Category Archives: National News

Sacred Duty: Saints Show Church is Holy

A statue of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (CNS photo/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Catholic devotion to the saints appears to be alive and well, and Pope Benedict XVI continues to proclaim new saints at a regular pace. The official calendar of saints’ feast days will grow in October when the pope canonizes seven men and women, including Mother Marianne Cope of Molokai and three laypeople: the Native American Kateri Tekakwitha, the Filipino Peter Calungsod and the German Anna Schaffer. The canonization Mass Oct. 21 will be one of the first big events of Pope Benedict’s Year of Faith, which is designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and to launch a strengthened commitment to the new evangelization. According to Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, the appeal of the saints and their concrete examples of holiness give them “an undeniably positive role to play in this time of new evangelization,” since they are living proof that the church is holy. In a new book, currently available only in Italian, Cardinal Amato writes that it’s easy to understand how people can question the church’s holiness when they see the sinful behavior of some of its members. But the good, loving and charitable activities of other members are the best evidence that the church truly is the holy body of Christ, he says.

Majority of Catholics Share Religious Liberty Concerns

by Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — A majority of Catholics say they share the U.S. bishops’ concerns about the federal contraceptive mandate and other government restrictions on religious liberty, and the percentage of Catholics who say they are satisfied with the bishops’ leadership has increased sharply in the past 10 years. Catholics who attend Mass more frequently are more likely to agree with bishops’ concerns on social issues, and those who attend less frequently show less support for their views on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Those opinions, made public Aug. 1, were among the results in a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The survey showed that 64 percent of Catholics have heard about the bishops’ objections to the HHS contraceptive mandate. Among Catholics who are aware of the bishops’ concerns on this issue, 56 percent agree with the bishops and 36 percent disagree. In the American population at large, 41 percent agree with the bishops and 47 percent disagree. The survey results also gave high marks to Catholic leadership. Eighty-three percent of Catholics expressed satisfaction with women religious; 82 percent, with their own parish priests, 74 percent, with their diocesan bishop and the pope; and 70 percent, with U.S. bishops in general.

Pope prays for disaster victims in Philippines, China, Iran

Rescuers search for victims in the earthquake-stricken village of Varzaqan, near Ahar, Iran, Aug. 12. (CNS photo/Arash Khamooshi, ISNA via Reuters )

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI asked Catholics around the world to pray and offer material assistance to flood victims in the Philippines and China and to people affected by an earthquake in northwestern Iran. The natural disasters have caused death and injury and left thousands of people homeless, the pope said Aug. 12 after reciting the Angelus in the courtyard of the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo. “I ask you to join me in prayer for those who lost their lives and for all the people so harshly tried by such devastating calamities. May these brothers and sisters of ours not lack our solidarity and support,” the pope said. Flooding caused by days of torrential rains forced more than a quarter million people from their homes in parts of Manila and provinces surrounding the Philippine capital. The government said Aug. 7 that at least 50 percent of metropolitan Manila was under water, displacing an estimated 270,000 people. News reports Aug. 13 said more than 90 people had lost their lives and more rain was expected. In China, Typhoon Haikui brought heavy rains and flooding to Jiangxi province in the eastern part of the country. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced. In Iran, two strong earthquakes struck Aug. 11, leaving at least 300 people dead and 2,000 injured. The quakes destroyed entire villages in the northwest. In his main Angelus address, Pope Benedict spoke about the Sunday Gospel reading in which Jesus tells the people, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

Pope to Visit Lebanon in September

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Pope Benedict XVI (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI will present a papal document addressing the church’s concerns in the Middle East, meet with representatives of local Christian and Muslim communities, and address political and cultural leaders on a three-day visit to Lebanon Sept. 14-16. Pope Benedict’s primary task on the trip will be to present a document, called an apostolic exhortation, based on the deliberations of a special synod of bishops held at the Vatican in 2009. That two-week meeting, which was attended by 185 bishops, focused on the precarious circumstances of 5.7 million Catholics in 16 Middle Eastern countries. A document released by participants at the end of the synod called for “religious freedom and freedom of conscience” in Muslim lands, a theme Pope Benedict is likely to address on his visit.

