Thursday, March 31, 2011

Naomh An Lae - Saint Of The Day

St Stephen the Wonderworker of Mar Saba (725-794) monk

Trained by his uncle 

Although unbearded men were not admitted to the community of St Sabas, Stephen, being the nephew of St John of Damascus, one of the most learned men of his day, was received when he was only ten and trained under his uncle's guidance for the next fifteen years.

Servant of the community of Mar Saba

When John died in 749, Stephen, then 24, was ordained and began an eight-year period of service to the community. He was guest-master, cantor, dispenser and special guestmaster to those received into the igumen's quarters. Once, while celebrating the eastern rite of the Mass, as Stephen elevated the Eucharist and recited the words, “Holy things to the holy”, the monastic cell in which he was celebrating the liturgy was filled with a brilliant light that emanated from the celebrant himself. From that occasion onward, whatever he prayed for during the Eucharistic liturgy was granted. This may be the period during which he earned the title Wonderworker.

"Do not disturb" notice

However, Stephen sought permission from the igumen Martyrios to live as a complete hermit. Martyrios suggested a compromise: Stephen could lead a hermit's life, but should be available to those who needed counsel. So Stephen placed a note on the door of his cell: "Forgive me, Fathers, in the name of the Lord, but please do not disturb me, except on Saturdays and Sundays." So he prayed from Monday to Friday and was available for spiritual counselling at week-ends.

Complete solitude for fifteen

At the age of thirty-seven, Stephen went into complete solitude for fifteen years, three times going into the desert around the Dead Sea to observe Lent.

Lover of animals and people

When he was fifty-two, Stephen returned to the more relative form of the hermit's life, and admitted disciples once more. Many came to him for healing. He was a lover of animals and is portrayed, like St Francis, with his shoulders and arms covered with birds. The doves, starlings and deer fed out of his hand. His compassion for the lowly black worms that crawled through his hermitage prompted him to gather them into a spot where they would be safe from being trampled on. His biographer and disciple Leontius wrote about Stephen: "Whatever help, spiritual or material, he was asked to give, he gave. He received and honoured all with the same kindness. He possessed nothing and lacked nothing. In total poverty he possessed all things."

His poem on the coming of Islam: Art thou weary, art thou languid?  

 Towards the end of his life, Stephen may have experienced persecution from the Umayyad and Abbasid Islamic dynasties, when many monks of St. Sabas met their deaths. The events of the time are recorded in Leontius's The Life of St. Stephen the Sabaite. One of Stephen's hymns, Art thou weary, art thou languid?, was sympathetically translated by John Mason Neale in his Hymns for the Eastern Church (1862). It shows the strength of heart of the monk and disciple who during the sad days when the Cross was bowing before the Crescent, accepted the way of his Lord:
Art thou weary, art thou languid,
Art thou sore distressed?
“Come to Me,” saith One, “and coming,
Be at rest.”
Hath He marks to lead me to Him,
If He be my Guide?
In His feet and hands are wound prints
And His side.
Hath He diadem, as monarch,
That His brow adorns?
Yes, a crown in very surety,
But of thorns.
If I find Him, if I follow,
What His guerdon here?
Many a sorrow, many a labor,
Many a tear.
If I still hold closely to Him,
What hath He at last?
Sorrow vanquished, labour ended,
Jordan passed.
If I ask Him to receive me,
Will He say me nay?
Not till earth and not till Heaven
Pass away.
Finding, following, keeping, struggling,
Is He sure to bless?
Saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs,
Answer, Yes!

Stephen died in 794.

Prayer to St Joseph

O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.

O St. Joseph do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my Thanksgiving and Homage to the most Loving of Fathers.

O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart.

Press him in my name and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath.

St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us.

Prayer To Saint Matthew

O Glorious Saint Matthew, in your Gospel you portray Jesus as the longed-for Messiah who fulfilled the Prophets of the Old Covenant and as the new Lawgiver who founded a Church of the New Covenant. 
Obtain for us the grace to see Jesus living in his Church and to follow his teachings in our lives on earth so that we may live forever with him in heaven.

