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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Jan-24-2013

By Catholic News Service


MRS program looks to empower immigrants to combat human trafficking

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An uprising by Africans on a slave ship off the Cuba coast 174 years ago has given inspiration to a new program in the expanding campaign to end human trafficking. Called "The Amistad Movement," the program within the U.S. bishops' Migration and Refugee Services will train immigrant communities in the basics of modern day slavery in the hope that they will be the eyes and ears of their communities in identifying trafficked people. The program is grounded in the Catholic principle of accompaniment with the oppressed, explained Lauren Rymer, education and outreach specialist in the Anti-Trafficking Services Program of MRS within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It is being rolled out in January, which is observed as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. For the record, "amistad" means friendship in Spanish. La Amistad is the name of a Cuban schooner that 53 captured Africans commandeered in 1839 while they were being taken from Havana to a Caribbean plantation after being sold as slaves. In 1841, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the freedom rights of the Africans and most eventually returned to their homeland. The program is designed to educate, create awareness of the signs of trafficking and build coalitions, Rymer said. "We want to empower people in their own communities," Rymer explained, tying the Amistad story to the freedom the program seeks to secure for trafficking victims. "That's what we hope will be successful."

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New educational model helps struggling Catholic schools in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett visited a Philadelphia Catholic grade school Jan. 18 and lauded a new educational model for Catholic schools in the city. Independence Mission Schools, a management organization for 16 independent Catholic elementary schools located in mostly poor city neighborhoods, also introduced its new president, Al Cavalli. One of the mission schools, St. Martin of Tours, hosted the news conference and visit by the governor, Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop Michael J. Fitzgerald, other members of the organization, parents and Catholic school supporters. Bishop Fitzgerald oversees Catholic education for the archdiocese. The organization began two years ago when St. Martin de Porres Parish School was struggling to serve the children of its gritty North Philadelphia community. Relieving management of the school from the parish, the group brought together financial support from business leaders plus expertise in school governance and accountability. The results to this point have been impressive, according to CEO Brian McElwee. "Today it is financially stable with rising academic standards," he said. He added that the eighth-grade class at the school recently scored at the ninth-grade level in the TerraNova standardized tests used across the country. The successful model was scaled up and expanded to include 16 schools, mostly in response to the announced closures of dozens of Catholic parish schools early last year.

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Judge dismisses Erie Diocese's HHS lawsuit, says not 'ripe' for review

ERIE, Pa. (CNS) -- Erie Bishop Lawrence T. Persico said he was disappointed a federal judge dismissed the diocese's case against the federal contraceptive mandate as premature but also said he found encouragement in the decision. "I was obviously hoping that the court would find our case ripe for adjudication," Bishop Persico said in a Jan. 22 statement about the ruling issued the same day by Judge Sean J. McLaughlin of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. "I am, however, heartened by the court's statement that the preventive services mandate as it exists today will never be enforced against the diocesan entities that brought this suit," the bishop added. In his ruling, McLaughlin said the diocese's case was not ripe for judicial review because the government said it has not issued a final rule on the mandate but plans to do so before August 2013. McLaughlin said diocesan officials' "assumption that they will be subjected to the mandate in a manner that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs is, at most, a contingency which may well never come to pass." The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate requires employers, including most religious employers, to include coverage for contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge, even if the employer is morally opposed to such services.

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New York Archdiocese to close two high schools, 22 grade schools

NEW YORK (CNS) -- This June, the New York Archdiocese will close two high schools and 22 out of 26 elementary schools labeled "at risk." Last November, the archdiocese announced that 26 of its Catholic elementary schools might close, but officials have since determined that four of the schools -- that submitted proposals with viable long-term plans -- will remain open. The archdiocese is postponing decisions about two additional schools on Staten Island so it can evaluate the impact of Hurricane Sandy on the region. Local boards and ad hoc reconfiguration committees conducted in-depth discussions with local pastors, principals, administrators and elected officials. The groups, in consultation with archdiocesan officials, recommended the school closings. The decision follows several months of reviewing enrollment, finances and local demographics. Throughout the review process, pastors and principals of the at-risk schools were invited to meet with members of the local board or reconfiguration committee to discuss factors that led to the decision to list a school as "at-risk," and offered an opportunity to submit an alternative proposal to remain viable. The emphasis placed on the local decision-making process was outlined in "Pathways to Excellence," the strategic plan for Catholic schools published in 2010 and developed to assure a vibrant future for Catholic education in the archdiocese. Under that plan, most parish elementary schools will align into geographic regions governed by boards.

