New request: Turn cell phones on at church

Parishioners are often advised to turn off cellphones or pagers in keeping with the solemnity of the Mass. But a story in Our Sunday Visitor suggests something contrary. It says priests should ask  parishioners to actually turn on their mobile devices.

“You would surely hear gasps as people wonder whether the priest had misspoken or if their hearing aids need new batteries,” writes Brandon Vogt who noted that this has taken place — at the end of Mass — at parishes across the country.

One example is St. Mary’s Catholic Center, the campus parish at Texas A&M University in College Station, where the presiding priest after Mass recently asked the congregation to text some basic information, right then, to a parish number. Within minutes, thousands of parishioners were linked to the parish registration database. Later they were sent an email to complete their registration and create an account chooosing which parish group or ministry from which they wished to receive updates and how they wished to get these updates — either email, Twitter, Facebook or text messages.

“Parishes can’t afford to sit out this digital revolution,” the story points out, noting how “new media increasingly dominate our world through blogs, social media, podcasting, interactive websites and text messaging, among other tools.”

The article suggests that pastors and parish ministries get on board with new media as a way to communicate with parishioners during the week and encourage dialogue.

But lest parishes get too caught up in the fast-paced world of new media, the story emphasizes that certain standards must always remain in place.

“Whether in the first century, 15th century, or 21st century, the goal of each parish remains the same: to make saints. Any new technology, including new media, should be assessed in light of that mission.”

TV programs explore real-life stories of forgiveness

By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK – Here are a couple broadcasting highlights for this weekend you might want to consider watching: a family-friendly, made-for-television movie  on Fox and a PBS special that explore real-life stories of forgiveness.

The film, “Truth Be Told,” is the fifth presentation of the Family Movie Night initiative, launched in April 2010. True to the stated goals of that effort, this lighthearted drama – which premieres on Fox Saturday, April 16, 8-10 p.m. EDT – is virtually free of worrisome content and makes appealing entertainment for almost all age groups.

When old high school sweethearts Mark Crane and Annie Morgan (David James Elliott and Candace Cameron Bure) unexpectedly run into each other at a social event, their friendly reunion leads to a misunderstanding. Though Mark is a recently widowed father of two, and Annie has never been married, another guest in attendance, influential radio mogul Terrance Bishop (Ronny Cox), mistakes them for spouses.

Since Mark and Annie both have reasons for wanting to perpetuate this mix-up, they soon find themselves posing as husband and wife on a visit to Bishop’s sprawling New Mexico ranch with Mark’s son and daughter in tow, pretending to be “their” children.

The scenic desert setting, some innocent romance — as the dialogue makes clear, Mark spends his nights on the floor of the bedroom he and Annie share — a strong pro-marriage theme via Annie’s work as a family counselor and a wrap-up emphasizing the importance of truthfulness all combine to make this project suitable viewing for a wide variety of generations.

(A slightly spooky scene set in a long-abandoned American Indian village, though, may prove too frightening for the youngest and most impressionable.)

In “Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate” — airing on PBS stations Sundays, April 17 and 24, 10-11:30 p.m. EDT each night —  documentarian Helen Whitney offers a thought-provoking examination of both the promise and the limits of interpersonal reconciliation.

Though her film begins by acknowledging that the ideal of forgiveness is embedded in all the world’s major faiths, the claim is made, early on in the narrative, that there is a “new forgiveness” flourishing beyond the context of religion. This means that the Christian imperative to unlimited pardon – exemplified here by the Amish community’s swift and loving response to the West Nickel Mines, Pa., school shooting in October 2006 – comes in for some secular-minded criticism.

Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, national director of the Catholic lay movement Communion and Liberation in the U.S., by contrast, provides an eloquently expressed Catholic perspective

Author Terri Jentz, a victim — along with her college roommate — of a violent assault in Oregon’s Cline Falls State Park in 1977, describes the long process of psychological healing she has had to undergo to come to terms with her experience. (Protected by his neighbors in the nearby community of Redmond, Ore., her presumed assailant – who wielded an axe in attacking the young women — was never charged.)

