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Balanced scoring, inside control lift Vikings past Sals, 68-63

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Dialog reporter

WILMINGTON – Backed by a vociferous student section, the St. Elizabeth boys’ basketball team did not let a 12-6 deficit after one quarter against Salesianum get to them. The Vikings took control in the second, using a 14-point run to take a lead on their way to a 68-63 win Friday night at a sold-out St. E Center.
St. Elizabeth received balanced scoring, but the leaders were sophomores Jordan Money and Malik Curry, who helped their team control the inside game. The Vikings consistently outrebounded Salesianum, converting a number of those boards into easy baskets. They also got the Sals into foul trouble, and St. Elizabeth would make Salesianum pay for their sins down the stretch, when they hit a ton of free throws. Read more »

Vatican panel to discuss challenges women face in society and church

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Violence against women, cultural pressures regarding women’s physical appearance, attitudes that subjugate women or that ignore male-female differences and the growing alienation of women from the church in some parts of the world are themes the Pontifical Council for Culture is set to explore.

The council has chosen to discuss the theme, “Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference,” during its plenary assembly Feb. 4-7 at the Vatican. A news conference was scheduled for Feb. 2, but the council published its discussion document on the topic in late January.

Women wait to read intentions Oct. 12 as Pope Francis celebrates a Mass of thanksgiving in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican for two Canadians he canonized April 3 without requiring the verification of a miracle or a canonization ceremony. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Women wait to read intentions Oct. 12 as Pope Francis celebrates a Mass of thanksgiving in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican for two Canadians he canonized April 3 without requiring the verification of a miracle or a canonization ceremony. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The document, drafted by a group of women appointed by the council, looked at the continuing quest to find balance in promoting women’s equality while valuing the differences between women and men; the concrete and symbolic aspects of women’s potential for motherhood; cultural attitudes toward women’s bodies; and women and religion, including questions about their participation in church decision-making.

The council said the theme was chosen “to identify possible pastoral paths, which will allow Christian communities to listen and dialogue with the world today in this sphere,” while recognizing that in different cultures and for individual women the situation will be different.

While cautioning against generalizations, the document rejects the notion that there are no differences between men and women, and that each person “chooses and builds his-her identity; owns him-herself and answers primarily to him-herself.”

In preparing the document and the plenary discussions, the council sought input from women around the world. However, the process was not without criticism, particularly for the English version of a video featuring an Italian actress, Nanci Brilli, asking women to send in their experiences. Many women felt the use of a heavily made-up actress ran counter to the point of seeking input about the real lives of most women. The council quickly took the English version off YouTube.

In the section on women and the church, the document described “multifaceted discomfort” with images of women that are no longer relevant and with a Christian community that seems to value their input even less than the world of business and commerce does.

Many women, it said, “have reached places of prestige within society and the workplace, but have no corresponding decisional role nor responsibility within ecclesial communities.”

Council members are not proposing a discussion of ordaining women priests, the document said and, in fact, statistics show ordination “is not something that women want.” However, it said, “if, as Pope Francis says, women have a central role in Christianity, this role must find a counterpart also in the ordinary life of the church.”

The vast majority of Catholic women today do not want a bishop’s “purple biretta,” it said, but would like to see church doors open “to women so that they can offer their contribution in terms of skills and also sensitivity, intuition, passion, dedication, in full collaboration and integration” with men in the church.

The preparatory document looked at how much pressure women face regarding their body image and the way women’s bodies are exploited in the media, even to the point of provoking eating disorders or recourse to unnecessary surgery.

“Plastic surgery that is not medico-therapeutic can be aggressive toward the feminine identity, showing a refusal of the body in as much as it is a refusal of the ‘season’ that is being lived out,” it said.

“‘Plastic surgery is like a burqa made of flesh.’ One woman gave us this harsh and incisive description,” the document said. “Having been given freedom of choice for all, are we not under a new cultural yoke of a singular feminine model?”

