On feast of St. Vincent de Paul, prelates express concern for mistreatment of America’s poor, unemployed

Geraldo de Jesus, right, gets a hand from volunteer Nancy Perez, with his food selection at the Sister Regis Food Cupboard in Rochester, N.Y., last Oct. 3. (CNS/Mike Crupi)

Poverty was on the minds of Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, N.Y., yesterday, the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, the 17th-century saint who devoted his life to serving the poor.

In The Gospel in the Digital Age blog on the Archdiocese of New York’s website, the two church leaders commended the work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, but also lamented the high rates of poverty and unemployment in the Bronx and Brooklyn as pointed out by New York Times blogger Michael Powell.

But it’s not just in New York where poverty runs rampant, the prelates wrote. “The basic human needs of good jobs, food, and housing continue to challenge tens of millions throughout this country,” they wrote.

While acknowledging that “we are fortunate as a society … to provide for those struggling” through the use of billions of dollars donated to charities annually, they also commended government programs that “provide enormous support to poor Americans.”

Cardinal Dolan and Bishop DiMarzio also raised two concerns about the support offered to people living in poverty, as related here:

It is not enough. Even with the generosity of the American people, and the works of groups like the St. Vincent de Paul Society and so many others, much more needs to be done, and not just by private charity. The government must continue to play its part as well.

There are very dark clouds. Too much rhetoric in the country portrays poor people in a very negative way. At the same time, this persistent sluggish economic (sic) and slow pace of recovery does two things that hurt the poor: it does not provide sufficient jobs for poor people to earn decent living to support themselves and it provides less resources for government to do its part for Americans in need.

These situations are “devastating to struggling families,” they wrote.

In conclusion the prelates called for solidarity with the poor.

“There is too much finger pointing and not enough joining hands,” they said.

Saving Ugandan children’s lives has not gone unnoticed

Archbishop John Baptist Odama in an interview with Catholic News Service in 2009. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, Uganda, has spent much of his public ministry over the last 13 years saving the lives of thousands of children at risk of war and violence.

He has advocated for the kids to world leaders, acted as a human shield in war-torn areas of northern Uganda, called for negotiations with rebels and reached across religious and ethnic lines to organize peace initiatives to teach the way of nonviolence in the face of atrocities.

His work has not gone unnoticed.

World Vision presented Archbishop Odama with its 2012 International Peace Prize in Gulu Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace.

The award recognizes peace-builders who work without much fanfare in forgotten areas of the world.

Archbishop Odama promised to work for peace, especially on behalf of children, during his installation in 1999 as leader of the Gulu Archdiocese.

I have had the opportunity to interview Archbishop Odama twice during my career: once during a visit to St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in the Cleveland Diocese several years ago and in 2009 at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington.

During both interviews it was readily apparent that Archbishop Odama’s desire for peace consumed his spirit. It was the children who were his utmost concern because they were the most at risk in the face of the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army led by John Kony.

Since forming in 1987 the LRA has forced as many as 100,000 children to join their ranks and participate in vicious raids on villages across central Africa. Girls often were taken as sex slaves for Kony and his lieutenants.

Archbishop Odama has placed his life at risk by venturing into remote regions of Uganda and Congo to meet with the LRA. In doing so he secured agreements to stop the attacks on innocent victims.

His most impassioned plea, though, was made to the U.S. and other governments: End the flow of arms into the region. Without armaments, he said, the region’s violence would diminish and people could once again live in peace and without fear.

For the time being Kony’s forces are out of Uganda, but have not disappeared altogether. Archbishop Odama continues to organize people, on faith-based grounds, to resist the violence through nonviolent means.

At last week’s award ceremony he repeated his desire “to always be consumed in the struggle for promoting peace.”

“My wish for peace is not only for this area, it is for the whole country of Uganda and also for the continent,” he said, according to information received from World Vision. “I consistently refer to other areas which are affected by war, to my people. Let us be in solidarity with them. We pray for them, we keep asking that God inspires people who will bring peace in those areas.”

May peace be with you, archbishop.

Another anniversary to celebrate: It’s been 25 years since Blessed John Paul II came to US, Canada

Pope John Paul II meets with youths in Los Angeles in 1987. (CNS photo)

Twenty-five years ago, from Sept. 10-20, Blessed Pope John II visited the United States and Canada.

Among the cities on his itinerary was Los Angeles, and The Tidings, newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, has been done a number of interviews with Catholics reminiscing about that papal trip and what it still means to them all these years later.

