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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS May-23-2011

By Catholic News Service


Serra International, USA Council still wrangling over restructuring

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (CNS) -- Serra International, a lay organization whose objective is to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and its Chicago-based USA Council are continuing their battle over restructuring. The international arm has taken steps to discontinue the operations of the U.S. council on the grounds that significant cost savings could be realized by eliminating overlapping functions while the organization's Colorado district is proposing major changes to Serra International's bylaws to "improve transparency throughout the organization." Last December, the board of trustees of Serra International passed a resolution calling for the USA Council to cease its activities but the council chose not to comply with a Jan. 30 deadline to discontinue operations and turn over any assets, Serra International chose to take legal action to enforce the resolution, according to Thomas Beyer, a lawyer for the council. According to a May 17 press release from Jacob Shafer, governor of Serra's District 6, Serra International filed a motion for a preliminary injunction against USA Council March 23 in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill. At the same time, the USA Council filed a motion to dismiss the case. The judge refused to grant either motion and gave each party additional time to gather evidence. The two parties are scheduled to appear in court again July 20. Serra's District 6, meanwhile, which includes 10 local Serra Clubs in Colorado, has asked for two amendments to Serra International's bylaws that are aimed at providing greater transparency and wider representation on the international council's board of directors, said Dave O'Keeffe, president-elect of the Colorado Springs Serra Club. Both amendments will be included in the agenda for Serra's delegate meeting in July.

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Catholic hospital takes direct hit from Joplin tornado

JOPLIN, Mo. (CNS) -- A Catholic hospital in Joplin took a direct hit from a severe tornado that struck the city May 22. Within a day of the twister, 89 people were confirmed dead, with the number almost certain to rise as rescue teams searched amid the rubble for survivors. St. John's Regional Medical Center was in the path of the tornado, variously described as being from a half-mile to a mile-and-a-half wide. A spokeswoman for the hospital told The New York Times May 23 that its 183 patients had been moved to other facilities. It was uncertain whether any perished during the storm. Telephone service to the hospital was cut off after the twister. "Please keep the people of Joplin in our prayers, especially those whose lives were taken as well as those who lost loved ones," said a May 23 statement from Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. "We pray especially for the people of St. Mary's Catholic Church and school who suffered a total loss as well as St. John's Mercy Hospital which sustained major damage." In 1971, a major tornado struck Joplin, resulting in one death and 50 injuries. Joplin, in southwest Missouri near the borders of Kansas and Oklahoma, sits in "Tornado Alley," so called for the frequency and ferocity of the region's twisters. The church, school and rectory buildings of St. Mary Parish were all destroyed by the tornado, but the parish pastor, Father Justin Monaghan, was reported unhurt. "The pastor rode it out in the bathtub. He's fine," said Leslie Anne Eidson, editor of The Mirror, newspaper of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. "He's staying with a local parishioner right now."

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Diocesan review board members say their work proceeds unimpeded

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Members of seven diocesan review boards that consider clergy sex abuse cases said their work never has been impeded by diocesan officials or church hierarchy as they developed recommendations on whether an accusation was credible or not. The review board members also said they worked collaboratively with officials within their dioceses to ensure that priests who posed a danger to children were removed from ministry as quickly as possible. Review board members talked about their work in response to inquiries from Catholic News Service following an account by the chair of the Philadelphia review board criticizing archdiocesan officials. Ana Maria Catanzaro, who chairs Philadelphia's board, charged in Commonweal magazine May 12 that church officials failed "miserably at being open and transparent" in their dealings with board members. In response, the archdiocese explained that its understanding of the best way to investigate and act on abuse allegations, especially those not pursued by civil authorities, has continuously changed over the years. The archdiocese has pledged to "improve that process from beginning to end." Catanzaro's revelations cast a shadow on the work of review boards across the country and likely will open the review board structure to deeper examination by victims' advocates and the U.S. bishops.

