Giving up Facebook for Lent

Is giving up desserts for Lent so last year? Apparently.  A new trend in modern sacrificing is to give up on time-consuming things such as frequently reading or adding postings to Facebook.

The Arlington Catholic Herald, diocesan newspaper of Arlington, Va., did a story on this, quoting Catholics who might even continue this Facebook fast after Easter. One priest told the paper, “We’ve become so connected that we’re disconnected. …  We’re oversaturated with information. I know for myself I’m not going to go back to being that connected.”

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Calif., also plugged the idea of easing up on Facebook during Lent in a column in the diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Herald.

As he puts it: “The holy days of Lent are a good time for all of us to re-examine how we use technology to make better connections with our families, our friends, our God, and ourselves. That may mean less time on Facebook and more face time with our family and friends. It could also mean exploring how these technologies can help us learn about our Catholic faith, study Scripture, engage in fellowship, and even pray.”

Personal faith stories

During Lent, The Michigan Catholic, Detroit’s archdiocesan newspaper, is giving its readers space to tell personal stories of faith-changing moments. Writers to date have talked about difficult experiences — losing a job, an illness, an unexpected pregnancy – where they experienced grace and grew stronger in their faith.

Editor Marylynn Hewitt said the paper tried this approach a few years ago but it did not generate the same response as it has this time when the paper has a story for every week of Lent – primarily written by writers younger than 40.

Her take on the series is that “as Catholics, we’re to evangelize and what better way than to tell others what God has done in our life — helps us see him moving, breathing and being there for us.”

She also told Catholic News Service that the younger writers contributing to this series are “well versed in living out loud,” telling people about their lives through social networking, blogging and Twitter. “This, then, is a way to tie it into their faith,” she added.

Check these stories about job loss, sickness and unexpected pregnancy and keep an eye out for other upcoming pieces as Lent continues.

Mumbai reflects India’s religious diversity

Editor’s Note: Barb Fraze, CNS international editor, is traveling in Asia as part of the 2010 Senior Journalists Seminar sponsored by the East-West Center in Honolulu.

MUMBAI, India — Mumbai, India’s financial capital, is home to at least eight of the world’s religions. Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Jews, Jains and Christians — including Catholics — coexist here.

Scriptures in English, Tamil and Hindi are seen at a Church of North India cathedral in Mumbai.

Included in this blog post are just a few photos from some of Mumbai’s religious places of worship. They reflect the diversity of religions in India, a country that is about 80 percent Hindu. This is not an all-inclusive list. It also does not include cricket, which, as one tour guide indicated, “is almost like a religion for us in this country.”

The Church of North India is a Protestant denomination resulting from the merger of multiple churches. At St. Thomas the Apostle Cathedral in Mumbai, visitors can find Bibles in English and New Testaments in Hindi and Tamil. St. Thomas church has many plaques and sculptures commemorating Indians — often young — who gave service to their country or church.

India’s Catholic Church has three different rites. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has approximately 160 dioceses, including 128 Latin dioceses, six Syro-Malankara dioceses and 26 Syro-Malabar dioceses.

Of India’s approximately 24 million Christians, more than 17 million are Catholic. Christianity is India’s third-largest religion.

Minara Mosque is seen from a street in Mumbai.

At right is Minara Mosque in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay. Islam is India’s second-largest religion. The country’s nearly 161 million Muslims make up just 13.4 percent of India’s population, yet India has the world’s third-largest Muslim population, after Indonesia and Pakistan. Approximately 10-15 percent of India’s Muslim population is Shiite, according to an October study released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

To realize how many Muslims are in India, compare it to Iran, with a population that is 99.4 percent Muslim. India has more than twice as many Muslims as Iran’s nearly 74 million adherents to Islam. The United States has nearly 2.5 million Muslims, or less than 1 percent of the population.

