Illinois Newman Center wants your vote

Students at the John Paul II Catholic Newman Center at Illinois State University want your vote so they can sing the song they composed for World Youth Day in Madrid in August.

Their entry — called “Planted ” — is one of 139 songs entered in the worldwide contest and can be heard here. Only six entries are from the U.S. Viewers can vote for the song by clicking on “Votar” (vote in Spanish) in the video link.

While you’re at it, the students are asking you to share the link with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.

The Catholic Post in Peoria, Ill., reports that the top 25 vote-getting compositions will be reviewed by a panel. The five judged best will be performed at World Youth Day.

“Our goal is to play for the pope,” said Sister Sara Marie Kowal, assistant director of the Newman Center and the keyboard player in the recording.

Votes will be accepted until May 30.

As has been the custom elsewhere in Illinois, vote early and vote often.

First Fridays for Food Security begins May 6

Catholics can join in solidarity with hungry Americans for the next year through a new First Friday program designed to help raise awareness about food insecurity in the U.S.

Called First Fridays for Food Security, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ program utilizes social media to help Catholics understand how hunger affects Americans.

Individuals and families can share their experiences on Facebook of limiting how much they spend on a meal on the First Friday of each month beginning May 6 and running through April 6, 2012, to the amount allotted for a family of their size in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Modified Thrifty Food Plan.

The plan is the basis for the monthly allocation received by poor families under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Under the plan at the thrifty level, a family of four has less than $20 to spend daily for all of its meals in order to stay on budget.

The effort will likely lead to a cut in normal spending on food, which the USCCB Office of Domestic Social Development said can be considered a form of fasting.

The program also gives Catholics the opportunity to pray and advocate for people who do not have enough to eat.

The Facebook page will feature a new posting each month focusing on a different aspect of hunger. Among topics to be explored are the reality of food insecurity in the U.S., migrant workers and those who produce food, the effects of hunger on pregnant women and their unborn children, and child nutrition and the school lunch program.

USDA data reveal that 17.4 million American households — about  14.7 percent — did not have enough food at some point during 2009.

Photos of bin Laden’s compound, with nice detail

Our friends at have done a fine job reporting from Pakistan in the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden. Check out these photos, captured by Kamran Chaudry in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Taking on the banks over foreclosures

Members of faith-based community groups are targeting three of the country’s biggest banks this month for what they consider is the banks’ lack of response to homeowner requests to modify mortgage payment plans.

In particular, the groups — under the New Bottom Line campaign initiated by the PICO National Network — are planning to send representatives to shareholder meetings today at Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco, May 11 at Bank of America in Charlotte, N.C., and May 17 at JPMorgan Chase in Columbus, Ohio.

Domingo Delgallado, a board member of Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organizing and a parishioner at Holy Rosary Church in Contra Costa, Calif., told Catholic News Service that the representatives plan to ask bank officials again about their foreclosure policies and urge them to move more quickly to help troubled homeowners.

The groups also want banks to pay their fair share of taxes, especially by paying back taxes, and to stop sending jobs overseas.

“The government gave them all this money to bail them out and they’re not using it to help the American economy or the consumer,” Delgallado said, referring to the Troubled Asset Relief Program that helped keep numerous banks from closing during the depth of the recent recession.

PICO’s strategy calls for selected members of local groups to attend shareholder meetings after obtaining proxy statements from sympathetic shareholders to press their case. Coincidentally, demonstrations are planned outside each bank’s offices.

“(Demonstrating) seems to be the only way to get their attention,” said Delgallado, a financial analyst for a central California oil and gas company. “We tried contacting them to set up meetings in order to come up with a process that would be more effective and beneficial for homeowners.

“They’re willing to foreclose on someone’s house and take a write-off and sell the loan to someone else, but they won’t work with people until their situation gets better. They (the banks) created the economic crisis and they’re still profiting from it. It’s not fair,” he said.

The demonstrations will revolve around prayer and Scripture, Delgallado explained.

For their part, the banks have initiated efforts to help struggling homeowners.

At JPMorgan Chase, its Homeownership Preservation Office has opened more than 50 centers to help people save their homes in some of the most depressed housing markets nationwide.

Bank of America, which acquired Countrywide Home Loans, once the country’s largest mortgage lender,  estimated that eventually up to 400,000 former Countrywide customers will be helped.

Wells Fargo runs home preservation workshops nationwide.

Still, PICO members claim that such efforts are insufficient to meet the need. The nationwide organizing network estimates that the federal government’s foreclosure prevention program has helped only 285,000 of the 5 million families who have lost their homes.

“It’s an economic crisis,” Delgallado said. “And it’s a moral issue.”

Vatican spokesman on killing of Osama bin Laden

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican said the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, a man who sowed division and hatred and who caused “innumerable” deaths, should prompt serious reflection about one’s responsibility before God.

A Christian “never rejoices” in the face of a man’s death, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said in a brief statement this morning. Here is an English translation of his statement:

Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions for this purpose.

In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion  for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.

