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NEWS BRIEFS Feb-29-2008

By Catholic News Service


Security requirement to keep Sikhs from interreligious papal event

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Representatives of the world's fifth-largest religion, Sikhism, will not attend an interreligious meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in Washington because the faith requires formally initiated members to wear at all times a miniature sword or dagger called a kirpan, and security concerns will bar kirpans from the room. Father James Massa, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, confirmed the Secret Service would require Sikhs to leave behind their kirpans if they were to participate in the April 17 interfaith meeting that will be held at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington. Rather than compromise on religious tenets that treat wearing a kirpan as a sacred obligation for professed believers, Sikh leaders and representatives of the bishops' conference agreed they should quietly decline the invitation to participate in the meeting. Catholic News Service learned of the development and confirmed the information with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the World Sikh Council-American Region.

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Young voters at Catholic colleges part of election-year 'youthquake'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a presidential campaign where young people are being touted as a critical, active bloc of voters, students at Catholic colleges are equally caught up in the election fervor. Back in the summer, when there were 18 presidential candidates, St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., was the first location of two primary debates. It also held two back-to-back debates just days before the New Hampshire primary in early January. The on-campus debates not only brought hordes of media crews to the campus but also gave students at the small Benedictine college the chance to meet candidates in person and form opinions of them. In late November the students held a mock primary vote that named U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Republican Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, the presidential contenders. Romney has since dropped out of the race. The primary in New Hampshire and the Iowa caucuses five days earlier started a trend that has continued in primaries across the country -- a surge of young voters that's been dubbed a political "youthquake."

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Kansas church leaders call for humane immigration reform

TOPEKA, Kan. (CNS) -- The four Catholic bishops of Kansas have joined with the state's four Methodist, Lutheran and Episcopal bishops to urge lawmakers to work for comprehensive immigration reform and not pass legislation that unfairly targets migrants. Their statement comes in the midst of legislative hearings in Topeka on numerous bills aimed at the illegal immigrant population of Kansas. Four House bills and one Senate bill would clamp down on undocumented residents and on the businesses that employ them. "They're going to cause more confusion and cost to the state than meets the eye. It's not going to solve the problem," said Beatrice Swoopes, interim director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, the policymaking arm of the Catholic Church in Kansas. "All of this is based on fear -- fear that cannot be documented -- of what a threat immigrants are to the state," she told The Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Salina. "It's a political issue. That's what's given it teeth. Some feel that if the states do something, then that will force the federal government to act," she said.

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Catholic Church fights bills to lift limitations on sex abuse cases

SEATTLE (CNS) -- The Catholic conferences in at least two states are opposing bills in their state legislatures that would eliminate the statute of limitations for suits brought on behalf of victims of child sexual abuse. The proposed legislation in Colorado and Wisconsin also would permit "windows" of time to allow retroactive suits dealing with incidents that occurred decades ago. In a third state, Maryland, a similar bill has been withdrawn by the lawmaker who introduced it, Democratic Delegate Eric Bromwell. The Maryland Catholic Conference led the opposition to the measure and credited his decision to withdraw it to efforts to fight it by his Catholic constituents. In each state the Catholic conference has said such legislation is biased for treating church institutions differently from public bodies and would seriously impact the church's ministry to the community at large. A Catholic conference is an agency created by the bishops of a state to represent the public policy and pastoral interests of the church and to advocate positions in the legislative process.

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Vatican says baptisms using wrong words are not valid, must be redone

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A baptism administered "in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer and of the Sanctifier" is not a baptism at all, said the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The congregation's statement was published Feb. 29 as a brief response to questions regarding the validity of baptisms using that formula. Asked whether a baptism performed with that formula -- or a similar one referring to the "Creator, Liberator and Sustainer" -- would be valid, the congregation answered "Negative." Asked whether people who were initiated with a rite using these formulas would now need to be baptized "in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," the congregation answered "Affirmative." The congregation said Pope Benedict XVI "approved these responses" and ordered their publication. If either formula -- recently initiated in North America to avoid referring to the Trinity with masculine names -- was used, the person is not yet formally a Christian and any subsequent sacraments the person received also are invalid, said Cardinal Urbano Navarrete in a commentary commissioned by the doctrinal congregation.

