‘Mexodus’: Student journalists chronicle border issues

A bilingual student reporting project spotlights the flight of middle-class Mexican families, professionals and businesses from the violence of drug cartels.

Dominican Sisters Rene Weeks and Maureen Gallagher. CNS photo/Diana Parra, Borderzine

Mexodus” includes videos, slideshows, photos, info graphics, charts and 20 stories — including the tale of Dominican nuns from El Paso, Texas, who regularly cross the border to Ciudad Juarez to help poor families. Another tells how Catholic schools in the Diocese of El Paso are helping students fleeing Juarez.

The project was produced by nearly 100 student journalists from four universities: University of Texas El Paso, California State University Northridge, and Tecnologico de Monterrey in Chihuahua and Mexico City.

“Mexodus” is a project of Borderzine, a web community for Latino student journalists. Among its features is the tale of a crumbling mission chapel in the Diocese of El Paso.

Why Egypt’s elections might be good for Christians

On Nov. 28, Egypt’s first round of complicated parliamentary elections begin. Arab West Report has a good explanation of the procedures and breakdown this election, and editor Cornelis Hulsman explains why this election could be beneficial to the country’s Coptic Christian minority.

“Since in the past there were practically no districts with a Coptic majority, Copts only stood a chance at being elected if they were supported by a good share of the Muslim electorate,” Hulsman writes.

“In the new proportional system, Copts in governorates with a substantial Coptic minority, such as the governorate of Minia, which according to CAPMAS had a Coptic population of about 20 percent in 1996, will have much better chances to get elected.”

One of the reasons for the clashes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square is that Egyptians want presidential elections to begin in March, when parliamentary elections end. The military government, which took over after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year, wants presidential elections held late in 2012 or in 2013. That, combined with a recent draft document that states the military and its budget would be exempt from civilian oversight, has led to clashes in which nearly two dozen protesters have been killed.

More than 25,000 youths and their chaperones descend on Indianapolis to celebrate faith, friendship, community

Kaleigh Gross of Atlanta attends youth conference. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway)

More than 25,000 Catholic youths and their adult chaperones are in Indianapolis for the National Catholic Youth Conference. Saturday is the last day of  what has been a three-day experience of prayer, community and empowerment for Catholic teens. Check out this photo gallery on the website of The Criterion, newspaper of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.

According to organizers, one of the signature activities for the youths at this biennial gathering is trading – buttons, pins, caps and other souvenirs that represent their hometown or state. This year, for the first time, they’ll be exchanging bishops’ trading cards during one of the final events on the closing day.

More than 100,000 of the cards were printed and each teen received five bishop trading cards in his or her registration packet. A complete set includes 28 different bishops from all over the country.

“The whole idea of the bishop trading cards was to get into the spirit of the thematic park, Victory Park (named and modeled after Indianapolis’ Victory Field),” said Marlene Stammerman, director of Catholic Youth Ministries for the Indianapolis Archdiocese’s New Albany deanery in Clarksville.

“There is a whole dynamic of trading items at NCYC. Some kids trade buttons, cow bells, and almost anything. Trading the bishops and trying to get the card with their diocesan bishop on it gives the kids one more thing to negotiate with when vying for that favorite item. It’s a fun way for them to start conversations and make new friends.”

Bishops planned to autograph their trading cards for the teens on Saturday from 2-6 p.m. at Victory Park.

Backers of California’s Prop. 8 have standing to appeal ruling, says court

In a unanimous decision issued Nov. 17, the California Supreme Court ruled that the faith-based groups that sponsored Proposition 8, the state’s 2008 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, have the right to appeal a federal judge’s 2010 ruling it is unconstitutional, reports George Raine of Catholic San Francisco.

“Catholics are among the backers of Prop. 8 who appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal the ruling that it discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation and gender,” Raine writes. “As the circuit court took up the issue, its judges needed to resolve a question: Do the backers of the proposition have the legal right to defend it in court when two elected officials, the former governor and the former attorney general, refused to do so?”

The Nov. 17 decision, Raine continues, “was a victory for ProtectMarriage.com, the proponent in the case, and it allows the 9th Circuit now to resolve the critical question in the case – whether or not Prop. 8 is constitutional – although it is expected the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final word.”

Andy Pugno, general counsel of ProtectMarriage.com., told Raine: “(The) decision is a critical step in our three-year battle to uphold marriage between a man and a woman.”

Looking at ‘musical legacy, faith’ of Bruce Springsteen

A New Jersey pastor who has had a long friendship with Bruce Springsteen held a workshop a few weeks back examining the “musical legacy and faith” of the singer-songwriter, according to a story by correspondent Christina Leslie in this issue of The Monitor, newspaper of the Diocese of Trenton, N.J. A crowd of about 150 — including Bruce’s mother, Adele — gathered for the session held by Father Kevin J. Keelen, pastor of St. Barnabas Parish in Bayville.

“Every indigenous tribe has music. It’s part of being human,” the Augustinian friar said. “Tonight’s about Bruce and us. He evangelizes in a different way.” Citing lyrics from Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart,” the priest quoted St. Augustine: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, God.”

With anecdotes drawn on his friendship with “The Boss,” Father Keelen “wove a picture of a deeply spiritual musician whose faith is reflected in his extensive music portfolio,” writes Leslie.

Legionary brother talks about wound of Father Maciel’s transgressions

ROME — Legionaries of Christ Brother Daniel Turski drew a striking contrast between Blessed John Paul II and Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, the disgraced Legionaries founder, while asking a question after a talk by chastity author and speaker Christopher West.

