Papal butler, Vatican computer expert to go to trial

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Vatican magistrates have formally indicted Pope Benedict XVI’s personal assistant, Paolo Gabriele, on charges of aggravated theft and have indicted a computer technician from the Vatican Secretariat of State on minor charges of aiding Gabriele after he stole Vatican correspondence.

Paolo Gabriele with Pope Benedict XVI in the popemobile. (CNS/Reuters)

The publication Aug. 13 of the decision of Piero Bonnet, the Vatican’s investigating judge, included for the first time the naming of a second suspect, Claudio Sciarpelleti, the secretariat of state employee.Vatican police found an envelope from Gabriele in Sciarpelleti’s desk and arrested him, according to the documents explaining Bonnet’s judgment. While the computer expert gave “contrasting versions of the facts” to investigators, in the end it was determined that there was enough evidence to bring him to trial on a charge of aiding and abetting Gabriele after the fact.

The Vatican magistrates did not set a date for the trial or trials, but Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said it would not be set before Sept. 20 because the Vatican court is in recess Aug. 14-Sept. 20.

Pope Benedict could have intervened at any time to stop the investigation and legal process and he still has the option of clearing the two laymen.

If the pope does not intervene, Gabriele and Sciarpelleti would go to trial before a panel of three Vatican judges, all of whom are laymen and professors at Italian universities. Vatican law, like Italian law, does not foresee the use of juries in criminal trials.

Gabriele, who will turn 46 Aug. 19, faces a sentence of 1 to 6 years in prison. Under the terms of the Vatican’s 1929 treaty with Italy, a person found guilty and sentenced to jail time by a Vatican court would serve his term in an Italian prison.

The papal assistant was arrested May 23 after confidential letters and documents addressed to the pope and other Vatican officials were found in his Vatican apartment, Bonnet’s report said. Many of the documents were the same as those featured in a January television program by Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi and later published in a book by him. Many of the documents dealt with allegations of corruption, abuse of power and a lack of financial transparency at the Vatican.

Marshallese offer a grand welcome to American catechists

David Suley, wearing a lei, with his new Marshallese friends. (CNS/Courtesy of Arceli and David Suley)

The Catholic Church in the tiny nation of the Marshall Islands is healthy even if somewhat small, said David Suley, the recently retired director of the Catholic Home Missionsof the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Suley, along with his wife, Arceli, conducted a 10-day workshop on faith formation for about 75 lay leaders in June. The Suleys focused much of their training on the new evangelization first put forth by Blessed John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI. Suley said they also offered a series of reflections on church teaching.

The couple found the Marshallese to be enthusiastic about doing God’s work in missions spread across five islands and 29 atolls about halfway between Hawaii and Australia.

“A few priests and laypeople run these missions,” Suley said.

Only about 8 percent of the 68,400 Marshallese are Catholic.

On some of the outlying atolls and islands, there may be perhaps 300 to 500 people with an even smaller number of Catholics among them. Priests visit the outlying communities only occasionally, leaving lay leaders to minister to the Catholics who reside there, Suley said.

The Suleys found the island nation, with a total land area of about 70 square miles spread over 750,000 square miles, to be extremely poor. People make their living from fishing and producing crafts for the tourists who visit, Suley said.

Majuro, the capital and a city of about 25,000 people, has few amenities. Barely above sea level, Majuro Atoll is just a few blocks wide even though it is about 25 miles long. “The closest atoll is three hours away by boat,” Suley said.

The people, Suley said, were gracious and celebrated the presence of the Americans each evening with good food and fellowship. On the final night, the Marshallese threw their American guests a four-hour party.

“They made us gifts, handmade crafts,” he said

“They rarely have visitors like ourselves,” Suley added. “But as one priest said, ‘We’re not just a dot in the Pacific Ocean.’”

LCWR assembly in St. Louis drawing a lot of media attention

Sisters praying at LCWR assembly. (CNS photo)

A lot of people are paying attention to the annual assembly of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in St. Louis this week.

Previous meetings — which are usually more business-focused or aimed at continuing education for the sisters who represent 80 percent of U.S. congregations — have not attracted a lot of press coverage and have not even drawn the crowds from its own members as this gathering has.

The Aug. 7-10 assembly is being covered by reporters from religious news organizations, local and national media, and even Ms. Magazine.

During an announcement at the meeting Aug. 8, an LCWR official urged the sisters to be patient with hotel staff since many adjustments had to be made to accommodate 900 participants, 300 more than usual. The sisters also were told about the media presence and reminded not to talk with reporters about the process of discerning the Vatican’s assessment of their organization since that will continue to unfold in numerous executive sessions only for LCWR members throughout the four-day meeting.

