Canadian named to lead Haitian church rebuilding campaign

A Canadian civil engineer with three decades of experience in project management and construction oversight has been hired by the Haitian Conference of Catholic Bishops to oversee church reconstruction in the earthquake-stricken country.

Quebec native Yves Lacourciere will take on the task of rebuilding dozens of parishes, schools, convents and community buildings that were destroyed in the Jan. 12 quake that killed an estimated 230,000 people.

Officially, he will be director general of the bishops’ recently approved Proximite Catholique avec Haiti et son Eglise, with the acronym PROCHE. Translated, the organization’s name means “closeness to Haiti and its church.”

In announcing Lacourciere’s appointment, Archbishop Louis Kebreau of Cap-Hatien, president of the Haitian bishops’ conference, said in a statement the hiring “is an important step forward in putting the necessary structures in place that will ensure that such a tragic loss of life can be avoided in the future.”

Lacourciere has been charged with building a team to ensure that new church structures will be built under modern-day standards so that they can withstand a powerful earthquake or major hurricane.

He will have about $33 million to work with. The money represents 40 percent of the $83 million raised in a special collection in U.S. parishes. The remaining $50 million went to Catholic Relief Services for earthquake relief and recovery.

Largely put together by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services with the support of church organizations around the world, PROCHE was agreed to by the Haitian bishops in September at a meeting in Miami. The program’s structure will require all parish construction projects to be approved before work can begin.

Lacourciere is familiar with the challenges posed by a developing nation. He has overseen building project in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Qatar. He also was part of a United Nations team responsible for overseeing engineering projects and business transformation in Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia between 2000 and 2004.

The joys of being an intern at the CNS Rome bureau

CNS Rome correspondent, Carol Glatz, and Rita Fitch, our intern from Villanova University, enjoying a meal in Rome. (CNS photo by Paul Haring).

VATICAN CITY — We here at the Rome bureau have the great pleasure of working with interns from Villanova University.

Rita Fitch, a senior from Scarsdale, New York, wrote an item for our blog about her experience and we’d like to share it with you here:

“I had the unique opportunity of living in Rome, not as a tourist, but as an intern at the Catholic News Service Rome bureau, which meant I had some of the most incredible experiences I have ever had, including seeing the Apostolic Palace.

The doors of the Apostolic Palace were opened to the public for a short meet-and-greet on Nov. 20 after the hat giving ceremony for 24 newly-elected cardinals.

If you have ever visited St. Peter’s Basilica, picture going though the outdoor security check and then walking toward the Swiss Guards who stand in front of a set of large bronze doors where most people stop to take pictures. Not many people notice or think about what lies beyond those doors.

I can now tell you it is an absolutely wondrous place. After the Swiss Guards let me pass, I climbed a huge granite staircase leading beyond where my eye could take me.

Up the stairs there was room after room with sky-high ceilings and beautiful frescos; every inch of the palace was a work of art.

This “open house” night was filled with cardinals, archbishops, and pilgrims, some of whom were even dancing and singing traditional songs. I was able to wander freely and take it all in. Seeing the new cardinals up close in their vibrant red robes was overwhelming.

This was just one of the amazing experiences I encountered while working at CNS.

Two weeks before visiting the Apostolic Palace I was at St. Peter’s Square watching the general audience as Pope Benedict announced the names of who would be made a cardinal.

Every day I did something new and exciting, and my family and friends could not believe my work included:

  • Attending press conferences at the Vatican Press Office, including one on the release of a new book-length interview with the pope.
  • Seeing firsthand the canonization Mass of five new saints.
  • Going behind Vatican City walls for the unveiling of a new state-of-the-art broadcasting trailer.
  • Attending a special preview tour of a new Vatican Library exhibit.

I even happened to be in a photo in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, from a press conference I had attended!

The Vatican Press Office is always abuzz with journalists and through this experience I was able to see all the steps involved in composing a good story: the speeches, interviews, research, and the writing of the final piece.

Every week I was able to write and see my articles published with my byline. I have learned so much about being a journalist and the workings of the Vatican. All in all my internship at CNS was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Pope to host post-Christmas lunch for the poor

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict is taking time after Christmas to host a Vatican lunch for the poor and to visit children in a Rome hospital.

On Dec. 26, the feast of St. Stephen, people served by shelters run by the Missionaries of Charity will join the pope for lunch in the atrium of the Paul VI audience hall at the Vatican.

In addition to giving the pope the chance to personally offer a meal to the disadvantaged, the event also commemorates this year’s 100th anniversary of the birth of Blessed Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, who was born in Yugoslavia in on Aug. 26, 1910. She was beatified in 2003.

The Vatican also announced that on Jan. 5, the eve of the Epiphany, the pope will visit young patients at Rome’s Gemelli Hospital. While he is there, he will bless a spina bifida center and distribute gifts to the children who receive care there. Gemelli is Rome’s biggest Catholic hospital.

The pope’s will preside over a whole slate of regular Christmas activities, too, including Christmas Eve midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica and the Urbi et Orbi blessing to the city of Rome and the world on Christmas Day. On Dec. 26 he prays the Angelus and talks to pilgrims from his window above St. Peter’s Square, and on Dec. 29 he holds his regular general audience.

