Catholic schools recognized for high level of academic achievement, moral values and graduation rates
To officially begin Catholic Schools Week, recognition was given and awards presented to schools and students for their exceptional efforts made in the past year at a kick-off celebration and press conference held Jan. 31 in the archdiocesan Pastoral Center.
Following introductory remarks from Patricia Davis, superintendent of Catholic Schools, Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Cantú spoke on the theme, “Catholic Schools – A+ for America.”
“Catholic schools are excellent in many ways. Catholic schools have been known for many, many years in the United States to provide an excellent academic formation, to provide a moral compass based on Gospel values, and to offer an impressively high graduation rate,” he said. “Catholic schools have contributed to the good of America in many ways. They have educated and formed leaders – civic, business, and religious – for the good of American society.”
Bishop Cantú emphasized that Catholic schools save the state of Texas hundreds of millions of dollars annually, with families making great sacrifices to invest in their children’s future.
“Catholic schools are a plus for America,” he concluded. “This week we raise up our Catholic schools and shout from the roof tops: Catholic Schools are A+ for America.”
A Proclamation for Catholic Schools Week was presented in the name of Mayor Julián Castro by District 4 Councilman Philip Cortez, a graduate of both St. Joseph-South San School and Central Catholic High School.
He credited his Catholic school background for encouraging him in his pursuit of civic leadership. “We must put a stop to Catholic school closures,” he said. “We must see that they succeed.”
Service awards were given by Davis to Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Selma and Incarnate Word High School for projects that, in an exemplary way, exhibited the spirit of giving back to the community.
Fifteen years ago Mary Weems started teaching her middle school students at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Selma how to crochet.
Inspired by a family blanket where each of her siblings had created one block, Weems decided to try the project with her students. The first year, she and her students worked together to make three crocheted blankets, which they gave to the SAMM shelter. A new tradition, and great community service project, blossomed from there. The next year, students made six, and then 12.
As more new and former students, teachers and parents joined the project, the totals rose. And every blanket crocheted was donated to others in need or who have fallen on hard times. Sometimes the blankets have gone to victims of floods, fires, or hurricanes. Sometimes it has been wounded soldiers who benefit. Over the years, between 850-900 blankets have been made and donated; more than 500 have gone to the SAMM shelter. Last December, 87 blankets were added to that list.
Inspired and led by Weems, other OLPH students have joined the cause. This year students in kindergarten through fourth grade collected hats, mittens, gloves, and scarves for the children at the SAMM shelter; 17 boxes were filled with the donations! Students in fifth through eighth grades collected shampoos, soaps, toothbrushes, toothpaste and combs to make individual bath kits that are handed out on nights when many people come to the SAMM shelter for warmth and safety. Three hundred twenty kits were assembled with many donations left over. Additionally the students made more than 2,000 greeting cards to accompany the blankets, bath kits, hats, mittens, gloves and scarves.
Last year, Our Lady of Perpetual Help School was identified as one of the 20 semifinalists in the Silver & Black Give Back, formerly the Spurs Foundation, Team Up Challenge for the SAMM Shelter Project. The Team Up Challenge awards funding and incentives to classrooms and clubs for their commitment to improving their community, OLPH received $2,500 seed funding to complete their project. Weems and her students decided to use the money to buy yarn and supplies to make blankets for Threads of Love, which provides clothing, blankets and other handmade articles for tiny premature and sick infants.
Incarnate Word High School organizes a service day each year giving the entire school community an opportunity to reach out as a whole by providing necessary services to the underserved and the needy.
Service opportunities offered to students are based on student and faculty reflections and evaluations of the effectiveness of the service provided to the community. This enables students to have an opportunity to reflect on their work and have a voice in future service day opportunities. Students are involved in all aspects of the process giving them a sense of empowerment and engagement.
Through service day the school has developed meaningful service activities and partnerships with the San Antonio community. These organizations work with IWHS to develop programs that assist them with their needs while at the same time help educate the girls on the needs of the community and how their gifts and talents can be utilized. During the day, students engage in working directly with people the community organizations serve. Some students also help the organization better serve their clients by enhancing the environment. Students work with their peers and teachers building relationships that will carry over into the classroom. Through their academic courses such as economics, child development, government, etc., service day gives the students the opportunity to integrate what they learn in the classroom with the realities of the some of the less fortunate in San Antonio.
