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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Dec-19-2013

By Catholic News Service


Catholic leaders repeated call to Congress to help poor throughout 2013

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Fallout from the partial government shutdown in October and another looming round of automatic spending cuts in January kept congressional leaders busy at year's end to finalize a budget deal Republicans and Democrats could live with. Through a tumultuous 2013, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other Catholic advocates, including Catholic Charities USA, continued to press for a budget that does not adversely affect poor people. It's a message that Catholic leaders have consistently delivered in recent years under the banner of a "circle of protection" as concerns over growing federal debt led to proposals that discretionary spending on nonmilitary programs be cut in the face of the country's growing debt. Their concern centers on programs such as poverty-focused international assistance, affordable housing and community development, education, Head Start, workforce development and emergency unemployment compensation. The USCCB helped form the Circle of Protection coalition in 2011 to make sure budget policies protect programs serving poor, vulnerable and elderly people. On Dec. 10, congressional leaders announced a budget deal aimed at averting another government shutdown and stopping a second round of automatic budget cuts set to begin in mid-January. The two-year deal, announced by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairs of the Senate and House budget committees, respectively, caps spending at slightly more than $1 trillion in each of the next two years -- a slight increase. The House passed the package two days later. The Senate approved it Dec. 18.

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Push for measures to limit gun violence continues despite roadblocks

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Senate's inability last spring to pass a bipartisan plan to expand gun background checks despite strong nationwide sentiment in favor of it is motivating a broad coalition of advocates to promote gun violence prevention laws. From grass-roots petition campaigns to sign-on letters from organizations such as Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, the efforts are focusing on members of Congress who have consistently opposed such legislation. The advocates told Catholic News Service they hope to eventually sway enough House and Senate members to overcome the influence of gun rights groups and firearms manufacturers. Vincent DeMarco, national coordinator of Faiths United, knows how difficult the effort can be given the strong influence of pro-gun rights groups on Congress even in the wake of the violence of Dec. 14, 2012, in which a lone gunman killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The advocacy groups want to see several provisions aimed at reducing gun violence enacted at the federal level. They came close in April when amendments to a firearms measure garnered 55 votes in the Senate. Sixty votes were needed for passage under Senate rules, however.

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Cardinal O'Malley urges action on Dominican citizenship controversy

BOSTON (CNS) -- Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston is urging action on a citizenship controversy that has strained relations between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the two nations that share the island of Hispaniola. In a Dec. 16 letter to the Dominican Republic's ambassador to United States, Anibal de Castro Rodriguez, Cardinal O'Malley called on the government and people of the Dominican Republic to reject a high court decision that could render hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless. On Sept. 23, the country's Constitutional Court ruled that children born to undocumented immigrants since 1929 would no longer be considered citizens. "At Christmastime we relive the events of Christ's life, beginning with the Holy Family's search for lodging in Bethlehem where there was no room in the inn. It is my hope that at this Christmas season, the government and people of the Dominican Republic will reject these unjust rulings that cause so much pain and suffering," the cardinal said. "Every country has the right to control its own boundaries, but no one has the right to trample people's dignity and diminish their humanity," he continued.

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Man seriously injured after setting self on fire in St. Peter's Square

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A 51-year-old man was severely injured after he set himself on fire in St. Peter's Square. The unidentified man doused himself with gasoline he had carried in a bottle and then lit himself aflame at the end of the colonnade near Piazza Pio XII at 8:30 in the morning Dec. 19. A Jesuit priest on his way to work at the Vatican was the first passer-by to come to the man's aid, according to a written statement from Italian police that was then distributed by the Vatican press hall. The priest tried to smother the flames with his cloak and jacket. Two Italian police agents on duty at the square went to the scene and used a blanket and fire extinguisher to put out the fire. The man was hospitalized with severe burns on his upper body and the two agents were treated and released for "respiratory problems and burns to the hands," the statement said. The statement said a piece of paper was found nearby that had the phone number of the man's daughter. It added that the motive for the man's actions was unknown.