Mayor of Limerick Donates Ball Proceeds to Lourdes Invalid Fund

The Mayor of Limerick has announced that the proceeds from this year’s Mayor’s Ball in the city will to go to the local Lourdes Invalid Fund as well as the local Saint Gabriels’ special school.  

Cllr Maria Byrne said, “I'm delighted to be able to support two special Limerick charities with which I have a long association.”  

She added, “This year will be my twenty year going to Lourdes as a helper with the Lourdes Pilgrimage and I have been on the board of Saint Gabriels for the past 13 years.” 

The Limerick Pilgrimage to Lourdes has been in existence since the 1930's and takes place every June.  

Speaking this week, local Pilgrimage Director Fr Donal McNamara said “The funds raised will go towards the costs of bringing in excess of one hundred Invalids to Lourdes.”  

He added, “As well as our invalids, we need to bring a large backup medical team with us and they take time out of their work for the trip.” 

Saint Gabriels' School in Dooradoyle is a registered charity, which provides a range of education and therapy services to children and young adults, with physical, intellectual, sensory disabilities and developmental delay. 

The Mayor's Ball takes place in the Strand Hotel in Limerick City on Friday May 6 with this year's Ball having a sporting theme to represent Limerick's year as European City of Sport.

Church leaders express "concern" over plan to cut schools by half

Church leaders are believed to be concerned at plans announced yesterday by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to transfer up to 50 per cent of its primary schools to other patrons. 

According to The Irish Independent, sources close to the Catholic bishops say that the Minister's target of beginning to transfer schools next January was too ambitious.  

It was announced on Monday that the Minister had selected an advisory panel to run his proposed Forum on Patronage and Pluralism which is due to report by the end of October.

The advisory group will be chaired by John Coolahan, professor emeritus at NUI Maynooth.  

The other members include Dr Caroline Hussey, former UCD registrar, and Fionnuala Kilfeather, former chief executive of the National Parents Council (primary).

In a statement, The Iona Institute said it welcomed the forum but called on the Minister “to respect the autonomy of whatever number of Catholic and other denominational schools remain after this process is completed.”

"This means guaranteeing the admissions policy of those schools, their employment policy, and also that they can teach whatever is compatible with their beliefs."

Mr Quinn wants to see the first of the schools being transferred by next January. 

Church sources, however, say the Minister was going too far, too fast. 

Over 80 per cent of all primary schools are under the patronage of the Church.  

The minister has said he intends to cut this figure by 50 per cent.

While they welcomed the forum, Church sources said it was the Church that first raised the issue of an over-supply of Catholic schools and that they were finalising a lengthy period of consultation on the issue.  

The Catholic Schools Partnership, which was established by the Irish Episcopal Conference and the Conference of Religious of Ireland, is to publish a position paper next week.

The results of its consultation process will be analysed by representatives from all dioceses at four regional assemblies in June 2011.  

Sources say the paper will stress the issue of parental choice and is likely to call for pilot projects in a small number of areas where there is felt to be an over-supply of church schools.

"It's not an easy matter to decide which school should close -- there are also legal issues involved," said one source.  

However, a protracted trial period is unlikely to satisfy the minister who wants action on this issue quickly.

The forum will look at the practicalities of how transferring or divesting of patronage should operate for individual primary schools in communities where this is appropriate.  

They will advise the Minister on how best it can be ensured that the system provides a sufficiently diverse number and range of primary schools catering for all religions and none.

Prof Coolahan said the issue of which schools would be moved from Catholic control could be decided by ballots of parents.

Gaelscoileanna, the voluntary organisation, said it hoped the forum would provide an opportunity to tackle the issues in relation to the provision of Irish-medium education.

Ethnic profiling by Irish state is illegal

Ethnic profiling is a form of racial discrimination facilitated by the Irish state, according to a report published by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) this week.
This issue was also addressed last Friday when the High Court ruled that Section 12 of the Immigration Act is unconstitutional.  Section 12 makes it a criminal offence for ‘non-nationals’ not to produce ID on demand.

“Irish citizens are not required to carry ID, yet Irish immigration legislation states that ‘non-nationals’ have to present ID on demand.  