According to India’s 2001 census, Sikhs make up nearly 2 percent of India’s population, and Buddhists make up 0.8 percent. Jains make up 0.4 percent of the population.

The final photo, below, is from a Jain temple in Mumbai. Almost all of the world’s 4 million Jains live in India. The religion has some similarities to Hinduism and Buddhism. However, Jains do not believe in the Hindu caste system, but believe in equality for all. Walking into a temple, a visitor might hear bells ringing — the bells are to awaken the deities.

A Jain makes an offering to a deity at a temple in Mumbai.

The parish fish fry: a Lenten tradition

On this Lenten Friday, enjoy this video of a parish fish fry posted today by The Catholic Spirit of St. Paul, Minn.

Still officially waiting for a John Paul miracle

VATICAN CITY — Regarding the beatification of Pope John Paul II, one thing is certain: no date will be set until the pope formally approves a miracle attributed to his intercession.

Many people were expecting Pope Benedict XVI to approve a miracle in December when he issued the decree recognizing that Pope John Paul had heroically lived the Christian virtues. And there was widespread expectation that the beatification would take place Oct. 17, the Sunday after the anniversary of Pope John Paul’s election in 1979.

When the miracle wasn’t recognized and the Oct. 17 date was set aside for a canonization ceremony for six saints instead, stories started circulating about Pope John Paul’s cause being derailed.

Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre (CNS/Reuters)

The story that has received the most attention so far was a Polish newspaper report Wednesday saying Pope John Paul’s beatification would be delayed, potentially for years, because a Vatican-appointed board of physicians cast doubt on the proposed miracle they were asked to study. The case involved the healing of a French nun who believed she had been healed of Parkinson’s disease, the same disease that afflicted Pope John Paul. The paper said the doctors were not convinced that the nun, Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, had had Parkinson’s, but that she may have been cured medically of another nervous system disorder.

But a Vatican official told ANSA, the Italian news agency, that the Polish newspaper report was “absolutely without foundation” and that the physicians’ board was not expected to meet until April.

At the same time, the Vatican is not saying that approval of the miracle is automatic. Far from it. It is one thing for symptoms to disappear and another to be cured.

The church also insists that the cure be unexpected and instantaneous, as well as complete and lasting. If Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre is still symptom-free, the physicians will have to determine whether the five years that have passed since she experienced healing are enough to certify the cure as lasting.

Then a panel of theologians must certify that the healing was related to prayers for Pope John Paul’s intercession. Then members of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes must vote to recommend that Pope Benedict recognize the miracle. In other words, it may be a while longer.

‘The Sacred Made Real’

"St. John of the Cross" sculpture on exhibit at the National Gallery of Art. (CNS /Peter Lockley)

The current exhibit at Washington’s National Gallery of Art — “The Sacred Made Real” —  would likely please St. Teresa of Avila if she were alive today. The 16th-century Spanish mystic who reportedly liked to pray before images of Christ’s passion would find much to contemplate among the 22 sculptures and paintings from the Spanish golden age that portray Jesus, Mary and some  saints with intensely precise detail.

Her contemporary,  St. John of the Cross, also from Spain, would most likely appreciate the exhibit too, and not just because it includes a sculpture of him. The saint, who received some sculpture training, also seemed to get one of the main ideas of the current exhibit — that sculptors and painters at that time worked together and also influenced each other.

As he once said: “Not everyone who can hew a block of wood is able to carve an image; nor is everyone who can carve it able to outline and polish it; nor is he that can polish it able to paint it.”

But everyone that can get to Washington (until May 31) can at least appreciate the work that went into this artistry.  And the exhibit’s curator, Xavier Bray from London’s National Gallery,  is hoping the art that was created to “shock the senses and stir the soul” will have a similar impact on the modern museum-goers. When he appealed to church officials to loan some of these works, he stressed that since they would be on display during Lent they could still be “incredibly powerful even out of context.”

