‘Tis the season to be on YouTube

In a recent blog entry, we told you about a video posted on YouTube by the staff of The Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan newspaper. Now we get to tell you about a music video posted on YouTube. The song is called “Jesus Please Bring Mommy Home for Christmas,” and it was written by Owen McGovern, former longtime executive director of the Catholic Press Association. It’s a prayer of sorts for mothers in the military over the Christmas holidays. His granddaughter 7-year-old Jordan Davis sings the tune, all the while crouched in front of a Christmas tree in a great single-camera shot.

Four volunteers honored for work on behalf of torture survivors

A School Sister of Notre Dame from Minnesota and a Catholic Worker in Washington were among four people honored for their service by the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International, known as TASSC.

Sister Alice Zachmann, 84, who returned to her religious community in Mankato, Minn., earlier this year, and Helen Schietinger of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker were cited for their years of volunteer service and the assistance they have provided to victims of torture from around the world who have resettled in the Washington area.

Also honored were volunteers Harold Nelson and Mary Harding, a victim of torture in Bolivia.

TASSC honored the foursome in a program at Church of the Pilgrims in Washington Dec. 10, U.N. Human Rights Day.

A former elementary teacher and school administrator, Sister Alice got her introduction to human rights work in the 1970s after visiting Guatemala twice. “I was smitten by the beauty of the country but appalled by the poverty,” she said.

Her visits came in the middle of the country’s long and violent civil war and she learned about widespread human rights abuses.

“I returned and vowed to do whatever I could to support the people of Guatemala,” she told Catholic News Service.

After praying about what to do about what she learned, she received her answer. She was approached by activists and asked to start an organization to support human rights efforts in Guatemala. That’s when she resigned from work in parish ministry in St. Paul, Minn., and came to Washington, where she became the founding director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA in 1982.

She said the experience of Ursuline Sister Dianna Ortiz inspired her work. An American missionary in Guatemala, Sister Dianna was abducted by members of the country’s military in 1989 and tortured while in captivity. Sister Dianna now works for Pax Christi USA in Washington.

Sister Alice stayed with the human rights organization for 20 years and then joined TASSC as a volunteer, serving for eight years. In Minnesota, she continues to speak at parishes and schools about torture that continues worldwide.

Rejoice with Vatican voices

VATICAN CITY — What do you like best about the Advent and Christmas seasons?

Members of the Sistine Chapel choir are seen during Mass on the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in 2006. (CNS photo/Reuters)

If it’s beautiful sacred music then the Vatican website has something you will love: downloadable MP3 music files.

If you go to this link, you will find a number of hymns sung by the Vatican’s very own Sistine Chapel choir. Five of the hymns are for Advent and Christmas. Clicking on the titles will give you the lyrics in Italian and clicking on the musical note will make the music start playing with an option to download.

Going to this link will bring you to a much larger selection of sacred and classical music played by professors and students of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. Scroll down to find the Advent and Christmas selections which are chanted in Latin. Enjoy!

We’re not the only ones who fret about intermarriage

An old friend, who has since gone to glory, used to encourage her children to date only Catholics. When you only date Catholics, you won’t fall in love with a non-Catholic and marry him/her, she reasoned. She and her husband, who totally agreed, also sent their children to Catholic schools K-university to tilt the odds even more favorably to Catholic nuptials. They succeeded in two out of three.

Her view seems a bit old-school these days, but she probably was on to something. Her daughter who married a non-Catholic had three children, all raised Catholic. Her granddaughter followed in her mother’s footsteps and married a non-Catholic. The husband was an evangelical, and, to keep the peace, both became mainline Protestants. I’m sure my old friend rolled over in her grave when that happened.

Mixed marriages — Catholic and non-Catholic — have been happening ever since the Great Schism and certainly since the Reformation. We’ve been fretting about it for centuries. One of the safeguards to keep mayhem at bay was to get the mixed-marriage couple to promise to raise the children Catholic, but that didn’t always work. Today there are so many mixed marriages, that no one knows exactly how many there truly are.

