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)

More tributes to Cardinal Foley (part 2)

(CNS/Paul Haring)

It was no surprise that, as soon as I posted links yesterday to some of the tributes being written for the late Cardinal John P. Foley, several new ones would come in:

  • Bob Zyskowski, associate publisher of The Catholic Spirit in St. Paul, Minn., writes movingly of the cardinal as a mentor (he hired the 22-year-old Zyskowski in 1974 to be news and sports editor at The Catholic Standard & Times in Philadelphia) and a friend (he baptized two of the four Zyskowski children). He recalls that the future cardinal taught “the truism that Catholic media have nothing to fear from reporting bad news” and showed him “how to love the church, warts and all.”
  • Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher at Our Sunday Visitor, was another close Catholic press friend of the cardinal. (My wife still chuckles when she remembers seeing the two of them laughing and trading stories over breakfast at a hotel coffee shop six years ago.) Msgr. Campion remembers his last visit with the cardinal three weeks earlier and says no one ever could miss seeing his profound faith.

He knew the importance of words

(CNS/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY — I first met Cardinal John Foley on the tarmac of Andrews Air Force Base in March 1984. Of course, he wasn’t a cardinal then. He was editor of The Catholic Standard and Times, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and he had just returned from serving on a U.S. government-sponsored mission to monitor elections in El Salvador. I was in Washington for a few weeks, and he was my assignment that day.

Msgr. Foley said the elections had been essentially fair and that the people showed a real enthusiasm for the electoral process. He backed that up with comments from some of the 100 or so voters he had spoken with at polling places. He said El Salvador needed more U.S. aid, but when I asked about President Reagan’s request for additional military aid, his answer surprised me: he said he would “hate to say yes” to such a request.

“As a priest, I’m not enthusiastic about recommending more arms,” Msgr. Foley said. “I felt great empathy with Archbishop Rivera Damas when he said, `All the arms come from outside the country, but all the victims come from inside the country.’”

Msgr. Foley impressed me that day as someone who gave real answers. He measured his words carefully, but didn’t hide behind them.

A few weeks later, we met up in Rome. I was a correspondent for CNS and now-Archbishop Foley had just been named president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Our paths would cross many times over the next 27 years, often at press conferences but more often at lunches at Taverna Giulia, one of his favorite restaurants in Rome.

Cardinal Foley took journalism seriously. He was an attentive and daily reader of Catholic News Service, and if he thought we wrote something good, he’d phone and tell us so. Occasionally, he’d weigh in with a criticism, which we took all the more seriously because of his absolute sense of fairness.

As a Roman Curia official, Cardinal Foley made an unusually good impression with the local Vaticanisti. He was a breath of fresh air at Vatican press conferences — straightforward, concise and witty. Many times I heard Italian reporters describe him with the single word simpatico, “friendly.”

And in fact, inside or outside the Vatican, he was someone who made friends quickly, because he was genuinely interested in people. He was a man of deep and cheerful faith, and I always considered him one of the Vatican’s most effective evangelizers.

Blessed Marianne Cope’s cause moves ahead; news on other causes

Icon of Blessed Marianne Cope by Margaret Girdwood. (CNS photo)

On Wednesday, we reported that the path to canonization for Blessed Marianne Cope has been clearedafter a Vatican congregation has confirmed a second miracle attributed to her intercession. The final step for her canonization is approval by Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican decision was announced Dec. 6 by the sister’s religious community, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities in Syracuse, N.Y., and by Honolulu Bishop Larry Silva. At the same time unconfirmed reports surfaced that an announcement will be made in mid-December about the approval of a second miracle attributed to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha’s intercession, which would clear the way for her canonization.

There also is news about other sainthood causes. In mid-November, Catholic New York, newspaper of the New York Archdiocese, reported that with approval from the Vatican, the cause for Bishop James A. Walsh has been formally opened, The bishop was co-founder in 1911 of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, better known as Maryknoll. A ceremony took place Nov. 9 at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan. According to Catholic New York, the cause for Maryknoll co-founder Father Thomas Frederick Price is pending in Raleigh, N.C.

In the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., the home diocese of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Msgr. Stanley Deptula, executive director of the Archbishop Fulton Sheen Foundation, announced that this Sunday there will be a Mass to close the investigation tribunal that examined an alleged miracle attributed to the intercession of the archbishop. It will be celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Peoria, All the official documents related to the case will be sealed for shipment to Rome at the Dec. 11 Mass.

“If the pope approves this alleged miracle, we could have the first beatification ever on American soil here in Peoria, Illinois,” said the foundation.

