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14 schools being closed or merged by Chicago archdiocese

October 30th, 2014 Posted in National News Tags: , ,

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CHICAGO — In a major restructuring, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced Oct. 29 that 14 elementary schools would be closed or merged at the end of the 2014-2015 academic year.

“This restructuring is the result of our ongoing efforts to strengthen and support sustainable Catholic schools over the long term,” said Thomas McGrath, chief operating officer for Catholic schools. “Although difficult in the immediate term, we know taking these steps will increase access for families and students to excellent Catholic school education, now and in the future.”

The closings and reconfigurations affect approximately 1,280 elementary students and 229 staff.

In an open letter about school finances published in the Catholic New World, Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper, Cardinal Francis E. George wrote that aid to schools increased significantly in recent years, reaching more than $23 million in 2012. That level decreased with budget cuts but it still totaled $18 million in the fiscal year 2014 just ended.

“This level is higher than the archdiocese can afford and still remain financially healthy and has contributed to unsustainable operating deficits in the archdiocesan budget. These deficits stem from our ongoing operations and do not include expenses related to misconduct settlements,” Cardinal George wrote.

Parish contributions and archdiocesan assets have funded school operating costs to the tune of approximately $165 million over the past five years. The average cost of tuition in Catholic schools is $4,500 per student and in many schools the majority of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

In May, officials in the Office of Catholic Schools met with at-risk schools with the goal of improvement by fall. The criteria to determine a school’s sustainability and potential for reconfiguration included: total archdiocesan aid of more than $300,000 annually; and/or total enrollment lower than 225 students; and/or total archdiocesan aid per student greater than $1,000 annually.

“Even with new scholarships, many of these schools were not able to grow in student numbers,” the cardinal wrote. “Supporting many low-enrollment schools, particularly those with demographic challenges, spreads our scarce resources very thin and limits our ability to invest dollars in strengthening viable school offerings for our students.”

Despite the increased costs of education and decreased resources, ACT scores continue to climb each year and the archdiocese’s school system, the largest private system in the nation, has more Blue Ribbon Schools than any other system in the country, Cardinal George wrote.

“We provide this vital service to our community with no direct public funding, saving Cook and Lake counties an estimated $1.5 billion annually,” he wrote.

Cardinal George said he wanted to make this decision on schools before his retirement and that Archbishop Blase J. Cupich, who will be installed as his successor Nov. 18, had been made aware of the closings.

 

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Don’t be bad Christians, people may think atheism is better, pope says

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People in the crowd cheer as Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Oct. 29. The pope pleaded for the international community to take stronger coordinated steps to "annihilate" the Ebola virus. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

People in the crowd cheer as Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Oct. 29. The pope pleaded for the international community to take stronger coordinated steps to “annihilate” the Ebola virus. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The way Christians behave can either help and inspire others, or turn them away from ever following Jesus, Pope Francis said.

“How many times we’ve heard in our neighborhoods, ‘Oh that person over there always goes to church, but he badmouths everyone, skins them alive.’ What a bad example to badmouth other people. This is not Christian,” the pope said at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 29.

Causing scandal and being a bad example turn people off, making them think, “Hey, if that is being Christian, I’ll be an atheist.’ That’s because our witness is what makes people see what it is to be a Christian,” he said.

The pope continued a series of talks on the nature of the Catholic Church, focusing on the visible and spiritual reality of the church.

The visible church can be seen in its many parishes, Christian communities and organizations as well as in its people, like the pope, priests and religious men and women all over the world, he said.

But the church, the body of Jesus, is also bigger than that because it is made up of the countless men and women who are baptized and “who believe, hope and love,” as well as offer “relief, comfort and peace” in the Lord’s name, the pope said.

“The visible reality of the church is not measureable, it cannot be known in its entirety,” he said, because of all the hidden works of charity and unsung heroic deeds, including within families with spouses being faithful to one another, working hard to raise their children in the faith or with the sick who offer up their suffering to God.

“You can’t measure this. It’s so great, so great,” he said.

