World Communications Day theme challenges us

Don’t forget that this Sunday is the church’s observance of World Communications Day, a time to reflect on the challenges of spreading the Gospel in the modern world. (The date for the observance is always the Sunday between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost.)

This year’s theme is especially challenging to clerics: “The priest and pastoral ministry in a digital world: New media at the service of the Word.” As our story when the Vatican released Pope Benedict XVI’s statement for this year’s observance said:

Pope asks priests to get online, spread the Gospel

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In a message embracing the evangelizing potential of digital media, Pope Benedict XVI asked priests around the world to use Web sites, videos and blogs as tools of pastoral ministry.

“The world of digital communication, with its almost limitless expressive capacity, makes us appreciate all the more St. Paul’s exclamation: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel,’” the pope said in his message for the 2010 celebration of World Communications Day. (Full story)

Here’s an excellent video reflection on the theme from one of North America’s foremost priest-communicators, Basilian Father Thomas Thomas Rosica, the CEO of Salt + Light Television, Canada’s national Catholic network. (Hat tip to the Knights of Columbus’ Headline Bistro site, where I found the video.)

And as you consider the challenges of modern communications, don’t forget that we had two other reflections on this blog that are worth your consideration:

– A blog post, Responding to the pope’s challenges on ‘new media,’ by Basilian Father Chris Valka, part of our Year for Priests blog series,  in which he reflects on the pope’s charge to priests and gives an example of how he was able to use a podcast to help answer a high school student’s doubts about God.

– A second post by Father Valka giving his fellow priests (and any of the rest of us who want to listen) some practical ideas and applications for meeting these new media challenges. It’s an excellent primer if you’re looking for ideas on breaking into this new field.

What about you? Any other ideas as we contemplate the pope’s challenge? Feel free to comment below.

Catholic Charities’ Father Snyder calls for new values base in American economy

Father Larry Snyder (CNS/Paul Haring)

One of the more interesting blogs in cyberspace rolling out recently is that of Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA.

His “Think and Act Anew” blog offers food for thought on the status of poverty in the United States today.

The blog is part of Catholic Charities’ campaign to cut U.S. poverty in half by 2020.

In his latest post, under the headline “Collateral Damage,” Father Snyder calls for a new values base in the country, one where the common values of caring for one another replaces the “greed is good” mantra that has existed on Wall Street for the last 30 years. 

Quoting from Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), Father Snyder reminds American society that “the social element must be embodied in the economic one so that the market becomes an instrument of civilization once again. We need big, innovative ideas about how to meld our market economy with the common good so as to avoid collateral damage in the future.”

Inspiring words to ponder and act upon as the economy slowly emerges from a long, deep recession.

One-third of Goldman Sachs shareholders call for greater transparency

One-third of shareholders at Goldman Sachs May 7 voted in favor of a resolution seeking greater transparency in the bank’s derivatives trading ventures.

The resolution was the third offered at major banks in recent weeks by representatives of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of 275 faith-based institutional investors.

Although unsuccessful, the resolutions at Citigroup and Bank of America have garnered the support of at least 30 percent of votes, indicating some concern among shareholders for the way the banks conduct business.

Traditionally, shareholder resolutions receive single-digit support the first time they are offered.

ICCR representatives earlier told Catholic News Service that such efforts are aimed at holding major banks accountable in packaging investment packages.

Goldman Sachs, one of the country’s largest banks, has come under fire from politicians and regulators for the way it packaged and sold mortgage-related securities before the 2008 collapse of the housing market.

“The resolution on disclosing collateral policy gave shareholders the chance to use their voice and vote to challenge Goldman Sachs to increase transparency and disclosure,” said Cathy Rowan, corporate responsibility coordinator for the Maryknoll Sisters, in a statement. “I am hopeful that shareholders will continue to feel empowered to seek greater corporate accountability.”

Next up for ICCR: JPMorgan Chase May 18.

