Brother Colm: Irish missionary, Olympians’ coach

VATICAN CITY — Irish missionary Brother Colm O’Connell won’t be in London for the Olympic Games even though — once again — one of his former students is expected to win an Olympic gold in track.

(CNS/Reuters)

Brother Colm coached David Rudisha, who holds the world record in the 800-meter run.  Rudisha — favored to win the gold in London — was Brother Colm’s student at St. Patrick’s High School in Iten, a town in the Kenyan highlands.

A member of the missionaries of St. Patrick, Brother Colm has served in Kenya for more than 35 years. Vatican Radio interviewed him about his coaching activity, which also included coaching Peter Rono, who won an Olympic gold in 1988 in the 1,500 meters.

Like the popes and the chaplain of the Italian Olympic team featured in a CNS video today, Brother Colm sees sports as an important part of education, forming character and teaching values.

However, he told Vatican Radio, once his athletes reach the stratosphere of success, his work is done. So, he’s staying in Kenya with his students during the London Olympics.

Another interesting and inspirational sporting story ran in the English edition of L’Osservatore Romano Wednesday and in the Italian edition today. It’s written by the British ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, who recounts his personal, real life connections to the runners portrayed in the film “Chariots of Fire.” Check it out in English here.

Students’ campaign for minute of silence gets international attention

Divers jump from platform during practice session before start of London 2012 Olympic Games. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Tonight four students from The Catholic University of America are leaving Washington for Tel Aviv on their way to the Summer Olympics in London as part of a campaign to persuade the International Olympics Committee to consider a minute of silence during the July 27  opening ceremonies to commemorate the 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team massacred at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

We wrote about Catholic University students in the “Sociology of Sports” class joining the project in a June 19 blog. They’ve been working on this since December — and it has become an international story. The students’ efforts have included a YouTube video about the campaign and a letter to Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London 2012 Olympics Organizing team. University president John Garvey has supported the effort wholeheartedly, writing his own letter to Olympic officials.

The students joined forces with the Jewish Community Center-Rockland in New York to help circulate a petition on Change.org and to date the two groups have collected more than 90,000 signatures.

Since the students began their campaign, the governments of Great Britain, Germany, Australia, Italy, Canada, and the United States have joined the call for a minute of silence. Thus far, the International Olympic Committee has refused to grant the request. On July 23, IOC president Jacques Rogge paid tribute to the Israeli athletes and coaches in his own moment of silence during a ceremony at the athletes village. The AP quoted him as saying the Israeli Olympians “came to Munich in the spirit of solidarity. We owe it to them to keep that spirit alive and to remember them.”

In Tel Aviv, the Catholic University students will meet with their counterparts at Israeli universities and high schools and visit with several families of the Munich victims. In London, they will attend a memorial service Aug. 6 sponsored by the Israeli Olympic Committee. They’ll blog about their experiences in Tel Aviv and London.

Bangladeshi archbishop: God brought you to US for a reason

Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka, Bangladesh. (CNS/Courtesy of Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States)

Bangladeshi Catholics in the United States have been welcoming one of their own this month.

Archbishop Patrick D’Rozario of Dhaka, Bangladesh, has visited Bangladeshi Catholic communities along the U.S. East Coast since arriving July 3 from the Vatican, where he took part in the pallium ceremony.

The archbishop became head of the Dhaka Archdiocese in October.

His two-week visit has been pastoral in nature. The archbishop has met with Bangladeshi communities in Maryland, New Jersey, Brooklyn and the borough of Queens in New York.

“People have been very, very pleased when I am visiting in the sense they have never had an archbishop so close to them,” Archbishop D’Rozario told Catholic News Service from New York this afternoon as he prepared to return home July 19.

The archbishop delivered simple messages to the communities he visited.

“The first message to them was that they belong to the local church in the United States,” he said, acknowledging that Bangladeshis have established themselves in numerous professions.

