Seeing the bigger picture on health care

(CNS photo/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

With climate change characterized as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century,” Catholic health providers are working to do their part to reduce their carbon footprint. Climate change “is already negatively impacting human health” and its effects “will multiply dramatically if no action is taken,” says a new resource from the Catholic Health Association, titled “Climate Change and Health Care: Is There a Role for the Health Care Sector?” The 24-page document notes that “populations who are at greatest risk and considered most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change” — including the unborn, children, older adults and those in poverty — “lack the ability to cope with the consequences of climate change.”

Among the negative health impacts caused by climate change now and in the future are heat-related illnesses, poor birth outcomes, malnutrition and food insecurity, degraded water quality and availability, respiratory illnesses and premature death, the document says. The resource is part of CHA’s work with the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, made up of 12 national Catholic organizations.

School supplies without end

An NCEA exhibitor displays a SMART Board April 12. (CNS photo by Gregory Tracy)

The annual National Catholic Educational Assocation convention is not just about professional and spiritual development.

It’s also about school supplies.

The exposition hall, a must stop for the 10,000 delegates at this year’s convention in Boston was filled with traditional student supplies:  uniforms, markers, books and art supplies. But vendors also were selling what schools need such as software, SMART boards,  scoreboards and desks.

Many of the booths lure potential buyers with free candy or other giveaways. The school fundraising vendors — especially those promoting candy bar sales — naturally draw a large crowd with bowls of samples on display.

Part of the success for vendors at the convention follows the real estate maxim: “location, location, location.”

Some vendors on the periphery of the hall, for example, felt they did not get enough foot traffic.

The range of products on display illustrates the immense role these educators have. There were tools for making handwriting easier and others for electronically keeping track of students’ volunteer hours. There were plenty of previously mentioned fundraisers in all shapes and sizes — promoting sales of free-trade coffee, organic products, candles, cookie dough and gift wrap — to name just a few.

Several booths offered religious items such as rosaries, holy cards and books but others highighted religious programs such as service opportunities, religious orders, missions and theology programs.

By the convention’s end two booths had a particular appeal not for their location or their giveaways. One was selling comfortable footwear and the other offered nap mats.

Oompah band, schuhplattler give Bavarian flair to pope’s birthday


Children dressed in traditional Bavarian outfits dance for Pope Benedict XVI during his 85th birthday celebrations in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican April 16. (CNS photo/Gregorio Borgia, pool via Reuters).

VATICAN CITY — The apostolic palace’s frescoed Clementine Hall became the stage for a mini-Bavarian festival today to celebrate Pope Benedict’s 85th birthday.

A small band played “oompah” music and ten children dressed in traditional outfits swirled, stomped and clapped as they performed the Schuhplattler before the pope. They were part of a large delegation of Bavarian bishops and 150 government representatives from the region who came to greet the pope and celebrate his birthday.

The pope’s brother, 88-year-old Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, also attended the festivities as well as representatives from the Lutheran church and the Jewish community in Bavaria.

The children presented the pope with white flowers and a Maypole covered with colorful ribbons. They also recited a German birthday poem.

The government delegation presented the pope with gifts of a wooden crucifix sculpted by a well-known 18th-century Bavarian woodcarver and a large Easter basket filled with traditional cakes, dark bread, ham and painted eggs.

Take a look at our video coverage of the pope’s milestone birthday:

And here’s the Vatican’s coverage from the morning Mass:

NCEA convention: Combination school, recess, faculty retreat

BOSTON — The annual convention of the National Catholic Educational Association is a busman’s holiday of sorts.

Every year thousands of Catholic school teachers and administrators take a big chunk of their Easter vacation to learn how to do their jobs better.

They attend dozens of workshops dealing with the nuts and bolts of how to get kids to write more creatively or understand math concepts. They also get tips on ways to use

Attendees and exhibitors at NCEA 2012 convention in Boston. (CNS photo/Gregory L. Tracy, The Pilot)

technology in class and suggestions for ways this technology should be curbed, if possible, by students off campus.

The educators also deal with bigger challenges: how to cope with closing schools, competition from charter schools and how to teach the faith in a world that seems to continually grow further from it.

But the three-day event, which took place April 11-13 in Boston this year, was not all learning. The 10,000 participants, most of whom were women, also just seemed to enjoy their time together. (One sign there were more women than men were the men’s bathrooms in the convention hall that were temporarily converted to women’s rooms.)

These educators, including catechists, congregated in groups in between “classes” and got together for meals that were most likely better than the usual cafeteria fare.

Although some joked that they “don’t get out much,” they seemed to know just how to get out in this city gearing up for its opening day Red Sox game at Fenway Park tonight and the upcoming Boston Marathon this coming Monday.

The regulars at these conventions know the drill. They comb through the convention program for workshops that catch their eye and then many complain that there are too many good workshops offered at the same time.

The overall mood of this group was certainly upbeat. These folks are really committed not only to their students but to the whole idea of educating young people in the faith.

