Controversy over ‘Bodies’ exhibits continues

In its blog, The Catholic Key, newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., reports that the controversial “Bodies” exhibits continue to raise eyebrows.

The company that organizes the exhibits of “plastinated bodies” of dead people from China has said that all of the people, in advance of their deaths, had willingly donated their bodies for this purpose, but it was unable to produce the signed consent forms. The Kansas City show, “Bodies Revealed,” ends Sept. 1.

The exhibits feature human bodies in various poses, and include an array of various organs, and there has been spectulation that the bodies on display are those of executed Chinese prisoners.

The company that produced the Kansas City show has a second show making the rounds called “Bodies:The Exhbition.” A third show titled “Body Worlds” that is touring various cities is produced by a rival company.

Priests discover blogging helps them reach the faithful

In a story from The Catholic Review, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, staff writer Matt Palmer examines how several Maryland priests have discovered blogging as a way of spreading the word of God.

Some use the Internet technology to post their homilies, while others chart Catholic connections in pop culture.

Father T. Austin Murphy initiated his blog “Jesus Goes to Disney World” just for the fun of it, and found a loyal following.

Do you check your e-mail in church?

Fifteen percent of you do, according to the latest “e-mail addiction survey” by AOL Mail. That percentage is up from 12 percent last year. But church is far from the most unusual place where people check their e-mail, according to the survey. Nearly 6 in 10 (59 percent) said they check their e-mail in the bathroom, up from 53 percent last year, while half check it while driving, an increase from 37 percent last year.

Although New York is judged the city most addicted to e-mail, it’s not the place where the highest percentage of residents check their e-mail in church. Houston and Tampa, Fla., are tied for first in that department, at 30 percent each. Seattle is next, at 24 percent, and New York is fourth, at 21 percent. Miami is the city where residents are least likely to check their e-mail in church — only 3 percent do.

A news release on the full survey results is here.

A useful tool for judging health reform plans

Our Campaign ’08 series kicked off today with an article on how the presidential candidates’ plans for health care compare to the bishops’ “Faithful Citizenship” document and the Catholic Health Association’s “Vision for U.S. Health Care.” But for those who would like to judge for themselves how a particular health reform proposal measures up — whether it comes from a member of Congress, a nonprofit organization or a candidate for office — CHA offers a useful “health reform study tool.” Try it out yourself here.

Catholic Charities campaign asks Minnesotans: ‘What kind of state do we want to live in?’

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has embarked on a campaign designed to to get people thinking about how to better respond to the needs of the less fortunate.

As The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper, reports, Catholic Charities has unveiled banners to help get the conversation started. The banners read: “Our political agenda: food, shelter, dignity.”

Father John Estrem, CEO of Catholic Charities in the archdiocese, tells the newspaper that the campaign is a call to action for Minnesotans. “It’s about people in every walk of life asking the question: What kind of state do we want to live in?” he said.

One banner is on a billboard in St. Paul above heavily traveled I-94. A second is displayed outside of the Catholic Charities-run Dorothy Day Center in downtown St. Paul, across the street from the Xcel Energy Center, which happens to be where the Republican National Convention will be Sept. 1-4.

The center will remain open to serve the area’s needy during the convention, but access will be restricted for security reasons.

Father Estrem said the banners were not targeting the thousands of Republicans who will be in town, because they had been planned long before the GOP announced it would be meeting in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

The innovative campaign is not just about banners, however. Catholic Charities has opened a Web site to engage the wider community about responding to poverty.

Escaping World Youth Day, missing from home

By most accounts, World Youth Day in Australia and the corresponding Days in the Diocese program in Australia and New Zealand last month were successful. But the unexpected disappearance of several young pilgrims from Myanmar and India left their youth ministers upset and surprised. 

The Asian church news agency UCA News published a commentary on the five youths who failed to return to Myanmar. The author expressed sadness over the selfishness of those who stayed in Australia illegally.

The NZ Catholic, a client of Catholic News Service in New Zealand, covered the missing Indian pilgrims who failed to leave New Zealand after the Days in the Diocese program. Several stayed to work as illegal migrants on farms.

Check out stories on the topic here and here.

Need still great in Rio Grande Valley three weeks after Hurricane Dolly

A boat is blown into a building by Hurricane Dolly in Port Isabel, Texas, July 23. Dolly slammed into the south Texas coast with punishing rain and winds of 100 mph, blowing down signs, peeling off roofs and knocking out power to thousands. (CNS/Reuters)

A boat is blown into a building by Hurricane Dolly in Port Isabel, Texas, July 23. Dolly slammed into the south Texas coast with punishing rain and winds of 100 mph, blowing down signs, peeling off roofs and knocking out power to thousands. (CNS/Reuters)

While Hurricane Dolly has come and gone in the minds of most Americans, the storm’s impact continues to be felt in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Catholic Charities USA and partner Catholic Social Services in the Diocese of Brownsville are moving into a second phase of assistance for hundreds of people still in need of basic services three weeks after the storm. Food distribution and case management servies will move to three sites — Los Fresnos, Edinburg and Sebastian, Texas — during the first week of September.

