Remembering Blessed John Paul’s words in Sudan

VATICAN CITY — In his weekly editorial for Vatican television and radio, the papal spokesman marked the independence of South Sudan by reminding listeners of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Sudan in 1993 and the extremely strong words he used to defend the rights of Christians in the predominantly Muslim nation.

I was with Pope John Paul for that visit in February 1993 when we spent just eight hours in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, at the end of a week-long trip that also included Benin and Uganda.

The 50 or 60 journalists traveling with the pope had only a couple international phone lines and telex machines to use to file our stories. I remember feeling fairly panicked that I wouldn’t be able to file my story before we had to head back to the airport for the flight back to Rome. In those days, before everyone had fast internet connections, it usually didn’t matter if we had to wait a day to file.

Pope John Paul II was greeted by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir when he arrived in Sudan in February 1993. (CNS/Arturo Mari, L'Osservatore Romano)

But Pope John Paul was blatant and bold as he denounced the persecution of Sudanese Christians. He said their names were written “on the palms of the hands of Christ, pierced by the nails of the crucifixion.”

There were soldiers carrying guns everywhere. It was the first time I’d seen military with weapons standing in plain sight on the platform where the pope was celebrating Mass. (It was also the first and only time I’ve seen camels grazing at the edge of a field where a papal Mass was being celebrated.)

In the end, I only got one story out from Khartoum, but it included news of the pope’s meeting with President Omar al-Bashir, who is still in office. The pope told al-Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 military coup, that the measure of a national government’s maturity is the way it respects human rights and protects its minorities.

And Pope John Paul told church workers that when he looked at what was going on in Sudan, “I see clearly a particular reproduction of the mystery of Calvary in the lives of the majority of Christian people.”

As Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the papal spokesman, pointed out in his editorial, it’s been more than 18 years since Pope John Paul visited the African nation, “an estimated 2 million people have died and 4 million were displaced, but now there are hopes that the war really is over and that the new Republic of South Sudan, desired by an overwhelming majority of its inhabitants, can start a new chapter in peace.”

Share your space shuttle memories

As NASA officials prepared for the final space shuttle launch, it brought back memories of Jan. 28, 1986, when the Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff, killing all seven crew members — including the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe.

Those were the days when wire service news came over printers, and the Reuters machine was right next to my desk. The alert bell on the machine rang multiple times, indicating something important had happened.

I read aloud the one-line alert — that the space shuttle had exploded after takeoff. It took a moment to process that information. Then, as a chill came over me, I and other CNS staffers headed toward the TV to watch the trail of white cloud.

Do you have memories of a space shuttle –Columbia, Challenger, Atlantis, Discovery, Endeavour? Have you ever been to a launch or re-entry? What are your thoughts about the end of this era?

What’s up with the new Roman Missal?

Cover for the new Roman Missal

Cover for the new Roman Missal. (USCCB)

Many parishes are actively helping Catholics familiarize themselves with the changes to the Roman Missal by setting up meetings about it in their church, handing out flyers after Mass and having speakers address the congregation before the end of Mass. The U.S. bishops’ conference has posted on its website numerous resources and catechetical aids to help Catholics understand the changes, which can be confusing.

Catholic News Service is planning a series of articles to explain how the new translation will affect you and why it’s taking place.

Do you have questions about the changes? Send them to us and the answers could appear in an upcoming article!

You can also join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter (@CatholicNewsSvc). Use the hashtag #romanmissal

Charities profit from smart shoppers

Catholic Charities’ Community Closet in Michigan is thankful for consumers who are turning to couponing to help others as well as themselves.

The project of Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee counties has been getting donations from couponers who get an excess of products through their couponing abilities that their family does not need.

The economic crisis over the past several years has driven many to search for new ways to save, and couponing has become a major source of savings for families. Often, consumers are required to purchase multiple products to get deals, so they end up with more than their family can use or have no room to store the excess.

Vicky Schultz, president of Catholic Charities of Schiawassee and Genesee counties, told The Catholic Times, a publication serving the Lansing Diocese and other Michigan dioceses, that “we had a woman back up her minivan to our Community Closet and unload a whole back seat full of toothpaste that she had gotten completely free with coupons. It was amazing.”

The popularity of TLC’s TV show “Extreme Couponing” also has led to a greater number of people turning to coupons as practical saving method.

“Extreme Couponing” features ordinary people who take their couponing to extreme levels, usually saving between 90-95 percent off their grocery bill and sometimes making money from their purchases.

While not all of the couponers use their skills to purchase items for those in need, several featured on the show share their surplus.

“My couponing has become so much more than saving money. It has become a true ministry for Christ. It is all centered around passing the blessing on,” Joni Meyer-Crothers, a wrote on her blog,

Eighth-graders at St. Mark School in Cleveland also learned about the benefits that couponing can have on others in May, when they were challenged to purchase products for a local service organization.