Gardaí and Immigration Officers are clearly making judgements on who to ask for ID on the basis of colour, accent and appearance and this is recognised internationally as discriminatory,” said Siobhán O’Donoghue, MRCI director.  

She welcomed the court ruling and said that the law now needs to be changed to remove Section 12.  

MRCI wants to meet with the Gardaí to discuss the issue, and states the Garda Ombudsman also has a role to play.

The report Singled Out gives insights into the treatment of black and ethnic minority communities travelling to and from Northern Ireland and in police, immigration and security checks in the Republic.  

Researchers for the report spent time observing border areas and checkpoints and noted how people of visible ethnic origin are the focus of discriminatory checks on trains, buses and on the street.  

For example, in the report, one person describes how he was forcibly removed from a train and detained in a police cell despite having photo ID and proof of his legal status.  

Others spoke about their fears for children as they grow up under a constant cloud of suspicion that they have done something wrong.

“There will be second and third generation Irish citizens and it will be divisive; it will cause bigger problems down the road,” said another victim of ethnic profiling.  

Members of the public interviewed for the research assumed that people being checked, were “illegal.”

Ms O’ Donoghue, MRCI, said, “International research now recognises that ethnic profiling, apart from fuelling racism, is an inefficient and ineffective use of public resources.  Checks and inspections should only be done on the basis of reasonable suspicion and not on the colour of a person’s skin, accent or appearance.”

Avila Kilmurray, Director of the Community Foundation Northern Ireland said that ethnic profiling is having a detrimental impact on the integration of immigrant families and fuelling racism towards black and ethnic minorities. 

It is difficult to live with the constant assumption of guilt and this creates feelings of alienation.
Ethnic profiling involves targeting people for the purposes of security and public safety while relying on stereotypes about ethnicity such as colour, nationality, and religion rather than on reasonable suspicion.  

In 2009, the UN Human Rights Committee found that police identity checks motivated by race or ethnicity run counter to the international human right to non-discrimination.

Irish priests think their parishioners are too stupid to understand missals

The Catholic Church plans to go ahead with plans to introduce a new missal (the text used for Mass) despite protests from the Association of Catholic Priests and the fact that Irish priests seems to think their parishioners too stupid to understand the new text. 

The Association feels that the new text is sexist and cumbersome. The text currently used in Ireland dates back to 1975. 

A Daily Telegraph blogger David Thompson believes that the associations "whinge" implies that "their parishioners aren't bright enough to grasp the new texts" which are more loyal to the original Latin texts.

Thompson asked whether the priests of Ireland are in any position to "lecture the Church on standards of are miserably low in Ireland". In the Association's statement they said "While the bishops listened to our concerns, we regret to say that, judging by their response,they failed to take on board what we said.” 

The association said that the new texts would have "serious repercussions for parishes”. 

Their statement also said that the new texts might be unfair to the female followers of the Church.

It said "We fear that the continued use of sexist language with its use of man, men and brothers as generic terms will alienate some women and men." 

The new texts will come into effect in November on the first Sunday of Advent.

Archbishop Dolan’s Visitation may result in Maynooth closure

A recent media report has sparked speculation that St. Patrick’s Seminary, Maynooth may close following the Apostolic Visitation undertaken by New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan in recent months.

It has been suggested in the Irish Catholic newspaper that Dolan will recommend that Pope Benedict XVI move all Irish seminaries to a restructured Pontifical Irish College in Rome.

St. Patrick’s Seminary in Maynooth, Co. Kildare was first established in 1795 and has been preparing Irishmen for the priesthood for over 200 years. 

The seminary has been under pressure in recent months however to fill teaching vacancies made by retired theology professors, with the Irish Catholic pointing out that the faculty of Canon Law only has one full-time member, and the faculty of philosophy has no full-time staff.

Archbishop Dolan is said to believe that the low number of seminarians makes the college’s future unsustainable.

Archbishop Dolan visited Maynooth at the behest of Pope Benedict XVI, who ordered a wide-ranging probe into how abuse cases were handled by the Catholic Church in Ireland. 

The delegation also included Boston Archbishop Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who traveled to Dublin.

During his stay Archbishop Dolan requested copies of moral theology lectures, class notes, and presentations made to students, in order to assess the suitability of the content. 