Students carried out the theme “Serving from the Heart” through Christmas. On service day students made stockings filled them with items needed by the residents of Seton Home and Visitation House, and the theme will continue with a Lenten project partnering with the San Antonio Food Bank.
Two Catholic schools celebrating 50 years of service to the families of the archdiocese — Holy Name School and St. Monica School in Converse – were presented certificates by Davis.
St. Monica School opened its doors in 1960 to welcome first through eighth grade students. Founded by Father George Stuebben, then pastor of St. Monica Church, two military buildings were purchased from Fort Sam Houston and moved to the parish grounds. Sister Michael Ann was the first principal assisted by a staff from the Sisters of the Missionary Servants of St. Anthony religious congregation. In 1966 a group of Franciscan Sisters took charge until 1971, when they returned to their community. During the next 10 years the school and church continued to grow and new buildings were added, including a new education center.
The current pastor at St. Monica Church is Father Alejandro Del Bosque and the teaching staff is guided by Principal JoAnn Wood. They continue the tradition of providing a high academic standard supported by strong moral values to students from early pre-school to eighth grade.
Lastly, Bishop Cantú recognized 28 academic honorees, including five National Merit Semifinalists, 11 National Merit Commended Scholars, seven National Hispanic Scholars, and five National Hispanic Honorable Mention recipients.
Incarnate Word High School seniors Mary Cook and Lauren Simcic, Our Lady of the Hills Catholic High School seniors Erika Kirichenko and Emma Parma and Antonian College Preparatory High School senior Katherine L. Curran are 2011 National Merit Semifinalists. The five Catholic high school students are among those being recognized from a pool of more than 1.5 million students, in some 22,000 high schools who entered the 2011 National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) Program.
National Merit Commended Scholars include Andrew T. Bieterman of Antonian College Preparatory High School, Katie R. Bieterman of Antonian College Preparatory High School , Erin Bondy of Our Lady of the Hills Catholic High School, Marc Bullard of Our Lady of the Hills Catholic High School, Andrew Gulde of Central Catholic High School, Tim Hofmann of Our Lady of the Hills Catholic High School, Kevin McKeon of Our Lady of the Hills Catholic High School, Ali Mosser of Our Lady of the Hills Catholic High School, Carey Parker of Central Catholic High School, Valerie M. Torres of Antonian College Preparatory High School, and Alexandra Waits of Incarnate Word High School.
National Hispanic Recognition Program Finalists are Alexa Felices of Incarnate Word High School, Sierra Vela of Incarnate Word High School, Michael McCabe of Central Catholic High School, Samantha Gonzalez of Antonian College Preparatory High School, Anthony Lopez of Antonian College Preparatory High School, Angela Rizzo of Providence Catholic School, and William Shank of Antonian College Preparatory High School.
Recipients of National Hispanic Honorable Mention recognition were Alyssa Parra of Incarnate Word High School, Luke Moody of Central Catholic High School, Adam Ortiz of Central Catholic High School, Alec Puente of Central Catholic High School, and Nathan Villareal of Central Catholic High School.
Catholic Schools Week 2011 celebrated the fact that Catholic schools are an added value (“a plus”) for the nation. Because of their traditionally high academic standards and high graduation rates, all supported by strong moral values, Catholic schools and their graduates make a definite contribution to American society.
Catholic Schools Week was celebrated the last week in January, and this year ran from Jan. 30 through Feb. 5.
Schools typically celebrate Catholic Schools Week with Masses, open houses and activities for students, administrators, faculty, school staff, the community and families.
A kick-off Mass for the week was held Jan. 30 at San Fernando Cathedral, with Auxiliary Bishop Oscar Cantú celebrating the liturgy.
A music performance prior to the Mass was given by the St. Gerard High School Choir, with the choir from John Paul II High School in New Braunfels singing during the liturgy.
At the entrance procession, an archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office banner was carried down the center aisle of the cathedral by Grant Canning from Antonian College Preparatory High School.
Readers at the eucharistic celebration included Oscar Sanchez from Holy Cross of San Antonio, Madison Porter from Incarnate Word High School, and Diana Alvarado from St. Luke School.
In his homily, Bishop Cantú referred to the Gospel reading, in which Jesus saw the crowds and felt a need to direct them.
“He went up the mountain, sat down, and began to teach them; Jesus the teacher. How did he teach? What did he teach?” asked the bishop.
He said that, among the many teachers he had during 25 years of Catholic education in his background, one of the best of them never had a college degree.
