Valentine’s Day in China

Happy Valentine’s Day! Many Chinese are adopting Western  cultural practices, and that includes Valentine’s Day. On the blog at UCA News, an Asian church news agency, writer Teresa Wang looks at how young people especially are celebrating Valentine’s Day, and she offers to alternative dates to celebrate love.

US bishops’ new communications chair talks about challenges

Our friends at Salt + Light, Canada’s premier Catholic media ministry, last week posted an interview with Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City and Tim Reidy of America magazine on modern communications challenges and on U.S. immigration issues. Bishop Wester is former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration and was elected last fall to head their Committee on Communications. Reidy is America’s online editor.

Here they discuss the challenges — and opportunities — facing the church in spreading the Gospel to a mobile society. Later in the interview they discuss immigration reform and the responsibility of the church to speak out for principles that recognize the humanity of immigrants coming to the United States.

Honoring the ‘Immortal Chaplains’ of World War II

The chaplains were honored with a commemorative stamp in 1948. (Courtesy CatholicHotdish.com)

The editor of The Catholic Spirit in St. Paul, Minn., Joe Towalski, points out that flags are flying at half-staff today in Minnesota to honor the heroic sacrifice of four Army chaplains who died while saving others after their troop transport ship was torpedoed in the North Atlantic 60 years ago during World War II. Towalski notes that we had a story in 2002 on the chaplains’ sacrifice. You can read that story here after you read Towalski’s piece, which also includes links to the Immortal Chaplains Foundation to perpetuate the legacy of the men.

HHS ruling stirs editorial reaction in Catholic press

Catholic newspapers in their editorial pages have strongly and consistently criticized the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services since its Jan. 20 announcement that there will be no change to a narrowly drawn religious exemption to a new federal mandate that all private employers provide no-cost contraception and sterilization in their health care plans.

The HHS said churches and other religious organizations have exactly one year to get on board with this policy.

“The administration wants to make Americans co-conspirators in its efforts to institutionalize these unacceptable immoral practices. We cannot support this effort,” wrote Stephen Trosley, editor of The Catholic Telegraph in Cincinnati.

The St. Louis Review called the decision, announced by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, “grossly counter to our fundamental right to free exercise of religion.”

It is, quite simply, moral dictatorship. It is an imperious decision made by bureaucrats who have no respect for the sanctity of human life or for the fundamental right of free people in a free society to act according to their consciences.”

The Jan. 26 unsigned editorial added: “We detest the Obama administration’s blatant disregard for life and liberty. If this mandate remains unchanged, many schools, hospitals, social service agencies and other faith-based organizations that serve diverse, frequently poor and vulnerable segments of our society may be forced to stop providing health care to their employees rather than include coverage of morally unacceptable ‘preventive services’ — a phrase properly applied to disease, not the miracle of pregnancy as Sibelius does.”

Our Sunday Visitor pointed out that the president unequivocally pledged respect for conscience rights, religious liberty and diversity of belief during his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame in May 2009 and a round-table interview with Catholic journalists a few weeks later.

“And now the Catholic Church finds itself in the odd position of being the primary defender of tolerance, pluralism and the principles of liberal democracy against a government that seeks to coerce citizens into behavior that violates their consciences,” said the Catholic weekly newspaper’s editorial board in its Feb. 5 edition.

Michael Sean Winters, columnist for National Catholic Reporter, wrote that President Barack Obama lost his vote “when he declined to expand the exceedingly narrow conscience exemptions proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services. The issue of conscience protections is so foundational, I do not see how I ever could, in good conscience, vote for this man again.”

He said the president’s decision “essentially told us, as Catholics, that there is no room in this great country of ours for the institutions our church has built over the years to be Catholic in ways that are important to us.” He also said it “shamefully” treats “those Catholics who went out on a limb” to support him.

Across the ocean, the British Catholic weekly newspaper, The Tablet, also weighed in, saying President Obama “made a serious mistake.”

The editorial pointed out that Obama “appears to have been taken in by the fact that most American Catholics do not have personal moral objections to contraception. He has failed to understand that what they mean by this is that contraception should be a matter for individual consciences. That is not compatible with imposing access to contraception by government regulation.”

The point secular opinion fails to grasp is that there are some things that should – must – be beyond the reach of state power, such as the freedom to make available contraception to employees of Catholic hospitals or not, or the freedom of Catholic childcare agencies to decide whether to accept gay couples as possible parents in adoption cases. Similarly, marriage, which stands at the core of civil society, is not something the state is free to tinker with.”

Catholic newspapers were not the only ones with something to say on this issue either.

A Jan. 23 Washington Post editorial  said the Obama administration “came down on the wrong side of a tough call.”

It said the best approach would have been for HHS to offer an exemption for religiously affiliated employers. Since it had already recognized the principle of a religious exemption, it  “should have expanded it.”

Instead, the Post said the ”administration’s feint at a compromise — giving such employers another year to figure out how to comply with the requirement — is unproductive can-kicking that fails to address the fundamental problem of requiring religiously affiliated entities to spend their own money in a way that contradicts the tenets of their faith.”

