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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

 

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

 

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.

 

Thomas Merton at 100: Still inspiring people to get closer to God

By

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.”

 

Salesianum wins 29th straight at home, defeats St. Mark’s, 36-27

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Dialog reporter

WILMINGTON –Salesianum and St. Mark’s rekindled their storied rivalry Friday night inside a jam-packed Father Birkenheuer Gymnasium, with students from both schools giving the game a playoff feel. In the end, the Sals managed to create enough offense against the Spartans’ patient approach, taking a 36-27 win.

Salesianum’s Donte DiVincenzo did not get the number of offensive opportunities he is accustomed to, but the senior found his touch in the second quarter, scoring 10 or his game-high 18 points as the Sals opened an 11-point halftime lead that proved to be too much for St. Mark’s. DiVincenzo said his team needed to settle down after a first quarter that ended in a 5-5 tie. Read more »

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Celebrating a Blue Ribbon year: Mount Aviat Academy commemorates its ‘school of excellence’ honor from the U.S. education department

By

Dialog reporter

 

CHILDS, Md. — Tucked away in Childs, Md., the students, faculty and staff at Mount Aviat Academy usually perform their work in relative peace and quiet.

But things got a little bit more hectic and loud on Jan. 16, when the school community celebrated being named a 2014 National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education. Read more »

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Crowds in Manila just get quick glimpses of Pope Francis on his arrival

January 15th, 2015 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

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MANILA, Philippines — Pope Francis shot past the crowd very quickly during his first popemobile drive-by in Manila Jan. 15, but nobody seemed to mind that he was gone in a matter of seconds.

Ferdinand Agood, a retired overseas contract worker who lives on the opposite side of Manila from the papal motorcade, only saw the pope’s back.

“Pope Francis … it’s like I saw God,” he said, pointing at his heart. “I felt full because I looked at him.”

Pope Francis waves to the crowd upon arrival at the airport in Manila, Philippines, Jan. 15. Tens of thousands of people in the Philippines got their first glimpse of Pope Francis after the sunset along Manila Bay Jan. 15. Many of them came from the far corners of Metro Manila and others work and live on the very streets he passed. (CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters)

Pope Francis waves to the crowd upon arrival at the airport in Manila, Philippines, Jan. 15. Tens of thousands of people in the Philippines got their first glimpse of Pope Francis after the sunset along Manila Bay Jan. 15. Many of them came from the far corners of Metro Manila and others work and live on the very streets he passed. (CNS photo/Romeo Ranoco, Reuters)

Sonny Rodriguez, 51, also saw just the pope’s back, but he told Catholic News Service he felt very happy. He is a street vendor who has spent countless years making a living by selling single cigarette sticks on Quirino Avenue, where the pope passed.

“I felt really calm,” said Rodriguez, who flashed a wide toothless smile. “It was like he soothed me.”

Crowds were ecstatic at the sight of Pope Francis. They cheered as they stood at video monitors set up around Manila’s biggest public park, watching the first moments after the pope stepped off the plane at Villamor Air Base.

Seeing the pope in person was also the first for Elpidio Balthazar, who drives a motorcycle passenger sidecar.

He said he missed St. John Paul II’s last visit 20 years ago. This time, he felt lucky that Pope Francis was so close to his usual route, which is right on the edge of Rizal Park, where the pope will celebrate Mass Jan. 18.

“We are just so very happy because the pope came here to Manila for us poor people, and also that he came here for the entire Philippines,” Balthazar said. “I hope everyone (in the country) gets a glimpse of him.”

He said he was planning to take his wife and three children to the Mass at Rizal, which is expected to draw millions.

Marietta de la Cruz, 56, a high school economics teacher, and her two adult children transferred three times on public transportation to get to Manila from her far north Quezon City neighborhood.

De la Cruz and her family had a plan to catch the pontiff’s attention. They took up their posts at 10 a.m. on the edge of the sidewalk along Quirino Avenue. They had to wait until well past 6 p.m. to carry out their plan.