But the church also has a spiritual dimension, the pope said. And the only way to understand how the visible and the spiritual work together in the church is to look to Christ, who was both human and divine.

Just as Christ’s humanity served his divine mission of redemption and salvation, the church too must use its visible dimensions to serve the spiritual, he said.

The visible sacraments and the visible witness to Christ through serving others are how the church proclaims and brings God’s love to everyone, he said.

“The church is called every day to be close to every person, beginning with the one who is poor, the one who suffers and who is marginalized, so as to continue to let everyone experience the compassionate and merciful gaze of Jesus,” he said.

“Christ is the model, the model of the church because the church is his body, and he is the model for all Christians, every one of us,” Pope Francis said. “By looking to Christ, you cannot go wrong.”

However, he said, people are “fragile” and limited. “We are all sinners, all of us,” he said, asking his audience to give a show of hands of those who believe themselves free of sin.

“Let’s see, how many hands? You can’t, because we are all” sinners, he said.

While sin and human weakness can create “scandal” and plenty of bad examples in the church, God also lets people grow in holiness, he said.

“Let us ask then for the gift of faith so we can understand how, despite our insufficiencies and our deficiencies, the Lord truly has made us instruments of grace and a visible sign of his love for all of humanity.

“Yes, we can become a source of scandal,” he said, “but we can also become a source of witness, to be witnesses of what Jesus wants us to do by what we say with our life.”

 

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‘Eight Great Dates’ brings romantic dinners to MBS School cafeteria

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For The Dialog

 

OCEAN PINES, Md. — When Shawna McCormick learned about a new program for married couples called “Eight Great Dates” sponsored by St. John Neumann Parish, she decided it would be good for her and her husband.

She and her husband are both involved in religious education at the parish and she wanted to see the new ministry succeed. “I figured the best way to do that was to participate.” In addition, “we knew we were getting a great dinner” catered by DeNovo’s Trattoria. Read more »

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Bishop honors 83 with Medal of Merit

October 30th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , ,

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Eighty-three people were awarded the diocesan Medal of Merit at a ceremony on Oct. 26 at St. John the Beloved Church in Wilmington. Bishop Malooly congratulated the recipients, who were nominated by their pastors for their dedication and service to their parishes. Each parish may nominate an individual or couple — more than one if the parish has a mission church.

• • •

2014 Diocesan Merit Award Recipients

 

Margaret Consiglio, Cathedral of St. Peter; Andrea Starr, Christ Our King; Terri Yackley, Church of the Good

David and Rose Greytak from Our Mother of Sorrows Parish receive the Medal of Merit from Bishop Malooly at the Diocesan Merit Awards at St. John the Beloved, Sunday, October 26, 2014. wwwDonBlakePhotography.com ttp://tiny.cc/ld2jox

 www.DonBlakePhotography.com
More photos: ftp://tiny.cc/ld2jox

Shepherd; Sister Margaret Cunniffe, OSF, Church of the Holy Child; Rita Nally, Corpus Christi; James Baaden, Holy Cross; Vivian Duffy, Holy Family; Nancy Clair, Holy Name of Jesus; Paul & Donna Santoni, Holy Savior Mission. Joseph Kendra, Holy Spirit. James & Sharon Levadnuk, Holy Redeemer Mission; Timothy Gallagher, Holy Rosary; Robert Suppe, Immaculate Conception, Elkton; Clyde Hinebaugh, Immaculate Conception, Marydel; Rosemary Boughton, Immaculate Heart of Mary;

Elsa Rodriguez-Trejo, Mary Mother of Peace Mission; Anthony Marchegiani, Our Lady of Fatima; Edward Hessler, Our Lady of Good Counsel. Ricardo Jimenez, Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission; Robert Gay, Our Lady of Lourdes; David & Rose Greytak, Our Mother of Sorrows; John Ward, Parish of the Resurrection; Barbara Kelly, Sacred Heart, Chestertown;

