Need a blessing? Send an email to St. Rose of Lima

By Barbara Fraser

LIMA, Peru — The first saint to be canonized in the Americas may also be the first to have her own email address.

The courtyard beside the Church of St. Rose of Lima in the heart of the Peruvian capital draws thousands of pilgrims each Aug. 30, when the country celebrates the feast of its patron saint. Besides visiting her austere bedroom and the tiny garden hermitage where she prayed, pilgrims write letters to St. Rose, asking her blessing or aid, and drop them down a well. Vendors do a brisk business in stationery and envelopes, as well as holy cards and other religious items.

Devotees who cannot travel to Lima can send their petitions to her at, and staff in the Archdiocese of Lima will print the messages and drop them down the well.

Since the beginning of August, more than 5,000 messages have arrived from as far away as Turkey, Germany, France, the United States and the Philippines, Daniel Jacobo, archdiocesan press spokesman, told CNS.

Vatican publisher enters e-book market in Italiano

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican publishing house’s exclusive contract with Apple to market a series of books through iTunes made headlines in Italy, where it marked a real breakthrough.

For the first time, books published directly by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana (LEV), are available electronically.

The 13 e-books are only in Italian and only cover LEV’s illustrated thematic collections of Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly general audience talks on subjects including: praying with the Psalms; the Apostles; Paul and the first disciples; and the early fathers of the church.

LEV licenses other publishers around the world to release and market the collections in other languages, both in print and in electronic form. Ignatius Press offers both the printed and electronic versions of the audience collections in the United States. Father Costa said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also has the rights to the electronic version in English.

(The bishops’ conference publishing office already offers thematic collections of papal talks — on the Eucharist and on Mary, among other subjects — in e-book form through its online bookstore, iTunes and Amazon.)

Father Costa said LEV chose Apple for its e-book rollout because Apple was the first company to approach the Vatican about handling electronic versions of its books in Italian. While Italian collections of the pope’s audience talks will remain with Apple, he said LEV is likely to work with Amazon on producing other e-books in Italian.

The Italian e-book market has been slow to take off, but “it’s an unstoppable process,” Father Costa said. While the LEV-controlled Italian versions of the first two volumes of Pope Benedict XVI’s major work “Jesus of Nazareth” are not available in electronic form, the third volume will be, he said.

Earlier this summer, Pope Benedict was reported to have finished writing the volume, which covers Jesus’ infancy and childhood. Father Costa said he didn’t have a publication date because the work of translating it from German had just begun. The Vatican Secretariat of State is overseeing the translation work.

Sold out: In Dublin, a Navy-Notre Dame rivalry

By Cian Molloy

DUBLIN — A sudden influx of American visitors has alerted Ireland that it is home to the annual NavyNotre Dame football match Sept. 1.

Navy and Notre Dame first played in Dublin in 1996. They meet again Sept. 1, this time at Aviva Stadium. (CNS photo/Courtesy University of Notre Dame Athletic Department)

Billed as the Emerald Isle Classic, the game takes place in Aviva Stadium, home to Ireland’s national rugby and soccer teams. The stadium, opened in 2010, is Ireland’s second-largest sporting arena, but it was promoted in the U.S. as “an intimate venue” because its 51,700 capacity is smaller than many of the stateside stadiums where these two college teams have met.

In fact, each locker room has only 28 lockers — far fewer than the more than the number of players on the team’s travel roster.

The game has been sold out since March. More than 35,000 fans are traveling across the Atlantic for the game, making it the largest ever American audience at an overseas sporting event — topping even the U.S. attendance at Olympic matches. The 15,000 not coming from the U.S. include many groups of Notre Dame alumni from mainland Europe.

Notre Dame leads the rivalry with a 72-12-1 record. The two teams first met in Dublin in 1996.

On game day, some 5,000 Notre Dame fans will attend Mass in Dublin Castle, and the Notre Dame pre-match tailgate takes place in Temple Bar, dubbed Ireland’s Cultural Quarter. Navy fans will make their presence felt on the streets of Dublin when 1,000 midshipmen march from the USS Fort McHenry in Dublin Port to Aviva Stadium.

Whoever wins the game, the Irish will come out winners: The game and surrounding events are anticipated to bring $100 million to the Irish economy!

The crash of Flight 255 and the miracle of life

This year many Catholics are reminiscing on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Blessed John Paul II’s September 1987 pastoral visit to the United States and Canada. But it is also the anniversary of a tragedy that took place a month before the pope came to North America. A horrifying plane crash took the lives of 156 people on a Northwest Airlines flight from Detroit to Phoenix. The jet crashed shortly after takeoff onto an interstate highway, killing two people on the ground.

In 1987 I was working at The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Detroit Archdiocese, and we were already in high gear writing stories on the upcoming Detroit leg of the pope’s visit. But the crash of Flight 255 changed everything. A tragic story of this magnitude could not simply be ignored as if it were happening in some alternate universe.

Michigan Catholic reporter Tom Ewald was able to track down the chaplains who tended to the spiritual needs of the firefighters and other first responders at the scene (although the term “first responders” was not yet in the American lexicon). Heartbreaking as the stories they told were, the crash had one survivor: a 4-year-old girl believed to have been shielded by her mother as the plane went down.

