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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Jan-23-2009

By Catholic News Service


Obama signs order reversing Mexico City policy

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pro-life activists quickly denounced President Barack Obama's Jan. 23 signature on an executive order reversing the Mexico City policy, a move that clears the way for the federal government to provide aid to programs that promote or perform abortion overseas. The Associated Press reported late in the afternoon that Obama signed an executive order reversing the ban that was first instituted by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. Obama signed the order with no fanfare and with no news media in the room, a marked contrast to signings of executive orders earlier in the week. "What a terrible way to begin a new administration, with an abortion business bailout that will exploit women in developing countries for political ends," said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life Action, a Washington-based pro-life activist organization. "We should not export the tragedy of abortion to other nations, and we certainly shouldn't do so via the hard-earned dollars of American taxpayers." The policy banned U.S. taxpayer money, usually in the form of funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion.

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Groups applaud Obama's decision to end torture, close Guantanamo

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Presidential executive orders to ban torture and close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are just the first steps in an effort to assure that torture never again becomes part of American policy, said religious and human rights workers. Organizations such as the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which has partnered with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, planned to work toward getting the restrictions outlined in the Jan. 22 orders signed by President Barack Obama adopted into law. "Our goal is to make sure this dark chapter never repeats itself in American history," said the Rev. Richard Killmer, the campaign's executive director. Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, welcomed the order to ban torture Jan. 22, saying in a statement that the president's action will "help restore the moral and legal standing of the United States in the world." Bishop Hubbard said, "A ban on torture says much about us, who we are, what we believe about human life and dignity and how we act as a nation."

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Pro-Obama Catholics urged to send postcard opposing his abortion view

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The national pro-life postcard campaign being conducted in parishes throughout the country is a way for Catholics who supported Barack Obama for president to tell him if they did so despite, not because of, the new president's stand on abortion, according to officials of the U.S. bishops' pro-life office. "Many Catholics voted for Obama despite his position on abortion, and they have an obligation to say 'This is not why I voted for you,'" said Richard M. Doerflinger, associate director of the Office of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "I describe this as their penance," he added in remarks at a Jan. 22 briefing with the Catholic press in Washington. Deirdre A. McQuade, assistant director for policy and communications in the pro-life office, said it is important for Catholics to tell Obama, "If I voted for you, this (abortion) is not what I voted for." Such follow-up and feedback is an "ongoing responsibility" of all voters, she added. "You don't just cast your vote and hope for the best. You call the best from our elected officials." According to polling, 54 percent of the Catholic electorate voted for Obama, who has consistently spoken out in favor of keeping abortion legal.

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Large number of Jesuit college alumni serving in 111th Congress

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- With a new president and members of the House and Senate sworn into office, officials of U.S. Jesuit colleges and universities have something to crow about, with a whopping 52 members of the 111th Congress who are alumni of their institutions. That's close to 10 percent of the 535 members of the current Congress, with 11 Jesuit alumni in the Senate and 41 in the House of Representatives, according to a newly released report by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in Washington. Some of Jesuit alumni are new to Congress and a few are high-ranking members, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and special assistant to the speaker of the House, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the report said. Of the 52 alumni, 34 received graduate or professional degrees from Jesuit universities, the report said.

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Marchers urged to support proposed legislation to help pregnant women

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A few dozen participants from the annual March for Life in Washington who attended a Capitol Hill briefing Jan. 22 were urged to support pregnant women while they continue their fight to make abortion illegal. The pro-life marchers, who had already spent hours listening to speakers, walking the streets of Washington and lobbying members of Congress, ended their day by attending a briefing on newly introduced legislation called the Pregnant Women Support Act. The legislation, introduced in the House and Senate in mid-January, aims to help pregnant women improve their chances of carrying their children to term. It seeks to provide counseling, child care funding, nurse visits and programs to help women continue their education. The measure was introduced in the Senate Jan. 15 by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and in the House by Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., Jan. 21. The bill also includes provisions for expanding coverage to pregnant women and unborn children through Medicaid and state-sponsored children's insurance programs.

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Pope tells young people to continue to defend life at all stages

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Although he was not physically present, Pope Benedict XVI's greeting added to the excitement of the more than 20,000 young people at a youth rally and Mass for life Jan. 22 at the Verizon Center sports arena in Washington. Young people came from across the United States and from throughout the Washington area. The rally and Mass, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington, precedes the annual March for Life, which marks the date of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. When Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, the main celebrant for the Mass, introduced the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the crowd responded with a long standing ovation that cascaded through the arena as the pope's representative smiled and waved. Archbishop Sambi read the message from the pope to the Verizon crowd. The pontiff said he was "deeply grateful to all who take part in this outstanding annual witness to the Gospel of life, and to the many others who support them by fasting and prayer."

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Ultrasound image for poster influences young woman to reject abortion

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Bobbie Hallman was attempting to carry out a simple task -- make a poster from an ultrasound image. She ended up saving the life of an unborn child. The drama unfolded at a local print shop. She had agreed to make several posters for use in the Prayer Service for Life at the Cathedral of St. Paul Jan. 22, which was the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Hallman had brought in a handful of small ultrasound pictures that she received from the clinic where her husband, Dr. Kevin Hallman, works in River Falls, Wis. She showed them to a woman working behind the counter and asked for help making the poster. As she would soon discover, the woman was struggling with an unplanned pregnancy. "I could see her eyes well up with tears and she walked away," said Hallman, formerly of St. Joseph Parish in West St. Paul, whose family now lives in River Falls. The woman eventually came back to the counter and the two continued looking at the pictures. One stood out -- a picture of a fetus at 12 weeks. "She looked at them individually again and she said, 'I can't abort this baby,'" Hallman said. "She said, 'I was thinking about aborting this baby. I thought it was just a tissue. And, look at this.' She was pointing to the fingers and the eyes."

