Despite being a tiny minority, Catholics in Nepal carry out missionary work

People rejoice in the streets of Katmandu, Nepal, in May 2008 as the Himalayan nation celebrated its first day as a republic following the abolition of its 239-year-old Hindu monarchy. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Yes, there’s a Catholic presence in Nepal. It’s not large, but it’s there.

It’s all of about 7,500 people in a predominantly Hindu country of 28.5 million.

Father Silas Bogati, executive director of Caritas Nepal, wants people in the U.S. to know the Catholic community is prospering despite its tiny size.

Father Bogati recently visited Catholic News Service to discuss the work of Caritas Nepal.

The agency has been a leader in resettlement efforts for some of the 120,000 Lhotshampa, the Nepali-speaking Hindu people from southern Bhutan who have been forced to leave their majority Buddhist homeland since the early 1990s. Caritas Nepal also runs a network of schools that has enrolled up to 40,000 students at any one time.

The program has a human trafficking prevention program , promotes human rights and the rights of women and a peace building educational project.

Overall, Caritas Nepal has a $3.5 million budget and regularly partners with the U.S.-based Catholic Relief Services.

Catholics have a presence in 40 of the 75 districts in the country, which is the size of Arkansas and has seven of the world’s 10 highest mountain peaks.

Father Bogati said the country has progressed since 2006, when a Maoist-led 10-year civil war ended. The war and related protests led the country’s monarchy to step down in favor of a parliamentary form of government.

Problems still arise from time to time for the church though. In May the Church of the Assumption in Katmandu was bombed during Mass. Two people were killed and a dozen were wounded in the attack. But such incidents are not discouraging the church from carrying out its ministries, Father Bogati said.

Nepal continues to work its way through a negotiated peace process that began at the war’s end. Father Bogati described it as “one step forward, two steps back.”

“If the international community could see to it that they don’t abandon us at the critical juncture, it would be a tremendous help in the peace process,” he said.

Live broadcasts of papal events on CNS Crossplayer

A screenshot of the CNS Crossplayer this week.

If you’re looking for an easy way to watch the Easter Triduum from Rome beginning on Holy Thursday, you might want to check the CNS Crossplayer for its “Vatican Live” feed from the Vatican Television Center. Our Crossplayer (right) is a multimedia platform with video and audio reports, CNS stories, photos and a live 24-hour view of St. Peter’s Square. But during papal events in Rome, the live view of the square is replaced with the Vatican TV coverage of the pope.

Where can you find the CNS Crossplayer? It’s a service we provide exclusively for CNS clients, so you’ll have to go to the Web site of a client who subscribes to it. Here is a short list of diocesan newspapers here in the United States who carry the CNS Crossplayer: Evansville, Ind. (scroll down); Kansas City, Kan.; St. Paul, Minn.; Omaha, Neb.; New York; Cincinnati; Arlington, Va.; and Madison, Milwaukee and Superior, Wis.

Here is the broadcast schedule:

HOLY THURSDAY: Chrism Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica, 3:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. Eastern (12:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. Pacific);  Mass of the Lord’s Supper from the Basilica of St. John Lateran, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern (8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Pacific).

GOOD FRIDAY: Celebration of the Passion of the Lord from St. Peter’s Basilica, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern (8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Pacific); Stations of the Cross from the Colosseum, 3:15 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern (12:15 p.m. to 2 p.m. Pacific).

HOLY SATURDAY: Easter Vigil from St. Peter’s Basilica, 3 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. Eastern (noon to 3:15 p.m. Pacific).

EASTER SUNDAY: Easter Mass and “urbi et orbi” blessing from St. Peter’s Square, 4:15 a.m. to 6:40 a.m. Eastern (1:15 a.m. to 3:40 a.m. Pacific).

US bishops voice concern for abuse victims, thank Pope Benedict for leadership in dealing with abuse

The Executive Committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voiced concern for victims of clergy sexual abuse and thanked Pope Benedict XVI for his leadership in handling abuse cases in a statement released this morning.

CNS will have a story soon. Here is the story.

The complete statement follows.

On behalf of the Catholic bishops of the United States, we, the members of the Executive Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, write both to express our deep concern for those harmed by the crime and sin of sexual abuse by clergy and to express our profound gratitude for the assistance that Pope Benedict XVI has given us in our efforts to respond to victims, deal with perpetrators and to create safe environments for children. The recent emergence of more reports of sexual abuse by clergy saddens and angers the church and causes us shame.  If there is anywhere that children should be safe, it should be in their homes and in the church.

We know from our experience how Pope Benedict is deeply concerned for those who have been harmed by sexual abuse and how he has strengthened the church’s response to victims and supported our efforts to deal with perpetrators. We continue to intensify our efforts to provide safe environments for children in our parishes and schools. Further, we work with others in our communities to address the prevalence of sexual abuse in the larger society.