The document also denounced violence inflicted on women: “Selective abortion, infanticide, genital mutilation, crimes of honor, forced marriages, trafficking of women, sexual molestation, rape, which in some parts of the world are inflicted on a massive level and along ethnic lines, are some of the deepest injuries inflicted daily on the soul of the world, on the bodies of women and of girls, who become silent and invisible victims.”

 

Catholic Relief Services investigates if sex ed publication violated church teaching

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WASHINGTON — Catholic Relief Services is investigating an allegation that a publication it used in connection with a program in Rwanda violates church teaching on human sexuality.

A statement from the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and develop agency said that former and current staff are being questioned about the publication to determine how or if it was used in the small African nation in 2009 and 2010.

The query opened after Michael Hitchborn of the Lepanto Institute charged that the publication, “My Changing Body: Puberty and Fertility Awareness for Young People,” promotes abortifacient contraception, masturbation and condom use.

CRS said it would issue a final report when its investigation concludes, but offered no specific date for the release.

Hitchborn cited a report from Georgetown University’s Institute for Public Health that said CRS, Caritas Rwanda and Family Health International were partners in revising and piloting a sex education program for children 10- to 14-years-old using “My Changing Body.” Funding for the program came through the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The Lepanto Institute describes itself as “a research and education organization dedicated to the defense of the Catholic Church against assaults from without as well as from within.”

CRS said the partnership developed under its Avoiding Risk, Affirming Life project, a five-year effort that promoted sexual abstinence before marriage and fidelity in marriage to combat the spread of AIDS and the human immunodeficiency virus.

“We are currently investigating whether the version of ‘My Changing Body’ that the Lepanto Institute references, or any other version, was every used in Rwanda,” the statement said.

The CRS statement explained that it has reduced its presence in Rwanda since 2010 and that it is attempting to reach many of staff members who worked with the project who are no longer with the agency.

“CRS takes all concerns raised about our programs seriously and reviews them carefully, correcting any problems if needed. CRS is steadfast in our commitment to uphold Catholic teaching throughout our programs. In the last five year CRS has taken extensive steps to strengthen our systems to ensure that all of our staff are trained in Catholic identity, that our policies for reviewing and vetting programs and related relationships effectively uphold church teaching and that all materials used in CRS programs are in compliance with church teaching,” the statement said.

 

Carmelite professor to lead pope’s Lenten retreat

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has chosen an Italian Carmelite professor of spirituality to lead him and top members of the Roman Curia on their Lenten retreat.

Carmelite Father Bruno Secondin, though listed as a “professor emeritus” at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, is still teaching in the university’s Institute of Spirituality. He is the author of dozens of books, including a multivolume series of guides for “lectio divina,” the prayerful reading of the books of the New Testament and selected readings from the Old Testament.

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, reported Jan. 30 that Father Secondin will preach on the theme, “Servants and Prophets of the Living God.”

Pope Francis and some 80 Vatican officials will listen to Father Secondin and reflect on his words Feb. 22-27 at the Pauline Fathers’ retreat and conference center in Ariccia, about 20 miles southeast of Rome.

Father Secondin will give 10 meditations during the week, which L’Osservatore said would have a special focus each day: “Journeys of authenticity,” including “the courage to say no to ambiguity”; “paths of freedom,” subtitled “from vain idols to true piety”; “”let yourself be surprised by God,” meeting God where you least expect him and being evangelized by the poor; “justice and intercession,” looking at witnesses of justice and solidarity; and “accepting Elijah’s cloak,” looking at ways of becoming “prophets of fraternity.”

 

‘Black or White’ addresses racial issues in many hues

January 30th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Large-scale issues of race and addiction are examined in in writer-director Mike Binder’s fact-based drama “Black or White.”

Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer star in a scene from the movie "Black or White." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Relativity)

Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer star in a scene from the movie “Black or White.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Relativity)

Though its avoidance of stereotypes and easy answers is admirable, the film provides only modest entertainment for those grown-up viewers able to appreciate its moral shadings.

After a car accident suddenly leaves him a widower, prosperous white lawyer Elliott Anderson (Kevin Costner) struggles to continue raising his half-African-American granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell). Buttoned-up Elliott finds it difficult to compensate for the absence of his nurturing wife, with whom he had raised Eloise since the girl’s mother, their daughter, died in childbirth.