Josephine Jugler, St. Agnes Mission; Robert Howard, St. Andrew Mission; Lois Rubinsohn, St. Ann, Bethany Beach; Paul Smith, St. Ann, Wilmington. Jean Scalessa, St. Anthony of Padua; Kenneth & Jill King, St. Benedict; Michael & Caroline Gumrot, St. Bernadette Mission; Nancy Ludlam, St. Catherine of Siena; Joseph Zimmerman, St. Christopher; Connie Benko, St. Edmond; Alice Betley, Marie Duzynski, St. Elizabeth, Wilmington; Deacon William Nickum, St. Elizabeth Mission, Denton. Lupita Olivares, St. Elizabeth Mission, Westover;

Harry & Evelyn Olszweski, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton; Richard & Sandra Kadera, St. Francis de Sales; Izabela Toner, St. Hedwig; Robert Conte, St. Helena; Thomas & Grace Greenlee, St. John the Apostle; Thomas Seelig, St. John the Beloved; Donald Hudgins Sr., Marie Thomas, St. John/Holy Angels; Theodore & Joyce Redman, St. John Mission, Rock Hall. Mark Record, St. John Neumann; Karen Headley, St. Joseph, Middletown; Eugene M. Julian, St. Joseph on the Brandywine; Denise Scales, St. Joseph, Wilmington; Frank & Eileen Walder, St. Jude the Apostle; Patricia D’Annunzio, St. Jude Mission; Joanne Bishop, St. Luke; Michael Robinson, St. Margaret of Scotland; Valerie Townsend, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception. Richard Tabinowski, St. Mary of the Assumption;

Madeline Rice, St. Mary Magdalen; Robert Hammerton, St. Mary Refuge of Sinners; Edward Airley Sr., St. Mary Star of the Sea, Church Creek; Patricia McArdle, St. Mary Star of the Sea, Ocean City; Jack Witzman, St. Matthew; Barbara DeBastiani, St. Michael the Archangel; Richard Bockrath, St. Patrick; Linda Michel, St. Paul, Delaware City. Marie Negron, St. Paul, Wilmington; Carol Miller, Ss. Peter & Paul; Jose Hector Garcia, Ss. Peter & Paul Hispanic Community; Vincent Gambacorta, St. Peter the Apostle; Joseph & Grace Wagner, St. Polycarp; Joan Lupinetti (posthumously), St. Teresa of Avila Mission; James King, St. Thomas the Apostle; Joyce Tannian, St. Thomas More Oratory.

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Photo of the week: Remembering Sandy

October 30th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized

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A girl in a candlelit vigil at the Far Rockaway Community Church of the Nazarene Oct. 29 to mark the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy making landfall in New York. (CNS photo/Lucas Jackson,

A girl in a candlelit vigil at the Far Rockaway Community Church of the Nazarene Oct. 29 to mark the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy making landfall in New York. (CNS photo/Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

A girl in a candlelit vigil at the Far Rockaway Community Church of the Nazarene Oct. 29 to mark the second anniversary of Hurricane Sandy making landfall in New York. (CNS photo/Lucas Jackson, Reuters)

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Brighter lights, cooler air protecting Sistine Chapel from visiting crowds

October 30th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , , , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is not promising visitors to the Sistine Chapel more elbow room, but it is guaranteeing a cooler experience.

The Sistine Chapel is illuminated with new LED lighting at the Vatican Oct. 29. A new lighting system was donated by Osram, a German lighting company. A new air conditioning system also was donated and installed by the U.S.-based Carrier company. The chapel now is cooler and better lit with the new systems, which will help preserve Michelangelo Buonarroti's masterpiece.(CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Sistine Chapel is illuminated with new LED lighting at the Vatican Oct. 29. A new lighting system was donated by Osram, a German lighting company. A new air conditioning system also was donated and installed by the U.S.-based Carrier company. The chapel now is cooler and better lit with the new systems, which will help preserve Michelangelo Buonarroti’s masterpiece. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Marking the year of the 450th anniversary of Michelangelo Buonarroti’s death, the Vatican Museums hope the brand new air conditioning system and the 7,000 new LED lights will preserve the Renaissance artist’s masterpiece for generations to come.

