Pax Christi USA moving national HQ to Washington

(CNS Photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Seeking to raise its profile on Capitol Hill and beyond, Pax Christi USA is moving its national headquarters from Erie, Pa., to Washington.

The move will allow the U.S. arm of Pax Christi International, the international Catholic peace organization, to more readily address issues related to global conflicts, nuclear disarmament, justice for the world’s most vulnerable people and environmental concerns.

“We’re at a point where our voice needs to be heard on a much more national scene,” said Sister Josie Chrosniak, a member of the Sisters of the Humility of Mary and chairwoman of the organization’s national council. “We need to be where it can have the most effect.

“We need to speak to people in positions that can create change in the government as well as in the church,” she told Catholic News Service from Cleveland. “As we grow and as we get stronger relationships with some of the other organizations speaking truth to power, in a sense we really need to be where they are and many are in Washington.”

Executive director Dave Robinson will continue in his position.

The organization has worked for nearly a decade to increase its Washington presence. It opened a Washington office in 2002 and more recently expanded that presence by moving to the Center of Concern and starting an internship program.

Ursuline Sister Dianna Ortiz coordinates the Washington office.

Pax Christi USA opened its national office in Erie in 1986 thanks to the support of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie. While Pax Christi eventually bought its own building and expanded staff and activities as its membership grew, the location proved to be less than ideal in working with government officials and other national and international organizations.

Sister Josie said the organization is grateful for the support the Erie Benedictines offered early on and over the years.

Expect Pax Christi USA to broaden its message to include environmental concerns as well.

“Somebody has to speak to the violence that is happening to the earth. We need to … speak on how to stop that violence,” Sister Josie said.

The move is scheduled to be completed this summer.

Rooms still available for Blessed John Paul II weekend

Pope John Paul II (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

VATICAN CITY — Despite media reports that all affordable accommodations in Rome are booked for the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II, reasonable rates can still be found.

Various news outlets have reported that hostels, hotels and B&Bs are already booked for the beatification, and  that prices are skyrocketing to 300 percent their normal rates for the big May weekend.

We found that a small percentage of Roman hoteliers do seem to be exploiting Catholics with sky-high prices that are many times the regular high season rates. For example, Hotel Locarno, a four-star hotel located just across the river from the Vatican, was charging €1,560 for three nights in a double room, three times their usual high-season price, according to their website. The website of Hotel Eurostars Roma said its rate was €133 a night for a standard double room two weekends prior to the beatification, but the price jumped to more than €600 a night for the May 1 weekend.

Easter is always one of the busiest times around the Vatican. Pope John Paul’s beatification comes a week afterward and more than a million pilgrims expected for the event. The demand for lodging is extremely high, but a search of hotels and B&Bs in Rome showed that there are more than 100 reasonably priced rooms available.

For example, B&B Vatican St. Peter, located just outside Vatican City, still had availability for the evening of May 1 at €90 a night for a double room.

As of Feb. 28, the average price for a three-star hotel room for the beatification weekend was around €250 a night, and a four-star hotel room was going for €350.  Three- and four-star hotels with standard double rooms under €200 could still be found, and B&Bs in excellent locations had rooms and apartments for under €130.

For those still looking for accommodations for the event, here’s some advice to ensure that you are getting the best price:

1.) Look for locales further from the Vatican, especially across the Tiber River. Rome is easy to get around on foot and has excellent public transportation that can get you to St. Peter’s Square in no time.

2.) Don’t automatically rule out the option of staying at a B&B or renting an apartment for your stay in Rome. These can be some of the most charming places, affordable and full of character. Some require at least a four-night stay, so plan on some time to tour the Eternal City.

3.) Keep in mind that as of Jan.1, the Rome tourist tax for hotels is €1 -€3 per night, per person, for up to10 days, and must sometimes be paid in cash. Also check that other taxes are included in your room rate before booking, or ask what the final price with taxes will be.

4.) Once at your hotel, if the rate you are paying is higher than the maximum displayed tariff, which is listed on a sign posted in each room, you have a right to notify the police of the discrepancy.

5.) Consider staying in another city located outside of Rome and taking the train in to the city for the day. Rome’s main train station gives you access to a multitude of surrounding towns and trains run throughout the day.

Forget this year’s red carpet hoopla: Consider yesteryear’s stars, films with Catholic connection

In the weeks, days and final hours leading up to Sunday evening’s Academy Awards telecast, we’ll have all heard plenty from prognosticators about who will be taking Oscar home as best actor and best actress, best director and best film.

