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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Feb-8-2013

By Catholic News Service


'Bible' miniseries aims to make 'emotional connection' with audience

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- It took the combined clout of an actress best known for playing an angel and her big-ratings executive-producer husband, but Roma Downey and Mark Burnett have pulled off the making of a 10-hour miniseries, "The Bible," that gets its premiere Sunday, March 3, on the History cable channel. The miniseries runs 8-10 p.m. Eastern time each Sunday in March through March 31, Easter Sunday. Downey's career role was playing the angel Monica for nine seasons in the TV drama "Touched by an Angel." Husband Burnett, whose U.S. TV hits include "Survivor," "The Voice," "The Apprentice," "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" and "Shark Tank," added his Hollywood muscle. "He doesn't take no for an answer. When he hears 'no,' he just thinks of a new opportunity. When it was a tough sell, he just persevered," Downey said of her husband. "He's just like (St.) Paul, very courageous." Unlike other biblical films and TV miniseries, "The Bible" splits its 10 hours evenly between the Old and New Testaments. Another difference, according to Burnett: "For example, in a lot of older biblical films, it looks like a lot of the disciples, Jesus, the Romans, stepped right out of a dry cleaner. Not a speck of dust on them. And the lighting didn't feel real." He surmised that such films were made "over the years (by) people with great hearts for service and faith, but with very little budget and very little experience, and sometimes the result isn't optimal, and it's not the best movie or show. ... History Channel provided us with a great budget, and I knew we wanted to make this emotionally connective, and very real for today's audiences."

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New structure will give new life to elements of closed parish churches

OLD MILL CREEK, Ill. (CNS) -- The shell of the new St. Raphael the Archangel Church is up in Old Mill Creek, but this is not just any new parish building under construction. It includes the facade of the now-demolished St. John of God Church from Chicago's South Side and will include the interior of another closed church, St. Peter Canisius, in another part of the city. St. Raphael, the newest parish in the Chicago Archdiocese, undertook an effort to give new life to the closed churches by recycling their materials in a new structure. It also enabled the parish to build a classical structure at a fraction of the present-day cost. "Nothing like this has been built in the Archdiocese of Chicago for a hundred years," Father John Jamnicky, St. Raphael's pastor, told the Catholic New World, Chicago's archdiocesan newspaper, during an open house at the new building Jan. 27. He was referring to the quality of workmanship in the facade from St. John of God; it includes a front balcony, bell towers, three bells and 20 wood doors, each of which stand 11 feet tall. Of the doors, Father Jamnicky said, "They would cost you $15,000 a piece for each door if you were to buy them." The pastor said he hopes what is being done at St. Raphael's could be a model for other parishes around the country. "Throughout the country, people have been contacting us because they are in the same situation," he said. Many dioceses have church buildings in inner cities that are going unused that could be given new life if parts are used in other areas of the dioceses where the population has shifted.

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Catholics, four Reformed bodies reaffirm common agreement on baptism

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and four Protestant denominations in the Reformed tradition have publicly reaffirmed a mutual agreement in effect since the Second Vatican Council that recognizes the validity of each other's baptisms. The four Protestant bodies are the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ. The signing took place Jan. 29 at St. Mary Cathedral in Austin, Texas, during a prayer service at the opening of the annual meeting of the ecumenical association Christian Churches Together, which includes over 40 Christian denominations and groups. It marked the first time the Catholic Church in the United States has ever signed on to such an agreement, although Catholic bishops' conferences elsewhere in the world have done so. The USCCB in Washington announced the signing Feb. 1 and released the text of the agreement. The signing in Austin comes amid a trend that has developed over the past 20 or so years to introduce nontraditional baptismal rites in which Protestant pastors, and sometimes priests, use a formula other than the traditional Trinitarian formula of "Father, Son and Holy Spirit," according to the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. A common example of this nontraditional formula is "Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer," which the Catholic Church cannot accept as the proper form of baptism.