Among those who spoke to Mike Nelson, Tidings editor, were Peter O’Malley and his sister, Terry O’Malley Seidler. The O’Malley family owned the Los Angeles Dodgers at the time, and Peter remembered being approached by Los Angeles archdiocesan officials shortly after it was anounced the pope would be visiting  City of Angels.

Church leaders wanted to know about “the possibility of celebrating a papal Mass at Dodger Stadium,” writes Nelson. Peter, whose family has had a long tradition of involvement with the Catholic Church, recalled the conversation: “I said, ‘Well, it’s not impossible, but it’s about as close to imposssible as you can get.'”

Twenty-five years later, Peter and his sister “smile as they speak with warmth and pride about the papal Mass at Dodger Stadium, attended by 63,000 (still the largest single-event crowd in stadium history) and a highlight of the Holy Father’s 10-day trip to the U.S. and Canada,” according to Nelson.

US priest issues plea for cultural sensitivity

An interior view Sept. 12 shows damage to the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the previous day U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other embassy staff were killed in a rocket attack on their car by protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam’s prophet Mohammed. (CNS photo/Esam Al-Fetori, Reuters)

Since 1977, Maryknoll Father Doug May has spent 20 years in the Middle East — primarily Egypt. So when protests over an anti-Muslim film heated up in Cairo and other cities, he tried to help Americans balance freedom of speech with an understanding of what it means to Muslims to depict the prophet Mohammed.

“Mohammed in Islam is forbidden to be ‘imaged’ in any way except with his face covered, so adverse are Muslims to any image of God or any person for fear that the image itself might be worshipped,” he wrote in an article for Arab West Report.

“In our world of ‘political correctness,’ it is generally no longer acceptable to make fun of or ridicule: people of color, women, gays, Jews, Catholics, Hispanics, Poles, Italians, Germans, etc. Yet it is still ‘open season’ to depict Arabs as ‘rag heads’ and Muslims as ‘terrorists,’” he wrote.

“Cultural sensitivity must include religious and social sensitivity,” he added.

I met Father May at the Maryknoll house in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2011. He combines a sense of humor and pragmatism with a deep love of Egypt and its people. One paragraph in his essay reflects those attributes:

“Before coming to the Arab-Muslim world for the first time in 1977, could I laugh at this film, watching Mohammed look like a fool? Probably yes, just as I laughed at Jesus and John the Baptist in ‘The Life of Brian.’ However, as a priest, would I feel free to ‘juggle’ the Body and Blood of Christ at the altar during Mass as if I were performing in a circus act? NO! It just isn’t done! If I was short of toilet paper, would I resort to tearing out pages of the Hebrew or Christian Scriptures in a time of need? NO! It just isn’t done. So, is burning the Quran, desecrating the Quran and insulting Mohammed OK? NO! It just isn’t done by anyone who is aware and sensitive to Muslims and respectful of Islam.”

Father May said that, in the interest of freedom of speech, he would defend the “theoretical right” of someone to make the film, but he said depicting “Mohammed as a sex-crazed simpleton” was “a classic example of going too far while hiding behind the concept of freedom of speech and hiding under the rock of unadulterated bigotry.” He said it also places local Christians in the terrible situation of “guilt by association.”

“If motive and premeditation can be proven, I would challenge the U.S. government to arrest and convict the makers and distributors of this film,” he said. “I would suggest that Muslims, along with moderate Christians and Jews, take the filmmakers and distributors to court and sue them for ‘inciting violence’ if such a cause exists in civil law.”

Cathedrals’ gems reflect Manitoba’s rich heritage

Art over the baptismal font at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Winnipeg. (CNS photo/Barb Fraze)

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — The city of Winnipeg has three Catholic cathedrals with artistic gems that reflect Manitoba’s rich religious and cultural heritage.

St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, which serves Latin-rite Catholics — primarily English-speaking — is situated near the Winnipeg Convention Centre, in the city center. The building was consecrated late in the 19th century, but its exterior belies some of the contemporary works inside, such as the art over the 21st-century baptismal font at the back of the church. The glass pane above the font depicts the baptism of Jesus and reflects the nave.

(In the interest of full disclosure, photos for this blog were taken with a point-and-shoot camera, not the normal equipment used by CNS.)

The Archdiocese of Saint-Boniface serves the area’s French-speaking Catholics. When people think of this cathedral, they often picture the impressive French-Romanesque façade. But inside the shell of the early 19th-century structure is a modern church. The artwork is stunning and reflects the liturgical, cultural and historical roots of the area, dating back to native peoples and French explorers.