“My father only had a sixth grade education, but he shared with his family a vision soaked in wisdom, a vision carried out in the actions of his life,” said Bishop Cantú. “Jesus also taught his disciples in a relational way of the Kingdom of God.”
The bishop explained that he has learned many things from my nephews and nieces, and he joked about his presence on Facebook in order to keep up on the activities of his sibling’s children.
Bishop Cantú told of an instance several years ago at a family gathering, during which the adults gathered in the living room while his nieces and nephews gathered in another room with the Kid’s Section of the newspaper, looking at a magic eye three-dimensional image.
In order to see the hidden picture, the children told him to put the image up to his nose, look at a particular spot, then pull the page away 10 to 12 inches from his eyes and look at that same spot for 12 to 15 seconds, and then he would be able to see the three-dimensional image.
“Lo and behold, the three-dimensional image appeared before my eyes,” he exclaimed. “Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is in our midst. It is so close that it is right in front of you.”
Bishop Cantú posed this question for the faithful: “How do we see the Kingdom of God in our midst?”
He replied, “Through the poor in their suffering, in peacemakers, and those who suffer for righteousness sake. Jesus taught how to recognize the Kingdom of God present in this world. He created the world and it was good. When he came it was to redeem it and transform it from the inside out. He teaches us how to engage holiness and sanctification. We look to the redeemer to see the Redeemer.”
The bishop closed by saying that part of the mission of Catholic education is to see the world through the eyes of faith, hope, and love. “We see this in the Eucharist, when Jesus calls us to be at the table to be renewed,” he concluded.
Two initiatives in February focus attention on the need to strengthen marriage, in line with the U.S. bishops’ priority interest in that area, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., told his fellow bishops.
Bishop Rhoades, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, expressed support for World Marriage Day Feb. 13 and National Marriage Week USA Feb. 7-14 in a Jan. 13 letter to bishops.
World Marriage Day, promoted by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, has as its theme this year, “Love One Another.”
The observance received Pope John Paul II’s apostolic blessing in 1993, and “has continued to grow and spread among many countries and faith expressions ever since,” Bishop Rhoades said.
National Marriage Week USA is sponsored by the Let’s Strengthen Marriage Campaign. First observed in the United Kingdom in 1996, it has since spread to other countries.
“This project — now in its second year (in the United States) — is a collaborative effort to influence the culture by faith communities, business, media, education and nonprofit groups,” Bishop Rhoades said. He said it involves “new efforts for marriage education and crisis intervention,” as well as promoting “a message about the benefits of marriage.”
He also urged use of the online resources on marriage at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, http://www.foryourmarriage.org, and its Spanish-language counterpart, http://www.portumatrimonio.org; advocacy resources at http://www.marriageuniqueforareason.org on why marriage should be promoted as the union of a man and a woman; and the bishops’ pastoral letter on marriage, “Love and Life in the Divine Plan,” available online at http://www.usccb.org/loveandlife.
The For Your Marriage website received nearly half a million visits in 2010, a 23 percent increase over 2009, according to a report from Google Analytics.
The report found that articles on preparing for a Catholic wedding were especially popular. The site offers information about wedding readings, music, ceremony options, interchurch marriages and tips for planning a memorable wedding.
“People visit For Your Marriage because they want useful and reliable information,” said Sheila Garcia, USCCB staff member and the site’s content editor. “Whether you’re interested in marriage preparation or enrichment, or what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage, you’ll almost certainly find what you need.”
Visitors to the site came from 213 countries or territories, with significant numbers from the United Kingdom, Australia, Philippines and India, according to the report.
For students at Pope John Paul II School in Chicago, the news that the late pope is to be beatified May 1 was the answer to a prayer — actually, the answer to many prayers.
“We’ve been praying for his beatification at our school Masses every Thursday since 2005,” said Moira Benton, the school’s principal.
The school is a ministry of four South Side parishes: Immaculate Conception, Our Lady of Fatima, St. Pancratius and Five Holy Martyrs, where Pope John Paul celebrated Mass during his October 1979 visit to Chicago.
The outdoor altar the pope used to celebrate that Mass is still there and is used to celebrate a Mass in memory of the pope’s visit every October, said Richard Staron, a parishioner and chairman of the parish’s Pope John Paul II committee.
It will most likely be used this spring for a special Mass in honor of his beatification, he told the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Chicago Archdiocese.
The parish, like the school, has prayed for the beatification every week and will continue to pray for Pope John Paul’s canonization, Staron said.
