In Kentucky, landowners await pipeline developers’ next step

Loretto Sister Ceciliana Skees was among several members of the Loretto Community in Kentucky who opposed the Bluegrass Pipeline. (CNS/courtesy Loretto Community)

Loretto Sister Ceciliana Skees was among many members of the Loretto Community in Kentucky who opposed the Bluegrass Pipeline. (CNS/courtesy Loretto Community)


Although the developers of a controversial 1,100-mile natural gas liquids pipeline passing through Kentucky have suspended investment in the project, opponents of the plan said they don’t believe it has been abandoned yet.

Sister Claire McGowan, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace in St. Catharine, Ky., and coordinator of an organization called New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future, told Catholic News Service that until the companies involved in the Bluegrass Pipeline formally end the project, those opposed to it must stay vigilant.

“Any new infrastructure that is designed to expand the use of fossil fuels is absolutely the wrong way to go,” Sister Claire said.

“The real issue is that we need to make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and we need to make it very soon,” she said.

The Dominican Sisters of Peace, the Sisters of Loretto and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, all in an environmentally sensitive rural area an hour south of Louisville, joined environmental advocates and individual landowners in a campaign earlier this year to protect property rights. The coalition worked with the Kentucky legislature to enact a law that prevents pipeline companies from using eminent domain to secure rights of way when property owners do not want to sell those rights.

In December the religious congregations released a statement on energy usage and conservation. Titled “An Energy Vision from the Heart of Kentucky’s ‘Holy Land,’” more than 130 faith-based organizations and 1,000 individuals have since signed on.

Representatives of Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, the developers, said in late April in a posting on a website touting the project that the companies are “exercising capital discipline and not investing additional capital at this time.”

The posting indicated that potential customers are looking at other sources to move natural gas liquids, or NGLs. The statement did not mention the grassroots outcry against the pipeline in Kentucky. There has been little, if any, opposition to the project in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the natural gas and NGLs are being tapped from deep shale formations through a complex procedure known as hydraulic fracturing.

Catholic News Service first wrote about the Bluegrass Pipeline in September.

Sister Claire said the momentum of the movement must continue.

“It is such a bad deal all the way around to think we’re so oriented toward profit that we cannot look at all to the values of protecting the environment that really matter for the future and our children and grandchildren,” she said.

Sister Cristina will face the final judgment… on The Voice



ROME — Regardless of all the jokes that voting for anyone other than #SuorCristina would incur excommunication, it seemed to be a given that Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia would make it to the finals of The Voice of Italy.

Even her Team J-Ax “opponent,” Dylan Magon, said in a behind-the-scenes preview that he was looking at the semi-finals show last night as his last hurrah.

o want an italy reax

Sadly, Dylan and Sister Cristina — the two final contestants on J-Ax’s team — had been the targets of widespread and often vicious criticism on social media for weeks.

Racist comments were directed against 21-year-old Dylan who was born in Palermo, Sicily, and whose parents are from the island of Mauritius,  and “haters” looked at 25-year-old Sister Cristina’s continued presence on the show, not as a sign of her promising talent, but as a showbiz gimmick to pull in viewers.


On each show, J-Ax delivered a heartfelt appeal for people to rise above the prejudice and pettiness.

“I want to live in an Italy like this: where I — an atheist rapper, can showcase, with all due respect, a nun being embraced by an Italian with Mauritian roots. I want to live in this kind of Italy,” he said last night to great applause.


He also addressed criticism that Sister Cristina shouldn’t be wearing her habit on stage, but should assume a more “neutral” presence.

J-Ax condemned assertions that her religious dress was some kind of costume put on for show, and said it was an authentic part of her true and full identity.


“It’s like Superman,” whose pretend costume is the normal everyday clothing of Clark Kent, to blend in with the crowd and cover up his true super hero essence, J-Ax said.

