The board of trustees of St. Margaret Mary Parish on Staten Island backed the pastor in his decision to withdraw support for the planned sale of the parish convent to the Muslim American Society, which wanted to use it as a mosque.
Father Keith Fennessy had announced in June that after careful consideration, he was withdrawing his support. The parish trustees voted July 21 to ratify the pastor’s decision.
News of the proposed sale to the Muslim group had sparked protests in the community of Midland Beach, where the parish is located. Residents said the mosque would cause traffic and parking problems and was not suitable for the neighborhood. Many also expressed fear that the Muslim American Society was linked to a terrorist group.
A July 22 statement from the archdiocese said that “the Muslim American Society has been informed that the sale of the convent will not take place.”
The statement said that the archdiocese “has enjoyed a good relationship with the Islamic community in the past, and looks forward to continued dialogue, friendship and understanding in the future.”
“It is also our prayer that unity will now return to the parish and to the Midland Beach community,” said the statement, as reported by Catholic News Service.
The Muslim American Society, in a statement, said it was “disappointed” by the decision, which “reinforced an unfortunate notion that the pressures of bigotry and Islamophobia triumphed over a good, long-standing relationship between the archdiocese and the Muslim community.”
The Staten Island mosque controversy erupted in the midst of a similar and ongoing controversy over a plan to locate a mosque near ground zero, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 brought them down.
In a June 8 blog posting about both situations, New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan wrote that “legitimate and understandable concerns about these two endeavors have arisen, and it is good these are being aired and discussed.”
“Please God, such airing and discussion will be done with charity and civility, and reach a peaceful resolution,” he wrote. “Yes, it is acceptable to ask questions about security, safety, the background and history of the groups hoping to build and buy.
“What is not acceptable is to prejudge any group, or to let fear and bias trump the towering American (and for us Catholics, the religious) virtues of hospitality, welcome and religious freedom,” he said.
An 80-year-old priest was murdered July 28 in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, where church officials say attacks on prelates have become distressingly common.
Father Carlos Salvador Wotto, pastor of the Our Lady of the Snows Parish in the central part of the state capital, Oaxaca, was found at approximately 6 p.m. local time bound and gagged in his living quarters beside the church.
The Oaxaca state attorney general, Maria de la Luz Candelaria Chinas, told reporters that Father Wotto died of asphyxiation and that robbery was the probable motive. The newspaper El Universal quoted parishioners saying that Father Wotto had been stabbed.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Oaxaca, Father Jose Guadalupe Barragan Oliva, condemned the killing and called on the state government to take action. The newspaper Milenio reported Father Barragan saying organized crime has targeted the church, with there being at least 40 assaults as well as thefts of religious art over the past two years.
Officials were not certain if organized crime was to blame for Father Wotto’s death, according to Catholic News Service.
Political observers say priests in the poor, but culturally rich state with a large indigenous population are often at odds with municipal governments, which are dominated by local strongmen known as caciques.
With Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United Kingdom just seven weeks away, the British government official working on organizing the trip said the pope’s visit will cost taxpayers more than originally foreseen, but it would be an important opportunity to highlight and promote cooperation on issues the British care about.
Vatican Radio interviewed Sir Chris Patten, the government’s papal trip coordinator and the former governor of Hong Kong, July 26.
The pope is scheduled to visit Scotland and England Sept. 16-19, meeting Queen Elizabeth, Anglican and other religious leaders, celebrating public Masses and beatifying Cardinal John Henry Newman.
A detailed program for the visit still had not been published when Patten was interviewed, which led to speculation that the planning had hit a snag.
Patten said he had been appointed to coordinate the government’s part in the planning because after a new British prime minister was elected, “we were in danger of falling behind” in organizing the visit.
“I think at the outset, and this is no criticism, people had perhaps underestimated the complexity involved in fitting together the state visit aspect and the pastoral aspects as if they were a seamless whole,” he told Vatican Radio, according to a Catholic News Service report.
“It’s incomparably more difficult arranging the state visit of the Holy Father than arranging the state visit, I suspect, of even President (Barack) Obama. President Obama doesn’t go out and meet 80,000-100,000 people at an open-air venue,” he said.
Patten said he expected the four-day papal visit to cost British taxpayers more than $15 million, but he said April’s one-day summit of the leaders of the world’s largest national economies cost British taxpayers more than $30 million.
He said the pope’s visit is important for Catholics and other religious believers, but “I also think it gives us the opportunity to demonstrate that the government of a largely non-Catholic country still has a formidably large agenda to work with the Catholic Church on issues of consensus,” particularly regarding human rights and international development aid.
