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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Oct-31-2007

By Catholic News Service


Utah's school voucher referendum is a 'win-win' measure, says bishop

SALT LAKE CITY (CNS) -- A school voucher referendum facing a Nov. 6 vote in Utah would benefit public and private schools, students and families, said Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, who described it as a "win-win referendum." The bishop said he agreed with Utah's Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who has said that the state will see a tremendous increase in students over the next 10 years and needs to come up with creative ways to educate them. "Public and private schools together must find ways to address the challenges of the days ahead," Bishop Wester said in an interview with his diocesan newspaper, the Intermountain Catholic. "There must be diversity, accountability and qualified faculties to meet the needs of all Utah students." The voucher referendum -- called Referendum 1, or the Parent Choice in Education Act -- would give parents the choice of sending their children to public schools or receiving scholarship funds to send them to a private school, secular or sectarian. Based on family income, students could be awarded scholarships of $500 to $3,000 a year for school tuition. Payments would be sent directly to the family's school of choice. During an Oct. 17 press conference about the referendum at the Utah Capitol, Huntsman said he supports the measure as a means, other than raising property taxes, to meet the upcoming flood of new students entering Utah's public schools.

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What happens when media get too big for their britches?

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Who ever knew there could be so much tension in relaxation? Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin has unveiled his intent to relax media ownership rules -- possibly by December if he gets his way -- as long as he can get two more votes on the five-member FCC. Perhaps Martin forgot that ownership rules were relaxed, not strengthened, in 1996. Those rules increased the number of radio stations one company could own in one market to eight, gave greater leeway to companies owning two TV stations in the same market, increased the percentage of Americans one company could reach with the TV stations it owns. Martin hasn't released his plan, even though he wants a vote on it by the end of the year. In some places, people would call that buying a pig in a poke. How big is too big? Things were already plenty big by the time Ben H. Bagdikian wrote his first edition of "The Media Monopoly" back in the 1980s. His seventh edition was published in 2004. Since he started, the different kinds of communications media have increased, but the market share of the prime players in each medium also has increased. And companies look to stretch their tentacles wherever they think they can finally get hold of some long-elusive "synergy" that makes the inflated purchase prices worth it. The biggest problem is that the synergies aren't that easy to find. To pay for the acquisition, the buyer inevitably makes cuts in staffing, leaving the local community in a boat without a paddle while programming decisions are made at some far-away corporate headquarters.

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Campaign to raise $500 million under way at University of St. Thomas

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- The University of St. Thomas in St. Paul announced the public launch of a $500 million "Opening Doors" capital campaign, supported by a $60 million gift for a new student center and improvements to athletic and recreational facilities. The gift, the largest single contribution made to a college or university in Minnesota, was donated by Lee and Penny Anderson. It is part of $310 million in gifts and pledges raised during a quiet phase of the campaign that began in 2004. Lee Anderson, a member of the university's board of trustees, is the owner and chairman of APi Group Inc., a St. Paul-based holding corporation of about 30 construction, manufacturing and fire-protection companies. Penny Anderson, a longtime community volunteer, serves as a trustee on the board of the Naples Children's and Education Foundation in Florida. The $310 million raised so far includes 22 gifts of $1 million or more and is the most raised in a capital campaign by a Minnesota private college or university. St. Thomas also announced a host of academic programs and construction projects related to the campaign's three main themes: excellence, access and Catholic identity. The campaign's largest priority, $130 million, is for financial aid for students from all economic and cultural backgrounds.

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Bishops' anti-poverty program distributes $9.5 million in grants

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishops' domestic anti-poverty program, is awarding more than $9.5 million in grants this year to support local projects that working to eliminate the root causes of poverty in the United States. The grants totaling $9,578,000 will be distributed to 314 projects in 46 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. "Overcoming widespread poverty in the richest nation on earth is a moral imperative," said John Carr, CCHD's interim executive director, noting that according to the U.S. Census Bureau report released in August, 36.5 million Americans live at or below the poverty line. "The Catholic Campaign for Human Development invests in bottom-up, community empowerment strategies across the United States," Carr added in a Oct. 26 statement announcing the grants. Funding for the grants CCHD distributes annually comes from a nationwide church collection that takes place in dioceses each year, usually the weekend before Thanksgiving. One-quarter of the local collection stays in the diocese and the rest is distributed nationally by the CCHD office in Washington. Funded projects undergo a thorough review process and are selected based on need, without regard to religious affiliation. For the last several years, the total amount of CCHD's annual grants has been in the $9 million to $10 million range.

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Miller apologizes for its logo on poster parodying 'The Last Supper'

SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing Co. has issued a formal apology for "the offense caused by the use of Miller brand logos on a poster promoting the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco with an irreverent take on Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper." In an Oct. 26 statement the company said it completed "an exhaustive audit of its marketing procedures for approving local marketing and sales sponsorships" and will tighten "compliance procedures" to ensure such an incident will not happen again. The New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and other Christian groups expressed outrage over the poster, which had what critics described as a sadomasochistic theme. It carried the Miller trademark as well as those of other sponsors of the Sept. 30 event. A center figure in the poster is a muscled, shirtless man flanked by men and women in leather fetishistic garb, some in flowing wigs and in poses echoing da Vinci's mural. The table is strewn with sex toys. On Oct. 31 the Catholic League said it was dropping its boycott of Miller products and its anti-Miller public relations campaign because the company had extended its apology to an acknowledgment of "disrespectful activities" at the fair.