It is believed that he found the content not sufficiently orthodox for future priests, and feels that the move to the Irish College would address these issues.

In response to the speculation, however, President of St. Patrick’s College, Monsignor Hugh Connolly, denied that there was any truth to the rumors, claiming that the reports were “without foundation,” and adding that “The media outlet leading with this incorrect story was sent a reply from us yesterday and its absence from the published copy is disappointing and damaging.”

Monsignor Connolly went on to say, “There are 72 men studying for the priesthood in Maynooth, making us the largest seminary on these islands and one of the largest in Europe… Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth is a vibrant centre of seminary formation and theological research.”

Despite the speculation that the visitations did not go well, he insisted that they were a positive experience, saying, “Maynooth is confident of its contribution to the future of the Church in Ireland. The Apostolic Visitation to the seminary was a positive and affirming experience for the whole College community. It generated a spirit of hope and enthusiasm which will no doubt play a significant part in the renewal of the Church in our country.”

The Apostolic visitors are expected to submit their reports along with their recommendations to the Pope in the coming months.

School patronage

THE DECISION by Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn to establish a Forum on Patronage and Pluralism is welcome. 

The need for some kind of forum to tease out these issues has been a long standing demand of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) but former education ministers, Batt O’Keeffe and Mary Coughlan, appeared reluctant to establish it. Mr Quinn maintains it will not be a talking shop. 

Its task, he says, will be to work out the practicalities of how transfer/divesting can be advanced to ensure that demands for diversity of patronage can be identified and met.

The debate on patronage was triggered three years ago when the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin acknowledged the church was over-represented in Irish education. 

At the time, Dr Martin suggested that perhaps one in four Catholic schools could be divested. 

But he has not been prescriptive about the degree of control the church should retain or divest in Irish education.

It is by no means certain if his open-minded approach is shared by other members of the hierarchy. 

Catholic Church leaders are reported as being “shocked’’ by suggestions from Mr Quinn that some 50 per cent of 3,000 primary schools under the church’s control could be divested. 

There are indications that a forthcoming position paper from the Catholic Schools Partnership – established by the Episcopal Conference and the Conference of Religious in Ireland – may adopt a less accommodating stance than that signalled by Dr Martin.

It is to be hoped that the church will not retreat to the trenches. 

The facts are as outlined by Mr Quinn in an interview on Today FM yesterday. 

A situation where the church controls almost 90 per cent of primary schools does not reflect the “contours of modern Ireland’’. 

In today’s schools, the church cannot even be certain that the teacher charged with preparing his pupils for the sacraments shares the Catholic faith.

In the debate to come, the views of parents must take centre stage. An Irish Times poll last year found that 61 per cent of people favour transferring control of primary schools from the Catholic Church to the State. 

It may be that other surveys and plebiscites are required among local communities to assess fully local preferences. 

What is clear is that the existing system of patronage is outmoded and requires change. 

As the INTO has noted, the forum should help to shape a new future for primary education in Ireland. 

The Catholic Church must be a willing partner in this process.

Think carefully before answering census question on religion

RITE AND REASON: THE CENSUS looms and included in it we have Question 12, which deals with religion. 

“What is your religion?” it asks boldly, assuming everyone has one. 

It lists the options: Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Islam, Presbyterian, Orthodox; it then gives a space, two rows of boxes, for “Other, write in your religion.” 

Then, under these two rows of boxes, comes option 7: “No religion.”

One would have thought a more sensible way of framing the question might have been to start by asking: “Do you have a religion?” 

This could have been followed by a number of options for those marking the Yes box whereas those opting for No would go straight to the next question. 

But this suggestion, made by the Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI) following an invitation by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) for suggestions regarding possible improvements in the census, was rejected on the basis it would make historical comparisons difficult. 

This must certainly mean not many suggestions would be adopted.

Anyone who has spent time looking at the 1911 census on the web will tell you how fascinating and absorbing this can be. 

But quite apart from simple statistics and general interest, the census performs an important and valuable function: it provides information that is used to help plan for the future. 

As it says on the census website: “When you fill in your census form on Sunday, April 10th, you’re giving us the information we need now to understand what Ireland needs for the future.”

