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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Apr-4-2013

By Catholic News Service


Attorneys general urge wider exemption for contraceptive mandate

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Thirteen state attorneys general asked the federal government to expand the religious exemption under the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate to private companies. They said in a March 26 letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the exemption should be extended beyond religious institutions. Business owners who object on religious grounds to contraception should not be forced to pay for it through the health insurance offered to their employees because doing so violates religious freedom, the attorneys general said. The attorneys general of Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia signed the letter. The group weighed in during the 60-day comment period established by HHS after new proposed rules to implement the mandate under the Affordable Care Act were released Feb. 1. The deadline for comments is April 8. The HHS mandate requires employers to cover contraceptives, abortion drugs and sterilization procedures in their health plans. It has been subject to several lawsuits not only from Catholic and other religious entities but also from private businesses on grounds that the exemption for those who object to it on moral or religious grounds should be expanded.

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Small town celebrates 31 years of dedication to Divine Mercy

SAUK CENTRE, Minn. (CNS) -- Many people come to Sauk Centre to visit the birthplace of famed novelist Sinclair Lewis, but four local men would argue that the small community can offer something much more -- the gift of the Divine Mercy. Thirty-one years ago, a retired insurance agent, a restaurant night cook, a motel owner and a woodcarver-repairman saw to it their hometown would become the first U.S. community dedicated to the devotion. "We got something even greater than Sinclair Lewis," said Paul Theisen, former motel owner. Years before Blessed John Paul II instituted Divine Mercy Sunday, observed the Sunday after Easter, Theisen, Vern Botz, Roman Kulzer and Lawrence Kaas worked to establish a Divine Mercy shrine at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Sauk Centre and have been guardians of it ever since. The shrine was dedicated in 1982, but its beginnings date to November 1979, when three of the men -- Theisen, Botz and Kulzer -- were inspired by an article about Jesus Christ as the Divine Mercy that they read in a publication called Divine Love. They were captivated by the message: "Ask for God's mercy." "Be merciful. "Completely trust in Jesus. ... The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive." The three made a verbal commitment to promote the devotion in their community. Kaas would join them later. "I had been looking for a job at the time and once I made this commitment, a job came within two weeks," said Botz. "God was already protecting me and my family."

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U.S. Catholic school enrollment dropped last year but 28 schools opened

HOUSTON (CNS) -- Catholic educators opened 28 new schools and closed or consolidated 148 others during the 2012-13 school year, according to a report issued by the National Catholic Educational Association. And while a number of Catholic schools have closed, more than 32 percent of U.S Catholic schools have waiting lists. The NCEA report released prior to the organization's annual convention, held in Houston April 2-4 and attended by more than 8,000 Catholic educators, also shows that Catholic school enrollment decreased by 1.5 percent during the past school year. Karen Ristau, NCEA president, said that the closings represent a great loss for the country. She also pointed out that 525 Catholic schools have opened since 2000 and stressed that the "leadership and vision of Catholic educational leaders, business and civic leaders, working in collaboration with dioceses, make these new schools a reality." She said the challenge for schools closing continues to be where they are located. "We have buildings, many of them historic, in metropolitan areas where the student population has declined. On the other hand, there are waiting lists for schools in many places because new school construction has not kept pace with the population growth."

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Pope expresses his closeness to victims of flooding in Buenos Aires

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Affirming his closeness to his "beloved Argentine people," Pope Francis offered his prayers for the victims of recent flooding in Buenos Aires and surrounding areas, and he urged government offices and private citizens to help those most in need. Unusually heavy rains in early April caused flash floods and flooding that were blamed for causing more than 50 deaths in and around Buenos Aires -- where the pope had been archbishop -- and La Plata. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, wrote in a message to the new archbishop of Buenos Aires, Archbishop Mario Aurelio Poli, that Pope Francis was deeply saddened to hear of all the damaged caused by the flooding, was praying for the deceased and wanted everyone touched by the tragedy to know he was close to them. "At the same time, the Holy Father encourages civil and ecclesiastical institutions, as well as all people of good will, in a spirit of charity and Christian solidarity to provide the necessary help to those who have lost their homes or personal belongings," the message said.

