no matter how cruel and despotic — kept the lid on any sectarian violence, said one Iraqi Catholic refugee in Jordan, who asked that his name not be used. He said Saddam, a secular leader, was especially good for Christians, as long as they stayed out of the way. “Saddam (controlled) everything. Nobody could say anything bad especially (about) us Christians,” he said. “Christians in the Middle East are very good people. We are peace-loving people.” Another refugee said that after years of living in fear and daily bombings many Iraqi Christians felt they were actually safer with Saddam.

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Amman churches offer projects, schools for Iraqi refugee children

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — Though Mariam Tonni, 11, remembers her home in Iraq, she prefers now to draw faces with large smiles, perfect rows of teeth and detailed hair. Her sister, Myrna, 9, likes to draw girls with fancy dresses going to parties. “I remember our house and our garden. I remember my friends and neighbors and school. But I don’t miss it there. That was our country; now we live here,” Mariam said. The girls and their two siblings are part of a group of Iraqi refugee children who regularly come to Sts. Peter and Paul Melkite Catholic Parish in Amman to participate in the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange Project. The art project, a child-to-child art exchange program set up in September by Massachusetts preschool teacher Claudia Lefko with the assistance of Father Nabil Haddad, the parish priest, meets in the parish basement. It is one of several informal schools set up by churches and congregations for Iraqis, many of whom are in Jordan illegally and keep their children out of public schools, confused by a myriad of regulations.

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Priest finds strong faith among Amman’s Chaldean Catholic refugees

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — At dusk, a handful of men and women begin to trickle into a stone-faced apartment building in Amman’s Jabal Lweibdeh neighborhood. At the staircase leading to the entrance of the building a small sign proclaims “Chaldean Catholic Vicariate.” The people have come to attend the Wednesday Sacred Heart devotion and Mass said by Father Raymond Moussalli, patriarchal vicar, who was sent by the Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad five years ago to minister to the burgeoning Chaldean community in Jordan. “Orthodox Christians go to (the) Orthodox church. I am Chaldean. I want to go to a Chaldean church,” said Maisoun Gerdis, who has been in Jordan for seven years and regularly attends the Wednesday services in addition to Sunday Mass. Praying her own liturgy strengthens her, she said. Father Moussalli is the sole Chaldean priest permanently assigned to Amman, although occasionally a priest is sent from Iraq or Syria to assist him.

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Jordanian aid worker says female Iraqis need help dealing with rape

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — One rarely discussed need of Iraqi refugees in Amman is psychological help for the girls and women who have been kidnapped and raped, said Hania Bsharat, assistant project manager of the Extremely Vulnerable Individuals project of Caritas Jordan. Although some of the victims have escaped with their families to relative safety outside Iraq, the emotional scars and trauma of the rapes remain with them, Bsharat said. Iraqis have difficulty dealing with the issue of rape and are unable to talk about it openly or help their daughters through the trauma, she said. Many look at it as besmirching the family honor, she added. “The girls become isolated from their family, even if the family is suffering the same as the child,” said Bsharat. Together with CARE, a private international relief and development organization, and the New Hussein Foundation, Caritas Jordan — the local branch of the Catholic Church’s charitable aid agency — helps provide psychological help for the women and their families, she said.

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Confusing regulations keep Iraqi children away from Jordan’s schools

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — Like most things relating to Iraqi refugees in Jordan, the regulations pertaining to the schooling of some 600,000 children among them are unclear. Starting in September, Iraqi children were supposed to be permitted to attend Jordan’s public schools, but the reality is different. “We have many children not attending school,” said Ra’ed Bahou, the Pontifical Mission for Palestine’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq. According to a Human Rights Watch report issued last fall, the Jordanian government does not bar Iraqi children without residency permits from going to school, but “its deliberate policy of misstatements and mixed signals has left Iraqis without residency permits confused and apprehensive about their children’s rights. This has deterred them from enrolling their children in school.”

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Church official: Reprinted guidelines positive for Russian ecumenism

OXFORD, England (CNS) — The reprint and circulation of a Catholic document with guidelines for ecumenical relations is a “positive impulse” for Orthodox-Catholic ties, said a Catholic official. “This will be helpful for Catholic-Orthodox relations but also for us, in reminding us of our own teachings,” said Msgr. Ante Jozic, secretary of the Vatican’s nunciature in Moscow. The document’s “concrete suggestions and guidelines” would counter claims that Catholics were opposed to ecumenical work, he told Catholic News Service Feb. 28 in a telephone interview. The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, which was first published in 1993 and reprinted in January for circulation to Russia’s Catholic parishes, libraries and the offices of other religions, applies ecumenism directives adopted during the Second Vatican Council.