Sister Cristina shouldn’t hide her true nature as a religious, was his message: “If  you want the voice, you have to take the whole package.”

jaxAn unexpected, but endearing part of that package has been her ability to make this tattooed rap star get teary-eyed every time she sings.

He said on a talk show this week that Sister Cristina has been “one of the most wonderful and wholesome things that has ever happened in my career.”

While Sister Cristina’s rendition last night of  “(I’ve Had) The Time of my Life” got the most attention on YouTube, her cover of Vasco Rossi’s “Sally” in her later round was exceptional.

It’s a song about a woman who has suffered at the hands of others. But despite all the ill-will and the mistakes she’s made, she finds the inner strength to rise above the “madness” and carry on. She bravely accepts the sometimes cruel reality (the rain), while the critics and weak-kneed hide in their homes, content and wrapped-up in the pretend world of TV.






Movement to close Guantanamo prison spreads across U.S.

Josie Setzler and Franciscan Sister Paulette Schroeder, wearing hood, were among 17 members of the Tiffin, Ohio Area Pax Christi and the Sisters of St. Francis of Tiffin, calling for the closure of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, May 23 in the Northwest Ohio town. (CNS/courtesy Tiffin Area Pax Christi)

Josie Setzler and Franciscan Sister Paulette Schroeder, wearing hood, were among those in Tiffin, Ohio, calling for the closure of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, May 23. (CNS/courtesy Tiffin Area Pax Christi)

Josie Setzler wants people to know the United States has a moral and legal obligation to close the U.S. Army prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A member of St. Joseph Parish in Fremont, Ohio, 36 miles southeast of Toledo, Setzler took her concerns to the public once more May 23 during a global day of action to urge President Barack Obama to make good on his pledge to close the prison.

She helped coordinate an hour-long vigil during what amounts to the afternoon rush hour in the nearby town of Tiffin.

Setzler, 60, said she believes that releasing the 154 men being held, nearly all of whom have never been charged with a crime, is long overdue. Records show 76 men have been cleared for release, but remain in detention.

“The Guantanamo issue has been a hard one to keep going right now because people think it’s been resolved,” Setzler said.

The event, coordinated by Tiffin Area Pax Christi, Sisters of St. Francis of Tiffin and local peace and justice organizations, was among demonstrations, prayer vigils and educational events in 38 U.S. communities and six cities around the world that focused on Obama’s pledge to close the prison during a speech at the National Defense University May 23, 2013.

Events were organized by Witness Against Torture, which has called for the prison’s closing since 2005.

In Tiffin, Setzler and her friends held large letters spelling out “Close Guantanamo.” A couple of people wore bright orange jumpsuits similar to those worn by the detainees.

“Our messages are going to be very simple. First of all it brings the subject up again. But it also lets people know it’s important to take a stand,” she said.

“It also helps people passing by to have the courage of their convictions as well.”

SOS: Students make colorful tool to help first responders

The Panther Power robotics team from Academy of Our Lady of Peace in New Providence, N.J. presented their Sticker for Safety to local safety forces earlier this year. (Courtesy Academy of Our Lady of Peace)

Panther Power robotics team members from Academy of Our Lady of Peace in New Providence, N.J., presented their Sticker for Safety to local safety forces earlier this year. (CNS/courtesy Academy of Our Lady of Peace)

The kids on the Panther Power robotics team at Academy of Our Lady of Peace in New Providence, N.J., have developed a new tool that is helping local first responders.

The tool, which the youngsters on the FIRST Lego League team call the Stickler for Safety, SOS, is an adaptation of a tool police and firefighters use when responding to storms and flooding.

The kids’ version is made of sturdy lightweight plastic and can be unfolded to four feet in length. It has bright blue, orange and yellow markings to help safety forces gauge water depth and can be used to check for obstructions and find open manholes.

First responders use a wooden tool now, which cannot be folded and is susceptible to mold.