LCWR officials plan to announce their response to the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment and its call for reform of the organization during a mid-day press conference Friday. Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, outgoing president,  said Aug. 7  that the outcome of the discussions, led by two facilitators, might not even be a decision but simply “the next best step.”

The  organization’s canonical status is granted by the Vatican, which said reform of LCWR is needed to ensure its fidelity to Catholic teaching in the areas of abortion, euthanasia, women’s ordination and homosexuality.

Meanwhile, in group sessions, the theme of songs and prayers has been about letting go of preconceived ideas or fears and trusting the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The women religious also have been given time for silent prayer and reflection.

Barbara Marx Hubbard, the main speaker Aug. 8, essentially urged the sisters to embrace the notion of change and growth reflected in biblical passages that speak of rebirth and “making all things new.”

Hubbard is an author, speaker and educator known for promoting a view called “conscious evolution,” which the LCWR assembly participants seemed to get especially when she spoke about women religious being catalysts for change in a world that needs it.

At a press conference after the talk, LCWR representatives continued with the theme of how they have always adapted to changing needs by talking about how many orders were founded simply to respond to unmet needs around them.

Sister Nancy Conway, a Sister of St. Joseph from Cleveland, told reporters: “Religious congregations were founded when an aspect of the Gospel was not flourishing. The Holy Spirit worked among founders to address that dimension.”

Vatican Museums discounts for Eurail passholders

ROME — Visitors arriving in Rome by train on a Eurail Italy pass or an Interrail Italy pass are entitled to discounted tickets for the Vatican Museums, the Catacombs of Domitilla and more.

Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, the Vatican-related pilgrimage and tour agency, secured the discounts in collaboration with Trenitalia, the Italian passenger railway operator. The deals are good through the rest of 2012 for all non-Italian visitors with a Eurail One Country Italy pass or an Interrail One Country Italy Pass.

The ORP buses in the Vatican gardens. (CNS/Paul Haring)

In addition to the discounted admission (for example, 6 euros or about $7.50 off the Vatican Museums-Sistine Chapel admission of 26 euros/$32), holders of the train passes can enter the museums through the special entrance reserved for guests with advanced reservations. The line is much shorter than the normal, infamously long and winding, queue.

The discount includes the special Friday night openings of the Vatican Museums in September and October.

Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, usually referred to as ORP, also is offering Eurail Italy passholders discounts on its buses and tours of the Catacombs of Domitilla and its minibus tour through the Vatican gardens.

Feast of Transfiguration a time for Salvadorans to express faith, national pride

By Rhina Guidos
Catholic News Service

TAKOMA PARK, Md. (CNS) — Some motorists seemed outright puzzled, some honked in support as they saw a group of men hauling the figure of a curly-haired image of Jesus with arms stretched out along a busy road in Maryland.

(CNS photo/Rhina Guidos)

A few hundred Salvadorans from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia accompanied the image at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Takoma Park this past weekend to mark the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. After all, the country they came from, El Salvador, means “The Savior” in Spanish, and the nation’s name is derived from the Aug. 6 Catholic feast.

The Washington metro area is home to approximately 240,000 Salvadorans, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, and the feast is used as an occasion for them to express civic and national pride, as well as to recognize their native country’s strong ties to the Catholic faith.

For 15 years, Salvadorans around the Washington area have organized the event, typically held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Melissa Rodriguez, of Maryland, said the importance of the event can’t be underestimated. That’s why she took her daughter to the event.

Though she lived away from the capital of San Salvador, where the event is most visible, Rodriguez always celebrated the feast as a child and sometimes watched the celebration in the city via TV. Hundreds pour into the streets of San Salvador the first week of August to watch the image of Jesus emerge from a globe in front the country’s national cathedral. Although children dress up in the blue and white of the Salvadoran flag and traditional food is shared, the religious importance of the feast stands out.

The feast is not about politics, Rodriguez said, it’s one that calls people to remember that life on earth is about serving God by serving others. It is particularly important to drill that into her 4-year-old daughter, Yessy Aparicio, who was born in the United States.

“I don’t want her to think that it’s all about her,” Rodriguez said. “I want her to learn about faith, that in her mind, she knows the Divine Savior, that’s what our lives depend on.”

Father Alex Martinez of Maryland urged Salvadorans to forgo the materialism that leads many to work two or three jobs to buy material goods instead of spending time with children.

“There is a crisis of values,” Father Martinez said in his homily. “When people become materialistic, they lose their values, they abandon their homes, they forget about their roots.”

