CNS correspondent wins Titus Brandsma Award

Anto Akkara, who writes for Catholic News Service from South Asia, is the recipient of the 2013 Titus Brandsma Award for the “stellar role” he has played in “highlighting the gross denial of fundamental rights and freedom of religion in the Kandhamal jungles of Orissa,” an East Indian state.

Anto Akkara, CNS correspondent

Anto Akkara, CNS correspondent

The award, from the Geneva-based International Christian Organization of the Media, a forum for professionals and institutions in secular and religious journalism, will be awarded at the organization’s world congress in Panama City Sept. 29-Oct. 6. It is named after Blessed Titus Brandsma, a Dutch journalist and Carmelite priest who died in 1942 at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.

Akkara has written for Catholic News Service on topics such as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and, afterward, church efforts to help the displaced; human rights violations in Sri Lanka; and flooding in Pakistan.

Akkara who has won several media awards for his investigative book “Kandhamal: A Blot on Indian Secularism,” following the anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal in August 2008. His latest book on Kandhamal, “Early Christians of 21st Century,” was released in February.

He has a master’s degree in English literature, post-graduate diploma in journalism and LL.B from Delhi University.

Marquette’s ‘Tolkieniana’ collection includes manuscripts, drawings

Marquette archivist William Fliss looks over material related to Tolkien collection. (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)

Marquette archivist William Fliss looks over materials related to Tolkien collection held by university. (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)

The buzz about “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” preceded the film’s release by months and since the movie opened Dec. 14, it has grossed more than $600 million in box office receipts around the world — and still counting. But as Tom Jozwik writes in a story for the Catholic Herald in Milwaukee, the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien on which the film is based and his other works and papers have been “hot topics around Marquette University for some time.”

The Jesuit-run university has a Tolkien collection — “Tolkienana” — that contains 10,000 pages of the author’s book manuscripts, typescripts and drawings.

As the Catholic News Service review of “The Hobbit” notes, that Tolkien novel was first published in 1937 and “has proved so popular in the decades since that it has never gone out of print.” Almost two decades later, Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was published. His work has been described as Catholic in both the general sense of “universal” and in the Catholic sense of a deeply sacramental understanding of reality. Tolkien also was a good friend of C.S. Lewis, whose work is finding renewed popularity and whose exploration of Christian faith is inspiring a new generation as we reported earlier this month.

US religion writers pick bishops’ battle with HHS as 2012 top news story

Members of the Religion Newswriters Association, the world’s oldest and largest professional non-denominational association for journalists who write about religion, picked the U.S. Catholic bishops’ opposition to national health care legislation mandating contraception coverage as the No. 1 religion story of 2012. They also chose Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York as the year’s top newsmaker in their annual poll

“As the nation reeled from the Dec. 14 killing of 20 first graders and six adults in Newtown, Conn., religious leaders sought to console a stunned public and to discern religion’s role in future debates about mental health and gun control. The No. 1 U.S. religion story in December 2012 was, without a doubt, the school attack and the mournful search for meaning that follows,” an RNA statement said this week. “However, before the shooting, professional journalists who cover religion voted on the year’s other significant religious events.”

The Top 10 poll of Religion Newswriters Association members took place Dec. 11- 15, 2012, in a confidential, online ballot. More than 100 members of the organization responded. RNA has conducted the poll for nearly 40 years.

Most RNA members are working journalists in secular media, though some work in media owned by specific denominations. (Full disclosure: I am a member of RNA.)

Cardinal Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, became the point man for Catholic objections to required coverage of contraception, sterilization and morning after drugs in Affordable Health Care Act.

The Top 10 Religion Stories of the Year are below:

1. U.S. Catholic bishops lead opposition to Affordable Health Care Act requirement that insurance coverage for contraception be provided for employees. The government backs down a bit, but not enough to satisfy the opposition.

2. A Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey shows that “nones,” that is people with no religious affiliation, is the fastest-growing religious group in the United States, rising to 19.6 percent of the population.

