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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Sep-18-2009

By Catholic News Service


Bishops talk health care, immigration with members of Congress

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Though they believe the church is largely on the same page as Congress when it comes to other aspects of health care and immigration reform, a delegation of Hispanic bishops came away from meetings with several groups of House and Senate leaders Sept. 17 concerned that immigrants might be left out of health reform. At a briefing for reporters after their morning of meetings with senators and then with the groups representing congressional Hispanics, two of the bishops said they were optimistic that looming health care legislation will not fund abortions and will include conscience protections for health care workers. Those have been two major areas of concern for the Catholic Church as the legislation is being shaped. San Antonio Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said the group of half a dozen Hispanic bishops told the members of Congress that in addition to not funding abortions and including a conscience clause, their concern is that health care reform offers a universal plan in which everyone is able to participate and that would provide care from conception to natural death.

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Recession boosts Catholic Charities client rolls by 10 percent

WOODBRIDGE, Va. (CNS) -- In a time of recession, Sondra knows she and her 4-year-old daughter Hope could be on the street. With no where else to turn they found a home at St. Margaret of Cortona Transitional Residences in Woodbridge. The need for this type of housing service as well as emergency shelter and permanent housing jumped 12.4 percent in 2008 as the economic recession gained momentum, reported Catholic Charities USA in its 2008 annual survey of services. Released Sept. 15 during a nationwide teleconference from the agency's Alexandria headquarters, the report shows that Catholic Charities agencies served nearly 600,000 people in need of some type of housing assistance in 2008. Overall, the 142 Catholic Charities agencies responding to the survey -- about 85 percent of the nationwide Catholic Charities network -- reported serving more than 8.5 million people in 2008, a 10 percent increase from 2007. Without being able to offer specifics, Father Larry Snyder, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, said the demand for housing and other social services continued to climb as the recession deepened during 2009.

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Panelists hope new consumer values can balance global inequities

NEW YORK (CNS) -- The consumer culture in the United States, though hobbled by the current economic crisis, has the potential to re-emerge as a positive force if it embraces new values and balances the inequities caused by the global redistribution of wealth, said panelists at a Sept. 15 forum in New York. The comments were made during a fast-paced discussion called "Consuming America: What Have We Done to Ourselves?" The event, attended by more than 300 people, was held at Jesuit-run Fordham University. The panelists generally agreed with an oft-quoted statistic that consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of the gross national product of the United States. Lizabeth Cohen, who chairs the history department at Harvard University, said the country's emergence as "a consumers' republic" can be traced to the period following the Second World War. As the nation's manufacturing converted from war production to the mass production of consumer goods, there was cultural encouragement to spend money to thwart a return to economic depression, she said. Cohen said ownership of a newly built single-family home in the suburbs was a defining ideal, one that was equated with improving the lives of the owners, their families and their community.

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Pope's trip to Czech Republic takes him to highly secularized nation

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI is traveling to the Czech Republic at the end of September, making a three-day visit to a nation that is widely viewed as Europe's least-religious country. The Sept. 26-28 trip was scheduled to coincide with the feast of St. Wenceslas -- a 10th-century prince who is credited with bringing Christianity to the Czech people. It will be a religious pilgrimage for the pope, who will make stops in the capital to see the Infant of Prague at the Church of Our Lady of Victory and in Stara Boleslav to celebrate the feast of St. Wenceslas, patron saint of Czechs. Pope Benedict also will speak to political and cultural leaders in Prague and meet with President Vaclav Klaus. It will be his first papal visit to the Czech Republic and his 13th trip outside Italy. He will reach out to the country's Catholics with Masses in Brno and Stara Boleslav, hold meetings with bishops and celebrate vespers with religious and lay groups. He also will address ecumenical representatives, young people and scholars.

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Pope ready to announce synod on Middle East for 2010

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Vatican sources said Pope Benedict XVI was preparing to convene a Synod of Bishops for the Middle East to be held in October of 2010, to address the trials and tribulations of the Christian population in the region. Patriarchs and other representatives from Eastern churches arrived in Rome Sept. 18, and the pope was to meet with them the next day to discuss the initiative, the sources said. An announcement of the synod was expected in coming days. Pope Benedict has spoken frequently about the pressures faced by Christian and Catholic minorities in the Middle East, particularly in the Holy Land and in Iraq. The synod would provide an opportunity for a much-needed strategizing session at the level of the universal church, one source said. Last January, Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, and other Iraqi bishops in Rome for their "ad limina" visits asked the pope to convene a special synod for the churches of the Middle East.

