Papa’s got a brand new bag

VATICAN CITY — Parishioners in Rome gave Pope Francis a brand new black bag in the hopes that it would hold up for many years of traveling and serving as the successor of St. Peter.

black-bag

An unidentified parishioner at the church of St. Gregory the Great presents Pope Francis April 6 with a new leather bag, similar to the one he already uses for trips outside the Vatican. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“We hope that you have a long and fruitful pontificate, therefore, we thought that the bag you have may not be enough,” Father Renzo Chiesa told the pope.

The pope got the gift when he went to hear confessions and celebrate Mass at the church of St. Gregory the Great in the outskirts of Rome this Sunday.

Father Chiesa told the pope that they stuffed the bag full of letters and notes from parishioners so as “not to clog up the Vatican post office” with more mail for the pope.

Pope Francis holds personal bag as he boards plane at airport in Rome

Pope Francis holding his personal bag as he boarded a plane at airport in Rome July 22, 2013. (CNS photo/Giampiero Sposito, Reuters)

The bag is practically identical to the one the pope carries along with him on trips outside the Vatican.

He revealed to journalists on the plane to Brazil last July, what was inside:  “It wasn’t the key for the atom bomb,” he told them. There was a razor, a breviary, an appointment book, a book to read (about St. Therese).

He said, “I have always taken a bag with me when traveling — it’s normal.”

Should the term ‘war on poverty’ be dropped?

Michael Gordon, warehouse and procurement manager for a furniture bank run by Caritas, an agency providing services to homeless people in Richmond, Va., is shown in January. The program is one of thousands started  during the last 50 years in the country's renewed push to end poverty. (CNS/Jay Paul)

Michael Gordon, warehouse and procurement manager for a furniture bank run by Caritas, an agency providing services to homeless people in Richmond, Va., is shown in January. The program is one of thousands started during the last 50 years in the country’s renewed push to end poverty. (CNS/Jay Paul)

This week’s National Poverty Summit got a lot of people thinking about the language used when referring to people living in poverty.

New language is needed to build broader support to help people and families on their path to build a stable life, many of the 120 attendees agreed.

But Steven Bresnahan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minn., did not want the discussion to stop there.

Near the end of the April 2 summit convened by Catholic Charities USA, Bresnahan asked the group if the term “war on poverty” was appropriate.

“Now think of the war in Vietnam, the war in Afghanistan, the war in Iraq,” Bresnahan said deliberately and carefully.

“We’re taking a term at the time, when President (Lyndon) Johnson (in 1964) declared the ‘war on poverty,’ that was probably appropriate,” he continued. “But is that what we want to do to beat poverty? We want to overwhelm the hoards? We want to roll in with massive power? Think of all of those illustrations.”

Bresnahan afterward told Catholic News Service the same could be said about how social service workers are “fighting” poverty and working “on the front lines” and “in the trenches.”

The Catholic Charities executive didn’t expect an answer. He said was simply raising a question for people to consider.

“We’ve been talking about reframing and what language we use and it just struck me that the word ‘war’ implies that you settle something with violence and with having greater power,” Bresnahan explained. “If the other side doesn’t agree with you, part of the game of war is making them out to be evil so you can feel better.

“So that’s the language we’re using when we want to build relationships and bring about fundamental change in the country? It’s the wrong, wrong idea in my mind.”

Bresnahan had no immediate alternative. But he offered an idea from which a new image can be developed: the Marshall Plan under which Europe was rebuilt after World War II to ensure the peace, political stability and a healthy world economy. “We rebuilt Europe and we let Europe be themselves. So we walked with them, didn’t we?

“We need another word and I don’t know what it is.”

He then referenced Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”) as a place to start.

“The war on poverty is an old term. It’s time to get a new one.”

Bishops walk a small portion of migrant journey

By Nancy Wiechec

NOGALES, Ariz. — About 30 miles north of the border with Mexico, seven U.S. bishops and two priests piled out of a small bus just off of I-19 in Arizona.