3. The circulation of an anti-Islam film trailer, “Innocence of Muslims,” causes unrest in several countries, leading to claims that it inspired the fatal attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya. President Obama, at the U.N., calls for toleration tolerance of blasphemy, and respect as a two-way street.

4. Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith turns out to be a virtual non-issue for white evangelical voters, who support him more strongly than they did John McCain in the U.S. presidential race.

5. Msgr. William Lynn of Philadelphia becomes the first senior Catholic official in the U.S. to be found guilty of covering up priestly child abuse; later Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Mo., becomes the first bishop to be found guilty of it.

6. The Vatican criticizes the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group of U.S. sisters, alleging they haven’t supported church teaching on abortion, sexuality or women’s ordination.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was selected as newsmaker of the year for 2012 by the Religion Newswriters Association. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York was selected as newsmaker of the year for 2012 by the Religion Newswriters Association. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

7. Voters OK same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington, bringing the total approving to nine states and the District of Columbia. Also, Minnesota defeats a ban on same-sex marriage after North Carolina approves one.

8. The Episcopal Church overwhelmingly adopts a trial ritual for blessing same-sex couples. Earlier, the United Methodists fail to vote on approving gay clergy, and the Presbyterians (USA) vote to study, rather than sanction, same-sex marriage ceremonies.

9. Six people are killed and three wounded at worship in a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee. The shooter, an Army veteran killed by police, is described as a neo-Nazi.

10. The Southern Baptist Convention elects without opposition its first black president, the Rev. Fred Luter of New Orleans.

Votes for the 2012 Religion Newsmaker of the Year ranked the five potential candidates in this order:

1. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York becomes a point man for Catholic objections to required coverage of contraception, sterilization and morning-after drugs in the Affordable Health Care Act. But the cardinal also takes heat from the right when he invites the president to the traditional Al Smith Dinner in New York.

2. Rev. Fred Luter, first black president of the sprawling Southern Baptist Convention, who is expected to help the SBC become more racially diverse.

3. Mark Basseley Youssef, an Egypt-born Christian whose work has been condemned by the Coptic Church, provoked rioting in the Muslim world with his film trailer “Innocence of Muslims.” He was jailed in California on probation violations.

4. Mormon voters, who enthusiastically backed one of their own for president, acted in ways that helped overcome suspicions of them by other faiths.

5. Pro football quarterback Tim Tebow, whose book about his faith was on the best-seller list, inspired the term “Tebowing” for kneeling in prayer and led to polarized discussions about the role of faith in sports.

Iowa Catholic woman is world’s oldest person

(Photo/Patti Brown, The Catholic Mirror, Des Moines)

(Photo/Patti Brown, The Catholic Mirror, Des Moines)

The Gerontology Research Group announced this week that 115-year-old Dina Manfredini is the oldest person in the world. She is Catholic and a longtime parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish in West Des Moines, Iowa. She inherited the title when 116-year-old Besse Cooper of Georgia died Dec. 4.

Here is a link to a profile of Manfredini by Patti Brown published last year in The Catholic Mirror, newspaper of the Diocese of Des Moines, and posted on the newspaper’s blog. Editor Anne Marie Cox tells us the paper was working to update the story on the supercentenarian, who was born April 4, 1897.

According to Brown’s story, she was born in a small town in northern Italy called Sant’Andrea “the month after William McKinley became president of the United States” — he was sworn into office March 4, 1897 — and “just a few weeks before Guglielmo Marconi sent the first wireless communication over the open sea.”

“She came to America as a bride in 1920 and settled with her husband, Riccardo, in a tiny mining camp on the southwest edge of Des Moines. Riccardo was 15 years old and had come to America first before sending for Dina.” The couple had four children. “My parents lived their faith. They were poor but we didn’t realize it,” daughter Enes Logli told the Mirror.

