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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS May-15-2007

By Catholic News Service


Proposed New York abortion, marriage laws called 'radical'

ALBANY, N.Y. (CNS) -- The New York State Catholic Conference has sharply attacked Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposals to legalize same-sex marriages and make it illegal to place any restrictions on abortion in the state. The two bills, announced by the governor's office in late April, mark "a very troubling, radical turn for this new administration," said Catholic conference executive director Richard E. Barnes. Spitzer's own press release announcing the proposed abortion legislation quoted leaders of several major abortion-rights organizations in the state, advocating the governor's bill as a necessary response to what they called the "dangerous" recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. Spitzer said his proposed marriage legislation "would create equal legal protection and responsibilities for all individuals who seek to marry" regardless of the gender of the partners. Barnes said, "Marriage is not some political term of art that can be reimagined or redefined according to the whims of the popular culture. ... Its fundamental characteristic is the union of two complementary partners, one male and one female, who come together in mutual love and for the procreation and stable rearing of children."

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Catholic life in tornado-hit town slowly getting back on its feet

GREENSBURG, Kan. (CNS) -- Although St. Joseph Church in Greensburg was destroyed in the May 4 tornado, its cross is reportedly the only cross left standing in the shattered town, and its bell is still rung daily at noon and 6 p.m. But the rubble that was once St. Joseph Church was cleared from the lot May 11 by a work crew that included parishioners from Greensburg and Sacred Heart in nearby Pratt, as well as members of the Knights of Columbus. The cross and the bell, which are all that remain, are seen as symbols of hope. Plans are now under way to provide a structure that will serve the parishioners and the community as a church. "We are committed to St. Joseph Parish and have made arrangements to purchase a modular building to serve as a temporary worship space until more permanent building plans are established," said Dan Stremel, director of finance for the Diocese of Dodge City. "The timetable for this is 'as soon as possible,'" Stremel added. Father Robert Schremmer, vicar general for the diocese, has been in contact with leaders from other denominations in Greensburg and has offered the use of the modular structure for their congregations as well.

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Archbishop, bishop leave religious freedom commission

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The two Catholic bishops serving on the Commission on International Religious Freedom, Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput and Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., are both leaving the panel. Each has served on it for four years. One of their slots will be taken by Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society and one of the founders of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. Also stepping down will be Khaled M. Abou El Fadl, a law professor from the University of California-Los Angeles who specializes in Islamic law. He also has been on the commission since 2003. To fill two of the open slots, President George W. Bush named Leo and Imam Talal Y. Eid, founder and director of religious affairs at the Islamic Institute of Boston. Bush also reappointed member Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a senior adviser to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., named Don Argue, president of Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash., to fill the third open slot.

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Latin American, Caribbean bishops tackle agenda outlined by pope

APARECIDA, Brazil (CNS) -- With their agenda broadly outlined by Pope Benedict XVI, the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean began the conference that will lead to pastoral guidelines for the region for the next 10-15 years. Several bishops who spoke with journalists said the pope raised many of the issues likely to be addressed during the conference, including deeper formation in the faith and church social doctrine, poverty, ministry among indigenous peoples and family life. Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, Peru, called the pope's May 13 speech to the bishops "inspiring" and "encouraging." Archbishop Baltazar Porras Cardozo of Merida, Venezuela, told journalists that the pope did not "put us in a straitjacket" but "came to present a challenge to the church." The pope's address officially opened the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, which runs through May 31.

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Rancher convicted of murder of American nun in Brazil

SAO PAULO, Brazil (CNS) -- A Brazilian rancher was convicted May 15 of ordering the February 2005 assassination of U.S. Sister Dorothy Stang and sentenced to 30 years in prison. Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, known in the Amazon region as Bida, said in court May 14 he did not know Sister Dorothy, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and only had contact with her two assassins after she was dead. He denied accusations that he paid the two men found guilty of killing the nun $25,000 to murder her. De Moura said Rayfran das Neves Sales and Clodoaldo Carlos Batista came to him after the crime and confessed the assassination. They were convicted of the crime in 2005. Judge Raymond Moises Alves Flexa sentenced Moura to 30 years in prison at the close of the two-day trial. De Moura's trial began May 14 in the northern city of Belem, in the state of Para. Sister Dorothy, a native of Dayton, Ohio, was 73 when she was murdered on an isolated road near the town of Anapu. She had lived in Brazil for nearly four decades and was known in the region as a fierce defender of a sustainable development project for the Amazon forest.

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Archbishop says Zimbabwe's enmity shown by refusing priests' permits

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- The Zimbabwean government's antagonism toward the Catholic Church is shown in its refusal to renew the permits of foreign priests, said Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. "In a sign of the government becoming anti-church," the archbishop said, two black South African priests were refused extensions of their permits to stay in Zimbabwe and had to return to their home country. In a May 14 telephone interview from Bulawayo, Archbishop Ncube called Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's recent comments about him "very disturbing." In the May edition of the London-based New African magazine, Mugabe, 83, singled out Archbishop Ncube for condemnation and said he has "long been a lost bishop." After an Easter pastoral letter in which Zimbabwe's bishops said the country was in "deep crisis" and "extreme danger" because of its "overtly corrupt" leadership, Mugabe warned the bishops that they are treading "a dangerous path" by criticizing the government. Ordinary Zimbabweans have praised the letter and are grateful that the bishops have spoken up for them, Archbishop Ncube said.

