Holy Land journey: Challenges for the church in Lebanon

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

(Editor’s Note: Bishop Gerald Kicanas (right) of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is on a trip to Lebanon, his ancestral homeland, and to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he will attend an international meeting of  bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land. He has agreed to be a guest blogger for us during the trip.)

DAY THREE: Jan. 7, 2010

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Today was planned to be focused on learning more about the life of the Catholic Church in Lebanon as well as the place of interfaith dialogue in this land so rich with diverse expressions of faith.

* * *

We left rather early for Harissa to meet with the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia. Traffic in Beirut is not unlike traffic in Tucson or most cities, a nightmare. Congested streets coupled with very aggressive drivers make for quite an adventure. Horns bark as cars cut in and out seeking to get an inch up on another car in order to turn into a lane or make a U-turn from anywhere at any time. We had an experienced driver who seemed to delight in the battle. Honk and move is the strategy. Pedestrians beware.

The nunciature was moved during the war from central Beirut to Harissa, which is located outside the city in the suburban area. We drove along the ever-present turquoise blue sea glimmering in the early morning sun. Mark pointed out to us the Armenian compound as we passed and the Maronite and Greek Orthodox Centers high up on the mountain. Like Tucson, Beirut has its mountains on which many homes and structures have been built. However in the city there is little open space or gardens. The city and its environ are dense with homes and businesses.

We climbed the road leading to the nunciature and entered a beautiful garden space. A religious woman greeted us with a warm welcome in several languages and escorted us in for a brief wait until the nuncio, Archbishop Caccia entered. He is a very young man, new to Lebanon. His family is from Milan and he served in the diplomatic corps in Tanzania and in the Secretariat of State in the Vatican before being named to this challenging and complex responsibility. He was ordained by Pope Benedict XVI as archbishop in September and arrived in Beirut in October.

The group with Archbishop Gabriele Caccia. (Photo courtesy Bishop Kicanas)

He said — at times depending on whom he is talking to — that he tells people he has only been in Beirut for a very short time, just a few months, and, at other times, that he has been here a year since he arrived in Beirut in 2009 and it is now 2010.

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Pope visits Cardinal Etchegaray in hospital

ROME — Pope Benedict went to Rome’s Gemelli hospital this evening to visit French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who was injured when a woman rushed the pope at the start of his Christmas Eve liturgy in St. Peter’s.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray in a 2006 file photo at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in Harissa, Lebanon. (CNS photo)

The pope chatted for a half-hour with the 87-year-old cardinal, who underwent hip replacement surgery after the incident. The Vatican said the cardinal was able to walk the pope to the door of his hospital room at the end of the visit.

The two spoke in French, and the pope asked about the recovery and rehabilitation program the cardinal is undergoing. The Vatican said Cardinal Etchegaray’s condition is very good, and he is expected to leave the hospital sometime next week.

Susanna Maiolo, 25, jumped a security barrier at the start of the Dec. 24 liturgy as Pope Benedict processed into St. Peter’s Basilica. Although Vatican guards tackled her, she was able to grab the pope’s vestments, causing him to lose his balance and tumble to the floor. He was apparently unharmed, but Cardinal Etchegaray suffered a broken hip when he fell in the confusion.

Pope marks 150 years of North American College

VATICAN CITY — The Pontifical North American College, the U.S. national seminary in Rome, is celebrating its 150th anniversary and today Pope Benedict XVI marked the event in an audience with the institution’s students, superiors, faculty and alumni.

The pope said he was confident NAC would continue to produce “wise and generous pastors capable of transmitting the Catholic faith in its integrity, bringing Christ’s infinite mercy to the weak and the lost, and enabling America’s Catholics to be a leaven of the Gospel in the social, political and cultural life of their nation.”

It was Pope Pius IX who inaugurated the college on Dec. 8, 1859, having donated the site on Via dell’Umilta in downtown Rome. In 1953, the college moved to a larger new facility on the Janiculum Hill, not far from the Vatican.