Television cameras, news photographers and journalists were invited to the chapel Oct. 29 for a “before and after” experience. Initially, they viewed the chapel with the lighting installed 20 years ago after the cleaning and restoration of Michelangelo’s ceiling frescoes and his massive wall mural, “The Last Judgment.” Then the brighter, cooler LED lights were turned on.

Even with a crowd in the chapel, the room is designed to stay cooler than ever, never going above 77 degrees Fahrenheit, thanks to a new system installed by the U.S.-based Carrier company and adjusted over the past three years with input from the Vatican Museums’ conservation team and its diagnostic and scientific research laboratory.

Antonio Paolucci, museums director, said his team believed the best way to honor Michelangelo was to highlight and preserve the culmination of his life’s work, something which was threatened by the work’s popularity.

When the old lighting and air filtering and conditioning systems were installed two decades ago, he said, the annual number of visitors to the museums and chapel was under 2 million. Today it hosts almost 6 million visitors a year, with more than 20,000 people a day entering during the peak pilgrim and tourist season.

The popularity “required a radical intervention to guarantee air circulation, keep dust and pollutants down, control the temperature and humidity and keep the carbon dioxide at an acceptable level,” Paolucci said.

Carrier and Osram, a German lighting company, donated the new systems, which have an estimated value of about $3.8 million.

 

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Historians explore Shakespeare’s Catholic sympathies

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Catholic News Service

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, England — Inside this town’s recently refurbished Royal Shakespeare Theater, a massed audience, banked on three floors, gazes attentively out over a wide, brightly lit stage.

“Necessity will make us all forsworn. Three thousand times within this three years’ space; for every man with his affects is born, not by might master’d, but by special grace,” recited the actor playing Berowne in “Love’s Labor’s Lost.”

The Vatican Post Office will celebrate the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare with a stamp featuring art work by Czech artist Marina Richterova. The stamp will go on sale at the Vatican Nov. 21. New historical research suggests that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic at a time when the faith faced persecution in England. (CNS photo/courtesy Vatican Philatelic and Numismatic Office)

The Vatican Post Office will celebrate the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare with a stamp featuring art work by Czech artist Marina Richterova. The stamp will go on sale at the Vatican Nov. 21. New historical research suggests that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic at a time when the faith faced persecution in England. (CNS photo/courtesy Vatican Philatelic and Numismatic Office)

When the latest production of William Shakespeare’s beloved play opened recently, set in an English mansion before World War I, it attempted to draw new meaning from the Bard’s eternal lines.

A similar task is being pursued by historians and researchers amid claims that Shakespeare was a secret Catholic at a time when the faith faced savage persecution.

“The probability that Shakespeare was a hidden Catholic helps explain the generally recognized enigma behind his work,” said Jesuit Father Peter Milward, an authority on the playwright.

“The Catholic elements visible everywhere in his 37 plays suggest he can be viewed as a champion of medieval Christendom, looking back with nostalgia to England’s past Catholic traditions,” Father Milward told Catholic News Service.

Views of Shakespeare until recently have been dominated by an “old guard” of literary scholars, who have portrayed him as conforming with England’s Protestant establishment, Father Milward said.

Although his vast output explored human emotions and dilemmas, it was held to be essentially artistic, as befitted England’s golden age under Queen Elizabeth I. However, new historical evidence has produced a “turning of the tide,” the Jesuit said.

Shakespeare was most prolific from 1589 to 1613 as the Reformation still was being imposed, causing creative people to avoid drawing attention to their religious beliefs. Some experts now think Shakespeare was deeply religious and that far from going along with England’s official Protestant ideology, the playwright was deeply attached to the Catholic devotions suppressed a generation before.

“Shakespeare rose above the disputes of his day and never descended to sectarian squabbles. But by hiding theological messages in his secular language, he invited his listeners to ponder the heritage they’d lost,” said Claire Asquith, author of “Shadowplay: the Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare.”