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Franciscan leader sees incremental progress toward Christian unity

CORTLANDT MANOR, N.Y. (CNS) -- Despite disappointing setbacks in ecumenical dialogue, there is incremental progress toward Christian unity, according to Father Timothy MacDonald, vicar general of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement. "It's disconcerting in some ways," he said in remarks Jan. 23 at one in series of events to mark the 2013 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. "We've made progress in some ecumenical areas we've committed ourselves to, but in others, we haven't moved much further ahead. When it comes down to actually knowing one another and praying for one another's congregations, that's harder to come by," he said. The Week of Prayer was first observed in 1908 at Graymoor, the headquarters of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, in Garrison. The observance is to encourage all Christians to pray for unity as described in the Gospel of St. John, "that all may be one ... so that the world may believe." Since 1966, themes and texts for the annual observance have been developed by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity at the Vatican and the World Council of Churches in Geneva. "What does God require of us?" was chosen as the theme for this year's Jan. 18-25 observance. The quote from the biblical Book of Micah was chosen by members of the Student Christian Movement in India. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the movement, the students were invited to prepare the resources for the 2013 prayer week.

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Ex-ambassadors, USCCB officials urge lawmakers to act on gun violence

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Two former U.S. ambassadors to the Vatican and two retired officials of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops were among more than 60 Catholic leaders urging members of Congress who consider themselves pro-life to "show greater moral leadership and political courage" in acting to cut gun violence in the United States. "We join our bishops, the Catholic Health Association and Catholic Charities USA in calling for common-sense reforms to address the epidemic of gun violence in our nation," said the statement, made public by Faith in Public Life, a Washington-based advocacy group, on Jan. 23, two days before the annual March for Life in Washington. "Pro-life citizens and elected officials have a responsibility to show greater moral leadership and political courage when it comes to confronting threats to the sanctity of life posed by easy access to military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines," the statement said. "Members of Congress who take pride in their pro-life stance and appeal to family values have no excuse for inaction, and neither do any of us who share a firm commitment to these values." The former ambassadors who signed the statement were Miguel Diaz, who served under President Barack Obama, and Thomas Melady, who served under President George H.W. Bush. The former USCCB officials who signed were Francis X. Doyle, a former associate general secretary, and Timothy Collins, former director of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

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Archbishop, others promote anti-trafficking campaign in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- The numbers are astounding, and at first glance, seem almost incredible. Across the world, there are between 100,000 and 250,000 children who are victims of sex trafficking, said Laura J. Lederer, president and founder of the Washington-based Global Centurion Foundation, which seeks to target trafficking by focusing on demand. But the perception that the practice of selling girls for sex is restricted to Asia, Eastern Europe or Africa belies the overwhelming problem in the United States, which annually is highlighted by the spike in organized sex trafficking at major sporting events such as the Super Bowl, said Lederer, who participated in a daylong workshop hosted recently by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. "We want to help people understand that this is a problem here in the United States," Lederer said. "We have a homegrown sex trafficking problem." Trafficking girls for sex is such a major concern that the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Orleans has established a Human Trafficking Joint Task Force that, in advance of Super Bowl XLVII Feb. 3, has been meeting regularly with city, state and federal law enforcement authorities, faith-based groups and nongovernmental organizations to develop a collaborative approach to combat the problem. New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle, and other city officials will air a public service announcement before the Super Bowl to raise public awareness and ask people to remain vigilant if they suspect sex trafficking. "Human trafficking, modern-day slavery, is a powerful evil," Archbishop Aymond says in the PSA. The ad will highlight a toll-free hotline number -- (888) 373-7888 -- which is staffed 24 hours a day by the Polaris Project of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

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Social networks need more logic, love and less ranting, rage, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Social media need to promote more logic, kindness and Christian witness than bluster, star-status and division, Pope Benedict XVI said. Given that the online world exposes people to a wider range of opinions and beliefs, people need to accept the existence of these other cultures, "be enriched by it" and offer others what "they possess that is good, true and beautiful," the pope said. Christians are called to bring truth and values to the whole world -- online and off -- remembering that it's ultimately the power of God's word that touches hearts, not sheer human effort, he said in his message for World Communications Day. The theme of the 2013 celebration -- marked in most dioceses the Sunday before Pentecost, this year May 12 -- is "Social Networks: Portals of Truth and Faith; New Spaces for Evangelization." The papal message was released on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of journalists, Jan. 24. Social media "need the commitment of all who are conscious of the value of dialogue, reasoned debate and logical argumentation," the pope said. Social forums need to be used wisely and well, which means fostering balanced and respectful dialogue and debate, he said, and paying special attention to "privacy, responsibility and truthfulness."

