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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Dec-15-2011

By Catholic News Service


Catholic DVD on marriage not a lobbying effort, campaign board rules

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Minnesota's Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board has dismissed a complaint stemming from a DVD on marriage mailed to 400,000 Catholics in the state by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in September 2010. The complainant, Minneapolis attorney Kurt M. Anderson, had argued that the mailing constituted a lobbying effort by the archdiocese and therefore triggered certain registration and reporting requirements under Minnesota campaign law. "There is a sufficient basis on which to reasonably conclude that the archdiocese's communications were for a purpose other than to influence legislative action," the board said in its 12-page decision, announced Dec. 8. "As a result, there is no probable cause to conclude that the archdiocese became a 'principal' as a result of the subject communications." The board also found "no probable cause" that the archdiocese should have been required to register a political fund or register as a lobbyist because of its actions. Anderson had contended that the DVD campaign -- which took place about six weeks before voters were to elect members of the Minnesota Legislature -- was a lobbying effort aimed at persuading legislators to place a constitutional amendment defining marriage on the state ballot. In the DVD, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis said, "I have called on the Legislature to allow voters to consider a constitutional amendment to preserve marriage as the union between one man and one woman. The archdiocese believes that the time has come for voters to be presented directly with an amendment to the state constitution to preserve our historic understanding of marriage," he added.

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Advocates say reproductive services 'important' for trafficking victims

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Longtime advocates for victims of human trafficking told a House committee that the government must ensure that females who are trafficked can access all reproductive health services including contraception and abortion. Addressing the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Dec. 14, Florrie Burke, a consultant to anti-trafficking organizations, and Andrea Powell, executive director of FAIR Girls in Washington, said victims who are raped must be able to determine for themselves what services they need rather than facing restrictions on care imposed by others. The hearing was requested by minority Democrats on the committee as part of the congressional probe into the process followed by the Department of Health in Human Services to award grants for services to trafficking victims. House Republicans maintained during the 80-minute hearing -- as they did Dec. 1 -- that they believe HHS officials violated federal law protecting religious conscience in denying up to $2.5 million in funding to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services because the church agency would not provide or refer female trafficking victims for contraceptive, abortion or sterilization services. Grants were awarded under the National Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Program to three other agencies including two whose original applications scored lower than the MRS proposal. Those two agencies initially were not recommended for funding by the staff of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division of the Office of Refugee Resettlement that administers the program within HHS.

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Laguna, Acoma Pueblo Indians are 'deeply steeped in Catholicism'

LAGUNA, N.M. (CNS) --San Jose Mission, built in 1699, sits atop a hill in the center of the village of Laguna and at the center of life for many Laguna Pueblo Indians. Less than 20 miles away is the Acoma Pueblo, located on a 365-foot-high sandstone mesa. At its center is San Esteban del Rey Mission, built between 1629 and 1641. Both Pueblo Indian reservations are in the Gallup Diocese, which straddles northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona. They are on the high desert -- a landscape of mesas, valleys, hills and dry washes, or "arroyos" -- and their people have lived there for centuries. Both the Laguna and Acoma, two of seven tribes in the diocese, are "deeply steeped in Catholicism," said Franciscan Brother Chris Kerstiens. "The Laguna and Acoma pueblos are probably considered the most Catholic," Brother Chris said in a recent interview with Catholic News Service in the church office. "They have found a very harmonious way in which Catholicism and their traditional, non-Christian puebloan religion can co-exist." A student at the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Brother Chris is more than halfway through a yearlong internship as pastoral associate at the Laguna church. When he arrived last June, he said, "one of the first things I was deeply impressed by, I guess, or touched by was just how friendly the Lagunans and the Acomans are." Florence "Flo" Chino, who is Laguna and a lifelong member of San Jose Mission, said: "The way I was brought up, my mother was a devoted Catholic and she always told me that Catholicism and our native culture go together as one." For example, she said, the church's Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is "similar to the initiation in our own culture."