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Chinese diocese won't bury bishop until government returns cemetery

TANGSHAN, China (CNS) -- The Tangshan Diocese announced it would not bury deceased Bishop Paul Liu Jinghe until the government returns a former church cemetery, so government officials took clergy away for questioning Dec. 18. The Asian church news portal ucanews.com reported that, in an escalating standoff between church and state, the announcement delaying the burial was made at Bishop Liu's memorial service at Tangshan's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 17, prompting two minutes of applause from the 3,000 people gathered. Officials arrived the following morning and took clergy away to offices of the State Administration for Religious Affairs. A source who declined to be named told ucanews.com that the mobile phones of all priests and nuns in Tangshan, east of Beijing, were placed under surveillance. The disagreement over the cemetery escalated following the Dec. 11 death of Bishop Liu, 92. Before his death, the bishop had demanded to be buried at Lulong Cemetery, the final resting place of the diocese's first bishop, Ernst Geurts of Holland, who died in 1940.

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Vienna Archdiocese defends giving churches to Orthodox

OXFORD, England (CNS) -- Austria's Vienna Archdiocese has defended its gifts of Catholic churches to Orthodox communities, as part of a current reorganization. "Our own church is receding in Vienna, whereas other Christian confessions are on the rise because of immigration," Michael Pruller, the archdiocese spokesman, told Catholic News Service Dec. 19. "Many large churches were built in the 19th century for parishes numbering tens of thousands. As in other countries, we're now having to get rid of churches, which can't be maintained by their small congregations." He said the archdiocese had tried to find an "alternative Catholic use" for unwanted churches, to prevent them being turned into "supermarkets and cafes," but would otherwise hand them over to other Christian denominations. No money is given as compensation, he said. In 2015, the archdiocese will formally hand over St. Anthony of Padua Church to the Romanian Orthodox, who have already begun celebrating liturgies there. The Kathpress news agency reported that fewer than 30 Catholics currently attended Sunday Mass at the church.

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Vatican hires firms to streamline communications, improve bookkeeping

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In an effort to streamline and modernize its communications structures and bring its accounting practices in line with international standards, the Vatican hired two international consulting agencies. The global management-consulting firm McKinsey & Company and the Netherlands-based financial and administrative consultation firm KPMG were hired after a "bidding and selection process," the Vatican said in a written statement Dec. 19. The new partnerships were initiatives of the Pontifical Commission for Reference on the Organization of the economic-administrative structure of the Holy See, a panel of business and legal experts Pope Francis created in July to help the Vatican simplify and better coordinate its scattered resources, budgets, properties and assets. McKinsey & Company was hired to provide recommendations for an "integrated plan" that would help make the Holy See's communications' outlets more "efficient and modern," the Vatican statement said. The Vatican has nearly a dozen separate communication outlets and offices that operate independently of each other. They include the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano; Vatican Radio; the Vatican television station, CTV; the Vatican Information Service, VIS; the Vatican press hall; Fides missionary news agency; the main Vatican website; the news.va news aggregator; the Vatican publishing house LEV; and the Vatican printing press.

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New Hartford archbishop invokes memory, mission, ministry

HARTFORD, Conn. (CNS) -- At his Dec. 16 installation Mass, the new archbishop of Hartford wove words of Pope Francis throughout his homily, using the themes of memory, mission and ministry to talk about the call for a new evangelization. Archbishop Leonard P. Blair also addressed the call to "renew our commitment as an archdiocesan family" to live the mission received at baptism with "boldness and joy." The 64-year-old prelate was installed as the fifth archbishop of Hartford before a jubilant congregation of 2,000 people at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford. Archbishop Blair, who previously served as bishop of Toledo, Ohio, succeeds now-retired Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, 76, who had been archbishop since 2003. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States and the personal representative of Pope Francis, installed the new archbishop. Before beginning his homily, Archbishop Blair appeared to be arranging papers at the podium; and, then, as if to capture emotions that marked the day, quipped, "I'll have to get used to a new pulpit." He also drew sustained applause of appreciation when he expressed gratitude to Archbishop Mansell, "who has given his all for the good of his church." Weaving the words of Pope Francis throughout his homily, he used the themes of memory, mission and ministry to talk about the call for a new evangelization and the call to "renew our commitment as an archdiocesan family" to live the mission received at baptism with "boldness and joy."


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