The SOS was the students’ project under FLL’s 2013-14 competition, which focused on “Nature’s Fury.” It gained the notice of judges at a national FLL tournament at Legoland in California, and the team was awarded second place in the Innovative Solutions category.

Coach Alys Tyler said the team finished second in the New Jersey FLL tournament earlier this year and earned an invitation to the FLL North American Open Championship in Carlsbad, Calif., May 16-18.

The team was formed in 2008, and some of its members have gone on to compete at the next level, FIRST Robotics, and mentor current students, Tyler said.

“They are learning science, technology, research,” Tyler, she told Catholic News Service after returning from California. “They’re learning how to work as a team. This is real world experience for them.”

FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — has been billed as sport for the brain. Students from first through 12th grades compete at different levels while developing skills in engineering, problem solving, computer programing and communication.

The atmosphere at tournaments is much like a sporting event, with cheering sections and chest bumps. Underlying the competitions is the spirit of “gracious professionalism” and cooperation.

Once Panther Power team members knew they were going to California, they immediately set out to raise funds to finance the trip. The parish, Our Lady of Peace, got behind the team and help ensure the trip would happen, Tyler said.

As for the SOS, Tyler said the students have secured a provisional patent for it and are talking about raising the money to secure their own patent, which they could then sell to a developer. Proceeds would support the team into the future.

A second team from a Catholic school — John Paul II Catholic School in Houston — also competed in the California tournament.

Coach Manny Cano said his team, the RoboKids, enjoyed the experience of competing with the best teams in the country and learned about the effort needed to become a champion. Much of what the students learned was talking with members of other teams while waiting in line for rides at the amusement park.

And team members have learned skills that will transfer well into life, Cano said.

“They’ve learned so much about a whole variety of things,” he told CNS. “It’s really fantastic. They’ve learned about teamwork. They’ve learned how to manage conflicts.”



My time in Jerusalem, in 140 or fewer characters

Catholic journalists traveling with the pope in the Holy Land had wonderful stories to tell. Some, like J.D. Long-Garcia of The Tidings in Los Angeles or John Feister of St. Anthony Messenger in Cincinnati, blogged about their experiences. But we asked a few to tell us, in one tweet, about some of their highlights May 25. Here are a sampling of replies.


The more personal side of a patriarch

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, considered first among equals of all Orthodox patriarchs, arrived in the Holy Land May 23. As he was waiting for his historic visit with Pope Francis, the patriarch visited Bethlehem, West Bank, and led a service at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Several U.S. Catholic journalists traveling with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism got a more personal glimpse of the patriarch, as described by John Feister, editor in chief of St. Anthony Messenger magazine.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople stops to bless a baby as he leaves his hotel for his May 25 meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem. (CNS/Julie Holthaus/The Leaven)

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople stops to bless a baby as he leaves his hotel for his May 25 meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem. (CNS/Julie Holthaus/The Leaven)

“One of the interesting moments yesterday happened in the hotel lobby before the Holy Sepulcher meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew,” he wrote.

“We were waiting for our journalist group to assemble and couldn’t help but notice a small group of Eastern Orthodox clergy, along with some camera-laden laypeople. A videographer was waiting, camera in hand, on a nearby chair, not far from the elevators. Something was about to happen.

“The folks with the cameras were American visitors; the priests were part of Patriarch Bartholomew’s party. The elevator doors opened, Patriarch Bartholomew emerged and headed for his waiting caravan, along with American Archbishop Demetrios.

“As Patriarch Bartholomew was whisked through the lobby, he spotted a mother, with two babies in a stroller, coming in the doorway. He split with his group, went over to talk with the mother, and blessed her babies. Then he raced off for the event with Pope Francis. He would drive a few blocks from the hotel to the Sepulcher; the Holy Father was on his way from Tel Aviv by helicopter.

“I ran into the woman a few moments later. ‘What a thrill!’ she exclaimed she headed down the hallway.”