“I was so pleased and excited when the news about the beatification was announced,” he said.
On Jan. 14, Pope Benedict XVI approved a miracle attributed to the late pope’s intercession, clearing the way for the late pope’s beatification on May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday.
Pope Benedict’s action followed more than five years of investigation into the life and writings of the Polish pontiff, who died in April 2005 after more than 26 years as pope.
“We have been waiting for this day for four years,” Staron said. “Back in 1979 as a grade school student at Five Holy Martyrs, I recall going for a walk around the parish grounds with my father the night before Pope John Paul II arrived.
“I was so impressed with the amount of people that came and spent the night outside waiting for his arrival. I knew this was a special man that was coming to visit us,” he added.
More relics of Pope John Paul’s 1979 visit are in use at the John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The center’s chapel incorporates furnishings from the pope’s Grant Park Mass, including the presider’s chair and ambo, said Father Patrick Marshall, the center’s director. The building’s foundation stone was taken from the altar used at that Mass.
The late pope gave his permission for the center to be named in his honor while he was in Chicago, Father Marshall said.
“We’re doubly blessed this year with the beatification of both of our patrons,” said Father Marshall, who traveled to England for Cardinal John Henry Newman’s beatification in September. He would like to go to Rome for Pope John Paul’s beatification, he said, but doesn’t yet know if he will be able to make the trip.
Cardinal Newman’s beatification seemed to stir more interest among faculty, who took it as an opportunity to study and discuss his writings, Father Marshall said, while the university’s students seem to feel a closer connection with Pope John Paul.
“These kids mainly grew up with Pope John Paul II, they spent their formative years with John Paul II,” he said. “Our ministry focuses so much on the works of John Paul II, his evangelization and ministry — especially on his theology of the body.”
The pope’s dedication to eucharistic adoration spurred the creation of the Pope John Paul II Eucharistic Adoration Association, said Ciel Brieske, its president. Formed in 1998, it encourages the creation of adoration chapels and time for eucharistic adoration in parishes,
It has a monstrance that was blessed by Pope John Paul shortly before his death.
The announcement of the beatification “was a ‘wow’ moment for us,” Brieske said. “But it was almost as if it was expected.”
The rate at which Latinos are entering U.S. Catholic life is “sudden and dramatic,” according to the co-author of a recently published book chronicling trends in U.S. religious life.
But, said David Campbell, who co-wrote American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, it is just one manifestation of a shifting U.S. religious landscape.
“Of those Catholics under 30 who were at Mass last weekend — pick any weekend — but last weekend, 60 percent of them were Latino. Sixty percent. And that group is only going to grow,”Campbell said during a luncheon organized by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life.
“Latinos are more likely to remain within the faith; they don’ intermarry as much. They hold onto their young — they also have a higher birthrate. And so those two factors together mean that the Catholic Church is on the leading edge of the Latino-ization of America,” said Campbell, the John Cardinal O’Hara associate professor of political science and founding director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
“It’s an interesting story because having diverse ethnic groups within the Catholic Church — that’s nothing new. The Catholics have welcomed immigrants from around the world for generations. What’s new is that it used to be the Poles, the Lithuanians, the Italians and the Irish. And now it’s the Guatemalans and the Mexicans, and to see the interplay between those groups is interesting,” Campbell said.
“It means that of all the religious groups in America, the one group that’s most likely to report attending a racially diverse congregation are American Catholics. And even though there are obviously a lot of tensions and it’s not like everything’s smooth sailing, that is itself a remarkable fact and, I think, should be noted,” he added.
American Grace profiles several congregations, including two Catholic parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago whose ethnic focus has shifted in recent decades from European to Latin American.
The book, which Campbell wrote with Robert Putnam, also goes back a half-century and sometimes longer to examine how Americans’ thoughts about religion changed, “American Grace” is based in part on a Pew survey of roughly 3,000 Americans in both 2006 and 2007.
“You find that Americans in the 1950s said, ‘Yeah, religion has a huge influence in our society.’ But then by the time you hit the ‘60s, that drops off dramatically, and it correlates very tightly with all of these other changes, particularly those related to sexual beliefs and attitudes, and customs and practices in the United States,” Campbell said.
“That’s the shock. But it was followed by two aftershocks,” he noted. The first is that “throughout the 1970s, all the way through the mid-1990s, we see a growth in evangelical Protestantism.”
