Bethlehem University students engage in service through Catholic Charities program

By Julia Willis

WASHINGTON (CNS) – A group of students recently arrived in the U.S. from Bethlehem University in Palestine in order to participate in a one-of-a kind program with Catholic Charities.

Fostered by a two-year partnership between the Catholic university and Catholic Charities USA, selected students travel to America every year and participate in a six-week summer internship program that allows them to use the skills they have developed within their prospective majors in Catholic Charities agencies nationwide.

Bethlehem University students to spend six weeks at catholic Charities agencies around U.S. (Photo courtesy Catholic Charities USA)

Bethlehem University students to spend six weeks at catholic Charities agencies around U.S. (Photo courtesy Catholic Charities USA)

By learning how the organization combats the problem of poverty within the United States and developing a newfound understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the U.S., participants are encouraged to use everything they learn throughout the experience in order to enact social change after returning home.

As many of the interns have never left Palestine before this trip, the participants were excited to experience a new culture, grow in knowledge, and gain a new form of insight into the problems that plague our world today.

One of this year’s 10 participants, Sarah Hasanat, described how the program will benefit many of the students.

“Many of us … have never been to the U.S. or even traveled outside of our home country so this is an amazing opportunity to learn about another culture.”

Dina Rishmawi explained that all 10 students escort tourists or visiting students around Palestine as part of an ambassador program through the university and being able to come to America allows them to continue serving as ambassadors who represent their own country. “It’s an amazing opportunity for us to not only work in the field we study but also to continue to serve as ambassadors of our country in another place.”

Amjaad Musleh, who will be working at the Catholic Charities agency in Camden, N.J., elaborated on how this experience will allow her to promote the culture of Palestine throughout the U.S. “Some people do not have a clue where Palestine is or even if it exists so this is an opportunity for us to share information regarding our country and our culture.”

Although the students were still unsure exactly what to expect out of the program during their initial four-day orientation in Washington, almost all of them recognized that they would be changed in some way by the experience.

Hasanat said, “A lot of people are poor and are in need and I think that, to experience that, to live with them and try to help them, will teach and help all of us as well. I know this program will definitely change my perspective.”

The program has already inspired new ways of thinking for Mariana Bahnan Nazi, who described how she was affected by a trip the students took to visit the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“After going to the PLO yesterday, I really loved the idea of serving my country as an ambassador for Palestine in the United States or in another country,” she said. “I began thinking more about how I can represent the Palestinian people and help others around the world.”

I am sure that these students will find new ways to serve those in need throughout the rest of their time in the U.S. and look forward to seeing what they are able to accomplish in the future.

In Kentucky, landowners await pipeline developers’ next step

Loretto Sister Ceciliana Skees was among several members of the Loretto Community in Kentucky who opposed the Bluegrass Pipeline. (CNS/courtesy Loretto Community)

Loretto Sister Ceciliana Skees was among many members of the Loretto Community in Kentucky who opposed the Bluegrass Pipeline. (CNS/courtesy Loretto Community)


Although the developers of a controversial 1,100-mile natural gas liquids pipeline passing through Kentucky have suspended investment in the project, opponents of the plan said they don’t believe it has been abandoned yet.

Sister Claire McGowan, a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace in St. Catharine, Ky., and coordinator of an organization called New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future, told Catholic News Service that until the companies involved in the Bluegrass Pipeline formally end the project, those opposed to it must stay vigilant.

“Any new infrastructure that is designed to expand the use of fossil fuels is absolutely the wrong way to go,” Sister Claire said.

“The real issue is that we need to make the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, and we need to make it very soon,” she said.

The Dominican Sisters of Peace, the Sisters of Loretto and the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, all in an environmentally sensitive rural area an hour south of Louisville, joined environmental advocates and individual landowners in a campaign earlier this year to protect property rights. The coalition worked with the Kentucky legislature to enact a law that prevents pipeline companies from using eminent domain to secure rights of way when property owners do not want to sell those rights.

In December the religious congregations released a statement on energy usage and conservation. Titled “An Energy Vision from the Heart of Kentucky’s ‘Holy Land,’” more than 130 faith-based organizations and 1,000 individuals have since signed on.

Representatives of Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, the developers, said in late April in a posting on a website touting the project that the companies are “exercising capital discipline and not investing additional capital at this time.”

The posting indicated that potential customers are looking at other sources to move natural gas liquids, or NGLs. The statement did not mention the grassroots outcry against the pipeline in Kentucky. There has been little, if any, opposition to the project in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where the natural gas and NGLs are being tapped from deep shale formations through a complex procedure known as hydraulic fracturing.

Catholic News Service first wrote about the Bluegrass Pipeline in September.

Sister Claire said the momentum of the movement must continue.