The targeted banks are four of the five financial institutions that reportedly account for 96 percent of all derivatives trading in the United States.

Flying to Portugal, pope says abuse crisis “terrifying”

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO PORTUGAL – Pope Benedict XVI said the priestly sex abuse scandal is a “terrifying” crisis that comes from inside the church — not from an outside attack — and requires purification and penance to overcome.

The pope made some of his strongest remarks to date on the sex abuse cases during an in-flight press conference May 11 on his way to Portugal for a four-day visit that was to include the Marian shrine of Fatima.

Asked if the message of Fatima, which foresaw times of trials and suffering for the church, could be applied to the sex abuse crisis, the pope said essentially that it could.

“Among the new things that we can discover today in this message is that attacks on the pope and the church come not only from the outside, but the suffering of the church comes from inside the church, from sins that exist inside the church,” he said.

“This we have always known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way, that the biggest persecution of the church doesn’t come from the enemies outside but is born from sin inside the church,” he said.

“And so the church has a profound need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn on the one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. And forgiveness does not substitute justice,” he said.

“We have to relearn these essentials: conversion, prayer, penance,” he said.

The pope, who helped explain the third secret of Fatima when it was published in 2000, said the Fatima messages extend in time to apply to the church’s continuing journey, which is accompanied by suffering.

The pope also spoke about the economic crisis that is shaking Portugal and the rest of Europe, saying it illustrates the need for a greater infusion of ethics and morality in the market.

“I would say this economic crisis has a moral dimension that no one can fail to see,” he said. “The events of the last two or three years have demonstrated that the ethical dimension must enter into the world of economic activity.”

Pure economic pragmatism will always lead to problems, he said.

The church’s social teaching has a big role to play, seeking to create a serious dialogue with the financial world and highlighting the moral responsibilities of economic systems, the pope said.

“So here we need to enter into a concrete dialogue. I tried to do this in my encyclical, ‘Caritas in Veritate,’” he said.

The pope said secularism was not a new problem in Portugal or Europe, but had taken a more radical turn in recent years. He said here, too, the church needs to engage in bridge-building and dialogue, making sure its voice is heard and helping to restore an openness to transcendent reality.

Handicapping a conclave

Jim Nicholson (CNS/Paul Haring)

Jim Nicholson, a former Republican congressman, Republican National Committee chairman and U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, had never actually met former President Bill Clinton before. But there they were on the same plane, headed to Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II in April 2005.

Nicholson had, though, spent plenty of time skewering the president when both were actively on opposite sides of the political fence. So how to break the ice for the first face-to-face meeting proved a tough chore to think through, Nicholson recalled May 6 at a conference sponsored by Trinity Washington University and the National Catholic Reporter.

Eventually, someone brought up common acquaintances, and introductions were made. Nicholson said Clinton, hoping to leverage Nicholson’s insider status at the Vatican, asked him, “Who’s going to be the next pope?”

Nicholson said he didn’t really know, since he was not privy to that kind of information; about the best that happened, he said, was an occasional heads-up on an episcopal appointment yet to be announced,

But when Clinton pressed, Nicholson gave an opinion. “I think it’s going to be Cardinal (Joseph) Ratzinger,” he recalled saying, then launching into an encapsulated summary of the German cardinal’s career, and topping it off with “and he doesn’t want to be pope” as another qualification.

Clinton “spun on his heels” without saying a word, Nicholson said, leaving the former ambassador wondering if it was something he had said or done that might have irritated the former commander in chief. Instead, as Nicholson found out before the flight landed, Clinton was “telling the boys in the media who’s going to be the next pope” — a prediction that proved true in the days to come.

Year for Priests: One year ago …

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

One year ago, on May 9, 2009, I was ordained a priest.  Of course all the usual reflections have flashed in my mind over the past few days:  What have I learned?  Is it what I thought it would be?  Does it feel like a year?  Which moments have been the most significant?  Etc. …

However, perhaps because I am a teacher, the question that causes the most pause is what I would like to pass along to others who are considering this journey.

