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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Aug-24-2011

By Catholic News Service


9/11 anniversary prompts reflection on tragedy's spiritual dimension

RYE, N.Y. (CNS) -- As Chief Joseph W. Pfeifer of the New York City Fire Department sees it, the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a global trauma and the 10th anniversary of the tragedy provides a transformative opportunity for the world community to pause and think about its spiritual dimension and its aftermath. On Sept. 11, 2001, Pfeifer was chief of the 1st Battalion, one of the first on the scene and in charge of directing firefighter response in the north tower of the World Trade Center. He met his firefighter brother in the lobby of the building as Lt. Kevin Pfeifer responded to the second alarm. They exchanged a few words, and Kevin headed up the stairs. He helped evacuate workers and directed other firefighters to safety, but he was killed in the collapse of the building. "People were angry at God and they had every right to be, but that was not my experience," Pfeifer said in an interview with Catholic News Service. "I was walking back to the firehouse from the site on the second day, when we knew there would be no more survivors. It was completely dark except for the lights we had brought in. There was no power and there was smoke everywhere. "Instead of anger, I felt an encounter, as if I was coming back to an old friend, or putting on an old sweatshirt. I had wrestled with God and spirituality before. I had had the experience of being in a conflicted place and trying to understand what it means," Pfeifer said. "How do you encounter spirituality and what is your personal experience of God? Mine was very much on West Street, walking back in complete sadness, but it was a place I'd been to before."

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Phoenix cathedral's policy change on altar servers ignites discussion

PHOENIX (CNS) -- When the news broke that Father John Lankeit, rector of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedra, was changing policy on altar servers, secular media outlets were quick to offer their take on the development. From now on at the Phoenix Diocese's cathedral, only boys will be altar servers. Girls who are currently serving in that capacity will have the opportunity to train as sacristans. "There were about five or six girls who were still serving and I called their parents to explain there would be a transition," Father Lankeit said. "I invited them, told them they are welcome right away to begin training as sacristans." The news may have come as a bit of a shock to some local Catholics, but Father Lankeit attributes that to those who are, unknowingly perhaps, more influenced by society rather than by church teaching. The decision, he said, is a way to honor the God-given dignity of both men and women. It's also one way to encourage more vocations to the priesthood and religious life. "If you look around the church -- and I'm talking about the overall church -- if you look at dioceses, if you look at religious orders and you look at parishes where they have the clear honoring of the distinction and the complementarity of men and women, you see both vocations flourish," Father Lankeit told The Catholic Sun, the diocesan newspaper. "And when I say both vocations, I mean to the priesthood as well as vocations to the consecrated religious life." He pointed to a parish in Ann Arbor, Mich., as one such example. In 2008, the parish had 22 seminarians, Father Lankeit said. He also mentioned the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., which similarly reserves altar service to boys and has seen strong growth in vocations to the priesthood.

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Bishop links today's workforce to laborers who inspired 'Rerum Novarum'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The head of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in an annual Labor Day statement, likened today's workers and the difficulties they face to those who inspired Pope Leo XIII's landmark encyclical of 120 years ago, "Rerum Novarum," ("On New Things"). The encyclical on capital and labor ushered in the era of Catholic social teaching. "Over 9 percent of Americans are looking for work and cannot find it. Other workers fear they could lose their jobs. Joblessness is higher among African-American and Hispanic workers. Wages are not keeping up with expenses for many," said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., committee chairman, in the statement. "Countless families have lost their homes, and others owe more on their homes than they are worth. Union workers are part of a smaller labor movement and experience new efforts to restrict collective bargaining rights," he continued. "Hunger and homelessness are a part of life for too many children. "Most Americans fear our nation and economy are headed in the wrong direction. Many are confused and dismayed by polarization over how our nation can work together to deal with joblessness and declining wages, debt and deficits, economic stagnation, and global fiscal crises. Workers are rightfully anxious and fearful about the future," he added. But, Bishop Blaire noted, "at the time of the Industrial Revolution workers also faced great difficulties. Pope Leo XIII identified the situation of workers as the key moral challenge of that time and issued his groundbreaking encyclical 'Rerum Novarum.' This letter has served as the cornerstone for more than a century of Catholic social teaching."

