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 News Briefs

NEWS BRIEFS Feb-11-2014

By Catholic News Service


Babe Ruth's first baseball field to be preserved in Baltimore

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- The baseball field where legendary slugger Babe Ruth learned to play the game is being preserved. It took a turn of events more circuitous than the drives Ruth used to pull into the stands with astonishing regularity during his 22-year career in the major leagues. The issue first presented itself in 2010, when Cardinal Gibbons High School was closed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore as part of a school consolidation plan. Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, never went to Cardinal Gibbons, but he was a student at St. Mary's Industrial School, which existed on the site where Cardinal Gibbons later stood. In 2012, St. Agnes Hospital made a deal with the archdiocese to buy the 32-acre property. The hospital's redevelopment plans included community housing, office space for the hospital, recreational activities and a community baseball field. Last May, St. Agnes announced the field would be reoriented so that home plate would sit where it did in the days of the Babe. Expected to cost $1.5 million, Babe Ruth Field is being developed in conjunction with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which has built 14 similar "youth development parks" for at-risk youths. Construction is expected to be finished later this year. "Not everyone in Baltimore probably realizes that Babe Ruth began at this campus. It's a compelling story," said William Greskovich, St. Agnes' vice president of operations and capital projects, in an interview last year with The Catholic Review, Baltimore's archdiocesan newspaper. "The way we're developing this, it sets itself up to memorialize and celebrate his history and his connection to Southwest Baltimore in that history."

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New stem-cell method offers another alternative to embryonic research

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- A new method of creating versatile stem cells from a relatively simple manipulation of existing cells could further reduce the need for any stem-cell research involving human embryos, according to leading ethicists. Although the process has only been tested in mice, two studies published Jan. 29 in the journal Nature detailed research showing success with a process called stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP. Scientists from Japan's RIKEN research institute and Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston were able to reprogram blood cells from newborn mice by placing them in a low-level acidic bath for 30 minutes. Seven to 9 percent of the cells subjected to such stress returned to a state of pluripotency and were able to grow into other types of cells in the body. "If this technology proves feasible with human cells, which seems likely, it will offer yet another alternative for obtaining highly flexible stem cells without relying on the destructive use of human embryos," said Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. "This is clearly a positive direction for scientific research." Father Pacholczyk, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., who holds a doctorate in neuroscience from Yale University, said the only "potential future ethical issue" raised by the new STAP cells would be if scientists were to coax them into "a new degree of flexibility beyond classical pluripotency," creating cells "with essential characteristics of embryos and the propensity to develop into the adult organism."

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Prioress hopes order's Lenten CD will help people 'draw closer to God'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Twenty-two nuns beat "Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album" on Billboard magazine's classical traditional chart last year, The Wall Street Journal reported. Now, they're at it again with a new album that might top the charts. On Feb. 11, the award-winning Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles in Missouri released their third album, "Lent at Ephesus," with De Montfort Music/Decca/Universal Classics -- just in time for the penitential season. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year is March 5. "The Benedictines of Mary have outdone themselves with what can only be described as an artistic masterpiece," Monica Fitzgibbons, co-founder of De Montfort Music, said in a Carmel Communications press release. Mother Cecilia, the order's prioress, said popular demand prompted the recording of "Lent at Ephesus." The nuns also have "long desired" to make a Lent recording. "The hymns and chants during this holy season are some of the most beautiful and expressive of the whole year," Mother Cecilia said in an email to Catholic News Service. The album features 23 tracks, including three original pieces. Among the songs are "God of Mercy and Compassion," O Sacred Head Surrounded," "Mother of Sorrows" and "Ave Regina Caelorum." After the success of the first two albums, Billboard magazine named the nuns Top Traditional Classical Album Artist in 2012 and 2013, making them the first order of nuns to receive an award by Billboard magazine.

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Living in remodeled convent, Pope Benedict is not cloistered, aides say

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In retirement, Pope Benedict XVI follows a daily schedule similar to that of any retired bishop or religious: He prays, reads, strolls, talks with people and offers them spiritual advice, the Vatican spokesman said. Although he "lives in a low-key way, without public attention, that does not mean he's isolated or enclosed in a strict cloister," Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio. Marking the one-year anniversary of Pope Benedict's resignation Feb. 11, Father Lombardi and Archbishop Georg Ganswein, the retired pope's longtime personal secretary, spoke about the very normal daily life of a man who is in the unusual position of being a retired pope. Archbishop Ganswein, who continues as Pope Benedict's personal secretary while also serving Pope Francis as prefect of the papal household, summarized the retired pope's day as filled "with prayer most of all, with study, with personal correspondence and visits."

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A turbulent year that strengthened the papacy

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope Benedict XVI announced, on Feb. 11, 2013, that he would become the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign, speculation was as varied as it was excited about the long-term consequences of his historic act. But one common line of thought held that, for better or worse, his decision might leave the papacy a less exalted and powerful office, bringing the supreme pontiff closer to the level of other bishops, clergy and faithful. Might the presence of two living popes inside the Vatican sow confusion over where governing authority actually lay, or, at least, dilute the prestige of the unique role of vicar of Christ? Might the precedent of resignation make it easier to drive a future pope from office, thus introducing a new kind of political pressure into the leadership of the church? The background of Pope Benedict's decision added to the sense of crisis. Although the 85-year-old pope said he was stepping down due to deteriorating "strength of mind and body," it was easy to believe that a year of scandal and controversy -- over leaked correspondence documenting corruption and incompetence in the Vatican -- had helped convince him he was "no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry." From that assumption, it was a small stretch to wonder whether the demands of the 21st-century papacy -- in terms of communications, management and travel -- had grown too heavy for any man, especially one as old as most popes.