“The second thing is that I told them that somehow your coming here (to the U.S.) was not accidental. God had it planned. Although you had to struggle to come here, you are to give testimony to the heritage and faith values and witness to that (Bangladeshi) society here. We have a mission to fulfill.”

The archbishop’s trip was part of an exchange under auspices of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States. In January, Oblate Father Andrew Small, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, visited Bangladesh to learn about the country’s Catholic community.

In postings on the Pontifical Mission Societies’ website, Father Small described how people live in destitute poverty and face many challenges because of their situation.

Archbishop D’Rozario, who said he was the first priest to be ordained in independent Bangladesh in 1972, traces his family’s Christian roots in the region back about 200 years. He was ordained as a member of the Congregation of  Holy Cross. He was named bishop of Rajshahi, Bangladesh, by Pope John Paul II in 1990 and was coadjutor archbishop of Dhaka in 2010.

The South Asian nation is home to about 500,000 Catholics, he said. In a population of 160 million, the small “little flock” of Catholics enjoy peaceful relations with their Hindu and Muslim neighbors, he said.

“Dialogue (with people of other religions) has been one of our pastoral priorities,” he told CNS. “If we do that, then also the political leaders as well as the state leaders want to do something to promote the development of religious harmony.”

Remembering ‘Panchita’

Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., gives homily during Mass in Rome May 1. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

I ran across a moving story that Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., shared about his late grandmother — he called her Panchita — when he visited the StoryCorps crew in Mesilla, N.M. recently. He related a story from 1981, when she was 90, and the year he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of San Antonio. A year later he was named the first bishop of Las Cruces.

Panchita told her grandson she’d been going to a lot of funerals, indicating she was having a good time at them. He said he asked her how could she “have a good time when somebody dies?” “She looked at me … almost scolding me. And she said ‘Son haven’t you learned yet, that it is a privilege to die?'” Bishop Ramirez said in all of his theology studies, he had never heard it put “quite that way.” You can listen to his story here.

Many no doubt are familiar with StoryCorps, an independent nonprofit organization “whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of our lives.”

Bishop Ramirez,  75, described his grandmother as “one of these women who lived out in the ranches, who would grab a rattlesnake by the tail and snap its head off. She was strong and she raised this big family.” She took the bus 200 miles by herself from her home in Houston to be there at her grandson’s ordination as a bishop. A few weeks later she died, and he celebrated her funeral Mass.

South Sudan’s future depends on making peace with Sudan

A man waves the flag of South Sudan during celebrations marking the country’s first anniversary of its independence July 9 in the capital of Juba. (CNS?Adriane Ohanesian, Reuters)

The danger of war erupting between South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, and Sudan is very real.

Tensions have been rising almost since the day South Sudan gained its independence July 9, 2011. At issue: the tenuous border between the two countries, conflict over vast oil revenues and citizenship rights.

During a one-hour online chat with people around the country today, Catholic Relief Services staff members in South Sudan and Baltimore and a representative of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops answered questions about the country’s future and the challenges ahead.

The discussion revolved around the dangers to peace, but also reflected the hope that people of the South feel despite the tremendous challenges they face as they build a new nation.

Looming is an Aug. 2 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council to resolve the differences. Dan Griffin, Sudan adviser to CRS, commended both sides for making “great progress” in the negotiations taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but said that questions remain over whether any final agreement will be honored.

“My fear is that the two parties are not negotiating in good faith to resolve outstanding issues, but instead are maneuvering to avoid sanctions and outlast each other,” Griffin told the chat group.

No one said whether they thought the deadline would be met.

The Catholic Church, led by Pope Benedict XVI, has called for a peaceful resolution to the conflicts between the two nations. The church is particularly concerned for the rights of people of southern descent, who are mostly Christian, living in the north, explained Steven Colecchi, director of the bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace.

The church’s concern continues to be raised with U.S. officials, Colecchi said.

