A new federal regulation that would require employer insurance plans to provide contraceptives that some consider abortifacient and voluntary sterilization among cost-free preventive care measures such as inoculations and Pap smears is being greeted with varying levels of dismay in Catholic dioceses across the country. The regulation provides a narrow religious exemption for an employer that “(1) has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a nonprofit organization” under specific sections of the Internal Revenue Code. This definition is “a direct infringement on our ability to do ministry,” said George Wesolek, communications director for the Archdiocese of San Francisco. “It’s part of a larger issue,” he said. “The room for religious liberty is getting narrower and narrower” in the US. The Health and Human Services Department regulation, announced Aug. 1, has a 60-day comment period ending Sept. 30, and could go into effect in August 2012. It is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and Wesolek said it “could have been avoided by a unified effort by the Catholic Church when the health care bill was being considered.” James F. Sweeney, legal counsel to the Diocese of Sacramento, was among the Californians who unsuccessfully fought a similar state law through the California courts and tried to take it to the US Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. He called the exemption “a complete sham” because it omits the reality of the church at work in the world. He said “there was a time when government attempted to protect religious exercise” but this regulation is instead “tolerating (religion) in the least significant ways possible.” ©CNS
Bit by bit, the third edition of the Roman Missalis being introduced in parishes throughout the English-speaking world. From Canada to southern Africa to New Zealand, Catholics have seen parts of the new missal introduced at various times–most since January, but some earlier–so that by the first Sunday of Advent Nov. 27, the transition to a new set of prayers and liturgical music will be as seamless as possible for the faithful. As the implementation moves forward, the liturgists charged with overseeing the missal’s introduction in seven of the 10 English-speaking countries and regions outside of the US making the transition told Catholic News Service that their efforts have eased concerns that the translation was a step back from the Second Vatican Council’s vision for liturgy. “The bishops here took the view that there should be an incremental approach to implementation,” explained Fr. Peter Wiliams, executive secretary of the Bishops Commission for Liturgy in Australia. The process began with the introduction of new musical settings in January, followed by the spoken parts of the Mass at Pentecost in June, Fr. Williams said. The eucharistic prayers and other parts of the missal will be introduced Nov. 1 so that by Advent the transition will be completed. The pace of each phase was left to local pastors, with some parishes moving more quickly and others more slowly depending on how well congregations welcomed them, Fr. Williams said. The introduction of the English translation of the missal–under development since 2002–is occurring in countries represented by the 11 bishops’ conference members of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy.
Member conferences include the US, Canada, Ireland, England and Wales, Scotland, southern Africa (South Africa, Swaziland and Botswana), India, Pakistan, Philippines, New Zealand and Australia.
The Turkish prime minister’s announcement that the government will return hundreds of properties confiscated from non-Muslim religious groups or compensate the groups for properties sold to third parties is “a historic decision,” said the Vatican nuncio to Turkey. “Even though the Roman Catholics will not benefit from this, it is an important step that is a credit to Turkey,” said Abp. Antonio Lucibello, the nuncio. “It is a sign that is not just good, it’s an excellent sign that the government wants to reconstruct the unity of the country so there no longer are first-class and second-class citizens,” the nuncio told Catholic News Service Aug. 30 in a telephone interview from Ankara. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Aug. 28 that his government would return hundreds of pieces of property–including schools, orphanages and hospitals–that were confiscated by the government in 1936. The properties involved belonged to officially recognized religious minorities: Jews, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Armenian Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics and Chaldean Catholics. Although Pope Benedict XVI, human rights supporters and the European Union have pressed Turkey to recognize all religions, the Latin-rite Catholic community and Protestant churches do not have official legal standing in Turkey. Abp. Lucibello said the decision does not include the Church of St. Paul at Tarsus, now a government-run museum, which church officials have asked to have back. “The government has made a commitment to continue looking for a solution, and this decision gives us good reasons to hope,” the archbishop said. The case of the Church of St. Paul, he said, is complicated by the fact that it was built by the Armenians, then taken over by the Greek Orthodox and restored by Latin-rite Catholics. ©CNS
From the Carolinas up the Atlantic Coast into Canada, the trail of Hurricane Irene was one of dramatic floods, wind damage and other disruptions. More than 40 people in various states were reported to have been killed by floodwaters, falling trees, car accidents and powerful waves. Irene hit the Carolina coast Aug. 27 and skirted the coastline, causing destruction in a dozen states before dumping inches of rain and causing at least two deaths in Canada. A survey of some of the dioceses where the worst effects were felt found few significant problems at church properties, though the communities around them suffered serious losses. In Vermont, where raging floodwaters from what was by then Tropical Storm Irene damaged or destroyed hundreds of roads, JoAnne Prouty, bookkeeper at Sacred Heart St. Francis de Sales in Bennington said the rushing water and the damage it caused were amazing. The main highway connecting Bennington to the east, Route 9, is cut off. “The road looks like it’s broken in half,” Prouty said. “It looks more like an earthquake hit it than floodwater.” All bridges in the area are at least temporarily off limits, some only until they can be inspected for serious damage, but others have been destroyed or have obvious damage, she said. The parish served as an overnight emergency shelter to residents and staff of a small nursing home, Prouty said. But they were able to return home Aug. 29 after the danger of flooding at the nursing home was over. And the parish’s food pantry, normally only open a couple of days a week, has been hit up by several families who lost all their food in the floods or because they lost power to refrigerators, she said. “Lots of places were wiped away,” said Prouty. “There was an amazing amount of water everywhere.” ©CNS