Additionally, Elliott’s newly developed reliance on alcohol, which he uses to excess to assuage his grief, raises fundamental questions about his fitness as a solo guardian.

In response, Eloise’s paternal grandmother, Rowena Jeffers (Octavia Spencer), sues for custody. A successful entrepreneur in South Central Los Angeles, Rowena is also motivated by her concern that Eloise’s life in one of the city’s upscale suburbs has isolated the child from her black heritage.

Since Elliott blames Eloise’s dad, Reggie (Andre Holland), a narcotics-dependent ne’er-do-well, for seducing his underage daughter and contributing to her needless demise, family antagonisms fuel the legal conflict.

So, too, do racial tensions: Another of Rowena’s children, hotshot attorney Jeremiah (Anthony Mackie), to whom his mom naturally entrusts her case, is determined to portray Elliott as a racist. Elliott’s colleagues, led by his protege, Rick Reynolds (Bill Burr), are equally resolved to play up Reggie’s criminal record. They also deplore the appointment of black Judge Cummins (Paula Newsome) to try the matter.

With personal strengths and weaknesses equally balanced among the characters on both sides, moviegoers’ sympathies are sufficiently divided to keep the proceedings interesting. And some valuable questions are implicitly raised along the way. Why, for instance, should Elliott’s abusive use of booze be legally sanctioned, in his favor, he does habitually avoid driving while drunk, whereas Reggie’s crack smoking inevitably lands him in prison?

Yet, though “Black or White” makes for an intelligent interlude, it fails to register a lasting impact. Perhaps that’s because its generally appealing characters are primarily deployed not as engaging individuals but as stand-ins for recognizable social groups and tendencies.

The film contains brief bloodless violence, a drug theme, incidental affirmation of a same-sex marriage, mature references, several uses of profanity, at least one rough term and frequent crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

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Adult forecast for ‘Project Almanac’

January 30th, 2015 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Teens should avoid taking on “Project Almanac.”

Sam Lerner, Jonny Weston, Allen Evangelista and Virginia Gardner star in a scene from the movie "Project Almanac." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.(CNS photo/Paramount)

Sam Lerner, Jonny Weston, Allen Evangelista and Virginia Gardner star in a scene from the movie “Project Almanac.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.(CNS photo/Paramount)

Though obviously aimed at adolescents, this sci-fi fantasy showcases behavior and dialogue that responsible parents would not want their youngsters either to absorb or imitate.

The well-worn theme of time travel gets trotted out once again as MIT-bound high school senior, and science prodigy, David (Jonny Weston) stumbles across the top-secret mechanism his deceased father was developing for the government at the time of his death in a car accident a decade back.

Together with Jesse (Sofia Black-D’Elia), the girl of his dreams, his sister Christina (Virginia Gardiner) and his two best pals, Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista), David overcomes a series of obstacles to get the device in working order.

As long as David and company stick to short-term chronology-hopping and relatively small-scale wish fulfillment, their magical gadget seems like a windfall. But pushing the boundaries reveals the disastrously negative impact their reality-altering visits to the past can have on the present.

Director Dean Israelite’s uneven film works well enough while its generic ensemble of characters is puzzling over the nuts and bolts of Dad’s mysterious apparatus. Once they master its secrets, though, the complications become increasingly confusing, and the plotting ever choppier, while the movie’s tone shrills to an annoying crescendo.

The result for viewers might be described as the temporal equivalent of seasickness.

Among the contingencies explored in writers Andrew Deutschmann and Jason Pagan’s screenplay is a possible physical relationship between two characters that would not only predate any thought of marriage but also might anticipate either or both of the participants’ legal majority.

Along the same lines, the whole gang celebrates the success of one of their excursions by merrily downing a round of beers. Yet age 21 is clearly a long way off for any of them.

Throw in the fact that each shock or surprise the youthful pioneers encounter seems to be met with a familiar but unwelcome exclamation that likewise begins with an “s,” and it becomes apparent that this “Almanac” is not a suitable resource for the young.