In addition, the Catholic Social Services has opened a volunteer phone bank to call some 16,000 clients who utilized services in the days immediately after the storm hit Texas just north of the Mexican border July 23. CSS also has applied for funds to hire a disaster coordinator.

During the five days that CSS had opened numerous community resource sites in the most affected areas, 120,000 people received food, water and cleaning supplies, according to Catholic Charities USA. To date, more than 6,400 families have requested additional aid.

Also assisting in relief efforts were the American Red Cross, Feed the Children, Church World Services, Salvation Army and Food Bank RGV.

Executions not as prevalent where more Catholics live

An interesting column in the Florida Catholic by Dale Recinella, coordinator of Death Row Ministries at St. Mary Church in Macclenny, Fla., draws some interesting conclusions about where the death penalty is carried out more readily and not so readily.

It seems, Recinella has found, that over the last 31 years in states with a Catholic population of more than 21 percent, the average number of executions per state is far lower than in states where the Catholic population is significantly lower.

And in New Jersey, the third most-Catholic state in the country, the death penalty has been abolished legislatively. In New York, the fourth most-Catholic state, the courts have banned state executions. Neither state has had an execution in the last 31 years.

Recinella found that in the eight most-Catholic states in the U.S. there have been only two executions in the last 31 years.

His conclusion: executions are not a “Catholic thing.”

Hunger in a world of plenty

Everyone has been hit in the pocketbook over the last year or so thanks to rapidly rising prices for just about everything in life: fuel, clothing, utilities, house repairs.

And food. It’s the one essential we can’t do without.

Numerous worldwide events since 2006 have forced food prices up significantly, whether it’s at the grocery store or at the farm market. The impact of weather, civil wars, increased meat production, the price of oil, speculation by futures traders and the rush to shift crops once used almost exclusively for food toward biofuels has impacted global food prices.

In the U.S., most people have been able to keep up, even if it means cutting nonessentials from the household budget. But for 1 billion people around the world who live on less than $2 a day, the doubling and tripling of prices for basics such as rice, corn and wheat has put them in dire circumstances. Riots over food erupted in some parts of the world earlier this year.

Maria Wiering, a reporter for The Catholic Spirit of St. Paul, Minn., is exploring in three editions this summer what some are calling a global food crisis. Her first piece opens with a broad look at the the causes of the shortage.

It’s not just the poor around the world who are feeling the burdens of the food shortage. Hunger centers and food pantries in the U.S. also are feeling a pinch as donations drop and budgets to purchase food are spread thinner.

Diocesan newspapers have caught on to the trend and have offered reports on the plight of some food centers. The Catholic Standard in Washington, this week reports on how one food bank in southern Maryland is facing a “very, very troubling” food shortage.

Elsewhere, the Catholic Times in Springfield, Ill., tells the story of how one Knights of Columbus council is helping keep the shelves of Catholic Charities’ Holy Family Food Pantry well stocked in tough times.

And The Messenger in Belleville, Ill., looks at the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Cosgrove Kitchen in East St. Louis, Ill., in keeping poor people fed

Food banks everywhere are feeling the crunch as well, leaving many poor people wondering from where their next meal will come.

Benedict and Bressanone

Near Bressanone in Northern Italy

Near Bressanone in Northern Italy

Before ending his two-week summer sojourn in Bressanone on Monday, Pope Benedict received honorary citizenship from municipal officials. Residents of the northern Italian town are hoping the tribute will give the pontiff one more reason to come back next year.

Bressanone (also known as Brixen in English) is nestled in the South Tirol and has a lot going for it as a papal getaway spot. A Roman settlement that became a church stronghold in the Middle Ages, its historic center is well preserved and the surrounding countryside is dotted with abbeys, hermitages and shrines. Throw in the cool summer climate and spectacular views of the Dolomites, and what more could a pope ask for?

Pope Benedict is no stranger to these parts. Although this was his first stay in Bressanone as pope, he spent many summers here as a cardinal, writing, praying, meditating and playing piano — activities that formed much of his agenda this summer.

At the citizenship award ceremony, the pope gave a short talk that town officials may want to engrave on a large plaque somewhere. He described the first time he saw the distinctive towers of Bressanone, surrounded by vineyards and mountains, a place where history and beauty still thrived. “I knew then: This is a nice place!” He went on to call it a model for Europe, a town where Christian roots and identity are still present in the culture.

What the pope didn’t say was whether he’d be back, though he quipped that with his new Bressanone citizenship “even when I cannot come, I’ll still be in some way legally present.”

It was Pope John Paul II who began the tradition of spending part of the summer in the northern Italian mountains, and he would usually stay either in the Aosta Valley in northeastern Italy or the Alps in Italy’s northwest. Hosting the pope has been a publicity boon for those places, and this year Bressanone also found itself in the limelight, with more than 200 journalists accredited for the papal vacation there.

Last Sunday, chatting on-air with the Vatican spokesman, an Italian TV announcer posed the question that was on the minds of local inhabitants: Would Pope Benedict would make Bressanone his annual vacation spot? The spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, danced ably around the question, promising only that if he did return, the pope would know he was welcome.

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