A nice respite for weary travelers in Jerusalem

Editor’s Note: CNS staffer Mark Pattison traveled to the Holy Land in September as part of a study tour sponsored by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and funded in part by the Catholic Communication Campaign. We will highlight his trip as the Vatican prepares for the Oct. 10-24 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.

This is not meant to be an advertisement for the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, or “Vatican guesthouse” in more colloquial terms. But it’s a nice respite for weary travelers in an arid land.

Notre Dame is located across the street from Jerusalem’s Old City. Starting in 1882, it was run by French Assumptionists to be a center for French pilgrims. The center also doubled as a seminary until World War I.

However, during the Israeli-Arab war of 1948, two bombs struck Notre Dame, rendering part of it uninhabitable. The Israeli army used the center as a guard post. The Assumptionists used it as a shelter for refugees. Things slowly returned to normal, but it was a “new normal,” with far fewer pilgrims coming to stay there. In 1972, one year before yet another Arab-Israeli war, the Assumptionists turned over Notre Dame to the Vatican.

Pope Paul VI, who visited Jerusalem in 1964, made the rehabilitation of Notre Dame a pet project, but he did not live to see its completion. In December 1978, four months after Pope Paul’s death, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York promulgated a decree signed by Pope John Paul II making Notre Dame a pontifical institute and an ecumenical holy place and a center for public worship.

The 1987 intifada and the 1991 Persian Gulf War kept tourists away again. The second intifada, in 2000, nearly did in Notre Dame. It closed Sept. 1, 2001, 10 days before the terror attacks that struck the United States.

In  November 2004, five months before his death, Pope John Paul issued a “motu proprio” entrusting the care of Notre Dame to the Legionaries of Christ.

They’ve  certainly spiffed up the place. La Rotisserie, the restaurant attached to the guesthouse, is said to have the best Western food in Jerusalem and at a price better than its competition. But for roughly $160 a night, taking into account fluctuating currency exchange rates, travelers get a nicely appointed room. There’s a queen- or king-sized bed, a love seat, a coffeemaker, a hair dryer, and some rooms even have a flat-screen TV. On a coffee table there’s a dish of assorted fruits, a second dish with assorted cookies, a bottle of water and even a small bottle of merlot.

Drawbacks? One for sure: The Assumptionists probably hadn’t considered this in 1882, but the thick limestone walls of Notre Dame make it pretty darn tough to get a wi-fi connection.

Mormons promote our movie reviews

In the category of shameless self promotion, we were pleased to see that the Mormon-owned daily newspaper the Deseret News in Salt Lake City last week gave a plug to our movie reviews as a “unique voice in a noisy lobby” and published some sample capsule reviews. The article plugging us began:

The Roman Catholic Church has been reviewing movies in the United States since 1936.

Almost three-quarters of a century later, the Catholics’ perspective on film still stands apart — even in a media landscape well-populated with Rotten Tomatoes, Roger Ebert and a staggering variety of opinions.

We were then doubly pleased yesterday that the media blog of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had an entry titled Latter-day Saints Promote Catholic News Service Movie Reviews, noting that, though Catholics and Mormons differ significantly in their theologies, they hold much in common in the area of family values.

Our review of the new "Wall Street" movie said Michael Douglas' performance was "magnetic" but said the film's central romantic relationship "puts the sexual cart before the marital horse."

Our movie reviews have a long and rich history, beginning with the Legion of Decency, then the National Catholic Office for Motion Pictures, and more recently the USCCB Office for Film and Broadcasting. Earlier this year, with the reorganization of the USCCB Communications Department, we inherited the office’s functions, meaning that office director John Mulderig is now part of CNS, though he remains in New York City. (It made sense for film and broadcasting to become a CNS function since for years we’ve been the primary distributor of the office’s materials to the Catholic press.)

As the Deseret News noted, the media landscape is crowded with film reviewers, especially since the birth of the Internet. Yet we feel we offer a unique combination that looks at movies based on both artistic considerations and as a guide to parents wondering whether a film is appropriate for toddlers or pre-teens or only for adolescents in a way that goes beyond the traditional ratings of G, PG, PG-13 etc.

We’re glad that the Deseret News agrees.

Catholic Charities USA re-creates the past for one fleeting moment

The first gathering of Catholics providing social services Sept. 25-28, 1910, at The Catholic University of America in Washington. (Courtesy of The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives)

Catholic Charities USA is observing its 100th anniversary this week. About 1,000 people connected to Catholic Charities programs around the country are gathered in Washington to celebrate the past and plan for the future.

Reducing poverty is the big issue on the agenda. The national network is in the middle of a campaign to cut poverty in half by 2020. Last week the agency reported that more than 9.1 million people sought services at its agencies in 2009 -– a 7.5 percent jump from 2008.

The celebration began Sept. 25 with Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. It continues through Sept. 28 with panel discussions and visits to Capitol Hill to lobby on behalf of people living on the margins.

This year’s gathering falls on the exact dates of the first national meeting of Catholic charitable workers in the nation’s capital in 1910.

