Now playing on a computer near you …

Check this out: Staffers at  The Catholic Review, newspaper of the Baltimore Archdiocese, star in a YouTube video — a production with some Hollywood flair promoting their new blogs, which are daily updates from the newsroom.

About the blogs, the paper says: “Your news, your generation, your church right now.” Subject matter ranges from a look behind the headlines, by Christopher Gunty, associate publisher/editor, to a young slant on the archdiocese by reporter Matt Palmer, to a look at faith and life by reporter George Matysek — with more blogs by more staffers to come.

Bows and arrows and cell phones

Editor’s Note: Paul Jeffrey, a CNS stringer, traveled to  Southern Sudan in November to report on and photograph preparations  for the January referendum on independence. He filed this blog on the intersection of modern technology and traditional communication.

YAMBIO, Southern Sudan — Although the Arrow Boys self-defense militias in Sudanese villages along the border with Congo use rather primitive technology in fighting off attacks from the Lord’s Resistance Army, they take full advantage of electronic technology in passing on information. Cell phones allow the Arrow Boys to keep in touch with neighboring villages so that the movement of LRA soldiers can be closely followed.

In researching the story I wrote for CNS about the local response to LRA terrorism, I interviewed Comboni Sister Giovanna Calabria, a feisty woman in Nzara, about 20 miles from Yambio. She told me about the importance of cellular technology in meeting the threat.

“I never again will say the cell phone is useless,” she said. “People are calling all the time to share information or find out what’s happening. We’ll call the (Ugandan troops stationed nearby) and ask them what they know. People will call us with reports from the villages nearby, or to warn us to stay inside tonight. This network of cooperation has protected many of us.”

A few days after I was in Nzara, I heard a rumor of a new LRA attack. I called Sister Giovanna from Juba, and she verified the information. When I asked her for more details, she told me to call her back in 10 minutes. I did so, and she then put on the phone a leader of the local Arrow Boys who gave me a full accounting of the Nov. 19 attack on Basokanbi, some 10 miles away. A unit of the LRA had attacked, burned some houses, stolen voter registration materials and kidnapped eight children, one of whom (an 8-year-old girl) escaped a short time later. The LRA squad was chased by both the Arrow Boys and some members of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army, but they got away with their captives.

In Riimenze, where I went on patrol with a group of Arrow Boys  to photograph them in the jungle, there is no cell phone coverage. So they use drums. They beat out the different rhythms they would use to pass different messages about the LRA. It’s a skill they’ve honed over the years in frequent tiffs with a nomadic tribe that passes through yearly with its cattle.

Sister Giovanna admitted mobile phone technology has its limits. “I pray every night that the Lord will take (LRA leader) Joseph Kony,” she said. “But apparently God doesn’t get a signal.”

Christmas, butter and gingerbread

(CNS photo/The Catholic Mirror)

In the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, Catholic Charities is raising awareness of the plight of the homeless this holiday season. The agency’s strategy includes drawing on a longtime Iowa State Fair tradition, writes Anne Marie Cox, editor of  The Catholic Mirror, the diocesan newspaper. The agency asked state fair butter sculptor Sarah Pratt to create a sculture of the Holy Family — out of butter.

It was the featured Nativity at the agency’s annual fundraising event, No Room at the Inn, Dec. 3-5. More than 300 creches from around the world were on display. The butter from Pratt’s sculpture will be recycled for next year’s state fair sculpture. Catholic Charities spokeswoman Trish Radke told the Mirror: “By depicting the Holy Family in a time-honored Iowa tradition of butter sculpture, we hope to remind people that Joseph and Mary had no place to stay when Jesus was born.”

“We hope people will be moved to action and support programs and services that provide men, women and children with life’s basic necessities. We offer dignity and hope to families who are struggling,” she added. One facility operated by Catholic Charities is St. Joseph Emergency Family Shelter.

On the East Coast, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington has been rendered in gingerbread by a pastry chef at a top-notch hotel, according to the website Georgetown Patch. The national shrine’s spokeswoman told CNS in an e-mail that Msgr. Walter Rossi, the rector, has talked with Charles Froke, executive pastry chef at the Four Seasons in Georgetown, who told the priest that after Christmas he’ll be giving his creation to the shrine, which plans to put it on display.

Salt + Light Television interviews Archbishop Dolan

Our friends and collaborators at Salt + Light Television, the Canadian national Catholic TV channel, premiered an interview on Sunday night with New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, the newly elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Conducted last summer by Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, who heads Salt + Light, the interview covers Archbishop Dolan’s upbringing outside St. Louis, his vocation to the priesthood and his rise to one of the premier sees in the United States.  Take a look at this excellent 26-minute interview here:

Catholic Worker dentist ends service on LA’s Skid Row

For 18 years dentist Rich Meehan has offered free dental services to homeless people and others who call Los Angeles’ Skid Row neighborhood home.

Volunteering at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker dental clinic at East Sixth Street and Gladys Avenue, the dentist from South Bay has made the trip to the inner city on Fridays even while running his own thriving dental practice in Torrance from which he retired in 1998.

But Meehan, 76, is ending his service to care for his wife, Pat, who has Alzheimer’s disease. As he leaves, it’s entirely likely the clinic — nestled into a two-story cinder block building in back of the LA Catholic Worker’s soup kitchen, known as “The Hippie Kitchen” — will close.

The Tidings, newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, recently profiled Meehan and what he has meant to the people who often are overlooked in a busy world.

Christmas planning? Check liturgical calendar first

Although it’s been looking a lot like Christmas for quite some time at shopping malls and stores, the Catholic Church offers a reminder about when the season officially begins. According to the liturgical calendar, it starts Dec. 24 and ends in early January on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

With that in mind, Catholics are advised to relax and take a deep breath and put off  the mad rush to decorate, shop and celebrate — at least for a few weeks. Salt Lake City Bishop John C. Wester reminded Utah Catholics of this countercultural message in a pastoral letter called “Waiting in Joyful Hope.”

The Salt Lake Tribune daily newspaper said the bishop was “putting the brakes on Christmas” by urging Catholics to remain faithful to prayer and reflection during the four weeks of Advent.

It may be a tough message for some to hear, what with Christmas decor and music ever present, but there are some ideas out there to help those willing to give the liturgical calendar a try. US Catholic magazine, for starters, has an online Advent resource full of ideas on how to make the most of the four weeks of Advent.

One article in particular focuses on the 12 days of Christmas popularized by the song and stresses that although it would be hard in this day and age to limit Christmas celebrations to these 12 days, there are some ways this can be done.

One suggestion is to go ahead and decorate the tree, but don’t put the star on the top until Christmas Eve or put out a manager scene but do not add all the characters until Christmas. The article also gives plenty of ideas for how to celebrate the early January feast days as a way to give Christmas celebrations a longer and more spiritual life.

Happy Advent!

30 years ago in El Salvador

Mike Lanchin, a former CNS stringer in El Salvador, is now a reporter for the BBC in London. In today’s edition of the BBC’s “Witness” report, Mike talked to Sister Patricia Murray, who was in El Salvador when the four U.S. churchwomen were killed in 1980. Listen to Mike’s very moving podcast here: