Team USA making the grade in Rome

Seminarians from the Pontifical North American College cheer their soccer team during the 2010 season opener in the Clericus Cup in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ROME — The Stars and Stripes will be waving once again at the semifinals of the Clericus Cup tournament — the soccer series starring seminarians and priests studying at Rome’s pontifical universities.

This is the fourth year in a row that the Pontifical North American College soccer team, the NAC Martyrs, has made it to the semis. They came in 4th place overall in 2008 and 2nd place in 2009 and 2010.

But this could be THE year they win the final championship.

Every single year since the soccer series kicked off in 2007, the NAC’s path to victory had been crushed by losing to the Neocatechumenal Way’s Redemptoris Mater seminary.

The “Red Mat” team has come out winning the final cup in three out of the past four seasons. However, in an odd twist of fate, the Red Mat team did not make it to this year’s semifinal playoff , losing 0-1 last Saturday to the Opus Dei-run Sedes Sapientiae College. With Red Mat out of the way, the Martyrs may have a better shot at a final’s victory.

The Martyrs’ strong defense and coordinated offense led them to beat the Urbanian College, an institution for seminarians from mission countries, 2-1  last Saturday to make it to the May 21 semifinal game.

Vatican announces documents on sex abuse, Latin Mass

VATICAN CITY — After weeks of speculation, the Vatican press office announced the release dates of two documents that had the Catholic blogosphere abuzz: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s circular letter to bishops’ conferences on preparing guidelines for dealing with the sexual abuse of minors by priests; and an instruction on implementing Pope Benedict XVI’s authorization of wider use of the so-called Tridentine Mass.

Cardinal William J. Levada (CNS/Reuters)

The doctrinal congregation’s document is being released Monday. U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the congregation, had announced in November that his office, which coordinates the church’s response to abuse cases, was preparing the document. Its purpose was to help every bishops’ conference in the world design a “coordinated and effective program” of child protection and of dealing with allegations. The guidelines are expected to address the issue of reporting allegations of sexual abuse to local law enforcement.

The document being released Friday is an instruction from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which oversees the use of the Mass according to the Roman rite used in the church prior to the Second Vatican Council. In 2007, Pope Benedict authorized widespread use of the old liturgy. Now, after almost four years of experience, the Vatican instruction aims to respond to questions that have arisen over the implementation of the pope’s permission.

Forging partnerships against human trafficking

Human trafficking affects millions of victims worldwide in shadowy networks that relatively few people realize exist.

A daylong conference in Rome hosted by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and St. Thomas University School of Law May 18 will bring new light to what authorities call modern-day slavery. Organizers also hope it will lead to long-term partnerships that involve the Catholic Church and the corporate sector.

Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, who runs the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the conference’s keynote speaker, told Catholic News Service that the church can create broader awareness of the evil of trafficking.

Explaining how people are forced into commercial sex will stress the need to fight demand for it, said CdeBaca, a lifelong Catholic. In addition, he explained, shedding light on the fact that laborers work in slavelike conditions to harvest fresh produce, mine precious minerals or manufacture consumer goods from chocolate candy bars to designer clothing, will inform people so they can ask questions about the products they are buying.

“You can’t (fight trafficking) by catching the bad guys and helping the victims,” he said. “You have to fight modern slavery by getting people to make the right choices.

“It’s how can we look and see what our own slavery footprint is.”

By involving the Catholic Church, CdeBaca said he hopes the conference will lead to stronger connections with businesses so that corporate officials are better aware of the insidious nature of human traffickers.

The conference will feature a series of panel discussions on the role of faith communities, corporations and average people in reducing and perhaps eventually eliminating human trafficking. Archbishop Antonio Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, will give the invocation.

Among the presenters are Miguel Diaz, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican; Salesian Sister Estrella Castalone of the International Union of Superiors General and its Talitha Kum network that focuses on human trafficking; the Rev. David Schilling of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility; Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America; and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who has worked on child sex trafficking issues.

They will be joined by corporate representatives from information giant LexisNexis, hotel operator Carlson and Body Shop International, which sells health and beauty products. They will discuss their efforts to expose trafficking networks.

Infallibility redux

VATICAN CITY — In a letter informing Australian Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba of his dismissal, Pope Benedict is said to have described the church’s teaching against women’s ordination as “infallibly” taught by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

That the present pope would use such language is not surprising. As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he said the same thing in a 1995 written statement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — a statement which was itself approved by Pope John Paul.

The year before, in 1994, Pope John Paul had issued his apostolic letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” (“On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone”), declaring that “the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the church’s faithful.’”

The 1995 doctrinal congregation statement, as well as later Vatican documents, said the teaching against women’s ordination had been “set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium.” We wrote about the significance of that statement here. The point being made was that such teachings are infallibly taught and must be accepted as definitive by Catholics, even if they have not been defined as infallible by a solemn act of the pope.