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Haitians, Americans hope new clinic will provide jobs, health care

PETITE RIVIERE DE NIPPES, Haiti (CNS) -- Hundreds of people in this Haitian coastal town marched around deep potholes, over broken bridges and past small concrete huts, rusted truck beds, women washing clothes in streams and playing with children. Starting at St. Antoine Church in the town's center, they followed a teenage boy carrying a cross. When they reached the edge of the town, they started up a steep driveway to the top, where they crowded onto the porch of the new Visitation Clinic, with its views of the lush mountains on one side and the shimmering Caribbean on the other. After Bishop Alix Verrier of Les Cayes, Haiti, blessed and dedicated the building, the people filled the new clinic to get their first, eager glimpse of the building they're counting on to improve their lives in many ways. Dr. Tom Grabenstein said he is confident the clinic -- and later a hospital -- will change Petite Riviere in many ways. Grabenstein is president of the board of the Visitation Hospital Foundation, a nonprofit organization that grew out of the Parish Twinning Program, which links U.S. parishes and Christian congregations with Haitian parishes and programs to offer assistance.

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Number of priests increases, but not as fast as number of Catholics

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The latest church statistics show that the number of priests and seminarians in the world continues to increase, but not as fast as the general Catholic population. The statistics from the end of 2006 also confirm a gradual geographical shift in vocations from Europe and the Americas to Africa and Asia. The sampling of statistics was released Feb. 29 in connection with the presentation of the 2008 edition of the Vatican yearbook, known as the Annuario Pontificio, which catalogs the church's presence in each diocese. The Vatican said the global Catholic population increased during 2006 by 1.4 percent, from 1.115 billion to 1.131 billion. The number of priests in the world also rose, but by 0.21 percent. At the end of 2006 there were 407,262 priests in the world, 851 more than at the beginning of the year.

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Vatican official: Cuban church has vitality, some degree of freedom

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A top Vatican official, summarizing his weeklong trip to Cuba, said he encountered a church with great vitality and a government willing to make gradual concessions. "I would say it went beyond my expectations, considering how the situation (in Cuba) is presented by the media or seen from the outside," Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, said in a lengthy interview with the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Feb. 29. Cardinal Bertone said that during his Feb. 20-26 visit he was able to discuss specific church-state problems with the government and that the local church would now carry forward those talks. But the cardinal emphasized that, despite some limitations, the church in Cuba enjoys a certain degree of freedom of expression and worship. Asked why he avoided the term "persecuted church" during his visit, Cardinal Bertone responded, "Because the church in Cuba is not a persecuted church." While the government exercises vigilance and control over church activities, he said, "in some way there exists the possibility to express one's faith, even publicly."

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Pope says Catholic aid agencies must give workers spiritual formation

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Catholic aid agencies must offer their workers continual spiritual formation so those in need can witness God's merciful love, Pope Benedict XVI said. While professional training and technical expertise are important, a "formation of the heart" is indispensable for those who work for church-based charities, he told members of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum in a Feb. 29 audience. The kind of help the church offers humanity "must never be reduced to mere philanthropy, but must be a tangible expression of evangelical love," he said. Cor Unum, the Vatican agency that promotes and coordinates Catholic charitable giving, held its plenary assembly in Rome and focused on the theme of "Human and Spiritual Qualities of People Who Work in the Church's Charitable Organizations."