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Sudanese bishop appeals for help to stop guerrillas in his diocese

LONDON (CNS) -- A Sudanese bishop has appealed for international help to stop roving bands of guerrillas kidnapping and murdering villagers in his diocese. Bishop Edward Hiiboro Kussala of Tambura-Yambio, Sudan, said his government appeared powerless to prevent attacks by members of the Lord's Resistance Army, a guerrilla force based in northern Uganda. He spoke to the British charity Aid to the Church in Need after a spate of killings and abductions in two towns near the borders of the Central African Republic and Congo. In one case guerrillas stormed into a Catholic church in Ezo and desecrated the Eucharist, the altar and the building before abducting 17 people, mostly in their teens and 20s. One of the captives was later found dead after being tied to a tree and mutilated, while 13 others in the group remain missing, said a Sept. 18 statement by Aid to the Church in Need. The bishop said that after the Aug. 15 attack, "people kept coming to me with such suffering in their eyes, begging me to do something about the situation -- to get back their children and grandchildren who have disappeared." He said the attack was part of a cycle of violence that could only be broken with international cooperation.

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Rapid urbanization is a serious threat to Africa, says U.N.

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The rapid urbanization of African cities is creating a shortage of resources, poor sanitation, social and political unrest and environmental issues. Urbanization is such a problem that bishops of southern Africa hope to bring it up as a topic at the Oct. 4-25 Synod of Bishops for Africa at the Vatican, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, South Africa, told U.S. bishops in late August. U.N.-Habitat, the agency for human settlements, said unsustainable growth in African cities is leading to lack of housing, services, employment opportunities and infrastructure to support the population. "The State of African Cities," a 2008 report by U.N.-Habitat, expressed concern that cities are becoming more and more dysfunctional in terms of access to basic resources and livelihoods for their inhabitants. "History has shown that high urban growth rates in Africa tend to translate into significant urban informal settlement and slum formation," the report said. It said that by 2030, the African urban population is expected to more than double its 2007 level of 373.4 million.

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Religious extremists use blasphemy laws to advance their own agendas

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Blasphemy laws have been used as a tool by extremists like the Taliban and al-Qaida to advance their own agendas and to victimize religious minorities and other Muslims in Pakistan, said a Pakistani government official. Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic, told a Washington press conference that these religious extremists are not following Islam, because no religion condones the use of violence. All Pakistanis are equal and "no one should be discriminated (against) or treated as second-class citizens in Pakistan based on religion," Bhatti said Sept. 17. He spoke at the offices of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent federal watchdog agency. Under Pakistan's strict blasphemy laws, desecration of the Quran is punishable by life imprisonment, and insulting the name of the prophet Mohammed carries a mandatory death sentence. Bhatti said he is committed to bringing change to Pakistan and strengthening interfaith harmony.

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Priests in South Lebanon say 'iftar' means more than sharing meal

SIDON, Lebanon (CNS) -- Parish priests in South Lebanon said breaking the fast with Muslims during the month of Ramadan means more than sharing a meal. For many Christians, sitting together for "iftar," the breaking of the fast each evening after sunset is a chance to get to know others in the community and learn about different customs. "We go to a lot of iftars," said Maronite Father Elias Asmar. "When we sit down together to break the fast, we get to know each other, whereas before we might have had a vague idea about each other. We learn about their fasting, and they ask about our fasting," the priest said. "We also learn about their diets, their calendars and how they pray. These meals create an atmosphere for dialogue."

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Pope says roles of priest, laity should not be blurred

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- The special role of priests should be kept distinct from that of lay people even in parts of the world where there is a shortage of ordained clergy, Pope Benedict XVI told Brazilian bishops. Meeting Sept. 17 with bishops from the poor and arid northeastern area of Brazil, the pope said the role of the priest "is essential and irreplaceable in announcing the word and celebrating the sacraments." The pope told the bishops at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome that it is "necessary to avoid the secularization of the clergy and the clericalization of the laity." Dioceses in many areas of Brazil have come to rely on substantial involvement of lay ministers and other lay people to mitigate a shortage in ordained priests. "It is not a lack of priests that justifies a more active and consistent participation of the laity," the pope said. Rather, lay faithful should live more fully their own responsibilities and appreciate the "specific and inimitable role of the priest as pastor of the entire community," he said.