Even this reporter, who has been to lots of NCEA conventions, was impressed. I was also glad my kids have had the benefit of dedicated men and women such as those in this crowd.

In no way was this a group of Pollyannas either. In discussions during some workshops, these educators expressed frustration that they sometimes feel they are lone voices stressing the importance of  Catholic schools. It seems they not only have to fight for funds to keep going but also for support.

Often people reminisce about the old days when schools were staffed by nuns and some lament how those days are over.

A photo at the NCEA headquarters from the first convention illustrates these old days: All the participants attending a general session are sisters wearing habits.

Those days are gone. Certainly there are still women religious, priests and brothers leading schools and religious education programs, but the bulk of the work is done by the laity.

And from the looks of things, these men and women are taking their charge seriously.

One workshop presenter told NCEA delegates that their schools better be ready for Monday morning when these teachers and principals return reinvigorated.

Maybe the whole Catholic Church should be ready.

Reflections on a visit to the Gaza Strip

Sami El Yousef, regional director in Palestine and Israel for the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, just returned from his first trip in seven months to the Gaza Strip.

In reflections posted on the website of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, he writes of the “the heroes in Gaza and how brave they all are to live under these difficult conditions, yet how they are still able to smile and laugh and continue to hope that tomorrow will be a better day.” Israel controls traffic in and out of the Gaza Strip, although Egypt has opened a border crossing to people only.

El Yousef speaks of fuel shortages and their cascading ramifications; trying to lift the spirits of Christian university students; and seeing goods that had been smuggled through tunnels from Egypt.

His reflections can be read here.

Three Catholic priests among those lost in Titanic tragedy

I heard a historian say that for people in 1912 the loss of more than 1,500 innocent lives when the Titanic went down April 15 was for them a tragedy akin to the monumental loss of life this nation experienced in the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Poster from Titanic exhibit now on display at National Geographic in Washington.

Commemorations, remembrances and exhibits abound on this 100th anniversary of the great “unsinkable” ship’s infamous voyage. Stories about it are everywhere, too, including in the Catholic press. Check out the story in the April 15 issue of Our Sunday Visitor  headlined “Priestly heroes of the Titanic,” which relates the role three Catholic priests — a Lithuanian, a German and an Englishman — had “in bringing comfort to the passengers of the doomed ship.” OSV also has a small sidebar about another Catholic who came to the aid of passengers and survived the peril — Margaret “Molly” Brown, a Denver philanthropist. Born Margaret Tobin to Irish Catholic immigrants in Missouri, she moved to Leadville, Colo., at age 18. There she met and married a man who had made his fortune in the mines, Jim “J.J.” Brown. They later made their home in Denver. The couple’s Victorian house was almost lost to demolition but was rescued by preservationists in the late 1960s. It was restored it to its grandeur and established as the Molly Brown House Museum. The website tells Molly’s whole story. Also take a look at the blog on that site called “Chasing Molly,” by museum docent Janet Kalstrom, writing from aboard the Titanic memorial cruise.

Earlier this week Catholic News Service carried a story about a Jesuit, Father Frank Browne, who as a seminarian took photographs aboard the Titanic, capturing images of its opulent accomodations as well as its passengers as it sailed from Southhampton, England, to Cherbourg, France, and on to Queenstown, Ireland. He took the last image of the captain, Edward Smith, and he took a photo of the ship leaving port from Queenstown for the last time to head to New York.

As our story says, before the ship left he sent a telegram to his provincial seeking permission to remain on board for the rest of the voyage. But the brusque answer in a reply telegram was: “Get off that ship.” A collection of his photos, “Father Browne’s Titanic Album,” has been reprinted for the centennial.

The new evangelization, explained

Archbishop Fisichella (CNS/Paul Haring)

If you’ve been following the pontificate of Benedict XVI, chances are you’ve heard of the “new evangelization.” You may even have heard that there’s a new Vatican office dedicated to it. But have you ever heard the president of the new office explain it?

In this feature-length interview which premiered on Easter, Salt + Light Television‘s Basilian Father Thomas Rosica sat down for an interview with the president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella. What follows is an engaging discussion on its meaning and what Archbishop Fisichella’s office is trying to accomplish. While some pastors may see it as just another program to be implemented by an overworked presbyterate, the archbishop calls the new evangelization a new way of approaching an old job — “a new work, a new language, a new enthusiasm for announcing the Gospel.”

Share faith, not litter, pilgrims told

Pilgrims wait to enter El Santuario de Chimayo in Chimayo, N.M. (CNS photo)

Every year hundreds of thousands of people flock to El Santuario de Chimayo, a small adobe church in Chimayo, N.M., in search of spiritual or physical healing. Pilgrims believe the church was built on sacred grounds that possess curative powers.

Because so many people fill the 1.5-mile pilgrimage route from a nearby highway to the chapel, there is an inevitable chance for litter which church and state officials hoped to curb.