Pope in Holy Land: When prayer leads to tearful embrace

(Screen grab from CTV)

(Screen grab from CTV)

VATICAN CITY — In a Holy Land pilgrimage filled with emotion, the embrace of Pope Francis, Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Omar Abboud this morning was powerful.

Even at a distance of more than 1,400 miles, (thanks to the Vatican Television Center and Vatican Radio) viewers could read in that embrace a sense of “we are actually here; it really happened.”

The embrace, complete with tears, came after Pope Francis visited Jerusalem’s grand mufti and other Muslim leaders near the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque and then prayed at the Western Wall.

The two holy sites make up what is probably the most contested piece of real estate in the world because of its deep religious significance.

Muslims believe Muhammad was taken to the site in his famous “Night Journey” and from there transported to heaven and then back to Mecca.

The Esplanade of the Mosques sits above the sacred Jewish prayer space facing the Western Wall, which is all that remains of the wall that surrounded the Second Temple destroyed by the Romans in the year 70.

An interreligious pilgrimage to the site isn’t a daily occurrence, but Pope Francis wanted to go with his friends.

(Screen grab from CTV)

(Screen grab from CTV)

Rabbi Skorka is rector of Buenos Aires’ Latin American Rabbinical Seminary and co-author with the pope of the book, “On Heaven and Earth.” The two have known each other for almost 20 years and co-hosted a series of television discussion about faith and current affairs.

Abboud is the president and founder of the Institute for Interreligious Dialogue, a center in Buenos Aires established with the support of then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.

Heads up: Don’t read this blog if you’re hungry

By Judith Sudilovsky

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — When Casa Nova head Chef Elias Akroush, 33, learned that Pope Francis would be lunching with five Palestinian families at the pilgrim guesthouse where he directs the kitchen, he knew he would turn to his best friend, pastry chef Peter Korfiatis, 48, to help him with the dessert.

Both men are Catholic, and while this is the first time Akroush will serve a pope, Kortiatis also prepared a desert for St. John Paul II during his pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The two friends started working together May 24 to prepare the meal that will feed 70 people and fit the customary request of the pope: that the food be simple and representative of the local cuisine.

Akroush said he wanted to make a special meal for “the best pope,” with fresh local produce highlighting the areas’ herbs and cheeses.

Chef Elias Akroush, 33, and pastry chef Peter Korfiatis, 48, prepare lunch for Pope Francis in the Casa Nova guesthouse in Bethlehem, West Bank, May 24. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

Chef Elias Akroush, 33, and pastry chef Peter Korfiatis, 48, prepare lunch for Pope Francis in the Casa Nova guesthouse in Bethlehem, West Bank, May 24. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

The two men finalized the menu two weeks ago: a first course of cracked wheat patties stuffed with cheese and herbs, a farmer’s salad of tomatoes, onions, the traditional za’atar herb spice blend, olive oil, and figs stuffed with ground beef, pine nuts, almonds and walnuts. A date sauce will be served on the side.

The second course will consist of penne pasta with a tomato sauce as per the pope’s request, then Akroush will serve the Argentine pope a beef fillet with grilled vegetables and herbs and a baked potato.

“This is all that we farm in Palestine,” he said. “I am not afraid of serving him meat. I know he is very humble.”

Dessert will be homemade baklava rolls prepared by Korfiatis with crisp filo dough stuffed with walnuts, pistachios, cinnamon, rosewater, sugar and honey, then soaked in a special syrup of water, honey and lemon. On the side there will be three different flavors of his friend’s homemade Italian gelato ice creams: chocolate, pure milk, and a special pistachio flavor Akroush developed with a master ice cream maker from Italy.

“For me it is a big honor to make the dessert plate for Pope Francis,” Korfiatis said. “It is a very unique day for a cook, and it is a very unique person visiting us.”

Korfiatis said he hoped he would have the chance to shake the pontiff’s hand.

