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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Jun-21-2012

By Catholic News Service


Omaha archbishop accepts plan for parish mergers, school consortium

OMAHA, Neb. (CNS) -- Eight parish mergers, three elementary school closings and the creation of a consortium of five other elementary schools were among the proposals accepted by Omaha Archbishop George J. Lucas June 19 after a yearlong study of Catholic ministry in east Omaha. During a news conference at the Cathedral Cultural Center at St. Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha, the archbishop said the plan, called "Promise 2020," will ensure that Catholic parishes and schools will remain part of the heart of Omaha "for many years to come." Triggered by changes in population and declining school enrollments, aging facilities and a projected drop in the number of priests, the study of 37 parishes and 18 elementary schools was undertaken to provide a road map for the next 10 to 20 years. The proposals are designed to make the best use of facilities, personnel and other resources, Archbishop Lucas said. "This is about putting the spiritual needs of people first, so that our best resources are used to support the work of the Gospel," the archbishop said. "Realigning our parishes will help us do more to serve our young people and the growing diverse, multicultural communities in east Omaha." Before they can take effect, proposed mergers and other significant changes to parish organizational structures must be presented to the archdiocesan priests' council and meet other requirements under canon law, church officials said. The plan calls for some mergers to take place in a year, other mergers in the next three to five years.

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Atlanta eucharistic congress draws vibrant family of faith

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. (CNS) -- Tens of thousands of Catholics filled the Georgia International Convention Center June 8 and 9 for the 17th annual celebration of prayers and speakers at the archdiocesan eucharistic congress. Drawing on the themes "We Though Many Are One Body in Christ" and missionary work, the two-day conference focused on unity and service. Opening his remarks in Spanish to the diverse crowd, Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas said the Eucharist isn't complete until Christians go out into the world in service. "We are a church of the Eucharist and a church of mission. The Eucharist transforms our hearts and minds into one body, responsible to go out and bring God's word to the world in which we live," said the bishop of Tucson, Ariz., whose 20-minute talk was interrupted several times with applause. As the congress began, he told the large crowd, "The Eucharist, broken and shared, forms us into the people of God. What a great gift. It makes strangers, sisters and brothers; that makes a crowd a church." Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said the congress is an opportunity for chance encounters, reconnecting with an old friend, hearing from a moving speaker, spending time in the eucharistic chapel. These are times for an "unforgettable experience and they are priceless," he said. The congress is free and open to the public, with tracks presented in English, Spanish, French, Vietnamese and American Sign Language and for youth, teens and young adults. Attendees are estimated to number more than 30,000. The Eucharist draws people together so they can be energized to serve those in need in an unfriendly world, said Bishop Kicanas.

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High court: FCC didn't give enough notice, can't fine over indecency

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Supreme Court, in a unanimous ruling, said the Federal Communications Commission did not give sufficient notice that certain words or depictions on broadcast television could be considered indecent and thus subject to fines or other sanctions. The June 21 ruling removes the threat of penalties against Fox and ABC -- Fox for language used on awards shows that aired live, and ABC for showing female rear nudity and a side view of a breast on the long-since-canceled police drama "NYPD Blue." But in the 8-0 decision, the high court did not rule on the constitutionality of the FCC's policy banning broadcast indecency. Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not participate in the case; she had been a member of a federal district court that heard one aspect of the indecency suit in the 2000s. "Any time you have a potentially hot-button issue that the court decides unanimously, you know the court is doing something very narrow," said Fordham University Law School professor Abner Greene, a First Amendment expert. Even so, he added, the case is "a good teaching example that justices from different parts of the (ideological) spectrum can get together and agree on something." Greene told Catholic News Service in a June 21 telephone interview that the indecency issue is "a very complicated law that the justices keep not wanting to address." As for the future, "we need to wait to see if the FCC is going to continue imposing its policy or not," Greene said, adding that followers will have to note the "pattern of its application. Is it fairly clear or is it going to be scattershot?"