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M., joined with New Mexico Clean & Beautiful, a program of the New Mexico Tourism Department, to encourage pilgrims to refrain from littering the state’s highways and byways on their walk to Chimayo.

“I encourage parishioners to walk on pilgrimage, but to be mindful that we are called to be good citizens,” said Santa Fe Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan.

Santa Fe County officials said county crews planned to place trash receptacles and portable toilets on county roads including the 1.5-mile-long road that is the last stretch to the pilgrimage site. The New Mexico Transportation Department also planned to provide trash receptacles on a major route.

According to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, the first “official” pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayo was in 1945. Many New Mexican National Guard members were sent to the Philippines prior to World War II. When Japan attacked the islands, many were taken prisoner and forced to walk 60 miles in what today is called the Bataan Death March. Many prisoners did not survive the forced walk. Some of those who did made a promise that if they lived and returned home, they would make a pilgrimage to El Santuario.

In 1945, there was an organized pilgrimage by many of the survivors. Some walked from as far as Albuquerque, which is 80 miles away. They were welcomed by Archbishop Edwin Byrne who blessed them and celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving.

Shout-out for Catholic colleges and universities

Students attend outdoor Mass at Loyola University in New Orleans. (CNS photo)

Just as high school seniors are making final decisions for college and juniors are starting  (or continuing) their college search, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Univerisites is promoting a video highlighting the distinct benefits of a Catholic college education.

The 9-minute video profiles five recent graduates of Catholic colleges who talk about how their college experience gave them a sense of purpose and enabled them to integrate faith in their daily lives. The association’s member colleges are encouraged to post the video on their websites.

Marina Pastrana Rios, a Boston College graduate, jokes in the video that the Jesuits “ruined” her  — “in a good way” — because her education at the Jesuit-run university made her ask herself: “Does the world really need another CPA?”

Not satisfied with just pursuing a business career, Marina, like other graduates featured in the video, wondered what more she could do for the world.

Now she is program director of the school’s Montserrat Coalition, an initiative that seeks to help students in financial need.

Celebrating with Pope Benedict XVI in Cuba

Editor’s Note: Alleluia! As we celebrate Easter, we present the final blog of Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz.,  from Pope Benedict XVI’s March 26-28 visit to Cuba.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Mass in Revolution Square in Havana. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

HAVANA — We had to get up early to walk to the sight of the papal Mass, which was to begin at 9 a.m. The streets were empty of cars as people were walking to Revolution Square, the same place where Blessed John Paul II offered Mass in 1998. The day was perfect with a bright blue sky. Many people coming for the Mass wore printed visors to provide shade and to remind people of the reasons for the event.

The crowd was made up mostly of Cubans; the day was declared a holiday by President Raul Castro. As in Santiago de Cuba, Castro was in his same spot at the front of the crowd in the middle of the plaza, along with other government officials. Some said the crowd was smaller than when Blessed John Paul was there, others said it was about the same or larger. Crowd estimates are hard to come by. By all standards it was a large crowd. Clearly people identify with the Catholic Church, even though some are not committed to it.

Again the image of Mary on the top of a van preceded the entrance of the Holy Father. It was placed near the altar with great devotion. For this Mass the Holy Father arrived on time. There were about eight cardinals and 35 bishops who concelebrated, a few more than at the Mass in Santiago de Cuba. The cardinals and bishops vested behind the altar in a monument area, which was built just before the revolution and is dedicated to Jose Marti.

The liturgies of Pope Benedict are very subdued and solemn. In fact, an announcement was made before each Mass asking that people refrain from clapping and waving flags. The people respected the pope’s wishes. At the end of Mass the pope walked out in front, waving, his face broad with a gracious smile. After Mass he went to meet Cuban seminarians who had gathered behind the altar. Cardinal Jaime Ortega stood with them, looking very proud.

Before the Holy Father left he met with Fidel Castro. Castro’s health has significantly deteriorated, apparently. According to Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican press secretary, the two men talked about aging, and Fidel asked the pope to suggest a book on spiritual reflection.

A choir sings during Pope Benedict XVI's Mass in Revolution Square in Havana March 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Just as Pope Benedict was to leave, a big storm came up just over the airport, delaying the departure. I was doing an interview in the CNN studio, on the 28th floor, and the view was spectacular, as you could see the rain over the airport and eventually, the sun shining through, casting bright white light over the area. My interview was interrupted as we watched the parting remarks by Raul Castro and the pope’s final comments. These were the pope’s most “political” words of this trip. Pope Benedict said Cuba is for all Cubans and there is a need to open dialogue with the human family of nations.

That evening, I and some others walked about seven kilometers, very exhausting. One can walk all over Cuba without fear. Guns are not allowed and violence is not apparent. Our path took us along the Malecon, the seawall, where the water was pretty rough that night. Waves breaking over the wall nearly got us soaked. It began to rain so we tried to get a cab, but by the time he came the rain had stopped, and we continued our walk.


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