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Catholics minister to veterans, serving with chaplains of many faiths

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Catholics who minister to our nation's military veterans help aging soldiers heal from past wars and support men and women trying to resume civilian life after multiple tours of duty in distant outposts. They work alongside chaplains of many faiths, in multidisciplinary teams that treat the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wounds of people whose relationship with God may have been severely challenged by the sights of war. Through it all, they strive to bring Christ into the world through their words, deeds and actions, "as imperfect as they are," according to Voluntas Dei Father Andrew Sioleti. He is the chief of the chaplain service and supervisor of chaplain training for the Department of Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Healthcare System. Father Sioleti is responsible for 15 full- and part-time chaplains who serve patients at two veterans' hospitals in Manhattan and Brooklyn, a long-term care facility in Queens and three clinics in Staten Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan. They also visit homebound veterans. In 2010, the chaplains provided individual spiritual counseling to more than 6,100 people and reached 7,700 others through spirituality and worship groups. Among the more than 50,000 patients served each year by the New York Harbor Healthcare System, Father Sioleti said the largest group is Vietnam-era veterans. There also are veterans of the Korean conflict and the Second World War. He said the fastest-growing and most diverse group is returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are seeking help with substance abuse and mental health issues, Father Sioleti said in an interview with Catholic News Service. "There are younger folks, in their 20s and early 30s, who served two and three tours and there are folks in their 40s, who joined the Reserves and ended up on active duty. We see parents bringing in their adult children as patients and we have veterans coming in for treatment with little children in tow. The staff is getting used to accommodating 5-year-olds," he said.

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Pope praises Italy's pro-life movement for aid to women, couples

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI greeted members of Italy's pro-life movement and encouraged them to continue their concrete efforts on behalf of women and couples who are dealing with difficult situations of pregnancy. The pope made the comments at his noon blessing May 22 to several thousand participants in a brief pro-life march that led to the Vatican. The event marked the 33rd anniversary of legal abortion in Italy. "Dear friends, I congratulate you in particular for your commitment to helping women who face difficult pregnancies, as well as engaged couples and spouses who desire responsible procreation. In this way you are working concretely for the culture of life," he said. "I pray to the Lord that, thanks to your contribution, the 'yes to life' may be a cause of unity in Italy and in every country of the world," he said. The day before, the pope underlined the Christian duty to respect life in a talk to students and faculty of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.

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Pope asks space explorers about science, peace, state of the earth

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI reached out to outer space to ask astronauts how their unique perspective from the frontier of the universe makes them think about difficult questions back on earth. In a video hookup May 21 between the Vatican and the International Space Station (ISS) in orbit around the earth, Pope Benedict asked the astronauts how science can help in the pursuit of peace and the need to protect a fragile planet. Seated at a desk in front of a video screen, the pope could see the 12 astronauts huddled before the camera and trying not to float away from lack of gravity inside the super technological space station. The group included space station crew and members of the final mission of the U.S. shuttle Endeavour. The pope praised the space travelers for their courage and commitment, and reminded them that after their extraordinary experience, they "must eventually come back down to earth like all the rest of us." His first question dealt with violence and war, and was addressed to the Endeavour mission commander, U.S. astronaut Mark Kelly, whose wife, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was still recovering after being critically injured in a shooting in January. Acknowledging the attack and wishing her a full recovery, the pope said, "When you are contemplating earth from up there, do you ever wonder about the way nations and people live together down here, about how science can contribute to the cause of peace?"