Stained-glass window of the Last Supper at the Cathedral of Saint-Boniface, Winnipeg, Manitoba. (CNS photo/Barb Fraze)

The 1970s cathedral, including its windows, was designed by Etienne Gaboury. He used modern images for his work, including the windows depicting the Stations of the Cross, which form most of the nave’s side walls. His stained-glass Last Supper, over the entrance to the nave, is a three-dimensional phenomenon.

Part of the iconostasis at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of St. Volodymyr and Olha, Winnipeg, Manitoba. (CNSphoto/Barb Fraze)

Winnipeg is also home to the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s Archeparchy, the term for an Eastern Catholic archdiocese. The Cathedral of St. Volodymyr and Olha is full of Eastern symbols and icons. Its stained-glass windows were designed by Dutch-Canadian artist Leo Mol.

But for many visitors, perhaps the most impressive church art will be the iconostasis, the ornate gold screen in front of the altar.

Preparing for Nov. 6 not a cut-and-dry exercise

Most polls show that American voters have already made up their minds for which presidential candidate they will cast their vote on Nov. 6. Most pundits agree that President Obama and Governor Romney are arm-wrestling over a handful of undecideds out there. Probably true.

But there are also a host of other races — U.S. Senate and House, gubernatorial, state and local — and ballot initiatives from Hawaii to Puerto Rico that are on the ballots. There is a lot more at stake than the White House. Catholic voters have a lot to consider this fall.

In this month’s issue of The Catholic Answer, published by Our Sunday Visitor, veteran journalist Russell Shaw says in his cover story, “How Catholics Should Prepare to Vote,” that there are five key principles to help voters discern important matters before they step into the voting booth. Shaw, a keen observer of the American Catholic experience, bases his point not on the current passions of one group or another, but on church documents, especially “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a statement of the U.S. bishops meant to help Catholic voters.

Catholics have been participating in American political life since the beginning of the republic, and today there are some new challenges to consider. Shaw reminds us that voting remains an important responsibility of being a Catholic and a citizen, and his five principles help remind us how serious that responsibility is.

How do you discern how to cast your vote? How do you consider your faith at the ballot box?

Ukrainian Catholic leader shares favorites, faith in Winnipeg

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — When young Ukrainian Catholics asked the church’s major archbishop to name his favorite book of the Bible, he did not hesitate: the Gospel of St. John.

Why?

“First — shortest one,” laughed 42-year-old Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, Ukraine. Then, he added more seriously, “With those few words, he speaks so profoundly.”

Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych talks to young Manitobans at St. Nicholas Church in Winnipeg Sept. 7. (CNS photo/Courtesy Synod 2012)

“Favorites” was among question topics that young people from Manitoba submitted for the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church to answer during a visit to St. Nicholas Parish Sept. 7. Posed in the form of Tweets and projected onto a screen in front of the church, the questions followed a service to honor Blessed Nykyta Budka, the first Ukrainian Catholic bishop who arrived in Canada 100 years ago.

The Q and A was sprinkled with theology, personal stories and laughter. The Eastern church’s youngest bishop — and elected leader — has made a commitment to meet with young people every chance he gets.

“It’s not so easy to be young,” he told those present with a laugh, but later, he told them, “I promise that I will hear you.”

One question reflected a young person’s concern about where he fit into the church, since he did not speak Ukrainian and neither did his parents.

“This is not a church of Ukrainians, it’s a church of Christ,” Archbishop Shevchuk said. “We are a global church. We are a church of the Ukrainian tradition.”

Asked how he felt in March 2011 when, as a 40-year-old he was elected head of the largest Eastern church in communion with Rome, he told the young people, “I was scared to death.

“I was scared because of the huge responsibility,” he said. “I was supposed to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“I was encouraged by the bishops,” he added. “They said, ‘God will help you.’”

The archbishop was in Canada not only to visit, but to preside over the Ukrainian Catholic Synod of Bishops, which officially began Sept. 8 with participants taking at synod oath. The synod was scheduled to conclude Sept. 16.

Nicaragua is latest country to stop training at U.S. Army school

A participant holds a cross with the name of Maryknoll Sister Maura Clarke, who was raped, tortured and murder by military troops in El Salvador in 1980, during a 2009 vigil at the gates of Fort Benning in Georgia, home of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. (CNS/Jim West)

Add Nicaragua to the list of countries no longer sending soldiers for training to a U.S. Army school in Georgia.

School of the Americas Watch reported that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega decided to end his country’s participation in the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas.

The institute trains troops in state-of-the-art security practices and provides human rights education.

