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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Jan-2-2013

By Catholic News Service


US high court justice denies HHS injunction; lower court grants one

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied two companies' request for an injunction while they challenge part of the Department of Health and Human Services' contraceptive mandate in court. In an order filed Dec. 26, Sotomayor ruled that the owners of the Hobby Lobby craft store and the Mardel Christian bookstore chains did not qualify for an injunction while they challenge requirements of the Affordable Care Act. The law takes effect Jan. 1. On Dec. 30, a federal District Court judge in Michigan granted a temporary restraining order to Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza, allowing him to decline to provide contraceptive coverage to the employees of his current business, Domino's Farms Office Complex. The company's website lists offices for lease, a petting farm, an art gallery, a hair salon, a fitness center, a Catholic chapel and Our Lady of Grace Bookstore among the entities on the property. It's unclear how many people are employees of Domino's Farms. Monaghan no longer has any financial interest in the pizza company. District Court Judge Lawrence P. Zatkoff issued the Dec. 30 temporary restraining order, saying there would be little harm to the government in delaying possible implementation of the law at the company and that there was enough evidence of a possible valid religious rights claim by Domino Farms to justify further court proceedings. At the Supreme Court, Sotomayor ruled on the bookstore chain's petition because she oversees the federal circuit where Hobby Lobby filed suit challenging the HHS mandate. The companies' Oklahoma City-based owners contend that the mandate violates their religious beliefs because some of the drugs they are required to cover can lead to abortion. The family-owned companies have said they have no moral objection to "the use of preventive contraceptives" and will continue to cover those for employees.

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Cardinal George warns against Illinois same-sex marriage law

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Cardinal Francis E. George told Chicago-area Catholics that the passage of a same-sex marriage law in the state would be "acting against the common good of society. This proposed legislation will have long-term consequences because laws teach; they tell us what is socially acceptable and what is not, and most people conform to the dictates of their respective society, at least in the short run," he wrote in a Jan. 1 letter. The letter, sent to all archdiocesan pastors to be distributed in parish bulletins, was also signed by Chicago's six auxiliary bishops and posted online on the website of the Illinois Catholic Conference, www.ilcatholic.org. The letter was issued the day before a group of Illinois lawmakers introduced the "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act," which would make all state laws that are "applicable to marriage apply equally to marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples and their children." The cardinal said the bill's title was deceptive and "ignores basic truths." He said the Catholic Church is not "anti-gay" because it "welcomes everyone, respects each one personally and gives to each the spiritual means necessary to convert to God's ways and maintain friendship with Christ." He pointed out that "marriage comes to us from nature" and said it is "physically impossible for two men or two women to consummate a marriage, even when they share a deep friendship or love," which indicates that "marriage is what nature tells us it is and that the state cannot change natural marriage."

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Budget deal defined as much by what's left undone as by what it does

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 -- and 2013, considering when the House of Representatives passed it -- will be known as much by what it doesn't include as what it does include. The legislation, among other things, extends the farm bill by nine months, which prevents milk prices from doubling. But the extension also keeps intact other provisions that farming advocates say are wasteful. Bob Gronski, a policy analyst for the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, said he was "disappointed with the lack of reform and the lack of money for conservation programs" in the farm bill extension. "They (Congress) didn't change the direct payments -- they were going to eradicate those, right? -- under the proposed bill, and that didn't happen. So there was disappointment with that. And the USCCB (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) and we have been calling for that." The Rev. David Beckmann, a Lutheran minister who is president of Bread for the World, an anti-hunger lobby, said the compromise legislation "isn't perfect, but it is a good deal that will prevent major economic damage that would have affected hungry and poor people the most."

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Christmas is reminder of God's great power, pope says at audience

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The annual celebration of Christ's birth fills Christians with hope and joy because it is a reminder that the power of God is always at work, and he does great things even through the weak and the small, Pope Benedict XVI said. Continuing his Christmas reflections at his weekly general audience Jan. 2, the pope explained why Catholics traditionally bow their heads when, in reciting the creed, they come to the words, "For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man." With an estimated 7,000 visitors and pilgrims filling the Vatican audience hall, the pope said Christmas naturally raises the question, "How could that little and weak baby have brought something so radically new that it changed the course of history?" The answer, the pope said, is that the baby Jesus is God incarnate and savior of the world. "This proclamation, which continually resounds as something new, gives rise to hope and joy in our hearts because it gives us the certainty that, even if we often feel weak, poor and incapable in the face of the difficulties and evil of the world, God's power is always active and he works marvels precisely through weakness," the pope said. With a Christmas tree and Nativity scene still dominating the stage in the audience hall, the pope said awe is the most appropriate response to the great mystery of God becoming human and being born in a manger.

