Hawaii gears up for Blessed Damien’s sainthood

In mid-October Hawaii Catholics will get their first saint when the Belgian-born missionary priest Blessed Damien de Veuster is canonized along with Blessed Jeanne Jugan, founder of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and three others.

Father Damien spent the last 16 years of his life caring for patients with Hansen’s disease, or leprosy, on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. This article  in the Hawaii Catholic Herald, Honolulu’s diocesan newspaper, gives just a glimpse of the priest’s impact. It recounts the recent visit to Hawaii by an 85-year-old woman whose father suffered from Hansen’s disease and was cared for by the soon-to-be saint.

Church ministries to jobless continue

CNS has written before — in blogs and news stories – about church groups reaching out to the unemployed.  These programs continue to pop up in church basements around the country as people continue to feel the effects of the economic tailspin.

Recent articles in The Catholic Voice, Omaha’s archdiocesan newspaper, and the Arkansas Catholic, Little Rock’s diocesan paper, show how this important church ministry not only provides the unemployed with practical tips but also gives them spiritual support.

Mike Geppart, organizer of a jobless support program at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Omaha, said many people are currently facing unemployment for the first time and are dealing with a lot of anxiety, fear and uncertainty.

“Obviously you’re going to be discouraged and are almost embarrassed by it and therefore you don’t reach out,” he said. “But you need to reach out to helpful programs that are out there.”

Encyclical and Catholic higher education

Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”) can inspire changes in Catholic higher education, said Richard Yanikoski, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

The pope wrote that economic activity should promote the common good. Catholic colleges should take heed.

“We are a business, too,” Yanikoski told CNS. “We’re a big business. We have a responsibility to ensure that the economic decisions we make also are cognizant of the moral consequences.”

Colleges must treat employees fairly, be responsible to the environment, and reserve financial aid for the needy and not just the smartest students, he said.

The pope also wrote of the overlapping areas of truth and human development. Catholic colleges’ role is to further explain Catholic social teaching. Although Yanikoski said the encyclical is not quite a teaching document, it can be used in campus ministry centers, seminars and workshops, and as an assignment to students in majors such as business ethics and environmental protection.

Yanikoski also said Catholic colleges should pay attention to the pope’s emphasis on religious freedom and collaboration between believers and nonbelievers. It reflects “the way Catholic campuses are to accept, not just ‘deal with’ others than Catholics,” he said. “We need to treat as brothers or sisters people who believe other than we do.”

Post-Katrina sisters in action

Sisters of St. Joseph are not about to be deterred by fire or rain. 

Even though their former motherhouse had to be torn down — after damage from Hurricane Katrina’s flooding and then a subsequent fire caused by a lightning strike — members of the community remain active in several ministries in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, the Clarion Herald reports.

In fact, Kim Shackleton, a member of the Mission Advancement Team of the newly merged Congregation of St. Joseph, said there are currently more St. Joseph sisters ministering in the archdiocese than before the storm.

Although Hurricane Katrina hit the region nearly four years ago, recovery efforts are still underway thanks to the efforts of  groups like these sisters who keep doing what they can to help local residents at clinics, adult education centers and senior care programs.

Year for Priests: Saved by our own words

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

Growing up, my father used to remind me to be careful what I said, “because all too often, our words come back to haunt us.” I am sure we have all heard it before and often found it to be true, but then there are occasions when our words come back to save us.

A few days ago a good friend of mine was in town from overseas.  In her own country, she is very close with an older woman, who I will call “Jane.”  Nearly 50 years ago, Jane worked alongside a priest, who I will call “Joe,” before he left the priesthood and his own country. I have never spoken with Jane, but I imagine her to be a person of great faith, fidelity and love, for she communicated to my friend that she has prayed for Joe all these years, though lost touch with him.  However she is close with Joe’s brother, who informed her that Joe is now dying.

When Jane found out that my friend would be visiting the same city where Joe resides, Jane asked her to visit Joe and tell him that he and his many good works had never been forgotten. Jane passed along an envelope containing old pictures and the copy of a homily that Joe had given to Jane, at her request, when he was still a priest.  My friend asked if I would come along, for company to be sure, but also so that I might anoint him if he desired.

When we arrived at Joe’s bedside, the nurses warned us that he was not able to speak much and rarely understood his environment anymore.  My friend sat beside Joe and introduced herself as a friend of Jane’s and we watched as Joe slowly brought his head around to fix his eyes on the eyes of my friend. Clearly he understood. After lifting his frail body into a more comfortable position, we shared the pictures that were sent with us. My friend then unfolded the old homily — Joe clearly recognized it as his own penmanship — and began to read it to him.

. . . The only complaint Christ ever had on earth was that his friends did not trust him. Men could crucify, scourge, hate and betray him, but he did not complain. But when his own friends doubted his care for them, immediately he asked: ‘Why do you doubt? . . .’ Why? Because the love God wants from us is a love that depends on him. In turn he wants us to show the same care for others. He speaks to us through the Gospels. But he also speaks to us through the people we meet and the events that happen. . . .