A Jan. 24 column in The Wall St. Journal examined how the decision is affecting Catholics across the board. The piece was headlined: “Obama offends the Catholic left: A contraceptive mandate provokes an unnecessary war.”

William McGurn, writes that the Obama administration’s decision predictably drew fire from Catholic bishops but “less predictable — and far more interesting,” he wrote, “has been the heat from the Catholic left, including many who have in the past given the president vital cover.”

Catholic liberals, he said, understand that if this ruling is left to stand, it “threatens the religious institutions closest to their hearts — those serving Americans in need, such as hospitals, soup kitchens and immigrant services.”

Mission Bangladesh: Visiting the country’s minority Catholics

Oblate Father Andrew Small, head of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, visits with Catholics in Banglasesh. Photo by Rock Ronald Rozario / UCA News

Did you know there are Catholics in Bangladesh?

Oblate Father Andrew Small, head of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, won’t get to visit all 344,000 Catholics, but he is visiting as many as he can during a weeklong visit to the predominantly Muslim Asian nation.

You can read about Father Small’s visit here, on the special site set up with coverage from our friends at UCA News.

Rev. King’s message of action, service remembered today

Sculpture of Rev. King at memorial in Washington. (CNS photo/ Bob Roller)

What the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “was talking and preaching about to us … is so relevant now. It’s what we as a people are fighting for now, as far as justice, peace and equality,” said Nova Nelson. She made the comments last October at the dedication of a new memorial to the slain civil rights leader in the National Mall’s West Potomac Park in Washington. Today especially, the memorial is a focal point for celebrating  Rev. King’s life and legacy. Nelson — director of the Washington Archdiocese’s Mass Choir who also directs the gospel ensemble and children’s choir at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Washington — sang the national anthem at the dedication. She later noted in an interview with the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper, that Rev. King drew his strength from his faith. That’s an example for all those who want to carry forth his work and message today, she said.  “No matter how much he was hated or rejected, he kept going because he believed in God and believed God would make a way, and he wasn’t afraid. He had to keep pushing for what God wanted him to do. Sometimes, we get doors closed in our faces. We have to keep pushing, knowing God is walking with us every step of the way.”

Mass in Rome memorializes Cardinal John Foley

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service

ROME — Thirty days after the death of our friend Cardinal John P. Foley, his successor as president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications celebrated Mass in his memory, recalling the late American prelate as a “man of God who became a man of communication.”

Archbishop Claudio Celli gives the homily during a Mass in memory of Cardinal John P. Foley in Rome Jan. 11. Cardinal Foley, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications for more than two decades, died Dec. 11 after a battle with leukemia. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Archbishop Claudio M. Celli offered the traditional trigesimo Mass for Cardinal Foley at Rome’s Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, only a few blocks from St. Peter’s Square. Among his concelebrants were Msgr. Paul Tighe, secretary of the council, and Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office. Among those attending the Mass were Marian Diaz, wife of the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, and numerous members of the Vatican press corps.

In his homily, Archbishop Celli recalled the late cardinal’s last visit to the council’s offices early in 2011, shortly before he left Rome for his native Philadelphia for good. Weakened by the leukemia that would ultimately kill him, Cardinal Foley nevertheless showed his usual humor, referring to a bottle of Coca-Cola as American champagne.

In that meeting, Archbishop Celli said, the late cardinal acted in the role of teacher to his former colleagues, demonstrating how “suffering has at its disposal modes of expression that not even all the new (information) technology can ever match.”

“He had come to give us the last, most important lesson,” the archbishop said, “giving his best, as a communicator of course, but all the more so as a witness and faithful servant of the Word.”

Archbishop Celli paid tribute to Cardinal Foley’s civility: “He had the tone of one who, in confrontation, saw neither enemies nor adversaries” but people to whom he could show, “through an always cordial welcome, the benevolence of the Lord.”

Cardinal Foley (CNS/Bob Roller)

The archbishop recalled some of the highlights of Cardinal Foley’s career, including his stint at The Catholic Standard and Times in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and of course his 23 years at the council, where he led the Vatican into the Internet age and presided over the publication of studies on key issues in contemporary communications, including online pornography.

Visibly moved, Archbishop Celli concluded his homily by thanking God for “this wise and generous pastor who bore witness, up to the very end, to how the essence of communication may be translated into a true and authentic reality of communion.”

New appreciation for martyrdom is Nigerian priest’s only consolation

A Nigerian priest who ministered to the dead after the Christmas bombings in Madalla, Nigeria, said he gained new insight into martyrdom.

In a first-person piece for The Catholic Register in Toronto, Father Emmanuel-Mary Mbam said:

In my agony of ministering to the dead I gained insight into why the Church calls the day a person is martyred one’s birthday. These people were martyrs; they died for their faith. As Christ was born into the world, they were born into heaven. This is my only consolation. The past year saw an upsurge in religious violence in Nigeria as a determined Islamic sect intensified efforts to impose Sharia law on the country. Incidents of devastation and death are now common.

Read the whole story here, in The Catholic Register.

