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Pope Francis defines ‘true fasting’ on this first Friday of Lent

March 7th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , , ,


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis criticized those who practice fasting as a mere ritual, rather than as a sacrifice representative of a religion of love.

The pope made his remarks March 7, the first Friday of Lent, in his homily at morning Mass in the Vatican guesthouse, where he lives.

People receive food rations at a community soup kitchen in a Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb. 13. Pope Francis says the best way of fasting is caring for the needy. (CNS photo/Enrique Marcarian, Reuters)

“These hypocritical people are good persons,” he said, referring to the Pharisees who criticized Jesus and his followers for not fasting as required by Jewish law. “They do all they should do. They seem good. But they are ethicists without goodness because they have lost the sense of belonging to a people.”

True fasting entails sharing goods with the needy, Pope Francis said, according to a report by Vatican Radio.

“This is the charity or fasting that our Lord wants,” he said. “This is the mystery of the body and blood of Christ. It means sharing our bread with the hungry, taking care of the sick, the elderly, those who can’t give us anything in return: This is not being ashamed of the flesh.”

The pope called on Christians to follow the example of the good Samaritan, drawing close to the beneficiaries of their charity in an act of true fraternity.

“When I give alms, do I look into the eyes of my brother, my sister?” he asked. “Am I capable of giving a caress or a hug to the sick, the elderly, the children, or have I lost sight of the meaning of a caress?

“These hypocrites were unable to give a caress,” the pope said. “We will be judged by the way we behave toward this brother, this sister.”


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Bishop Malooly’s homily at Cathedral Mass on Ash Wednesday marking the start of 40 Days for Life


Jim Maucher of St. Paul Parish in Delaware City receives ashes from Bishop Malooly during Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington at noon. That morning, Bishop Malooly celebrated the 40 Days for Life Mass there.
(The Dialog/www.DonBlakePhotography.com)


See Bishop Malooly’s homily here:


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Research report: Pope’s popularity hasn’t boosted church attendance


Catholic News Service

Pope Francis’ popularity began immediately after his March 13, 2013, election when he walked onto the balcony and humbly greeted the crowd in St. Peter’s Square.

His appeal has been on a fast track ever since, causing many to speculate a possible “Francis effect” of increased numbers of Catholics going to church.

Students from the Gaming, Austria, campus of Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, cheer as Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 5. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Although there has been anecdotal evidence of a resurgence of interest in the church since the pope’s election, it may still be too early to see if this interest translates to new or returning members to the fold.

A Pew Research Center report released March 6, reiterates what most people likely realize: Pope Francis is immensely popular among U.S. Catholics, so much so that eight in 10 have a favorable view of him. But according to the poll’’s results, the pope’s popularity has not brought more people to Mass or the sacraments.

The polling, conducted Feb. 14-23 among 1,821 adults nationwide that included 351 Catholics, found no change in the number of Americans, 22 percent, who identify themselves as Catholic now and those who did prior to the election of Pope Francis. The data also found no change in self-reported rates of weekly Mass attendance among Catholics, which the report said remains at 40 percent.

The survey, “Catholics View Pope Francis as a Change for the Better,” also did not find evidence that Catholics are volunteering or going to confession more often now than in the previous year but it did find that seven in 10 U.S. Catholics see Pope Francis representing a major change in direction for the church. It also showed that during the past year 26 percent of Catholics have become “more excited” about their Catholic faith and 40 percent of Catholics have been praying more often.

The poll, conducted by landline and cellphones, has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.

The margin of error in this poll and others is one factor that makes it difficult to fully measure the “Francis effect,” according to Mark Gray, director of Catholic polls and a research associate at Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, or CARA.

He noted in a blog last December that although Pope Francis’ popularity could be bringing people back to church, it may be in smaller numbers than would cause a poll to fluctuate.

In the blog, he said, it’s “really too early to know anything more than anecdotes,” but he told Catholic News Service Feb. 27 that CARA will have more evidence to measure the pope’s impact on the pews once it receives the 2013 data on sacramental practice from the Official Catholic Directory this summer. This data will enable CARA to make comparisons with previous years without margins of error since the numbers are directly from church records of baptisms, marriages, and other sacraments and rites.