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Lay missionaries prepare for two-year service trips

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the sparse chapel of a house tucked in a Washington neighborhood, a 62-year-old New York trial lawyer pledged to devote the next two years of her life to serving those in need in Nairobi, Kenya. About 12 people in the congregation at the headquarters of the Franciscan Mission Service prayed for Susan Slavin as she vowed to "share the good news by living, praying and working with the poor. It doesn't get better than this" said Slavin at the end of Dec. 2 Mass while she hugged everyone. For some, her enthusiasm could seem surprising. After all, she is about to leave behind waterfront property on Long Island, her law practice of 25 years and the most challenging aspect for her -- a 3-month-old grandson -- to live without luxuries, away from friends and family while facing new challenges thousands of miles away. But Slavin is confident this is something she is called to do. She said it was hard to leave her law practice but she knows she'll come back. It will be really hard to leave her grandson but she intends to talk to him daily and even read books by Skype, an Internet phone service. What may be the most difficult adjustment for Slavin is knowing that during the next two years she won't have all the answers. As a lawyer, she's accustomed to cut-and-dried explanations and if she doesn't know them, she looks them up. But the law books and research materials won't help her in her mission role. What will help, she thinks, is the three months of training with the Franciscan Mission Service that she described as being "harder than law school and studying for the bar."

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Dioceses mull appealing FCC closed-captioning exemption revocations

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Ten U.S. dioceses are considering whether to appeal a Federal Communications Commission order lifting the waiver they had earlier been granted that had permitted the dioceses to not use closed-captioning for the programs they produce. Most of the dioceses produce a weekly televised Mass. The deadline to appeal the revocations is Jan. 12. The exemptions were lifted in October. The 10 dioceses were among 303 program-producing entities whose FCC waivers were revoked. Most of the rest are individual Christian congregations that produce their own shows. The Diocese of Lake Charles, La., one of the affected dioceses, said it would seek a new waiver. It does not do a weekly televised Mass but has other programming. Morris LeBleu, who produces "Glad Tidings," an hourlong news and interview program that has aired for the past 30 years, told Catholic News Service that to comply with the FCC order, "we feel it would cost us a third more a week, up to a half," to produce the program. The current costs, according to LeBleu, are $1,550 in weekly production costs, and $850 each Sunday for the airtime on a local broadcast network affiliate. Another cost consideration for Lake Charles, LeBleu said, was the possibility that the station airing "Glad Tidings" will be switching to high-definition broadcasting entirely, which would force the diocese to buy new equipment.

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Immigration action in 2011 came in the states and courts

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- With a politically divided Congress putting immigration on the don't-even-bother list of stagnate legislation, action on the subject in 2011 fell to state legislatures and federal courts -- where challenges focused on whether states have the right to act on immigration. Between court cases and election-year rhetoric, however, 2012 promises to give the issue a much higher profile. The Supreme Court agreed Dec. 12 to consider the constitutionality of Arizona's S.B. 1070 -- a package of restrictions on immigrants and requirements for law enforcement officers to determine people's immigration status -- which was to have taken effect in summer of 2010. Injunctions have blocked some of the most-criticized parts of the law, including mandatory requirements for police to check on immigration status and criminalizing various forms of assistance to undocumented immigrants. That includes the response to a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice challenging the state's right to step into immigration law, normally the purview of the federal government. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in April upheld the federal District Court's prohibition on parts of the law from taking effect. That set up the state's appeal to the Supreme Court. That case will likely be heard by the court in April, with a ruling expected by the time the court adjourns for the summer.