“It is such a bad deal all the way around to think we’re so oriented toward profit that we cannot look at all to the values of protecting the environment that really matter for the future and our children and grandchildren,” she said.

Sister Cristina will face the final judgment… on The Voice



ROME — Regardless of all the jokes that voting for anyone other than #SuorCristina would incur excommunication, it seemed to be a given that Ursuline Sister Cristina Scuccia would make it to the finals of The Voice of Italy.

Even her Team J-Ax “opponent,” Dylan Magon, said in a behind-the-scenes preview that he was looking at the semi-finals show last night as his last hurrah.

o want an italy reax

Sadly, Dylan and Sister Cristina — the two final contestants on J-Ax’s team — had been the targets of widespread and often vicious criticism on social media for weeks.

Racist comments were directed against 21-year-old Dylan who was born in Palermo, Sicily, and whose parents are from the island of Mauritius,  and “haters” looked at 25-year-old Sister Cristina’s continued presence on the show, not as a sign of her promising talent, but as a showbiz gimmick to pull in viewers.


On each show, J-Ax delivered a heartfelt appeal for people to rise above the prejudice and pettiness.

“I want to live in an Italy like this: where I — an atheist rapper, can showcase, with all due respect, a nun being embraced by an Italian with Mauritian roots. I want to live in this kind of Italy,” he said last night to great applause.


He also addressed criticism that Sister Cristina shouldn’t be wearing her habit on stage, but should assume a more “neutral” presence.

J-Ax condemned assertions that her religious dress was some kind of costume put on for show, and said it was an authentic part of her true and full identity.


“It’s like Superman,” whose pretend costume is the normal everyday clothing of Clark Kent, to blend in with the crowd and cover up his true super hero essence, J-Ax said.

Sister Cristina shouldn’t hide her true nature as a religious, was his message: “If  you want the voice, you have to take the whole package.”

jaxAn unexpected, but endearing part of that package has been her ability to make this tattooed rap star get teary-eyed every time she sings.

He said on a talk show this week that Sister Cristina has been “one of the most wonderful and wholesome things that has ever happened in my career.”

While Sister Cristina’s rendition last night of  “(I’ve Had) The Time of my Life” got the most attention on YouTube, her cover of Vasco Rossi’s “Sally” in her later round was exceptional.

It’s a song about a woman who has suffered at the hands of others. But despite all the ill-will and the mistakes she’s made, she finds the inner strength to rise above the “madness” and carry on. She bravely accepts the sometimes cruel reality (the rain), while the critics and weak-kneed hide in their homes, content and wrapped-up in the pretend world of TV.






Movement to close Guantanamo prison spreads across U.S.

Josie Setzler and Franciscan Sister Paulette Schroeder, wearing hood, were among 17 members of the Tiffin, Ohio Area Pax Christi and the Sisters of St. Francis of Tiffin, calling for the closure of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, May 23 in the Northwest Ohio town. (CNS/courtesy Tiffin Area Pax Christi)

Josie Setzler and Franciscan Sister Paulette Schroeder, wearing hood, were among those in Tiffin, Ohio, calling for the closure of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, May 23. (CNS/courtesy Tiffin Area Pax Christi)

Josie Setzler wants people to know the United States has a moral and legal obligation to close the U.S. Army prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A member of St. Joseph Parish in Fremont, Ohio, 36 miles southeast of Toledo, Setzler took her concerns to the public once more May 23 during a global day of action to urge President Barack Obama to make good on his pledge to close the prison.

She helped coordinate an hour-long vigil during what amounts to the afternoon rush hour in the nearby town of Tiffin.

Setzler, 60, said she believes that releasing the 154 men being held, nearly all of whom have never been charged with a crime, is long overdue. Records show 76 men have been cleared for release, but remain in detention.

“The Guantanamo issue has been a hard one to keep going right now because people think it’s been resolved,” Setzler said.

The event, coordinated by Tiffin Area Pax Christi, Sisters of St. Francis of Tiffin and local peace and justice organizations, was among demonstrations, prayer vigils and educational events in 38 U.S. communities and six cities around the world that focused on Obama’s pledge to close the prison during a speech at the National Defense University May 23, 2013.

Events were organized by Witness Against Torture, which has called for the prison’s closing since 2005.

In Tiffin, Setzler and her friends held large letters spelling out “Close Guantanamo.” A couple of people wore bright orange jumpsuits similar to those worn by the detainees.

“Our messages are going to be very simple. First of all it brings the subject up again. But it also lets people know it’s important to take a stand,” she said.

“It also helps people passing by to have the courage of their convictions as well.”