What information is this and how will it be used? One piece of information must be that of religion. 

And how it might be used must surely be in providing appropriate schools for the future.

The vast majority of primary schools in this country are run by one or other church, mainly Roman Catholic. 

Archbishop Martin has said this should change to reflect the Ireland of today. 

In order to plan what sort of schools are most appropriate for the future, it would be useful to have an accurate picture regarding the population’s religion, or lack of it. 

And so we have question 12 on the census form. But will this work?

People who come from a religious background but no longer practise any religion and have no religious belief would most likely answer No to the question “Do you have a religion?”

But when asked “What is your religion?”, followed by a series of options including the one the person was born into, that person may tick the box of the religion they were brought up in but no longer practise.

But if people are in doubt, won’t they be helped by their enumerator, the person hired to distribute and collect the forms and answer questions about the census? 

Well, they’ll be helped all right; but on the question of religion the enumerators have been instructed to guide people to fill in the form to reflect their background rather than their current position. 

How does this help us plan for Ireland’s future?

Now I know people’s religion is not the only determining factor when it comes to schools. 

Many religious parents send their children to Educate Together schools because they believe it’s better than separating children. 

Some non-religious parents send their children to religious schools for academic or other reasons. 

Many would argue that a good “all children together” education system should be a basic right. 

Having said this, it would seem that the more people who truthfully state on their census form that they have no religion, the stronger the argument for a shift towards a more secular approach to education. 

And it is likely that the way the question is framed will not deliver as accurate a result as it should.

I’ll use an analogy: imagine a survey on car ownership. The question “Do you have a car?” is not asked; the survey goes straight to “What type of car do you have?” And then, someone who has no car is encouraged to say they have a Morris Minor because, way back, it was the traditional family car. What use would this information be?

The HAI is running an awareness campaign with advertisements on Dart carriages to make this point. 

The message is simple: if you don’t practise any religion, then mark the “No Religion” box.

It’s important.

Brian Whiteside is director of the Humanist Association of Ireland. Census day is April 10th

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Naomh An Lae - Saint Of The Day

St John of the Ladder (d. 649) abbot on Mt Sinai and ascetical writer

Early life

Little is known for definite about John's early life. He was born in Palestine. 

Some say that he became a monk on Mt Sinai at the age of sixteen and afterwards lived as a solitary in different places in the Arabian Desert. 

Others say he was married in early life and became a monk on the death of his wife and that after some years in community, he then became a hermit coming together with other hermits to church on Saturday and Sunday.

Abbot of Mt Sinai

John was already seventy when he was made abbot of Sinai, and four years later he resigned to prepare in solitude for his death.

The Ladder to Paradise 

John's fame comes mainly from a work he wrote that was much read in East and West entitled The Ladder to Paradise.  

This work treats of the way to union with God and moral perfection to be reached by a ladder of the following thirty "rungs" into which the book is divided:
  1. Renunciation of the world 
  2. Detachment
  3. Exile
  4. Obedience
  5. Penitence
  6. Remembrance of death
  7. Mourning
  8. Placidity and meekness: dealing with anger 
  9. Malice
  10. Slander
  11. Talkativeness and silence
  12. Falsehood
  13. Despondency
  14. Gluttony
  15. Chastity
  16. Avarice
  17. Poverty
  18. Insensitivity
  19. Sleep, prayer and the singing of psalms in church
  20. Alertness
  21. Unmanly fears
  22. Vainglory
  23. Pride
  24. Meekness, simplicity, guilelessness, and wickedness
  25. Humility
  26. Discernment
  27. Stillness
  28. Prayer
  29. Dispassion (Apatheia, or "passive disinterestedness")
  30. Faith, hope, and love
The ladder as inspiration and emblem 

The idea of the spiritual life as a ladder has inspired artists to develop interesting illustrations to motivate those on the spiritual journey and as an emblem of the saint himself. 

His feast is on 30th March.

Prayer to St Joseph

O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.

O St. Joseph do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your Heavenly power I may offer my Thanksgiving and Homage to the most Loving of Fathers.

O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart.

Press him in my name and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath.

St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us.