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Use globalization to expand solidarity, justice, pope tells diplomats

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The interdependence of different cultures and peoples should not be seen as a threat, but as an advantage for bringing justice and solidarity to all, Pope Benedict XVI told diplomats. "We are all responsible for everyone and it's important to have a positive notion of solidarity" and shared responsibility, he said. The pope's comments came Dec. 15 in a speech to 11 new ambassadors to the Vatican; the 11, who do not live in Rome, were presenting their letters of credential to the pope. In a break from previous practice, the pope did not give separate messages to each ambassador, and Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the change would be permanent. "For reasons of simplicity" and consistency with current diplomatic practice, the pope will give only one speech to groups of new ambassadors who do not reside in Rome, Father Lombardi said in a written statement. The customs that will remain are the personal encounter between the new diplomat and the head of state -- the pope -- and the ambassador's presentation of his or her credentials, the spokesman said. The personal meeting also will allow for a brief exchange of words -- essential for learning more about the other, he added. Resident ambassadors will continue to have an individual meeting with the pope as usual, Father Lombardi said. However, the spokesman said it was his understanding that the pope would no longer present the ambassador with a written address. The pope's speeches to ambassadors had touched on specific issues or concerns the church had in regards to a particular country.

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Of liturgy and life: Jesuit scholar reflects on his 46 years in Rome

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In a sitting room where lace doilies top every table, Jesuit Father Robert F. Taft's gray sweater and wooden cane add to the impression that he's a refined retired professor. But then he shared what he believes is the line his former students quote most: "There are two things you do not do alone: liturgy and sex." The world renowned liturgical scholar was interviewed Dec. 13 as he prepared to return to the United States after more than 46 years in Rome. Students and friends share his pithy quotes with relish and his graduate summer school students at the University of Notre Dame even published a collection of them several years ago. "They're totally spontaneous. It's not like I sit in my room before class thinking, 'What wisecrack can I throw at them today?' It just happens," he said. Father Taft, who said he's "on the top of the heap" when it comes to knowledge of the Byzantine liturgy, officially retired as a professor at Rome's Pontifical Oriental Institute in 2002. He was scheduled to move to the Jesuit retirement center in Weston, Mass., just after Christmas and will celebrate his 80th birthday Jan. 9. With more than 800 titles already to his credit, the Rhode Island native, who was ordained in the Byzantine rite in 1963, still has one big writing project left: completing the sixth and final volume of his history of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, used by both Eastern Catholics and Orthodox. Packing interrupted work on the book, he said, but the slow progress also is due to less energy and more time devoted to prayer. "One of the advantages of getting old is that what the Byzantine liturgy refers to as the 'dread tribunal of Christ' that you're going to stand before puts the fear of God into you, and so you move to pray more," he said. "That already has had an influence on my spiritual life."

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Bethlehem witness: Women's tales to be on posters on separation wall

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (CNS) -- Sylvana Giacaman, 54, is giving herself a different kind of gift for Christmas: She is allowing her photo and a personal story to be posted on the Israeli separation wall. On her poster Giacaman, a Catholic and the sole member of her immediate family who still resides in the Palestinian territories, shares a turning point in her life. During the first intifada, she miscarried after being exposed to Israeli-fired tear gas A week later, while in Jerusalem for a medical exam, she saw an Israeli child playing on top of an escalator and about to fall. "Thoughts rushed through my mind. Should I leave him and let him die the way the Israeli soldiers let my boy die a week ago, or should I make a desperate attempt to grab him? All of a sudden, I felt an impulse that made me hurry forward," she said on her poster. "Throwing myself in front of the boy, I prevented his fall." This incident changed her whole life, she said. "As a Christian I was about to take revenge (on the little boy), but then I realized what I must do as a Catholic and a Christian: to catch this baby with my own hands," she said. "If somebody does something to us we mustn't take revenge. We must take that opportunity to do better. After this happened, I realized I must love people even more and accept people the way they are ... I must see in them the image of God." Giacaman's poster is part of a unique open-air exhibition sponsored by the Sumud Story House, which stands just a few yards from the separation wall and one of its guard towers. The house was established in 2007 by the Pax Christi International-affiliated Arab Educational Institute as a center for awareness-raising activities locally and internationally. In Arabic, "sumud" means steadfastness, and the house's activities are aimed at fostering persistence in staying on the land. "These are all real stories of our lives," said Giacaman. "I think that when people will read my stories and my sisters' stories they will share in my suffering. They will realize that we Christian Palestinians are on this land."