The film contains a nonmarital and possibly underage sexual situation with a scene of sensual intimacy, teen drinking, some sexual humor, a few uses of profanity, at least one instance of the F-word as well as pervasive crude and occasional crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III, adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

 

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Chinese Catholic priest urges unity, sees government plan as way to divide church

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Catholic News Service

The recent announcement of this year’s working plans of the Chinese State Administration for Religious Affairs has driven a young priest from northern China to call church leaders to work for dialogue and reconciliation among Catholics in his country.

The SARA plan reportedly supports continued independent election and ordination of bishops by the government-organized Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and Catholic bishops’ conference composed of bishops who have registered with the government.

People pray during Mass at a Catholic church in Beijing in 2014 . (CNS photo/Wu Hong, EPA)

People pray during Mass at a Catholic church in Beijing in 2014. (CNS photo/Wu Hong, EPA)

The plan also reportedly instructs the two church bodies to convene the ninth national assembly of Catholic representatives, strengthen their leadership-building and promote democracy in running the Catholic Church.

Since the religious affairs administration published its plan on its website Jan. 15, “strong reactions of anonymous sources were published by people from outside,” the priest told Catholic News Service. Other Catholics in China who spoke to CNS also on condition of anonymity said they preferred to wait before commenting publicly to see if actions in the “routine publication of plans will take place or not.”

The plan to hold a national assembly causes great concern because when the government convened the eighth assembly in 2010, the Holy See warned Chinese clergy not to attend, but the government pushed through with the meeting, a Chinese Catholic recalled.

The priest from the North said while “strong reactions from outside” China focus on the impact of plans on China-Vatican relations, “people like us (inside China) are also concerned about the very hard struggle we have to undergo inside ourselves and between the two Catholic communities.”

“In some cases people look forward to the appointment for their ordination as a way to get power, but many others who may not be as vocal are coerced into joining because, if they refuse ordination, they will have to suffer the consequences,” the priest said.

He appealed for dialogue and understanding among Catholics who might be quick to judge fellow church members who may not be as bold as others in publicly criticizing government’s “defiance” of Rome.

“People like us (inside China) we have to follow regulations or the stand of the church, but in a given situation sometimes it is really difficult,” the priest said.

He told the story of his classmates who refused to be ordained as deacons in 2006.

“The government set up their ordination, but they refused to follow, so the police were sent to close the entrance to the bishop’s house. When some escaped house arrest, local government officials went to their homes, got their parents and asked them to tell their sons to follow the government order. Seminarians were taken for a brainwash program, and they were asked to write a letter declaring support for the policy of the government.”

He said if Chinese Catholics were not careful they could be helping the government with its strategy of weakening the Catholic Church by dividing its members.

He said people inside China see the SARA plan for 2015 in this bigger and deeper historical context rather than just as provocation or trying to show the Holy See it has the church under its control.

“Even in our textbooks in high school, it is clearly stated that religion is like poison of the human mind,” the priest said, noting the Communist Party’s determination to keep religion from exerting power as a political force.

In his view, aside from its concern about foreign interference through religion, the Chinese government diffuses this potential political power of the church by dividing its members.

“Now, sad to say, we are divided into the so-called underground and official churches, and government can play the Catholics against each other. They give favors to the open (official) church and are stricter with the underground church.”

The priest said he believes the solution is for Catholics to work toward reconciliation and to unite. “If we ourselves are divided, the government won’t be afraid of the church,” he said, explaining that church protest or preaching will not have as much impact as when it speaks as one united body.

The priest acknowledged it is difficult for China’s Catholics to unite and work for reconciliation, but stressed it is not impossible.

“Even if China has diplomatic ties with the Holy See, it will not have as deep an impact if the local church cannot reconcile. This can be done through dialogue, using a spiritual approach,” he added.

In Manila, where Chinese priests, religious and church workers are sent for post-graduate studies, Claretian Father Samuel Canilang told CNS the struggle and hope are evident, too.