Sudan is facing its own simmering protest movement, which has prompted a crackdown on those calling for the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir. At the same time, the al-Bashir regime has implemented a campaign against non-Muslims in an effort seemingly aimed at driving them out of the country.

In South Sudan, relations between Christians and Muslims remain “generally good and healthy,” Alfred Okech, senior project officer for governance and peacebuilding for CRS, said during the chat. He explained that the agency attempts to involve Muslims in peacebuilding efforts and developing capacity in self-governance.

Nonetheless challenges remain. Improved access to health care, better schools and economic development has come to the capital of Juba and other municipalities, but the South Sudanese government has been crippled by the loss of revenues from its massive oil fields. Sudan has closed the flow of oil to Sudanese ports, virtually strangling the land-locked South Sudan economy.

Griffin identified two challenges for South Sudan to overcome its almost total dependence on oil revenues to provide necessary services:

– Establishing what historically was a strong agricultural economy by improving production, access to markets and regional infrastructure that facilitates trade.

– Developing new types of commerce and industry through regional trade and foreign investment.

By diversifying its economy, agencies such as CRS can move from doing relief work to development work, he said.

Chat participant Kathleen Kahlau, legislative adviser for CRS, called for prayer for South Sudan and asked people to advocate for the country to their congressional representatives and the U.S. State Department.

The U.S. government continues to seek a resolution to the conflict between the two nations, but much of the work is being carried out in private, she added. The G-8 and G-20 summits have also addressed the difficulties, she said.

More information about the work of CRS in South Sudan can be found here.

Video: Why Benedict?

Do you know the story behind Pope Benedict’s admiration of his sainted namesake?

Archbishop says time is now for Catholics to speak out about religious freedom

(Editor’s note: Updated July 5)

Full storyReligious liberty is ‘a foundational right,’ says Archbishop Chaput

A depiction of the Statue of Liberty appears in mosaic, part of a larger piece in a side chapel at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Yesterday, on Independence Day, in his homily for the closing Mass of the U.S. bishops’ “fortnight for freedom,” Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said the time is now for Catholics to stand up and speak out about the foundational right to religious freedom in this country.

“We live in a time that calls for sentinels and public witness. Every Christian in every era faces the same task,” he said. “But you and I are responsible for this moment. Today. Now. We need to ‘speak out,’ not only for religious liberty and the ideals of the nation we love, but for the sacredness of life and the dignity of the human person –- in other words, for the truth of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God.”

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, main celebrant of the Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, said the fortnight not only brought Catholics together to demonstrate their support religious liberty but it also “has been a time for us to count our many blessings and to celebrate both our Christian and American heritage of liberty.” Read the cardinal’s newest blog posting titled “Remembering who we are as Catholics and Americans,” in which about the closing Mass and the fortnight observance.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called for the fortnight in March in their Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty’s statement, “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” and asked dioceses to plan Masses, prayer services, educational events and other activities from June 21 to July 4.

The statement outlined several instances of “religious liberty under attack.” Foremost among the U.S. bishops’ concerns is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that employers, including most religious ones, provide insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, which Catholic teaching considers “morally objectionable.”

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori launched the observance as the main celebrant of a June 21 Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore. “We must never allow the government — any government, at any time, of any party — to impose such a constrictive definition on our beloved church or any church,” said the archbishop, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom.

Fortnight events in U.S. dioceses ranged from an Independence Celebration Walk & Picnic in Des Moines, Iowa, a motorcycle “Rosary Ride for Religious Freedom” in Colorado Springs, Colo., and nonpartisan voter registration drives after Masses in Atlanta parishes, to a religious liberty conference in Covington, Ky., parish movie nights in Omaha, Neb., featuring religious-liberty themed films, and an outdoor Faith and Freedom Mass in a park band shell in Savannah, Ga. Links to what U.S. dioceses did over the fortnight can be found on the USCCB website

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