Despite a broken skull, broken collarbone, broken leg and the third-degree burns covering 90 percent of her body — and the eventual amputation of one of her pinkie fingers — little Cecilia Chihan pulled through. Her grandparents had been able to identify her from a chipped tooth she had and the color of the nail polish she was wearing before boarding the doomed flight.

(Photo courtesy of Sole Survivor Film)

Once Cecilia was healthy enough to leave the hospital, an uncle and aunt in Alabama raised her with the intent of keeping her out of the public eye. Though curiosity over Cecilia almost certainly lingered in the minds of many, such conjecture was always politely tamped down.

However, in 2012, on what is also the silver anniversary of the Flight 255 crash, Cecilia is speaking up, albeit briefly and for a specific purpose. Now married and going by the name Cecilia Crocker, she appears in an as-yet-unreleased documentary called “Sole Survivor,” about people like her worldwide who were the only survivor in a commercial plane crash.

“It’s kind of hard not to think about it when I look at the mirror,” Cecilia says in the documentary. “I have visible scars.” She also has a tattoo of a jet plane on the underside of her left wrist to always remind her of the tragedy.

While reluctant to go public — as were most of the documentary subjects — “this ‘Sole Survivor’ project is about a group, and that’s why I’m willing to get involved and be part of something bigger,” Cecilia said.

The firefighter who found her amid the smoldering rubble of the jet’s wreckage, John Thiede, has kept in touch with Cecilia over the years, but himself never saw her in person again until her wedding day. “Just to see her in person was something,” Thiede says in a documentary excerpt.

The papal visit to Detroit that September went on as planned, with a terrific special issue of The Michigan Catholic (if I do say so myself) commemorating the trip. And while the utmost joy of the visit might have been tempered somewhat by the tragedy of the previous month, that sorrow was leavened by the miracle of Cecilia Chihan’s survival.

The Latter-day Saints and their Scriptures

A lot is being written about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints these days since Gov. Mitt Romney has (almost) nailed the Republican nomination for president. There probably never has been more attention given to the LDS Church — sometimes called Mormon — in modern times.

Latter-day Saints share some beliefs with Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, but they are not a Protestant church. The church’s teachings are drawn from its founder, Joseph Smith Jr., in the 1820s. While the Latter-day Saints have the Bible (the King James Version) as one of their foundational books, they also consider three other books core to their beliefs: the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price.

Outside of LDS and academic circles, not much is known about how these three books and how they are regarded in the daily lives and religious practice of Latter-day Saints.

In an Aug. 8 essay, “The Bible Plus,” in The Christian Century, Kathleen Flake, associate professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt University, explains the three books of LDS Scripture, how they came to be and how they relate to the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible.

A Latter-day Saint herself, Flake is no stranger to the Catholic Church. She holds a masters degree in religious studies from The Catholic University of America.

Security and the papal trip to Lebanon

VATICAN CITY — Vatican officials, papal trip organizers and the Maronite patriarch who is supposed to be one of Pope Benedict XVI’s hosts in Lebanon Sept. 14-16 all say the trip is a go.

The thing is, however, violence related to the conflict in Syria has been reported in Tripoli, about 43 miles north of Beirut where the pope will spend most of his time. As the Vatican newspaper reported on its front page this afternoon, there are widespread fears that violence between groups in Syria could spill over the border and ignite more trouble in Lebanon between groups who support and those who oppose Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, has said the Vatican has no doubt the pope’s trip will take place, and, in fact, the Vatican already has shipped the popemobile to Beirut.

Yesterday, Maronite Archbishop Camille Zaidan of Antelias, chairman of the Lebanese bishops’ committee preparing the trip, reviewed the steps being taken to ensure a safe and successful papal trip. He also announced the popemobile had arrived.

Also at the briefing, Father Abdo Abu Kassem denied “recent rumors which suggested that the visit will be postponed.”

In addition, yesterday the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need reported their conversation with Maronite Catholic Patriarch Bechara Rai. The pope’s visit is not in jeopardy, he told a delegation from the charity. “Of course the visit will go ahead.”

There is no doubt that Vatican officials and Lebanese Catholics want the pope to make the trip. However, they also have an obligation to ensure the safety of the pope and of the thousands of people who would come to see him in Lebanon.

While church leaders continue preparing the trip, they also are asking for prayers that the violence cease.

Catholic colleges going greener every year

College campuses are trying harder all the time to go green and stay there. Sustainable practices help keep universities control waste and cost and teach students the importance of lifelong care of their environment. Every year, the Sierra Club, one of the nation’s chief environmental advocacy organizations, publishes a list of America’s greenest colleges.

While no Catholic university or college made the top 10 list, six ranked in the top 100. They are Loyola Marymount University, No. 26, Santa Clara University, No. 32, Aquinas College (Mich.), No. 41, Seattle University, No. 70, University of Dayton, No. 76, and Marywood University, No. 91.

Colleges were required to self report in a rigorous survey. “To place high, schools had to rock every one of our survey’s categories, from waging war on emissions to serving sustainable foods to teaching a verdant curriculum,” examiners said. “None was perfect.” But out of more than 2,000 U.S. four-year colleges and universities, making the list is a real accomplishment.