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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Feb-17-2011

By Catholic News Service


Vatican rulings mixed on US parishioners' appeals on closed churches

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In mixed rulings on parishioners' appeals of parish closings in three U.S. dioceses, the Vatican Congregation for Clergy upheld parish mergers, but in some cases said the church buildings that were closed must be reopened and "used in some manner as determined by the bishop." The congregation's rulings, affecting churches in the dioceses of Springfield, Mass., Buffalo, N.Y., and Allentown, Pa., were handed down in December and January but only came to light in recent weeks. In the Springfield Diocese, the results of church closing appeals were publicized by members of several parishes Feb. 15. A diocesan statement released a day later said Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, prefect of the congregation, apologized to Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell for "having failed to provide the diocese with these decisions in advance of their public release." Five parishes in the western Massachusetts diocese are involved in the ruling: St. Stanislaus Kostka in Adams; Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. George and St. Patrick, all in Chicopee; and Our Lady of Hope in Springfield. The Springfield diocesan statement said the Vatican congregation upheld the merging of Our Lady of Hope with another Springfield parish to create the new Mary, Mother of Hope. It also upheld merging Assumption in Chicopee with Holy Name of Jesus there, although Assumption Church has been reopened temporarily for worship while church officials investigate "structural concerns" at Holy Name Church, the diocese said. The decision also affirmed merging St. Stanislaus Kostka with Pope John Paul the Great Parish, and St. George and St. Patrick with Holy Name of Jesus. However, in the case of those three churches, "the congregation has indicated that, in its judgment, sufficiently grave reason was not provided to close each of these church buildings and that they should be used in some manner as determined by the bishop," the diocesan statement said. But in each instance, it emphasized, the parish "is not being re-established" and "any permitted use of the building will not be the same as when it was a parish church."

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Middle East expert calls Egypt revolution one of many 'signs of spring'

ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- The success of a nonviolent revolution in Egypt is one of "multiple signs of spring in the North African winter," an expert on the Middle East told participants in a Catholic forum on peace and justice Feb. 12. Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, editor-in-chief of America magazine and former director of the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace, was keynote speaker at the Diocese of Arlington's annual peace symposium, held at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Arlington. "I think it's wonderful that Egypt was a nonviolent revolution. It was so unexpected. For 18 days in a country of 80 million people, how do you get that to happen?" Father Christiansen asked. "Those that preached that nonviolence wasn't to be found in the Muslim world have been proved wrong again." Discussing signs of hope, Father Christiansen highlighted the reports of Egyptian Christians and Muslims working together during the revolution. One photo, in particular, of Christians holding hands in a circle around Muslims while they prayed made its way rapidly through the blogosphere. As for what's next for Egypt, he said, "It's anybody's guess." It'll be a waiting game, with the hope that the country will end up with a responsible democratic government, he said. The priest focused his talk on religious freedom in other Middle Eastern countries and the role the United States is playing and has played. U.S. policy in the Middle East has been a "disaster" for Middle Eastern Christians, Father Christiansen said. The United States failed to come to the aid of Christians fleeing Iraq after increased violence and persecution by Islamic terrorists, including last October's bombing at a Syrian Catholic cathedral in Baghdad that killed nearly 60 people gathered for Mass.

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Archbishop says hard times don't justify restricting workers' rights

MILWAUKEE (CNS) -- Quoting Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki issued a statement Feb. 16 that came down squarely in favor of workers' rights in the face of efforts by Wisconsin's new governor to restrict those rights. "Hard times do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers," Archbishop Listecki said. "Every union, like every other economic actor, is called to work for the common good, to make sacrifices when required, and to adjust to new economic realities," he said. "However, it is equally a mistake to marginalize or dismiss unions as impediments to economic growth." Archbishop Listecki was responding to efforts by new Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, to push through measures restricting the rights of unions in a special session of the state legislature. The bill would strip most government workers -- at the state, county and local levels, including teachers -- of nearly all collective bargaining rights. The only exceptions would be for police, firefighters and the state patrol. Unions would have to gain approval in a public referendum to seek pay raises higher than the consumer price index. The legislation would also require union members to vote every year on whether they wanted to continue to be represented by their union, and would forbid unions from forcing employees to pay dues, known as "right to work." The legislation would require state employees to pay half of their pension costs and 12.6 percent of their health care coverage, moves Walker expects to save the state $30 million in the short term and up to $300 million over the next two years. In exchange for the savings, Walker promised no layoffs or furloughs -- but threatened to lay off 6,000 workers if the bills failed to pass. Republicans, who hold majorities in both houses of the Legislature, have said they have enough votes to pass the bills.

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In Nairobi, cloistered Carmelites give themselves to God in prayer

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- For several of the cloistered Carmelite Sisters at Mount Carmel Convent, their life of prayer began in their families, when they were children. "My dad taught me to pray for others," said Sister Bernadette, one of the younger sisters. She said her father told her he knew sisters who prayed for everyone, and she asked if they could pray for her, too. She said she began corresponding with the sisters and was drawn to their life of prayer. Sister Constanza, who professed her final vows in January, said she attended Mass each morning because she did not live far from the local church. Each evening, her family gathered to pray the rosary and other evening prayers. "I decided to give myself to the Lord for myself and for the salvation of souls," and the best way seemed to be contemplative life, she said. In an interview with Catholic News Service Feb. 16, several of the sisters talked about the path that led them to nearly continuous prayer each day. "I never dreamed of becoming a nun," said Sister Monica, who now serves as novice mistress for the order. In college, she met some Catholic students who began praying the rosary together, then attending daily Mass. One of the students wanted to become a Franciscan priest, and as he talked more about the saints, her interest grew. She said she was filled with "a desire to belong to Christ."