Some observers told CNS that the pope’s impact shouldn’t be measured in returning Catholics, but in the restored image of the Catholic Church since Pope Francis was elected and the number of Catholics who feel proud of their faith again. Others say the measurement of the pope’s impact will take at least another year, and might be more noticeable after the synod on the family this fall.

Eileen Burke-Sullivan, associate theology professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., said she has visited with Catholic lay leaders and deacons in recent parish presentations, where she has heard stories of adult children, inspired by the example of Pope Francis, wanting to come back to the church.

“I think there is a bounce right now,” but the key is what they will find when they return: “Will it be different, or the same old same old?” she told CNS March 4.

She said parishes can act on the momentum generated by the pope by following his example of consultation.

Burke-Sullivan, who holds the Barbara Reardon Heaney Endowed Chair in pastoral liturgical theology at Creighton, said parishes should consider taking on serious studies and prayerful reflections of what they want to do differently to attract people and not drive them away and also how they can be more of a “field hospital” after battle as Pope Francis has described the church.

But even as local parish leaders and pollsters try to figure out what the pope’s appeal means, church leaders don’t deny that they have seen a ripple effect from the pope’s example, which they say should ultimately point to God.

Bishop Rodolfo Wirz Kraemer of Maldonado, president of the Uruguayan bishops’ conference, told CNS there has not been an automatic or immediate increase in Mass attendance since the pope’s election. “There is a growth but it is a slow process.”

“What I have seen is a renewal … a greater interest of the people for the gospel, for the church … for Christ,” he added.

Bishop Guilherme Werlang of Ipameri, president of the Brazilian bishops’ commission for justice and peace, had a similar reaction.

“I think it’s too early to state that there has been an increase in participation. What we can say is that at this first moment of enthusiasm, there has been a greater number of people at Masses … but we want people to return to the church because of Christ not because of the pope.”


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Vatican experts OK reported miracle attributed to Archbishop Sheen


PEORIA, Ill. — A seven-member team of medical experts convoked by the Vatican reported there is no natural explanation for the survival of a child delivered stillborn and whose heart did not start beating until 61 minutes after his birth.

The survival of the child, James Fulton Engstrom, now 3 years old and developing normally, was credited by his parents to a miracle attributable to the intercession of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a Peoria diocesan priest who gained fame for his 1950s television show “Life Is Worth Living” and his 16 years at the helm of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen is pictured at a pulpit in an undated file photo. Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria, Ill., president of the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Foundation, said early March 6 he received word that the seven-member board of medical experts who advise the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes has unanimously approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Archbishop Sheen. (CNS file photo)

The medical experts’ report was announced March 6 in Peoria by the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Foundation, which is headed by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria.

“Today is a significant step in the cause for the beatification and canonization of our beloved Fulton Sheen,” Bishop Jenky said in a statement. “There are many more steps ahead and more prayers are needed. But today is a good reason to rejoice.”

James’ mother, Bonnie Engstrom, described what happened when she addressed a 2012 gathering of the Midwest region of the Catholic Press Association in Peoria.

When Engstrom was pregnant with James, a feeling came over her that “God wants this baby to exist,” she said. “Maybe he’s going to be the pope. We didn’t know, but we were shooting high.”

During delivery, what caused James to be stillborn was that his umbilical cord had knotted itself, cutting off his blood flow and oxygen supply. The more he progressed through the birth canal, the tighter the knot became. “He was born stillborn,” Engstrom said, remembering how “his arms flopped by his side” when she reached for him to hold him.

Others at the home birth did CPR and chest compressions for 20 minutes waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Engstrom said she had no pre-composed prayer asking for help from Archbishop Sheen. “I just kept repeating his name over and over in my head: Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen, Fulton Sheen,” she recounted. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

At the hospital, James was described as “PEA,” for “pulseless electrical activity.” Medics tried two injections of epinephrine. Neither worked. A nurse held one of James’ feet in an effort to give him some measure of comfort, and Engstrom said she remarked later, “It was so cold, it was so cold. It was like in the saying ‘cold and dead.’”