One of the most touching moments of the Holy Father’s visit to the United States in 2008 was his private conversation with victims/survivors at the apostolic nunciature in Washington. Pope Benedict heard firsthand how sexual abuse has devastated lives. The Holy Father spoke with each person and provided every one time to speak freely to him. They shared their painful experiences and he listened, often clasping their hands and responding tenderly and reassuringly.

With the support of both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, we bishops have made a vigorous commitment to do everything in our power to prevent abuse from happening to children. We live out this commitment through the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” which calls us to respond with compassion to victims/survivors, to work diligently to screen those working with children and young people in the church, to provide child abuse awareness and prevention education, to report suspected abuse to civil law enforcement, and to account for our efforts to protect children and youth through an external annual national audit.

As we accompany Christ in his passion and death during this Holy Week, we stand with our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI in prayer for the victims of sexual abuse, for the entire church and for the world.

Praying with Pope Benedict for Pope John Paul II

VATICAN CITY — Last night I read a prayer of the faithful in English at the Mass that Pope Benedict XVI celebrated to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II.

It was one of the highlights of my time in Rome and comes at the close of my nearly five-month stay. Since November, I have worked for Catholic News Service and for Vatican Radio.

At the memorial Mass last night, I was the first of five people reading the petitions in five different languages. This is the petition:

For the Holy Church: that it may not cease, with the force of the Spirit, to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus in whose name only lies the salvation for every man who comes into the world.

Although they are just a few words, it turns out that  reading a petition is no simple matter at a papal Mass celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Jesuit Father Matthew Gamber delivers a prayer of the faithful at Mass in St. Peter's Basilica March 29. (CNS/Paul Haring)

I was contacted by the office that handles the papal liturgies about a month ago,  after I wrote to them asking if there might be some way I could participate in a papal liturgy before I departed Rome.

I received a phone message from that office one evening about three weeks ago, asking me to call back the next day. I spent the night wondering just what might be in store.

The next day I called and a nice priest who works in the office asked me if I would like to read a petition in English at the upcoming Mass for Pope John Paul II. In my letter to his office I had stated that Pope John Paul II had been a great influence in my decision to pursue the priesthood, so I was delighted to be asked to  read at the Mass for him. I was told to show up for a rehearsal on Monday, March 29, at 9 a.m. in St. Peter’s Basilica.

I went to the rehearsal and met up with my fellow petition readers: a nun from Spain,  a Polish teenaged girl, a German laywoman and a French member of a lay community.

We were assigned our own “master of ceremonies” who led us through the rehearsal: where to sit, where to walk, how to read, when to bow, where to turn, etc. He gave us special passes to let us into the section close to the altar. And he told us to be back by 5 p.m. for the Mass that started at 6 p.m. He also told me to wear a cassock, not just a clerical shirt and suit.

Msgr. Guido Marini, who runs the liturgies for the pope, spoke to us about the liturgy and our part in it. He thanked us for our service and gave us a beautiful holy card that he said was from the pope.

I was ready to read … except for that part about the cassock.

I usually wear a clerical shirt and black pants and I don’t own a cassock. So with the help of a number of fellow Jesuits we found a cassock that fit me, (extra-large) ironed it and pinned the belt on and I was then heading back at St. Peter’s for the actual Mass.  It was the first time I have ever worn a cassock, even though I have been a priest for 15 years.

I was nervous and excited as the Mass began, and this continued  through the readings and the pope’s beautiful homily on his friend, Pope John Paul.

But when the time came to approach the altar in front of the pope and dozens of cardinals and dignitaries and thousands of the faithful in the basilica, I felt great peace, calm and joy at this wonderful opportunity. I drew strength from the tremendous witness that Pope John Paul had given to me during his long pontificate, which had included all my years of training for the priesthood.

I approached the pulpit, turned the page, looked out into the faces of thousands of people and read the petition, turned and went back in line. It lasted about 30 seconds and was followed by a chanted response by a deacon nearby.

Relieved that it had all gone well,  I watched as the liturgy continued. With the seats we were given I was able to see up close how the pope celebrates the Mass. Everything he did in offering the Mass was  slow, careful, deliberate and with great reverence. He seemed to disappear within the rubrics and prayers of  the Mass.

At the conclusion of the Mass the pope came down the steps of the altar at St. Peter’s. He looked me right in the eyes and made the sign of the cross over me and other petition readers. It was a very memorable and special moment that I will never forget.

Before I read my petition, the pope closed his homily with this prayer that captured the meaning and message of the event for me and with which I will close this last blog from Rome:

Let us entrust ourselves with confidence, following the example of the Venerable John Paul II, to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of the church, so that she will sustain us in the commitment to be, in every circumstance, tireless apostles of her divine son and of his merciful love. Amen.