Some reports put the number of supercentenarians — those 110 years old or more —  living around the world ay 70. The Gerontology Research Group says the figure is between 300 and 450.  Another Catholic paper recently featured a centenarian — Charlie Barcio. At 108, he has a little way to go before he gets the “super” designation. He recently moved to an assisted living facility in Columbus, Ohio, from Victorville, Calif.

Reporter Tim Puet of the Catholic Times, newspaper of the Columbus Diocese, asked Barcio to sum up what’s meant the most to him in his long life, he said: “My church, my work and my wife.” He was born March 22, 1904, in Erie, Pa., three months after the Wright brothers made their first flight. Read more of his story here on Page 11.

Nuns’ CD ‘Advent at Ephesus’ now heard ’round the world

Benedictine nuns unpack a delivery of copies of their CD at Missouri priory. (Photo courtesy of Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles)

“A worldwide album distribution deal” doesn’t sound at all like something that would apply to the musical artistry of  members of a Benedictine cloister set in the rolling farmland of  northwest Missouri. But indeed it does. Just over a week ago, on Nov. 20, “Advent at Ephesus,” a 16-track CD of vocal performances by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, went international.

“The sisters maintain silence through much of their days, speaking only to ask work-related questions or to give instructions. An ancient Cistercian sign language is used for other communication. Silence ‘cultivates an atmosphere of prayer.’ Their silence is broken in chapel during the praying and singing of hymns, psalms and the Office,” writes reporter Marty Denzer of  The Catholic Key, newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo.

The Benedictine priory is located in the diocese. Denzer describes the nuns as a youthful group consecrated to Mary whose charism is “praying for priests.” They pray and sing “hymns and chants in their chapel eight times each day.”

Their CD of Advent music – released by DeMontfort Music and distributed internationally through Decca – captures what is described by many as “angelic music.” A press release from the Maximus Group promoting the album says it “represents a rare approach — one that focuses on music celebrating the introspective anticipation of the Nativity that is the foundation of the Advent season.” Song titles include “Come Thou Redeemer of the Earth,” “Regnantem Sempiterna,” “Alma Redemptoris Mater,” “O Come Divine Messiah” and “Like the Dawning.”

The first Sunday of Advent is Dec. 2, which is also when the Eternal Word Television Network will begin airing a program on the daily life, spirituality and “musical gifts” of the Benedictine nuns. It recounts the three days they spent recording the CD this fall at their priory in a mobile studio set up by award-winning producer Glenn Rosenstein.

CNS launches new Vatican II look-back project

Yesterday, Catholic News Service launched a new feature, “Vatican II: 50 years ago today,” a step back in time to the daily activities of the Second Vatican Council.

Pope John XXIII called for an ecumenical council in 1959, the first to be held since 1870. After more than two years of preparatory work, the council convened in its first session, Oct. 11-Dec. 8, 1962. After the pope’s death the following year, Pope Paul VI reconvened the council for three others sessions. These ran Sept. 29-Dec. 4, 1963; Sept. 14-Nov. 21, 1964; and Sept. 14-Dec. 8, 1965.

A total of 2,860 bishops, referred to as council fathers, participated in one or more of the sessions. The council produced 16 documents — two dogmatic and two pastoral constitutions, nine decrees and three declarations. The documents address everything from liturgy to Scripture, missionary activity to ecumenism and interfaith relationships, and the functions of clergy and laity to religious freedom.

During the four years of the council, Catholic News Service, then known as News Service of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, the predecessor of today’s United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, or in shorthand, “NC,” provided some of the most comprehensive English-language coverage of the sessions, the council fathers and those who assisted in the work. In 1965, it published a compilation of its reporting, the working documents and proceedings of the council in a remarkable three-volume set known simply as the Council Daybook. It was edited by then NC director and editor-in-chief Floyd Anderson and was mainly the work of Msgr. James I. Tucek, a priest of the Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth who was NC Rome bureau chief from 1956 to 1964.