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All aboard: Caritas opens 60th anniversary with vintage train ride

ABOARD THE CARITAS EXPRESS (CNS) -- Caritas Internationalis opened its 60th anniversary celebrations with a loud whistle, a puff of smoke and a plume of steam on a vintage train traveling from the Vatican's seldom-used train station for a day's outing. The train, dubbed the Caritas Express for the journey May 21, included the fancy parlor car used in the past by Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. It is the same carriage, originally designed for Italy's royal family, that will be used when Pope Benedict XVI travels to Assisi in October. Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, the president of Caritas Internationalis, said that if trains had existed at the time of Jesus, the Lord would have told a parable that would have included the line, "I am the locomotive and you are the wagons" in the same way Jesus "used to say the sheep learn the voice of the shepherd and follow him." In an interview aboard the train as it traveled to Orvieto, an Umbrian hilltown north of Rome, Cardinal Rodriguez said there were several reasons why a clickety-clack ride was a great way for a Catholic organization to celebrate its existence. "First of all: movement. Dynamism is one of the characteristics of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not sitting, is not asleep, not on holiday, but is working and promoting movement inside the church," he said.

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Canada's Mi'kmaq ask Jesuits to help preserve their language

TORONTO (CNS) -- As Canada's Jesuits remembered their first steps on North American soil and the welcome they received from Mi'kmaq people 400 years ago, the Mi'kmaq asked for a favor. "Maybe it's time for the Mi'kmaq to ask for your help in preserving our language," Grand Keptin Antle Denny told three dozen Canadian Jesuits and about 100 guests who had gathered to mark the 1611 landing of two Jesuits at Port Royal in what is now Nova Scotia. Denny said about 70 percent of Mi'kmaq speak English and very few young people are comfortable in their own language. Linguists have told Denny the language will be extinct in 20 years. "We need your help," Denny told the Jesuits. "We want to be with them in spirit," said the Jesuits' English Canadian provincial superior, Father Jim Webb. "We would be happy to cooperate." Father Webb told The Catholic Register it's difficult to say what practical steps today's Jesuits could take to help preserve the language, but he noted that work on languages has been part of Jesuit history in Canada. Canadian Jesuits translated Ojibwa stories into English and the Bible into Ojibwa in central Canada. A Canadian missionary to Nepal was responsible for translating the liturgy into Nepali. "If we could find a way of helping, we would try," said Father Webb.

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West Bank priest works to re-engage young Catholics in parish life

JIFNA, West Bank (CNS) -- As dusk fell on this sleepy West Bank village, Father Firas Aridah looked down from the balcony of his office onto the church courtyard, where a group of young boys -- and one girl -- were in the midst of a heated soccer match. Religious songs in Arabic flowed over the church's loudspeakers and mingled with the shouts of the children as they played on the clear Saturday evening. As soon as the church bells began to ring, the boys disappeared while the girl slipped into the church, but the priest was not worried. He knew that while the pews at St. Joseph Church filled mostly with women and girls, the boys would be back later, when the church youth group began its special activities for the younger children. Most importantly, what he saw was that among those parishioners who came to Mass, there were almost 25 young children -- including four boys -- and teenage girls. After the first and second Palestinian uprisings, the church lost many of its youth to the political arena, and political rivalries infiltrated the lives of families and the church, Father Aridah said before the Mass. Now he and other priests in the diocese have been focusing on bringing Catholic youth back into the church. "The youth need many things, like hope," Father Aridah said. "We have to gather them inside the church and beside the church, to live their brotherhood and to live their Christianity as it should be."

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Caritas assembly opens looking at relationship with Vatican

ROME (CNS) -- Whether they are tiny, all-volunteer organizations or agencies with hundreds of professional employees working around the globe, Catholic charities are called to be expressions of God's love and the Catholic Church's concern for the poor, said the cardinal-president of Caritas Internationalis. Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, president of the confederation of 165 national Catholic charities, opened the weeklong Caritas general assembly May 22 in Rome. While a central focus of the meeting was to be new statutes that would strengthen Vatican oversight of Caritas Internationalis, the gathering also marked the 60th anniversary of the confederation, which was celebrated with a daylong trip May 21 on a vintage steam train that boarded at the Vatican train station. The festive atmosphere of the train trip was a contrast to the businesslike atmosphere of the general assembly, especially as it prepared to elect new officers, including a new secretary-general after the Vatican Secretariat of State decided not to give the current secretary-general, Lesley-Anne Knight, its blessing to run for a second four-year term. "We all would have loved to continue our journey with the current secretary-general," Cardinal Rodriguez said in his opening address. "The way she was not allowed to stand as a candidate ... has caused grievance in our confederation," especially among the women working for Caritas, he said. The cardinal said a dialogue with the Vatican Secretariat of State about the new Caritas statutes formally began in February; because the dialogue is ongoing, he asked delegates to authorize the Caritas executive board to conclude the discussions with the Vatican and adopt provisional rules that would be in force until the next general assembly in 2015.