Engstrom remembered that a doctor in the emergency room said, “We’ll try for five more minutes, then call it,” meaning recording the time of death. “If he had known about the previous 40 minutes” of efforts to revive him before arriving at the hospital, she said, “he would have just called it.”

She added, “They were just about to call it when his heart started beating, 148 beats per minute, which is healthy for a newborn. And it never faltered.”

The case will next be reviewed by a board of theologians. With their approval, the case could move on to the cardinals and bishops who advise the pope on these matters. Finally, the miracle would be presented to Pope Francis, who would then officially affirm that God performed a miracle through the intercession of Archbishop Sheen. There is no timeline as to when these next steps might take place.

If the Engstrom case is authenticated as a miracle, Archbishop Sheen would be beatified, elevating his from “venerable” to “blessed.” A beatification ceremony could conceivably take place in Peoria, according to the foundation, which promotes his sainthood cause. In general, a second miracle would need to be authenticated for canonization.


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Calling teens who want to serve

March 6th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized, Youth Tags: ,


Pitcher and Basin registration is now open. There are three chances to serve others in this diocesan work camp for

Volunteers at 2013’s Pitcher and Basin program. (The Dialog)

high school students. There are homes to be painted, walls to be built, weeds to be pulled, fences to be mended. You are invited to serve as Jesus did. You are invited to make a difference in the lives of those who live down the road, around the corner, and next door. For more information, please visit www.cdowcym.org. Registration is first come, first served and spaces often fill quickly, so hurry.



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This Lent, consider a proverb each day from Scripture

February 27th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , , ,


As you may be noticing, many of my writings focus on Sacred Scripture. There are several reasons for this; one being this is where the focus of my study was directed and even more important the Bible is God’s Word to us. It reveals his story and directs our lives as his disciples.

For many years I have kept a quotation journal writing down thoughts and statements that guide me in my daily life and on my spiritual journey. I also discovered that God, in his infinite wisdom, provided me with a complete book that not only enhanced my journal but challenged me with thoughts and sayings that touched every area of my life.

This is the Book of Proverbs, one of the several biblical books known as Wisdom literature. I pray for the gift of wisdom on a daily basis, a much needed gift when you are the matriarch of a large family, and I believe that I am blessed to a limited degree with this gift, of course my age and white hair enhance this perception.

The second verse from Proverbs, “that men may appreciate wisdom and discipline,” stands out as I reflect on all the reading and praying I have done with this book over the years. I believe we can learn a greater appreciation for the discipline needed to attain wisdom. Proverbs offers a collection of thought- provoking statements that we can use as a guidebook into the hidden truths within the heart. I believe the first step in attempting to conform my life to being a disciple of Christ is to look within myself and identify and name those attitudes and sins that are a block to my relationship with God and others.

This is a very difficult thing to do since my natural inclination is to deny the negative within me and so it is easy to avoid situations and thoughts that will bring these to my attention. The Book of Proverbs provides an invaluable resource to aid in searching out these inner sins and allowing God to enter my consciousness and heal those parts within that are blocking His grace.

Although I prayed with sacred Scripture for many years, it was not until I began a comprehensive study of Scripture that I even noticed the wealth and beauty that is contained in the Book of Proverbs. Our professor told us to select one verse from Proverbs and carry this line around with us for an entire week. The verse I selected was Proverb 3:5 “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely. “

Wow, of all the verses available to choose, this one hit closest to home. Every day that week, I prayed this verse and listened as God guided me to new depths of understanding about how to trust in Him.  I felt as though I discovered a treasure hidden deep within a box containing many other gifts. Over the years I continue to choose a proverb a week and I continue to look forward to discovering many layers of truth that I know are waiting for me.

How familiar are you with the book of Proverbs or any of the other books of wisdom literature contained in the Hebrew Scriptures? Many people shy away from this part of the Bible preferring the Gospels and letters. This Lent, and any day of the year, I encourage you to discover the beauty of these ancient words of God.