Pope Approves Archbishop Sheen’s Heroic Virtues

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI has approved the heroic virtues of U.S. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, the Vatican announced June 28, clearing the way for the advancement of his sainthood cause. Among the others honored in decrees announced the same day were first prelate of Opus Dei, the Canadian and Irish-American founders of two orders of religious women, a priest murdered by the Sicilian Mafia, and 154 martyrs killed during the Spanish Civil War. Archbishop Sheen heroically lived Christian virtues and should be considered “venerable,” said a decree issued by the Congregation for Saints’ Causes and signed by Pope Benedict. Before the archbishop can be beatified, the Vatican must recognize that a miracle has occurred through his intercession. The decree came just more than 13 months after Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Ill., presented Pope Benedict with two thick volumes about the life of Archbishop Sheen, whose home diocese was Peoria. Archbishop Sheen, who was born in Illinois in 1895 and died in New York in 1979, was an Emmy-winning televangelist. His program, “Life is Worth Living,” aired in the United States from 1951 to 1957. Last September, a tribunal of inquiry was sworn in to investigate the allegedly miraculous healing of a newborn whose parents had prayed to the archbishop’s intercession.

Masses, Devotions, Rallies Mark U.S. Church’s ‘Fortnight for Freedom’

Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann (CNS photo/Lori Wood Habiger, The Leaven)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — When the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asked Catholics to dedicate 14 days to the preservation of religious freedom through prayer, education and public action, they listened. Catholics in dioceses across the United States participated in Masses, devotions, holy hours, educational presentations and rallies during the June 21 to July 4 campaign to support the nation’s “first and most cherished freedom” and draw attention to actions Catholic and other religious leaders say are weakening religious liberty, including the federal contraceptive mandate. The U.S. bishops’ campaign began on the vigil of the feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More with Mass June 21 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore celebrated by Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom. He held up the two martyrs as a source of inspiration for American Catholics. The fortnight closed on Independence Day with Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. and the tolling of bells at churches across the country at noon Eastern time. Fortnight events in dioceses around the country included an Independence Celebration Walk & Picnic in Des Moines, IA; a motorcycle “Rosary Ride for Religious Freedom” in Colorado Springs, CO; nonpartisan voter registration drives after Masses in Atlanta parishes; a religious liberty conference in Covington, KY; an outdoor Faith and Freedom Mass in a park band shell in Savannah, CA; and a prayer service with special petitions for the fortnight in the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, OH.

USCCB Joins in Petition Asking US to Change Nuclear Policy

Laborers work on the assembly of the reactor at Atucha II nuclear power plant in Zarate, Argentina, in early August. As nations are called to create a world free of atomic weapons, the international community must promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy, especially for development and cancer treatment in developing countries, a top Vatican official said. (CNS photo/Marcos Brindicci, Reuters)

by Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops joined about four dozen other national organizations in amassing more than 50,000 signatures on a petition asking for a change in the United States’ “outdated” nuclear arms policy. “You must act now to reduce the nuclear danger and the role of nuclear weapons,” said the petition, addressed to President Barack Obama. The petition urges Obama to “end outdated U.S. nuclear war-fighting strategy, dramatically reduce the number of U.S. nuclear weapons and the number of submarines, missiles and bombers that carry those weapons, and take U.S. nuclear weapons off high alert. Maintaining large numbers of nuclear forces on alert increases the risk of accident or miscalculation.” A May 15 announcement from the groups involved said the petition was delivered to the White House May 7. Stephen Colecchi, director of the bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace, represented the USCCB. “This is just one of the many expressions of support for overdue changes in the United States’ nuclear weapons strategy which is still burdened by Cold War thinking,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, which spearheaded the petition drive and assembled the coalition of organizations that signaled their support. The United States, Kimball told Catholic News Service in a May 15 telephone interview, possesses about 1,700 strategically positioned nuclear warheads. Russia has about 1,500. Each has more strategically deployed warheads than the rest of the “nuclear club” — China, France, Great Britain, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — has warheads of all kinds combined. “Just one U.S. nuclear-armed submarine can destroy several cities,” Kimball said. “We today possess 12 submarines with nuclear weapons.”