“Catholic idioms and images are present throughout his work, in a forgotten world of saints and holy places. It seems we’ve been deaf to this and missed much of Shakespeare’s subtlety as a result,” Asquith told CNS.

Generations of English-speaking children, Asquith argued, were taught an orthodox view of the 16th century, in which a corrupt Catholic church was rightly taken over and reformed by King Henry VIII, allowing an enlightened Protestant-led compromise to be established by Queen Elizabeth.

The interpretation has been challenged in recent years by Catholic historians, who have cited evidence that the destruction of the “old religion,” far from reflecting popular demands, was motivated by top-down political expediency.

Such scholars have depicted Queen Elizabeth as a harsher figure. Some 35,000 people died in prison or on the scaffold during her 45-year reign, and Catholics, loyal to the old faith, were prime targets for repression.

The official hostility was understandable. The queen was declared excommunicated and deposed by Pope Pius V in 1571, and an invasion force, the Spanish Armada, launched with Rome’s blessing 17 years later.

But for ordinary Catholics conditions became intolerable as all non-conforming religious life was driven underground. For a writer such as Shakespeare it would have been dangerous to overtly display Catholic sympathies. Working them into his plays necessitated subtlety and skill.

Clues to Shakespeare’s apparent Catholic loyalty nevertheless have been pieced together.

It is known that his father, John Shakespeare, a Stratford town councilor, ran into trouble because of his Catholic preferences. The surrounding county, Warwickshire, was linked to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Catholic conspirators attempted to blow up King James I and his parliament in London.

The playwright’s eldest daughter, Susanna Hall, is believed to have boycotted Protestant services, while his mother’s family, the Ardens, were related to St. Robert Southwell, a Jesuit priest who was executed in 1595. Historians believe his poetry influenced the writing of “Macbeth” and “Titus Andronicus.”

London’s South Bank, where Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was situated, was a focus for underground Catholic life. In 1613, three years before his death, the playwright bought a large house in Blackfriars which was used for covert Catholic gatherings.

Although Shakespeare lies buried with his estranged wife, Anne Hathaway, in Stratford’s Anglican church, several witnesses claimed he received Catholic last rites on his deathbed.

Father Milward said coded religious references are widespread in Shakespeare’s work. Citing the fact that Shakespeare’s comedies are set in Catholic Italy, while his ideal heroines show a fullness of grace reminiscent of Catholic notions of the Virgin Mary; the lovers’ go-between in several plays, including “Romeo and Juliet,” is a Franciscan friar who is revered as holy.

Asquith agreed, saying characters such as Malvolio, the mordant puritan in “Twelfth Night,” and the king’s long-lost daughter, Perdita, in “The Winter’s Tale,” personify the religious mentalities of Shakespeare’s time. The plays also are saturated with allusions to Catholic suffering, and can be seen as collective plea for tolerance and reconciliation, she said.

When Asquith’s book was published in 2005, it was dismissed by David Womersley, professor of English literature at Oxford University, as “a tide of wild hypothesis, strained reading and reductive historicism.”

Diarmaid Macculoch, a lecturer on church history at Oxford, has doubts too. When Shakespeare quoted the Bible, he used official Protestant translations, he said.

“Of course, there was some nostalgia for the old religion, and it’s natural Catholics should claim this great cultural icon for themselves,” Macculoch told CNS.

“But Shakespeare’s Catholic family associations prove nothing about his own outlook. It’s wrong to assume his work reflects some popular groundswell in favor of Catholicism.”

While the debate continues, the contrasting views serve as a reminder of Shakespeare’s richness as a writer with a profound grasp of life’s tragic and comic complexities.

“Until precise documentary proof emerges, it’s unlikely there’ll be any consensus among scholars,” said Father Milward, whose books include “The Catholicism of Shakespeare’s Plays” and “Shakespeare the Papist.”

“But Shakespeare has influenced generations of English speakers. If he really was a hidden Catholic, we’ll clearly need to revise our understanding of this crucial period.”