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Pope meets with Russian Orthodox official, Vatican says ties improved

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI met with a key official of the Russian Orthodox Church amid signs of a significant improvement in relations.The Vatican provided no details of the pope's encounter Sept. 18 with Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion, president of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations. The private meeting took place at the pope's summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.Archbishop Hilarion was in Rome for five days of meetings and talks with Vatican officials and Catholic groups, at the invitation of Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican's chief ecumenist. Speaking to Vatican Radio Sept. 17, Cardinal Kasper said the church's relations with the Russian Orthodox had improved appreciably under Pope Benedict, and that the Moscow patriarchate was expected to participate in a major dialogue session with the Vatican in mid-October. "Pope Benedict is highly regarded by the Russian Orthodox Church for his moral positions and also because he doesn't take into account political correctness. They esteem him highly, and this helps our relations," said Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

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Henry Gibson, 'Laugh-In' star and cardinal's friend, dies at 73

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- John and James were pals in high school who kept up that friendship after they graduated from St. Joseph Prep School in Philadelphia more than 55 years ago. John is U.S. Cardinal John P. Foley, pro-grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher and formerly the 23-year president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. James was James Bateman, who later changed his name to Henry Gibson, a fixture with his offbeat poems and deadpan delivery on the TV smash "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In," which aired from 1968 to 1973. Gibson died Sept. 14 at his home in Malibu, Calif., seven days before his 74th birthday. His son Jon said the cause of death was cancer. The cardinal remembers Gibson fondly, as have legions of baby boomers who grew up following Gibson on "Laugh-In" and a subsequent film and television career. "I just wrote to his widow yesterday. He was a good friend," Cardinal Foley told Catholic News Service Sept. 18.

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Canonization of Father Damien to end long journey for priest

EDINBURG, Calif. (CNS) -- When Blessed Damien of Molokai is canonized Oct. 11 by Pope Benedict in St. Peter's Square, a California priest who played a major role in the long process will be there. Father Emilio Vega Garcia, parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Church in Edinburg, was the postulator for the cause of canonization of Blessed Damien for 10 years, from 1997 to 2007. The postulator is the primary promoter or lead investigator for a proposed saint's cause in Rome. "If Father Emilio hadn't been here to help the process, who knows?" said Patrick Downes, editor of the Hawaii Catholic Herald, the newspaper for the Diocese of Honolulu. "It may not have happened. Father Emilio was a major figure in the process." Father Garcia, a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and a native of Spain, takes a more humble approach on his role as postulator. "It was part of my ministry," he said. "It was a great honor to present Father Damien's cause. He is not only a hero in Hawaii and his native Belgium but for all of humanity."

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Woman whose father knew Blessed Damien brings family back to Hawaii

KALAUPAPA, Hawaii (CNS) -- As Sacred Hearts Father Christopher Keahi handed out new "St." Damien prayer cards in St. Francis Church in anticipation of the priest's Oct. 11 canonization in Rome, a guest with a most special connection to Hawaii's first saint sat in a middle pew. Emma Kamahana Dickerson accepted the new card with gratitude and a rush of memories. Her father, David Kamahana, was just 13 years old when he was diagnosed with leprosy and sent to Kalaupapa in 1888. There he came to know Father Damien. Many years later, David Kamahana would testify as a witness for Damien's cause for sainthood. "He said Father Damien was very good to him," said Dickerson, now 85. "It was like he almost worshipped Father Damien -- he was a big man to Daddy." For Dickerson, who now lives in Pennsylvania, the trip back to Kalaupapa was a reunion of sorts. To make sure that this precious chapter of family history would be remembered and passed down, she brought along three daughters and a granddaughter.

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Georgia attorney named to head CLINIC

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Georgia immigration attorney, Maria Odom, has been named executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC. Odom is the principal attorney and owner of Odom Immigration Law Group in Atlanta and a former partner of the Georgia immigration firms Kuck, Casablanca & Odom and Antonini, Odom & Sullivan. She also has served as a liaison with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as a member of a committee of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and as a faculty member for continued legal education and seminars for the lawyers' group.When she assumes the post Dec. 1, she will take over for acting executive director Mark Franken, who has held that position since longtime director Don Kerwin left in 2008. Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Calif., chairman of CLINIC's board of directors, said Odom "brings a heart for the Catholic Church's social mission to migrants and their families."


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