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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Dec-19-2005

By Catholic News Service


Bishop says House-passed immigration reform bill would hurt nation

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Despite a Catholic bishop's warning that the measure would have "serious and severe consequences for immigrants and the nation," the House approved an immigration reform bill Dec. 16 that calls for the building of a 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexican border and would make illegal presence in the U.S. a crime, rather than the civil offense it is now. Bishop Gerald R. Barnes of San Bernardino, Calif., chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, had urged rejection of H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, in a Dec. 14 letter to House members. "It is an extremely punitive bill which is far broader than illegal immigration and, if enacted, would unduly harm immigrants and their families, even those who are currently lawful residents," he said. "Moreover, the bishops are deeply disappointed by the bill's enforcement-only focus and absence of reforms in the U.S. legal immigration system that would address our current immigration problems more comprehensively."

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U.S. congressman seeks religious rights in Vietnam

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Vietnam still violates the religious rights of its people on a large scale even though "there's some movement in the right direction," U.S. Rep. Christopher H. Smith said following a fact-finding visit to the communist-run Southeast Asian nation. The New Jersey Republican, who heads the House's Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations Subcommittee, told Catholic News Service that during his Dec. 1-3 visit he met with numerous Catholic leaders and representatives of other religions who detailed religious rights violations by the Vietnamese government. Indicative of the Vietnamese government's approach to human rights, he said, was the fact that it denied entry visas to two Vietnamese-American human rights leaders he sought to bring with him on his visit. He said Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai "has indicated that churches can now re-engage in charitable work. It remains to be tested whether or not that will be real."

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Utahans happy to see bishop promoted, but sad to see him go

SALT LAKE CITY (CNS) -- The news of the Dec. 15 appointment of Bishop George H. Niederauer of Salt Lake City as archbishop of San Francisco came as a surprise to many Utah Catholics. Their responses were a mixture of heartfelt pride and sadness. Archbishop Niederauer will leave the Diocese of Salt Lake City, with its 200,000 Catholics, for an archdiocese with more than twice as many Catholics. On receiving news of Archbishop Niederauer's appointment, Msgr. J. Terrence Fitzgerald, vicar general of the Diocese of Salt Lake City, said: "His sharp mind, quick wit, compassionate heart and generosity are qualities we will greatly miss. The bishop's ecumenical outreach and frequent presence at both civic and Catholic events leaves a significant impact on Utah. No doubt the people of Utah will feel great sadness at his departure. We wish him well." Holy Cross Sister Jacinta Millan, who works with Holy Cross Ministries, a social services provider in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, said, "I am sad to see him go. He's so personable, so approachable. He makes you feel so much at home here, and I really appreciate that."

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Displaced communities in Colombia advocate for land, says priest

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- After years of displacement and chaos, many of the indigenous and Afro-Colombian people from the remote region of Choco, Colombia, want to go home and live safely, but paramilitary groups, guerrillas and drug lords need to leave and return what was taken, a Colombian priest said. The ethnic communities -- mostly Catholic indigenous and Afro-Colombian people -- of the jungle region used to live peacefully as subsistence farmers, fishermen and miners until competing, illegally armed forces destabilized their land in the late 1990s, said Father Manuel Garcia Anaya from the Diocese of Quibdo in the Colombian Choco region. The region was more peaceful when just the left-wing guerrillas dominated control of the region, he said, adding that when the right-wing paramilitaries moved in both forces contributed to citizen displacement. The armed groups went to the Choco region because of its geographical remoteness from the Colombian government armed forces.

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Bishops' president blasts 'South Park' episode lampooning Mary

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The president of the U.S. bishops blasted a recent episode of the cable television comedy "South Park" that he said showed Mary in "a tasteless and ugly fashion." In a Dec. 14 letter to Tom Freston, co-president and chief operating officer of Viacom International, parent company of Comedy Central, the cable channel that shows "South Park," Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., said the channel showed "extreme insensitivity" in choosing to show the episode. The episode, which first was shown Dec. 7 and had repeat showings in the week following, was titled "Bloody Mary." During the episode, a "South Park" character claims to have been sprayed with blood from a bodily orifice of a Virgin Mary statue. When Pope Benedict XVI investigates in the show, he declares that she was merely menstruating. The episode's premiere date came the day before the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation for Catholics.