Faith in the Footlights: Religion Gets a Curtain Call on Broadway

by Catholic News Service

Kecia Lewis-Evans stars in a scene from the Broadway production of "Leap of Faith" at St. James Theatre in New York. Faith-themed shows such as this have transformed Broadway into a "highway to heaven, " says one theater observer. "Leap of Faith" recently closed on Broadway but producers are considering a national tour of the show. (CNS photo/Joan Marcus)

NEW YORK (CNS) — Can it be? Has Broadway found religion? According to one recent article, a bumper crop of faith-themed shows, like “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Godspell,” “Book of Mormon” and “Sister Act,” has transformed Broadway into a “highway to heaven.” So why the great awakening on the Great White Way? “I think there is a “God moment” breaking out in the entertainment culture that’s partly driven by a quest for profits in difficult economic times, but also by people’s never-ending quest for transcendent meaning,” said Tom Allen of Allied Faith and Family, a marketing agency that is trying to promote shows like “Sister Act” to Christians. The Tony-nominated musical is emblematic of this religious revival: flashy and brash, yet earnestly spiritual. The same can be said for the recently closed “Leap of Faith,” which is contemplating a possible national tour. Both musicals were adapted from 1992 movies and feature music by Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken. Both also deal with themes of redemption and salvation. “I think people are tired of hearing about selfish people feeling sorry for themselves,” said Fred Applegate, who plays a pastor in “Sister Act” and who believes the uptick in religious productions underscores a need “for hope.”

At Audience, Pope Says Work Should Help, Not Hinder, Family Life

by Catholic News Service

(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) –  Work obligations should not harm a person’s family relationships but should provide support, giving couples the resources to have and raise children and spend time together, Pope Benedict XVI said. At the end of his weekly general audience May 16, Pope Benedict noted how the United Nations chose “family and work” as the focus of the 2012 International Day of Families, which was celebrated May 15. Work should not be an obstacle to the family, he said, “but rather should support and unite it, help it to open itself to life” and interact with society and the Church. Pope Benedict also expressed his hope that Sundays would be respected by employers as “a day of rest and an occasion to reinforce family ties.” In his main audience talk, the pope looked at prayer in the biblical letters of St. Paul. The New Testament letters, he said, include prayers of thanksgiving, praise, petition and intercession, demonstrating how prayer is appropriate for every occasion in life. “Prayer should not be seen simply as a good work we do for God — something we do — but as a gift, the fruit of the living spirit of the Father and of Jesus Christ within us,” the pope said. Pope Benedict said often “we do not know how to pray in the right way,” but simply opening oneself up and setting aside a bit of time for God, the Holy Spirit will take over. “The absence of words, but the desire to enter into dialogue with God, is a prayer that the Holy Spirit not only understands, but carries to and interprets for God.”

Fortnight for Freedom and Religious Liberty

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The 14 days from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day, are dedicated to this “fortnight for freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome. Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis and public action will emphasize both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.  On Sunday July 1, 2012, all the parishes of our diocese will turn their prayers and attention to the freedom to practice our faith in this country and pray that it be protected for generations to come. In doing this we will be a part of the our Church’s national campaign of teaching and witness for religious liberty.

From the USCCB:

In 1634, a mix of Catholic and Protestant settlers arrived in Southern Maryland from England aboard the Ark and the Dove. They had come at the invitation of the Catholic Lord Baltimore, who had been granted the land by the Protestant King Charles I of England. While Catholics and Protestants were killing each other in Europe, Lord Baltimore imagined Maryland as a society where people of different faiths could live together peacefully. This vision was soon codified in Maryland’s 1649 Act Concerning Religion (also called the “Toleration Act”), which was the first law in our nation’s history to protect an individual’s right to freedom of conscience.

Maryland’s early history teaches us that, like any freedom, religious liberty requires constant vigilance and protection, or it will disappear. Maryland’s experiment in religious toleration ended within a few decades. The colony was placed under royal control and the Church of England became the established religion. Discriminatory laws, including the loss of political rights, were enacted against those who refused to conform. Catholic chapels were closed and Catholics were restricted to practicing their faith in their homes. The Catholic community lived under this coercion until the American Revolution.
By the end of the 18th century our nation’s founders embraced freedom of religion as an essential condition of a free and democratic society. So when the Bill of Rights was ratified, religious freedom had the distinction of being the First Amendment. Religious liberty is indeed the first liberty.

This is our American heritage, our most cherished freedom. If we are not free in our conscience and our practice of religion, all other freedoms are fragile. If our obligations and duties to God are impeded, or even worse, contradicted by the government, then we can no longer claim to be a land of the free.

Is our most cherished freedom truly under threat? Among many current challenges, consider the recent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate requiring almost all private health plans to cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. For the first time in our history, the federal government will force religious institutions to facilitate drugs and procedures contrary to our moral teaching, and purport to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit an exemption. This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. It is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. It is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception and sterilization, even when it violates our religious beliefs.