Prayer To Saint Matthew

O Glorious Saint Matthew, in your Gospel you portray Jesus as the longed-for Messiah who fulfilled the Prophets of the Old Covenant and as the new Lawgiver who founded a Church of the New Covenant. 
Obtain for us the grace to see Jesus living in his Church and to follow his teachings in our lives on earth so that we may live forever with him in heaven.

Rhode Island diocese welcomes immigration dialogue

The Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island was built upon and prospered because of the faith, sacrifices and contributions of many ethnic communities, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin explained during a recent symposium entitled, “Immigrants and Immigration in the 21st Century,”at Brown University.

According the U.S. Census Bureau, 133, 000 Rhode Island residents are foreign-born. According to the Pew Center, 20,000-30,000 of the state’s foreign-born residents are unauthorized immigrants. 

Brown University offered an opportunity for researchers, faith leaders and policy makers to come together as a community to discuss local views and attitudes toward immigrants and immigration policy in the state in hopes to work toward a greater awareness of the issue.

The daylong conference focused immigration issues inspired by a new survey conducted by the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, and the John Hazen White Public Opinion Laboratory at Brown. 

The survey reflected the views of Rhode Islanders on issues of immigration in their community and beyond.

Bishop Tobin served as the keynote speaker for the conference, offering his reflections on the issue. He emphasized that the Catholic Church has been concerned with the immigration question and responding to the needs of the immigrant community for a long time and added that the Church has continued to be blessed and enriched by the immigrant community.

“Throughout its history in our nation and in this community the Church has welcomed and ministered to the historic immigration of these cultures,” he said. “Despite the various languages, cultures and traditions of these very diverse immigrant groups, they were united by a common Christian faith and the desire to improve their lives and contribute to the well-being of their new home in the United States and the State of Rhode Island.”

The bishop explained that the church's dedication to the immigrant community is an act of faith grounded in several important fundamental principles, including: the dignity of each and every human person as created in the image and likeness of God; the teachings and example of Jesus Christ; the Christian principle that recognizes the strength and value of unity in diversity; and the wide-ranging testimony of the Sacred Scripture and teaching tradition of the church.

The bishop referred to the Statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, entitled “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us,” to help summarize the Catholic views relative to immigration.

“Without condoning undocumented migration, the church supports the human rights of all people and offers them pastoral care, education and social services, no matter what the circumstances of entry into this country, and it works for the human dignity of all - especially those who find themselves in desperate circumstances,” Bishop Tobin shared.

“We also recognize and assert that all human persons, created as they are in the image of God, possess a fundamental dignity that gives rise to a more compelling claim to the conditions worthy of human life.”

Alexandra Filindra, researcher at the Taubman Center at Brown University expressed the important need to invite the faith leaders of the community to the symposium.

“We really need to hear what Bishop Tobin and the faith leaders have to say because it is very divisive issue in our state,” Filindra said. “I think that the Bishop’s message was very important. We need to follow the principled ways that have been set out for us on this issue.”

Lucy Boltz, a junior at Brown University, said that it was a great idea to involve policy makers, religious figures and the community in the symposium to get a variety of perspectives on the issue and to promote immigration reform that is good for the immigrants and the United States.

“We are trying to work against the narrative of hate,” said Boltz, an Ethnic Studies major from Southern California. "There are skewed views as to how many undocumented immigrants there are. The more information people have about immigrants and what they have contributed to the state, the better off we will be."

As the debate on immigration continues, Bishop Tobin expressed the need for fair, effective and comprehensive immigration reform and encouraged respectful and productive discourse, avoiding stereotyping of either side.

“The footprints of the historic immigrant Church in this community, as they are throughout our nation, are all around us,” he said. 

“The Church continues to welcome, work with and be blessed by the immigrants coming to our nation and state. It is a phenomenon we shouldn't fear or reject, but rather welcome and embrace.”

Euthanasia 'unofficially' practised in UK, says leading Cath doctor

The president of the Catholic Medical Association in the UK believes that euthanasia is quite widely practised in the country's National Health Service in an unofficial way, said a report in the Independent Catholic News.

Dr Clare Walker explained how she is regularly contacted by distressed health care professionals and managers who describe their experience of witnessing repeated instances of unofficial, active euthanasia in their local areas.