Patten, a Catholic, said the pope’s visit also could contribute to the government’s efforts to strengthen the relationships among British faith groups.
Several individuals and groups have announced plans to stage protests while the pope is in England, and Patten said that peaceful protests would be allowed since “we live in a free society.”
However, he said, the government wants “to ensure not only the security of the Holy Father, but also that the pastoral events are not disrupted, because that would give serious offense.”
Patten said intolerance or even outright hostility toward religion is often directed more at the Catholic Church than other faith communities “because of the Catholic Church’s prominence and longevity and self-confidence in asserting some basic truths.”
“But I don’t worry too much about that,” he said. “I think we have to stand our ground, recognizing when we do so that we’ve often been intolerant to others ourselves in the past. We should be arguing that it’s ironic that some secularists — not all — are being as intolerant of church groups as church groups were of them in the past.”
One of the challenges that members of every religion face in Britain, a challenge the pope will share, “is getting across the message that religion is not a problem, that faith is, for many people, the way they cope with the challenges of living in the 21st century,” he said.
Accepting an invitation to address the coordinating committee of Venezuela’s national assembly, the cardinal of Caracas defended his right as a citizen to voice his concern about political issues without being slandered by the nation’s president.
Vatican Radio reported that Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino addressed the 15-member committee July 27 after being accused of attacking Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the nation’s legislature.
Opening celebrations of Venezuela’s bicentennial July 5, Chavez called the cardinal a pig and said “he tries to scare people about communism.”
Cardinal Urosa told the committee that in exercising both his rights as a citizen and his duties as archbishop of Caracas, he was giving voice to Gospel values and to “the concerns and interests of the Venezuelan people for peace, encounter, inclusion and for respect for the civil, social and political human rights enshrined in the constitution.”
Venezuelan Catholic leaders have been among the harshest critics of the policies of Chavez, who was first elected in 1998 and has promised to transform the oil-rich nation into a socialist state. Church officials have accused the Chavez government of violating civil rights, permitting an explosion of crime and weakening democracy. Chavez, in turn, has accused the church leadership of elitism.
Cardinal Urosa told the parliamentary committee that none of his preaching or public statements has ever been motivated by political partisanship, but by concern for democracy, human rights and political pluralism.
“I expressed the opinion that President Chavez wants to lead the country on the path toward Marxist socialism,” he told the committee, according to a Catholic News Service report, adding that “this is not news because the president on various occasions has affirmed being a Marxist.”
“The Marxist socialist stand is totalitarian because it occupies every sphere, as happened in the countries subjected to a socialist or communist regime such as in Central Europe and the Soviet Union in the past and in Cuba still today,” he said.
The cardinal said he has never attacked the legislature or other branches of government, although he has expressed concern about certain laws that appear to be reducing political pluralism and freedom of expression or which tend to reduce the power of local and regional governments, concentrating power in the hands of the national government.
Cardinal Urosa said he and the country’s other bishops are ready and willing to engage in dialogue with the government and the legislators for the good of the Venezuelan people and the safeguarding of democracy and human rights in the country.
A papal charity donated $250,000 for the reconstruction of a school in Haiti and as a sign of Pope Benedict XVI’s concern for the earthquake-devastated population.
Cardinal Paul Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, led the delegation to the Haitian capital, Port-Au-Prince, to present the check July 22, Vatican Radio reported.
The money will go toward the reconstruction of the St. Francis de Sales School, which was destroyed along with much of the city and 20 percent of the country in the Jan. 12 earthquake, Vatican Radio said.
The idea was not to offer only economic aid, the radio report said, “but above all a gesture of closeness by Pope Benedict to the victims of the earthquake, who are still suffering greatly.”
Cor Unum is the Vatican agency that coordinates the charitable operations of the church and follows the suggestions of the pope. Its funds, used to help ease situations created by natural disasters, war, poverty and hunger, are built through donations from around the world.
Cardinal Cordes’ group visited many camps for displaced Haitians run by the country’s Catholic organizations, including Caritas Haiti. The delegation also met with representatives of the numerous humanitarian agencies at the papal nunciature in the capital, Vatican Radio said, according to a Catholic News Service report.
The radio also reported that the pope had made an additional donation to Caritas Haiti.
Cor Unum distributed $1.87 million for emergency aid in 25 countries in 2009, Vatican Radio said. It also described additional papal foundations supporting different charitable projects.