Pope Paul VI presides over a meeting of the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in 1963. (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

Writing in the preface of the first volume of the Council Daybook, Bishop Albert R. Zuroweste of Belleville, Ill., said, “The first session of the Vatican Council II created more ‘firsts’ than any previous ecumenical council. Among these ‘firsts’ and one of the most important was the establishment of the United States press panel as a source of daily news releases that gave to the session the greatest news coverage ever accorded a religious convention, meeting or council. The world today is linked by a vast network of communications media, and the press panel made the daily events of the council available to all.”

The bishop said that as the council’s first session began, journalists and writers were told that no prior texts would be made available and pre-written stories — the practice in those days since texts usually were handed out ahead — would be inaccurate. Those covering the council could only get texts at the end of the day, if available. “The rule of secrecy, more often violated than observed, added to the confusion,” he wrote. There was near revolt by the press corps.

The U.S. bishops acted quickly to create a daily press panel composed of specialists in Scripture, canon law, dogmatic and moral theology, and church history and social sciences. It was an immediate hit.

“The panel assisted and guided the [newspersons] in interpreting the daily proceedings of the council and furnished valuable background information,” Bishop Zuroweste wrote.

“It also established good will and corrected the dissatisfaction that was general in the first days of the council sessions. The satisfaction with the panel as a source of reliable information grew with each meeting, and before the first session was completed, the attitude and morale of the correspondents were excellent,” he wrote. “At the last session of the panel, the press corps publicly expressed its thanks to the United States bishops for establishing this source of accurate information.”

In this new service, CNS will present the fruits of that vast labor of the bishops, panels of experts and NC editors and correspondents.

Each day CNS will post the entry from the Council Daybook, just as it was reported on the corresponding day at the council 50 years ago. The entries are unaltered from the reporting styles of those times. CNS will often include important addresses of the popes and council fathers or interventions of experts. We also will identify some of the people or issues in the dispatches when the references may not be clear to today’s reader. However, for the most part this will be a page of history as it was reported then.

CNS is grateful to the past U.S. bishops and the U.S. council fathers still with us today, the press panel experts, Floyd Anderson, other former NC editors, especially NC assistant director Burke Walsh, and to all of the past NC correspondents — James C. O’Neill, Patrick Riley and Benedictine Father Placid Jordan, who covered the council and whose contributions appear in the Council Daybook. It is an astonishing and important legacy of Catholic journalism for the church.

You can get to the new service by visiting

U.S. well represented among experts at Second Vatican Council

Pope John XXIII leads the opening session of the Second Vatican Council in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 11, 1962. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in October 1962. We thought it would be a good opportunity to look back for the next year or so on some of the coverage of the council by Catholic News Service. CNS was known at the time as National Catholic Welfare Conference News Service, NC for shorthand.

Today’s blog is about the American experts who were appointed to assist the council fathers. Originally, the Pope John XXIII named 10 people, all priests, from the U.S. among the 195 experts from around the world. During the next three years of the council, almost a dozen more were added.

According to the NC report of Oct. 1, 1962, the experts “are specialists in fields such as theology, canon law and social action. They will be able to attend general sessions of the council, but may not speak unless called upon.”

The experts’ principal duty was “to collaborate with the members of the various council commissions — at the invitation of the presiding officers — to help compile and correct texts and to prepare them for publication.

The initial 195 experts were appointed in their own right. Later appointees first arrived at the council as personal experts or advisers to bishop members and were later appointed as experts to the full council. It was difficult throughout the council for NC — or any news organization — to get a handle on who had been appointed in later years, since the Vatican did not always announce the appointments in its public statements.

Here is the list of the initial American experts appointed, all giants in their field:

— Msgr. Francis J. Brennan, of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, dean of the Sacred Roman Rota.

— Msgr. William J. Doheny, of the Diocese of Superior, Wis., a Rota judge.

— Msgr. John Steinmueller, a Scripture scholar from the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y.

— Msgr. Joseph C. Fenton, editor of the American Ecclesiastical Review at The Catholic University of America. (The AER ceased publication in 1975.)