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Damage from Virginia quake appears to hit churches hard

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Historic churches in Washington, Maryland and Virginia were among buildings with the most serious damage after the unusual Aug. 23 magnitude 5.8 earthquake shook the region. The temblor could be felt as far away as Detroit, north of Toronto and into Florida. The archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore each reported damage to several churches. But in the Diocese of Richmond, Va., where the quake was centered near the town of Mineral, that town's St. Jude Church had the only reported damage in the diocese, and that was relatively minor, according to its pastor, Father Michael Duffy. He told Catholic News Service a couple of hours after the quake that some pictures fell off the walls and smashed and holy oils fell out of the ambry. He said also said there were cracks in the plaster, a broken water pipe and some damaged light fixtures. Father Duffy said he felt the quake in the rectory, while he was meeting with an insurance adjuster about another matter. "The whole house shook," he said. He said there appeared to be no structural damage, but "a lot of messy damage" at the church and rectory. He said that the area's older mission church, Immaculate Conception in Bumpass, also appeared to be fine. It was built in 1876. Mineral itself is a tiny town, with a population of only a few hundred people. Thirty-six miles away in more sizable Culpeper, damage around town included toppled chimneys, cracked walls and bricks knocked out of walls. St. Stephen's Episcopal Church there had the walls of its narthex separate from the nave. The building was condemned, according to the Episcopal News Service.

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Study finds cohabitation even more harmful to children than divorce

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- While studies have long shown the negative effects on children of divorce compared to those from two-parent households, a new study has determined that children born to cohabiting couples fare even worse than children from divorced families. Despite a drop in the divorce rate, "family instability continues to increase for the nation's children overall, mainly because more than 40 percent of American children will now spend time in a cohabiting household," according to the study, "Why Marriage Matters," issued Aug. 16 by the Center for American Families at the Institute for American Values and the National Marriage Project, based at the University of Virginia. "As marriage becomes less connected to childbearing, children are more likely to be exposed to a relational merry-go-round with adults coming in and out of their lives," the report said. "Now, approximately 24 percent of the nation's children are born to cohabiting couples, which means that more children are currently born to cohabiting couples than to single mothers." The study found that children born to cohabiting couples are much more likely to experience a parental breakup compared to children born to married couples -- 170 percent in unmarried households with children up to age 12. Not only is cohabitation less stable, it is more dangerous for children, according to the study. Federal statistics show that children are at least three times more likely to be physically, sexually or emotionally abused in cohabiting households, compared to children in intact, biological married-parent homes. They are also significantly more likely to experience delinquency, drug use and school failure. "If Mom is living with a boyfriend, they may have less trust, less emotional security in their relationship, less sexual fidelity," said W. Bradford Wilcox, a researcher at the University of Virginia and lead author of the report.

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At audience, pope announces themes for coming WYD celebrations

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- After reviewing his trip to Madrid for World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI announced the themes he has chosen to guide the reflections of young Catholics next year on a diocesan level and in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. The 2012 theme, he said at his weekly general audience Aug. 24, will be, "Rejoice in the Lord Always." The theme for the international gathering with the pope in Rio, he said, will be: "Go and Make Disciples of All Nations." The pope's audience with about 2,000 people gathered in the courtyard of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo lasted just over 15 minutes. As is customary at the first general audience after a trip abroad, Pope Benedict dedicated his talk to a review of the meetings and experiences of his trip Aug. 18-21 -- "extraordinary days" -- in Madrid. "It was a very moving church event," he said. "Almost 2 million young people from every continent joyfully lived the formidable experience of brotherhood, encounters with the Lord, sharing and growing in the faith. "I thank God for this precious gift, which gives hope for the future of the church," he said. Pope Benedict quickly reviewed the main point of each talk he gave in Madrid and described the atmosphere of each meeting. He said World Youth Day has proven to be a significant event in the lives of many young people who later pursue a vocation to the priesthood or religious life. "I am certain that in Madrid, as well, the Lord knocked on the doors of the hearts of many young people so that they would follow him with generosity in priestly ministry or in religious life," the pope said.