Christopher West speak in front of an image of Blessed Pope John Paul II during a Theology of the Body conference at Regina Apostolorum University in Rome Nov. 11. (CNS/Paul Haring)

At a conference on the “Theology of the Body” today at the Legionary-run Regina Apostolorum University, in an auditorium full of Legionary brothers and priests, Turski held up the late Pope John Paul as a model of chastity in contrast to his order’s founder, Father Maciel, who who was discovered to have sexually abused seminarians and fathered children.

In responding to Turski, West encouraged the Legion to be honest about its weaknesses and not try to hide the wound of Father Maciel’s transgressions. “There is a new humility in you,” West said of the Legion, adding that he saw great hope for the Legion as “the army that will bring Theology of the Body to the world.”

I spoke with Brother Turski after he made his comment. He said he hadn’t planned to say it, but it came out spontaneously.

Speaking about the late pope and the Father Maciel, Turski told me, “One opened his wounded humanity to Christ, but another recognized his wound but hid it out of fear.”

Turski, a Canadian who entered the Legion in 2003, said that he was very struck when West pointed out that sexual desires are not meant to be repressed, but rather — through the virtue of chastity — lived in an appropriate manner.

“We’ve had the repression of what is wrong, but haven’t had the proper education of what is right,” Turski said of sexual formation in the Legionaries. He said that Father Maciel’s personal wound “has trickled down into chastity formation.”

Turski said there was plenty of talk about avoidance in his chastity formation, but he also said he saw the need for something West advocated in his talk: namely reverence. West had talked about reverence being the virtue that enables one to see the dignity of the person as one would see a beautiful flower he or she would not want to trample over.

Turski said he and his Legionary brothers talk among themselves about Father Maciel. A fellow Legionary brother also said this was not the first time that a Legionary such as Turski had publically acknowledged Father Maciel’s misdeeds.

Did Cardinal Bertone really ‘disown’ the document on economic reform?

UPDATED Monday, Nov. 14:  Vatican Secretariat of State reviewed and corrected the document ahead of publication; see sixth paragraph below.

VATICAN CITY — Our Italian colleague Sandro Magister, usually an insightful commentator on all things Vatican, stirred things up with a post last Thursday asserting that the Vatican’s Secretariat of State had “disowned” the recent document of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on reform of the global economic system.

Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, left, and Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George wait for Pope Benedict XVI to arrive on the South Lawn of the White House in 2008. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

He reported that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the secretary of state, was blindsided by the publication of the document, and afterward issued a “binding order” against the release of any document by a Roman Curia office unless the text had been inspected and authorized by his office.

Sources we’ve spoken to offered a very different reading of the situation.

First, at the press conference presenting the document, Bishop Mario Toso, secretary of the justice and peace council, said the text had been “reviewed by the competent offices of the Secretariat of State” before publication.

Indeed, it would be very difficult to imagine that Cardinal Bertone was unaware of the document and its potential implications — for one thing, its release was announced five days ahead of time.

UPDATE: On Monday, one source said that in preparing the document, the Justice and Peace council had in fact worked closely with the Secretariat of State’s “Second Section,” which deals with foreign affairs, and that the Second Section had reviewed and corrected the text ahead of time — precisely because everyone knew it dealt with sensitive issues.

Second, sources said Cardinal Bertone did issue a recent instruction regarding the Secretariat of State’s role in releasing documents, but it had nothing to do with the Justice and Peace text on economic justice. Instead, they said, it was provoked by an unrelated mistake that occurred the same week — the premature release of Pope Benedict’s annual message on migration, which was posted briefly on a Vatican Web site, apparently before the Secretariat of State had seen it.

Cardinal Bertone’s order, they said, simply stipulated that any documents bearing the pope’s signature must be released through his office. The Justice and Peace document did not fall into that category, even though its content was reviewed by the Secretariat.

Third, the sources denied Magister’s report that Professor Leonardo Becchetti, a professor of economics at the University of Rome, was the main author of the document. Becchetti, who has been described by online critics as a socialist ideologue, had little or nothing to do with preparation of the text but was called in to help explain economic issues at the press conference.

Finally, Magister’s assertion that the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, had “torn to shreds” the Justice and Peace document deserves a closer look. What the newspaper ran was an article by Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, president of the Vatican bank, that analyzed current economic problems. It did not once refer to the Justice and Peace document, and focused its criticism on the financial decisions that have led to the current crisis. To call it a “repudiation” of the Justice and Peace document is more than a stretch.

What our Vatican sources did say is that the Justice and Peace document, which called for the creation of a world political authority to regulate financial markets and rein in the “inequalities and distortions of capitalist development,” has indeed sparked discussion and debate inside the Vatican.

But that’s to be expected, they said. The council’s president, Cardinal Peter Turkson, and other officials made clear that this text was a proposal, not a prescription, and aimed to generate reflection and discussion. They also emphasized that it was not a document of the magisterium, or official church teaching, and that it expressed the position of the pontifical council, not the Holy See.

That doesn’t mean the document can be dismissed as insignificant, or that the conclusions of a pontifical council do not merit attention by Catholics. It would be good to keep in mind these words posted at the top of the Roman Curia web page, from the Second Vatican Council document Christus Dominus:

In exercising supreme, full, and immediate power in the universal Church, the Roman pontiff makes use of the departments of the Roman Curia which, therefore, perform their duties in his name and with his authority for the good of the churches and in the service of the sacred pastors.