Jesuit Father Sean Carroll of the Kino Border Initiative was taking them on a short hike in the Sonoran Desert.

“How far are we going?” asked one. “Is this illegal?”

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., ducks under barbed wire as a group of U.S. bishops tours an area of the Arizona desert north of Nogales. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., ducks under barbed wire as a group of U.S. bishops tours an area of the Arizona desert north of Nogales. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Father Carroll led the way. First they negotiated a steep incline from the road. Then they crouched to scoot through a short tunnel underneath the road. Out of the culvert, they ducked under a barbed-wire fence, careful not to catch their shirts. One bishop lost his balance and took a little spill into tiny pebbles. They continued walking down a bone-dry wash.

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City takes a picture of a discarded backpack in the Arizona desert. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City takes a picture of a discarded backpack in the Arizona desert. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Just a few steps down the uneven, gravelly path, they spotted discarded backpacks and socks — remnants from migrants who had passed this way.

The bishops and priests maneuvered past thin thorny branches of the desert brush and over spiny cactuses. Prickles of burr sage attached to pant legs and socks.

Climbing over the edge of the wash, the group stood in the open desert sun. It was only 72 degrees that morning. Even so, skin can burn if it’s not protected and you can quickly dehydrate. In the summer the temperature can soar past 110 degrees.

Father Carroll explained how migrants — many trying to make their way to work or to be with family — lose their lives out here.

Men, women and children from Mexico, other parts of Latin America and beyond perish in the Arizona desert from exposure, dehydration or injury. One advocacy group counts at least 200 who die in such ways each year.

It can take three to five days to walk across the unforgiving desert to pickup points beyond the usual range of the Border Patrol’s monitoring. Many move at night to avoid the extreme heat and to minimize the chances of being caught. But traveling on foot in the dark brings other risks.

A group of U.S. bishops pray for immigrants at the end of their hike through part of the Sonoran Desert. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

A group of U.S. bishops pray for immigrants at the end of their hike through part of the Sonoran Desert. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

As the bishops made their way back to their bus, they stopped for a moment, held hands and prayed for the people who make such dangerous and arduous journeys.

Back on the asphalt, Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, said their short hike “brings home the reality” that many migrants face. “It’s very rough territory.”

* * *

Nancy Wiechec is former visual media manager at Catholic News Service.

* * *

Editor’s Note: Click here for more photos. Also see a related story and photos on a Mass celebrated by the bishops one day later at the border.

Professor reflects on autism’s impact

Today, World Autism Awareness Day, is a fitting time to consider the impact of autism on family life as acutely by Mark Osteen, an English professor at Loyola University Maryland, and highlighted here in the university’s magazine.

autismtrythisoneOsteen, is the author of  “One of Us: A Family’s Life with Autism,” a 2010 book which chronicles the challenges of raising his autistic son Cameron.

The Loyola magazine notes that one of the book’s “most searing passages focuses on Osteen’s realization that he had long valued people based entirely on their intellectual achievements. How then, should he value his own son, who at 21 years old now, cannot read, perform simple math, or speak more than a few words?”

In his book, Osteen said he was forced to wonder what “intellectual capacity really means.”

” Does it make you better, more human? I realized that to accept Cameron fully, as a human, was to reassess my measuring stick. He is still valuable, still worthy of our love.”

A message released today by a Vatican official said the the church must find ways to support families with autistic children.

The message, in today’s CNS story, says the church’s efforts must be “directed toward ensuring that hope is not extinguished” in either persons with an autism disorder or in their family members, according to Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.

He also announced that his office’s annual international conference in November would be dedicated to autism-spectrum disorders and would bring together doctors, scientists, researchers, pastors, parents and volunteers to discuss practical ways to help people with autism and their families.

