Also worth noting …

From here and there around the Catholic press:

Bishop’s secretary for 23 years says he does what needs to be done in service to the Lord. (Arlington Catholic Herald, Va.)

Pastor who drowned recalled as brilliant, generous, open-minded, willing to grow. (Catholic Sentinel, Ore.)

Bankruptcy court to mull release of more sex abuse documents. (Catholic Sentinel, Ore.)

City parish takes aim at urban violence, one gun at a time. (The Catholic Review, Md.)

Youth invited to enter video contest welcoming Pope Benedict. (Catholic Standard, D.C.)

Schools raise $27,000 for victims of war in Uganda. (Intermountain Catholic, Utah)

Salt Lake bishop’s latest podcast is reflection on purpose, history of Lent. (Intermountain Catholic, Utah)

New resources for preparing to welcome the pope

(CNS/Paul Haring)As excitement builds in the run-up to the pope’s April trip to the United States, we’d like to think that we have some of the best insights into who Pope Benedict is, what he’s going to find in his visit to America, and what he’ll likely do at some of his stops.

And now you can read some of those insights on our papal trip page. Our paying clients have had many of our advance stories, photos and graphics for almost two weeks (with more to come) as they plan their preview editions before the visit. But we’ve also posted some of the stories here to help convince you that Catholic News Service is your best source for reliable coverage of the church, especially from our award-winning Rome bureau.

Check back here often because we will be constantly updating this page with the latest developments and with more backgrounders on the trip’s implications. 

On the page, we’re also providing additional insights into the trip by highlighting and linking to stories in Washington’s Catholic Standard and in Catholic New York, the on-the-scene archdiocesan newspapers that plan their own extensive coverage of the trip.

Also, don’t miss what some of our other clients are doing with their own special papal visit pages on their Web sites. For instance:

Our Sunday Visitor also has a new papal visit page. Among its unique features are a place to compose your own prayers for Pope Benedict (also available on Facebook if you’re a member), another page where you can download a free papal prayer card, and a third page where you can order pamphlets for your parish on Pope Benedict and the history of the papacy.

– The National Catholic Register has a new blog on the pope, not just for the U.S. trip but for his visit to Australia this summer for World Youth Day. Called “The World Meets Benedict,” the blog is located at the easy-to-remember www.pope2008.com.

Inside the latest Israeli-Vatican meeting

Archbishop Antonio Franco, center, the Vatican's ambassador to Israel, attends the opening ceremony of the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem last April. (CNS/Reuters)The papal nuncio to Israel, Archbishop Antonio Franco,  has shed more light on the Vatican-Israeli meeting last December, which examined taxation and legal issues for the church in the Holy Land.

In his interview with the online edition of Terra Santa magazine, Archbishop Franco sounded optimistic about reaching an agreement with Israel — someday — but let it be known the church cannot lock the minority Christian community into an untenable position.

He also cautioned that a papal trip to Israel is unlikely before there is some progress on these questions and at least some movement in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Terra Santa, a Italian-based publication of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, is now running an English-language page with translations of some of its articles.

PHOTO: Archbishop Antonio Franco, center, the Vatican’s ambassador to Israel, attends the opening ceremony of the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem last April. (CNS/Reuters)

Life Teen program gets results in one N.Y. parish

Parishes or individuals interested in the Life Teen youth ministry program might want to check out this story in the Catholic Courier in the Diocese of Rochester, N.Y., on a parish that has seen results after only one month.

Diocese discourages participation in Komen for the Cure

If you missed our news brief last week on the Diocese of Little Rock, Ark., discouraging its parishes and schools from supporting fundraising activities for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, here’s the full story from the Arkansas Catholic. The story also includes a link to the detailed statement issued by the diocese.

UPDATE: The diocese later issued a second statement rescinding the first.

Naming a Vatican courtyard after Armenia’s patron saint

Under a beautifully sunny sky Friday, Pope Benedict XVI presided over the formal naming of the St. Gregory the Illuminator Courtyard on the north side of St. Peter’s Basilica.

The courtyard, between the basilica’s exterior wall and a booth selling tickets to reach St. Peter’s famous dome, is named after the patron saint of Armenia, the evangelizer who brought Christianity to the country in 301.

Pope John Paul II blesses a statue of St. Gregory the Illuminator in 2005. (CNS/Catholic Press Photo)St. Gregory is no stranger to the courtyard now named after him. In January 2005, Pope John Paul II presided over the unveiling of a statue of the bearded and mitered saint in a niche of the basilica facing the courtyard.

Unveiling the stone tablet with the courtyard’s new name on it, Pope Benedict was joined by officials from St. Peter’s Basilica, from Vatican City’s central government and Armenian Catholic Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni of Cilicia.

The pope told the group, “More than 17 centuries ago, this great saint made the Armenians a Christian people,” the first nation to declare itself officially Christian.

By calling the saint “the illuminator,” Pope Benedict said, Armenians recognize that he led the people from darkness to the light of Christ, but also that through his teaching and preaching he shed light on the truth about human life.