Recently, I was told by a friend that, to her, my priesthood is best summed up in the words of Nehemiah:  “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh 8:10).  After our conversation, I went back to read the whole passage and was reminded that Nehemiah’s exhortation occurs in the context of worship, among people who are saddened by the demands of God.  Nehemiah challenges them to see the day, not as a burden, but as holy.

I am quite fond of speaking about our paths to holiness, about how we create the right environment for ourselves in order to experience God’s mercy and grace.  The past year of my priesthood has indeed been a path to holiness, and my friend is quite right — the joy of the Lord has been my strength.

Priesthood is not easy.  Your heart must learn to hold the joys and sorrows of those you serve.  At the same time, you will undoubtedly make mistakes or wish you could have responded/performed a little better.  Then you remember that this is the first year of many, and you give yourself permission to be a rookie.  Perhaps the difference between seeing the day as a burden or as holy is being OK with knowing you don’t know.

Over the past year, I have learned the two secrets of the spiritual life are most certainly acceptance and gratitude – not because they are unknown but, rather, that they are so hard to master.  I have learned that faith is the convergence of our experience and our hope, and when all else doesn’t, our faith is what unites us.  In turn, that unifying faith is most clearly seen in the rituals and liturgy that make God’s grace so evident.

I believe my primary role as a priest is to make that grace visible – something I never really understood until now.  In seminary, we are taught to “safeguard” the sacraments, and while that is most certainly true, there is a delicate balance between making “safe” and making “visible.”

I have learned that the worst reason for doing anything is “because that’s how we’ve always done it.”  And if the secrets of the spiritual life are acceptance and gratitude, then vulnerability is how you learn them.  For so many reasons, priesthood is risky business, but only unnecessarily so when you forget your place and your prayer.

Perhaps far too many of us have seen the ugly side of priesthood this past year.  Most certainly, I have been affected by the sadness I have witnessed.  Years ago, I adopted a personal slogan that seems even more appropriate now than it did then:  “Accountability is what often lies between a problem and a solution.”  Lord, I can only pray …

So one year later, the emotions of my ordination day still stir deep within, only now they are mixed with the faces and stories of those I have met since May 9, 2009.  I could have never imagined all that God would do through me; yet, I think I am more struck by what God has done to me through the lives of those to whom I minister.

“The joy of the Lord is our strength” – yes, that sums it up quite nicely … for all of us, I pray.

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.

Bipartisan bill will help Haiti rebuild garment trade

Haiti’s earthquake-shattered economy received a boost from the House of Representatives today with a vote to open the U.S. market to more Haitian clothing and textiles.

The Haiti Economic Lift Program Act handily passed in the House and will go before the Senate late today or tomorrow.

The bipartisan legislation was crafted by top House and Senate lawmakers and was introduced April 28. It extends existing trade preferences for Haitian goods for 12 years.

“The Haitian garment sector, Haiti’s flagship industry, was making important strides prior to the earthquake and helping the country’s economy establish a stable foothold,” said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., in a statement accompanying the bill’s introduction. “With this legislation, we will help get the garment sector and Haiti’s economy back on that critical trajectory.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement that the bill will assist Haiti’s long-term economic recovery following the largest and most devastating earthquake in the country’s 206-year history.

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, supported an earlier bill calling for some of the same measures in a Feb. 19 letter to senators on the Finance and Foreign Relations committees.

In a follow-up letter May 4, Bishop Hubbard was joined by Ken Hackett, president of Catholic Relief Services, in thanking Grassley and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., for sponsoring the new legislation in the Senate.

In February, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced the Plus One for Haiti program, which calls on the American apparel industry to obtain at least 1 percent of its clothing imports from the Caribbean nation.

Haiti exported $513 million worth of clothing to the U.S. in 2009, an increase of almost 25 percent from 2008. Haiti is the 17th largest supplier of clothing in the U.S., according to the apparel industry.