The 100th anniversary gathering Sept. 25. (Courtesy of Catholic Charities USA)

That first confab was commemorated with a photo as clergy and lay leaders who made up what became the National Conference of Catholic Charities posed on the steps of McMahon Hall on the campus of  The Catholic University of America.

After the centennial Mass, it happened again.

The hundreds who came to Washington for the centennial convention recreated that historic photo as they also gathered at McMahon Hall. Trying to fit the crowd on the steps proved to be a challenge. They spilled onto the driveway in front of the building.

While it took quite some time to get everyone in position for the photographer, Catholic Charities USA now has a comparable photo for the history books.

Catholic Charities was kind enough to share the most recent photo with Catholic News Service. Earlier, CNS obtained the photo of that first gathering from the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives and we offer them both here for your enjoyment.

101 days of prayer for peace in Sudan

Today, the International Day of Peace, marks the start of a campaign: 101 Days of Prayer for Peace In Sudan. The African nation’s stability is key to stability in the whole region, and with preparations lagging for a January referendum on secession by Southern Sudan, many governmental and nongovernmental agencies are watching the nation carefully.

The Sudanese bishops, the  U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services launched the 101 Days of Prayer for Peace in Sudan campaign. A special website features a video in which Sudanese bishops and CRS officials compare the potential for genocide and war in Sudan with genocide in Rwanda and Darfur. As one CRS official puts it, Sudan has the potential for “a conflict of a magnitude and scale that would make Rwanda and Darfur look manageable.”

In a statement issued in July, Sudan’s bishops noted that progress toward peace had been made since the 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. However, they also noted the problems still facing the area.

One hundred and one days from today is the World Day of Peace, Jan. 1. Take some time now to check out the campaign.

Pakistan flooding prompts effort to cancel country’s debt

Flood victim Mohammad Ramzan touches the door that remained Sept. 1 after his house was washed away by summer floodwaters in Muzaffargarh, Pakistan. (CNS/Faisal Mahmood, Reuters)

Advocates are calling upon world financial institutions to cancel Pakistan’s debt in the wake of record flooding this summer.

Washington-based Jubilee USA is spearheading the effort on behalf of the South Asian nation, which continues to recover from summer flooding that inundated a large swath of the Indus River valley, leaving nearly 2,000 people dead and 10 million homeless. Overall, 20.3 million have been affected.

Melinda St. Louis, deputy director at Jubilee USA, said the coalition has called upon the international community to freeze Pakistan’s debt payments for two years as a first step toward cancellation.

She also said it’s important for institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to cease making new loans to Pakistan and provide grants and gifts instead because the country is in no position to handle additional debt.

“We began this call because our partners in Pakistan were asking for that,” St. Louis told Catholic News Service. “They have been saying that Pakistan pays more than $3 billion per year in debt service to foreign creditors. In addition the (worldwide) response to the disaster has been much less than needed.”

The concern, she explained, is that Pakistan is not considered poor enough under current rules to qualify for debt forgiveness. Jubilee USA and its partners are seeking to have the rules updated for emergency situations like Pakistan’s.

Jubilee USA plans to gather Oct. 8 in Washington at the start of the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The organization plans to display a paper chain link with individual links sent by people from around the U.S. seeking the debt cancellation.

The message: Break the chains of debt.

Next steps will be determined after the financial meetings conclude Oct. 10.

Pope meets victims of sex abuse, child protection officers

Full story.

UPDATE: Pope Benedict met this afternoon for about 35 minutes with five sex abuse victims, according to Bill Kilgallon, head of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission.

Here is the text of the Vatican’s statement following the meeting:

On Saturday 18 September 2010, in the Apostolic Nunciature in London, the Holy Father met a group of persons who had been sexually abused by members of the clergy.

He was moved by what they had to say and expressed his deep sorrow and shame over what victims and their families had suffered. He prayed with them and assured them that the Catholic Church is continuing to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people, and that it is doing all in its power to investigate allegations, to collaborate with civil authorities and to bring to justice clergy and religious accused of these egregious crimes.

As he has done on other occasions, he prayed that all the victims of abuse might experience healing and reconciliation, and be able to overcome their past and present distress with serenity and hope for the future.

Following this meeting, the Holy Father will address a group of professionals and volunteers dedicated to the safeguarding of children and young people in church environments.

The Vatican also released a copy of the pope’s speech during a meeting with church child protection officers:

Dear Friends,

I am glad to have the opportunity to greet you, who represent the many professionals and volunteers responsible for child protection in church environments. The Church has a long tradition of caring for children from their earliest years through to adulthood, following the affectionate example of Christ, who blessed the children brought to him, and who taught his disciples that to such as these the Kingdom of Heaven belongs (cf. Mk 10:13-16).

Your work, carried out within the framework of the recommendations made in the first instance by the Nolan Report and subsequently by the Cumberlege Commission, has made a vital contribution to the promotion of safe environments for young people. It helps to ensure that the preventative measures put in place are effective, that they are maintained with vigilance, and that any allegations of abuse are dealt with swiftly and justly. On behalf of the many children you serve and their parents, let me thank you for the good work that you have done and continue to do in this field.

