‘Why we defend the guilty’

Ron Yengitch defends criminals for a living because the law says everyone deserves a strong defense, according to the Intermountain Catholic in Salt Lake City. Read this story of a Catholic who applies his faith to his work as a defense attorney and find out why his favorite Scripture story is about the woman caught in sin.

More to ‘pay it forward’ for Lent

The “Pay It Forward for Lent” contest of The Catholic Spirit in St. Paul, Minn., (previous posts are here and here) just keeps growing. Click here for the latest update.

Two rosary-makers, two different stories

The Catholic Courier in Rochester, N.Y., has a story of two people of different ages in the diocese who, as the story says, “share a common passion: making and giving away rosaries.” Frank Pettrone has been making rosaries for nearly a decade and is the first to use each of his creations. And 16-year-old Gretchen Smith organized a Girl Scout project to make and give rosaries to soldiers deploying overseas.

An unexpected highlight of a trip to Lourdes

The grotto of the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)When visual media manager Nancy Wiechec and I went to Lourdes, France, to illustrate how pilgrims celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions, we never expected to be touched by a young woman who communicated with her smile and her hands.

Sick people come to Lourdes to be healed. But this woman came to help.

Although she was deaf, the 45 people on our pilgrimage found ways to communicate with her: To ask her if she slept well, if she was enjoying the meals we were served — nearly all of which incorporated some form of pork — and to thank her for tirelessly pushing the wheelchairs that some of the pilgrims needed.

We attempted to speak with our hands — surely not saying anything in correct American sign language — but we entertained ourselves and probably entertained her with our goofy signing. We also used paper and pen to have more detailed discussions.

On the last night of the trip, we were asked to discuss significant moments of the trip for us. Several of the pilgrims said meeting this young woman was the highlight. Clapping our hands, we applauded her until finally sometime taught us how to applaud in sign language by raising our arms and twitching our hands so she could understand.

PHOTO: The grotto of the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Lourdes anniversary recap

An elderly woman guards herself against the cold as she gathers with other pilgrims for a Mass in the grotto at the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France, last Sunday. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)We had great coverage this week of the 150th anniversary of the Lourdes apparitions. Our photos and graphics manager, Nancy Wiechec, filed some wonderful images (like the one at the left) of pilgrims gathered in Lourdes to mark the date in 1858 when Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous, a poor, illiterate 14-year-old girl near Lourdes, France.

The Florida Catholic did a great job this week putting together a slideshow of some of Nancy’s Lourdes photos. Open the slideshow here. The musical accompaniment is by Catholic singer and songwriter Annie Karto.

Assistant international editor Regina Linskey also took the trip, filing several stories, including this account in which several pilgrims talk about why they visit Lourdes and what they expect from a pilgrimage there. Another story is an interview with a doctor who helps determine whether cures at Lourdes should be declared miraculous. Only 67 have met the criteria. Regina also covered the Mass on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which the church also marks as the World Day of the Sick. There are also backgrounders on the millions who flock to Lourdes every year and on the life of St. Bernadette.

Clients of ours also have done a marvelous job of of marking the Lourdes anniversary. Besides the Florida Catholic (see above), other examples include:

– A wonderful column by Jesuit Father James Martin this week in the blog of America magazine on how the story of the apparitions of Mary to St. Bernadette is easy to believe even in a time when it has become fashionable to downplay the otherworldly aspects of our faith.

– A reflection by a former chaplain to English-speaking pilgrims to Lourdes on the meaning of Lourdes in St. Anthony Messenger magazine.

PHOTO: An elderly woman guards herself against the cold as she gathers with other pilgrims for a Mass in the grotto at the Sanctuaries of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France, last Sunday. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

‘Favorite family food for Lent’

Looking for some new recipes for Lent? The Arkansas Catholic asked its readers for their family favorites and came up with 113 suggestions, all of which can be found here. Surely you can find one that’s worth a try.

Vatican phone book slims down

vatphone1.JPGAn updated Vatican phone book was finally released this month. Strangely enough, it looked thinner than the last one.

In fact, the 2008 elenco telefonico lost 61 pages, almost 30 percent, from its previous edition. What did they cut out? The answer was apparent to anyone who opened it: most of the names were gone from the listing of Roman Curia offices.

Instead, the phone book now provides names and numbers only for the top three officials of each department. The rest of the Curia did a disappearing act.

Naturally, journalists were upset. We spend a lot of time thumbing through the phone book when we need to contact potential sources, and this seemed to be saying: Don’t bother.

And what about Vatican employees who need to exchange information with other departments? In a world not known for cross-communication, the change made it even harder to navigate the labyrinthine Vatican bureaucracy.

It also meant the six nuns at the Vatican switchboard are going to be busier, as more and more callers go through the Vatican’s main +39.06.6982 telephone number.

I phoned the head of the Vatican telephone office, Brother Andrea Mellini (who is listed in the new book) and asked him why the change. He said it was a decision of superiors who wanted the phone book to be “more anonymous.”

Brother Mellini pointed out that numbers for most Vatican personnel continue to be listed in an alphabetical name-only section. So if you know precisely who you’re looking for, it’s still possible to reach him or her. But the phone book will no longer serve as a workforce directory for the Roman Curia.

If there are a lot of complaints, maybe they’ll return to the old format, Brother Mellini said. But he thinks the simplification could be a good thing, because it will make it easier to produce a new phone book each year.

That would be nice. Before this year’s edition, the last time a Vatican phone book came out was in 2004.

Bishop calls for comprehensive immigration reform

If you’re a Catholic in the pew wondering why the church holds the position it does on immigration reform, this story in the Intermountain Catholic in Salt Lake City could be worth a look. The head of that diocese, Bishop John C. Wester, also is the current chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, and he urged in a recent local lecture that immigration issues should be looked at “through the lens of our Catholic perspective.” The paper also offers a video of the lecture for viewing online as well as the full text of the lecture in .pdf format.

Tales of longevity for Valentines’ week

He’s 101. She’s 99. And they’ve been married 83 years this month, long enough to wind up in the book version of Guinness World Records. Meet Clarence and Mayme Vail and read their story of faith in The Catholic Spirit in St. Paul, Minn.

And while you’re comparing that story to your own relationship with your Valentine this week, also check out the story about five siblings who all have celebrated their golden wedding anniversaries. It’s in the Catholic Sentinel in Portland, Ore.

‘Shaving heads for Fred’

Dozens of students and teachers at a Minnesota Catholic school volunteered to have their heads shaved to raise funds for a classmate who was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. Details are in The Catholic Spirit, which reports that the Shave Your Head for Fred benefit raised about $10,000.

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