"The standards of medical ethics and of interpretation of existing legislation appear to vary greatly around the country and from one organisation to the next, even in the same local area," said Dr Walker.

One development that has enabled this to happen is the adoption of the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP), developed in Liverpool in the 1990s as a result of collaboration between the Royal Liverpool Hospital and the Marie Curie hospice.

It aimed to bring hospice-style palliative care for those living out their last hours in hospital and its main emphasis was to unite professional support in the fields of physical treatment, psychological support, and support for carers and spiritual care.

"There is no reason to be suspicious when the LCP is being used in appropriate circumstances to a higher standard of care," said Dr Walker.

However, the scheme has now been rolled out across the country, with the application depending on widely differing levels of ethical application.

"If it is used out of context, then it could be used to the detriment of patients. For example, a patient comes into a resuscitation bay and it is not always clear if a condition is acute and can be treated," said Dr Walker, who recalls that in some hospitals the LCP has become known as the Lazarus Care Pathway due to the number of people who have been put on it inappropriately, are not moribound and subsequently need to be actively treated.

NI study finds disadvantaged Catholics more likely to attend university than disadvantaged Protestants

A report, commissioned by an Independent Unionist MLA, has found that disadvantaged Catholics in Northern Ireland are twice as likely to go to university as are disadvantaged Protestants.  

The report, commissioned by former Progressive Unionist Party leader and East Belfast MLA Dawn Purvis, who is also chair of the Working Group on Educational Disadvantage among the Protestant Working Class, found that working class Protestants are also twice as likely their Catholic counterparts to leave school without any qualifications. 

Ms Purvis, who established the working group, said, “While some politicians in the Northern Executive may find this difficult or inconvenient to deal with, the Northern Executive had (sic) an urgent responsibility to tackle the problem.” 

She went on to say that, “The statistics are damning, the facts are undeniable and the trend clear for all to see.  Young Protestant men are underachieving, they are not going to university, and many leave school without any qualifications and in an alarming number of cases without acceptable numeracy, literacy and life skills.” 

“The educational system fails them and so do the politicians who control how education is administered.” 

Her calls were supported by Dr Peter Shirlow of the Law faculty at Queens University in Belfast that led the research.  

He said, “Disadvantaged Catholics are twice as likely to attend University as Protestants.  The time for statistical analysis is gone.” 

“Many working class Protestants were heavily involved in manufacturing industry and viewed getting a trade as the main educational requirement.  With the collapse of the labour market this has changed.”

Catholic youth create videos for internet contest

Young Catholic filmmakers have produced inspirational YouTube videos with Catholic themes as part of a contest to help evangelize others about the faith.

The Kentucky-based Catholic youth media group Goodness Reigns is running the contest, whose entrants include youth groups and individuals aged 14 and older from all skill levels. 

They have submitted short films on Church teachings, the sacraments, Church history, the lives of the saints and examples of the contemporary mission spirit. 

Goodness Reigns’ People’s Choice Award promises a $1,000 cash prize to the winner of an internet vote.

Entrants are also competing in the “Share the Story” short film contest. On April 1 contest organizers will announce winners, who may choose either video equipment packages or all-inclusive travel packages to World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, Spain.

The entries come from 25 U.S. states and Canada, India, Mexico and Pakistan.

As of Friday afternoon, the People’s Choice vote leader was a video titled “The Sacrament of Divine Mercy.” It retells a story from the life of St. John Bosco in which Satan tries to demoralize a priest and his congregation about the effectiveness of confession.

Another leading video, “The Ten Plagues,” reinterpets the biblical plagues in a high school setting. The video “Finding John Doe” involves a troubled girl contemplating suicide, while another, “Morning Star Family Holy Hour,” describes the Holy Hour at a children’ prayer group in New York state.

The contest will help create a repository of short films for catechists and the general public, organizers said.

Gabriel Castillo, director of evangelization at St. Theresa’s Church in Sugarland, Texas, praised the contest.

“Now youth groups and teachers will have a safe place to send their students and peers to get solid Catholic information presented in creative ways,” she said.