A tribunal of inquiry was sworn in last September to investigate the case of  James Fulton Engstrom, who celebrated his first birthday Sept. 16, 2011. His parents, Travis and Bonnie Engstrom, believe James is alive because of the intercession of Archbishop Sheen. On the day of his birth he was considered stillborn, though his mother had had a healthy pregnancy and experienced “a beautiful, short labor.”

James was without a pulse for the first 61 minutes of his life. It was only when doctors at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria were ready to call the time of death “that his little heart started beating.”

The archbishop’s cause was officially opened in 2002. The Sheen Foundation centralized its operations in the diocese in 2007.

Minnesota priest heard Lincoln’s call for Civil War chaplains

April marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, and some folks might think there wouldn’t be much interest in Catholic-related stories about the War Between the States too far outside Washington or beyond the site of the major battles between North and South. But then along comes a feature from one of the Catholic newpapers in the Midwest.

The story in the Nov. 21 issue of The Catholic Spirit, of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, describes how Father John Ireland of Minnesota tended to the spiritual needs of soldiers on the battlefield.

In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln called for priests to serve as Civil War hospital chaplains. Twenty-two answered, among them a young Minnesotan.

Read the full story here. The Minnesota Military Museum has an exhibit about the role of Minnesotans’ role in the Civil War.

Spending a week on a food stamp diet ‘humbling, difficult’

In this season o’ plenty, with Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas feasting ahead, reporter George Raine’s story in a recent issue of Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper, gives a perspective on those trying to subsist on food stamps. He interviewed a U.S. representative from the Bay Area about the week she and other lawmakers spent living on the $4.50 daily allowance for food stamp recipients.

Rep. Jackie Speier, who represents California’s 12th District in Congress, told Raine the experience was “humbling and difficult.” She joined other House Democrats in a “Food Stamp Challenge” the first week of November to call attention to the program facing possible budget cuts in Congress.

A Vatican II Catholic tells why he loves Mass

(CNS photo/Gregory A.Shemitz)

As everyone knows, the English-translation of the new Roman Missal will gets its first use in the pews at Masses this weekend. And along comes a timely reflection from one Vatican II Catholic about what he loves about the Mass, reflecting on what it has meant to him at various stages of his life, starting when he was an altar boy.

“At Mass – no matter where or who or how many people are in the pews or folding chairs – I feel affirmed in my choice to be part of this 2,000-year-old tradition,” writes Bob Zyskowski in a Nov. 18 posting. “Note that word ‘choice.’ Nobody is forcing me to be at church. I go because I want to. Because I get something out of it. And what’s affirming is that I feel part of something good and valued by others.”

Zyskowski is associate publisher of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. His reflection is on CatholicHotDish.com, “A Minnesota Flavored Catholic Blog” launched by the newspaper earlier this year.

“This isn’t an exercise in apologetics on behalf of the new Roman Missal,” he says. “I’ve read at least a dozen explanations explaining the need for the changes and just as many commentaries questioning those explanations. Frankly, neither matter. I’ll still love Mass.”

Also worth a look is a CNS story about Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s new pastoral, “Jesus’ Eager Desire: Our Participation in the Sunday Mass.” The full text is available on the website of The Pilot, the Boston archdiocesan newspaper. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput also offered his reflections on the first Sunday of Advent and use of the new missal in this letter to Catholics.

More than 25,000 youths and their chaperones descend on Indianapolis to celebrate faith, friendship, community

Kaleigh Gross of Atlanta attends youth conference. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway)

More than 25,000 Catholic youths and their adult chaperones are in Indianapolis for the National Catholic Youth Conference. Saturday is the last day of  what has been a three-day experience of prayer, community and empowerment for Catholic teens. Check out this photo gallery on the website of The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.

According to organizers, one of the signature activities for the youths at this biennial gathering is trading – buttons, pins, caps and other souvenirs that represent their hometown or state. This year, for the first time, they’ll be exchanging bishops’ trading cards during one of the final events on the closing day.

More than 100,000 of the cards were printed and each teen received five bishop trading cards in his or her registration packet. A complete set includes 28 different bishops from all over the country.

“The whole idea of the bishop trading cards was to get into the spirit of the thematic park, Victory Park (named and modeled after Indianapolis’ Victory Field),” said Marlene Stammerman, director of Catholic Youth Ministries for the Indianapolis Archdiocese’s New Albany deanery in Clarksville.

“There is a whole dynamic of trading items at NCYC. Some kids trade buttons, cow bells, and almost anything. Trading the bishops and trying to get the card with their diocesan bishop on it gives the kids one more thing to negotiate with when vying for that favorite item. It’s a fun way for them to start conversations and make new friends.”

Bishops planned to autograph their trading cards for the teens on Saturday from 2-6 p.m. at Victory Park.

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