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Judge stays Louisiana execution; bishops plea for life without parole

NEW ORLEANS (CNS) -- A federal judge in Baton Rouge issued a stay of execution Feb. 7 for death-row inmate Christopher Sepulvado, who had been scheduled to be executed at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 13. The seven Catholic bishops of Louisiana had urged that the inmate be given a life sentence without possibility of parole. U.S. District Judge James Brady imposed the stay because the Louisiana Department of Corrections, whose personnel would administer a lethal injection of pentobarbital, did not provide a written protocol of its "single-drug" method. His ruling could be appealed to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. At a prayer service at the Notre Dame Seminary chapel in New Orleans Feb. 7, Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans told 150 laypeople and seminarians that while he was pleased to hear of the stay of execution, Sepulvado's fate appeared to rest on "technicalities. The execution of Christopher Sepulvado by the state has been postponed because of some technicalities regarding the drug and the information about the drug that will be used to put him to sleep -- to execute him, to take his life," Archbishop Aymond said. "We ask God to speak loudly and clearly. We as Catholics cannot accept and can never accept the death penalty." Sepulvado, 69, was convicted 20 years ago in the horrific death of his 6-year-old stepson, Wesley Allen Mercer, who was tortured in the days leading up to his death. Sepulvado has spent the past 20 years on death row.

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Legal path uncertain for for-profits fighting HHS mandate

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The latest round of proposed federal rules covering religious institutions that want an exemption from the requirement to provide contraceptive coverage in health insurance make it clear that there's no inclination at the Department of Health and Human Services to accommodate for-profit secular corporations the same way as nonprofit religious institutions. For-profit secular entities that object to this requirement on moral grounds may find their only option is to push their case in court, where the history of accommodating a business owner's religious interests diverts significantly from how a church's religious rights have been treated. An updated version of the HHS rules published Feb. 1 redefined the criteria by which nonprofit religious institutions may be either "exempt" or "accommodated" in opting out of providing to coverage that goes against the teachings of the faith. The Affordable Care Act requires all health care insurance plans to include coverage -- at no cost to the employees -- of contraception, sterilization and drugs some consider to be abortifacients. The new proposal is the latest HHS effort to define who qualifies to opt out of that requirement on religious grounds. More than 30 lawsuits challenging the previous round of the rules have been filed by nonprofits including Catholic dioceses, universities and the Eternal Word Television Network. Most of those cases await decisions. About a dozen have been set aside in procedural rulings or pending action by the Obama administration, according to a scorecard kept by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit, public interest law firm.

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Vatican official says his defense of gays' rights was misunderstood

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The president of the Pontifical Council for the Family said his defense of the dignity of homosexual persons and their individual rights was misinterpreted, perhaps intentionally. "It is one thing to verify whether in existing laws one can find norms that would safeguard individual rights. It's another thing to approve certain expectations," Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, council president, told Vatican Radio Feb. 6. At a Vatican news conference Feb. 4, Archbishop Paglia had insisted that only a lifelong union of a man and a woman could be termed a marriage. The archbishop also said the church's affirmation of the full dignity of all human beings led him to oppose laws that outlaw homosexuality. In addition, he said that "to promote justice and to protect the weak," greater efforts were needed to ensure legal protection and inheritance rights for people living together, though not married. "But do not call it marriage," he said. His remarks from the news conference were reported around the world under headlines such as "Vatican recognizes the rights of gay couples. Obviously, I was very surprised by how some media reported" those comments, he told Vatican Radio. "Not only were my words not understood," he said, "they were derailed, perhaps even knowingly." While reaffirming his opposition to so-called "gay marriage" and his full support of the British and French bishops currently fighting proposed legal recognition of homosexual unions, in the interview he also reiterated church teaching against unjust discrimination toward homosexual persons.