As my friend read, I watch Joe’s eyes begin to fill with water. I had never met Joe until this moment. I have no idea why he left the priesthood and what he did before he entered this hospital. However, I could not help but feel that he was hurt by it all and that my friend was the angel God was sending Joe to comfort him before he passed from this world.

After my friend finished reading, I asked Joe if he would like to receive the sacrament of anointing. He nodded yes. As I traced the oil on his head and hands, his eyes once again filled with tears, and I wondered how long it had been since he had received a sacrament.

After we said a few prayers, we left Joe holding the homily he had written some 50 years ago. I don’t know that we will ever get a chance to see him again, but I am quite sure that this man who had clearly done so much for God’s kingdom had been saved, by God’s grace, through his own words.  We both smiled as we left the hospital feeling that Jane’s prayers had finally been answered and heard my father’s voice in my head, “Indeed, be careful what you say, for those words may be what you need to see the love of God once again.”

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil in May and will be teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan beginning in late summer.

Click here for more in this series.

Pope’s piano tuned, even if he can’t play for now


Pope Benedict and his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, after a concert in the Sistine Chapel last January. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)

VATICAN CITY — The director of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo told the Vatican newspaper that preparations are almost complete for the pope’s expected arrival tomorrow evening: bushes have been re-potted, trees have been trimmed, flowers have been planted, walls have been painted and — he said — a piano tuner has come and gone.

Severio Petrillo, director of the villa — which includes the papal residence as well as gardens and a working farm — said he knows the pope has to wear a cast for another 20 days or so. But the pope’s brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, is arriving, too, and he’s a musician. For years, he was the director of the famous Regensburg Boys’ Choir. And, besides, Petrillo said, piano playing could be part of the physical therapy the pope will do once the cast is off.

Petrillo also said that at Castel Gandolfo Saturday the pope would meet swimmers, divers, water polo players and other athletes participating in the July 17-Aug. 2 FINA World Championship in Rome. The pope’s weekly general audience Aug. 5 also will be held at the papal villa, rather than at the Vatican, he said.

Father Desbois featured in National Geographic special on Nazi Europe

The crime was horrific: Go into a town, round up Jewish families, take them to a ditch and shoot them.

The National Geographic Channel on cable will air “Hitler’s Hidden Holocaust” Aug. 2 at 10 p.m EDT/PDT and take viewers on a journey back to Nazi Europe to tell the story of the killing frenzy of Adolph Hitler’s extermination brigades, known as the “Einsatzgruppen,” or action groups.

National Geographic will follow the quest of Father Patrick Desbois to document the crimes through eyewitness accounts and find the multiple killing sites known to exist but hidden throughout Ukraine.

French priest Father Patrick Desbois (CNS/Bob Roller)

French priest Father Patrick Desbois (CNS/Bob Roller)

Since 2001, through interviews with elderly men and women in remote villages in the Ukrainian countryside, Father Desbois and his team of experts have found 800 of an estimated 2,000 Nazi mass execution sites.

Catholic News Service was present during his presentation last year at the U.S. Holocaust Museum here in Washington and at his 2007 pilgrimage in Israel and has captured his descriptions of witnesses’ firsthand accounts of soldiers murdering Jews in Ukraine and memories of being forced to dig a hole where their fellow villagers would be buried, sometimes alive.

Descriptions of these horrid crimes are recounted to Father Desbois as he tries to piece together what he calls in French “the Holocaust of bullets,” in which about 1.5 million Jews were killed by the Nazis in the Ukrainian forests and ravines.

Father Desbois is secretary of the French bishops’ office for relations with Judaism and adviser to the Vatican on Judaism. His interest in the Holocaust was spurred by his grandfather’s stories about his imprisonment as a French prisoner of war during World War II in Ukraine’s Rava-Ruska Nazi prison camp.

One elderly Ukrainian woman told the priest that as a young girl, she saw the Nazis order Soviet prisoners to burn the corpses of Jews. When they were finished, the prisoners were locked in a former chicken house and burned alive. Another woman told him Nazis used village children to walk on the bodies of the Jews who were shot in order to pack them down to make room for the next group of Jews. The woman remembered stepping on the body of a former classmate.

Father Desbois wrote a first-person account last year narrating his interest in the event and his methodical approach to uncovering the mystery of where the murdered bodies are buried.

“The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest’s Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews” is a tale of the massacre of Jews in Ukraine but also gives a glimpse into the redemption received by eyewitnesses who had kept their 60-year-old memories to themselves until they told them to Father Desbois.

The National Geographic’s one-hour special will present in chilling detail how Nazi soldiers planned, documented and committed these crimes.