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Church workers rejoice, recall challenges as India declared polio-free

KOTTAYAM, India (CNS) -- As the World Health Organization declared India "polio-free" Feb. 11, church health workers celebrated and reflected on the challenges they faced convincing parents to allow their children to get the vaccine. "It is a moment of great of joy for all the health workers," said Father Tomi Thomas, director-general of the Catholic Health Association of India, many of whose 3,400 Catholic health care centers were partners in the government's polio eradication program. "At least 1 million children were reached through our centers annually," said the priest, a member of the Indian Missionary Society. John Shumlansky, Catholic Relief Services' country representative in India, told Catholic News Service, "This is a big day for us." Shumlansky attended national celebrations, led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, at an indoor stadium in New Delhi Feb. 11. Though India -- a nation of 1.27 billion people -- recorded 741 cases of polio in 2009, no incident of the crippling disease had been reported since January 2011.

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Religious leaders reiterate: Central African conflict not religious

OXFORD, England (CNS) -- Church leaders in the Central African Republic reiterated that the media is wrong in reporting a "religious war" in their country and insisted Christians and Muslims are working together in government and society to secure peace. "We and other faith leaders have repeatedly urged the international press and peacekeeping forces not to present the violence this way," said Msgr. Cyriaque Gbate Doumalo, secretary-general of the Catholic bishops' conference. "This isn't a religious conflict, but a military and political one. Of course, it could acquire a religious dimension if it's instrumentalized this way. But it's completely false to imply religious leaders have played some part in it," he told Catholic News Service Feb. 11. The same day, the country's Transitional National Council, or parliament, called for firmer action to stop "murder, pillaging, lynching, rape and robbery," especially in the capital, Bangui. Msgr. Doumalo told CNS fighting appeared to have died down between remnants of the predominantly Muslim rebel Seleka alliance, which seized power in March 2013, and a largely Christian militia known as Anti-Balaka.

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Univision poll shows strong support for church teaching in Asia, Africa

MEXICO CITY (CNS) -- A poll by Spanish-language broadcaster Univision shows Catholics in Asia and Africa, where the church is growing fastest, expressing strong support for church teachings. The poll of self-identified Catholics in 12 countries showed high approval of Pope Francis, but split on subjects such as abortion, priests being able to marry and same-sex marriage. The split underscores what is perhaps one of Pope Francis' most pressing challenges as he attempts to implement change in the church. He must attend to fast-growing congregations in less-affluent areas such as Africa, while renewing the enthusiasm of Catholics in Europe and the Americas, where the faithful are increasingly leading lifestyles contrary to church teachings. "It's clear that the major division in the Catholic world isn't so much the global North-South but the Americas and Europe versus Africa and Asia," said Andrew Chesnut, who holds the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. It's a tough balancing act, but not an impossible one, Chesnut said, explaining that Pope Francis' "unique combination of a preferential option for the poor meshed with an appreciation of charismatic worship will help him bridge some of these major cleavages in the global church." Pope Francis' personal appeal helps, too: 87 percent of Catholics worldwide rate his job performance as "excellent" or "good." However, in Mexico, 26 percent of respondents rated the pontiff "mediocre" or "poor."

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Pope names bishop for Albany Diocese; Rockville Centre to get auxiliary

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., and named Msgr. Edward B. Scharfenberger, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., to succeed him. The pope also appointed Msgr. Andrzej J. Zglejszewski as an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., where he is currently co-chancellor and director of the Office of Worship. The appointments and Bishop Hubbard's resignation were announced Feb. 11 in Washington by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Bishop Hubbard is 75, the age at which canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope. He was named to head the Albany Diocese in 1977, when he was 38. At that time, he was the youngest Catholic bishop in the nation. Bishop-designate Scharfenberger's episcopal ordination and installation is scheduled for April 10 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. Bishop-designate Zglejszewski's episcopal ordination will be March 25 at the Cathedral of St. Agnes in Rockville Centre.

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Puerto Rican sainthood candidate known for piety, drive to teach poor

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (CNS) -- To the average Puerto Rican, born and raised in the country, the figure of "el maestro Rafael" (Rafael the teacher) was a fleeting reference in a grade school lesson. In recent times, however, his stature has grown, putting him on the long road to sainthood. In December, Pope Francis signed a decree recognizing that Rafael Cordero Molina -- known as the "father of Puerto Rican public education" -- lived the Christian virtues in a heroic way and is venerable. "Maestro Rafael," as he is widely known in his island home, joins Blessed Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Santiago as the second Puerto Rican being considered for canonization. Cordero, who was of African ancestry, was born in San Juan in 1790 and died there in 1868. He founded and operated a free school for poor children of all races. Gathering documentation for his canonization cause posed challenges. Unlike the cause for Blessed Carlos (1918-1963), there were no contemporaries of Cordero to interview about having witnessed his good works, nor was there a body of his own writings to evaluate. But Cordero's acts of charity and piety were so well known within his own time, there was plenty written about him in the San Juan Archdiocese's archives and in secular historical records.


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