A delegation of SOA Watch activists, including founder Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois, met with Ortega this week to push for the withdrawal. The organization announced Ortega’s decision Sept. 6.

SOA Watch was founded in 1990 to call for the school’s closing amid claims that the U.S. Army officials teach the Latin American soldiers tactics to suppress civilians. The effort began a year after the army in El Salvador murdered six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central America in San Salvador.

“We’re very encouraged. This has energized our movement,” Father Bourgeois told Catholic News Service this morning from his home just outside the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., WHINSEC’s home.

“To have Daniel Ortega … say that Nicaragua will not participate in the future is a big deal,” Father Bourgeois said.

Nicaragua joins Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela in withdrawing from the school.

Lee A. Rials, WHINSEC public affairs officer, downplayed the announcement.

“It’s a choice the country made and they can choose what they like to do,” Rials told CNS this morning.

He said Nicaragua’s involvement in the school had dwindled in recent years — sending just a few trainees during fiscal year 2011 and none in 2012 — and will have little impact on the school.

“It’s not at all significant in the fact that we have this year more students than we’ve ever had before (at more than 2,200),” Rials said.” I think throughout the hemisphere we’re pretty well known for what we offer and what people gain by coming here.”

Rials attributed the decision to an apparent change in leadership of the Nicaraguan army, saying that just a few years ago the top military leader in the Central American nation told a visiting WHINSEC official “we need this school.”

SOA Watch activists plan to continue visiting officials in other nations. Next on tap, Father Bourgeois said, are Brazil and Peru.

Religion has big impact on how America gives

If you ever wondered whether religion makes a big impact on American generosity, wonder no more. It does.

Sister Mary Maloney, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, chats with a guest in the cafeteria of a nonprofit charitable organization administered by her order in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2010. The charity serves hot meals to the poor, needy and homeless and provides transitional housing for young mothers. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

According to a new study released in the Aug. 23 issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “regions of the country that are deeply religious are more generous than those that are not,” reports Ben Gose in an exclusive study, “How America Gives.”

“Two of the top nine states — Utah and Idaho — have high numbers of Mormon residents, who have a tradition of tithing at least 10 percent of their income to the church. The remaining states in the top nine are all in the Bible Belt.”

The top 10 states in terms of giving were, in order, Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Idaho, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and  Maryland.

Of America’s 50 largest cities, Salt Lake City took the No. 1 spot with citizens there giving an average of 9 percent of their household income to charity. Rounding out the top 10 are Memphis, Tenn.; Birmingham, Ala.; Nashville, Tenn.; Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Oklahoma City; Washington; Dallas-Fort Worth; and Jacksonville, Fla.

Of U.S. regions, the South gives a greater percentage of its household income to charity, 5.2 percent on average. The West follows with 4.5 percent. Midwesterners give on an average of 4.3 percent, and Northeasterners give the least, 4 percent of average income. But when faith comes out of the equation, the trends flip. “People in the Northeast provide 1.4 percent of their discretionary income to secular charities, compared to those in the South, who give 0.9 percent,” the report said.

Gose also reported some other surprising findings of the study:

The rich aren’t the most generous. “People who make $50,000 to $75,000 give an average of 7.6 percent of the their discretionary income to charity, compared with an average of 4.2 percent for people who make $100,000 or more.”

It matters were you live. “Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their income to charity than wealthy people who live economically diverse neighborhoods.”

Tax incentives make a difference. “State policies that promote giving can make a significant difference and in some cases are influencing the rankings. In Arizona, charities are reaping more than $100-million annually from a series of tax credits adopted in recent years.

To see how your state ranks,and even your city of county, the report has a great interactive map. It also profiles giving and its challenges and victories in four cities: Phoenix, ranked No. 22; Minneapolis-St. Paul, ranked No. 30; Providence, R.I., ranked at the bottom at No. 50; and Washington, No. 8.

You can also find how the data was gathered and analyzed.

Pope videos, Vatican Radio on your Android

VATICAN CITY — With a couple quick taps, users of Android smartphones and tablets can listen to Vatican Radio programs — in 40 different languages, including Esperanto – access the pope’s daily schedule in English or Italian, read the texts of his speeches at those events and watch papal events live on video.

The app has been available since Wednesday from Google Play.

As for the fine print: The app is free. The papal agenda and text-news functions work on devices running Android 2.3 and higher. To access the radio broadcasts and live streaming of audio programs, you need Android 3.0 or higher. And Android 4.0 or higher is required to view the video streaming.

Vatican Radio said it is working on a similar app for iPhones and iPads, which should be ready soon. And another app for the Windows Phone is in the pipeline.

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