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Despite evil, human beings are hard-wired for peace, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Welcoming in the new year, Pope Benedict XVI said that despite the injustice and violence in the world, every human being yearns for and is made for peace. "Man is made for peace, which is a gift of God," but also something individuals must work tirelessly to build, he said. The pope celebrated Mass in St. Peter's Basilica Jan. 1, which the church marks as the feast of Mary, Mother of God and as World Peace Day. Thousands of people filled the basilica, which was decorated with white roses, small yellow flowers and evergreens. In the crowd was a group of children wearing colorful capes and cardboard crowns in memory of the three kings who traveled to Bethlehem; three of the children brought offertory gifts to the pope. Prayers for peace were offered in five languages; in Arabic, the prayer asked that Mary "awaken in government leaders, legislators and men and women of science respect and concern for motherhood, Gods supreme gift to humanity." In his homily, the pope quoted from the peace day message he had sent to government leaders around the globe. Despite the "tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism," as well as terrorism and crime, "I am convinced that 'the many different efforts at peacemaking which abound in our world testify to mankind's innate vocation to peace.'"

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Silence and song: Youths make ecumenical New Year's pilgrimage to Rome

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Even with 45,000 people -- mostly young adults -- gathered in St. Peter's Square, one could hear the sound of splashing water from the square's two decorative fountains. The hush was part of the ebb and flow of silence and song that marked the Taize ecumenical community's pilgrimage to Rome Dec. 28-Jan. 2, bringing young adults together for quiet prayer, the singing of Taize chants and reflections on Scripture. The format used for evening prayer service hosted by Pope Benedict XVI Dec. 29 in St. Peter's Square was repeated twice each day in seven Rome basilicas, where the young adults sat on thin mats or on their coats on the cold marble floor for midday and evening prayer. "Along with silence, song occupies an important place in your communal prayers," the music-loving Pope Benedict told the young people. "Song is a support for and an unequaled expression of prayer." The prayer services were not exuberant, chatty gatherings. For example, although more than 4,000 young people scrunched together on the floor of the Basilica of St. Mary Major Jan. 1, the chants, low lighting and hundreds of flickering candles left a stillness in the church that continued more than two hours after the formal service ended. Jennifer Pang, a 30-year-old Catholic pilgrim from Toronto, told Catholic News Service, "The music plays a role. It's a good way to get you into a prayer mode. The candles, the icons, the music -- the whole environment makes it easier." On their knees, the young people gathered around a large cross, advancing slowly to take the place of their peers who adored the cross by placing their forehead on it.

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Volunteer's special touch helps others live, and die, peacefully

CROFTON, Md. (CNS) -- Watching staff members' failed attempts to roll out sugar cookie dough, Trevor Lanham became convinced he was the most capable cook in the room. "Let me try it this time," he said, taking the rolling pin. The pale dough was inexplicably clingy, but Lanham coaxed it into a surface suitable for the Christmas-themed cutters. "We're going to let you do everything next time, Trev," Starlene Nurse teased from across the room. From the playful banter, it is clear Nurse and other staff members at Crofton Care and Rehabilitation Center know Lanham well. The 26-year-old, who is mentally disabled, volunteers at the nursing home three afternoons a week, often assisting the staff with entertainment and activities. Sometimes, however, the parishioner of St. Joseph Church in Odenton takes on more solemn duties. Lanham has the ability to pray for and be with the dying. He keeps a prayer in his bedroom: "Dear Lord, I need your help. I have a friend who asked for prayers. A request was sent to me and I can only do my part, so I have to ask you to do the rest because you know what is best. I pray that you will help me say words of faith and love, and heal the blessed ones and take them in your care." He wrote the prayer and recites it for the sick and dying at his parish, where he is part of the 30-member sick and bereavement ministry. Joanna Mallon, who coordinates the ministry, emails Lanham to ask him to pray when someone is dying. Sometimes parishioners call her to ask specifically for Lanham's prayers, which they believe are especially efficacious. Mallon describes Lanham's role as a gift and blessing. "He prays people home to the Lord," she said. "It's just a gift for him that we realized he had. He takes it very seriously."

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Dominican-born CRS staffer educates children, teachers in Afghanistan

SEATTLE (CNS) -- As long as children learn, the future of Afghanistan is bright in the eyes of Mariely Neris Rodriguez. For 18 months, the Dominican-born Neris Rodriguez, 33, has been overseeing much-needed education efforts in rural Afghan communities that have little access to government-run schools under a Catholic Relief Services program. Neris Rodriguez, 33, arrived in the U.S. from the Dominican Republic at age 14, living with her family briefly in Florida and later in Cleveland. She has been a CRS employee for nearly three years, serving the last 18 months as an education program manager in Afghanistan. "We help open schools within communities, so that the kids don't have to leave their town, their village, to go to school," she explained during a recent home leave to visit relatives and friends in Seattle. "We work with primary education, grades one through six." The program includes classes for teens who have had little or no primary education, she said. Begun in 2005, the program has provided formal education for more than 14,000 youngsters and teens. Neris Rodriguez said the program operates in three large provinces in the western part of the country. She oversees about 25 local staffers in Herat and Bamyan provinces; about 20 other employees in Ghor province are overseen by her supervisor. Despite the ongoing violence in southern Afghanistan, Neris Rodriguez said she feels relatively safe as she travels from community to community. "We have a (CRS) security team that is in charge of keeping track of what's happening locally, what's happening nationally," she said.


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