The second, Campbell said, “consisted of a dramatically increasing percentage of Americans who report, when asked, that they have no religious affiliation.” Tallied at 5 percent a generation ago, that cohort has more than tripled in size to 17 percent, according to the Pew surveys.
Campbell noted the paradoxes in American society’s attitudes about religion, including its political spillover.
“The two parties have fallen into a way that they talk about religion. Maybe a better way to put it is that the Republicans have a way they talk about religion and a way they exploit religiously oriented issues,” he said.
“If I know that you are a grace-sayer on a regular basis” — 44 percent in the Pew survey reported saying grace daily or more often, while 46 percent said it only occasionally or never – “I actually know a lot about you,” Campbell added.
“I can probably predict how you vote,” he continued. “I can probably predict where you land on the political spectrum, and I can predict a lot of things about what you believe and what you might even do in your life. This is a pretty useful indicator of the level of an individual’s own religiosity.”
As a result, “we have, now, a polarized religious environment in the United States because we’ve seen a growth in conservative religion. That growth has largely stopped and it’s begun to decrease a little bit, but it’s still a sizable fraction of the American population,” he said.
One seeming contradiction among young people, who are least likely to claim denominational affiliations, is that “young people today are actually more likely to be pro-life or at least ambivalent about abortion than are their parents’ generation,” Campbell asserted, adding “there will be an opening for political entrepreneurs to come in and construct a new coalition.”
Still, religious tolerance prevails amid the politics. Jews and Catholics, whom Campbell noted were the most vilified religions in America a century ago, are now “the most popular” religious groups today, based on the Pew surveys.
More than half of all U.S. marriages today are between people of different faiths, he added, more than double that of a century ago, when he noted that the issue of Catholics marrying Protestants looked like strife in Northern Ireland.
This level of tolerance and acceptance even extends into the afterlife, according to the Pew surveys. “Ninety-eight percent of Mormons, 93 percent of Catholics, even 83 percent of evangelicals say, yes, people who are of another faith or good people can go to heaven,” Campbell said in a Catholic News Service report.
Police and military officials will not be able to stop demonstrators in Egypt or other countries of North Africa, said the former rector of Rome’s Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies.
“Ordinary people cannot tolerate anymore the appalling conditions of human degradation in which they live. They say, ‘Enough is enough’ and believe that they have nothing to lose,” the former rector, Father Justo Lacunza Balda, said in an e-mail to Catholic News Service in Rome.
“Therefore, neither the police nor the army will stop people in the Arab countries from demanding freedom and human dignity,” he wrote Jan. 28 as massive protests intensified in Egypt.
The demonstrations began Jan. 25 as people took to the streets to protest unemployment, corruption and rising prices.
“Poverty and misery, lack of democracy and human rights are a constant in Egypt, Tunis, Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, Yemen,” said Father Lacunza, who served at the Rome institute from 2000 to 2006. “The youth see no future in front of them: no work possibilities, economic crisis, the divide between the filthy rich and the poor, political instability.”
This creates “a fertile ground for religious extremism, anti-government action and widespread violence.”
Father Lacunza said he was not surprised by street demonstrations in places such as Egypt and Tunisia — where a January revolution brought about the fall of the government of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali — and added that it was “not normal that a head of state remains in power for 30 years,” as was the case with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
“Rulers want to stick to their seat of command at all costs, and democracy, they think, is not what they need. Arrests, imprisonment and persecution are normal against those who demand fundamental changes, civil freedoms and human rights,” he said.
He also expressed concern for Egypt’s Christians, whom he said are discriminated against because they are not Muslim.
Christians in Egypt “suffer intolerance, discrimination and hatred. Their places of worship are attacked and they are the object of sectarian violence,” he told CNS. “This is not new, and it might get worse in the future.
“The political atmosphere of today in Egypt bears a certain resemblance to that of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 19th century,” Father Lacunza said. “And there came the genocide of the Armenians. … Few voices are heard today taking the defense of the Christians, the biggest persecuted group in the world — in Egypt, in majority Muslim states and in communist-rule countries.”
The same day Father Lacunza wrote to CNS, Pope Benedict XVI met at the Vatican with Oriental Orthodox leaders participating in an official dialogue with Catholics.
Coptic Orthodox Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, Egypt, the co-chairman of the dialogue, thanked Pope Benedict for his prayers for those killed and injured in a bomb blast at a Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria, Egypt, less than a month earlier. The metropolitan also praised Mubarak’s commitment to protecting Egyptian Christians, and he told the pope that hundreds of Muslims came out Jan. 7 — when Copts celebrated Christmas — to show their support for their Christian neighbors.