Catholic hospitals make Thomson Reuters top 100 list

Thomson Reuters has released its annual list of the nation’s 100 Top Hospitals. Listings of medical centers, universities, companies to work for, etc., are always dubious at best. Rating agencies use different criteria and different metrics, but no one ever complains when they get a top spot.

Thomson Reuters has published its 100 Top Hospitals list for the past 17 years. This year, 17 Catholic hospitals or medical centers made the list. By category, they are:

Major teachings hospitals: Providence Hospital and Medical Center, Southfield, Mich.

Teaching hospitals with 200 or more acute-care beds: St. Vincent’s Indianpolis Hospital, Indianapolis; St. Elizabeth Medical Center, Edgewood, Ky.; St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Baptist Hospital, Nashville, Tenn.

Large community hospitals with 250 or more acute-care beds: Memorial Health Care System, Chattanooga, Tenn.; St. Thomas Hospital, Nashville, Tenn.; and Trinity Mother Frances Hospital, Tyler, Texas.

Medium-size community hospitals with 100-249 acute-care beds: St. Vincent Carmel Hospital, Carmel, Ind.; St. Francis Hospital-Indianapolis; Mercy Hospital Clermont, Batavia, Ohio; and St. Elizabeth Boardman Health Center, Youngstown, Ohio,

Small community hospitals with 25-99 acute-care beds: St. Elizabeth Community Hospital, Red Bluff, Calif.; St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital, Howell, Mich.; St. Joseph Mercy Saline Hospital, Saline, Mich.; St. Joseph Hospital, Tawas City, Mich.; and St. Mary’s Jefferson Memorial Hospital, Jefferson City, Tenn.

The full list and the benchmarks used to make the list are published in Modern Healthcare.

Vatican’s doctrinal chief discusses challenges facing church

Cardinal William J. Levada, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, recently gave an interview to Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, the director of the Toronto-based Salt + Light Television. In the interview on S + L’s show Witness during a visit to Ottawa this month, Cardinal Levada discussed some of the major issues and challenges facing the church today: the spread of the Catholic faith, Pope Benedict XVI’s outreach to the Anglican Communion, the efforts to reach out to Catholics who have not fully accepted the Second Vatican Council, and the delicate work of the dicastery in dealing with sexual abuse.

Cardinal Levada is the former archbishop of San Francisco. He succeeded Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as prefect after he was elected to to the papacy after the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005.

Click here to see Father Rosica’s interview with the cardinal.

Step toward sainthood for Mother Henriette Delille

Mother Henriette Delille (CNS file photo)

UPDATE: CNS STORY: Pope brings African-American foundress one step closer to sainthood

VATICAN CITY — This hasn’t gotten much media attention, but an American took a step toward sainthood on Saturday.

Pope Benedict approved a decree saying that the Christian virtues were lived heroically by Mother Henriette Delille, a freeborn woman of African descent in 19th-century New Orleans who founded the Sisters of the Holy Family, a congregation of black sisters.

The order was designed to serve the poor and disadvantaged, and today its more than 200 members continue to operate schools for the poor and homes for the elderly in Louisiana and several other states. They also have a mission in Belieze in Central America.

The decree means Mother Henriette can be beatified after a miracle is attributed to her intercession.

Caritas Sri Lanka struggles to help displaced war refugees

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tamils remain in camps for internally displaced people in northern Sri Lanka. (CNS/Reuters)

An estimated 300,000 Sri Lankans remain displaced as war refugees nearly 10 months after the end of a vicious 25-year civil war between Tamil separatists and government forces, according to Father George Dhanasegaran Sigamony, national director of Caritas Sri Lanka.

Affiliated with Caritas Internationalis, the church’s worldwide relief and development agency, Caritas Sri Lanka is providing assistance while pushing the Sri Lankan government to let people return home from the northeastern corner of the country where the war ended.

Father Sigamony told Catholic News Service during a mid-March visit to U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services office that the challenges his agency faces are nearly as great as those confronting relief agencies in Haiti following the earthquake of Jan. 12.

“Unfortunately the supplies are limited,” he said, explaining that dire situation in the island nation off the southeast coast of India has gotten little notice in recent months as other pressing humanitarian disasters grab the world’s attention.

Compounding the situation is the fact that thousands of land mines remain buried throughout the war zone, posing grave danger to anyone moving through the countryside on foot.

The Sri Lankan government has been of little help because most of its attention is focused on the upcoming parliamentary election scheduled for April 8, leaving the Catholic Church and a few other remaining aid agencies to provide assistance, he said.