Father Canilang, director of the Claretians’ Institute for Consecrated Life in Asia, cited the interaction among Chinese priests and religious men and women belonging to the two Catholic communities.

“For a recent presentation on their church, in the beginning they had a heated discussion, but in the end they made a beautiful presentation. The situation of China Church on the ground is something like this,” he said.

Father Canilang also coordinates scholarship and other concerns of some 300 nuns, priests, seminarians and a few lay church workers studying in the Philippines.

“There are at least 300 people you see during gatherings like Chinese New Year, mid-autumn festival and periodic recollections,” the Filipino priest told CNS.

He recalled that in 2010, when the Chinese government organized the eighth assembly of Catholic representatives, his institute co-organized meetings that drew at least 100 of the students for discussions with Chinese church experts from Asia and Rome.

“It was very confusing, especially for the bishops and the faithful in China. They could not understand why it was happening, who to follow, who to obey. The government-organized assembly worsened the division,” Father Canilang said.

He cited the election of new officials for the bishops’ conference in China and for the government’s Administration for Religious Affairs and the Catholic Patriotic Association.

Father Canilang said for the clergy, the Claretian institute tries to help the men realize the meaning of priesthood. Priesthood is a vocation from God, the institute director explained.

“It really demands deep faith. This solid conviction that your vocation comes from God will direct your obedience,” he said.

He said that “a dialogue that leads to reconciliation is very much needed” in the Chinese church, acknowledging as well that this is “very problematic” given the situation in China.

Even so, he cited possibilities for dialogue at ground level, “in communities, parishes.”

“The church in China is very active,” and dialogue is happening among laypeople through youth camps that gather together Catholics, non-Catholics and even atheists, the priest said. “It is there that some priests who studied here found their faith and their vocation.”

By N.J. Viehland

 

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Polls reveal support for abortion at lowest point since 1975

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WASHINGTON — A Jan. 21 report from the National Right to Life Committee and new poll results show that abortion is increasingly unpopular in the United States, and also that the number of abortions performed in the United States is at its lowest point since 1975.

The day after the State of the Union Address, the right-to-life organization held a news conference on its second annual “The State of Abortion in the United States” report.

The report showed that the number abortions in the United States, currently at 1.06 million per year, is at its lowest point since 1975, when the number was 1.03 million and is also down from the 1.6 million high seen in 1990.

Anna Clement of St. Rita Parish in Alexandria, Va., holds her 8-month-old son, Sebastian, as they watch March for Life participants make their way up Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington Jan. 22. Tens of thousands took part in the annual event, which this year marked the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across the nation. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Anna Clement of St. Rita Parish in Alexandria, Va., holds her 8-month-old son, Sebastian, as they watch March for Life participants make their way up Constitution Avenue to the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington Jan. 22. Tens of thousands took part in the annual event, which this year marked the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across the nation. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

A new Knights of Columbus-Marist poll shows 84 percent of Americans want significant restrictions on abortion and would limit it to, at most, the first three months of pregnancy.

At the National Right to Life news conference, Carol Tobias, the organization’s president, was asked about President Barack Obama’s claim in the State of the Union address that the drop is a result of actions taken by his administration.

She said “the president is on record supporting abortion at any time, for any reason; he is not for any limit or restriction on abortion, but naturally, he is going to put that statistic in the best light he possibly can.”

Tobias believes that the decline in the abortion rate is rather the result of pro-life activism in public discourse and popular culture because “yes, the numbers are going down, but the rates and ratios are also going down, and that’s due to the pro-life movement keeping this issue alive in the public debate.”

“Pro-life education and legislation are helping to make an impact on our culture and in the lives of women with unborn children,” she continued, and as a result “many women have shown that they want their babies to live.”

Randall O’Bannon, National Right to Life’s director of education and research, added that “though the numbers on the whole are going down, there is one group that has remained steady and that group is Planned Parenthood.” The group, which “performs one in three abortions in the United States,” has repeatedly “turned opposition into fundraising fodder” to expand its “taxpayer-subsidized abortion empire.”