In 2009 the John Paul II Foundation for the Sahel donated $2.3 million in aid to African countries affected by desertification, it said.
The Populorum Progressio Foundation spent more than $2 million last year to fund projects in more than 20 countries in agriculture, infrastructure, education and small business and skills development. It is evaluating similar initiatives for this year, Vatican Radio reported.
Some $2.3 million went for the support of women, children, the elderly and the disabled in “integral human development” programs in 45 countries, the radio said.
Through the “100 Projects for the Holy Father” program, wealthier countries are invited to help the church work in poor countries; the program accounts for about $20 million for 200 projects, Vatican Radio said.
Redemptorists across the United States will conduct a “Blessing for Arthritics” Aug. 1 after all Masses at parishes and retreat centers staffed by the order.
The date was chosen because it is the feast day of the Redemptorists’ founder, St. Alphonsus Liguori, who is also the patron saint of those who suffer from arthritis.
St. Alphonsus himself suffered from arthritis the last 40 years of his life, which left him hunched forward and confined to a wheelchair.
“We hope this is the beginning of an annual tradition that brings people to our churches to ask for the blessing and intercession of our great saint on his feast day and to beseech our Father in heaven to grant these suffering souls deliverance from their pains,” said a July 30 statement from Redemptorist Father Thomas Picton, superior of the order’s Denver province, in a Catholic News Service report.
Father Picton added it was the first time to his knowledge that such a nationwide blessing event had taken place.
The blessing is intended for people who suffer from arthritis, fibromyalgia and other serious physical conditions, and is open to all. Prayer cards will be distributed as part of the blessing ceremony.
A list of participating parishes and retreat centers is available at http://www.redemptoristsdenver.org by clicking on the “Blessing” banner. The site also offers a prayer card and a “virtual blessing” for those unable to attend in person.
The Rochester-based Catholic Education Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships nationwide to Catholic high school students, has announced a new effort to expand and strengthen the relationships that Catholic elementary and secondary schools have with Catholic colleges.
The venture is a joint effort with the Cardinal Newman Society, a national organization based in Virginia that works “to help renew and strengthen Catholic identity in Catholic higher education,” as its mission statement says.
One issue the new venture plans to address is how Catholic colleges can support the work of Catholic elementary and secondary schools through a program called “Interdependence Project,” which would pair Catholic high schools and colleges.
The venture also is initiating a program to help Catholic grade schools and high schools assess their Catholic identity. To facilitate this, the Catholic Education Foundation said it will offer a diagnostic tool called the “Catholic School Identity Assessment” to help them spot their strengths and weaknesses.
The foundation’s announcement also said another aspect of the venture will be an awareness campaign to educate the public “on how many tax dollars Catholic schools save the government-supported education system.” The campaign will include bumper stickers and signs that can be displayed in front of schools to indicate the amount of money the school saved taxpayers per year.
The foundation said the campaign’s ultimate goal is to see legislation passed to provide vouchers, tax credits or “some other instrument to reduce the financial burden” on parents who want to send their children to Catholic schools.
As part of the new venture, a panel has been put together whose members include Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston; Franciscan Father Michael Scanlon, chancellor of the University of Steubenville, Ohio; Dominican Sister Elizabeth Anne Allen, vice president for academic affairs at Aquinas College, Nashville, Tenn.; William Thierfelder, president of Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina; Sister Marie Pappas, a Sister of the Resurrection, who is the New York Archdiocese’s associate superintendent for mission effectiveness; and author Kenneth Whitehead, a former U.S. Education Department official.
“The Catholic Education Foundation has done outstanding work toward renewing and strengthening Catholic elementary and secondary education,” Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society, said in a statement provided to Catholic News Service. “We are thrilled to support this good work and the important cooperation of faithful Catholic colleges with our Catholic schools.”
Father Peter Stravinskas, executive director of the Catholic Education Foundation, praised the society for its support and noted that the foundation is trying to do for elementary and secondary Catholic schools what the society has been promoting for Catholic higher education since it was founded in 1993.
Besides offering scholarships, the foundation also coordinates teacher-development with college programs and assists in recruiting and training of qualified teachers.
More information about this new venture is available at http://www.catholiceducationfoundation.com.
For the first time since the Vatican adopted the euro currency in 2002, the Vatican has begun to put some of its coins into public circulation.
However, the likelihood that Rome visitors will find coins depicting Pope Benedict XVI is still slim since storekeepers only within the walls of Vatican City are distributing them.