 

Excitement builds in Malawi for new Jesuit secondary school

Students from St. Joseph Primary School in Kasungu, Malawi  cheer for the construction of Loyola Jesuit Secondary School, during a recent visit. (CNS/Courtesy Loyola Jesuit Secondary School)

Students from St. Joseph Primary School in Kasungu, Malawi, cheer for the construction of Loyola Jesuit Secondary School, during a recent visit. (CNS/Courtesy Loyola Jesuit Secondary School)

Students in Malawi soon will be able to continue their education in a Jesuit secondary school.

Loyola Jesuit Secondary School in the rural community of Kasungu is nearing completion. Father Peter Henriot, an American Jesuit, tells Catholic News Service the school will welcome its first 125 students in September.

He said excitement is building in the community, population 60,000 about 75 miles from the capital of Lilongwe, as construction enters its final phase on the boarding school that will enroll boys and girls.

While the Malawi government acknowledges the importance of education, few students go on to secondary school. Statistically, less than 25 percent of boys and less than 20 percent of girls continue their education after eighth grade.

“You don’t have development unless you are educating the youth. Education is key, and education in a poor rural area is important. And you don’t have justice unless you are educating the girls,” Father Henriot said.

Joining the Jesuits in the project are the country’s bishops and Malawi’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.

By opening the school the Jesuits in the order’s Zambia-Malawi province want to improve access to education for teenage students in what is one of the world’s poorest and most densely populated nations. Through education, the economy can diversify, and the dire poverty that afflicts the overwhelming majority of Malawi’s 15 million residents can be eased.

“We use the expression ‘It’s an option for the poor,’” Father Henriot said.

Because the school is a grant-aided institution, the Malawian government will pay the salaries of teachers. That leaves the school to raise money for necessities such as books, desks, equipment and technology. Tuition is set at $400 per year. Plans call for financial assistance to be provided to students whose family cannot afford tuition.

Jesuit Father Peter Henriot

Jesuit Father Peter Henriot

Father Henriot said an additional 125 students will be enrolled annually, bringing total enrollment to about 500 students in September 2018. Students will come from throughout Malawi.

He said the site was chosen because of its location — near the Jesuit-run St. Joseph Parish — and the availability of the land, which tribal leaders readily allowed the congregation to use.

Raising funds for the project is Father Henriot’s job. He works alongside Jesuit Father Alojz Podgrajsek, project manager.

The first phase of construction will cost about $9.5 million. Furnishings and equipment will cost another $2.5 million

Plans call for a second round of construction to begin in 2015. That will include more dormitories, a chapel, health clinic and larger library. Father Henriot said he hopes the entire project will be finished by the time for the first graduation ceremony in 2018.

The Jesuits also are looking to buy a 125-acre farm about four miles from the school. Father Henriot said the farm will provide food for the school and income from surplus crops, employ local residents and allow students to “get their hands dirty learning about agriculture.”

If you haven’t given up laughter for Lent…

VATICAN CITY — It may be Lent, but the Catholic Church hasn’t given up its sense of humor as part of this penitential season.

A group of Jesuits, Dominicans and a UK news agency are all having a bit of fun this April Fools Day.

falcon 2

A digitally manipulated photo posted on the “Independent Catholic News” website. http://www.indcatholicnews.com is an online news service in the UK.

The online news service in the UK, Independent Catholic News, reported this morning that the Vatican was implementing tough new measures to fight off ravenous seagulls circling St. Peter’s Square and ruining its doves-for-peace releases.

I.C.N. reported (tongue-in-cheek) that “A team in the Swiss Guards has been assigned the task of supervising a Sharris Hawk, which will be brought out during the weekly audiences and the Angelus…

“The hawk, which is called Sylvia, was bred in a wildlife centre in northern Italy and is highly trained. Her mere presence should act as a deterrent to any more attacks such as the one which took place in January. In addition however, she will act as an escort and protector to the peace doves after the ceremonies, accompanying the birds when they fly home from Saint Peter’s to their aviary.”

 

Meanwhile, what happens when a Jesuit and a Dominican walk into cyberspace? They take theologically-stimulating jabs at each other by highjacking each others’ websites.