‘A reflection of the divine, a sign of hope’

Sister Marie Simon-Pierre brings the relic of Blessed John Paul II to the altar. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

ROME — U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Miguel Diaz hosted a small reception at his residence last night to celebrate Blessed Pope John Paul II’s beatification.

The gathering included several U.S. cardinals and three former ambassadors: Jim Nicholson, Francis Rooney and Frank Shakespeare, all of whom served during Blessed John Paul’s pontificate, and all of whom had some remembrances to share over refreshments.

Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington remarked that this was one of those days — and there are relatively few in life — when you will look back and say: I was there. The liturgy and the other beatification events all felt momentous because they were.

The consensus among the Americans was that the most emotional moment during the beatification liturgy came when Blessed John Paul’s relic, a vial of blood that could be clearly seen in its silver reliquary, was carried to the altar. As one cardinal remarked, this was the same blood that was spilled in the same St. Peter’s Square in the attempt on the pope’s life in 1981.

Ambassador Diaz spoke about the breadth of Blessed John Paul’s pontificate, and recalled how he first saw the pope close-up during his trip to the United States in 1987.

Here is the text of the ambassador’s remarks:

When the newly-elected Pope John Paul II came out onto the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square on October 16th 1978, he immediately captured the heart of Italians with his words: “Non so se posso bene spiegarmi nella vostra …nostra lingua  Italiana.  Se mi sbaglio mi corregerete.”  With his election the Catholic Church – and, indeed, the whole world — began a 27-year relationship with a pastor whose ministry bridged profound change. During those years, European communism collapsed.  Decades-long dictatorships fell, and sadly, new ones emerged.    The space shuttles began flying. Communications and information technology developed at an astonishing rate.  New diseases baffled scientists, while others were all but eradicated.  We developed new strains of plants to feed the hungry and new drugs to treat the sick.  People became more environmentally aware.  And, perhaps most importantly for us, the United States and the Holy See established formal diplomatic relations.

John Paul II’s ministry spanned generations X, Y, and Z.  While we sometimes speak of generational conflicts caused by differences in expectations, Blessed John Paul II possessed a unique ability to meet people at all stages of life and draw them upward.  He was a man of the people who renounced the protocols of the papacy to wear a sombrero, try on Bono’s sunglasses, joke with the media, and wave his cane above his head like a rock star in front of a million young people at World Youth Day.

I remember when he came to Miami in 1987 and the welcome he received in my home town.  I can still hear the crowds shouting: “Juan Pablo Segundo te ama todo el mundo, John Paul II, we love you!”  I was then a college student who had been selected among the youth of Miami to be a banner carrier during the papal mass. A few years later in seminary and throughout my graduate studies in philosophy and theology at the University of Notre Dame, I studied his thought and learned about his personalism, his theology of the body, and his social teachings. Throughout his pontificate, John Paul II tirelessly defended the dignity of human persons, condemned oppressive regimes, denounced evil and injustices whether of economic or socio-political origins.  In addition, as exemplified in Centesimus Annus, he underscored the preferential love of the poor and the need to empower and include those most in need within our human family.

John Paul II was a man who soldiered on bravely in the face of an assassination attempt and the incapacitating illness that came with age.  Today we’re all happy and proud to have been part of a tremendous celebration here in this eternal city of Rome.  It is a joyous day not only for the Catholic Church, but for all those who saw in Blessed John Paul II a reflection of the divine and a sign of hope.

May I ask you to raise your glasses and join me in a toast.

To Blessed John Paul II!  May we learn from his example and continue to build bridges for the sake of our entire human family and all of God’s creation!

Officially, Blessed Pope John Paul II

(CNS/Grzegorz Galazka, courtesy of Postulation of Pope John Paul II)

VATICAN CITY — “John Paul II is blessed because of his faith — a strong, generous and apostolic faith,” Pope Benedict XVI said just minutes after formally beatifying his predecessor.

Italian police estimated there were more than 1 million people in St. Peter’s Square, around the Vatican and watching the Mass on large screens at the Circus Maximus.

Pope Benedict read the formula of beatification at the beginning of the liturgy after Cardinal Agostino Vallini, papal vicar for Rome, petitioned the pope “to inscribe the venerable servant of God John Paul II, pope, among the number of blesseds.”

The pope responded by declaring, “the venerable servant of God, John Paul II, pope, henceforth will be called blessed” and his feast will be Oct. 22, the anniversary of the inauguration of his pontificate in 1978.

The crowds burst into sustained applause, many people cried and brass players intoned a fanfare as soon as the pope finished reading the proclamation.

In his homily, Pope Benedict spoke of Pope John Paul’s suffering and his battle with Parkinson’s disease, which eventually crippled him.

“There was his witness in suffering: the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a ‘rock,’ as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the church and to give the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined,” the pope said.

Pope Benedict also reminded the crowd of how devoted Pope John Paul was to Mary and to following her example of complete faith.

“Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed,” the pope prayed at the end of his homily. “Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God’s people.”