“That,” said O’Bannon, “is why they spend millions on elections.”

In its report for fiscal year 2013, Planned Parenthood said it had received $540.6 million provided by taxpayer-funded government health services grants including Title X family planning funds for low-income people.

Federal regulations require abortion services be kept separate from Title X-funded family planning services, but critics of Planned Parenthood say that receiving funding for nonabortion services frees up its resources for providing abortions.

The National Right to Life panel, composed of Tobias, O’Bannon, legislative director Douglas Johnson, director of state legislation Mary Spaulding Balch and executive director David O’Steen, also addressed claims made by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that were raised in opposition to the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

The physicians’ group said that abortions done after the proposed 20-week abortion ban are rare and the results of “acute medical conditions.”

According to Johnson, such assertions are “the same mythology that came from special interests during the partial-birth abortion debates” and “attempt(ing) to resurrect a baseless claim.”

House members had planned to put the measure up for a vote Jan. 22, the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe V. Wade decision legalizing abortion virtually on demand. But in a last-minute decision lawmakers decided to postpone action on it, indicating they would not have had enough votes for passage.

The bill would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks, when an unborn baby can feel pain, unless the life of the mother is in danger. There also an exception for cases of rape, but it would require a woman to get the abortion after reporting the rape to law enforcement. That provision brought opposition from a group of women and other GOP leaders in the House.

Not only is the number of abortions declining in the United States, but it is publicly unpopular, according to a recent Knights of Columbus/Marist-poll.

A press release issued by the Knights said the poll showed that 84 percent of Americans “want significant restrictions on abortions” and that “60 percent of Americans say abortion is morally wrong.”

In addition, the poll found that 64 percent believe the abortion rate in the United States is higher than it should be, that 78 percent support parental notification, 68 percent oppose taxpayer funding and nearly 60 percent of Americans support legislation that would “permit medical professionals and organizations to refuse to provide abortions or refer patients for abortions,” which are also known as “conscience protection laws.”

“In light of the ongoing controversy over the HHS (Health and Human Services) contraception, sterilization and abortifacient mandate,” the release said, “it is notable that 70 percent of Americans also support religious liberty rights when religious values conflict with the law.”

It noted this was the same percentage of Americans who self-identify as “pro-choice.”

For the poll, 2,079 adults were surveyed by phone between Jan. 7 and Jan. 13. The Marist Poll conducted the survey, which was sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

In addition, results of a Pew Research Center poll released Jan. 22 showed that 51 percent of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 43 percent who say it should be illegal all or most of the time. But when asked about the morality of abortion only 15 percent of Americans view abortion as being “morally acceptable,” while 49 percent currently believe that it is morally wrong.

Sixty-four percent of Hispanics Catholics think abortion is morally wrong, compared to 53 percent of white Catholics, according to the Pew results.

The poll also showed a growing regional divide when it comes to views on life and abortion; the percentage difference between people in New England (75 percent) and the South (40 percent), the two most disparate groups, who think it should be illegal in all/most cases has nearly doubled since the mid-1990s.

 By Nate Madden

 

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Sainthood cause for Focolare founder formally begins

January 29th, 2015 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , ,

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FRASCATI, Italy — Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare Movement, “lit a new light in the church’s journey toward unity,” Pope Francis said.

In a message to hundreds of people gathered in the cathedral of Frascati Jan. 27 for the formal opening of Lubich’s sainthood cause, Pope Francis expressed his hope that “the shining example” of her life and activity would strengthen Focolare members’ faith and commitment to building up the unity of the church and friendly relations with members of other religions.

Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare movement, is pictured in 2003. The current president of the movement, Maria Voce, has formally requested the opening of a sainthood cause for Lubich, who died in 2008. (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

Chiara Lubich, founder of the Focolare movement, is pictured in 2003. The current president of the movement, Maria Voce, has formally requested the opening of a sainthood cause for Lubich, who died in 2008. (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

Lubich, who was born in Trent, in 1920, founded the Focolare Movement with a few friends during the Second World War, inspired by Jesus’ words “that they all would be one.” Gradually, the women decided to form a community and share everything they had with each other and with the poor. They sought a sense of family gathered around a hearth – “focolare” in Italian.