“We shouted, ‘We love you! We love you! Pope Francis! We love you!’ and he turned around,” she exclaimed.

She said he smiled at her and her family and waved.

“I got goose bumps,” said De la Cruz.

The scene will be repeated throughout the papal visit as more throngs gather to see the pope. Church organizers said they wanted to give the masses maximum exposure.

By Simone Orendain

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Sri Lankan Buddhist center breaks tradition, shows pope revered relic

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MAKOLA, Sri Lanka — When Pope Francis made a surprise visit to a prominent Buddhist temple in Colombo Jan. 14, the head of the Maha Bodhi Society of Sri Lanka reciprocated by showing the pope historical relics of Buddhas’ disciples, normally exposed only for the annual Buddhist feast in May.

“The pope’s visit to our temple was a historic gesture. We have found that the last time a pope entered a Buddhist temple was in 1984,” Venerable Banagala Upatissa, president of Maha Bodhi Society of Sri Lanka, told Catholic News Service Jan. 15.

The 25-minute papal visit “was a gift to the whole Buddhist world. That is why we decided to show him the relic,” Venerable Upatissa told Catholic News Service during an interview at his residence complex at Makola, 10

Ven Banagala Upatissa, president of the Maha Bodhi Society of Sri Lanka, poses Jan. 14 outside his residence in Makola, just outside Colombo, Sri Lanka. He said Francis' Jan. 14 unscheduled visit to his temple was a historic gesture. (CNS photo/Anto Akkara)

Ven Banagala Upatissa, president of the Maha Bodhi Society of Sri Lanka, poses Jan. 14 outside his residence in Makola, just outside Colombo, Sri Lanka. He said Francis’ Jan. 14 unscheduled visit to his temple was a historic gesture. (CNS photo/Anto Akkara)

miles outside of Colombo.

The Maha Bodhi temple is known for the relics of the two disciples of Lord Buddha — Arhat Sariputta and Moggallana — brought from the Buddhist holy land of Sanchi, India, in 1952.

The relics, Venerable Upatissa pointed out, are taken out from the special enclosure only once a year, for Buddha’s birthday in May, for public veneration.

“We broke the tradition to honor the pope,” said Venerable Upatissa, adding that the monks had about 35 minutes’ notice that the pope would visit.

The unprecedented gesture, he said, could evoke negative reactions from the Buddhists, he said, then added, “but I am not worried.”

“People are divided into different groups because of religion. In the 21st century, religious leaders have to play a positive role to unite (their) communities instead of dividing,” said the monk, in whose room is displayed prominently a picture of a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.

“We have to spread the message of harmony and respecting each other. Then only there be peace in the society,” he asserted.

He said he hoped Pope Francis’ visit would lead to greater interaction between the two communities. In Sri Lanka, two-thirds of the 21 million people are Buddhist, while Christians account for over 7 percent.

On the way to the airport Jan. 15 for a flight to the Philippines, Pope Francis made a brief stop at the Benedict XVI Cultural Institute in Bolawana, outside of Colombo, and blessed the chapel in the middle of the sprawling complex. Top defense officials then led him to pose for a photo with more than 100 uniformed military and Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo.

Venerable Gnanabassi, who heads the Jaya Sudarshana Buddhist temple near the center, attended the ceremony.

“The Buddhists are very happy to receive the pope. We have good relations with the Christians,” he told CNS.

By Anto Akkara

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‘Christian discipleship’ motivated Rev. Martin Luther King

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GARY, Ind. — For young Jaymee Dixon, the tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Holy Angels Cathedral “means a lot. It feels great to be a black person doing something.”

Dixon, 15, is a member of the Wirt-Emerson Concert Choir that performed at the eighth annual King tribute at the cathedral Jan. 11. The high school student said black history today is loaded with stories of young black people dying.

The cathedral event was held in observance of Rev. King’s birthday, Jan. 15. The federal holiday marking his birthday this year is Jan. 19.