Here is the text of the pope’s remarks today:

Your Eminences,
Dear Brother Bishops and Priests,

I am pleased to welcome the alumni of the Pontifical North American College, together with the Rector, faculty and students of the seminary on the Janiculum hill, and the student priests of the Casa Santa Maria dell’Umiltà. Our meeting comes at the conclusion of the celebrations marking the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the College’s establishment by my predecessor, Blessed Pius IX. On this happy occasion I willingly join you in thanking the Lord for the many ways in which the College has remained faithful to its founding vision by training generations of worthy preachers of the Gospel and ministers of the sacraments, devoted to the Successor of Peter and committed to the building up of the Church in the United States of America.

It is appropriate, in this Year for Priests, that you have returned to the College and this Eternal City in order to give thanks for the academic and spiritual formation which has nourished your priestly ministry over the years. The present Reunion is an opportunity not only to remember with gratitude the time of your studies, but also to reaffirm your filial affection for the Church of Rome, to recall the apostolic labors of the countless alumni who have gone before you, and to recommit yourselves to the high ideals of holiness, fidelity and pastoral zeal which you embraced on the day of your ordination. It is likewise an occasion to renew your love for the College and your appreciation of its distinctive mission to the Church in your country.

During my Pastoral Visit to the United States, I expressed my conviction that the Church in America is called to cultivate “an intellectual ‘culture’ which is genuinely Catholic, confident in the profound harmony of faith and reason, and prepared to bring the richness of faith’s vision to bear on the pressing issues which affect the future of American society” (Homily at Nationals Stadium, Washington, 17 April 2008). As Blessed Pius IX rightly foresaw, the Pontifical North American College in Rome is uniquely prepared to help meet this perennial challenge. In the century and a half since its foundation, the College has offered its students an exceptional experience of the universality of the Church, the breadth of her intellectual and spiritual tradition, and the urgency of her mandate to bring Christ’s saving truth to the men and women of every time and place. I am confident that, by emphasizing these hallmarks of a Roman education in every aspect of its program of formation, the College will continue to produce wise and generous pastors capable of transmitting the Catholic faith in its integrity, bringing Christ’s infinite mercy to the weak and the lost, and enabling America’s Catholics to be a leaven of the Gospel in the social, political and cultural life of their nation.

Dear brothers, I pray that in these days you will be renewed in the gift of the Holy Spirit which you received on the day of your ordination. In the College chapel, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady is portrayed in the company of four outstanding models and patrons of priestly life and ministry: Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Pius X, Saint John Mary Vianney and Saint Vincent de Paul. During this Year for Priests, may these great saints continue to watch over the students who daily pray in their midst; may they guide and sustain your own ministry, and intercede for the priests of the United States. With cordial good wishes for the spiritual fruitfulness of the coming days, and with great affection in the Lord, I impart to you my Apostolic Blessing, which I willingly extend to all the alumni and friends of the Pontifical North American College.

Another side of new Milwaukee archbishop

Chaplain Jerome E. Listecki, pictured at St. Joseph Church, Wilmette, Wis. (Photo courtesy of Penny Listecki)

The Milwaukee Catholic Herald gave its readers another view of their new archbishop with this story about his military chaplaincy where he  ministered to soldiers in the reserves.

In 1991, when there were more than 500,000 troops stationed in the Persian Gulf, Life magazine planned to do a “chaplain goes to war” story featuring Chaplain Jerome E. Listecki. The then-chaplain was told three times to prepare to join Operation Desert Storm but before he was to ship out, the war ended.

A friend who met the archbishop in the reserves described Milwaukee’s new shepherd as “a good example of what a true priest should be” and fondly remembers that the priest would “wear his military uniform and his combat boots under his vestments.”

Holy Land journey: A full day seeing the needs of Lebanon

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

(Editor’s Note: Bishop Gerald Kicanas (right) of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is on a trip to Lebanon, his ancestral homeland, and to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he will attend an international meeting of  bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land. He has agreed to be a guest blogger for us during the trip.)

DAY TWO: Jan. 6, 2010

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The day began with a hearty breakfast which readied us for what was an informative, engaging, moving and powerful day.