Each student received a $50 donation from a parishioner, and then used different savings strategies to get as many products as they could with the money they had. In the end, the students used $2,850 to purchase $5,094 worth of items.

Tough Vatican statement on illegitimate Chinese ordination

UPDATE:  Vatican condemns illegitimate ordination of bishop in China

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican today issued a tough statement on the recent ordination of a Chinese bishop without papal approval, saying the prelate has no right to govern the diocese.

The statement also warned that the penalty of excommunication may apply not only to the ordained prelate but to the consecrating bishops who were involved.

Father Paul Lei Shiyin was ordained without a papal mandate June 29 as bishop of Leshan,  in the presence of about 1,000 guests and government officials at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Emeishan. Bishop Johan Fang Xingyao of Linyi, president of the government-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, was the main celebrant. The six other bishops who laid hands on Bishop Lei had all been ordained with Vatican approval.

Speaking to reporters today, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the language of the Vatican comunique left little doubt that Bishop Lei had incurred excommunication, as foreseen by canon law. The Vatican has said consecrating bishops face the same penalty, but that extenuating circumstances may apply — for example, if the bishops are coerced to participate.

Here is the text of the Vatican’s statement:

With regard to the episcopal ordination of the Rev. Paul Lei Shiyin, which took place on Wednesday 29 June last and was conferred without the apostolic mandate, the following is stated:

1) Rev. Lei Shiyin, ordained without the Papal mandate and hence illegitimately, has no authority to govern the diocesan Catholic community, and the Holy See does not recognise him as the Bishop of the Diocese of Leshan. The effects of the sanction which he has incurred through violation of the norm of can. 1382 of the Code of Canon Law remain in place. The same Rev. Lei Shiyin had been informed, for some time, that he was unacceptable to the Holy See as an episcopal candidate for proven and very grave reasons.

2) The consecrating Bishops have exposed themselves to the grave canonical sanctions laid down by the law of the Church (in particular, canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law; cf. Declaration of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts of 6 June 2011).

3) An episcopal ordination without Papal mandate is directly opposed to the spiritual role of the Supreme Pontiff and damages the unity of the Church. The Leshan ordination was a unilateral act which sows division and unfortunately produces rifts and tensions in the Catholic community in China. The survival and development of the Church can only take place in union with him to whom the Church herself is entrusted in the first place, and not without his consent as, however, occurred in Leshan. If it is desired that the Church in China be Catholic, the Church’s doctrine and discipline must be respected.

4) The Leshan episcopal ordination has deeply saddened the Holy Father, who wishes to send to the beloved faithful in China a word of encouragement and hope, inviting them to prayer and unity.

From the Vatican, 4 July 2011

‘Buy a CD, build a church’

Editor Renee Webb of The Globe, newspaper of the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, writes that pastor Father David Hemann is putting the profits from sales of a CD he recorded — his seventh — toward construction costs of his parish’s new church. He even has a slogan: “Buy a CD, build a church.”

The new church is for Sacred Heart in Ida Grove; he also is pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Holstein and St. Martin Church in Odeboldt.

Sacred Heart has about 240 families, and the parish is in its second three-year fundraising campaign; they still have $1 million to raise for construction of the church and parish hall, which will cost more than $2.8 million.

Father Hemann and his parish's new church under construction. (Photo courtesy of The Globe)

“With a small group of people, building a church is a huge task,” Father Hemann told The Globe. So he is contributing 100 percent of the profits of his new CD to the project. Titled “Oasis,” it is the seventh CD he has recorded. It’s his first instrumental-only release. There is a big call for “peaceful, spirit-filled, anointed intrumental music that puts you in the presence of God without the distraction of words.” Check out his CD at his website.

He said he thinks the title “Oasis” is especially fitting, as he believes “a church is an oasis,” The Globe reported. It is “where you can come out of the dryness of the desert, the world, and get your canteen filled up with grace so you can go back into the world,” the priest explained. is counting clicks

VATICAN CITY — The first day of the launch of the Vatican’s new news portal,, registered more than a quarter of a million clicks from more than 200 countries in the world.

Twenty-four hours after the site went live when Pope Benedict XVI tapped “publish” on an electronic tablet June 28, the site was been tweeted more than 77, 300 times and “liked” on Facebook by more than 7,000 people.

The story with the most hits (16, 454) was a Vatican newspaper article reflecting on Pope Benedict’s recollection of his priestly ordination, which he had called “the most important moment of my life,” which is also the headline of the Osservatore Romano article. The launch of the news site was meant to help celebrate the pope’s 60th anniversary of his ordination June 29.

Not surprising is that the vast majority of viewers chose to read the site in English rather than Italian — the only two languages currently available. As we reported earlier, other languages like Spanish will be gradually added later.