Students launch campaign to end “r-word”

Students at the University of St. Thomas – a Catholic diocesan university in St. Paul, Minn. —  launched their own version of a campaign by the Special Olympics to encourage people to stop using the word retarded, or the “r-word.”

The student campaign organizers produced a video about their efforts and collected student pledge forms where students promised not to use the word.

Kari Jo Johnson, a St. Thomas senior who helped initiate the campaign, said her brother’s Down syndrome inpacted her in “unspeakable ways.”

“When I saw the campaign that Special Olympics started, I knew my campus, classmates and peers needed to be informed about how this word could actually be stopped,” she told the university’s news service.

 John Busch, another university senior and campaign organizer, also has a brother with Down syndrome and is offended when he hears the word retarded.  “As a residence-hall adviser, I hear the word on a daily basis and realize how important it is to get students to understand its true meaning,” he said.

The Special Olympics campaign  encourages people to make online pledges to stop saying the word and encourage others to stop as well. After a little more than two years, the campaign has received about 100,000 pledges.

The first of 1,000 wheelchairs make it to Haiti

Some of the thousands of Haitian amputees injured during the Jan. 12 earthquake are mobile again.

They are the beneficiaries of the first shipment of what eventually will be 1,000 wheelchairs, thanks to the Knights of Columbus and the American Wheelchair Mission, run by Chris Lewis, son of comedian Jerry Lewis.

Some of the wheelchairs were distributed April 27-29 to patients at a field hospital operated by a University of Miami medical team. Located on the grounds of the international airport in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, the 240-bed hospital has treated hundreds of people who suffered crushing injuries during the massive magnitude 7 quake.

“We gave wheelchairs to 15 people that day (April 27) who could not leave until they got a wheelchair,” Lewis told Catholic News Service May 3 from his office in Camarillo, Calif. “People are in the hospital but couldn’t go anywhere because they could not move. These wheelchairs are helping them resume their life.”

Lewis said the people he met were grateful for the wheelchairs. A few told him they were going to find a church to thank God for the gift.

During the last few days of April, Lewis’ foundation delivered 400 wheelchairs to the hospital in conjunction with the HHS Foundation in the Dominican Republic. Because of limited storage space, the rest of the delivery will be staged over the next several weeks.

The Knights of Columbus is sponsoring the delivery.

Knights’ spokesman Patrick Korten said the effort is part of the organization’s 7-year-old worldwide wheelchair program.

“It was very rewarding (to be there),” Korten said, “but a bit disconcerting … to see so many people with so serious injuries and without limbs. They can use these wheelchairs.”

Lewis, a fourth-degree Knight, started his foundation in August after working for another wheelchair foundation for nine years. He said he helped coordinate the delivery of 750,000 wheelchairs to 150 countries during that period.

Abuse fallout still among most-viewed stories for April

After the dominance of stories on sex abuse and health care in our last report on most-viewed stories for the preceding month, our report for April is a tiny bit more wide-ranging. But fallout from the abuse scandal still had a role — directly or indirectly — on eight of the 10 most-viewed stories for April listed below.

1. New coadjutor of Los Angeles one of 24 Opus Dei bishops (April 9)

2. Trials will leave priesthood, church stronger, priest-psychologist says (April 15)

3. Report for late New York cardinal’s sainthood cause presented to pope (April 14)

4. Oklahoma bishop to celebrate solemn high Mass at national shrine (April 22)

5. At Vatican, frustration and some optimism over abuse scandal (April 16)

6. At five-year mark, pope’s teaching mission hits some obstacles (April 1)

7. Vatican campaign to defend pope not orchestrated at the top (April 6)

8. Abuse scandal painful, but doing penance leads to grace, pope says (April 15)

9. Vatican rebuts allegations of stalling on California sex abuse case (April 14)

10. Cardinal accused of mishandling abuse case replaced as Mass celebrant (April 21)


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