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Congo's religious leaders urge security for November general elections

KINSHASA, Congo (CNS) -- Congolese religious leaders expressed worries that November's general elections could be marred by violence, and they called on the international community to ensure optimal security for people and ballots after the polls. "We fear turbulent, rather than peaceful elections," said a mid-August statement signed by eight religious leaders, including Bishop Nicolas Djomo Lola of Tshumbe, president of the Catholic bishops' conference. Other signatories included the legal representative of the Islamic community in the Congo and a broad range of Christian churches, including the Orthodox Church, the Salvation Army, the Kimbanguist Church, the Church of Christ and the Church of the Awakening. The statement was signed by hand, on each of its 11 pages, by each signatory, underlining the broad support it has received. The elections are only the second general elections since independence in 1960; the last largely successful election was in 2006. Earlier this year, Catholic bishops expressed concerns about political developments that could destabilize the country, including the ruling party's hasty amendment of the constitution to eliminate a second round of elections, even in cases where a first round does not produce an outright majority. In the August statement, the religious leaders said that their fears of disturbances have led them to speak out in an effort to prevent violence. "To be silent now would be just to be accomplices of possible disturbances and an ensuing catastrophe for the country," the statement read. "Our intervention is in the spirit of avoiding unhappy outcomes that will profit no one but only lead to a spiral of violence."

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'Spiritual Communion': Youths learn a traditional concept the hard way

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- More than a million young Catholics learned the hard way about a venerable Catholic tradition: "spiritual Communion" or the "Communion of desire." After a wild storm Aug. 20 at World Youth Day in Madrid left six people injured -- including two with broken legs -- Spanish police collapsed the tents where most of the unconsecrated hosts for the next morning's Mass were being kept. Without the hosts in the tents, organizers had 5,000 ciboriums holding 200 hosts each; they were consecrated by the pope at Mass Aug. 21 and distributed to pilgrims in the section closest to the altar. Distributing Communion to just 100,000 people wasn't a decision anyone took lightly, and apparently there were long discussions with World Youth Day organizers and Vatican officials trying to find a solution. In the end, it just wasn't possible logistically to locate another 1.5 million hosts. A couple of hours before the Mass, organizers announced that most of the people present would not be able to receive; they asked the pilgrims to offer up that sacrifice for the pope's intentions and told them they could receive Communion later in the day at any church in Madrid. The decision to cancel Communion for most Mass participants was reached "with the greatest pain," Yago de la Cierva, director of World Youth Day Madrid, told reporters Aug. 21. Whenever there is a huge crowd for a Mass, whether in St. Peter's Square or at a World Youth Day, there always are some people unable to get to the Communion distribution point in time to receive. But in Madrid, de la Cierva said, "almost everyone" was among those not receiving.

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Arson rumors split church choir that sang at Zimbabwe general's funeral

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Rumors that arson killed Gen. Solomon Mujuru, one of Zimbabwe's main power brokers, were so rife that a church choir was split in its decision to sing at his Aug. 20 funeral. Mujuru, the former army commander who backed President Robert Mugabe to lead Zimbabwe during the war to end minority white rule, died in a fire at his farmhouse in mid-August. His Harare funeral drew tens of thousands of mourners. "Tension arose within the choir after someone spoke up about being unwilling to be at the funeral because he believed Mujuru was assassinated," Jesuit Father Oskar Wermter, a priest at St. Peter's Church in the Harare township of Mbare, said in an Aug. 22 telephone interview from Harare. Mujuru was one of Zimbabwe's "very few genuine heroes," Father Wermter said, noting that the retired military chief who gave vital political support to his wife, the vice president, "was a popular figure beyond his own party." His death has intensified political maneuvering within Mugabe's Zanu-PF party. Police and forensic investigators are investigating the cause of the fire that killed Mujuru and razed his home about 35 miles southwest of Harare. "Most people here believe he was assassinated and that the fire was not an accident," Father Wermter said.


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