But why not take a break from all that hoopla and consider some of the Oscar-winning films in Hollywood history whose leading actors and actresses portrayed Catholic figures or that otherwise had a Catholic-related theme?

Jim Breig looks at some of these stars and films of yesteryear in two articles posted on the website Fathers for Good, sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.

In “Oscar Actors of Faith,” he looks at the winners over the decades that have featured priests and nuns as their main characters.

“In the long history of movie-making, actors and actresses have won Oscars for playing” gangsters, kings, peasants, princesses, and “real-life geniuses … and fictional serial killers,” Breig writes. “A few of the golden statuettes have also been presented to performers who played outstanding Catholics, even saints, or appeared in films that centered on Catholicism.”

The second piece, “Faith on Film,” is about “how often Catholic themes have been the main topic of the winners in the best picture category.”

Taking a shine to Martin Sheen

The first time I met Martin Sheen was in the summer of 1999, a couple of months before “The West Wing” premiered. NBC was hosting a garden party for TV writers with much of its on- and off-screen talent present. I had worked arduously with an NBC publicist to get some interview time with Sheen during the party. And just as I was getting started, actor Robert Davi (he was on the drama “Profiler” at the time) interrupted, as he just had to confer with Sheen about some miraculous occurrence in Davi’s life.

By the time I got to my “exclusive” interview with Sheen, it became far less exclusive. Other writers started hovering around us, eventually planting their cassette recorders on the table in front of Sheen. (By comparison, nobody but me seemed interested in actor Mike O’Malley.) By and large, the other writers weren’t even asking questions. They just wanted to hear Sheen rhapsodize about what was on his mind.

Martin Sheen and son Emilio Estevez talk about "The Way" at Georgetown University in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

When I recounted this to Sheen Feb. 18 at Georgetown University, he retorted, “Oh, so I was a windbag!” Maybe, but his recorded comments were parlayed into a couple of articles, including one that won me a prize from the Catholic Press Association for best personality profile.

Following a post-interview hiatus, I returned to Georgetown to take in a screening of “The Way,” which stars Sheen and is directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. Sheen plays a doctor who impulsively makes the 500-mile pilgrimage from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in the place of his son, who dies in a storm on the first day of the journey.

I sat in the back row, which was reserved for media types, sitting dead center so that others would not have to scooch past me. After a litany of pre-screening welcomes, including a joint thank-you from Sheen and Estevez, the lights dimmed. As the film began, there was a figure trying to climb over the back of the empty seat next to me. It was Sheen! I offer him my hand so he could clamber over a little more gracefully. Joe Cosgrove, Sheen’s attorney and friend (and a sometimes “West Wing” bit player), was sitting on the other side of that empty seat. “This is Mark,” Sheen told Cosgrove in a hoarse whisper. “He’s a journalist.”

I tried to observe Sheen’s reactions to a movie he’s undoubtedly already seen plenty of times. But it’s hard to read what you’ve written in a dark movie theater. Personally, I found it amazing that he laughed, chuckled or winced at all, given the repeated in-person screenings of “The Way” he has attended, with countless more still to come while he promotes the film for an April 15 opening in England, Ireland and Malta, and a Sept. 30 opening in the United States.

After the movie was over, Sheen had to get back to the auditorium floor to join Estevez in taking questions from the audience. I stood up and leaned back against my chair to give Sheen room to make his way past the others in our row. Instead, he went out the way he came in — climbing over the seat back to get to some carpeted terra firma.

Virtually there: Small Christian communities online in Africa

A child prays the Our Father during Mass in Kenya Feb. 13. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

NAIROBI, Kenya — The model of parish in East Africa is based on small Christian communities, but the church in Kenya actually has three virtual communities.

By going to, a person can click on a link to access a virtual community.

Maryknoll Father Joseph Healey, who teaches a class on small Christian communities at three Kenyan universities, helped set up the virtual communities using a public Facebook page.

The communities meet together to pray, study Scripture and help others. Online communities are limited to six people.