By the way, I am not in any way opposed to mixed marriages. My brothers and I are products of one, and one brother followed in our parents’ footsteps. Twice.

Catholics aren’t the only ones who worry about this. This year, mixed marriages was a big topic in Jewish circles. Though there are different issues in marriages between Jews and non-Jews from Catholic and non-Catholics, many of the issues are the same: religious practice in the household, raising of children, loss of culture and many others. Many rabbis simply won’t perform mixed weddings.

I don’t know of any Catholic priests or deacons who won’t preside at mixed weddings, but I don’t know of any who don’t get the engaged mixed couple to take a hard look at the issues before they take the walk to the altar.

Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation and a former president of the World Jewish Congress, has written a thoughtful piece in The Jewish Daily’s Forward about mixed marriages. He makes the point that Jews’ strategy should be less about prohibiting mixed marriages and more about making Judaism relevant to young people.

Not bad advice for Catholics either.

What are your thoughts on mixed marriages today?

Now playing on a computer near you …

Check this out: Staffers at  The Catholic Review, newspaper of the Baltimore Archdiocese, star in a YouTube video — a production with some Hollywood flair promoting their new blogs, which are daily updates from the newsroom.

About the blogs, the paper says: “Your news, your generation, your church right now.” Subject matter ranges from a look behind the headlines, by Christopher Gunty, associate publisher/editor, to a young slant on the archdiocese by reporter Matt Palmer, to a look at faith and life by reporter George Matysek — with more blogs by more staffers to come.

Bows and arrows and cell phones

Editor’s Note: Paul Jeffrey, a CNS stringer, traveled to  Southern Sudan in November to report on and photograph preparations  for the January referendum on independence. He filed this blog on the intersection of modern technology and traditional communication.

YAMBIO, Southern Sudan — Although the Arrow Boys self-defense militias in Sudanese villages along the border with Congo use rather primitive technology in fighting off attacks from the Lord’s Resistance Army, they take full advantage of electronic technology in passing on information. Cell phones allow the Arrow Boys to keep in touch with neighboring villages so that the movement of LRA soldiers can be closely followed.

In researching the story I wrote for CNS about the local response to LRA terrorism, I interviewed Comboni Sister Giovanna Calabria, a feisty woman in Nzara, about 20 miles from Yambio. She told me about the importance of cellular technology in meeting the threat.

“I never again will say the cell phone is useless,” she said. “People are calling all the time to share information or find out what’s happening. We’ll call the (Ugandan troops stationed nearby) and ask them what they know. People will call us with reports from the villages nearby, or to warn us to stay inside tonight. This network of cooperation has protected many of us.”

A few days after I was in Nzara, I heard a rumor of a new LRA attack. I called Sister Giovanna from Juba, and she verified the information. When I asked her for more details, she told me to call her back in 10 minutes. I did so, and she then put on the phone a leader of the local Arrow Boys who gave me a full accounting of the Nov. 19 attack on Basokanbi, some 10 miles away. A unit of the LRA had attacked, burned some houses, stolen voter registration materials and kidnapped eight children, one of whom (an 8-year-old girl) escaped a short time later. The LRA squad was chased by both the Arrow Boys and some members of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, but they got away with their captives.

In Riimenze, where I went on patrol with a group of Arrow Boys  to photograph them in the jungle, there is no cell phone coverage. So they use drums. They beat out the different rhythms they would use to pass different messages about the LRA. It’s a skill they’ve honed over the years in frequent tiffs with a nomadic tribe that passes through yearly with its cattle.

Sister Giovanna admitted mobile phone technology has its limits. “I pray every night that the Lord will take (LRA leader) Joseph Kony,” she said. “But apparently God doesn’t get a signal.”

