NEWS BRIEFS Mar-5-2008


Congress attendees urged to envision Christ-centered future of hope

ANAHEIM, Calif. (CNS) -- More than 40,000 participants at the Los Angeles archdiocesan Religious Education Congress in Anaheim Feb. 28-March 2 were encouraged in numerous workshops and multicultural liturgies to raise their sights and spirits toward envisioning a Christ-centered future of hope and possibilities. The theme for the four-day gathering -- which included a youth day Feb. 28 -- was "Lift Your Gaze ... See Anew!" The theme was addressed during the opening of the congress itself Feb. 29 by Sister Edith Prendergast, a Religious Sister of Charity and director of the Office of Religious Education, sponsor of the congress. This year's motif, she said, "is an invitation to open wide not only our physical eyes, but the eyes of our hearts, and the eyes of memory and the eyes of blessing -- and to see beyond and to see beneath and to see whole panoramas of goodness and beauty, and to recognize the sacred at the heart of all of reality." Sister Prendergast said, "God invites us to be wide-eyed, open and visionary."

- - -

Religious groups urge action against genetically modified sugar beets

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Religious investors are pressuring food companies that use beet sugar in their products to declare they will not buy sugar made from genetically modified beets. They contend that, while engineered to be more resistant to disease, the beets attract certain weeds that require even stronger herbicides to try and eradicate them. Sugar-beet planting season begins in early April, and the investor groups want the companies' declarations to be made before planting starts to demonstrate that there is a lack of desire for genetically engineered sugar. "We are concerned that consumers are not being given (a) choice," said Leslie Lowe, director of the Energy and Environment Program for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, an umbrella group of Catholic and other denominations' investment arms. The Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility has established a Web site,, which contains information about genetically modified foods, and a letter that can be sent to food, restaurant and beverage companies that rely on beet sugar to make their products.

- - -

More details confirmed for interfaith meeting during papal visit

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI will meet with representatives of the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain and Hindu faiths during an April 17 interfaith meeting as part of his April 15-20 U.S. visit. The meeting, which has the theme "Religions Working for Peace," will include a papal address, greetings from interfaith leaders, and the presentation of symbolic gifts by a member of each faith community. About 200 leaders have been invited to attend the meeting, which is to take place at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, across the street from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and The Catholic University of America, which are other stops on the pontiff's Washington itinerary. "The cry for peace in our world calls for religious bodies to come together," said Auxiliary Bishop Richard J. Sklba of Milwaukee, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. "This meeting denotes the Holy Father's belief in the need for religious bodies to stress the goal for peace which lies at the heart of all religions. It exemplifies what must happen all over the world," the bishop said in a statement released March 4 along with more details about the meeting.

- - -

Pope to gather with 200 religious leaders at interfaith meeting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When Pope Benedict XVI comes to the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington for an early-evening interfaith meeting April 17 with Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and representatives of other religions, space will be at a premium. There will be room for only about 200 people, according to Father James Massa, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. Of those, about 50 will be reserved for Catholics, he added, with the rest allotted to representatives of the non-Christian religions participating in what is expected to be a 45-minute meeting. Among those expected to be invited are representatives of major religious organizations that either work with the Catholic Church in areas of common interest or are in dialogue with Catholic representatives. Representatives of Sikhism, the world's fifth-largest religion, had planned to attend the meeting until the Secret Service for security reasons determined that Sikhs who wear kirpans could not take them into the meeting. The Sikh faith requires formally initiated members to at all times wear a kirpan, a miniature sword or dagger usually carried in a sheath and worn beneath clothing.