The Friars Preachers took control of The Jesuit Post and the Jesuits hacked the Dominicana Blog as both orders scoffed at how easy it was: The Dominicans said it wasn’t hard to figure out the Jesuits’ password was AMDG and the Jesuits said, in essence, “Duh, ‘AngelicDoctor.’”

Interestingly, the Vatican didn’t publish its usual Tuesday list of resignations and nominations, perhaps aware most people suspend all belief on April 1st?

Bishop Armando Ochoa didn’t believe it when he heard news on April 1, 1996, that Blessed John Paul II had named him to head the Diocese of El Paso, Texas.

“I find myself on the first day of April wondering if this is one big April Fools’ Day joke, or what?” the bishop had said in a statement.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston was a bit suspicious when Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell “jumped at the idea” of being installed bishop of Springfield, Mass., on April 1, 2004.

“This made me a little nervous and I wondered if he was going to jump up at the ceremony and say ‘April Fool,’” the then-Archbishop O’Malley said.

 

 

 

Springtime for faith-based films?

If you hear actor Stephen Baldwin tell it, this is a blossoming time for movies with themes of faith.

Easy for him to say, of course. Baldwin, one of the four acting Baldwin brothers, was an invitee to the March 26 red-carpet preview in New York of “Noah,” one of those films.

"Noah" director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky. (Photo by Niko Tavernise/Paramount Pictures)

“Noah” director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky. (Photo by Niko Tavernise/Paramount Pictures)

“That’s the biggest reason why I’m here. I am very curious to see Darren and Russell’s interpretation,” Baldwin said, referencing Russell Crowe, who plays Noah, and Darren Aronofsky, who directed the film as well as serving as co-writer and co-producer.

Baldwin had gotten some “intel” from friends who had already seen “Noah,” and “I am willing to bet that this is going to be an amazing piece of entertainment,” he said. “So long as the film does not depict anything that goes completely against the Bible, I think it’s a great opportunity” to show that movies with faith themes can be successful, he added.

Baldwin, a Long Island native who was baptized a Catholic but who became a born-again Christian shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks, acknowledged that there’s “room for interpretation” by filmmakers. Depending on viewers’ familiarity with the Bible or other pictures, they might see action in “Noah” that reminds them of Abraham and Isaac, or Jesus and Judas — or even Disney’s treatment of “Swiss Family Robinson.”

“That’s a powerful issue right now: Christians and their interpretation of society and culture and this and that,” Baldwin said. “I think Christians ought to support it,” he added of the movie. Darren Aronofsky’s brilliant, Russell Crowe is great, it’s the story of Noah from the Bible, and whenever you get into these types of conversations, I think it’s interesting.” For instance, he noted, the only name in “Noah” used for God is “The Creator.” “Hey, maybe it’s the Lord’s will, brother, that this can be used for some special reason.”

And not just “Noah.” Baldwin saw the Jesus biopic “Son of God,” which was released a month earlier. “I think ‘Son of God’ was amazing. Really, really special,” he said. Reality-show kingpin Mark Burnett, who co-produced “Son of God” with his actress wife, Roma Downey, “is a buddy of mine. I’ve done ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ with him twice.”

Nor is Baldwin’s praise restricted to wide-release films. “‘God’s Not Dead,’ I think we gotta see that one,” he added. “That just came out. It did very well in limited screens. So right now, Christian content and Christian movies are doing very well.”

Baldwin said about 80 percent of his own acting work is in faith-themed films. Due out soon is “I’m in Love With a Church Girl,” starring and produced by rapper Ja Rule, aka Jeff Atkins. He’s wrapped filming on Long Island on another film, “Tapestry,” which co-stars Tina Louise (“Gilligan’s Island”) and Burt Young (the “Rocky” films). In April, he’ll be Instanbul, Turkey, acting in what he called “a psychological thriller … with a Christian theme.”

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