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Scholars troubled by Vatican official's remarks on Muslim dialogue

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- After 138 Muslim scholars wrote to top Christian leaders highlighting shared religious values as a basis for working together for peace and understanding, a Vatican official raised questions about the possibilities for dialogue with Muslims. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the longtime Vatican diplomat who became president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in September, has said the Vatican would respond formally to the Muslim scholars. But he raised concerns among the Muslim signers when he told a French Catholic newspaper he was not sure "theological dialogue" was possible with Muslims. The newspaper, La Croix, asked the cardinal if theological dialogue was possible with members of other religions. "With some religions, yes," he said. "But with Islam, no, not at this time. Muslims do not accept the possibility of discussing the Quran, because it is written, they say, as dictated by God. With such a strict interpretation, it is difficult to discuss the content of faith," he said in the interview published Oct. 18. Aref Ali Nayed, one of the original signers of the letter and senior adviser to the Cambridge Interfaith Program at Britain's Cambridge University divinity faculty, told Catholic News Service, "Cardinal Tauran's statement to La Croix was very disappointing indeed."

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Christians must live as good citizens, pope says at audience

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians are obliged to live as good citizens, paying their taxes, sharing with the poor and working for political policies that promote justice and peace, Pope Benedict XVI said. "A profound relationship between the obligations of a Christian and those of a citizen" exists, the pope said Oct. 31 at his rain-drenched weekly general audience. Focusing on the teaching of St. Maximus, who became bishop of Turin, Italy, in 398, Pope Benedict explained how barbarian invasions often forced early Christian leaders to become civic leaders as well as spiritual leaders when social structures had fallen into ruin. While times have changed, he said, "the obligations of the believer toward his city (and) his nation remain valid. The connection between the honest citizen and that of the good Christian has not been surpassed." The pope said St. Maximus not only worked to increase Christians' sense of patriotism, but also preached their "precise responsibility to pay their financial dues, despite how heavy and unpleasant they may seem." Many of the saint's homilies were addressed to the wealthy of Turin and focused on the "always relevant theme of wealth and poverty within the Christian community," the pope said.

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Vatican official: Christians must try to end death penalty, torture

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Christians must work for the abolition of the death penalty and all forms of torture, said Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. "Christians are called to cooperate for the defense of human rights and for the abolition of the death penalty, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment" both in wartime and in times of peace, the cardinal said. "These practices are grave crimes against the human person created in the image of God and a scandal for the human family in the 21st century," he said. In an Oct. 30 press release, the cardinal's office said he made his statements during a meeting with Sylvie Bukhari-de Pontual, president of the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture. The Rome-based Sant'Egidio Community and the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty announced Oct. 30 that they would present to the president of the U.N. General Assembly 5 million signatures on a petition calling for a worldwide moratorium on capital executions.

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Flourishing vocations show Romanian church thrives after communism

IASI, Romania (CNS) -- Where the European Union ends and the former Soviet Union begins, a strong, steady stream of vocations is evidence that the Catholic Church has surged following the collapse of communism nearly 20 years ago. For example, the Diocese of Iasi, Romania's second-largest city with a long history of educating Christian leaders in southeastern Europe, is one of six Latin-rite Catholic dioceses in Romania. Though it is not the diocese with the most parishioners -- only 256,000 members out of a nationwide population of 1.9 million Catholics -- it is one of Europe's most bountiful sources of young priests and women religious, said a U.S. church official familiar with the church in Eastern Europe. The most recent crop of priests were consecrated in June. Of the 30 new priests, 27 are between the ages of 25 and 29. Ten are Franciscans, an order with 13 friaries in Romania, all opened or renewed since the fall of communism. "In the face of a gift as tremendous as this one, unmerited, you can only fall to your knees and promise that you will try, your whole life, to reach the highest level. You feel as though God has touched your heart and holds you in his arms, freely, out of love," said newly ordained Father Claudiu Budau, 25. "We made only a simple act of faith, saying, 'Yes!'" said Father Budau, who graduated from Iasi's St. Joseph Seminary, founded in 1886.

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After fall of communism, Moldovan Catholic charities thrive

CHISINAU, Moldova (CNS) -- As Sister Michelina ladled beans from a food cart onto china plates, she cheerfully recounted how she and Moldova's only diocese increased a sense of community among the poor elderly who were sharing lunch. "We made everyone sit down to eat together," she said. "We forbid people from packing up the meal and leaving." She said the rule was necessary especially in a country such as Moldova, where years of oppressive communist rule -- and the toll of post-communist poverty -- have created deep alienation among the increasingly elderly population. At the church-run center, the 350 visitors, many chatting and helping each other, have overcome their original preference for fly-by dining. "Now we see new friendships, laughter, more participation in after-lunch activities. We feel the Holy Spirit," said Sister Michelina, mother superior of the Providentia order who goes by her first name. The nun noted that a community does not flower and thrive without care and discipline.