- - -

Bishop forbids group from spreading material it claims is divine

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (CNS) -- Stating that the authenticity of "messages, stories and devotions" being propagated by a local prayer group "has not been proven," Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell has forbidden the group from disseminating material it contends is of divine origin. An investigative team, charged last November with looking into the Springfield-based prayer group known as Seeds of Hope, recently completed its review. The results of the review prompted Bishop McDonnell to send Neil Harrington Jr., leader of the group, a letter dated Feb. 21 stating: "The content of those messages, stories and devotions is not to be disseminated by word, writing or any other means to any person." Seeds of Hope has been distributing its literature via the Internet and distributing it in parishes in various parts of the country, including Louisiana. According to diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont, the investigative team was formed late last fall in response to "questions and concerns of several area parishioners" that Seeds of Hope was operating in a manner that could be harmful to Catholics.

- - -


Pope Benedict discusses important papal legacy of St. Leo the Great

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The pope's roles as a teacher and preacher, as a promoter of peace and as the chief servant of Christian unity are seen clearly in the life and work of St. Leo the Great, Pope Benedict XVI said. The saint, who served as Pope Leo I from 440 to 461, was "one of the greatest popes that ever honored the Roman see, contributing much to reinforcing its authority and prestige," Pope Benedict said. The pope spoke about St. Leo during his March 5 general audience at the Vatican. He said that the earliest examples of papal homilies and preaching that exist today are from St. Leo, and they give a picture of a pope "who gathered the people around him." St. Leo's efforts to protect the people of Rome from barbarian invasions, particularly his famous meeting with Attila the Hun in 452 to persuade him not to destroy Rome, "increased the importance and prestige of the see of Rome," the pope said. The meeting with Attila, he said, "remains an emblematic sign of the actions on behalf of peace undertaken by the pontiff."

- - -

Vatican, Muslim representatives establish Catholic-Muslim Forum

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Representatives of the Vatican and of the 138 Muslim scholars who wrote to Pope Benedict XVI last October proposing a new dialogue have established the Catholic-Muslim Forum. The forum will sponsor a seminar in Rome Nov. 4-6 with 24 scholars from each side, according to a statement released at the end of a March 4-5 planning meeting at the Vatican. Pope Benedict will meet with the seminar participants in November, the statement said. Accepting the central topic suggested by the 138 in their letter to the pope and other Christian leaders, the seminar planners have said the theme will be "Love of God, Love of Neighbor." The Nov. 4 session will focus on the theological and spiritual foundations of Christian and Muslim teachings about the obligation to love God and one's neighbor. The second day will focus on "human dignity and mutual respect" and the third day will be a conference open to the public, the statement said.

- - -

Irish archbishop says Dublin needs summit to address violence

DUBLIN, Ireland (CNS) -- Dublin needs a community summit to address the growing levels of violence in Irish society, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said at a memorial Mass for two Polish men killed violently. Archbishop Martin suggested the summit begin with networks of parents, young people, religious, police and others. "The challenges of violence and substance abuse go beyond the realm of crime prevention and require a wider outreach to the entire community," he said. "I can guarantee the support of the parishes of this archdiocese in any such initiatives." After refusing to buy alcohol for a group of teenagers loitering outside a shop in Dublin Feb. 23, Pavel Kalite, 29, and Mariusz Szwajkos, 27, were attacked with screwdrivers. They both suffered serious head injuries and died several days later in a hospital. So far, four teenagers, three males and a female, have been arrested in connection with the incident. It appears that ethnicity was not a factor in the attack, which nevertheless has caused widespread public outcry.

- - -

Indian archbishop gives milkshakes to promote anti-liquor campaign

TRIVANDRUM, India (CNS) -- A Catholic archbishop in the southern Indian state of Kerala distributed free milkshakes to promote an anti-liquor campaign. Archbishop Maria Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum, leading an anti-liquor campaign in Kerala, appealed March 1 to people of all religions to stay away from alcohol. The Kerala Anti-Liquor Committee, an interreligious forum to which the prelate belongs, provided the free milkshakes to launch a two-month campaign against alcohol. The archbishop arranged for a milkshake vending machine in front of the state secretariat in Trivandrum, the capital of Kerala state. About 100 people attended the program and drank the milkshakes, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. "I've met the state chief minister, (other) ministers and officials several times to warn them about alcoholism gripping the state. They promised many things, but never kept their word. Instead, they have promoted liquor by opening more shops," the archbishop said, accusing the state government of promoting liquor to gain revenue.