* * *

It began with a visit to the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center, begun in 1994 to respond to a few Sudanese refugees who faced tough conditions and needed special care. A life-size picture of Mother Teresa greets you on the wall as you enter the office.

Women read and watch TV at the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center in Beirut in 2008. (CNS/Norbert Schiller)

It means so much to see the church aligned with the poor and the marginalized. Caritas Lebanon and Catholic Relief Services work hard to be present to those struggling and in need of support to assist and to empower them. I feel that same pride with programs in our diocese like Dioceses Without Borders, a cross-border effort to link the Archdiocese of Hermosillo, Mexico, and the dioceses of Tucson and Phoenix in addressing the needs of our community, and the Kino Border Initiative in Ambos Nogales, a Jesuit-born initiative which is serving migrants crossing into the United States and those sent back across the border. This concern for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers is what the church should be about.

In Lebanon, the Migrant Center reaches out to serve people, mostly women, from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Nepal, Sudan, Somalia, Madagascar, Bangladesh, Iraq and, of course, the Palestinian territories. When Caritas Lebanon first got involved it had only one office and three people being served. This year there are 10 offices serving 110 people. They also serve a detention center with 500 people housed in a former garage, a bleak place where people struggle to retain their human dignity.

In this file photo from 2008, Hussein and Samina Khafagi share a snack of grapes with their four children in their small apartment in Beirut. They were receiving assistance from the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center, which is funded by Catholic Relief Services. (CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Migrant workers in Lebanon, as in other countries, can be subject to exploitation. They are brought to the country by agencies to serve mostly as domestic workers. They are taken advantage of by these agencies and, at times, they can be physically and sexually abused by their employers or their families. They have no rights and are living a kind of slavery. The Migrant Center provides legal assistance, social counseling, medical aid, and they are working to formulate a unified contract that would protect worker rights. They have begun an advocacy program to raise awareness in Lebanon of these abuses. A sign on the wall in the office shows kitchen utensils surrounded by the words that read, “Would you tolerate someone hitting you or mistreating you?”

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Year for Priests: Transcending the classroom

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

A new year brings a new semester at Catholic Central High School, and while no one is entirely thrilled about the daily addition of snow that plagues the roadways, winter seems to promote a little more stillness, reflection and purity in the mind of my students.  In American Literature, we began a new unit on Transcendentalism – perfect for this time of year.  After a brief introduction, we imagined that our classroom was in Cambridge, Mass.,s circa 1836.  As we sat casually inside, the snow continued to fall outside as we philosophized about life.  They asked:

“What does the afterlife look like?”

“What brings about happiness?”

“What is the relevance of God?”

Happiness, they first determined, is success, which is measured in cash; but then we discussed it further and they concluded that happiness comes from experience.  Most students agreed that happiness comes about through the activities of men and women. Thus, I asked about the relevance of God?

. . . . . silence.

In the middle of so many activities that occur in the world of a teenage boy, I asked, “Where does God enter the picture?”  They agreed that they wanted an answer, but found it difficult to articulate.  “So,” I said, “Let’s simplify it then: Why go to church?”

“For hope,” one young man said.

“So I can learn how it is I am supposed to live,” said another.

And another said, “It is the only place I can find quiet.”

Struck by their sincerity, I asked if they find what they desire in church.  “Sometimes,” they continued, “but often what we learn about in church doesn’t really affect us too much.  Like at Mass, I used to think that the priest was just simply talking to the adults, but then my mom couldn’t remember what the priest said either.  I guess it didn’t matter much.”

“So why go?” I asked.

“Because I hope one day I’ll get it,” he said.

After class, I recalled a production that I did some time ago with Salt + Light Television entitled The Search for Church (the 20-minute video is linked here).  That night, I watched it once again and found that my students reiterated what we discovered through that production – young people really want meaning in their lives, but even at church the message is often clouded.  Yet, young people continue to come and remind the rest of us that our places of worship should ultimately be places of living hope.