The feast, he said, was about learning to listen to Christ and the values he taught, even when the demands are great. It’s important to have a sense of ethnic identity, of being proud to come from humble backgrounds, of teaching children Spanish as well as English, he said.

“I’m proud I came from a family of peasants and I studied by candlelight,” he said.

Far too many center their lives around work, around making money, Father Martinez said.

“There’s too much selfishness,” he said.

He reminded those who attended of the violence facing those in El Salvador and of the financial struggles many face. That’s why it’s important to have a sense of solidarity and to teach it to children, he said. It’s especially important because at a time when many are leaving the church, Catholic Latinos in the United States are becoming more numerous and are playing a larger role in the United States, he said.

“We will become the Catholic hope in this country,” he said.

Thieves ruin traditional Rome celebration of Our Lady of Snows

ROME — Thieves robbed Romans and tourists of the traditional end of the feast of Our Lady of the Snows at the Basilica of Mary Major.

The centerpiece of the feast — Mass inside the basilica with white flower petals falling from the ceiling to invoke snow — still occurred yesterday.

But the big finish — a sound, light and artificial-snow show in the square outside the basilica — was postponed to Aug. 15, the feast of Mary’s assumption.

Last year’s “snowfall” at St. Mary Major. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Saturday night thieves stole the truck with the sound and light equipment. Cesare Esposito, who organizes the event, told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, “I hope Our Lady helps me. For 29 years I’ve planned and carried out the re-enactment of Our Lady of the Snows and nothing like this has ever happened.”

The Aug. 5 feast of Our Lady of the Snows is also the feast of dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major. According to tradition, in 358 Mary indicated where she wanted the basilica built using the miracle of an August snowfall in Rome.

Aid agencies plead for funds to continue relief efforts in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee center

(CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

If the Dadaab refugee complex in northeastern Kenya were a city, it would be second in size only to the capital of Nairobi.

With about 465,000 refugees and displaced people crowded into the hot, arid desert not far from the border with Somalia, the camp is acknowledged by relief agencies as the largest refugee camp in the world. Nearly a third of the people in the camp — some 160,000 Somalis — arrived in the last year alone, fleeing drought, famine and violence in their homeland.

Catholic Relief Services is one of the numerous agencies serving the refugees. Michael Hatch, the agency’s emergency response coordinator in Kenya, told Catholic News Service that food, water, sanitation and hygiene are the primary needs of the people, some who have been housed in the camp for years.

CRS, the U.S. bishops’ overseas relief and development agency, is working in a section of the camp known as Cambios, where 13,500 people live. The organization soon may be responsible for the care of another 8,000 people, who are in another part of Dadaab known as Hagadera. The move is being eyed because the services are much better in Cambios, Hatch said.

Partners in the effort include the World Food Program and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The agencies are saying the need is great and that money is running short. Hatch said CRS alone projects needing $2 million between now and October 2013 to continue its work at current levels. (Contribute here.)

CRS joined the other agencies working in Dadaab, including CARE, Danish Refugee Council, International Rescue Committee, Lutheran World Federation, Oxfam International and Terre des Hommes (Land of the People), in calling upon the world for financial assistance, saying that $25 million was needed for services. In a July 11 statement, the groups also urged the international community to rethink its approach to long-term solutions for the camp.

Hatch said any discussions must address the security of the aid workers themselves. In June, Somali militants ambushed a two-vehicle aid convoy in the camp. A Kenyan aid worker was killed and four international workers from the Norwegian Refugee Council were abducted and held for several hours before being released. In October, gunmen entered Dadaab and grabbed two Spanish women working for Doctors Without Borders. The women remain missing.

Meanwhile, Hatch said the relief work continues, albeit with beefed-up security.

Waste management is one of many concerns in such crowded conditions. CRS has coordinated the construction of latrines for people to use. Having safe, clean latrines is important so that women and children don’t have to walk to nearby wooded areas where they are at risk of attack and sexual assault.

“You’re starting with nothing and you have these people coming in and they’re coming quickly,” Hatch said, describing the challenges the camp poses to refugees and aid workers alike. “You want health and safety.”

The harsh geography poses its own challenges. The sandy soil means the latrines have to be reinforced. Otherwise, they would not work properly, Hatch explained.

On top of that, the agencies are trying provide adequate housing — newcomers get a dome tent, which last just four to six months — as well as health care and education for kids. Hatch said CRS and others are facing a tremendous challenge.

“As long as people are in Cambios we want to make sure they’re getting the best services possible, whether it’s us or another agency,” he said.

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