Ebner, a spiritual director, is a member of St. Jude the Apostle Parish, in Lewes.


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Job description for new bishops: Pope Francis seeking prayerful evangelists, not CEOs

February 27th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said bishops should act not like ambitious corporate executives, but humble evangelists and men of prayer, willing to sacrifice everything for their flocks.

“We don’t need a manager, the CEO of a business, nor someone who shares our pettiness or low aspirations,” the pope said Feb. 27. “We need someone who knows how to rise to the height from which God sees us, in order to guide us to him.”

Pope Francis ordains Bishop Fernando Vergez in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican last November. Bishop Vergez, secretary-general of the office governing Vatican City, is entrusted with the pastoral care of Vatican employees. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis’ words came in a speech to the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican body that advises him on the appointment of bishops around the world.

He stressed the importance of self-sacrifice in a bishop’s ministry, which he described as a kind of martyrdom.

“The courage to die, the generosity to offer one’s own life and exhaust one’s self for the flock are inscribed in the episcopate’s DNA,” he said. “The episcopate is not for itself but for the church, for the flock, for others, above all for those whom the world considers only worth throwing away.”

Pope Francis listed several desirable virtues in potential bishops, including a “capacity for healthy, balanced relationships,” “upright behavior,” “orthodoxy and fidelity” to church doctrine; and “transparency and detachment in administrating the goods of the community.”

The pope laid special emphasis on a bishop’s ability to evangelize and pray.

In preaching the Gospel, bishops should be appealing rather than censorious, upholding church teaching “not in order to measure how far the world falls short of the truth it contains, but to fascinate the world, enchant it with the beauty of love, seduce it by offering the freedom of the Gospel.”

“The church doesn’t need apologists for their own causes, nor crusaders for their own battles, but humble sowers who trust in the truth … bishops who know that even when night falls and the day’s toil leaves them tired, the seeds in the field will be sprouting.”

As models of prayer for bishops, Pope Francis cited Abraham and Moses, who argued with God to dissuade him from destroying their sinful people.

“A man who lacks the courage to argue with God on behalf of his people cannot be a bishop,” the pope said.

Quoting from an address he gave to Vatican diplomats last June, Pope Francis said bishops should be “meek, patient and merciful,” embracing both spiritual and material poverty, and renouncing any ambition for appointment to more important dioceses.

The pope voiced anew his concern about bishops, “in this time of meetings and conventions,” traveling too much to fulfill their pastoral duties at home. He suggested the congregation study the latter-day relevance of a decree by the 16th-century Council of Trent requiring bishops to live in their dioceses.

Pope Francis also stressed that bishops should be suited to the particular local needs of their dioceses.

“There is no standard pastor for all the churches,” the pope said. “Christ knows the singularity of the pastor every church requires, able respond to its needs and help it realize its potential.”

“Where can we find such men? It is not easy. Do they exist? How can we choose them?” Pope Francis asked in closing. “I am sure they exist, because the Lord does not abandon his church. Maybe it is we who do not spend long enough in the fields looking for them.”


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Lessons in style: Pope’s gestures, choices are teaching moments

February 27th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized


Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — From the moment Pope Francis, dressed simply in a white cassock, stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica for the first time and bowed, he signaled his pontificate would bring some style differences to the papacy.

Some of the style changes are simply a reflection of his personality, he has explained. Others are meant to be a lesson. But sometimes the two coincide.

Pope Francis meets with the poor in 2013 at the archbishop’s residence in Assisi, Italy. Pope Francis’ most frequent advice and exhortation to Catholics: “Go forth.” (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Answering questions from students in June, he said the Apostolic Palace, where his predecessors lived “is not that luxurious,” but he decided to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, a Vatican guesthouse, “for psychiatric reasons.”

Living alone or in an isolated setting “would not do me any good,” he said, because he’s the kind of person who prefers living in the thick of things, “among the people.” However, he added that he tries to live as simply as possible, “to not have many things and to become a bit poorer” like Christ.