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With faith and sustainable agriculture, nuns feed Salvadoran orphans

SANTA TECLA, El Salvador (CNS) -- Dressed in her brown habit, Sister Elsy Gaytan walks through a field among rows of cabbages, pointing to the crisp green crop sprouting from the earth. "The motto of our institution is God will provide, and indeed he is providing," she said. Sister Elsy is the coordinator of Home of Divine Providence, an orphanage that has started a sustainable agriculture project that will feed not only the 32 children who live there, but also allow the Carmelite Missionary Sisters of St. Therese, who oversee the home, to reach local consumers with organic products. The orphanage, located in Santa Tecla, about eight miles west of the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador, has been a haven for children since it was founded in 1984 by the order in the midst of the country's civil war. The war ended in 1992, but the orphans kept coming. Archbishop Oscar A. Romero, who was shot to death by assassins in 1980 for his vocal opposition to violence at the hands of the Salvadoran military, was one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the idea for the orphanage. He donated funds to build the institution that now encompasses a 12-acre compound. "He gave us a check three days before he was murdered," Sister Elsy told Catholic News Service. The agriculture project started in July 2011 with funding from DKA Austria, a Catholic children's movement, and technical support from the Foundation for Socio-Economic Development and Environmental Restoration.

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Cardinal Stafford: 40 years after Roe, 'I weep for the United States'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Forty years of legalized abortion have profoundly demoralized American society, not only weakening respect for human life but undermining marriage, parenthood and individuals' sense of duty to others, said U.S. Cardinal J. Francis Stafford. The cardinal, a former archbishop of Denver and former head of two Vatican offices, said that the legalization of abortion was itself a result of flawed ideas about freedom deeply rooted in American history. Cardinal Stafford, 80, spoke with Catholic News Service shortly before the Jan. 25 March for Life marking the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that lifted most legal restrictions on abortion. He said that Roe was one of a series of cultural, social, political and legal upheavals during the 1960s and early 1970s that left him deeply disillusioned with his native land and alienated from a country that he said once offered unparalleled openness to the proclamation of the Gospel. "I don't really feel as at home now in the United States as I did prior to the 60s," he said. Yet those upheavals, the cardinal said, trace their origins to certain "viruses" present in American political culture from the very beginning of U.S. history, particularly the understanding of liberty enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and implicit in other founding documents.

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Indian bishops call for new laws to ensure safety of women

THRISSUR, India (CNS) -- In the wake of the national outcry over the gang rape and death of a paramedical student and reports of rapes from across the country, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India has called for "comprehensive laws and effective measures to ensure the security and safety of women." The bishops said in a statement Jan. 23: "Instances of sexual violence against women and children have increased (at) an alarming rate, the most shockingly being the sexual gang rape and murder of a young medical student in the capital city of Delhi. This dastardly act of violence had evoked unprecedented protest ... cutting across all barriers," they said. The 23-year old medical student died Dec. 29 in a Singapore hospital to which she was airlifted when her condition worsened. She was gang raped and tortured Dec. 16 by five men and a juvenile in a private bus. The young woman and her boyfriend had boarded the bus after its staff offered them lift at a bus stop. The gang rape led to massive protests in New Delhi and other cities. "This is not an isolated incident. Hundreds of rape cases are being reported every day across the nation. ...This is indeed a very alarming situation," said the bishops. "This (increasing sexual violence) shows that (the) essence of humanity has eroded badly in our country," Bishop Albert D'Souza of Agra, secretary-general of the bishops' conference, told Catholic News Service Jan. 24.

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Retired Polish primate, Cardinal Glemp, dies at 83

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Cardinal Jozef Glemp of Warsaw, who served as primate of the Catholic Church in Poland during the final years of communism and during the restoration of democracy, died Jan. 23 at the age of 83. Offering his condolences to Polish Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI said Cardinal Glemp had a "profound love for God and for man, which was his light, inspiration and strength in the difficult ministry of guiding the church at a time when significant social and political transformations were taking place in Poland and Europe." Vatican Radio reported that Cardinal Glemp died in a Warsaw hospital; he had undergone surgery almost a year ago as part of his treatment for lung cancer. In a telegram released by the Vatican Jan. 24, Pope Benedict said the cardinal's last days were "marked by a suffering that he endured with a serenity of spirit. Personally, I always appreciated his sincere goodness, his simplicity, his openness and his dedication to the cause of the church in Poland and in the world," the pope wrote. "That is how he will remain in my memory and in my prayer." The cardinal was a controversial figure in Poland during the communist regime's imposition of martial law in the early 1980s. While he had urged Catholics not to resist the clampdown, he continued to support the right of priests to speak out in defense of freedom and respect for human rights.


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This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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