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NAC Martyrs' dream of making Clericus Cup final dashed with loss

ROME (CNS) -- The Pontifical North American College's dream of making the final rounds of Rome's first Clericus Cup soccer tournament were dashed when the college's Martyrs lost early in the playoffs. The Martyrs went head to head against the top-seeded team in the tournament May 12, and the Neocatechumenal Way's Redemptoris Mater team beat the Martyrs 1-0. The Redemptoris team -- which was undefeated and has allowed no goals -- has "very skilled players" who had much more experience on the field, but their slightly more aggressive style caught the Martyrs off guard, said Martyrs' trainer Gregory Rannazzisi. Rannazzisi, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., told Catholic News Service May 14 that the Redemptoris squad scored early in the game when the Martyrs experienced a brief bout of "sloppy defense." But while the Martyrs could not score, the defense managed to keep the damage to a minimum. Just making it to the playoffs with their surprisingly strong performances throughout the tournament "was really great," Rannazzisi said.

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Bishops' Catholic-Jewish expert of past 30 years prepares to retire

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Eugene J. Fisher said he currently has five books in the works and also hopes to do some teaching when he retires at the end of June after 30 years as associate director for Catholic-Jewish relations in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. In a May 11 interview with Catholic News Service, he said the Catholic-Jewish crisis of the summer of 1987 was the most memorable moment in those 30 years. Pope John Paul II was due to visit Miami in September and have his first meeting on U.S. soil with representatives of American Jewry. Then the pope met in June with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, whose connection with a Nazi military unit that committed war crimes had recently come to light. "The Jewish community was quite understandably upset with that," Fisher said. "During my tenure there were a number of crises, and most of them were around the Holocaust," he said. But he spoke mainly of the building of relations that has taken place over those three decades. He said Catholic and Jewish leaders took up the seminal new teaching about Jews and Judaism found in "Nostra Aetate," the Second Vatican Council's declaration on relations with non-Christian religions, and worked through the implications "step by careful step ... building the edifice, brick by brick."

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Mexican actor gives up fame to make movies that touch lives

OTTAWA (CNS) -- If the story of the rich young man from the Gospel of Matthew had a sequel updated for modern times, it might resemble the life of actor Eduardo Verastegui, a Catholic who stars in the film "Bella." In the Gospel account, Jesus tells the young man to sell all he has and follow him, but the man goes away sorrowful. In the modern-day sequel, Verastegui sells all he has and is prepared to give up his budding acting career to follow Jesus. Verastegui had reached the zenith of Mexican celebrity as a soap star and singer who had toured at least 13 countries to sold-out crowds. His resume includes music videos and films. But while studying English in Los Angeles, he found himself drawn to a deeper faith in Jesus through the example of his Catholic teacher, and began to see all the reasons he had wanted to be an actor -- fame, money and pleasure -- as empty and vain. In 2004 he met movie producer Leo Severino while attending daily Mass. Not long after, Verastegui and Severino co-founded Metanoia Films to produce movies that could change lives and hearts. "Bella," released in 2006, is Metanoia's first film. It won the coveted People's Choice Award at last fall's Toronto Film Festival.

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Faith helps couple with twins born conjoined, separated by surgery

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (CNS) -- The last year has been an emotional one for Angie Benzschawel and Ryan Shaw following the birth of their twin sons. But the young couple agrees they couldn't have made it without the support of family and friends, and their Catholic faith. The babies were born conjoined and required surgical separation to save their lives. And they face more medical treatment. The babies also were born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. When doctors explained what a prenatal screening and ultrasound had shown, "we were told we still had opportunities to terminate the pregnancy," said Shaw. "But that wasn't an option for us. It's not for us to play God just because of potential problems." The names they chose for their boys, Mateo Asher and McHale Twain, reveal much about the parents and the journey on which they embarked in welcoming these two new lives. Mateo and McHale mean "gift of God;" Mateo reflects Benzschawel's Spanish heritage and McHale, Shaw's Irish background. Asher means "to be blessed," while Twain means "to be cut in two." More information about the twins is available on the Web site www.caringbridge.org, by clicking on "visit a CaringBridge site" and entering "MateoandMcHale" as the site name.

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Rev. Jerry Falwell dies; founded Moral Majority, led religious right

LYNCHBURG, Va. (CNS) -- The Rev. Jerry Falwell, the Baptist preacher who founded the Moral Majority and Liberty University and led the religious-political conservative movement known in the 1970s and '80s as the New Right, died May 15. He was 73. Rev. Falwell, who had a history of heart problems, collapsed in his office at the university and was rushed to Lynchburg General Hospital, where efforts to revive him failed. Born Aug. 11, 1933, in Lynchburg, he was ordained a Baptist minister in 1956 and founded the Thomas Road Baptist Church in his hometown. He almost immediately started a half-hour radio broadcast, which grew by 1971 into a national television show with an audience estimated in the millions. In 1979 he formed the Moral Majority to reverse what he and many others saw as a growing immorality in American life, politics and public policy.


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