SOS: Students make colorful tool to help first responders

The Panther Power robotics team from Academy of Our Lady of Peace in New Providence, N.J. presented their Sticker for Safety to local safety forces earlier this year. (Courtesy Academy of Our Lady of Peace)

Panther Power robotics team members from Academy of Our Lady of Peace in New Providence, N.J., presented their Sticker for Safety to local safety forces earlier this year. (CNS/courtesy Academy of Our Lady of Peace)

The kids on the Panther Power robotics team at Academy of Our Lady of Peace in New Providence, N.J., have developed a new tool that is helping local first responders.

The tool, which the youngsters on the FIRST Lego League team call the Stickler for Safety, SOS, is an adaptation of a tool police and firefighters use when responding to storms and flooding.

The kids’ version is made of sturdy lightweight plastic and can be unfolded to four feet in length. It has bright blue, orange and yellow markings to help safety forces gauge water depth and can be used to check for obstructions and find open manholes.

First responders use a wooden tool now, which cannot be folded and is susceptible to mold.

The SOS was the students’ project under FLL’s 2013-14 competition, which focused on “Nature’s Fury.” It gained the notice of judges at a national FLL tournament at Legoland in California, and the team was awarded second place in the Innovative Solutions category.

Coach Alys Tyler said the team finished second in the New Jersey FLL tournament earlier this year and earned an invitation to the FLL North American Open Championship in Carlsbad, Calif., May 16-18.

The team was formed in 2008, and some of its members have gone on to compete at the next level, FIRST Robotics, and mentor current students, Tyler said.

“They are learning science, technology, research,” Tyler, she told Catholic News Service after returning from California. “They’re learning how to work as a team. This is real world experience for them.”

FIRST — For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology — has been billed as sport for the brain. Students from first through 12th grades compete at different levels while developing skills in engineering, problem solving, computer programing and communication.

The atmosphere at tournaments is much like a sporting event, with cheering sections and chest bumps. Underlying the competitions is the spirit of “gracious professionalism” and cooperation.

Once Panther Power team members knew they were going to California, they immediately set out to raise funds to finance the trip. The parish, Our Lady of Peace, got behind the team and help ensure the trip would happen, Tyler said.

As for the SOS, Tyler said the students have secured a provisional patent for it and are talking about raising the money to secure their own patent, which they could then sell to a developer. Proceeds would support the team into the future.

A second team from a Catholic school — John Paul II Catholic School in Houston — also competed in the California tournament.

Coach Manny Cano said his team, the RoboKids, enjoyed the experience of competing with the best teams in the country and learned about the effort needed to become a champion. Much of what the students learned was talking with members of other teams while waiting in line for rides at the amusement park.

And team members have learned skills that will transfer well into life, Cano said.

“They’ve learned so much about a whole variety of things,” he told CNS. “It’s really fantastic. They’ve learned about teamwork. They’ve learned how to manage conflicts.”



My time in Jerusalem, in 140 or fewer characters

Catholic journalists traveling with the pope in the Holy Land had wonderful stories to tell. Some, like J.D. Long-Garcia of The Tidings in Los Angeles or John Feister of St. Anthony Messenger in Cincinnati, blogged about their experiences. But we asked a few to tell us, in one tweet, about some of their highlights May 25. Here are a sampling of replies.


The more personal side of a patriarch

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, considered first among equals of all Orthodox patriarchs, arrived in the Holy Land May 23. As he was waiting for his historic visit with Pope Francis, the patriarch visited Bethlehem, West Bank, and led a service at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Several U.S. Catholic journalists traveling with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism got a more personal glimpse of the patriarch, as described by John Feister, editor in chief of St. Anthony Messenger magazine.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople stops to bless a baby as he leaves his hotel for his May 25 meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem. (CNS/Julie Holthaus/The Leaven)

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople stops to bless a baby as he leaves his hotel for his May 25 meeting with Pope Francis in Jerusalem. (CNS/Julie Holthaus/The Leaven)

“One of the interesting moments yesterday happened in the hotel lobby before the Holy Sepulcher meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew,” he wrote.

“We were waiting for our journalist group to assemble and couldn’t help but notice a small group of Eastern Orthodox clergy, along with some camera-laden laypeople. A videographer was waiting, camera in hand, on a nearby chair, not far from the elevators. Something was about to happen.

“The folks with the cameras were American visitors; the priests were part of Patriarch Bartholomew’s party. The elevator doors opened, Patriarch Bartholomew emerged and headed for his waiting caravan, along with American Archbishop Demetrios.

“As Patriarch Bartholomew was whisked through the lobby, he spotted a mother, with two babies in a stroller, coming in the doorway. He split with his group, went over to talk with the mother, and blessed her babies. Then he raced off for the event with Pope Francis. He would drive a few blocks from the hotel to the Sepulcher; the Holy Father was on his way from Tel Aviv by helicopter.

“I ran into the woman a few moments later. ‘What a thrill!’ she exclaimed she headed down the hallway.”