The movement now has more than 2 million members and associates in 192 countries and a strong focus on building positive relations with people of other faiths.

The formal opening of a sainthood cause, approved by the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes, is largely a juridical act with the swearing in of various officials of the cause, including the promoter and members of a tribunal to collect and evaluate eyewitness testimony and study the candidate’s writings.

For the cause of Lubich, who died in 2008, the formalities came after an evening prayer service.

Bishop Raffaello Martinelli of Frascati, the diocese in which Focolare’s international headquarters is located, told the congregation the work ahead will not be easy, “but it is a service we want to render to the church in order to offer a witness of faith, hope and charity through the work and life of one of its daughters.”

According to the Focolare Movement’s website, the tribunal will hold its first formal session Feb. 12, interviewing Maria Voce, Lubich’s successor as head of the movement. She will be the first of about 100 people who knew Lubich and will be interviewed about her life and work.

 

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Thomas Merton at 100: Trappist author’s writings still resonate decades after his death

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Catholic News Service

When Trappist Father Thomas Merton addressed persistent racism in his writing during the 1960s, his message seemingly reached into the future.

Appealing to society to recognize that all people are children of God, Father Merton questioned practices that prevented African-Americans from achieving full equality and called for the end of discrimination in all forms.

It was just one of the priest’s stances on important social issues, encompassing race relations, militarism and war, consumerism and the burdens posed by technology.

Trappist Father Thomas Merton, one of the most influential Catholic authors of the 20th century, is pictured in an undated photo. Devotees of the monk, who died in 1968, have planned various observances of the 100th anniversary of his birth, Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University)

Trappist Father Thomas Merton, one of the most influential Catholic authors of the 20th century, is pictured in an undated photo. Devotees of the monk, who died in 1968, have planned various observances of the 100th anniversary of his birth, Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University)

Father Merton’s concerns are as pertinent today as they were when he wrote about them half a century ago, said Paul M. Pearson, director of the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, on the eve of the centennial of the Trappist’s birth, Jan. 31, 1915.

“He speaks to us because everything he has to say is as applicable now as when he wrote it,” Pearson told Catholic News Service from the center, which serves as a research center and the repository of nearly all of the late Father Merton’s poems, essays, correspondence and notes.

“Those social issues he addressed, I think he would be horrified that we’re still dealing with them, that nothing has changed,” Pearson said.

The center will host the 14th general meeting of the International Thomas Merton Society June 4-7.

Researchers and theologians suggest that Father Merton’s social concerns stemmed from a deep spirituality and an unending quest to find God. Some consider him a mystic and believe he deserves to be declared a doctor of the church. St. John XXIII and Blessed Paul VI were among church leaders who regularly turned to his writing for inspiration.

Merton was born in Prades, France, near the border with Spain. His parents, American-born mother Ruth and New Zealand-born father Owen, were artists. Ruth Jenkins Merton died when Merton was 6; Owen died nine years later.

His challenging childhood and his upbringing and visits to various locales, including France, Italy, New York (after his mother’s death) and England shaped the young Merton as much as his gradual discovery of the love of God after years of an unsettled, and at times promiscuous, life as a young adult.

Merton entered the Trappists, formally the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, in Gethsemani, Kentucky, Dec. 10, 1941, three years after being baptized in the Catholic Church. He found the structured and prayer-filled life of a monk appealing. The monastery was a place where he could think about life,             and contemplate the presence of God.

Father Merton’s massive autobiography, “The Seven Storey Mountain,” an assignment from his superior who recognized his desire to be a writer, raised his profile among people searching in their lives. Originally published in 1948, the year before Father Merton’s ordination, the work has sold more than 1 million copies and has been translated into more than 15 languages, according to the Thomas Merton Center.

A prolific writer, Father Merton over the course of 20 years wrote hundreds of poems, dozens of essays, thousands of letters and numerous books. He is acknowledged by scholars and theologians as perhaps the most influential Catholic author of the 20th century.