The Aug. 23 earthquake that caused significant damage to the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington led to a change in venue for a planned interfaith prayer service four days later to commemorate the opening of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial. With Hurricane Irene approaching Washington, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception opened its doors for the Aug. 27 interfaith prayer service, which drew nearly 1,000 people from across the country who prayerfully remembered the life and legacy of Rev. King. Bernice King, his youngest daughter, was among the dignitaries who spoke at the prayer service. Now a Baptist church minister and elder, she was 5 when her father was assassinated in 1968, and said as an adult “I began a quest to try to find my daddy.” Ultimately, she said she found her father, as an obedient servant of God who once said, “I just want to do God’s will.” Bernice King then said, “As we dedicate this memorial, as we remember my daddy’s legacy, let it not be about us. Let it be about being obedient to the will of God.” Msgr. Walter Rossi, the basilica’s rector, welcomed the congregation and expressed sorrow at the damage to the Episcopal cathedral. “Together we join hand, hearts and prayers to honor a great American, a champion of the civil rights movement and a man of unwavering faith,” the priest said. Bp. John Bryson Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington offered the invocation, noting that “there is still work to do, a promised land to be discovered, and hearts and minds to be changed.” The dedication of the King memorial, which had been planned for Aug. 28, was postponed until September or October due to the approaching hurricane. ©CNS
Sept. 11, 2001, was a routine Tuesday morning at the Miller Funeral Home in Somerset. Wallace “Wally” Miller, Somerset County coroner, was in his office and his father, Wilbur, who lived with him, was in his customary place on the couch, watching television. “Come and look at this,” he yelled to his son. “A pilot must have had a heart attack and crashed his plane into the World Trade Center. How would you like to be the coroner in New York?” he asked rhetorically. Miller watched for a bit and retreated to his office. A little later, he received a call from Denny Kwiatkowski, Cambria County coroner, asking him about a plane crash near Shanksville. “I hadn’t heard anything about it and I immediately called the 911 response center and I couldn’t get through,” recalled Miller of that day when his life and the lives of people around the globe would be changed forever. “Luckily, I was able to contact them with a two-way radio, and they told me there was an unconfirmed report of a large plane down near Shanksville.” He would soon discover that four terrorists had hijacked a United Airlines plane en route from Newark, N.J., to San Francisco. A total of 44 people died, including the passengers, crew members and the terrorists. The entire country and international community watched in horror as another plane hit the second of the twin towers, and still another crashed into the Pentagon near Washington. Miller, who also operates a funeral home in Rockwood, was about to be thrust onto the world stage and “no” was not an option. “As a coroner, I’m the last man to get to the scene of a death. When I got to Shanksville there were state policemen, firemen, FBI, ATF and emergency personnel already at the site,” Miller recalls, “and they all looked to me to orchestrate the disaster recovery.” ©CNS
Cradle Catholics haven’t done enough to show people that God exists and can bring true fulfillment to everyone, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of his former students. “We, who have been able to know (Christ) since our youth, may we ask forgiveness because we bring so little of the light of his face to people; so little certainty comes from us that he exists, he’s present and he is the greatness that everyone is waiting for,” the pope said. The pope presided at a Mass Aug. 28 in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, during his annual meeting with students who did their doctorates with him when he was a professor in Germany. Austrian Card. Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, a regular participant in the Ratzinger Schulerkreis (Ratzinger student circle), gave the homily at the Mass, but the pope made remarks at the beginning of the liturgy. The Vatican released the text of the pope’s remarks Aug. 29. Pope Benedict highlighted the day’s reading in Psalm 63 in which the soul thirsts for God “in a land parched, lifeless and without water. He asked God to show himself to today’s world, which is marked by God’s absence and where “the land of souls is arid and dry, and people still don’t know where the living water comes from.” ©CNS
Just four days after arriving in Rome, the new seminarians at the Pontifical North American College had their first glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI. The 76 new men from 52 different dioceses–four Australian dioceses, one Canadian and 47 US dioceses–joined 2,000 other pilgrims in the courtyard of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo for the recitation of the Angelus Aug. 28. The North American College is sponsored by the US bishops. Students live at the college and receive spiritual and pastoral training there while attending one of the pontifical universities in Rome. After reciting the Marian prayer, the pope singled out the students for a special greeting. “Dear seminarians, do not be afraid to take up the challenge in today’s Gospel to give your lives completely to Christ. Indeed, may all of us be generous in our commitment to him, carrying our cross with faith and courage,” he said. In his main audience talk, the pope spoke about the Gospel story of Peter insisting that Jesus should not have to suffer and die, and Jesus rebuking him, “Get behind me, Satan.” Jesus told Peter, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do,” and he told him that being a disciple means taking up the cross and following him. ©CNS
On Aug. 28, the Catholic Church celebrated the life of St. Augustine of Hippo, the North African educator who became one of history’s greatest teachers of the faith after his dramatic conversion.