In 1998, in a commentary on Pope John Paul’s apostolic letter “Ad Tuendam Fidem” (“To Defend the Faith”), the doctrinal congregation made two related points: It said there was no difference in the “full and irrevocable character of the assent”‘ owed to church teachings that are set forth as divinely revealed or that are taught definitively. And it said that when a pope confirms or reaffirms a doctrine, declaring that it belongs to the ordinary and universal magisterium as a truth that is divinely revealed or a truth of Catholic doctrine, “such a doctrine is to be understood as having been set forth infallibly.”

The Vatican documents of the mid-1990s prompted discussion among some theologians and canon lawyers, some of whom questioned the Vatican’s assertion that the teaching on ordaining only men had been “infallibly taught.” We covered it extensively at the time. That debate has now resurfaced with the removal of Bishop Morris.

According to the Australian public broadcasting network ABC, Bishop Morris said that in his letter, Pope Benedict asserted that “Pope John Paul II had said irrevocably and infallibly that women cannot be ordained.”

The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, declined to comment on Pope Benedict’s letter to Bishop Morris or confirm its contents. However, on the infallibility issue, he pointed to the 1995 doctrinal congregation document and to the Second Vatican Council’s document on the church, “Lumen Gentium” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), which in section 25 spoke of infallibility and how it is understood.

Illinois Newman Center wants your vote

Students at the John Paul II Catholic Newman Center at Illinois State University want your vote so they can sing the song they composed for World Youth Day in Madrid in August.

Their entry — called “Planted ” – is one of 139 songs entered in the worldwide contest and can be heard here. Only six entries are from the U.S. Viewers can vote for the song by clicking on “Votar” (vote in Spanish) in the video link.

While you’re at it, the students are asking you to share the link with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

The Catholic Post in Peoria, Ill., reports that the top 25 vote-getting compositions will be reviewed by a panel. The five judged best will be performed at World Youth Day.

“Our goal is to play for the pope,” said Sister Sara Marie Kowal, assistant director of the Newman Center and the keyboard player in the recording.

Votes will be accepted until May 30.

As has been the custom elsewhere in Illinois, vote early and vote often.

First Fridays for Food Security begins May 6

Catholics can join in solidarity with hungry Americans for the next year through a new First Friday program designed to help raise awareness about food insecurity in the U.S.

Called First Fridays for Food Security, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ program utilizes social media to help Catholics understand how hunger affects Americans.

Individuals and families can share their experiences on Facebook of limiting how much they spend on a meal on the First Friday of each month beginning May 6 and running through April 6, 2012, to the amount allotted for a family of their size in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Modified Thrifty Food Plan.

The plan is the basis for the monthly allocation received by poor families under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Under the plan at the thrifty level, a family of four has less than $20 to spend daily for all of its meals in order to stay on budget.

The effort will likely lead to a cut in normal spending on food, which the USCCB Office of Domestic Social Development said can be considered a form of fasting.

The program also gives Catholics the opportunity to pray and advocate for people who do not have enough to eat.

The Facebook page will feature a new posting each month focusing on a different aspect of hunger. Among topics to be explored are the reality of food insecurity in the U.S., migrant workers and those who produce food, the effects of hunger on pregnant women and their unborn children, and child nutrition and the school lunch program.

USDA data reveal that 17.4 million American households — about  14.7 percent — did not have enough food at some point during 2009.

Photos of bin Laden’s compound, with nice detail

Our friends at ucanews.com have done a fine job reporting from Pakistan in the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden. Check out these photos, captured by Kamran Chaudry in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Taking on the banks over foreclosures

Members of faith-based community groups are targeting three of the country’s biggest banks this month for what they consider is the banks’ lack of response to homeowner requests to modify mortgage payment plans.

In particular, the groups — under the New Bottom Line campaign initiated by the PICO National Network — are planning to send representatives to shareholder meetings today at Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco, May 11 at Bank of America in Charlotte, N.C., and May 17 at JPMorgan Chase in Columbus, Ohio.

Domingo Delgallado, a board member of Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organizing and a parishioner at Holy Rosary Church in Contra Costa, Calif., told Catholic News Service that the representatives plan to ask bank officials again about their foreclosure policies and urge them to move more quickly to help troubled homeowners.

The groups also want banks to pay their fair share of taxes, especially by paying back taxes, and to stop sending jobs overseas.

“The government gave them all this money to bail them out and they’re not using it to help the American economy or the consumer,” Delgallado said, referring to the Troubled Asset Relief Program that helped keep numerous banks from closing during the depth of the recent recession.

PICO’s strategy calls for selected members of local groups to attend shareholder meetings after obtaining proxy statements from sympathetic shareholders to press their case. Coincidentally, demonstrations are planned outside each bank’s offices.

“(Demonstrating) seems to be the only way to get their attention,” said Delgallado, a financial analyst for a central California oil and gas company. “We tried contacting them to set up meetings in order to come up with a process that would be more effective and beneficial for homeowners.