Similarly, Claire Schroeder, the daughter of a Boston police officer slain during a 1970 bank robbery carried out by anti-Vietnam War extremists, recounts her efforts to accept the belated repentance of one of the militants, Katherine Ann Power. Power evaded arrest until voluntarily surrendering to authorities in 1993; since then, she has shown increasing willingness to acknowledge her responsibility for Patrolman Schroeder’s death.

Besides the obviously challenging nature of the program’s subject matter — and the discretion required to interpret it properly in the light of faith — the first segment screened includes a few crass terms and a scene of unexpected, somewhat bloody violence, further marking this as adult fare.

“Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate” is rated TV-MA – mature audience only.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service. More reviews are available online at

Vatican deeply concerned over relations with China

Catechumens at Mass in China. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

VATICAN CITY — A Vatican commission on China expressed deep concern over worsening relations with the Chinese government, and appealed to authorities there to avoid steps that would aggravate church-state problems.

Specifically, the commission urged Chinese authorities not to persist in imposing new government-backed bishops who do not have the approval of Pope Benedict XVI. Titled a “Message to Chinese Catholics,” the text was issued April 14 following a three-day annual meeting of the commission at the Vatican.

In one hopeful sign, the commission expressed joy at the news that the Diocese of Shanghai was launching the beatification cause of Paul Xu Guangqi, a Chinese scholar who worked closely with the famed Jesuit missionary, Father Matteo Ricci, in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Pope Benedict met with commission members at the end of their encounter, praising the desire for unity with Rome among Chinese Catholics and underlining the importance of spiritual formation in confronting present challenges.

The commission’s message began by noting the “general climate of disorientation and anxiety about the future” of the church in China, following recent setbacks in church-state relations. It said that given the numerous vacant dioceses in China, the selection of new bishops was an urgent necessity and at the same time “a source of deep concern.”

“The commission strongly hopes that there will not be new wounds to ecclesial communion,” it said. “We look with trepidation and fear to the future: we know that it is not entirely in our hands and we launch an appeal so that the problems do not grow and that the divisions are not deepened, at the expense of harmony and peace.”

The message said the ordination of a new bishop of Chengde last November — the first without papal approval in four years — was a “sad episode” that had inflicted a “painful wound” on church unity. It emphasized that the church considers the appointment of bishops a religious not a political matter, which rightly falls under the pope’s “supreme spiritual authority.”

The message said the Vatican, while it does not have reason to regard the ordination in Chengde invalid, does consider it “gravely illegitimate” because it was conferred without the papal mandate. As a result, it said, the bishop’s exercise of ministry is also illegitimate.

The message also addressed the fact that several other bishops, including some in communion with the pope, took part in the Chengde ordination. Because these bishops may have been forced to participate, excommunication was not automatically incurred, the Vatican commission said.

But it called on all bishops involved in the ordination to explain themselves to the Vatican and to their own priests and faithful, in order to help “repair the external scandal” caused by their participation.

The message also criticized the Chinese government-controlled National Congress of Catholic Representatives that was held in Beijing Dec. 7-9. Many bishops, priests, religious and laypeople were forced to take part in the assembly against their will.

The commission cited Pope Benedict’s letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007, which said Catholic doctrine cannot accept that state-controlled organizations outside the structure of the church can guide the life of the Catholic community.

The commission’s message said the church was open to “sincere and respectful dialogue with the civil authorities” in order to overcome the present problems. Specifically, it said the Vatican was ready to sit down and consult with Chinese authorities on the question of the redrawing of diocesan boundaries in China.

The message asked the whole church to pray for Chinese Catholics, in particular on May 24, the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, which Pope Benedict has designated as a day of prayer for the church in China.

Making life better for those on the margins

Camden, N.J., population 79,000, is a tough place. Just ask Msgr. Bob McDermott. Pastor of St. Joseph Pro Cathedral in the city across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, Msgr. McDermott has a tough task ministering in a city ridden with serious crime, terrorized by violent gangs, plagued by dire poverty and rife with skepticism that life can be much different. But that doesn’t dissuade him a bit.