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Priest from Lebanon to head US-based eparchy for Armenian Catholics

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI has named Msgr. Mikael Mouradian, who is superior of the Convent of Notre Dame in Bzommar, Lebanon, as the new bishop of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Nareg in New York for Armenian Catholics. The appointment was announced May 21 in Washington by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Bishop-designate Mouradian, who was born in Lebanon, succeeds Bishop Manuel Batakian, who is 81. The New York-based eparchy serves about 25,000 Armenian Catholics in the United States and about 10,000 in Canada. The church has two parishes in Canada, Toronto and Montreal, and seven in the United States -- two in California and one each in Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. The eparchy was formed as an exarchate in 1981. On Sept. 12, 2005, Pope Benedict raised it to an eparchy. The same day Bishop Batakian, who had headed the exarchate since 2001, became the first eparch. Dioceses in Eastern Catholic churches are called eparchies. An exarchate is a church jurisdiction formed in areas where there are enough Catholics of that rite to establish a hierarchy but the church is not sufficiently developed yet to form an eparchy, or full diocesan structure.

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Sister Dulce, Brazil's Mother Teresa, beatified

SALVADOR, Brazil (CNS) -- Despite intermittent rain, 70,000 people gathered in a park for the the beatification of the nun sometimes called Brazil's Mother Teresa. Born as Maria Rita de Souza Brito Lopes Pontes in 1914, she was known to Brazilian Catholics as simply Sister Dulce, the mother of the poor. Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo of Salvador celebrated the beatification Mass with more than 500 archbishops, bishops and priests in attendance. Claudia Cristiane Santos Araujo, the woman whose miracle cure was attributed to Sister Dulce's intercession, also attended. Araujo prayed to Sister Dulce while suffering from a massive hemorrhage minutes after giving birth. At an early age, Pontes would open her family's modest house in Salvador to those in need of food and shelter. In 1933, she entered the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God and received the name of Sister Dulce, in honor of her mother. In 1936, Sister Dulce founded the first Catholic workers' organization in the state of Bahia and started a health clinic for poor workers. She opened a school for workers and their children in 1939. That same year, Sister Dulce, with nowhere to turn, invaded five abandoned houses on Rat's Island in Salvador Bay to house the sick and homeless. After getting evicted, she searched for a haven for the poor until 1949, when she settled in an old chicken coop structure beside the convent. That old chicken coop, said her followers, became the largest hospital in the area.

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Cardinal George reinstates vocal priest as pastor of Chicago parish

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Father Michael Pfleger, who was placed on administrative leave from his position as pastor of an African-American parish on Chicago's South Side has been reinstated by Cardinal Francis E. George and agreed to develop a transition plan for the future of the parish. The outspoken priest, longtime pastor of St. Sabina Church, was placed on leave April 27 three weeks after he said in an interview on national radio that he would leave the Catholic Church if he were to be reassigned. In simultaneous statements May 20, both clergymen said the church had been hurt by the conflict and that it was time to heal the rift that had developed. Father Pfleger apologized for his remarks, saying if they "seemed to be a threat to leave the priesthood, I am sorry. That was not my intention. I am committed to the priesthood and the Catholic Church." He also agreed to develop the transition plan and present it to Cardinal George and the diocesan Priests' Placement Board by Dec. 1. Cardinal George's statement indicated that he asked the priest, who is white and well known for his social activism and outspokenness on racism, to "take time to pray about his personal faith and his commitment to the Catholic priesthood."


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