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Traveling Nativity in Vermont recalls reason for Christmas season

MORRISVILLE, Vt. (CNS) -- Although the Virgin Mary and her husband, Joseph, traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem on foot and by donkey more than 2,000 years ago, a "traveling Nativity" went by motor vehicle in Vermont this year as a way to remind people to keep Christ in Christmas. The nearly life-size plywood Mary and Joseph made their way from the lawn of Blessed Sacrament Church in Stowe to Holy Cross Church in Morrisville, traveling only a small part of the distance the real Mary and Joseph traveled. They made stops along the way. The display was strategically placed for a few days or a week to remind all who passed by that Christmas was coming and that Christmas is all about the birth of Christ. The idea for the traveling Nativity began with Connie Cooney, daughter of Deacon Tom and Connie Cooney of Holy Cross Parish. She told her parents during a Christmas visit about a New Hampshire town where people had made silhouettes of camels and kings to move throughout the town as Christmas approached.

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Catholic New York, archdiocesan newspaper, to go to biweekly schedule

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Catholic New York, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York, will advance to a biweekly publishing schedule beginning in January. The change was approved by Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York in November. The first biweekly issue will be dated Jan. 5. The newspaper will be printed and distributed every other week, for a total of 24 issues during the calendar year. A summer schedule will be in effect for July and August with one less issue published in each of those months. Catholic New York has been operating as a monthly since September 2001. For the first 20 years of its existence, after its founding by Cardinal Terence Cooke, it was issued weekly. "This is a big step for Catholic New York," said John Woods, the paper's editor in chief. "It will allow us to present news and information that is important to our readers in a much more timely fashion."

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Franciscan Institute receives anonymous $1.2 million bequest

ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. (CNS) -- An anonymous bequest of $1.2 million to the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University will provide financial support for attracting speakers, lecturers, researchers and teachers of Franciscan studies to the institute. The endowment is named in honor of three former Franciscan Institute scholars: Franciscan Fathers Philotheus Boehner, Eligius Buytaert and Allan Wolter. "The new BBW Endowment -- as we have fondly taken to calling it -- is a marvelous tribute to the teaching careers and scholarly work of three extraordinary friars who taught at the university during the early decades of the institute's existence," said Franciscan Father Michael F. Cusato, director of the institute and dean of the university's school of Franciscan studies.

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Pope names veteran Vatican diplomat as new U.S. papal nuncio

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI named a veteran Vatican diplomat, Italian Archbishop Pietro Sambi, to be the new papal nuncio to the United States. Archbishop Sambi, 67, has served as the Vatican's representative to Israel and Palestine, where he helped arrange Pope John Paul II's historic pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2000. He replaces Colombian Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, who was retiring at age 75 after serving as nuncio in Washington since 1998. The Vatican announced the appointment Dec. 17. Archbishop Sambi is known in church circles as an energetic and gregarious man with an ability to bring the human touch to diplomatic challenges. He speaks Italian, English, French and Spanish. In a statement welcoming the appointment, Bishop William S. Skylstad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the pope had honored the United States by appointing such an experienced prelate.

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Riots in France showed youths' frustration, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- While the violence that struck France in November must be condemned, the riots were an expression of the frustration felt by young people who feel excluded economically and socially, Pope Benedict XVI said. Welcoming Bernard Kessedjian, France's new ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict said the influx of immigrants to France after World War II helped fuel the country's economic and social development. "It is important today to thank them and their descendants for the economic, cultural and social riches they helped create," the pope said in his Dec. 19 talk to the ambassador. The riots that struck the outskirts of Paris and other French cities in November were carried out mainly by poor youths who are the children of immigrants. Pope Benedict told the ambassador that "the challenge today consists in living the values of equality and fraternity" espoused by the country, ensuring that all citizens feel they are accepted members of society and enjoy equal opportunities.

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Real Christmas gift is bringing joy to others, not gifts, pope says

ROME (CNS) -- The real gift of Christmas is to bring joy to others, not expensive presents that waste both time and money, Pope Benedict XVI said Dec. 18 at Santa Maria Consolatrice Parish in Rome. Joy can be spread in any number of simple ways: "a smile, an act of kindness, a helping hand, forgiveness," he said. By bringing joy to others, joy will soon come back to those who gave it, he added. "Joy is the real gift of Christmas, not expensive things that cost time and money," the pope said during his first visit as pope to a Rome parish. Santa Maria Consolatrice Parish is located in a working-class neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of Rome. The 60-year-old church had been the pope's titular church from 1977, when he was named a cardinal, until 1993. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger frequently visited the parish to celebrate Mass and preside over confirmations. In his Dec. 18 homily, the pope thanked the nearly 1,000 parishioners for attending the Mass on the last Sunday in Advent and said his visit to the parish was "like coming home."