If all of the pro-life speeches, rallies and marches can change just one mind and save one life, “that one life may change the world, as one life does,” said Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, superior general of the Sisters of Life.
Her comments Jan. 23 echoed a theme that ran through the late Cardinal John O’Connor’s teaching and preaching about the sanctity of all human life. She and three other speakers on a panel discussed the cardinal at a daylong conference named for him and held at Georgetown University.
The other panelists were Baltimore Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., and law professor Helen Alvare, former pro-life spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops. They each discussed an aspect of the cardinal’s life or ministry or reflected on how they first came to know him.
Besides the panel discussion, the program for the 12th annual conference — organized by students and attended by about 500 young people and adults — included breakout sessions on topics ranging from health care reform, China’s one-child policy, efforts to defend life in the U.S. courts, men and abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty.
Among the conference sponsors were the campus councils of the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, Georgetown’s respect life group and University Faculty for Life, with support from numerous university offices, including the president’s office, the Jesuit community and the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus.
Mother Agnes Mary’s order was established by Cardinal O’Connor, who headed the New York Archdiocese from 1984 until his death in 2000. Formally launched in 1991, the religious order is dedicated to serving the pro-life cause.
She said he was unambiguous in his defense of life, reaching out to pregnant women in need, AIDS sufferers, the frail elderly, those with long-term illnesses and others.
What drove his steadfastness on life issues was the belief that every human being is a “unique reflection of the divine image, (that) each one is an unrepeatable act of God whose purpose will not be completed by anyone else,” she explained. God “didn’t make another you,” she added.
Archbishop O’Brien reflected on the cardinal’s priesthood. He was “always a priest, always present.”
Head of the Baltimore Archdiocese since 2007, Archbishop O’Brien was an auxiliary of the New York Archdiocese under Cardinal O’Connor. Former head of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, the archbishop also was a longtime military chaplain, like the cardinal.
He quoted a fellow chaplain of the cardinal’s who described the future church leader as “hard-driven. He could get more out of you than you thought you could ever deliver … (but) he demanded more of himself.”
Cardinal O’Connor’s parents were not thrilled their son chose to become a priest, he said. They were skeptical of the priesthood, and his father, a “goldleafer,” wanted him to carry on the family trade, which was a dying art. While he chose another path, the cardinal was always proud to be a blue-collar Philadelphian, the archbishop said.
He said when Cardinal O’Connor ordained men to the priesthood, he told them: “’Be kind to people, be kind to people, be kind to people’ — he meant that.”
“Everything I do in the course of a day is an extension of the Mass — the Mass radiates in every thought and action,” Cardinal O’Connor often said.
Bishop Lori met the cardinal through his own “former boss and mentor,” the late Cardinal James Hickey of Washington. Ordained a priest of the Washington Archdiocese in 1977, he was Cardinal Hickey’s secretary for several years and was named an auxiliary for Washington in 1995. He was appointed to Bridgeport in 2001.
The Connecticut bishop, who is also national chaplain for the Knights, noted that when then-Archbishop O’Connor became head of the New York Archdiocese in 1984 — and until his death — he “proclaimed again and again that he would provide medical and financial assistance to any woman who was considering abortion so she could bring her child to term.” Over the years, he helped thousands, the bishop said.
When he heard and later read the cardinal’s homilies, Bishop Lori said, he was reminded of the Pope Paul VI, who called the church “an expert in humanity.”
As a priest, a chaplain, a friend of the late Pope John Paul II and world leaders, a patriot and citizen, and as a bishop “who made his people proud to be a Catholic,” Cardinal O’Connor was “indeed an expert in humanity. … He knew what made people tick. And he brought that to bear on his preaching about life.”
He also “did not hesitate to engage public officials” on abortion and other issues, Bishop Lori said, adding that the cardinal drew strength from his “firm, straightforward faith and an avid life of prayer.”
Alvare, who teaches law professor at George Mason University in Virginia and is a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the Laity, said the cardinal thrust her into the spotlight by choosing her to be the bishops’ pro-life spokeswoman at age 29.
She was working quietly as a lawyer for the U.S. bishops at the time and was convinced she could not be the public face of the bishops, especially in media interviews, but he had no doubts, she recalled.