Unlike his choice of residence, his decision to travel in Rome in a blue Ford Focus instead of one of the Mercedes sedans in the Vatican motor pool was meant to be a message.

Meeting with seminarians and novices in July, he said too many people, including religious, think joy comes from possessions, “so they go in quest of the latest model of smartphone, the fastest scooter, the showy car.”

“I tell you, it truly grieves me to see a priest or a sister with the latest model of a car,” he said. For many priests and religious, cars are a necessity, “but choose a more humble car. And if you like the beautiful one, only think of all the children who are dying of hunger.”

A few days after his election, Pope Francis told reporters who had covered the conclave, “How I would like a church which is poor and for the poor.”

In October, he traveled to the birthplace of St. Francis of Assisi and met clients of Catholic charities in the room where St. Francis had stripped off his cloak and renounced his family’s wealth. The pope said he knew some people were expecting him to say or do something similarly shocking with the church’s material goods.

Living simply is important, he said, not just out of solidarity with the poor, but because it is so easy to get attached to worldly possessions, turning them into idols. The church, he said in Assisi, “must strip away every kind of worldly spirit, which is a temptation for everyone; strip away every action that is not for God, that is not from God; strip away the fear of opening the doors and going out to encounter all, especially the poorest of the poor, the needy, the remote, without waiting.”

The first year of Pope Francis’ pontificate also has been one of encounters.

A pope, like priests around the world, celebrates Mass every day. Before he became very infirm, Blessed John Paul II would invite visiting bishops and special guests to attend his early morning Mass in the chapel of the papal residence. Pope Benedict XVI’s morning Mass generally was more familial, including his secretaries, his butler and the women who ran the apartment.

With a much larger chapel in the Domus Sanctae Marthae and more priests and bishops in residence there, Pope Francis has had a larger congregation for his morning Masses. Although the Masses are considered private by the Vatican, Pope Francis has been inviting Vatican employees to attend, beginning with the garbage collectors and gardeners.

While transcripts of his morning homilies are not printed in the Vatican’s official daily news bulletin, excerpts are provided by the Vatican newspaper and Vatican Radio.

In the first months of his papacy, especially as the weather warmed up, he’d go for a walk, dropping in on Vatican workers in the garage or the power plant. And, when he has a request of a Vatican office or wants to make sure something he requested is being done, he simply picks up the phone.

Every Vatican office, not to mention the Jesuits and other religious orders, has a funny story about someone answering the phone and thinking it’s a joke when they hear, “This is Pope Francis.”

But his phone calls go well beyond the inner circle of the Vatican and the church. Pope Francis has called journalists and people either he has read about or who have written to him with stories of suffering and desperation. His telephone calls, in some ways, have taken the place of his Buenos Aires habit of riding public transportation and walking the streets of the poorer neighborhoods to stay in touch with how people really live.

While he will pose with pilgrims for photos and “selfies,” reciprocate when given a big hug, sign autographs for children and accept cups of “mate,” an herbal tea popular in parts of Latin America, he learned in Argentina that there are times when the ministry of an archbishop or pope can be used by the powerful, and he has taken steps to make sure that does not happen.

At his morning Mass and at his large public liturgies, Pope Francis gives Communion only to the altar servers and deacons, then he sits down and prays.

In a 2010 book written with Buenos Aires Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Pope Francis said that at large Masses for special occasions, Masses attended by government officials and leading business people, ”I do not give Communion myself; I stay back and I let the ministers give it, because I do not want those people to come to me for the photo op. One could deny Communion to a public sinner who has not repented, but it is very difficult to check such things.”


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Who needs Oscars? Here’s our list of 10 best pictures and 10 best family films

February 27th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized


Catholic News Service

For much of 2013, Hollywood seemed to be in the doldrums, turning out a good deal of product, but very little of quality.


With the approach of year’s end, and the looming awards season, however, things improved remarkably. So much so, in fact, that by Christmas, there were an unusual number of worthwhile movies to choose from at the multiplex.