Indian Catholic magazine makes impressive debut

Smart Companion India” is indeed smart. The new Kerala-based magazine debuted recently with 44 well-designed and well-edited pages of news and feature articles, interviews, opinions, reviews and beautiful visuals about Catholic faith and life in India. The magazine is produced by the Society of Jesus, and its editorial director is Jesuit Father Jacob Srampickal, a professor of communications at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and a consultor of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

The magazine is published fortnightly, and is now on its sixth issue. This one discusses human rights, Christianity in Indian art, the papal reach into cyberspace to reach youth using social media, and an interesting interview with Bishop Thomas Macwan of Amedabad, the world’s first Gujarati bishop. (Mohandas Gandhi, the father of modern India, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of modern Pakistan, are both Gujarati.)

If you are an Indian Catholic or just have an interest in the ancient Catholic faith in India — it stretches back to the time of the Apostle Thomas bringing the faith to Kerala  — check out “Smart Companion India.” It’s a great new addition to the family of English-language Catholic magazines.

Confronting sex abuse rage: a priest’s story

Sexual abuse among members of the clergy and other church leaders has raised its head again in recent stories. It’s seldom out of the news these days, it seems, just some days more than others.

Too often the media is so busy trying to cover how the church is responding to the crisis, how courts and legislatures are prosecuting and how victims are trying to cope and recover, we can overlook or under-report the toll it takes on church leaders — and the rank and file — who reel almost daily from the onslaught.

Father Doyle

Father Kenneth J. Doyle wrote recently in the Feb. 11 issue of the Times Union of Albany, N.Y., about his own feelings of anger and frustration with a former priest whose trial for raping two young boys just concluded.

“Why am I ashamed since nothing I did myself led to this tragedy?” he asked. “I am ashamed because someone in my own family of faith — a brother priest, no less — would commit these acts of cruelty. And I am deeply saddened because this whole sordid saga has damaged the family of faith, the Catholic Church that I love.”

Father Doyle is the pastor of Mater Christi parish in Albany, and chancellor for public information of the Diocese of Albany. He also is no stranger to reporting. Father Doyle is the former Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service. He blogged for CNS during the 2009-2010 Year for Priests.

Pope Benedict XVI has spoken repeatedly during his pontificate on the toll the sexual abuse crisis has taken on all of the faithful — clergy and laity alike — and that no matter how painful it is, we have to move to a point of healing, Father Doyle piece heart-achingly echoes that lament, but ends in a resolve that he, as a priest, has to “keep on doing what [he was] called to do.”

Home is where the heart is, even for Kenyan street kids

Editor’s Note: CNS International Editor Barb Fraze and Visual Media Manager Nancy Wiechec are in Kenya on a trip funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.

Young men walk outside the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi-run Ukweli Home of Hope for boys in Nairobi. The home takes in 25 boys living on the streets and gives them shelter, food, education, medical care, guidance and counseling. The program has several success stories, with boys going on to college and professional careers. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Young men walk outside the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi-run Ukweli Home of Hope for boys in Nairobi. The home takes in 25 boys living on the streets and gives them shelter, food, education, medical care, guidance and counseling. The program has several success stories, with boys going on to college and professional careers. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Twenty-five African boys, ages 5-16, clustered excitedly around the visiting Americans, smiling, shaking hands and welcoming them.

The U.S. diocesan mission directors were enthralled with the boys, residents of the Ukweli Home of Hope for street children. The boys were just as enchanted with their guests.

Deacon Ed Kelly of Scranton, Pa., was talking sports, discovering that the youths knew Kenyans often won the Boston Marathon.

Msgr. Francis X. Blood of St. Louis and Heather Lupinacci of Harrisburg, Pa., were taking photos of the boys. Father John Zemelko of Gary, Ind., stood between the two photographers, making rabbit ears behind their heads to make the youths smile. Father Donald LaPointe of Springfield, Mass., was teaching the boys to give high fives.

And inside, Msgr. John E. Kozar, head of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, was greeted with howls from boys who recognized him from an archdiocesan Mass two days earlier.

Sister Catherine Wanza walks wtih Maryknoll Father Robert Jalbert on the grounds of the Ukweli Home of Hope in Nairobi. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Sister Catherine Wanza walks with Maryknoll Father Robert Jalbert on the grounds of the Ukweli Home of Hope in Nairobi. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

The Ukweli Home of Hope project, begun by Maryknoll in 1995, is now run by the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. Sister Catherine Wanza, project director, said the sisters moved the project out of Kibera slum in 2005 because the boys were falling back into their old behaviors such as taking drugs and sniffing glue. In addition, there were physical problems such as water shortages and crowding in Kibera.