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Sri Lankan priests call for boycott of Christmas celebrations

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNS) -- Some Sri Lankan priests are calling on Catholics to boycott Christmas celebrations unless the war and related killings and disappearances end. "Stop all the Christmas celebrations. No Christmas cards, no lights, no decorations, no new clothes. Nothing. We can do that, can't we?" Oblate Father M. Selvaratnam asked during a meeting at the Centre for Society and Religion Oct. 26 in Colombo. His remarks were reported by the Asian church news agency UCA News. In the past the government has sponsored Christmas light displays along streets in the capital to acknowledge the Christian holiday. Father Selvaratnam, who heads the Jaffna province of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, was addressing more than 75 clergy, religious and laypeople who gathered to commemorate the death of Father Nicholapillai Packiaranjith. The priest was killed in a land mine explosion Sept. 26 while taking relief supplies to refugees. Father Noel Dias, an official of the Colombo Archdiocese, told the gathering: "Let all priests, religious and parishioners from the parish level write to our bishops, calling for objective action and an end to big celebrations for Christmas." He pointed out that the bishops' conference "is silent at this time." Speaking with UCA News, Franciscan Sister Placida Lihinikaduwe said Catholics must "campaign differently" and "some stern action must be taken by the church."

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Franciscans to close Nazareth's Annunciation grotto to work on rock

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, which coordinates Christian pilgrimage sites, will close the grotto of the Basilica of the Annunciation for four months for conservation work on the grotto's rock. The work will begin Nov. 10 at the grotto in the basilica's lower church in Nazareth, Israel. "There is a constant flow of people walking past the grotto as there (are) a lot of people coming to Israel now, and most of those people go inside the grotto, and that creates a serious problem," said Franciscan Brother Ricardo Bustos, superior of the convent of the Most Holy Annunciation at the basilica. The rock of the grotto is very fragile, he said, and even the temperature change within the grotto caused by visitors' body heat is damaging the rock, plus many people touch the rock, Brother Bustos told Catholic News Service. Some people, seeing that the rock is crumbling, help themselves to a chip to "take the grotto home with them," he said, adding that flash photography is also extremely harmful. Last year a team of experts from Italian universities in Milan, Pisa and Turin began analysis work on the site. The experts said the site must be closed to accurately measure the atmospheric conditions inside the grotto, said Brother Bustos. Depending on the work that needs to be undertaken to strengthen the rock, Franciscans hope that the grotto will be able to be open in time for the feast of the Annunciation March 25, he said.

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Father Robinson dies at age 78; was beloved local, national figure

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Members of the Los Angeles Catholic community said they will remember the late Divine Word Father Fisher Robinson Jr., an African-American priest who was a beloved local and national figure, as a mentor with quiet wisdom, a supporter of black Catholic leadership and a faith-filled priest. A funeral Mass was celebrated for him Oct. 23 at St. John the Evangelist Church in South Los Angeles. He died Oct. 18 of natural causes at age 78. Burial was in Pierce Brothers Crestlawn Memorial Park in Riverside. Father Robinson was a founder of the National Black Catholic Congress and played a vital role in the organization. A native of Abbeville, La., he entered the Society of the Divine Word in 1943 in Bay St. Louis, Miss., professed his first vows in 1950 in Techny, Ill., and was ordained a priest May 1, 1958, in Bay St. Louis. Over the years he served his order in Louisiana, Mississippi and California, where he had lived since 1963. He held parish assignments and also was a teacher at the Divine Word Seminary in Riverside and a high school principal in Los Angeles. "He was like a father to all of us," said Deacon Willard Hall, who serves at St. John the Evangelist. Father Robinson had lived at the parish with his Divine Word community since 1989. He mentored deacons, members of the Knights of Peter Claver as well as new priests serving at the parish.

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Jesuit scholar's book aims to 'decode' Sistine Chapel frescoes

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A new book by a Jesuit scholar aims to "decode" the Sistine Chapel's famous frescoes, examining a rich but largely hidden array of theological images and symbols. "The Sistine Chapel: A New Vision," the first of a new series of in-depth works on Vatican artistic monuments, was presented at the Vatican Oct. 30. The author, Father Heinrich Pfeiffer, an art history professor at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, said the idea for the book grew out of a visit he made to the Sistine Chapel nearly 50 years ago. At that time, he said, he noticed interesting correlations between Michelangelo's ceiling fresco, "Noah's Drunkenness," and an earlier fresco of the crucifixion on the chapel's side wall directly below. Father Pfeiffer began to research early church and medieval theology and its influence on Renaissance painting. His conclusion was that the Sistine Chapel artists did not invent the themes, designs and even many of the details in their paintings, but were guided by papal theologians.


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