That seasonal shift is reflected in the lists below, the Media Review Office of Catholic News Service’s top 10 movies and top 10 family films for 2013. Among the score of outstanding pictures cited, in alphabetical order, only six were released in the first half of the year.

Unless otherwise noted, the Catholic News Service classification for the films on the first list is A-III — adults, and their Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

As for movies in the second category, with the exceptions indicated, their CNS classification is A-I — general patronage, while their MPAA rating is PG — parental guidance suggested, some material may not be suitable for children.


The top 10 overall:

Captain Phillips

In the engrossing, complex and compassionate docudrama “Captain Phillips,”the skipper (Tom Hanks) of a giant container ship is taken hostage by Somali pirates (led by Barkhad Abdi). Director Paul Greengrass skillfully re-creates the harrowing maritime ordeal while keeping the humanity of all those concerned in the foreground.

The uplifting historical drama “42” recounts the 1947 reintegration of professional baseball, a breakthrough made possible by the collaborative efforts of Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey (a splendid Harrison Ford) and Negro League star Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman). Writer-director Brian Helgeland’s film is buoyed by Rickey’s feisty righteousness and by the inspiring example of Robinson’s forbearance in the face of hate.


In director and co-writer Alfonso Cuaron’’s thrilling adventure “Gravity,” a Russian missile strike destroys the space shuttle and maroons its only surviving crewmates (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney). The nearness of death provokes reflections on mortality and the afterlife, which are used as steppingstones toward a resolution that viewers of faith will find refreshingly pro-life.

The satisfying action sequel “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”follows the further

adventures of the two victors (Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson) of a survival tournament in which youngsters from an oppressed underclass must battle to the death.

In adapting the second volume in Suzanne Collins’ best-selling dystopian trilogy, director Francis Lawrence decreases the intensity of the violence on screen, and his film’s moral center is solid.

The personal collides with the political in the affecting fact-based drama “Lee Daniels’ The 

Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Butler”which tells the story of a plantation worker (Forest Whitaker) who makes his way to Washington, where he finds covetedemployment on the domestic staff of the White House. Appealing performances, especially Oprah Winfrey’s complex portrayal of the main character’s wife, keep the unfolding events from feeling like a checklist of postwar history.

In the wrenching and profound multigenerational saga “The Place Beyond the Pines,”directed and co-written by Derek Cianfrance, a motorcycle stuntman (Ryan Gosling) re-encounters his ex-lover (Eva Mendes), who reveals they have a baby son. Determined to provide for his newfound offspring, he embarkson a spree of bank heists. The film offers a powerful message about temptation and relativism, as well as the role of conscience (L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian).

In director Denis Villeneuve’s powerful drama “Prisoners,” a seemingly decent family man (Hugh Jackman) turns vicious vigilante after his 6-year-old daughter and a playmate are kidnapped. Though it presents the facade of a thriller, Villeneuve’s film, which also features Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead detective on the case, is primarily a richly symbolic exploration of morality, the human condition and the role of religious faith in a fallen world (L, R).

Director John Lee Hancock’s fact-based film “Saving Mr. Banks” recounts the behind-the-scenes circumstances surrounding the making of the classic 1964 musical “Mary Poppins,” a process that involved an intense battle of wills between Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), who penned the tales on which the movie was based. The sincerity and wholesomeness of this comedy-and-drama blend make for a welcome change at the multiplex (A-II — adults and adolescents).

 “Star Trek Into Darkness” is director J.J. Abrams’ snappy follow-up to his 2009 reboot of — and parallel story to — the long-lived sci-fi franchise. Dynamic, impetuous Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his seemingly emotionless first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) lead their intrepid crew on a morally fraught crusade against an intergalactic terrorist (Benedict Cumberbatch). The underlying warning against

12 Years a Slave

employing immoral means to overcome evil is both scripturally resonant and timely.

A free black man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) living happily with his wife and children in antebellum upstate New York is lured to Washington, then kidnapped and sold into servitude in “12 Years a Slave,” director Steve McQueen’s harsh but absorbing account of America’s “peculiar institution,” based on the eponymous 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup. A searing depiction of the endurance of the human spirit against crushing odds (L, R).