FULL STORY: Spanish religious art exhibit portrays Mary, Christ, saints in detail

A bit of ‘how-to’ on priests, ministry and ‘new media’

By Basilian Father Chris Valka

In response to my previous post, “Responding to the pope’s challenge on ‘new media’,” I have been asked to share a little more about my own efforts in the “new media.”

My hope is to provide a few practical applications and reasons for using blogs and podcasts, in addition to offering a little technical expertise as to how one might get started.

The Blogs

Currently, I administer two blogs:

  • “reVerb” features my own homilies and retreat talks in an audio format (complete with RSS feed for iTunes) and is located at:
  • “Attuned” is a sort of “greatest hits” collection of inspirational and captivating interviews designed to give people an introduction into the world of podcasts.  Also available as an RSS feed, it may be found at

Attuned is actually a remake of a different blog I began as a campus minister. I often spoke to many students who wanted to learn more about their faith, but few of them had the time or concentration for additional reading.  Thus, I created the blog now known as Attuned so that students could listen to something “on-the-go” during the week.  Once a week, we would gather at a coffee shop on campus to discuss the interview and their thoughts.  More or less, it was a book club without the books – perfect for college students and busy people.

My hope has always been that Attuned would not only give parishioners and students a place to go for quality interviews, but more importantly to advertise those podcasts that are worth the listen.  You will notice that not all are Catholic or religious, but each one makes for quality conversation, which I believe is the purpose of mass media.  As I understand it, the media is a means to an end; a way to build community, if we let it.

reVerb came about in response to the family members of the sick and homebound who do not have an opportunity to get to Mass every Sunday.  While these individuals receive the Eucharist, and could read the readings at home, they missed the homily — until now.  In addition, some parents of young children explained the difficulty of concentrating during Mass while “entertaining” their little ones.  Humbled by the requests, I decided it was time to put my technical knowledge to use.

As for a little technical know-how. . . .

Blogs are fairly easy to create, and free, using sites like WordPress or Blogger, and I find are the best way to post ideas on the Web.  Recording one’s homily or presentation requires a digital recorder (which can be purchased at just about any electronics store for around $50) and a lapel microphone, which I found at Radio Shack for roughly $10.

In order to minimize edit-time, I turn on the microphone just before I read the Gospel and turn it off just after the homily.  Once I get home, I plug it into the audio input of my computer, edit the file and upload it to a server.  (At this point, one has to have some simple audio-editing program, such as Apple’s Garageband.)

The Harvest

When all is said and done, the online aspect takes an additional 30 minutes of time, but I can attest, it is well worth the time.  Not only do those who were not present have the opportunity to hear your thoughts, but so do those who wish to hear again in the middle of the week, or those who want to share it with friends.

Now, there are people coming to church who never came before; people scheduling appointments that I have never met; people asking really good questions and engaging in wonderful discussions about their faith.  I have found the key is keeping the audio fairly short and concise – and it doesn’t hurt to be a bit provocative from time to time.

Certainly, these new forms of evangelization are daunting, but then again, so is any form of evangelization.  We are called by Jesus and challenged by the pope to take the Gospel to all who are willing to listen, and if we are to do so, then we must learn to utilize our own energies through the media and each other.

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.

Most-viewed CNS stories for February

Make sure you didn’t miss any of these stories from our monthly list of most-viewed items for February on

1. Vatican official says religious orders are in modern ‘crisis’ (Feb. 4)

2. Sainthood scoop: Book on the “real” John Paul II snubbed at Vatican (Feb. 12)

3. Bishop says Oregon hospital can no longer be called Catholic (Feb. 16)

4. Shroud of Turin: Image provokes prayer, curiosity, scholarly disputes (Feb. 5)

5. Nun says Australian’s sainthood cause delayed by unfounded claims (Feb. 22)

6. Cardinal: Catholics, Mormons must defend religious freedom together (Feb. 23)

7. Bishop says king will not be sanctioned for signing abortion law (Feb. 26)

8. New missal not here yet, but Catholics urged to start talking about it (Feb. 9)

9. Cardinal: Group’s support of gay marriage not authentic church teaching (Feb. 11)

10. Cardinal asks dialogue partners if an ecumenical catechism might work (Feb. 8)

Year for Priests: Responding to the pope’s challenge on ‘new media’