— Msgr. Rudoph G. Bandas, an educator and theologian from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

— Msgr. George G. Higgins, the legendary director of the Social Action Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference in Washington, forerunner of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

— Father Fredrick McManus, member (and later dean) of the canon law faculty at The Catholic University of America and former president of the North American Liturgical Conference as well as head of the postconciliar USCCB liturgy office. (He was one of the architects of the council’s document on the liturgy.)

— Benedictine Father Ulric Beste, a priest of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., who was a professor of canon law at the Pontifical University of St. Anselm in Rome.

— Holy Cross Father Edward Heston, procurator in Rome for the Congregation of the Holy Cross.

— Assumptionist Father Georges Tavard, chairman of the theology department of Mount Mercy College in Pittsburgh. The priest, a noted ecumenist, was a native of France but spent most of his 60 years as a priest in the United States.

— Passionist Father Barnabas Mary Ahern, who served on the council’s theological commission. A top U.S. biblical scholar, he was a leader of the movement in the 1950s and ’60s to popularize the use and understanding of the Bible among Catholics.

— Jesuit Father Gustave Weigel, a theologian who was a major influence on the document on ecumenism.

By the end of 1962, the pope named 10 more priests. They were:

— Vincentian Father Nichale E. Persich, rector of Kenrick Seminary in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

— Father Joseph Baker, of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, a canon lawyer and Latinist.

— Msgr. William W. Baum, vice chancellor of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo. (He was later bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., archbishop of Washington, and cardinal prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education and the Apostolic Penitentiary at the Vatican.)

–Msgr. Ernest J. Fiedler, Kansas City- St. Joseph diocesan director of vocations and of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

— Msgr. Mark J. Hurley, chancellor of the Diocese of Stockton, Calif. (He was later auxiliary bishop of San Francisco and bishop of Santa Rosa, Calif.)

— Msgr. Andrew P. Landi, of the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., director in Italy for Catholic Relief Services-NCWC.

— Msgr. George W. Shea, a Marian scholar and rector of Immaculate Conception Seminary of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J.

— Oblate Father John J. King, professor of dogmatic theology at the seminary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Washington.

The next year John XXIII appointed five more Americans, including one of the most famous in the council’s history. They were:

— Msgr. Manuel J. Rodriguez, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, N.M.

— Father Vincent A. Yzermans, former editor of the St. Cloud Visitor, newspaper of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minn., who was director of the NCWC Information Office and compiler of the NC Council Daybook. (He was later head of the National Association of Religious Broadcasters.)

— Msgr. William J. McDonald, rector of Catholic University and a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

— Jesuit Father John Courtney Murray, professor of theology at Woodstock College in Maryland and editor of the magazine Theological Studies. He became one of the chief architects of  the council’s 1965 Declaration on Religious Freedom (“Dignitatis Humanae”), which redefined church-state relations and said religious freedom is a human right the state is required to protect.

— Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher, a convert to Catholicism from Judasim, who was a top theologian and leading advocate of Jewish-Catholic reconciliation. He was one of the architects of the council document “Nostra Aetate,” which among other things called for an end to anti-Semitism.

— Dominican Father John A. Driscoll, a native of St. Paul, Minn., the American assistant general of the Order of Preachers.

Other experts from around the world were named at the start and during the council sessions, but widely lost in the council’s history is the fact John XXIII also named two Italian princes as “custodians” of the council: Prince Aspreno Colonna and Prince Allesandro Torlonia, referred to as “prince assistants to the papal throne.”

According to the NC report, “The title of prince assistant has been held by the heads of the Colonna and Orsini families since the 16th century. The present Prince Orsini, however, was relieved of the title several years ago because of scandal.” Ouch.

“The duties of the custodians have not been announced publicly,” the report said. “The office — today more or less honorary — derives from earlier and stormier councils when military protection was sometimes needed to assure peace.”

Later NC dispatches noted heated disagreements during the council’s years, but as yet we haven’t come across any reports of sabers being drawn. At least literally.