The top 10 family films:

“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2” is a cheerful animated comedy in which the young inventor of a machine that turns water into food learns that the device, which he thought had been disabled, has continued to function. Directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn’s sequel serves up colorful fun while elevating friendship and teamwork over egotism (A-II, PG).

Beautifully rendered and refreshingly good-humored, “The Croods” follows the adventures of the Stone Age family of the title as they face the perils of climate change. Directors and co-writers Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco spin a diverting tale that also carries an intriguing Christian subtext.

In the sweet animated sequel “Despicable Me 2,” the never very wicked and now thoroughly reformed villain of the original film teams with a secret agent to identify the perpetrator of a crime of global significance. The thoroughly endearing comedy showcases the transformative power of both romantic love and family affection.

“Ender’s Game,” an enlightened and well-wrought science-fiction movie, focuses on a 12-year-old chosen to lead Earth’s military forces against an alien race that 50 years earlier tried to colonize the planet, resulting in the deaths of millions. The film highlights a salubrious message about the moral pitfalls of war (A-II, PG-13).

“Epic”is a pleasant animated fantasy in which a 17-year-old girl finds herself transported to a miniature world within nature where the champions of growth and life battle the dark forces of decay. Enhanced by some lovely imagery, director Chris Wedge’s cheerful journey into the


undergrowth sends messages about environmental stewardship, teamwork and responsibility.

In the animated musical “Frozen,” the new queen of a mythical kingdom accidentally unleashes her power to create ice and snow, causing an eternal winter. This good-natured film has a nice message about the enduring bonds of family as well as a few religious overtones likely to please believers.

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,”director Peter Jackson’s second installment in a trilogy of films based on Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, finds a once-timid hobbit (Martin Freeman) continuing his courageous quest to help a group of dwarves (led by Richard Armitage) recapture their ancestral

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

stronghold from the terrifying dragon (voice of Benedict Cumberbatch) who displaced them. Implicit warnings against the corrupting influence of wealth and power accompany his adventures (A-II, PG-13).

“Jack the Giant Slayer” is a fun fable in which the romance between a peasant boy (Nicholas Hoult) and a princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) is imperiled when a beanstalk of his own unwitting creation suddenly sprouts up, carrying her aloft to a land of people-eating giants. Director Bryan Singer’s faith-tinged retelling of the classic fairy tale is set in an alternate version of the Middle Ages where characters freely acknowledge God (A-II, PG-13).

“Monsters University,” director Dan Scanlon’s animated prequel to the 2001 hit “Monsters, Inc.,” centers on two best pals were not, it seems, always so fond of one another. This tale of the duo’s college years reinforces familiar but important messages for young people (and their parents): Make friends, study hard and apply your unique talents for the greater good (G — general audiences).

Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare gets a Formula One makeover in the rollicking animated comedy “Turbo” as a garden snail’s wish for super speed is unexpectedly granted after a freak accident. The family adventure champions the underdog and upholds the bonds of familial love.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.


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Analysis: Organizations weigh in on how Supreme Court should handle HHS mandate

February 20th, 2014 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , ,


Catholic News Service

After ruling in 2012 that certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act stand up to constitutional scrutiny, the Supreme Court’s next dip into legal challenges to the law focuses on whether for-profit secular employers can claim religious rights protections from some provisions.

Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, talks with Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington July 2. The two are part of a diverse group of religious leaders urging the U.S. government to “expand conscience protections” in its Health and Human Services mandate that requires almost all employers to provide coverage of contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs free of charge. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

In addition to the standard briefs and replies filed by the two sides in each of the cases, the Supreme Court is being asked to consider the arguments raised by hundreds of organizations represented in “amicus” or friend-of-the-court briefs filed in advance of the court’s March 25 oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius.

The court is jointly hearing the cases, in which two federal appeals courts issued opposite rulings about the companies’ claims to a religious rights-based exemption from having to provide coverage for various forms of contraception in employee health insurance. The court is under no obligation to consider “amicus” briefs, but it typically does, and sometimes cites them in rulings.