“He’s a wonderful writer and poet. He gives you the sense that God is present, God is close and God walks with us,’ said Christopher Pramuk, associate professor of theology of Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Today, decades after his Dec. 10, 1968, death from electrocution in Bangkok while on pilgrimage to better interfaith understanding with Eastern religions, Father Merton’s works continue to be studied; new books reprinting his letters and essays continue to be published.

In cities around the world, groups of Merton devotees through the International Thomas Merton Society meet for silent prayer and discussion of the Trappist’s works.

“He was the one who took contemplation and contemplative prayer out of the monastery,” said Ursuline Sister Donna Kristoff, coordinator of the Cleveland chapter, one of 39 in the U.S. and eight overseas. “He was one of the first ones to show that this is basic Christian practice, that all people need to learn to sit quietly, to find solitude and peace to find God within.”

Sister Kathleen Deignan, professor of religious studies at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, called Father Merton a path maker.

“He bequeaths these paths to us so that we can actually find them. He did make the path by walking. There was nobody in front of him. No cultural conditions. No family. He did this great pilgrimage of search,” said Sister Kathleen, a member of the Congregation of Notre Dame and director of the school’s Iona Spirituality Institute.

The institute premiered a documentary on the Trappist’s life Jan. 28. “The Many Storeys and Last Days of Thomas Merton” was part of a program marking the centennial of his birth.

Christine Bochen, professor of religious studies at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, and a founding member of the international Merton society, has edited the Trappist’s work for publication. She has found the “richness of his personality” evolving over his two decades of writing.

“What is absolutely fascinating to me is that he could see what so many could not,” Bochen said. “He’s withdrawn in a sense, living in a monastery in rural Kentucky, but he could read what the Second Vatican Council called signs of the times. He had a deep wisdom and understanding of what was happening in the world.”

Father Merton’s words also appeal to new audiences today. Paul E. O’Connell, professor of criminal justice at Iona College, said students in his classes integrate their understanding of Father Merton, who they have discovered in Sister Kathleen’s classes, in his courses.

He told CNS that students are interested in contemplative prayer and meditation and find that it relieves stress in their over-booked, high-pressure lives. “They want to be able to consider themselves as just a person, to think there’s a possibility of simpler time, that you can relate to other people without all these pressures. They just open up.” O’Connell said.

In a 1984 documentary funded in part by the Catholic Communication Campaign, author Paul Wilkes explored the monk’s struggles that led to the realization life that the answers to life’s mysteries rest in discovering God. Since reading Father Merton’s autobiography in high school, Wilkes has found that the monk’s lasting appeal rests in the familiar voice in which he examines basic questions about life.

“It’s like he’s in the room with you,” Wilkes said.

The Rev. Lars Adolffson, a Church of Sweden minister, is coordinator of the Swedish Thomas Merton Society. He said Swedes appreciate the monk’s “gentle style” and the joy he finds in discovering God.

“In the search for God, he doesn’t force you,” Rev. Adolffson told CNS. “He doesn’t make any hard strains toward people. He notes how God will act in your life in a positive way.

“He has something to tell us.”

In New Zealand, Merton followers planned to commemorate the Trappist’s birth with a Jan. 31 pilgrimage across Christchurch.

Charles Shaw, who works in the Catholic Education Office of the Diocese of Christchurch and is a member of New Zealand’s chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society, told CNS the daylong observance will take participants to sites important to Father Merton’s heritage. Silent and public prayer was to be offered at Carmelite Monastery of Christ the King, Christ’s College and Waimairi Cemetery where several Merton family members are buried.

In “The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton,” author Michael Mott related that Father Merton wrote to a monk in New Zealand describing the country as “a kind of homeland” even though he had never visited.

Shaw’s uncle studied under Father Merton at Gethsemani. At one point, the monk asked his uncle to ask Shaw’s parents to visit and his relatives at their home in Christchurch.

“He draws people in because of his writings,” Shaw said. “He covers a vast range of topics. He’s perceptive. He’s funny. He’s sometimes annoying. You see the person shining through.”

 

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