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With decline in participation, Brussels Archdiocese to close churches

OXFORD, England (CNS) -- Belgium's Mechelen-Brussels Archdiocese has become Europe's latest to plan church closures in the face of declining Catholic participation. An archdiocesan official told the German Catholic news agency KNA that "dozens of churches" faced closing and that the city's largest Catholic landmark, St. Catherine Church, was expected to be turned into a fruit and vegetable market. However, the archdiocesan spokesman, Jesuit Father Tommy Scholtes, told Catholic News Service Feb. 6 that final decisions on which of the Brussels deanery's 108 churches to decommission would take account of maintenance costs, but also reflect community needs. He said it was "not just a question of closing them, but also of knowing what to do with the communities attached to them. All of this is being discussed with the city authorities." The Mechelen-Brussels Archdiocese, which since February 2010 has been headed by Archbishop Andre Leonard, covers the Belgian capital and province of Brabant. The planned church closures follow a fall in practicing Catholics to around 1.5 percent of the city population, with average Sunday Mass attendance of around 100 people per parish, according to a 2010 survey from the University of Leuven.

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Bishops' official to Malians: Don't confuse ethnicity with rebellion

OXFORD, England (CNS) -- Malian residents liberated by French troops must "remember not all Mali's Tuareg and Arab citizens are insurgents and Islamists," said the secretary-general of the country's bishops' conference. "We mustn't segment the population and confuse ethnicity with rebellion," Father Edmond Dembele told Catholic News Service. He said residents of liberated towns felt secure but noted that rebels were still active in Mali's northern mountains, adding that the local population would only be "definitively reassured" when rebels were "finally eradicated. We know the French army plans to withdraw in March, and we hope this is just a projection," said Father Dembele. "If it does move out, we'll count on Malian and West African soldiers to continue its work. But we hope the French will stay on, given the situation here." In a telephone interview, Father Dembele said French and Malian soldiers had shown a "respectful attitude" to Catholic properties during their campaign to oust the rebels, but said he also feared "lynch law" against Islamist collaborators. "Most Malians, Muslims included, are generally tolerant -- they're friendly to Christians and respect Catholic places of worship," the priest said.

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Theologian: American youth a ravaged but promising mission field

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In sexual morality, family life and education, the Baby Boom generation ushered in a series of cultural changes that led to an "anthropological crisis" in American society, leaving younger generations yearning acutely for what the Catholic Church has to offer. That is the assessment of Pia de Solenni, a Seattle-based writer with theology degrees from two Vatican-chartered universities, who now serves as a consultant to the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas. She spoke with Catholic News Service in Rome while participating in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture, which met in early February to address the theme of "emerging youth cultures." The sexual revolution, promoted by mass media and facilitated by abortion and contraception, led to a breakdown of the family, so that an estimated 40 percent of births in the U.S. today are to single mothers, de Solenni said. "There is something missing there, in terms of a father for the child, the security of knowing that your mother and father love each other," she said. Lacking complete or stable families, many raised since the 1970s have failed to develop the capacity for strong and intimate relationships, de Solenni said. They have also failed to receive religious education in the home, which the church teaches should be the primary site of such instruction. Yet the ethos of promiscuity is losing its luster for the young, de Solenni said, pointing to evidence from popular culture. In the last decade the television series "Sex and the City" portrayed a libertine lifestyle as a glamorous option for women, she said, but the current hit "Girls" highlights the anomie and alienation that such behavior produces.

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Cardinal Cheli, retired head of Vatican office for migrants, dies at 94

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Italian Cardinal Giovanni Cheli, a longtime Vatican diplomat and retired head of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, died in Rome Feb. 8 at the age of 94. He had celebrated the 70th anniversary of his priestly ordination in July, presiding over a Mass in Asti, the northern Italian diocese for which he was ordained in 1942. Offering his condolences to the diocese of Asti, Pope Benedict XVI said he was grateful for the cardinal's "precious and diligent" work for the Holy See, first as a member of the Vatican diplomatic corps for more than 30 years and then as president of the pontifical council that coordinates the pastoral care of people on the move, including refugees and seafarers. Pope Benedict said the cardinal leaves behind "the witness of a life spent in complete and generous adherence to his vocation as a priest concerned for the needs of the faithful, especially for the Christian formation of the young." In fact, even while studying at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome in the late 1940s and as a staff member at the Vatican nunciature in Guatemala in the early 1950s, he was involved in religious education programs and ran Catholic scouting groups in both places.


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