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Church people in the US call for more help for millions of refugees

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In observance of World Refugee Day June 20, Catholic leaders noted that not much has changed in the plight of more than 15 million refugees in the world today. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Little Rock, Ark., spoke of the need for the global community to "welcome the stranger" and to aid the millions of refugees who are forced to escape violence and other kinds of persecution in their homeland. Anastasia Brown, director of resettlement services for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, said that since 800,000 new people became refugees last year, the 75,000 refugees that the United States has committed to receive every year continues to be not enough. Brown added that recent government-instituted security clearances reduced the numbers of refugees coming to the U.S. "Last year we received 56,000. We will have potentially only 54,000 this year," Brown said. Bishop Taylor and Brown were among the Catholic officials participating in a June 18 telephone news conference in anticipation of World Refugee Day. Worldwide, more people being forced to flee to other countries in 2011 than at any time since 2000, according to a June 18 report by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which put the total at 15.2 million refugees. The increase in the number of refugees reflects recent crises in Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria, the report said.

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Archbishop describes external, internal threats to religious liberty

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) -- On the eve of the start of the "fortnight for freedom," the U.S. bishops' effort to galvanize Catholics across the country to pray for and learn about religious liberty, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput gave a major address on the topic during the 2012 Catholic Media Conference June 20. Arguing that "religious freedom is a cornerstone of the American experience," Archbishop Chaput said the American founders "saw religious faith as vital to the life of a free people. Liberty and happiness grow organically out of virtue," he said. "And virtue needs a grounding in religious faith." Religious liberty, however, is "more than freedom of worship," Archbishop Chaput continued. "It begins in worship, but it also demands preaching, teaching and service," he said. "It's always personal but never private." This liberty seen as so vital to the nation's founders, Archbishop Chaput said, is now facing threats that are "immediate, serious and real" and are often linked to a hostile reaction to Catholic teachings on sexuality and life issues. Citing an article written by University of Notre Dame law professor Gerry Bradley, Archbishop Chaput said critics of these teachings see them merely as "subjective religious ... that can't be rationally defended ... and should be treated as a form of prejudice."

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Philadelphia Archdiocese to lay off 40, close Catholic Standard & Times

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia has announced a reorganization of the archdiocesan administration that will result in the loss of 40 jobs and the closing of The Catholic Standard & Times, the 117-year-old archdiocesan newspaper. Changes include the elimination of some offices and the combination of others, with reduced staffing levels. The recent June issue of the Standard & Times, which went from a weekly to monthly publication schedule last year, was the last of the newspaper. Phaith magazine, which launched last September and published 10 issues through June, will suspend publication while options for resuming it are examined. The annual Catholic Directory will continue to publish; the 2013 edition is expected to publish by late fall of 2012. A reduced staff will continue to publish Catholic news, commentary and information on the Catholic Standard & Times' website, CatholicPhilly.com. A newsletter distributed via email is planned for the near future. In a column posted on the website June 21, Archbishop Chaput said the reason for the administrative changes was primarily economic. As administrators this year planned for the 2013 budget, the fiscal year for which begins July 1, they faced a shortfall of $17 million between expected revenue and expenses, he wrote. The figure does not include more than $11 million in legal fees over the past year. "As burdensome as those extra costs have been, the much more troubling fact is that the archdiocese has -- for many years -- covered the expense of its many good ministries with growing deficits," he said. "These serious deficits have then been made whole with the sale of assets or the drawing down of investments. This is sometimes necessary in an emergency. But it can't be justified or sustained as a normal way of operating."

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Appealing for peace in Syria, pope expresses fear of wider conflict

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The international community must act swiftly and decisively to end the violence in Syria, which "risks becoming a widespread conflict that would have seriously negative consequences for the country and the entire region," Pope Benedict XVI said. The pope expressed his prayers and hopes for peace in Syria during a meeting June 21 with Catholic Church representatives from throughout the Middle East, including the nuncio to Syria and the president of Caritas Syria, and with leaders of Eastern Catholic churches. The representatives and leaders were at the Vatican for a meeting of the Vatican's coordinating body for church funding agencies that assist Eastern Catholics and Catholics throughout the Middle East. The violence in Syria began in March 2011 and has led to the deaths of thousands of civilians as soldiers battle forces seeking an end to the rule of President Bashar Assad. Pope Benedict said he wanted to express again his sorrow for the suffering of the Syrian people, particularly innocent children and defenseless citizens. "May our prayer, our commitment and our concrete brotherhood in Christ, like the oil of consolation, help them not lose the light of hope in these dark moments, and may God grant the leaders wisdom of heart so they would halt all bloodshed and violence, which brings only pain and death, and open the possibility for reconciliation, agreement and peace," he said.