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Parishes must feel like a 'church family,' pope tells Polish bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To make parishes real communities, priests must get to know parishioners, listen to their advice and welcome their initiatives to serve the parish and the local community, Pope Benedict XVI said. Meeting Dec. 17 with a group of Polish bishops making their "ad limina" visits to Rome, the pope said he was pleased that the reports about diocesan life that the bishops give the Vatican every five years showed a high-rate of attendance at Sunday Mass and participation in parish life. Each parish must be a "church family," he said. "Even if the parish is very large, every effort must be made to make sure it is not reduced to a crowd of anonymous faithful." Priests "must know the sheep of their flock, maintain pastoral contact with every sphere and try to know the spiritual and material needs of their parishioners," he said.

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Vatican's Christmas tree reminds people Christ has come, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The shining lights of the Vatican's towering Christmas tree should remind people that Christ, the light of the world, has come, Pope Benedict XVI told church and civic leaders from Austria. The region of Upper Austria donated the 98-foot tree, which was lighted during a Dec. 17 ceremony in St. Peter's Square. The pope held an audience with the Austrian delegation in the morning, while U.S. Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka, president of the office governing Vatican City State, presided over the evening tree lighting. Pope Benedict told the Austrians, "At Christmas, in every part of the globe, the good news of the birth of the Redeemer echoes again: The awaited Messiah became man and came among us. "With his shining presence, Jesus has shattered the darkness of error and sin and has brought humanity the joy of his blazing divine light; the Christmas tree is a sign and reminder of this," he said.

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Measure supporting traditional marriage defeated in New Zealand

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (CNS) -- A marriage amendment bill stipulating that marriages may occur "only between one man and one woman" was defeated in a 73-47 vote in New Zealand's Parliament. The Marriage Gender Clarification Amendment was presented by Gordon Copeland of the United Future Party. It was defeated at its first reading in early December. Chris Finlayson, a Catholic member of the National Party, said he supported marriage as a union between one man and one woman but called the proposed legislation ill-conceived. During a speech, he said there is "nothing to clarify because the law is clear." Finlayson said an appeals court ruling denying a same-sex marriage in New Zealand in the 1990s demonstrated that same-sex marriages are not permitted under the country's Marriage Act. He also noted that 2004 civil union legislation "further clarified the position."

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Peace lamps unite churches, focus prayers for peace on Holy Land

TAYBEH, West Bank (CNS) -- Small, delicate peace lamps are being placed in churches around the world as the focus of a campaign for peace in the Holy Land. Formed as a classic oil lamp or in the shape of a dove, they are made of ceramic in a small West Bank factory. The peace project, conceived and planned by Father Raed Abusahlia of Redeemer Catholic Church in Taybeh, is aimed at uniting all Christians around the world in prayer for the peace of the Holy Land by placing a peace lamp in churches around the world. Also involved in organizing it was the Growing Peace Together Association in Florence, Italy, with the blessing of both Cardinal Ennio Antonelli of Florence and Latin-rite Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem.

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Louisiana Catholic woman takes book she wrote about Christmas on tour

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- At some point, most parents have some explaining to do about Santa. Claire Boudreaux Bateman, a Baton Rouge, La., mom, took her explanation a step further than most parents. Instead of just giving a quick response to her son's questions about why Santa visits on Jesus' birthday, she came up with a detailed story of the friendship between Jesus and Santa. She wrote the story down and before long was reading it to local schoolchildren. During the story's first public debut, at her son's kindergarten class, one student came up to her afterward and asked her if she wrote it and wondered why she didn't staple the pages of her story together. That got Bateman, a parishioner at St. Aloysius Parish in Baton Rouge, thinking not only of finding a way to keep the pages together, but of possibly publishing the story. A teacher at a local Catholic high school put her in touch with a former art student, Hannah Romero, who illustrated it. In 2002 Bateman's story, "How Christmas Began," was published. It costs $18.50 and is available online at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.

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Moral use of stem cells helps New York woman halt her cancer

ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS) -- Opponents of embryonic stem-cell research often point out that using adult stem cells to treat disease is morally acceptable and has shown results. Pat Picher of Saratoga Springs believes she's living proof of that. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1999, she was treated with adult stem cells harvested from her own body. In January, she will celebrate three years of remission from her cancer -- the benchmark after which doctors predict that cancer will not return. "Then I'll start planning my trip to Hawaii," Picher said in an interview with The Evangelist, Albany diocesan newspaper. She is a homemaker whose husband, Deacon Gary Picher, serves at two parishes and two hospitals in the Albany Diocese.


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