Letters in antique shop lead retired editor to write tribute to ‘ordinary soldier’

James Breig retired in 2008 after 37 years at The Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., where he had been a staff writer, assistant editor and then editor (for the last 25 years of his tenure). But retirement meant he had time for a new project — researching and writing what turned out to be a 332-page nonfiction book. The book idea was sparked by his discovery of a soldier’s letters in an antique shop three years ago. That find resulted in “Searching for Sgt. Bailey: Saluting an Ordinary Soldier of World War II.”

“Dearest Mama,” begins a letter written by Army Sgt. James Boisseau Bailey on Aug. 8, 1944. “I know that you have begun to think that I have forgotten you but that will never happen. … Will do anything to get this damn war over and to get back home.”

Bailey sent that letter from New Guinea to his mother in Virginia, according to Breig. It and others like it inspired Breig to “search between their lines for telltale clues to the soldier’s entire life and for hidden hints about his fears and his worries, his hopes — and his love for a mysterious woman named Jane.”

Breig’s books also introduces many other ordinary men and women who, as he puts it, “went off to war, dutifully did what they were asked to do and returned to anonymity.” He drew on hundreds of letters home from Marines, sailors, WACs and soldiers, and he conducted interviews with WWII veterans and experts on the history of the war.

He notes that “heroes of the ‘Greatest Generation’ have been rightly honored for their exploits on Normandy’s beaches, along Iwo Jima’s sands and in the air above Germany,” but he wanted to focus on the “other kinds of heroes,” he said, “the unnoticed millions who deserve to be saluted because they did their duty, regardless of what it was, well and faithfully.”

“If the stories are allowed to fade,” writes Breig, “so, too, will the men and women who lived them. So, too, will the history they made.”

The book covers what life was like in an Army training camp as well as New Guinea’s significance “in the string of fierce battles to reclaim the Pacific”; the creation of V-mail; the role of quartermasters, engineers and mechanics; and the demobilization of troops at the end of the war.

Since the book was published in November, Breig has been busy. He told CNS he has had a chance to promote the book on national radio, via “The Jim Bohannon Show.” He’s talked about it on at least 15 radio stations in local markets around the country,  has made some TV appearances and been the subject of newspaper articles in the Albany area and in Virginia, Bailey’s home state. He said he’s also given at least 20 presentations “to libraries, senior clubs and fraternal organizations.”

Saturdays with Cardinal John P. Foley

By Joseph Ryan
Editor, The Dialog, diocesan newspaper of Wilmington, Del.

(CNS/Paul Haring)

Cardinal John P. Foley had the ability to make faith a reasonable and happy choice in these skeptical times.

Well-named after his patron saint, John the Evangelist, Cardinal Foley, who died Dec. 11 at 76, drew people to God and the church through his cheerful personality and his clear, succinct explanations of the Catholic faith.

He was familiar to millions of Catholics as the “voice of Christmas” during his 25 years as the commentator on NBC’s broadcast of the pope’s Midnight Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

He was a hero to hundreds of Catholic press professionals in the United States and Canada for his friendship and advice as a working member of the Catholic Press Association and for his championing of church and media during his 24 years in Rome as president of the Vatican’s social communications agency and three years leading the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher, an international lay institute supporting the work of the church in the Holy Land.

He was also my “father” in the Catholic press. I had the good luck to be hired by him in 1977 when he was editor of The Catholic Standard and Times in Philadelphia.

He was the model of what a Catholic journalist should be: accurate, fair and true to the mission of the church.

He often said the “Good News” included bad news, too, noting the Gospel writers reported on Christ’s crucifixion as a criminal, his betrayal by Judas, his denial by Peter and his abandonment at the cross by all the Apostles, save John, his mother and other women disciples. But the Good News of Easter is at the heart of all Gospel and church stories.

The future cardinal’s vision of Catholic journalism, along with my admiration for his writing and speaking skills, sparked my interest is staying in the Catholic press for the rest of my working life.

Knowing the joy he took in his work as a priest and bishop and learning the church’s views through his perspective also made me proud to be a Catholic.

He retired from his post in Rome last February. For much of his three years leading the Holy Sepulcher order, the cardinal was coping with leukemia and other ailments.

Because he knew he was dying, he asked me to help him record his life’s story.

On most Saturdays since July, I had the honor to meet with him and listen to him discuss his Philadelphia archdiocese roots, his vocation — “I’ve never had an unhappy day as a priest” — his varied experiences — “and that’s how I met Ginger Rogers” — and his work with two popes — “Pope John Paul II was a saint; he was a mystic.”

Every week we met, although he was growing weaker as time passed, he was still the same priest I met in 1977 — brilliant, insightful, focused, funny and full of energy that could only have been spiritually based as his conditioned worsened.

Cardinal Foley was dying during the months we talked, but I was being inspired, lifted up by him.

The sudden turn for the worse he took last Friday wasn’t unexpected. He was at peace about his death and ready. “We are made for heaven,” he said.

He proclaimed the Good News every day of his ministry. He proclaimed it the day after he died, too, when I received his Christmas card. He proclaims it now.

(Original post)

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