There’s been a great deal of attention within the Catholic Church, in particular, to whether church-affiliated institutions may be exempted from the contraceptive provisions, widely described as a mandate. But the cases being heard in March deal only with how that mandate applies to for-profit, secular employers.

Cases over how the mandate is applied to nonprofit religious institutions, including the Little Sisters of the Poor, are still being addressed by lower courts and are unlikely to reach the Supreme Court before its next term.

Especially in comparison to the interest in lawsuits brought by dioceses, religious orders and church-run universities, there may be less public awareness of the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods cases than there was of the Supreme Court’s highly publicized last venture into the ACA in 2012 primarily over the requirement that individuals buy health insurance. But the advocates for either side in the current cases are no less vehement that the outcome is crucial to how the 2010 health care law works, or doesn’t.

Among legal issues the briefs raise are questions based on past rulings about the circumstances under which an employer may claim faith-based exemption from various kinds of laws; about whether the federal government is trying to define religious beliefs and about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law passed by Congress in an effort to reverse what was perceived as a rollback of Free Exercise rights in a 1990 Supreme Court ruling.

One key Supreme Court case raised in many of the amicus briefs on both sides is U.S. v. Lee, a 1982 unanimous ruling which said an Amish employer could not be exempted from paying Social Security taxes for employees of his for-profit business.

The court found that “while there is a conflict between the Amish faith and the obligations imposed by the Social Security system, not all burdens on religion are unconstitutional,” the court said. “The court may justify a limitation on religious liberty by showing that it is essential to accomplish an overriding governmental interest.”

Amicus briefs supporting the government’s position that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods should not be exempted argue, for example, that “the ACA does not require corporations to administer or use the contraceptive methods to which they object, nor does it require them to adhere to, affirm or abandon a particular belief,” said a brief on behalf of 91 members of Congress.

It quoted from Lee: “Every person cannot be shielded from all the burdens incident to exercising every aspect of the right to practice religious beliefs.”

On the other side, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops argued that applying Lee to the companies should mean “the court should accept at face value Hobby Lobby’s and Conestoga’s earnest belief that they cannot in good conscience comply with the mandate. But instead of accepting that representation, the government would have this court conduct its own analysis of whether compliance with the mandate should be taken to violate those convictions.

“In other words, rather than analyzing whether the mandate puts substantial pressure on Hobby Lobby and Conestoga to abandon their religious opposition to providing the mandated coverage, the government would have this court evaluate whether compliance with the mandate amounts to a substantial violation of their religious beliefs.”

The dozens of amicus briefs filed on either side include sometimes unusual combinations of religious institutions, civil rights organizations, politicians, academics and secular employers.

For instance, the partners in one brief supporting the for-profit employers were Drury Hotels, the National Catholic Bioethics Center, the Christian Medical Association and groups of pro-life nurses and doctors. In another, Ave Maria University, a Catholic institution, teamed up with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Crescent Foods and the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, a Santeria church that brought a successful religious rights lawsuit against the city of Hialeah, Fla., over its law prohibiting animal sacrifices.

Among institutions filing solo briefs in support of the employers were the USCCB, the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Medical Association, the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the Family Research Council.

Other joint briefs supporting the companies were filed by: 67 Catholic theologians and ethicists; several religion-related publishers and a coalition that includes the American Bible Society, the Anglican Church in North America, Prison Fellowship Ministries and the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

On the other side, one large-coalition brief was submitted on behalf of two dozen participating organizations including several Jewish institutions; Dignity USA and New Ways Ministry, both of which minister to gays and lesbians; the Hindu American Foundation; Catholics for Choice; the Women’s Ordination Conference and the Disciples of Christ Church.

A brief filed on behalf of 19 Democratic or independent senators in support of the government’s position was countered by one filed for four Republican senators on the other side. Another represented 20 church-state scholars who framed the cases in terms of Establishment Clause jurisprudence.

Also filing in support of the government was a group including the Freedom From Religion Foundation; Bishopaccountability.org and several other groups whose work focuses on support for survivors of sexual abuse.


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