- - -

Ottawa archbishop: Church committed to healing with aboriginals

OTTAWA (CNS) -- Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, standing with Canadian aboriginal and church leaders, stressed the Catholic Church's commitment to healing and reconciliation in regard to abuses at aboriginal residential schools in Canada. At a March 3 press conference on Parliament Hill, the archbishop was asked why the Catholic Church had not issued an apology for abuses at residential schools run by churches and maintained by the federal government between 1870 and 1996. The archbishop said the church "has expressed its sorrow and apologies in various places." Archbishop Prendergast noted the decentralized nature of the Catholic Church's structure as a federation of dioceses and religious communities, which he compared to the diversity of structures representing Canada's native people. He said the Catholic apology "had to come from the various entities that are there in the appropriate localities where people can hear and see the bishop or the religious leaders."

- - -

Kenyan bishops urge quick implementation of power-sharing agreement

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- Kenya's Catholic bishops have urged the country's political leaders to quickly implement a power-sharing agreement between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga. "The Catholic Church entrusts the peace process and reconciliation to God as we continue to pray for the two leaders to uphold the requirements of the agreement signed with a new heart and a new spirit," said a statement issued March 4 by the Kenya Episcopal Conference's justice and peace commission. The bishops urged the speedy implementation of the Feb. 28 agreement between the government and opposition, which -- once it is passed in a constitutional amendment -- would make Odinga prime minister. Since the Dec. 27 disputed election results, in which both Odinga and Kibaki claimed victory, more than 1,000 people have been killed and 300,000 people have been displaced. "It is imperative (for) all members of Parliament to work together to ensure that the deal is entrenched in the constitution and that the two principal leaders get the necessary support to actualize the agreement," they said.

- - -


Pope's arrival in U.S. will be 'a moment of grace,' archbishop says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI has shared his two encyclicals on hope and love with the world so the faithful will "grow in their experience of God," said a former Vatican diplomat who now heads the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. "His arrival among us is indeed a moment of grace, for which we must prepare, enjoy and then savor in the consideration of his message," said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio. His Feb. 28 talk was the first of two in a series sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington to help local Catholics prepare spiritually for the upcoming papal visit. "His visit in April to this noble nation is a manifestation of his desire to confirm our faith in the Christ, the savior of the world," the archbishop told more than 400 people gathered at the Cathedral of St. Matthew. Archbishop Broglio's talk on "Hope and Love Through the Eyes of Benedict XVI" examined love and the Catholic community's living out of that theological virtue, as well as hope and "what does the human person hope in?"

- - -

Catholics describe musical Taiwanese bishop as lively, gentle, daring

CHIAYI, Taiwan (CNS) -- Catholics who attended the installation of Bishop Thomas Chung An-zu of Chiayi were delighted to see the bishop playing the violin and singing at the reception after the Mass. The former auxiliary bishop of Taipei was installed as head of the Chiayi Diocese March 1, filling the vacancy created when Bishop John Hung Shan-chuan was appointed archbishop of Taipei in November. During the Mass, the 55-year-old Bishop Chung received a crosier from Archbishop Hung, who asked him to "sanctify, preach and minister to the people of God of Chiayi Diocese," reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. Twelve other bishops concelebrated the liturgy, and several political leaders attended the installation Mass. About 2,000 Catholics from various parts of Taiwan attended the Mass at Sacred Hearts High School in Yunlin county, about 100 miles southwest of Taipei. During the lunch reception after the Mass, Bishop Chung, who has been tagged the "sunshine bishop" because of his warm, easygoing nature and big smile, was asked to play the violin on stage. He also sang folk songs with some priests. Nuns separately performed a dance.

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here