It was the late 1980s, when abortions numbered 1.6 million a year, the rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births were sky high, and the Supreme Court was at “the apogee of bad decisions,” Alvare said.
Society was told “contraceptives were going cure it all … and look at where we are with that,” she commented. But the cardinal told her, “I think we can turn this around.” He was a “happy warrior,” she added in a Catholic News Service report.
Three pieces of pro-life legislation supported by the U.S. bishops face “a very positive outlook” in the House, but their prospects remain in question in the Senate, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston said Jan. 25.
The cardinal, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, outlined the reasons for USCCB support of the legislation in three letters to members of Congress and at an informal news conference at the USCCB headquarters.
“I’m pleased at where we are in the House,” he said at the news conference. “I’m positive and hopeful.”
Cardinal DiNardo said in a Jan. 20 letter to members of Congress that with the debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act having moved to the Senate after a House vote to repeal, “the task of preventing the federal government from funding or promoting abortion can now be pursued in the House with less distraction from other issues and agendas.”
“Problems of abortion and conscience in the legislation can be addressed on their own merits, not greeted by false charges that any such effort is really an attack on health care reform,” he added.
“Efforts to ensure that our health care system truly serves the life, health and conscience of all will be a legislative goal of the Catholic bishops in the months to come,” the cardinal said.
The three bills backed by the USCCB — all introduced in the days preceding the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide — are:
– Protect Life Act, H.R. 358, which would amend the health reform law to prohibit the use of any federal funds for abortion or for health plans that cover abortions; guarantee conscience protections for health care providers and institutions; and “close a loophole” that could allow the federal health reform law to override existing state laws.
– Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, H.R. 361, which would “protect the civil rights of health professionals and other health care entities” by affirming that “no health care entity should be forced by government to perform or participate in abortions,” the cardinal said.
– No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, H.R. 3, which would write into permanent law the long-standing prohibition on the use of federal funds to promote or support elective abortion.
“While Congress’ policy has been remarkably consistent for decades, implementation of that policy in practice has been piecemeal, confusing and sometimes sadly inadequate,” Cardinal DiNardo said in a Jan. 21 letter to members of Congress.
“On various occasions, a gap or loophole has been discovered that does not seem to be addressed by this patchwork of provisions — as when unelected officials in past years were construing the Indian Health Service or the Medicare trust fund to allow funding of elective abortions, and Congress had to act to correct this grave situation,” he added.
At the news conference, Cardinal DiNardo said it was a good sign that the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act had been assigned such a low number by the House leadership, “because that’s usually an indication that the leadership is really interested” in seeing a bill passed.
The U.S. bishops also have expressed support for the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which has not yet been introduced in the 112th Congress. It would amend the health care reform law to allow insurance issuers, providers and purchasers to exclude from “items that are against moral and religious convictions” from any federally mandated benefits.
Pope Benedict XVI invited Christians to join online social networks in order to spread the Gospel through digital media and discover “an entirely new world of potential friendships.”
At the same time, the pope warned of the limits and the dangers of digital communication, including the risks of constructing a false online image and of replacing direct human contact with virtual relationships.
“Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others, provided that attention is paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world,” the pope said in his message for the 2011 celebration of World Communications Day.
“In the search for sharing, for ‘friends,’ there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself,” he said.
The theme of this year’s World Communications Day, which will be celebrated June 5, is “Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life in the digital age.” In his message, released Jan 24, the pope acknowledged that the Internet has fundamentally changed the way people communicate today.
“This means of spreading information and knowledge is giving birth to a new way of learning and thinking, with unprecedented opportunities for establishing relationships and building fellowship,” he said.
In the digital world, he said, information is increasingly transmitted through social networks as a form of sharing between persons. He said this dynamic has favored dialogue, exchange, a sense of solidarity and the creation of positive relations.
“The new technologies allow people to meet each other beyond the confines of space and of their own culture, creating in this way an entirely new world of potential friendships,” he said.
The pope added that digital communication has built-in limits, including the one-sidedness of the interaction and “the tendency to communicate only some parts of one’s interior world.” The creation of an artificial online image instead of an authentic one “can become a form of self-indulgence,” he said.
The great potential of social networks for building relationships makes it a natural place for the church to be present, he said. But there is a “Christian way” of being online — through communication that is “honest and open, responsible and respectful of others,” he said.
Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, was asked in a briefing with reporters whether the pope’s words reflected concern over an aggressive and derisive approach found on some Catholic sites and blogs.