PHOTO: Pope John Paul II blesses the statue of St. Gregory the Illuminator which was placed in a niche on the northern exterior wall of St. Peter’s Basilica in this January 2005 file photo. Pope Benedict XVI officially named the little courtyard which the statue faces after the saint Feb. 22. (CNS/Catholic Press Photo)

Christians in Gaza face difficult period

JERUSALEM — For security reasons I have not been to the Gaza Strip for quite some time now. But I do keep in touch with Holy Family Parish pastor Msgr. Manuel Musallam and other representatives of Christian organizations and other sources I have come to know there on a fairly regular basis — especially now with the situation in Gaza so tenuous.

Before when I interviewed them they were conciliatory in the way they described the general conditions in Gaza and the situation for the Christians in specific. They were going through the same difficult experiences as the 1.2 million Muslim Palestinians living in Gaza — suffering through the Israeli military attacks and incursions, with the international blockade affecting Muslims and Christians alike.

Even when the attacks against their community began — the Greek Orthodox church was attacked following a speech by the pope viewed as insulting to Islam, the compound of the Rosary Sisters’ school and church was ransacked and looted last summer as Hamas took control of the strip from Fatah, and, most recently, Rami Ayyad, owner of a Christian bookstore was kidnapped and killed — Christians tried to maintain their assuaging outlook.

The militant Islamic group Hamas did condemn the attacks and did beef up its patrol around Christian institutions following the attacks. Moderate Muslims also were outraged about the increasing extremism, but everybody was careful not to speak about specific “anti-Christian” sentiments.

But over the past months the tone has changed, especially noticeable this week after the bombing of the Gaza YMCA. Christians said outright that there were increasing anti-Christian feelings. They admitted to being afraid as Christians but they also were reluctant about leaving their homes. They bemoaned the oppressive religious conservatism under which they are now forced to live.

It frightened me to hear my sources whispering nervously into their phones as they told me about another attack on a Christian youth who was taking a female former classmate home. Granted, he was not attacked because he was a Christian, but because the social norms of the society have changed drastically and he had innocently not yet internalized them.

Even Msgr. Musallam, who generally never before spoke about the specific difficulties Christians have in Gaza but rather liked to emphasize their joint destiny with their Palestinian Muslim brothers, suddenly spoke about a new reality in Gaza.

Everything is an unknown, he said, and the Christians of Gaza along with other moderates are passing through a very difficult period, unsure about their future.

‘Retired judge makes his own black history’

For Black History Month, the Catholic Explorer in the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., interviewed a retired county court judge who says he leaned heavily on his faith in his 15 years on the bench. Raymond Bolden, who asked the Holy Spirit to walk with him to the courtroom, told the paper about growing up with baseball legends Jackie Robinson and Ernie Banks as heroes who showed him the heights to which a young black could aspire.

Is this ‘The Year of Benedict’?

Will 2008 be the year of Barack Obama? Or perhaps, for entirely negative reasons, it will be the year of Roger Clemens. Or, how about Benedict XVI?

You might expect that a Catholic newspaper would choose the pope, but you might be impressed at how the National Catholic Register comes to that conclusion. In an editorial in the current edition, the paper says that people may underestimate the impact of Pope Benedict’s visit to America in the same way that they underestimated the impact of Pope John Paul II’s trip to Toronto in 2002. “When Pope John Paul II visited Toronto in 2002, the media made the mistake of expecting the visit to be no big deal. How wrong they were,” it says.

Bethlehem ‘Milk Grotto’ article touches readers

Local resident Hilda Berkley prays near a painting of Mary breast-feeding the infant Jesus at the Milk Grotto chapel in Bethlehem, West Bank, Dec. 5. (CNS/Debbie Hill)Writing about Bethlehem’s Milk Grotto, where Mary is said to have nursed Jesus as they fled to Egypt, sounded like a nice Christmas feature story.

The grounds had been renovated, the grotto was small and intimate and there were signs of centuries of faithful devotion by women unable to have children scratching away at the cave walls to take home some of the miraculous “milk powder.” They, like many women today, believed this powder combined with faithful prayer would bless them with a baby.

I like writing these types of feel-good stories, since often the news coming out of this region is mainly of bloodshed and an increasing struggle.

What I had not been prepared for was how this article would personally touch so many Catholic News Service readers. My editors in Washington received a slew of inquiries about how to obtain the milk powder, asking why no contact details had been posted.

The answer is simple: The milk powder can be obtained only in person. Franciscan Brother Lawrence, who oversees the shrine for the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, realized early on that if the milk powder were to be available through mail order or via the Internet, he would be inundated with requests impossible to fill.

I knew that for most of the women who contacted CNS, coming to Bethlehem was out of the question. But many women with strong faith believed in the power of the milk powder combined with the intercession of Mary.

Brother Lawrence was not surprised to see me again about a month ago when I came to buy packets of the powder for the women.

Just this morning one of the women e-mailed me to let me know she had received the packet I sent her. All of the women’s gratitude upon receiving the powder was quite overwhelming for me. I had never imagined the impact the article would have, or the role I could play in boosting these women’s hopes.

PHOTO: Local resident Hilda Berkley prays near a painting of Mary breast-feeding the infant Jesus at the Milk Grotto chapel in Bethlehem, West Bank, Dec. 5. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

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