Christmas, butter and gingerbread

(CNS photo/The Catholic Mirror)

In the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, Catholic Charities is raising awareness of the plight of the homeless this holiday season. The agency’s strategy includes drawing on a longtime Iowa State Fair tradition, writes Anne Marie Cox, editor of  The Catholic Mirror, the diocesan newspaper. The agency asked state fair butter sculptor Sarah Pratt to create a sculture of the Holy Family — out of butter.

It was the featured Nativity at the agency’s annual fundraising event, No Room at the Inn, Dec. 3-5. More than 300 creches from around the world were on display. The butter from Pratt’s sculpture will be recycled for next year’s state fair sculpture. Catholic Charities spokeswoman Trish Radke told the Mirror: “By depicting the Holy Family in a time-honored Iowa tradition of butter sculpture, we hope to remind people that Joseph and Mary had no place to stay when Jesus was born.”

“We hope people will be moved to action and support programs and services that provide men, women and children with life’s basic necessities. We offer dignity and hope to families who are struggling,” she added. One facility operated by Catholic Charities is St. Joseph Emergency Family Shelter.

On the East Coast, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington has been rendered in gingerbread by a pastry chef at a top-notch hotel, according to the website Georgetown Patch. The national shrine’s spokeswoman told CNS in an e-mail that Msgr. Walter Rossi, the rector, has talked with Charles Froke, executive pastry chef at the Four Seasons in Georgetown, who told the priest that after Christmas he’ll be giving his creation to the shrine, which plans to put it on display.

Salt + Light Television interviews Archbishop Dolan

Our friends and collaborators at Salt + Light Television, the Canadian national Catholic TV channel, premiered an interview on Sunday night with New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, the newly elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Conducted last summer by Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who heads Salt + Light, the interview covers Archbishop Dolan’s upbringing outside St. Louis, his vocation to the priesthood and his rise to one of the premier sees in the United States.  Take a look at this excellent 26-minute interview here:


Catholic Worker dentist ends service on LA’s Skid Row

For 18 years dentist Rich Meehan has offered free dental services to homeless people and others who call Los Angeles’ Skid Row neighborhood home.

Volunteering at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker dental clinic at East Sixth Street and Gladys Avenue, the dentist from South Bay has made the trip to the inner city on Fridays even while running his own thriving dental practice in Torrance from which he retired in 1998.

But Meehan, 76, is ending his service to care for his wife, Pat, who has Alzheimer’s disease. As he leaves, it’s entirely likely the clinic — nestled into a two-story cinder block building in back of the LA Catholic Worker’s soup kitchen, known as “The Hippie Kitchen” — will close.

The Tidings, newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, recently profiled Meehan and what he has meant to the people who often are overlooked in a busy world.

Christmas planning? Check liturgical calendar first

Although it’s been looking a lot like Christmas for quite some time at shopping malls and stores, the Catholic Church offers a reminder about when the season officially begins. According to the liturgical calendar, it starts Dec. 24 and ends in early January on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

With that in mind, Catholics are advised to relax and take a deep breath and put off  the mad rush to decorate, shop and celebrate — at least for a few weeks. Salt Lake City Bishop John C. Wester reminded Utah Catholics of this countercultural message in a pastoral letter called “Waiting in Joyful Hope.”

The Salt Lake Tribune daily newspaper said the bishop was “putting the brakes on Christmas” by urging Catholics to remain faithful to prayer and reflection during the four weeks of Advent.

It may be a tough message for some to hear, what with Christmas decor and music ever present, but there are some ideas out there to help those willing to give the liturgical calendar a try. US Catholic magazine, for starters, has an online Advent resource full of ideas on how to make the most of the four weeks of Advent.

One article in particular focuses on the 12 days of Christmas popularized by the song and stresses that although it would be hard in this day and age to limit Christmas celebrations to these 12 days, there are some ways this can be done.

One suggestion is to go ahead and decorate the tree, but don’t put the star on the top until Christmas Eve or put out a manager scene but do not add all the characters until Christmas. The article also gives plenty of ideas for how to celebrate the early January feast days as a way to give Christmas celebrations a longer and more spiritual life.

Happy Advent!


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