“The risk is there, there is no doubt,” the archbishop said in a Catholic News Service report. He added that his council was working on a document that would offer, among other things, some reference points about the appropriate tone and behavior for church-related Internet sites.
Pope Benedict’s message, while underlining the risks of the Internet, was generally positive about online opportunities, saying they had opened new “spiritual horizons.”
He said proclaiming the Gospel through new media was not simply a matter of inserting religious content into online platforms, but also of witnessing the Gospel consistently when communicating choices, preferences and judgments.
This witness, he said, can and should challenge some ways of thinking that are typical of websites — for one thing, he said, the truth Christians want to share is not based on its popularity or the amount of attention it receives.
The pope said the Gospel should be presented online not as a consumer item, but as daily nourishment. That requires communication that is “respectful and sensitive, which stimulates the heart and moves the conscience,” he said.
In their online activities, he added, Christians also need to remember that direct human relations remain fundamental for transmission of the faith.
“Even when it is proclaimed in the virtual space of the Web, the Gospel demands to be incarnated in the real world and linked to the real faces of our brothers and sisters,” he said.
The pope said that believers can help prevent the web from becoming an instrument that “depersonalizes people, attempts to manipulate them emotionally or allows those who are powerful to monopolize the opinions of others.”
Commenting on that passage, Archbishop Celli said one example of manipulation was when social network users are unwittingly tracked for marketing purposes.
While Pope Benedict’s message spoke of the “wonders” of new online possibilities, Vatican officials agreed that the pope himself doesn’t use new media much. Asked if the pope personally surfs the Internet, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said
the pope still writes with a pen.
But he added that the 83-year-old pontiff fully recognizes the opportunities offered by the new technologies, and has encouraged Vatican departments to move forward on digital projects.
Laura Strietmann, the director of a Cincinnati crisis pregnancy center, calls abortion “the issue that is shaping our country,” and said the challenge for pro-lifers is to get everyone “to respect life again.”
In her work, she hears the stories of women’s pain and sees pregnant women in need who “are hungry for the truth about abortion,” she said. “When they come in the door, we need to love them and tell them the truth,” that abortion is taking a life, she added.
Strietmann, a member of St. Rose Parish in Cincinnati who is enrolled in a lay pastoral program at the archdiocesan seminary, believes no woman really wants to have an abortion but feels she has no other choice.
She spoke to Catholic News Service as she headed toward the March for Life rally site on the National Mall, where thousands of pro-lifers were gathering to mark the 38th year since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion.
Bundled up against the cold, with the temperature hovering in the mid-20s, people streamed toward the rally site from various points, carrying all manner of signs, many of them homemade.
Among the messages were: “Choose life: Your mother did,” “Unborn babies feel pain,” “Face it: Abortion kills a person,” “I regret lost fatherhood” and “Defund Planned Parenthood.”
“Abortion — a neat, quick easy way out for men,” read another. One couple waiting for the rally to begin held identical signs that read: “To the mother of our 4 adopted children: Thank you for their lives.”
Early in the morning, on the other side of the Capitol, volunteers in the parish hall at St. Peter’s on Capitol Hill began their day at 4 a.m., preparing a warm welcome for pro-life marchers who came by bus overnight. By day’s end they expected to have handed out 175 dozen doughnuts, served gallons of hot coffee and hot water for tea and hot chocolate, and given out numerous small containers of juice.
Chartered buses started arriving around 4:30 a.m. Pro-lifers come in waves throughout the morning and then headed down to the Mall. St. Peter’s also offered four Masses before noon.
Why do it? “Because the parish is always pro-life” and shows solidarity with the marchers, said volunteer Dr. Anthony Martinez, a physician who just returned from a volunteer medical mission to Haiti. He said he has seen the enthusiasm for the pro-life cause build “like a crescendo” over the years, especially among young people.
But laws on abortion won’t turn around “until the powers that be, the leaders of this country make logical decisions,” Martinez said, adding, “I believe in my heart it (Roe) will be overturned.” And prayer is the key. Just like when he was a child, he recalled, and Catholics prayed for “for the conversion of Russia. It happened.”
“It’s a full expression of our faith,” said coordinator Suzanne O’Connor about the parish’s support for the pro-life marchers. She said the parish has provided hospitality since the first anniversary of Roe. But, she noted, it doesn’t happen without dozens of volunteers working throughout the day and helping with preparations in the days before.