Two million 50-cent coins minted in 2010 were earmarked for public circulation after representatives of the Vatican and the European Union signed an agreement in Brussels in December. The accord allowed the Vatican to more than double the monetary value of the coins it issues, but also required the Vatican to put a large chunk of its coins into circulation.
For years, the vast majority of Vatican euro coins were sold as sets to collectors for 30 euros ($38) each, although some Vatican employees had an opportunity to buy rolls of the coins at face value. The annual release of the Vatican coins was marked by long lines of collectors waiting to buy them and by disappointed customers who found the stocks exhausted in just a few days.
Under the terms of last year’s agreement, instead of being limited to a total annual coin value of just under 1.1 million euros, the Vatican will be authorized to mint coins worth up to 2.3 million euros with the expectation that nearly half of those coins are put into public circulation.
In mid-July, Vatican City stores and businesses — such as the gas station, post office, pharmacy and grocery store — began distributing 50-cent coins with their change, with a limit of two coins per customer. Only the 50-cent coin will be put into public circulation, said media reports.
The Vatican began issuing euro coins in 2002, just a few months after the currency made its debut in Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. Since 2002, Greece, Slovenia, Malta, Cyprus and Slovakia also have switched to the euro.
The coins come in eight denominations: 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 1 euro and 2 euros.
Countries use the same design for one side of each euro coin, then place their own design on the opposite side. The Vatican coins feature a bust of Pope Benedict.
Pope Benedict XVI is dedicating his holiday to writing the third and final volume in his series on the life of Jesus, which will cover his infancy and childhood.
The Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, told journalists July 23 that just a few days after the pope arrived at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo July 7, he already showed signs of being fully “restored and beaming.”
The pope “immediately began to dedicate himself to reading and studying which, even though it’s demanding, it doesn’t tire him out,” he said.
“It’s clear, therefore, how important it is for him to finish this great project begun years ago,” he added.
Pope Benedict started writing the first volume of the work during his summer vacation in 2003, two years before he was elected pope.
After his election, the pope said in that volume’s preface that he used all of his free time to complete the book, which was published in the spring of 2007 and covered Jesus’ life from his baptism to his transfiguration. In the United States, the English translation was published by Doubleday.
The pope handed his editors the final draft of the second volume of his book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” in May. Father Lombardi said it’s not expected to be on sale in bookstores until next spring since the work must be translated and published in different languages.
The second volume is dedicated to the Passion and Resurrection and takes up where the first volume ended, the Vatican has said.
The first volume, which ran more than 400 pages, highlighted what the Bible says about Jesus, what the moral implications of his teachings are and how reading the Scriptures can lead to a real relationship with Jesus.
Father Lombardi said the 2008 world Synod of Bishops on the Bible showed how critical it was to have a book on the life of Jesus. The pope’s book is a “guide for the faithful to encounter, through the Gospels, the person of Jesus,” he said.
The Vatican spokesman also said that the pope has reviewed the materials for another volume in the series, “The Complete Works of Joseph Ratzinger.”
The first volume of the 16-tome series, being published in German and Italian for now, was presented in 2008. The works, almost all of which were completed before the pope’s election in 2005, are meant to reflect the pope’s personal theological thought and not the magisterial teaching of the church.
Heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula have led the South Korean government to scale back an interfaith plan to deliver humanitarian aid to the North.
The Asian church news agency UCA News reported that leaders of Religious Solidarity for Reconciliation and Peace of Korea said they would cross the border and deliver 300 tons of flour July 26. However, the Korean government office in charge of North-South unification opposed a proposal to send about 30 religious leaders to Kaesong, North Korea, to distribute the aid.
The group includes Buddhist, Catholic, Cheondogyo, Protestant and Won Buddhist leaders.
Father John Kim Hun-il, a member of the group, said the unification ministry told it to send only five or six members to make the delivery.
“It is meaningful that the ministry approved the sending of the flour. However, it’s a pity the government body seeking reunification of two Koreas limited the number of us who could go,” Father Kim told UCA News July 21.
“The way to the North is blocked. All we wanted to do is deliver our flour and play a role in reopening dialogue and cooperation with the North,” he said.
Seoul put in place tough cross-border restrictions after South Korea blamed the North for the sinking of one of its warships.
On July 21, the U.S. government announced new sanctions against North Korea to deter its nuclear buildup and discourage future attacks.
The Cheonan was sunk by a suspected North Korean submarine March 26, straining already frayed relations between the two Koreas.