Joyce Gillie Cruse, an adjunct professor at Xavier University and Loyola University New Orleans, gives the keynote address at the eighth annual tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary, Ind., Jan. 11. (CNS photo/Anthony D. Alonzo, Northwest Indiana Catholic)

Joyce Gillie Cruse, an adjunct professor at Xavier University and Loyola University New Orleans, gives the keynote address at the eighth annual tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary, Ind., Jan. 11. (CNS photo/Anthony D. Alonzo, Northwest Indiana Catholic)

Joyce F. Gillie Cruse, guest speaker at the tribute, addressed those deaths, some of which have become household names, including Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri.

Noting how Rev. King’s fight for all races and against a system that promotes racism and racial divide, Gillie Cruse said Rev. King’s “vision is still in the process of coming true” decades after the civil rights leader was slain in 1968.

Recalling the recent deaths of young black males, Gillie Cruse said, “There is something wrong in this country.”

While many in this country have blamed police actions for these deaths, Gillie Cruse said there are other issues to be addressed, issues that “make black males an endangered species.”

These issues, Gillie Cruse said, include a low percentage of black voters, black teen homelessness, failing school systems, high crime rates, and unemployment or jobs that do not pay a living wage. Also, she said, only 26 percent of African-Americans get married.

“We have some serious issues, and it’s not just the police,” Gillie Cruse said.

An adjunct professor at Xavier University and Loyola University in New Orleans, Gillie Cruse previously served in the Diocese of Gary, working with Gary cluster parishes on adult faith formation and evangelization.

“We need to do something,” she said. “What are we going to do for our children, to help them see a good future? We must re-assess the balance of our society and think out of the box.”

Gillie Cruse suggested opening 24-hour community youth centers, keeping schools open at night, having leaders who address these issues, and church members allotting 10 percent of their tithe to promote children’s programming, including money for college.

In short, Gillie Cruse said, “Do more than hear a speaker.”

Gillie Cruse encouraged her audience to “meet somewhere” to discuss challenges in society. “Do what you can to address these issues.”

The annual King tribute included several selections performed by the Wirt-Emerson Concert Choir, comments from local representatives, and orator Troy Patterson Thomas’ rendition of Rev. King’s iconic “I have a dream” speech.

Father Mick Kopil, rector of Holy Angels Cathedral, recalled the words of Blessed Paul VI, who said there could be no peace without justice. The Sunday afternoon tribute, Father Kopil said, honors the memory of a man “who worked among us for peace and justice.”

Father Charles Mosley, pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Hammond, noted a recent interview with civil rights leader Andrew Young, who said that Rev. King’s mission was not so much about changing the world as it was about changing a reality “of how African-Americans are seen.’

Citing low black voter turnout in the last election, Father Mosley said, “We need to change our reality, so we can move forward.” Instead of talking about racism or black lives lost at next year’s King tribute, the Hammond pastor said people should discuss their accomplishments and additional work to be done.

Father Mosley prayed for “new hope, new light” to help achieve Rev. King’s vision. “Bless us, guide us, help us become all you want us to be, so we can give glory to your name.”

In a Jan. 14 column, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput wrote that the annual King observance is much more than a celebration of the civil rights leader’s service on behalf of the nation’s black community and other ethnic minorities. It’s also, he said, “a celebration of the power of religious faith working through believers who open themselves selflessly to that which God calls them to do in the world.”

“More than 50 years have passed since Martin Luther King Jr. stepped into America’s racial divide of the 1950s and 1960s. Although that divide has eased in some important ways, recent events show that much remains to be done,” the archbishop said in his column, posted on CatholicPhilly.com, the Philadelphia archdiocesan news website.

This year’s King observance “comes at a key moment,” he continued. “We should take advantage of it by reflecting on why King’s efforts to fight racial injustice bore such good fruit, and what his witness means for the United States today.

“It’s a moment for those of us who are Christians to re-examine our own lives in light of the Gospel, and to ground ourselves again in the same word of God that gave Martin Luther King the courage and perseverance to seek healing where sin had wrought racial conflict.”