Today, the boys live in small concrete and corrugated tin buildings on the grounds of the headquarters of the sisters. They go to public schools in the area, and those that go to secondary school are normally sent to boarding school.

“They volunteered to come,” Sister Catherine told the visitors. As her charges go off to school, she tells them to “prove to them that you are no longer a street boy.” She proudly says eight of those who came through the program are in college, including one in the United States.

Life on the streets, competition for grades and gratefulness to the sisters for their care all came through in the children’s skits for the visitors. Several young men showed a flair for the dramatic, and one skit even showed famous Kenyan politicians arguing over the fate of a street boy.

The visitors were touched and, later, Michele Meiers of Philadelphia joked about the minor miracle that occurred. She found in her bag 25 rosaries made by eighth graders at St. Alphonsus School in Maple Glen, Pa., so each boy received one. She thought she had given them all away.

And Father Bill Holoubek of Lincoln, Neb., thought he had nothing left, but dug into his bag and found just enough Miraculous Medals for the boys. He gave each of them a medal — blessed by the pope — and taught them the special prayer that goes with it.

Nairobi’s Catholic children talk about mission

Editor’s Note: Barb Fraze, CNS international editor, and Nancy Wiechec, CNS visual media manager, are visiting Kenya with 10 members of  U.S. diocesan mission offices. Their trip is being funded by the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States.

NAIROBI, Kenya — More than 30,000 children of the Archdiocese of Nairobi joined Cardinal John Njue today as they celebrated Missionary Childhood Day. The children, members of the Pontifical Missionary Childhood — known in the United States as the Holy Childhood Association — are taught that they are all missionaries. Listen here as some of the children speak about what being a missionary means to them.

In Kenya, web-savvy seminarians with no Internet

NAIROBI, Kenya — Can you imagine being in a master’s or PhD class in a college that did not have access to the Internet?

That, in essence, is the situation at St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary, which doubles as one of Kenya’s national seminaries and the seminary of the Archdiocese of Nairobi.

Fourth-year theology student Richard Odhiambo is among the 125 men studying for the priesthood at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Nairobi. Odhiambo looked up for a photo while studying for an exam in moral theology. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Fourth-year theology student Richard Odhiambo is among the 125 men studying for the priesthood at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Nairobi. Odhiambo looked up for a photo while studying for an exam in moral theology. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Someone donated 27 refurbished computers to the seminary, but the more than 100 students basically use them as word processors, said one seminary official.

Father Dunstan Epaalat, the IT department coordinator at the seminary, said the latest estimate for a one-time wiring of the seminary was just over $8,000 — well outside the seminary budget.

One professor at the seminary indicated that students are quite Internet savvy and have even fixed his computer. Seminarian John Abraham Ayieko told a delegation from the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States that social media is very important, and that future priests will be writing blogs like his to evangelize.

“We might not meet the youth of the world in the church, but we meet them on Facebook,” he said.

The seminary’s library has fewer than 10 rows of bookshelves, and most of the books are very old. One student was studying for an exam associated with the Pontifical Urbanian University with an inch-thick sheaf of papers containing a handwritten outline and notes.

Father Joseph Njoroge Ngugi quizzes seminarian Samuel Lima on his Greek lesson during a class at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Nairobi. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Father Joseph Njoroge Ngugi quizzes seminarian Samuel Lima on his Greek lesson during a class at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Nairobi. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Father Celestino Bundi, head of the Pontifical Missionary Societies in Kenya, said St. Thomas Aquinas seminary is a recipient of aid from the Society of St. Peter Apostle, one of four agencies associated with the Pontifical Mission Societies.

Father Bundi and Msgr. John E. Kozar, head of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, meet at the Vatican to go over applications to the various funds and choose projects that exhibit the most need. Msgr. Kozar told the delegation of mission directors from the United States in mid-February that in some seminaries around the world, students might only have a bowl of rice for a meal, or they might be eating exposed to the elements.

In a meeting Feb. 18, Msgr. Francis X. Blood, director of the Pontifical Mission Societies for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, asked Nairobi Cardinal John Njue for advice on prioritizing all the mission appeals that cross his desk back home.

“Projects that focus on deepening of the faith” take priority, said the cardinal. In addition, he said, “the issue of the formation of the priests is so vital,” because “if the priests are shaky” when facing the challenges to the church, it will “trickle down.”


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