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

Five days a week, I stand before six classes of teenage boys in 45-minute intervals.  After attendance and the usual exchange of assignments and questions and answers, I have 40 minutes to convey a lesson, allow for in-class practice or discussion, assign the evening’s work, and then rush out the door to do it all over again in another classroom.

It is the life of any teacher at Catholic Central High School, where I teach literature, computers and public speaking, but my difficulty concerns the priestly role I have to the students and staff.  I often ask myself, “When do I get to be a priest and not just a teacher?  When do I get to talk about the God who has called me forth, given me purpose, joy, and more than I could have ever known on my own?”

Certainly, this question is not unique to myself or to my role as a teacher.  My friends who work in parishes ask the same question, only exchanging “teacher” with “administrator.”  They are equally challenged by the time constraints of their members, who often have no more than 15 seconds of available time after Sunday Mass.

It is because of these obstacles that I found the pope’s recent challenge to priests all too appropriate.  In case you missed it, the Holy Father released his message for the 44th World Communications Day in which he challenged priests to utilize “new media” in order to “discover new possibilities for carrying out their ministry to and for the Word of God.”

These days, just about everyone I know has an iPod, especially if they are a high school or college student.  I have found podcasts (a downloadable talk-radio-style interview) to be a potent “response” to the pope’s challenge.

A case in point:

Several months ago, the parents of one of my students, who I will call Sam, found me after Sunday Mass.  During that 30-second exchange, they conveyed their concerns about their son’s lack of faith.  Since then, Sam and I have had a few conversations about it, but there was never enough time to really discuss his objections and questions.

Two weeks ago, I heard a podcast that I thought Sam might appreciate.  As he passed me after class, I pulled him aside and gave him the name and location of the interview on a piece of paper.  Sam agreed to listen to the 50-minute interview with an open mind, and seemed quite pleased about the possibility of answering some of his questions.

A few days later, Sam asked to meet me after school to discuss the interview.  He came well-prepared with crumbled-up piece of paper full of notes and questions.  Additionally, Sam had already arranged a ride home a full hour later than usual.

So over two pops in the school cafeteria, Sam and I discussed all his reasons for disbelief as well as their consequences.  In the end, it was one of the best discussions I have ever had with a student about the existence of God and the role of faith in our world.  Before he left, I gave him more interviews on the subject of faith and reason and have no doubt that he will come again with more questions.

These days, time is one of the greatest obstacles to ministry.  As ministers, we have to find ways to overcome that obstacle.  I believe this often requires us to have those first conversations through the words of another, whether it be a movie, podcast, good book or article.  Thirty seconds is not enough time to have a conversation, but it is plenty of time to make a recommendation.  Most of the time, I find those recommendations lead to more time for us to discuss what is really important – the presence of God in our lives and our need to discuss it.

As I close, I wonder if those who use “new media” to comment with their favorite sources so others may benefit as well.

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.

Click here for more in this series.

NAC Martyrs charge ahead

Victor Ingalls (in red) takes possession of the ball during the North American College's second match of the Clericus Cup. (CNS photo by Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — The North American College’s soccer team, the Martyrs, won 2-0 against the College of St. Paul on Saturday. It was their second game and their second victory since the Clericus Cup priestly soccer series kicked off Feb. 20.

Victor Ingalls, a second-year seminarian from Montgomery, Ala., plays stopper for the Martyrs. He and fellow seminarian/teammate, David Santos, spoke with Catholic News Service at a news event launching the cup’s fourth season. Read about it here.


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