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After vandalism on mosque, scholars calls for respect for sacred sites

ROME (CNS) -- The day after an ancient mosque in Jerusalem was vandalized and burned, allegedly by Jewish extremists, participants at a Rome conference on "sacred space" called for absolute respect for all places of worship. Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars met Dec. 14-15 at Rome's Pontifical University of St. Thomas to discuss the theological, legal and sociological implications of sacred space. "In the course of our deliberations, we were given a reminder of how necessary and timely our exchanges indeed are, as we received news of yet another incident of mosque burning -- even if a deserted mosque no longer in use -- this time in Jerusalem itself, a city holy to all three religions," said a statement issued at the end of the meeting. News reports said the 12th-century Nebi Akasha Mosque has not been used for worship since Israel declared its statehood in 1948. The reports said the attack is believed to be part of a series of acts of vandalism by Jewish extremists protesting the scheduled demolition of Israeli settlements in the contested West Bank. The scholars meeting in Rome said, "We assert a firm commitment to protect all spaces holy to all religions."

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Iraqi Christians resettled in Canada look forward to quiet Christmas

EDMONTON, Alberta (CNS) -- Iraqi Ziyad Matti and his wife, Dalia Hikmat, have not had a proper Christmas in years. They are looking forward to a quiet, peaceful celebration of Christmas as the settle in their new country and learn their way around. The couple and their 1-year-old daughter, Kristel, arrived in Edmonton in early December from Lebanon, where they had been living since their escape from Iraq in 2009. They are staying at the Rotary Centre for New Canadians, a complex for refugees and immigrants run by Catholic Social Services. Matti is a computer engineer, and Hikmat a chemical engineer. They are Orthodox Christians. The couple spoke to the Western Catholic Reporter, Edmonton's archdiocesan newspaper, Dec. 13 through an interpreter, Azhar Aziz, a staff member at the Rotary Centre. Before the American-led invasion in 2003, there was harmony among religions in Iraq. Christians would celebrate Christmas openly and their Muslim friends would say "Merry Christmas to you," recalled Hikmat. They would set up a well-decorated Christmas tree in the living room, surrounded by presents, and a Nativity scene. On Christmas Eve, they would attend Mass late at night and the next day they would celebrate with friends, dining on turkey and opening presents. Those were happy times. Everything changed in 2003 when groups began bombing Christian churches and persecuting Christians.

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Retired Bishop Schmitt of Marquette Diocese dies at Wisconsin hospice

DEPERE, Wis. (CNS) -- Retired Bishop Mark F. Schmitt of Marquette, Mich., died Dec. 14 at the Ingrid Ming Hospice Residence in DePere after a brief illness. He was 88. Bishop Schmitt was the 10th bishop of Marquette, serving from his installation on May 7, 1978, to his retirement Nov. 11, 1992. He then lived near Big Bay until moving to Wisconsin in 2005. His funeral was to take place at St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette at a date and time to be determined. The last time a funeral Mass was offered for a bishop at the cathedral was March 17, 1977, when services were held for retired Bishop Thomas L. Noa. "The whole church of Marquette is very grateful for the years of Bishop Schmitt's ministry here," said Bishop Alexander K. Sample, current head of the diocese. "I am personally grateful for his having ordained me a deacon and a priest and then serving as co-consecrator of my ordination as bishop." Bishop Schmitt was born Feb 14, 1923, the fifth of eight children, to Charles and Ann (Netzer) Schmitt in Algoma. He attended St. Mary's elementary school in Algoma for eight years, the Salvatorian Seminary in St. Nazianz from 1937 to 1943, and completed his preparation for the priesthood at St. John Seminary and University in Collegeville, Minn., from 1943 to 1948.


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