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Pope asks young Catholics to use technology to share their faith

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI asked young Catholics to use their computers, Facebook accounts, blogs and Internet video posts to share with their peers the joy of faith in Christ. "Be sure to announce the Gospel to your contemporaries with enthusiasm," the pope told young people in his message for the 2009 celebration of World Communications Day. "Human hearts are yearning for a world where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth and where identity is found in respectful communion," said Pope Benedict's message, which was released at the Vatican Jan. 23. The theme for the 2009 World Communications Day, which will be celebrated May 24 in most dioceses, is "New Technologies, New Relationships: Promoting a Culture of Respect, Dialogue and Friendship."

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Vatican launches video news channel on YouTube

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican launched a video channel on YouTube that will feature news coverage of Pope Benedict XVI and major Vatican events. It marked the start of the Vatican's strategic vision of working "to be present wherever people are," said Archbishop Claudio Celli, head of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. The Vatican officially unveiled the new channel Jan. 23 during a press conference that presented Pope Benedict's message for World Communications Day, which was dedicated to new media technology. The Vatican channel is the result of a new partnership the Vatican Television Center and Vatican Radio forged with the Internet giant Google and its video-sharing Web site, YouTube. The Vatican's television and radio operations had been collaborating for the past year and a half to produce short news videos that are aired on the Vatican Radio Web site. The Vatican's ad-free YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/vatican, each day will offer one to three short video news clips of the pope or major Vatican events with audio commentary in English, Italian, Spanish and German.

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Kenyan bishops urge government to provide food for starving Kenyans

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- As nearly 10 million Kenyans suffer food shortages, the country's Catholic bishops have urged the government to provide assistance and food-for-work programs. While the food crisis has been blamed partly on harsh weather conditions and the country's postelection violence, in which many food stores were burned, the bishops also expressed concern over the sale of maize, the country's staple food, to neighboring countries such as Sudan. "We are concerned also about serious allegations of the export of maize by individuals who seem to be above the law," the Kenya Episcopal Conference said in a Jan. 21 statement. "If these allegations are true, then we condemn these as criminal acts and demand appropriate action." Members of Kenya's National Cereals and Produce Board, which regulates the cost of grains, have been accused in the export scandal. Farmers need to be compensated for their efforts, said the bishops. Kenyan farmers have been complaining that prices for fertilizer, seeds and fuel are too expensive for them to make money.

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Activist priest says work remains for Honduran environmental movement

SALAMA, Honduras (CNS) -- An activist priest in Honduras said the country's environmental movement has significantly slowed deforestation in one section of the country, yet he is planning another public march to highlight the work that remains. "We have neutralized the enemy," said Father Jose Andres Tamayo, the parish priest in this ramshackle town in Olancho, the once heavily forested central department of Honduras where subsistence farmers have joined with community and religious leaders to defend their lands against unrestrained commercial logging. "We haven't won everything we wanted, but we've achieved a greater level of awareness and changed the mentality of people in the government offices where decisions are made," he told Catholic News Service. "In this region we've stopped 80 percent of the illegal logging. Today the communities are watching their resources. They've taken charge of assuring compliance with a government ban on logging. What began as resistance has led to vigilance, and we continue accompanying the people as they seek to use the resources in sustainable ways."

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Pope accepts election of US bishop to head Syrian Catholic Church

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI has formally accepted the election of a new head of the Syrian Catholic Church. Bishop Joseph Younan, 64, who was appointed to head the Newark-based Syrian-rite diocese in the United States and Canada in 1995, was elected as the new patriarch of Antioch in a synod held in Rome Jan. 18-20. He took the name Patriarch Ignace Joseph III Younan. As is customary for the patriarchs of the Eastern churches in union with Rome, the newly elected head of the church requested communion with the pope, who granted it with a congratulatory letter, the Vatican said Jan. 23. The new patriarch, who speaks Arabic, English, French, Italian and German, was born in Syria. He was ordained in 1971 and, after attending school in Rome, served as a priest for several years in Lebanon. The ancient see of Antioch has its headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon. In 1986, he was sent to the United States, where he ministered in Syrian Catholic communities. In 1995, Pope John Paul II named him the bishop of the first U.S. Syrian-rite diocese, Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark of the Syrians.

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Georgetown University football alum takes helm of 0-16 Detroit Lions

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Georgetown University in Washington doesn't quickly come to mind as a "cradle of coaches," where budding coaching talent used the Jesuit-run school as an incubator for later leadership. In fact, when Jim Schwartz suggested close to 20 years ago that he'd like to coach football once he graduated, his football coach tried to talk him out of it. No matter. Schwartz took a graduate-assistant post on the football staff at the nearby University of Maryland in 1989. He worked the next three seasons at three different colleges before breaking into the pro ranks with the National Football League's Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens under the tutelage of Bill Belichick, who later would become the three-time Super Bowl-winning coach of the New England Patriots. For the past 10 years, Schwartz was an assistant coach of the Tennessee Titans, the last eight of those seasons as defensive coordinator. Now, at age 42, he's landed an NFL head-coaching job: the woeful Detroit Lions, the only NFL team ever to suffer through an 0-16 season.


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