My students are learning from the Transcendentalists that there is a time and a place for non-conformity.  For my part, I pray that when the students find what they are looking for in church, it will be because the rest of us have learned from them as much as they have learned from us.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil last May and is teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.

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Holy Land journey: Back in my grandparents’ homeland

By Bishop Gerald Kicanas
One in a series

(Editor’s Note: Bishop Gerald Kicanas (below) of Tucson, Ariz., vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is in Lebanon, his ancestral homeland. The trip will also take him to Israel and the Palestinian territories for an international meeting of  bishops in support of the church in the Holy Land. He has agreed to be a guest blogger for us during the trip.)

DAY ONE: Jan. 5, 2010

BEIRUT, Lebanon — I arrived in Beirut at night. I flew over the pitch black Mediterranean Sea on Middle East Airlines to see the lights of the city glittering in the night. I felt excited to be back a second time some 40 years later in the land my grandparents spoke about, whose food I grew up enjoying, and where my roots lie. I hope to learn more about this land which has faced so many heart-breaking struggles and keeps bouncing back proudly.

Steve Colecchi, director of the Office of International Justice and Peace at the U.S. bishops’ conference, and William O’Keefe, senior director for advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, are accompanying me. They have visited this country before and know well its challenges.

Samir, a young man born in Lebanon who works as a driver for CRS, greeted me with the words, “Welcome home, Sayeedna (Bishop).” It felt so good.

Being late we drove right to the hotel where I met Mark Schnellbaecher, regional director of CRS, and Melinda Burell, country director for CRS, who planned our itinerary. We enjoyed a late evening meal of Arabic food at a lovely restaurant quite close to the hotel. Hummus, baba ghanouj, good Lebanese bread, grape leaves and lots of olives adorned the table. Mark and Mindy spoke of our next-day activities, which would start at 9:00 a.m. and end around 10:00 p.m. non-stop. I collapsed that night hoping jet lag would not menace my sleep.

Contest promotes family prayer

The 2010 national competition “Try Prayer! It Works!” sponsored by Family Rosary is currently under way and open to students from kindergarten to 12th grade in Catholic schools, religious education programs or Catholic parishes or organizations.

Deadline for submissions is Feb. 1.

This year’s theme: “The Family That Prays Together Stays Together” is based on the message of  Holy Cross Father Patrick Peyton —  known as the “rosary priest” — who coined that phrase.

Contest entries should express through art, poetry or prose the importance of family prayer.

Up to three winners are chosen per grade: first-place winners are awarded $100, while the sponsoring organization earns $200, and runners-up win Holy Cross Family Ministries products.

For more information or to download an application, go to www.hcfm.org/tryprayer.

Most-viewed CNS stories for December

An interesting mix of most-viewed stories for December on our main site, www.catholicnews.com — did you miss any of these?

1. ‘Not a shred of disagreement’ between CHA, bishops on health reform (Dec. 28)

2. English, Welsh bishops say Equality Bill redefines who can be priest (Dec. 9)

3. Health reform, Pope Benedict named top story, newsmaker of 2009 (Dec. 11)

4. Vatican to decide fate of woman who knocked down pope (Dec. 28)

5. Not so secret: New book features 105 documents from Vatican archives (Dec. 4)

6. Vatican says pope outraged by sex abuse in Ireland (Dec. 11)

7. Archbishop Dolan says Archbishop Sheen knew Jesus was ‘way to heaven’ (Dec. 10)

8. U.S. interns swap hard work for incredible experiences at Vatican (Dec. 1)

9. Cardinal Foley decides to step down as Vatican’s ‘voice of Christmas’ (Dec. 2)

10. Of d’ohs and doughnuts: Vatican newspaper discusses Simpsons’ theology (Dec. 23)

Alaskan priest dons bullet-proof vest

Effie Caldarola of  The Catholic Anchor, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, has an interesting story about a priest in Wasilla who serves as volunteer chaplain to Alaska State Troopers.

Father Bill Fournier’s work involves not only ministering to the troopers themselves but supporting the troopers “in ministering to the people who have been affected” by tragedy.

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