X-rays show pope’s wrist is healing well


Pope Benedict waving to the crowd outside the Aosta cathedral yesterday evening. (CNS/L'Osservatore Romano)

VATICAN CITY — X-rays of Pope Benedict XVI’s right wrist show it is healing well, the Vatican spokesman said today.

A portable X-ray machine was brought from the hospital in Aosta to the compound in Les Combes where the pope has been vacationing since July 13.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi said the pope’s personal physician and his assistant, the two orthopedic surgeons who operated on the pope’s wrist after he broke it in a fall July 17, a radiologist and the orthopedic specialist who will care for the pope after he leaves Les Combes July 29 all were present for the exam this morning.

“The check-up began at 11:40 and lasted about a half hour with optimum results,” Father Lombardi said.

Commentary on pope’s encyclical in Catholic press

It’s been two and a half weeks since the pope’s encyclical “Caritas in 09gx116cVeritate” (“Charity in Truth”) was released and there has been plenty of commentary in the Catholic press. Here’s a sampling:

The encyclical “comes at a precarious moment for the world economy,” Chris Gunty, editor of  The Catholic Review, wrote in the July 16 issue of Baltimore’s archdiocesan newspaper. “Everyone — from the most renowned economists to everyday Joe the plumbers — have ideas on how to fix this mess. Few have come at it from such a comprehensive position. Benedict’s solution is not just about numbers, because he acknowledges that at its root, it is not about numbers, but about people.”

The document is a long “meditation on the implications of Christian charity in today’s world without borders. The Christian truth has always been that human life originates and develops in the relationship of love. The crisis of our time happens to have an economic face, so the pope uses that lens for much of his focus,” wrote retired news editor Frank Wessling in the July 15 issue of the The Catholic Messenger, newspaper of the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa.

In his column in the July 17 issue of his diocese’s newspaper, The Observer, Bishop Thomas G. Doran of Rockford, Ill., acknowledged the document is not easy to get through but said it still “bears some serious reading.” The pope “convincingly demonstrates that if we are more than merely cafeteria Catholics … we will have to read and ponder this encyclical  in what remains of the summer and the fall, and even the winter too, to derive from it the fruit that it contains.”

Pope Benedict “offers a moral framework for economic life, a word of hope, a call to solidarity and a challenge to work together to build an economy which is founded on truth and charity. The task ahead of us is nothing less than a serious moral obligation,” Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., writing in the July issue of his diocesan newspaper, West River Catholic.

In a July 16 editorial, The Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper of the Providence Diocese, tied the encyclical with pope’s visit July 10 with President Barack Obama, saying the pope presented in that meeting “the truth of Catholic teaching with clarity but also charity.” After their meeting at the Vatican and the release of the encyclical, the paper said, Obama “and his Catholic supporters would do well to remember the ‘Veritas’ part of ‘Charity in Truth.'”

Robbery of home of Near East Council of Churches Gaza official nothing more than a normal crime

Never let it be said that Judith Sudilovsky, Middle East correspondent for Catholic News Service, is asleep at the wheel.

She has been reporting for us for many years and hardly any news of significance escapes her careful watch. So when she learned that robbers invaded the home of  Constantine Dabbagh, executive director of the Near East Council of Churches, July 23, she was on the story in a flash. She wondered: Could he have been targeted because he’s Christian?

Sudilovsky got to the bottom of the story quickly and accurately. Here’s her report:

The robbery in his Gaza home could have happened anywhere, said Near East Council of Churches Gaza executive director Constantine Dabbagh, a day after three masked but unarmed men broke into his home and took money, jewelry and his car, leaving his four-room apartment in an upheaval.

Dabbagh was quick to dispel the notion that the robbery was an anti-Christian attack.

“It’s something that happens everywhere and yesterday I was a victim. My name could be Mahmoud or Cohen, it would have been the same thing,” said Dabbagh in a July 24 phone conversation with Catholic News Service.

“It had nothing to do with the fact that I was Christian. They were only interested in taking the money and jewelry and car.”

A day after the attack Dabbagh could even joke about the incident.

“Their questions were very unpolitical and very unreligious. They just asked where the gold and money was,” he said wryly.

The attackers forced their way into his home as he was leaving for work, he said, and handcuffed him and his wife and hit him once as they ransacked the apartment. The police responded quickly after he reported the crime, he said, and indeed found his dismantled car within 24 hours.

Dabbagh has heard of several instances of robberies in Gaza in the past few weeks. Most such robberies are carried out by one person and normally take place when the homeowners are away, he explained.

The fact that there were three robbers who carried out the attack in broad daylight has riled Gazans and the attack is the talk of the street now, Dabbagh said. People are furious, he said.

Still, he added, he can’t gauge whether these robberies are an indication of growing lawlessness in Gaza or just the result of “normal” crime as there is in every other society.

“In any place where this is unemployment and a continuing siege, you may expect to have more crime,” he said.


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