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Vatican plans for Year of Faith include hymn, Mass, packed calendar

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- With a hymn and a prayer, Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella presented the Vatican's initial calendar of events for the Year of Faith, which begins with a Mass Oct. 11 in St. Peter's Square. Archbishop Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, said the pope has invited as concelebrants bishops and theologians who, like the pontiff, served as members or experts at the 1962-65 Second Vatican Council. The archbishop said he hoped about 35 "council fathers" would be able to join the presidents of national bishops' conferences and bishops participating in the world Synod of Bishops in concelebrating the opening Mass. During a news conference at the Vatican June 21, Archbishop Fisichella unveiled the sheet music for the official hymn for the Year of Faith, "Credo, Domine, Adauge Nobis Fidem" (I believe, Lord, increase our faith). "I'll spare you my musical interpretation," he told reporters, smiling. He also distributed copies of the official Year of Faith logo and prayer card, which features a mosaic image of Christ from the cathedral in Cefalu, Italy. The Nicene Creed is printed on the back of the cards, with the idea that the profession of faith would become "a daily prayer, learned by heart, as it was in the first centuries of Christianity," the archbishop said.

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Media abuzz, but bishop says photos show him with childhood friend

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- Spanish-language media were abuzz after publishing photos showing an Argentine bishop apparently being amorous with an unidentified female in a Mexican swimming pool. Argentine news channel A24 showed photos June 19 of Bishop Fernando Bargallo of Merlo-Moreno and an unidentified woman during a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, two years ago. Media outlets throughout Latin America have published the photos widely. Bishop Bargallo, who is also president of Caritas Latin America, appeared on the channel to read a statement in which he denied having any inappropriate relationship and described the woman as a "childhood friend." He also acknowledged, "It has caused a bad impression. I ask forgiveness if this has caused some sort of damage," he said. "I'm totally committed to God, the church and serving the diocese." The source of the photos has not been explained, although the A24 website mentioned the bishop has had tense relations with officials in the Argentine government over social policy.

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Marie Powell, head of USCCB education office, to retire this summer

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- It's safe to say Marie Powell has seen all sides of Catholic education. She's viewed it as a parent, teacher, administrator, diocesan leader, parent advocacy coordinator and head of the U.S. bishops' education department for the past five years. And taking a wide look at Catholic education -- just weeks before her early July retirement -- Powell gave it an overall good grade. In true educator form, she also remarked on its recent signs of improvement. She described Catholic schools as wonderful communities providing excellent faith formation and challenging students with high expectations. She praised them for recent efforts to increase their Catholic identity, which she said was "almost given" in previous decades when most schools were staffed by women religious. Powell also gave schools good marks for tapping those in their school communities with talents in business, marketing and advocacy. Acknowledging the expense that families face sending their children to Catholic schools, Powell said she has been "particularly heartened" by a recent increase in financial support for students either through tax credits or vouchers. She said one of the biggest challenges for Catholic schools today is maintaining their stability. But even in that area, there have been great strides especially with innovative school models often run by religious orders such as Christian Brothers and Jesuits including the San Miguel, Nativity and Cristo Rey schools.

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Sri Lankan Catholic nun sets out to help one family at a time

RIO DE JANEIRO (CNS) -- Sister Placida Lihinikaduwa, a Sri Lankan member of the Franciscan Sisters of Mary, is an example of how one person can make a difference in the lives of many. At the U.N. Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, Sister Placida told of her project to get families out of one of the largest slums in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Besides addressing a forum on eco-farming, Sister Placida spoke to Catholic News Service of her 10-year work of turning slum-dwellers into farmers. "When I went to work at the slum, I couldn't understand how they could live this way," said Sister Placida. "Their response to me was 'What can we do, Sister?" Her unhappiness with the situation only increased. She told Catholic News Service that, after a while, she gave up trying to improve the dwellers' lives and started to think of ways to move some of the families out of the area. Sister Placida said she looked around for land that could be farmed near Colombo and used money from the Tsunami Relief Fund -- given to help victims of the 2004 tsunami -- to buy 10 lots of land and relocate 10 families. The "New Beginnings" project was born. In 2006, the first families were relocated. "It took me almost two years to convince these first 10 families to make the move," she told CNS. Sister Placida said they were afraid to move to a new area.


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