Akroush said he was not nervous preparing the meal. The only difficulty, he said, was having to keep things simple.

“Everything is under control. Though it will be difficult, it will be done with love and pleasure. It is a way for the pope to know how much we care for him and how much we love him,” said Akroush.

Survey: Christians would leave Holy Land’s cities

By Judith Sudilovsky

BEIT JALLA, West Bank — Nearly two-thirds of Christians in Jerusalem and the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem said in a survey that they would emigrate if given a chance, Bethlehem University sociologist Bernard Sabella found.

Sabella, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said he was shocked that 62 percent of Christians indicated they would like to leave.

A similar survey in 2007 reported that only 26 percent of respondents said they wanted to exit the area.

Christians sing and dance with palm and olive branches during the traditional Palm Sunday procession March 24, 2013, on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

Christians sing and dance with palm and olive branches during the traditional Palm Sunday procession March 24, 2013, on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. (CNS/Debbie Hill)

Respondents cited a lack of employment as the primary reason for wanting to leave. Christians also identified the region’s difficult political situation, steep economic challenges, restrictions under Israel laws, measures that affect opportunities for a normal life, lack of quality education and lack of housing as other factors involved in their desire to leave, according to the survey.

“One problem Christian Palestinians always come back to is the absence of a political solution. It is clear the overwhelming majority of Christian Palestinians think the lack of advancement is a problem,” said Sabella, who presented the results at a press conference on May 16 in Beit Jalla.

He noted that as a community Christian Palestinians are committed to their faith and see it as part of their identity; 46 percent regularly attend Sunday Mass.

“Sunday Mass is a major event for most Christian families. It helps their identity and recreates the traditions of faith we have inherited from our forefathers,” he said.

Regarding the pope’s May 24-26 pilgrimage to the Holy Land May, 48 percent said they expected the pope’s visit to lead to improvement in interfaith relations with an additional 26 percent hoping it would lead to unity across denominations and Christian churches. At the same time, 47 percent do not expect the visit to have any influence on the region’s political situation.

Yusef Daher, executive secretary of the Jerusalem Interchurch Center, said there were 30,000 Christians in Jerusalem prior to Israel’s independence in 1948. The number has fallen to 8,000 today.

Prayer to Mary: Pope doesn’t leave Rome without it

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis entrusted his upcoming apostolic journey to the Holy Land to Our Lady when he visited a Marian icon at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome this morning.

Icon of Mary, Salvation of the Roman People, seen during service at Basilica of St. Mary Major in 2011

This icon of Mary, “Salus Populi Romani,” is at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

He brought roses and prayed in silence before the icon for about 15 minutes, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi told us today.

The unannounced morning visit marks what has become a Pope Francis tradition: visiting the “Salus Populi Romani” (health of the Roman people)  to pray for Mary’s protection and care before a major trip.

He did the same thing before heading to Brazil last year when he prayed that Mary protect and care for everyone attending World Youth Day and for all young people around the world:

File photo of Pope Francis praying in front of Marian icon in Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome

Pope Francis praying in front of the icon of “Salus Populi Romani,” at St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome July 20, 2013. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)


He also visited the day after his election, at the start of his new journey as supreme pontiff:

Newly-elected Pope Francis leaves flowers in front of icon at Rome basilica

The day after his election in 2013, Pope Francis visited the icon at the Basilica of St. Mary Major. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)


The icon has special significance for the pope and he has visited it often on different occasions to pray. He has said that the Basilica of St. Mary Major was the first Marian shrine in the West where the image of the Mother of God — the “Theotokos” — was venerated.

According to tradition, this image of Mary embracing Jesus as a young boy was the work of the evangelist St. Luke, who painted it on a tabletop made by Jesus himself in St. Joseph’s carpentry shop. Many centuries later, Jesuit missionaries distributed reproductions of the image to promote Marian devotion around the world.





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