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Church programs help farmers prevent debt, suicide in southern India

SULTHAN BATTERY, India (CNS) — The Catholic Church in southern India has initiated programs to prevent farmers from falling into debt and committing suicide, which has become an increasing trend for desperate farmers along the mountainous region of Wayanad in Kerala state. Shreyas, the social service agency of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Diocese of Sulthan Battery, has been helping families by providing insurance and distributing financial-planning pamphlets. The agency also provides financial training programs and an interfaith youth employment training seminar. Because of the success of the training programs, the state government requires people seeking self-employment loans to undergo training provided by Shreyas. Father Eldho Punthenkandathil, director of Shreyas, said a study conducted by the agency revealed that 316 farmers had committed suicide in the mountainous region from 2002 to June 2006. Fifty farmers committed suicide from June to December 2006. The priest told Catholic News Service that farming families get into financial trouble when a family member falls sick or dies, or if families have a major financial commitment like a daughter’s marriage.

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PEOPLE

Winners from six states announced in Maryknoll essay contest

MARYKNOLL, N.Y. (CNS) — Students from Holy Infant School in Ballwin, Mo., and Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, Mich., took first place in the annual essay contest sponsored by Maryknoll. Danielle Whitaker, a sixth-grader at Holy Infant, and Kristin Vanderwell, a junior at Unity Christian, each won $1,000 in her division. Division I was for grades 6-8 and Division II for grades 9-12. More than 4,000 students from around the country entered the competition on the theme of “Continuing the Mission.” Entrants were asked to imagine themselves as missionaries and write a 500- to 750-word essay about where they would go and what they would do to share God’s love with other people. Second-place awards and $300 prizes went to Alex Young, an eighth-grader at St. Mary’s School in Lee, Mass., and Mary J. Maclean, a junior at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville, Md. Third-place winners, who each received a $150 award, were Jovita Ezeokafor, an eighth-grader at Holy Family School in Huntsville, Ala., and Jennifer Rabay, a senior at Holy Names Academy in Seattle.

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Father of liberation theology receives ashes from pope

ROME (CNS) — When Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass this year on Ash Wednesday, among those he placed ashes on was Father Gustavo Gutierrez, considered the father of liberation theology. Father Gutierrez, a Dominican theologian from Peru, was in Rome to teach a brief course at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, also known as the Angelicum. On Feb. 21, Father Gutierrez gathered with several hundred faithful in the Basilica of Santa Sabina, where the pope was opening the Lenten season. Midway through the liturgy, Father Gutierrez was among a small group who went individually in front of the pontiff for the imposition of ashes on their heads. Father Gutierrez’s 1971 book, “A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation,” presented his concept of the connection between social and political liberation and liberation from sin. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the current pope — then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — helped guide a lengthy critical review of Father Gutierrez’s work.

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‘Traitor’: Iraqi who worked for U.S. recounts his kidnap ordeal

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — Just before he was snatched off the street outside his home in Baghdad, George Ishaq heard the screeching of car tires and two gunshots. In that instant, he did not register the significance of the noise. Then he began to run, but that split-second hesitation cost him, and his captors caught up with him, beat him and stuffed him into the trunk of the car. His crime? Being one of the 27 Iraqis who worked for the American Embassy. Dozens of other Iraqis worked for American businesses that came to Iraq in the wake of the American invasion four years ago and were also looked upon as traitors. Kidnappings — of political and religious opponents, women and girls, the young children of families presumed wealthy, men who work for American and other foreign businesses, and foreign workers — have become almost a daily occurrence in Iraq. George, 25, a computer engineer and an Assyrian Christian, recounted his ordeal for Catholic News Service on the condition that his family’s real names not be used.

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Home visits: A glimpse at some Iraqi refugees in Amman

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — Many Iraqis in Amman live the life of fugitives: They fear capture by police during the day, so they venture into the streets only at dusk, said a Catholic aid worker. Several times a week Rama Erekat, 36, a case worker for Caritas Jordan’s Extremely Vulnerable Individuals project, goes out with another social worker to visit families who have applied for assistance from Caritas, the local church’s charitable agency. She said often she finds the families, many of whom are in Jordan illegally, holed up in their apartments, too fearful to go out during the day. On an afternoon visit in mid-February, Erekat was joined by another social worker, Rawan Dababneh, 22. Inside a damp two-bedroom basement apartment, the Radad family was eager to convince the two social workers of the need for assistance. The eldest daughter, Aisha, was killed some six months ago in Baghdad when she tried to escape from men who were trying to kidnap her. The family fled to Jordan to protect their younger daughters, Najma, 15, and Rihana, 13, said Suheil Najem Radad, 66, who is blind. He and his wife, Sabiha El Wan Hason, 55, keep close tabs on their two remaining daughters. “We ran away from a hard life in Baghdad and found a hard life here,” said El Wan Hason.

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