On New Year’s Eve at St. Peter’s, the pope will lead Vespers and the singing of the Te Deum, a traditional hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the gift of salvation in Christ. On Jan. 1, the church marks World Peace Day, and the pope’s message this year focuses on religious freedom and its contribution to peace. The pope will celebrate Mass and pray the Angelus on New Year’s Day.

To finish up the Christmas holidays, Pope Benedict will celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany.

‘Tis the season to be on YouTube

In a recent blog entry, we told you about a video posted on YouTube by the staff of The Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan newspaper. Now we get to tell you about a music video posted on YouTube. The song is called “Jesus Please Bring Mommy Home for Christmas,” and it was written by Owen McGovern, former longtime executive director of the Catholic Press Association. It’s a prayer of sorts for mothers in the military over the Christmas holidays. His granddaughter 7-year-old Jordan Davis sings the tune, all the while crouched in front of a Christmas tree in a great single-camera shot.

Four volunteers honored for work on behalf of torture survivors

A School Sister of Notre Dame from Minnesota and a Catholic Worker in Washington were among four people honored for their service by the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International, known as TASSC.

Sister Alice Zachmann, 84, who returned to her religious community in Mankato, Minn., earlier this year, and Helen Schietinger of the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker were cited for their years of volunteer service and the assistance they have provided to victims of torture from around the world who have resettled in the Washington area.

Also honored were volunteers Harold Nelson and Mary Harding, a victim of torture in Bolivia.

TASSC honored the foursome in a program at Church of the Pilgrims in Washington Dec. 10, U.N. Human Rights Day.

A former elementary teacher and school administrator, Sister Alice got her introduction to human rights work in the 1970s after visiting Guatemala twice. “I was smitten by the beauty of the country but appalled by the poverty,” she said.

Her visits came in the middle of the country’s long and violent civil war and she learned about widespread human rights abuses.

“I returned and vowed to do whatever I could to support the people of Guatemala,” she told Catholic News Service.

After praying about what to do about what she learned, she received her answer. She was approached by activists and asked to start an organization to support human rights efforts in Guatemala. That’s when she resigned from work in parish ministry in St. Paul, Minn., and came to Washington, where she became the founding director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA in 1982.

She said the experience of Ursuline Sister Dianna Ortiz inspired her work. An American missionary in Guatemala, Sister Dianna was abducted by members of the country’s military in 1989 and tortured while in captivity. Sister Dianna now works for Pax Christi USA in Washington.

Sister Alice stayed with the human rights organization for 20 years and then joined TASSC as a volunteer, serving for eight years. In Minnesota, she continues to speak at parishes and schools about torture that continues worldwide.

Rejoice with Vatican voices

VATICAN CITY — What do you like best about the Advent and Christmas seasons?

Members of the Sistine Chapel choir are seen during Mass on the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in 2006. (CNS photo/Reuters)

If it’s beautiful sacred music then the Vatican website has something you will love: downloadable MP3 music files.

If you go to this link, you will find a number of hymns sung by the Vatican’s very own Sistine Chapel choir. Five of the hymns are for Advent and Christmas. Clicking on the titles will give you the lyrics in Italian and clicking on the musical note will make the music start playing with an option to download.

Going to this link will bring you to a much larger selection of sacred and classical music played by professors and students of the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. Scroll down to find the Advent and Christmas selections which are chanted in Latin. Enjoy!

We’re not the only ones who fret about intermarriage

An old friend, who has since gone to glory, used to encourage her children to date only Catholics. When you only date Catholics, you won’t fall in love with a non-Catholic and marry him/her, she reasoned. She and her husband, who totally agreed, also sent their children to Catholic schools K-university to tilt the odds even more favorably to Catholic nuptials. They succeeded in two out of three.

Her view seems a bit old-school these days, but she probably was on to something. Her daughter who married a non-Catholic had three children, all raised Catholic. Her granddaughter followed in her mother’s footsteps and married a non-Catholic. The husband was an evangelical, and, to keep the peace, both became mainline Protestants. I’m sure my old friend rolled over in her grave when that happened.

Mixed marriages — Catholic and non-Catholic — have been happening ever since the Great Schism and certainly since the Reformation. We’ve been fretting about it for centuries. One of the safeguards to keep mayhem at bay was to get the mixed-marriage couple to promise to raise the children Catholic, but that didn’t always work. Today there are so many mixed marriages, that no one knows exactly how many there truly are.

By the way, I am not in any way opposed to mixed marriages. My brothers and I are products of one, and one brother followed in our parents’ footsteps. Twice.

Catholics aren’t the only ones who worry about this. This year, mixed marriages was a big topic in Jewish circles. Though there are different issues in marriages between Jews and non-Jews from Catholic and non-Catholics, many of the issues are the same: religious practice in the household, raising of children, loss of culture and many others. Many rabbis simply won’t perform mixed weddings.

I don’t know of any Catholic priests or deacons who won’t preside at mixed weddings, but I don’t know of any who don’t get the engaged mixed couple to take a hard look at the issues before they take the walk to the altar.

Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation and a former president of the World Jewish Congress, has written a thoughtful piece in The Jewish Daily’s Forward about mixed marriages. He makes the point that Jews’ strategy should be less about prohibiting mixed marriages and more about making Judaism relevant to young people.

Not bad advice for Catholics either.

What are your thoughts on mixed marriages today?