 

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Attacked by all sides, family needs church for help, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The family is under attack now more than ever because of today’s culture of division that wants to break from and be free of all everlasting bonds and forms of solidarity, Pope Francis said.

“Talking about problems of the family, for example, bonds are being destroyed, instead of created. Why? Because we are living in a culture of the provisional, of conflict, of the inability to make alliances,” he said.

Pope Francis greets a child as he arrives to lead a special audience for members of the Schoenstatt religious movement at the Vatican Oct. 25. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

Pope Francis greets a child as he arrives to lead a special audience for members of the Schonstatt religious movement at the Vatican Oct. 25. (CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters)

What is needed is a church and Christians who are willing to “waste time” on people, not just principles, and accompany face-to-face those needing to discover the truth in Jesus Christ, he said.

The pope’s comments came during a 90-minute encounter with about 8,000 lay members of the international Schonstatt movement Oct. 25 in the Vatican audience hall. The movement, founded by the late German Father Joseph Kentenich, was celebrating its 100th anniversary.

Representatives asked the pope five questions, ranging from how to help strengthen families to his secret for maintaining a sense of hope and happiness in such a trouble-plagued world.

“I haven’t got the faintest idea,” he said with a smile.

Part of it comes from his personality and being a bit “impulsive,” which makes him a bit of a daredevil, he said. But that courage is also rooted in prayer and abandoning himself to God’s goodness, he added.

Knowing that God is always there, even “in moments of major sin,” gives him great confidence and faith, he said, in remarks that were entirely unscripted.

Something else that helps, he said, is perspective. Jesus Christ is and must always be at the center of everything, which means, oneself, one’s parish, the associations one belongs to, even the Roman Curia, cannot become the center of one’s life, he said.

“The truth is grasped better from the periphery,” from the outside looking in, he said. One striking example came to light in a recent conversation with a criminal defense lawyer who told him he often cries with the prisoners he visits in jail.

“He sees the world of law, of what he has to judge as a criminal lawyer, but also from the wounds that he finds there,” which allows him to see the actual situation better, the pope said.

“Therefore, I would say a healthy recklessness, that is, letting God do things; praying and abandoning oneself; courage and patience; and going to the peripheries. I don’t know if this is my secret, but it is what comes to mind,” he said.

In response to a question about how to help families, Pope Francis said he believed “the Christian family, the family, marriage have never been attacked as much as they are right now.”

The family is “beaten and the family is bastardized” and debased, since almost anything is being called a family, he said.

The family faces a crisis “because it is being bludgeoned by all sides, leaving it very wounded,” he said. There is no other choice than to go to the family’s aid and give them personal help, he said.

“We can give a nice speech, declare principles. Of course we need to do this, with clear ideas” and statements saying that unions that do not reflect God’s plan of a permanent union between a man and a woman are forms of “an association, not a marriage.”

However, people must also be accompanied “and this also means wasting time. The greatest master of wasting time is Jesus. He wasted time accompanying, to help consciences mature, to heal the wounds, to teach,” the pope said.

He said the sacrament of matrimony is becoming just a ceremony or social event for some people, who do not see its sacramental nature as a union with God. Part of the problem is a lack of formation for engaged couples and “this is a sin of omission on our part,” he said.

But there also is the problem of a culture that is shortsighted, where everything is temporary or “provisional,” he said, and “forever has been forgotten.”

He said he sees the same thing even in his own family with couples living together “part time: Monday through Friday with my girlfriend and Friday to Sunday with my family. They are new forms, totally destructive and limiting of the greatness of the love of marriage.”

When asked about the best way to share the faith with others, the pope said going out into the world and living as true witnesses of Christ and his message is the only way.

“There is no other way. To live in a way that others become interested and ask, ‘Why?’ This is witness,” he said.

Missionaries don’t save people; they are “transmitters of someone that saves us,” which is possible only if people have made Jesus a full part and the heart of their lives.