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Safeguarding creation expected to be major theme at WYD in Rio

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When hundreds of thousands of young Catholics gather with Pope Francis in Rio de Janeiro in the summer, reflections on safeguarding the environment will be part of the program. Like earlier editions of World Youth Day, the July celebration in Rio de Janeiro will include morning catechetical sessions and afternoon cultural events. "From the beginning of planning -- under Pope Benedict XVI -- we thought that a major theme in Brazil, known as 'the lungs of the world,' would have to be the environment," said Marcello Bedeschi, president of the John Paul II Foundation for Youth, a Rome-based organization that assists with World Youth Day planning. "We did not know that there would be a new pope and that in his first three major addresses, he would speak about safeguarding creation, not in political or ideological terms, but as a Christian obligation," Bedeschi said. Corrado Clini, Italy's environment minister, has been working with the foundation, the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Brazilian government and the Rio church's World Youth Day organizing team to promote the reflection of young people on the importance of biodiversity and protecting the environment. He also is working to encourage cooperation between several Italian and Brazilian companies to reduce the energy and water used at WYD and to recycle as much of the refuse they produce as possible.

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Master of metaphor: Pope Francis can weave a vivid tale

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Metaphors are used extensively in the Bible and they pop up just as often in Pope Francis' talks and teachings. Some of his most vivid allegories as pope included his urging the world's priests to be "shepherds living with the smell of sheep" by bringing Christ to people far from the faith; and his telling cardinals that all Catholic elders need to share with the young their insight and wisdom, which are like "fine wine that gets better with age." Metaphors did not come to Pope Francis with the papacy. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he used similar figures of speech to get simple, yet powerful, ideas across to his listeners. The following are some metaphors that appear in the book, "Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio." The book, by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti, is a series of interviews originally published in 2010 under the title "El Jesuita" ("The Jesuit"). The book is currently unavailable in English. Priests and the stink of sheep: The future pope said, "A church that limits itself to just carrying out administrative duties, caring for its tiny flock, is a church that in the long run will get sick. The pastor who isolates himself is not a true pastor of sheep, but a 'hairdresser' for sheep who spends his time putting curlers on them instead of going to look for others." He said the situation today is the mirror opposite of the biblical parable of the shepherd who leaves his 99 sheep to find the one that is lost. "Today we have one in the pen and 99 we need to go looking for."

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Archbishop Tutu wins Templeton Prize for advancing love, understanding

WEST CONSHOHOCKEN, Pa. (CNS) -- Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu was named the 2013 Templeton Prize winner for his work in advancing the ideals of love and understanding in his native South Africa and around the world. In announcing the award April 4, the John Templeton Foundation said the retired archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, "combines the theological concept that all human beings are shaped in the image of God, known in Latin as 'imago Dei,' with the traditional African belief of 'Ubuntu,' which holds that only through others do people achieve humanity." The prize, which includes an award of about $1.7 million, will be presented to Archbishop Tutu in London May 21. "By embracing such universal concepts of the image of God within each person, Desmond Tutu also demonstrates how the innate humanity with in each of us is intrinsically tied to the humanity between all peoples," John M. Templeton, foundation president and chairman, said in a video statement posted on the foundation website, www.templetonprize.org. "Desmond Tutu calls upon all of us to recognize that each and every human being is unique in all of history and, in doing so, to embrace our own vast potential to be agents for spiritual progress and positive change. Not only does he teach this idea, he lives it," Templeton said.

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Through pope's embrace, 8-year-old Rhode Island boy touches the world

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CNS) -- By Easter Monday, it would be the shot seen around the world. But a day earlier, Christiana Gondreau could not have imagined that a chance encounter she and her 8-year-old son, Dominic, had with Pope Francis in the middle of St. Peter's Square following his first Easter Mass would touch the hearts of so many around the globe. While making his way in the popemobile through a sea of faithful estimated at 250,000, the newly elected pontiff smiled and waved as he offered Easter greetings to those gathered. At one point in his second journey around the square, on the way to delivering his Easter message "urbi et orbi" (to the city and the world), the white Mercedes transporting the pope stopped. He reached over to greet Dominic after a compassionate Vatican usher named Augustino had repositioned mother and son at a corner of the path so the pontiff could better see them. Pope Francis lifted Dominic, who has cerebral palsy, while embracing and kissing him. He also spoke to the boy before gently placing the child back into his mother's arms. "The pope definitely was whispering to him, but there's no way of knowing what he said. Is it a secret?" Gondreau said in a telephone interview from Rome with the Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper of the Providence Diocese.


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