“They’re willing to foreclose on someone’s house and take a write-off and sell the loan to someone else, but they won’t work with people until their situation gets better. They (the banks) created the economic crisis and they’re still profiting from it. It’s not fair,” he said.

The demonstrations will revolve around prayer and Scripture, Delgallado explained.

For their part, the banks have initiated efforts to help struggling homeowners.

At JPMorgan Chase, its Homeownership Preservation Office has opened more than 50 centers to help people save their homes in some of the most depressed housing markets nationwide.

Bank of America, which acquired Countrywide Home Loans, once the country’s largest mortgage lender,  estimated that eventually up to 400,000 former Countrywide customers will be helped.

Wells Fargo runs home preservation workshops nationwide.

Still, PICO members claim that such efforts are insufficient to meet the need. The nationwide organizing network estimates that the federal government’s foreclosure prevention program has helped only 285,000 of the 5 million families who have lost their homes.

“It’s an economic crisis,” Delgallado said. “And it’s a moral issue.”

Vatican spokesman on killing of Osama bin Laden

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican said the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, a man who sowed division and hatred and who caused “innumerable” deaths, should prompt serious reflection about one’s responsibility before God.

A Christian “never rejoices” in the face of a man’s death, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said in a brief statement this morning. Here is an English translation of his statement:

Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions for this purpose.

In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion  for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.

‘A reflection of the divine, a sign of hope’

Sister Marie Simon-Pierre brings the relic of Blessed John Paul II to the altar. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ROME — U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Miguel Diaz hosted a small reception at his residence last night to celebrate Blessed Pope John Paul II’s beatification.

The gathering included several U.S. cardinals and three former ambassadors: Jim Nicholson, Francis Rooney and Frank Shakespeare, all of whom served during Blessed John Paul’s pontificate, and all of whom had some remembrances to share over refreshments.

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington remarked that this was one of those days — and there are relatively few in life — when you will look back and say: I was there. The liturgy and the other beatification events all felt momentous because they were.

The consensus among the Americans was that the most emotional moment during the beatification liturgy came when Blessed John Paul’s relic, a vial of blood that could be clearly seen in its silver reliquary, was carried to the altar. As one cardinal remarked, this was the same blood that was spilled in the same St. Peter’s Square in the attempt on the pope’s life in 1981.

Ambassador Diaz spoke about the breadth of Blessed John Paul’s pontificate, and recalled how he first saw the pope close-up during his trip to the United States in 1987.

Here is the text of the ambassador’s remarks:

When the newly-elected Pope John Paul II came out onto the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square on October 16th 1978, he immediately captured the heart of Italians with his words: “Non so se posso bene spiegarmi nella vostra …nostra lingua  Italiana.  Se mi sbaglio mi corregerete.”  With his election the Catholic Church – and, indeed, the whole world — began a 27-year relationship with a pastor whose ministry bridged profound change. During those years, European communism collapsed.  Decades-long dictatorships fell, and sadly, new ones emerged.    The space shuttles began flying. Communications and information technology developed at an astonishing rate.  New diseases baffled scientists, while others were all but eradicated.  We developed new strains of plants to feed the hungry and new drugs to treat the sick.  People became more environmentally aware.  And, perhaps most importantly for us, the United States and the Holy See established formal diplomatic relations.

John Paul II’s ministry spanned generations X, Y, and Z.  While we sometimes speak of generational conflicts caused by differences in expectations, Blessed John Paul II possessed a unique ability to meet people at all stages of life and draw them upward.  He was a man of the people who renounced the protocols of the papacy to wear a sombrero, try on Bono’s sunglasses, joke with the media, and wave his cane above his head like a rock star in front of a million young people at World Youth Day.

I remember when he came to Miami in 1987 and the welcome he received in my home town.  I can still hear the crowds shouting: “Juan Pablo Segundo te ama todo el mundo, John Paul II, we love you!”  I was then a college student who had been selected among the youth of Miami to be a banner carrier during the papal mass. A few years later in seminary and throughout my graduate studies in philosophy and theology at the University of Notre Dame, I studied his thought and learned about his personalism, his theology of the body, and his social teachings. Throughout his pontificate, John Paul II tirelessly defended the dignity of human persons, condemned oppressive regimes, denounced evil and injustices whether of economic or socio-political origins.  In addition, as exemplified in Centesimus Annus, he underscored the preferential love of the poor and the need to empower and include those most in need within our human family.

John Paul II was a man who soldiered on bravely in the face of an assassination attempt and the incapacitating illness that came with age.  Today we’re all happy and proud to have been part of a tremendous celebration here in this eternal city of Rome.  It is a joyous day not only for the Catholic Church, but for all those who saw in Blessed John Paul II a reflection of the divine and a sign of hope.

May I ask you to raise your glasses and join me in a toast.

To Blessed John Paul II!  May we learn from his example and continue to build bridges for the sake of our entire human family and all of God’s creation!

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