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Indigenous Americans work to recover old languages -- and their lore

LIMA, Peru (CNS) -- Growing up in a tiny Huitoto indigenous village near the Peruvian-Colombian border, Ruben Medina Robledo did not learn to speak his people's native language -- his parents thought it would be a handicap if he eventually left the community to work or study. Now in his 20s, Medina is trying to fill in that hole in his past with the help of an elderly woman in the community. Without the language, he said, "our values and our customs are being lost." In fact, entire languages are vanishing, and with them a treasure trove of information about medicinal plants and traditional healing, myths and beliefs, and ways of sowing and reaping, hunting and gathering. Some speakers of these languages say this knowledge could help modern society live in greater harmony with the natural world. "They say they have lived over hundreds of generations without harming nature," Father Daniel LeBlanc, a Canadian-born Oblate of Mary Immaculate, told Catholic News Service. "They say, we've been able to do it, but nobody seems to care, or even asks us about it." According to some accounts, 14 languages are being snuffed out every day, especially in Africa, Asia and South America.

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Ambiguities cloud moral, medical issues as end of life nears

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Many Catholics still need to learn about the church's teachings on end-of-life issues, such as when it might be morally acceptable to reject or terminate life-prolonging treatments, said some participants at a Vatican-sponsored congress. While euthanasia and assisted suicide are always wrong, in some situations the terminally ill or dying can withdraw or refuse treatment and still be in line with church teaching. To help people make informed and ethical decisions, "much work needs to be done in elaborating on the church's tradition of reasoning about forgoing life-prolonging treatments to make it practical for health care providers and persons who are dying," said Dr. William Sullivan, director of the Toronto-based International Association of Catholic Bioethicists. Sullivan was one of hundreds of scholars, theologians, religious and health care professionals who turned out for the Pontifical Academy for Life's Feb. 25-26 international congress, which looked at the scientific and ethical aspects of caring for the terminally ill and dying.

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Kidnappers take Iraqi archbishop, kill his three companions

ROME (CNS) -- Kidnappers abducted Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq, and killed the three people who were traveling with him. Chaldean Bishop Rabban al Qas of Arbil told the Rome-based missionary news service AsiaNews that Mosul's archbishop was kidnapped late Feb. 29 after he finished leading the Way of the Cross. Archbishop Rahho had just left the Church of the Holy Spirit in Mosul and was in his car with three other men when the kidnappers attacked. "The bishop is in the hands of terrorists," Bishop Qas told AsiaNews. "But we don't know what physical condition (the archbishop is in); the three men who were with him in the car, including his driver, were killed," he explained. "It's a terrible time for our church; pray for us," he said. The kidnappers have reportedly communicated their demands, which were not made public.

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Pope welcomes Glendon, urges Americans to let values guide choices

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Welcoming Mary Ann Glendon as the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI praised those working to defend human life and urged Americans to let moral values influence their political choices. "The American people's historic appreciation of the role of religion" in making policy decisions that take ethical and moral values into account, the pope said, "is reflected in the efforts of so many of your fellow citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God's gift of life, from conception to natural death." The pope said the same commitment to moral values is seen in efforts to safeguard "the institution of marriage, acknowledged as a stable union between a man and a woman, and that of the family." With members of her family looking on Feb. 29, Glendon and the pope exchanged speeches focused on protecting human dignity, eliminating poverty and promoting peace.

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Marquette junior gets real-life course in politics as superdelegate

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Jason Rae, a 21-year-old history and political science major at Jesuit-run Marquette University in Milwaukee, should get points for class participation in his political science courses this year. In one of his classes, the college junior who also happens to be the youngest superdelegate who will attend the Democratic National Convention this summer, has been giving updates on the election from his own bird's-eye view as someone who has been courted by members of both Democratic presidential candidates' campaigns. A week before Wisconsin's Feb. 19 primary, Rae had breakfast with Chelsea Clinton, daughter of presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. He also has received calls seeking his support for Clinton from former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The campaign for Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois also sought his vote with a call from Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Obama's wife, Michelle. "What a year," he told Catholic News Service Feb. 21. After months of being undecided, he publicly announced that day he would cast his vote for Obama during the party convention in Denver.


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