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Pope meets Russian President Medvedev

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spent more than half an hour speaking privately during what the pope termed "a very important meeting." The pope welcomed Medvedev to the Vatican Feb. 17, telling the Russian that their meeting was significant. Medvedev and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, later met with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state. In the meetings, the Vatican said, "the broad-ranging collaboration between the Holy See and the Russian Federation was recognized, both in the promotion of specifically human and Christian values, and in the cultural and social field." The talks also included a discussion about "the positive contribution interreligious dialogue can make to society," the Vatican said. "Finally," the Vatican statement said, "attention turned to the international situation, with particular reference to the Middle East." The president gave the pope two volumes of letters in Russian written by former President Boris Yeltsin -- including letters he wrote to Pope John Paul II -- a Russian encyclopedia on the Orthodox Church and a painting of Moscow, which includes a view of the Kremlin.

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Despite signs of economic upturn, Vatican budget hit by rising costs

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Despite signs of an economic recovery, the Vatican's budget projections are still negatively affected by shaky global financial markets and rising operating costs. The Vatican expressed its gratitude for the donations that help fund its work and called on donors and the faithful to continue their support. A council of cardinals charged with reviewing Vatican finances met Feb. 15-16 to go over the projected budgets of 2011. The cardinals are given two separate budget reports: the budget of the Holy See, including the Roman Curia, Vatican diplomatic missions around the world, Vatican media outlets and Vatican investments; and the budget of Vatican City State, including the post office and Vatican Museums. The Vatican statement, released Feb. 17, gave no figures for projected income and expenses, but it offered a general description of the budget plans. Even though there are "clear signs of recovery," the overall budget forecast "is still feeling the uncertainties of the global economic system, but also rising operational costs," especially for the Holy See's budget, it said.

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Ireland's Labor Party pledges to seek legalization of abortion

DUBLIN (CNS) -- In an election campaign document, Ireland's Labor Party pledged to introduce legislation legalizing abortion if the party rises to power. The minority Labor Party was running second in polls prior to the Feb. 25 general election, trailing the center right main opposition party Fine Gael. The current governing Fianna Fail party and Fine Gael have long opposed abortion. Ireland is one of only two European countries -- Malta being the other -- that prohibits abortion except under limited conditions. In the final paragraph in a chapter titled "Fairness" in what the Labor Party called its "Manifesto 2011," the party pledged to "legislate in accordance with the Supreme Court judgment in the 'X case' and the recent ruling by the European Court of Human Rights." In the "X case" in 1992, the Irish Supreme Court established the right of Irish women to an abortion if a pregnant woman's life was at risk as a result of the pregnancy. In December, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland's laws banning abortion breach European human rights law. The European court's decision has galvanized groups supporting abortion to push for new legislation legalizing the procedure. William Binchy, professor of law at the University of Dublin's Trinity College School of Law, said Ireland is at a crossroad in relation to the "X case." Binchy told Catholic News Service: "If we implement 'X' it has to be according to the Supreme Court decision, which means abortion through the whole period of pregnancy and as a cure for suicidal ideation."

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Green Bay bishop reinstates CCHD collection, establishes new commission

GREEN BAY, Wis. (CNS) -- Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay has reinstated the collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in his diocese and established a new diocesan commission that will be in charge of teaching about and implementing Catholic social teaching. In a 2,100-word statement announcing the developments Feb. 16, Bishop Ricken said he was "confident that we have the necessary checks in place" to ensure that CCHD funding would not be used in ways that conflict with Catholic teaching. He had suspended the CCHD collection in his diocese last year but said it would resume the weekend of April 2 as part of the "collection for the world's poor" in parishes of the Green Bay Diocese. Bishop Ricken acknowledged in his statement that "for some time in this country there has been significant disagreement among people of good will" about the collection for CCHD, the U.S. bishops' domestic anti-poverty program, which funds self-help projects in low-income communities around the country. In October, CCHD officials nationally announced a "road map for renewal" that includes a series of steps to guide how grants are awarded to poverty-fighting groups and to strengthen oversight of how funds are spent. "The new application process for grants ... will be much more thorough and will give increased consideration to Catholic social justice entities," Bishop Ricken said.

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Labor leader, Hall of Famer among Catholics receiving Medal of Freedom

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Catholic labor leader, a baseball Hall of Famer and a member of the Kennedy clan were among those who received the Medal of Freedom in White House ceremonies Feb. 15. The Medal of Freedom is considered the nation's highest civilian honor. John Sweeney, the former president of the AFL-CIO, was honored, as was baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial and Jean Kennedy Smith, founder of Very Special Arts, a nonprofit organization that promotes the artistic talents of people with disabilities. Sweeney, 76, was AFL-CIO president for 14 years. Before that, he was president of the Service Employees International Union for 15 years, capping a 35-year career there. Musial, 90, known as "The Man" during his 22-year playing career -- all with the St. Louis Cardinals -- banged out 3,630 hits during his career. Musial met Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1988, and twice before he ascended to the papacy. Smith, who turns 83 on Feb. 20, is the last surviving child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy. In 1974, she founded Very Special Arts, which is affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. Also honored was civil rights activist Sylvia Mendez, 74, a Californian of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. Her parents' successful fight to get her enrolled in an all-white school in Orange County, Calif., led to a 1946 California Supreme Court decision that effectively desegregated the state's public schools and foreshadowed the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended segregation in all U.S. public schools. Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell, while in college, led his team, the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco, to two consecutive NCAA men's basketball titles before winning 11 NBA championships as a player and player-coach with the Boston Celtics.


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