Everyone, however, is weak, makes mistakes, has problems “and we don’t always give a good witness; but the ability to become humble inside, to ask for forgiveness when our witness is not what it should be,” this is part of being good Christians.

The church also needs to “go out,” he said, “to help, to share, to let people see what we do and how we do it.”

If a lay association or the church itself doesn’t go out, “it is a church of snobs,” and instead of looking for people and helping them, attracting them to Christ, “they spend time combing their doll’s hair, in little groups; they are ‘spiritual hairdressers.’ This is not good.”

“A community that goes out makes mistakes. Mistakes are made, but it is so wonderful to ask forgiveness when one makes a mistake,” he said. “Do not be afraid!”

 

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Up in the sky, it’s a sad ‘Birdman’ on a queasy journey

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Catholic News Service

Talky, pretentious and filled with existential angst when the characters aren’t preoccupied with spitting curses, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is visually dazzling.

Michael Keaton stars in a scene from the movie "Birdman." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox)

Michael Keaton stars in a scene from the movie “Birdman.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. (CNS photo/Atsushi Nishijima, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox)

Morally, though, it’s dead weight.

This black comedy reflects on the nature of fame, specifically, the warping power of movie fame gained by playing big-budget comic-book heroes. It occasionally circles this theme, but provides no resolution. Gloom, anxiety and complete self-absorption supplant responsible behavior, with no evident consequences.

Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an actor who has achieved worldwide fame playing an action hero called Birdman in a series of films. This, of course, parallels Keaton’s own experience as the star of two Batman pictures released in the late 1980s and early ’90s. We are constantly reminded that Thomson’s turn as Birdman represented a soul-deadening artistic sellout.

With much of his money now drained away, Thomson is attempting to redefine himself as a serious actor. He has adapted, and is directing and starring in, a work by short-story writer Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” As the movie opens, the show is in previews on Broadway.

The preview performances mostly go wrong, launching a series of in-jokes for theater buffs. Things go from bad to worse when, after a rehearsal mishap, Thomson hires intense performer Mike (Edward Norton), who undermines him at every opportunity.

Riggan’s Birdman alter ego haunts him in voiceovers, taunting him about his earlier celebrity and deriding his effort to become a grounded actor. That Riggan’s movie powers derived entirely from special effects never appears in these discussions.

Riggan understands so little about Carver’s story that he ends the play with an on-stage gun suicide he wrote himself. This delights the uncaring, whooping audiences in need of spectacle, while guaranteeing he’ll get a hostile review from The New York Times.

Director Alejandro G. Inarritu and his co-writers, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo, fill most of the film with bitter speeches. Riggan’s daughter and assistant Sam (Emma Stone) gets to deliver one of the strongest of them: “You’re doing this because, like the rest of us, you’re scared you don’t matter! And guess what — you don’t matter! Get used to it!”

Riggan has his supportive girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) in the cast and sometimes receives terse counseling from producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis). But most of his best advice comes from his ex-wife, Sylvia (Amy Ryan), who consoles him with, “It’s what you always do. You mistake love for admiration.”

One’s reaction to the movie becomes, then, strictly a matter of taste. If you savor vinegar, as in, bucket after bucket of it, you’ll have little trouble enduring this. Otherwise, it’s a sad, bilious journey.

The film contains fleeting rear nudity, much sexual humor, including a crude sight gag, a same-sex kiss, frequent profanity and pervasive crude and crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

 

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Archmere streaks past Concord in volleyball regular-season finale

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Dialog reporter

 

CLAYMONT — Archmere’s volleyball team ended its regular season Monday night by welcoming Concord to the Moglia Fieldhouse, and the Auks showed they are ready for the state tournament with a convincing 3-0 sweep of the Raiders.

Set scores were 25-11, 25-11 and 25-14. The Auks finished the regular season with an 11-4 record, winning seven of their last nine matches since the return of senior hitter Justine Pantaleo, who missed the first six matches because of a high ankle sprain. The only losses during that span were to the state’s top two teams, Charter and Delaware Military Academy. Read more »

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