The Catholic Church has remained with the refugees since the final weeks of the war in June, Father Sigamony said. Many priests and sisters were left homeless by the war and remain in the camps ministering to people in a variety of ways.

Most of the aid Caritas provides comes in the form of food and bicycles, the primary form of transportation for people in villages and outlying areas. But with the need so great, Father Sigamony said the agency is barely able to help the thousands who desperately seeking to return home.

“We need the helping hands from the international community,” Father Sigamony said. “We appeal to all the generous hearts.”

Photos from Sunday’s immigration rally in Washington

(CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

We’ve posted a selection of Nancy Wiechec’s photos from last Sunday’s immigration reform Mass and march in Washington in a slideshow that you can view here. (We also have a link to the slideshow from our homepage.) The Mass, at St. Aloysius Church north of the U.S. Capitol, was celebrated by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, long a leader in immigration rights and Hispanic ministry.

U.S. bishops issue statement on health care reform

Cardinal George is interviewed March 23. (CNS/Bob Roller)

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops this afternoon issued a statement on the health care reform bill approved by the House of Representatives on Sunday and signed into law by President Barack Obama this morning. According to an accompanying news release, the USCCB said the statement, by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, USCCB president, had been approved unanimously by the 32-member USCCB Administrative Committee, which by coincidence was meeting in Washington for its regular March meeting. The committee is a panel of bishops which conducts USCCB business between the bishops’ general meetings.

The news release also said Cardinal George issued the statement “moments after President Barack Obama signed the Senate version of health care reform legislation approved by the House of Representatives.”

The full statement:

For nearly a century, the Catholic bishops of the United States have called for reform of our health care system so that all may have access to the care that recognizes and affirms their human dignity. Christian discipleship means, “working to ensure that all people have access to what makes them fully human and fosters their human dignity” (United States Catechism for Adults, page 454). Included among those elements is the provision of necessary and appropriate health care.

For too long, this question has gone unaddressed in our country. Often, while many had access to excellent medical treatment, millions of others including expectant mothers, struggling families or those with serious medical or physical problems were left unable to afford the care they needed. As Catholic bishops, we have expressed our support for efforts to address this national and societal shortcoming. We have spoken for the poorest and most defenseless among us. Many elements of the health care reform measure signed into law by the president address these concerns and so help to fulfill the duty that we have to each other for the common good. We are bishops, and therefore pastors and teachers. In that role, we applaud the effort to expand health care to all.

Nevertheless, for whatever good this law achieves or intends, we as Catholic bishops have opposed its passage because there is compelling evidence that it would expand the role of the federal government in funding and facilitating abortion and plans that cover abortion. The statute appropriates billions of dollars in new funding without explicitly prohibiting the use of these funds for abortion, and it provides federal subsidies for health plans covering elective abortions. Its failure to preserve the legal status quo that has regulated the government’s relation to abortion, as did the original bill adopted by the House of Representatives last November, could undermine what has been the law of our land for decades and threatens the consensus of the majority of Americans: that federal funds not be used for abortions or plans that cover abortions. Stranger still, the statute forces all those who choose federally subsidized plans that cover abortion to pay for other peoples’ abortions with their own funds. If this new law is intended to prevent people from being complicit in the abortions of others, it is at war with itself.

We share fully the admirable intention of President Obama expressed in his pending Executive Order, where he states, “it is necessary to establish an adequate enforcement mechanism to ensure that federal funds are not used for abortion services.” However, the fact that an Executive Order is necessary to clarify the legislation points to deficiencies in the statute itself. We do not understand how an Executive Order, no matter how well intentioned, can substitute for statutory provisions.

The statute is also profoundly flawed because it has failed to include necessary language to provide essential conscience protections (both within and beyond the abortion context). As well, many immigrant workers and their families could be left worse off since they will not be allowed to purchase health coverage in the new exchanges to be created, even if they use their own money.

Many in Congress and the administration, as well as individuals and groups in the Catholic community, have repeatedly insisted that there is no federal funding for abortion in this statute and that strong conscience protection has been assured. Analyses that are being published separately show this not to be the case, which is why we oppose it in its current form. We and many others will follow the government’s implementation of health care reform and will work to ensure that Congress and the administration live up to the claims that have contributed to its passage. We believe, finally, that new legislation to address its deficiencies will almost certainly be required.

As bishops, we wish to recognize the principled actions of the pro-life members of Congress from both parties, in the House and the Senate, who have worked courageously to create legislation that respects the principles outlined above. They have often been vilified and have worked against great odds.

As bishops of the Catholic Church, we speak in the name of the church and for the Catholic faith itself. The Catholic faith is not a partisan agenda, and we take this opportunity to recommit ourselves to working for health care which truly and fully safeguards the life, dignity, conscience and health of all, from the child in the womb to those in their last days on earth.

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