For 26 years he has worked at his home parish, one of 38 churches that belong to Camden Churches Organized for People, a faith-based organization working to transform the violence-marred city. The group works to develop local leaders who can effectively speak about community needs and work for the needed changes to make their lives better.

The tool for doing that? Community organizing.

Msgr. McDermott believes organizing — which moves beyond pure charity — is the most effective tool he knows to help people speak for themselves and move beyond the margins of society.

“What organizing helped me to do is to learn from people, to really understand what their concept of God and justice was about, what their pain and suffering was like and how far they would be willing to go to change things in their lives,” he said during an April 6 symposium sponsored by The Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies.

Above all, the Camden church organization’s work is rooted in the Bible’s underlying message of justice for all, the 69-year-old priest told those gathered for a program that reviewed the role of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in promoting Catholic social teaching by funding different models of faith-based organizing since its inception in 1970.

One of three panelists to address the symposium, Msgr. McDermott said the Gospel calls the Catholic Church to do more to give marginalized people a voice.

Another panelist echoed Msgr. McDermott.

Janine Carreiro, the 2010 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award recipient from CCHD, said people of faith are called to move beyond providing a handout to the hungry and poor and to give them a hand up.

“I’m giving them back their voice and helping them find it on their own,” explained Carreiro, lead organizer of the Brockton Interfaith Community in Massachusetts. “Everybody’s got it within them and they just need a little bit of help and hope.”

Opening prayer for Mass for ‘Blessed John Paul II’ on his Oct. 22 feast day

(UPDATE: Full story.)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican just published a notice about the worldwide celebration of Masses of thanksgiving for the beatification of Pope John Paul II as well as the more restrictive rules for celebrating his feast day each year. The note also says that his feast day will be Oct. 22, the anniversary of the formal inauguration of his pontificate in 1978.

At the same time, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, published the opening prayer for the feast day Mass. The prayer — called a “collect” — was written in Latin and translated into several languages, including English:

O God, who are rich in mercy

and who willed that the Blessed John Paul II

should preside as Pope over your universal Church,

grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching,

we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ,

the sole Redeemer of mankind.

Who lives and reigns.

Vatican invites Catholic bloggers to dialogue

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is opening a new avenue for dialogue, this time with Catholic bloggers.

The pontifical councils for culture and for social communications are inviting bloggers to the Vatican May 2 so the Vatican can “listen to the experiences of those who are actively involved in this arena” and “achieve a greater understanding of the needs of that community,” said a press release sent out this morning.

The meeting is pretty much open to any Catholic blogger, but the fact that there are only 150 seats in the conference hall and that the Vatican is looking for a mix of languages means the Vatican will be making some choices. The press release said the Vatican also wants a geographical mix and diversity based on the kinds of blogs out there: institutional and private, multi-voice and personal.

Those who want to attend must apply by sending an email to and including a link to their blog. The press release also said that those who apply first will be given priority.

The pontifical councils chose the day after Pope John Paul II’s beatification because they assume many of the bloggers will already be in Rome and wouldn’t have to make a special trip. Simultaneous translation will be provided in Italian, English, French, Polish and Spanish.

Confirmand raises bar for re-gifting

First communicants (CNS photo)

First communicants and confirmandi are often given the gift of cash from well-meaning (but gift-giving-challenged)  friends and family members.

The recipients can then buy something for themselves — or they could follow the example of  Brianna Montecalvo   and donate the cash to a worthy cause.

As the Rhode Island Catholic reports, Brianna recently gave $800 from her confirmation gifts to the Alzheimer’s Association in memory of her grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and died four years ago.

The 16-year-old student from La Salle Academy in Providence told the diocesan newspaper she was happy to make the contribution and felt her grandmother would be proud of her. She also said she hoped the donation would help her mature.

She only wished she had done something like this before. She noted, rather maturely, that some people need the money more than she does.