In today’s secular society, “people can too easily forget” that Rev. King’s pursuit of justice for minorities “was fundamentally Christian,” Archbishop Chaput said. “The inspiration for his activism came not from a devotion to any political party or even set of public policy solutions, but rather from his understanding of Christian discipleship.”

He urged that celebrating the King holiday not only pay tribute to Rev. King’s “great service” but also be a reminder of the power of religious faith and the selfless acts that God calls all to undertake, “even when it involves suffering, difficulty and sacrifice.”

— By Steve Euvino

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Viewpoint: Protecting the unborn in a ‘throwaway culture’

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What a sight!

Over 25 times from the top of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., I have seen a sea of people marching to proclaim the dignity of unborn human life, and how death-dealing abortion sends the unholy message that some human beings are disposable.

As I write, I plan to march with and view that sea of people once again, during the 42nd annual “March for Life” on Jan. 22.   It’s always a moral and spiritual shot-in-the-arm for me.

A man holds signs and prays during the 2012 March for Life rally in Washington. Pro-life groups from across the U.S. will converge on the National Mall in January when the March for Life returns to Washington for the 42nd annual rally protesting abortion.(CNS photo/Bob Roller)

A man holds signs and prays during the 2012 March for Life rally in Washington. Pro-life groups from across the U.S. will converge on the National Mall in January when the March for Life returns to Washington for the 42nd annual rally protesting abortion.(CNS photo/Bob Roller)

But good as they are, the Washington “March for Life” and the “Walk for Life West Coast” in San Francisco (on Jan. 24), as well as dozens of similar events at states throughout the U.S., are simply not enough.

While progress has been made to lessen the number of abortions, nonetheless, according to the National Right to Life Committee approximately 1 million unborn brothers and sisters are brutally dismembered by abortion each year.

And globally, according to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, over 40 million unborn babies are killed annually by abortion.

Throughout the year believers in the God of life need to pray, educate, peacefully protest, donate and lobby on behalf of the unborn. They can’t do it for themselves.

Therefore, please email and call your two U.S. senators (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) urging them to cosponsor and actively support the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” which would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of unborn life.

There is solid medical evidence that unborn babies feel pain by at least 20 weeks after fertilization (www.nrlc.org/abortion/fetalpain). And abortion is brutally painful.

According to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the abortion technique known as “dilation and evacuation,” used to abort unborn children up to 24 weeks, uses forceps with sharp metal jaws to grasp parts of the developing baby, which are then twisted and torn away.

 

Another abortion technique after 16 weeks of pregnancy known as “saline amniocentesis,” inserts a needle through the mother’s abdomen and withdraws a cup of amniotic fluid and replaces it with a powerful salt solution.

According to the NRLC, the baby swallows the salt solution and is poisoned. The chemical solution also causes painful burning and deterioration of the baby’s skin (www.nrlc.org/abortion/medicalfacts/techniques).

In a Sept. 20, 2013 address to a gathering of Catholic gynecologists, Pope Francis affirmed the sacredness of unborn human life, and connected it to the work of social justice.

He said, “In all its phases and at every age, human life is always sacred and always of quality.”

The Holy Father said abortion is a product of a “widespread mentality of profit, the throwaway culture, which today enslaves the hearts and intelligences of so many.”

This mindset he added “requires eliminating human beings, especially if physically or socially weaker. Our answer to this mentality is a decisive and unhesitant ‘yes’ to life.”

Taking a consistent ethic of life position, the pope linked together unborn babies, the aged and the poor as among the most vulnerable human beings whom Christians are called to love.

“Things have a price and are saleable, but persons have a dignity, they are worth more than things and they have no price. Because of this, attention to human life in its totality has become in recent times a real and proper priority of the Magisterium of the Church, particularly for life which is largely defenseless, namely, that of the disabled, the sick, the unborn, children, the elderly. …

“They cannot be discarded.”

Tony Magliano, a syndicated social justice and peace columnist, lives in the Diocese of Wilmington.

 

 

 

 

 

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