The story of Augustine’s upbringing and conversion is well-known to many through his autobiographical “Confessions.” In that work, Augustine recounts his birth in 354 to his pagan father, Patricius, and Catholic mother, Monica–later St. Monica–in the city of Tagaste. His parents’ difficult marriage included a dispute over whether to baptize their children.
Augustine was nearly baptized during a childhood illness, but his father withdrew permission when he recovered. During his adolescence, Monica’s Christian influence over her son’s life began to wane, giving way to the self-interested pursuit of a secular education and career as well as social acceptance and romantic love.
At age 16, Augustine traveled to Carthage to continue his education in rhetoric. There, the young student indulged the desires of his heart and flesh, though he later admitted that this way of life brought him pain and torment along with its pleasure and satisfaction. He was, as he later wrote, “scourged with the burning iron rods of jealousy, suspicion, fear, anger, and strife.”
In 371, Augustine’s father became a Catholic and received baptism. In his search for stability and meaning, however, Augustine became an adherent of the Manichaean religion. His entry into this sect, which regarded matter as evil and promoted “liberation” from the physical world, caused his mother intense grief. So, too, did Augustine’s fathering of an illegitimate child.
Haunted by questions about the nature of good and evil, Augustine became disillusioned with Manichaeism. He turned to the later followers of Plato, whose concept of God agreed in some areas with Catholic doctrine. Augustine also turned his ear to the preaching of St. Ambrose of Milan, whose sermons removed some of his difficulties in believing the Bible.
As a professor of the liberal arts, Augustine appreciated these intellectual arguments for God’s existence and Church teaching. Ultimately, however, his decision to be baptized would require a deeper conversion of his heart and will. This occurred in 386 when, at age 33, he tearfully agreed to abandon his personal vices and enter the Church.
Bishop of Hippo
The intellectually restless convert received baptism from St. Ambrose on Easter of 387, shortly before the death of his holy and beloved mother Monica. Having abandoned his academic career and sold his possessions, Augustine soon began his work as a Catholic apologist and theologian. Not long after, a group of local believers persuaded him to enter the priesthood, which he did in 391.
From 396 until his death, Augustine served as the Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. He led a religious order of men who lived in apostolic poverty without personal possessions. He also led the local Church through challenging times that included the breakdown of Roman imperial authority and widespread confusion about basic Catholic beliefs.
As a bishop, Augustine presented the faith in a compelling and intelligent manner, while warning his flock–both verbally and in writing–about the danger of different heresies. These errors included Arianism, the denial that Jesus is God; Donatism, the belief that corrupt clergy have no authority; and Pelagianism, which denied original sin and taught that humans could achieve their own salvation.
In the last years of his life, Augustine saw the old Roman imperial order undergo a violent and chaotic transition with an uncertain outcome. The Church, too, continued to struggle despite his and other bishops’ efforts. In the Vandal-besieged city of Hippo, St. Augustine died on Aug. 28, 430.
After his death, through the legacy of his writings, St. Augustine became the most influential theologian in the history of Western Christianity. Pope Benedict XVI, who once described the saint as his “traveling companion” in life and ministry, has devoted six general audiences to St. Augustine’s life and thought since his election.
In August 2010, the pope spoke of “an important aspect of [Augustine’s] human and Christian experience, which is also timely in our day.”
“All too often,” Pope Benedict said, “people prefer to live only the fleeting moment, deceiving themselves that it will bring lasting happiness; they prefer to live superficially, without thinking, because it seems easier; they are afraid to seek the truth or perhaps afraid that the truth will find us, will take hold of us, and change our life, as happened to St Augustine.”
St. Augustine’s life, the pope observed, teaches all people–even those weak or challenged in their faith–“not to be afraid of the truth, never to interrupt the journey toward it and never to stop searching for the profound truth about yourselves and other things with the inner eye of the heart. God will not fail to provide light to see by, and warmth to make the heart feel that he loves us and wants to be loved.”
Copyright © 2011 Catholic News Agency