It is deplorable that, in such marked contrast to the Church’s long tradition of care for them, children have suffered abuse and mistreatment at the hands of some priests and religious. We have all become much more aware of the need to safeguard children, and you are an important part of the Church’s broad-ranging response to the problem. While there are never grounds for complacency, credit should be given where it is due: the efforts of the Church in this country and elsewhere, especially in the last ten years, to guarantee the safety of children and young people and to show them every respect as they grow to maturity, should be acknowledged. I pray that your generous service will help to reinforce an atmosphere of trust and renewed commitment to the welfare of children, who are such a precious gift from God.

May God prosper your work, and may he pour out his blessings upon all of you.

LONDON — Pope Benedict XVI expressed his “deep sorrow” to the victims of clerical sexual abuse, saying these crimes have caused immense suffering and feelings of “shame and humiliation” throughout the church.

The pope made his remarks Sept. 18 in Westminster Cathedral, where an overflow crowd of faithful spilled out into the street for his only public Mass in London.

The 83-year-old pontiff, wearing a brilliant red chasuble, looked good on the third day of a four-day visit that featured a packed schedule of events with civil and religious leaders.

The pope’s homily, delivered in English and broadcast on national TV, focused on the image of the suffering Christ, and he connected it to “the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the church and by her ministers.”

“Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives,” he said.

“I also acknowledge, with you, the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins; and I invite you to offer it to the Lord with trust that this chastisement will contribute to the healing of the victims, the purification of the church and the renewal of her age-old commitment to the education and care of young people,” he said.

The pope expressed his gratitude for the efforts to confront the sex abuse problem in the church, and he asked all Catholics to “show your concern for the victims and solidarity with your priests.”

In Britain, after dozens of priestly sex abuse cases came to light in the late 1990s, bishops adopted a series of measures to protect children, setting up a national office for child protection and encouraging the appointment of trained child protection officers in each parish and school. The bishops also made a commitment to turn every case of alleged child abuse over to the police.

On the plane carrying him to Great Britain Sept. 16, Pope Benedict said the church was not vigilant enough or fast enough in responding to cases of sexual abuse.

“These revelations were for me a shock, and a great sadness. It is difficult to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry was possible,” he said. He said helping the victims overcome trauma was the church’s first priority, and said perpetrators must never be allowed access to children.

The pope’s comments have consistently drawn criticism from sex abuse victims’ advocacy groups like the U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP. His remarks on the plane were also dismissed by critics.

“It’s disingenuous to say church officials have been slow and insufficiently vigilant in dealing with clergy sex crimes and cover ups. On the contrary, they’ve been prompt and vigilant, but in concealing, not preventing, these horrors,” said Joelle Casteix in a statement published on the SNAP Website.

Among the relatively small number of protesters demonstrating against the pope’s visit in Britain, were those holding signs and banners that read: “Put the pope on trial” and “Pope, protector of pedophile priests.”

The liturgy at Westminster Cathedral featured Latin and English-language prayers, and was attended by representatives of other Christian churches, including Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams, who hosted the pope the day before at the Anglican headquarters in London.

The pope noted the giant crucifix that dominates the nave of the cathedral, and said this striking image and its connection with the Eucharistic sacrifice was at the heart of the Catholic faith.

“Here in England, as we know, there were many who staunchly defended the Mass, often at great cost, giving rise to that devotion to the most holy Eucharist,” he said.

He said the sacrificial mystery of Christ’s precious blood is reflected by people today who endure discrimination and persecution for their faith, as well as those who suffer in hidden ways — including the sick, the handicapped and those who suffer mentally and physically.

The pope spoke of the importance of the laity in the modern church, especially in witnessing the “beauty of holiness” and the “splendor of truth” to a world that needs both. But he also asked for an outpouring of prayers for new priestly vocations, saying that “the more the lay apostolate grows, the more urgently the need for priests is felt.”

Pope on global development for poor: ‘Too big to fail’

LONDON — An interesting passage from Pope Benedict’s speech to cultural and political leaders this evening at Westminster Hall in London touched on economic development as an area where moral and ethical values are sorely needed.

After saying the global economic crisis was partly caused by a lack of moral input in the world of finance, the pope turned to the fate of poorer countries:

I also note that the present Government has committed the United Kingdom to devoting 0.7% of national income to development aid by 2013.  In recent years it has been encouraging to witness the positive signs of a worldwide growth in solidarity towards the poor.  But to turn this solidarity into effective action calls for fresh thinking that will improve life conditions in many important areas, such as food production, clean water, job creation, education, support to families, especially migrants, and basic healthcare.  Where human lives are concerned, time is always short: yet the world has witnessed the vast resources that governments can draw upon to rescue financial institutions deemed “too big to fail”.  Surely the integral human development of the world’s peoples is no less important: here is an enterprise, worthy of the world’s attention, that is truly “too big to fail”.