The website for the People’s Choice vote is

For a fourth time, Kinglake's St Mary's rises from the ashes

WITH ''optimism and hope'', the Catholic parishioners of Kinglake celebrated the fourth incarnation of their church, St Mary's.

Three times destroyed by fire - due to bushfires in 1926 and 2009, and arson in 1995 - it has again risen from the ashes, and Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart celebrated Mass with parish priest Grant O'Neill at the inaugural service yesterday. 

The Kinglake congregation missed only one Sunday after the devastating fire of Black Saturday (February 9, 2009) - the next day, when access up the mountain was closed.
By the following Sunday Father O'Neill had arranged with the owner of the Kinglake bakery and cafe to hold services in an upstairs room.

Then a portable classroom was set up on the razed church's grounds.

Archbishop Hart said the congregation, part of the Diamond Creek parish, had shrunk as some parishioners moved away, but for those who remained the reopening brought ''a great sense of optimism and hope''.

The new church features a glass wall looking out over the valley, and crucifix-shaped stained glass window on the back wall.

Government cuts in UK mean fewer RE teachers

While a record number of adults are joining the Catholic Church in England and Wales, government cutbacks in teacher training will mean that there are less Religious Education (RE) teachers for Catholic schools.  

From September 2011, funding for RE teachers at British universities is to be cut by 45 per cent. 

One college in Middlesex which provides many RE teachers for Catholic schools in London, says it will only have nine trainee teachers in September (instead of 18), according to a report in the Tablet.

Oona Stannard from the Catholic Education Service (CES) said the 45 per cent cut was bewildering and unjustified and that all the colleges providing Catholic RE teachers are being unfairly affected by the reduction, which will make it harder for Catholic schools to have properly trained religion teachers.

The cuts come against the background of a controversial decision taken by the Department of Education in the UK to exclude Religious Studies from the list of subjects in the English Baccalaureate (EBacc), a new standard-setting exam for schools.

According to the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, Religious Studies give young people the opportunity to engage seriously with the most profound philosophical and ethical dilemmas of today.  

The subject demands knowledge of history, anthropology, ethics, philosophy and theology. 

“Its deliberate omission from any measure seeking to ensure that pupils receive a genuinely broad education is indefensible,” he said at a recent lecture in Guilford Cathedral.

Archbishop Nichols said the study of religion is an invaluable help in the project of building the common good and self-fulfilment.  “Without this appreciation we are condemned to be endlessly starting again and, no doubt, repeating mistakes and pursuing blind alleys.”

According to Ms Stannard from CES, demand for Catholic RE teachers is strong, and some schools have been unable to fill positions.  While there is a general fall in student numbers at secondary level, Catholic schools are still well supported, especially because of a rising Catholic immigrant population.

The Catholic Education Service is currently running a campaign through its website, encouraging members of the public to lobby their MPs to support an “Early Day Motion 1375” calling on the  Government to “recognise the importance and relevance of religious education by including it as a core subject in the English Baccalaureate.”

The motion, which was tabled on  January 31, currently has sixty-one sponsors, representing all the major English political parties, three members of the DUP and a member of the SDLP.

Meanwhile, this Easter, record numbers are joining the Catholic Church, in English and Welsh dioceses, mainly due to the newly established “Ordinariate” which makes it easy for Anglicans to join the Catholic Church, either individually or in groups with their pastors.

4,739 people will be received into the Church from 22 dioceses in England and Wales.  3,943 will come through the Rite of Election (conclusion of Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), and 796 through the Ordinariate. 

This compares with a total figure last year (2010) of 3,418. 

Pope appeals for diplomatic talks to halt armed conflict in Libya

Praying for peace in Libya, Pope Benedict XVI has issued a “heartfelt appeal” to political leaders to begin immediate talks to halt the use of weapons.

His fear for the safety and security of civilians has grown, as has his concern about the developments in the armed conflict, he told a crowd of thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square after the Sunday Angelus prayers.

Rebel forces backed by France, Britain, Spain and the United States are challenging forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Ghadafi.

In times of “high tension,” the Pope said, the need becomes more urgent to resort to every means of diplomatic action and to support the “weak signs” of willingness to find “peaceful and lasting solutions.”

He prayed to God for “a return to concord” in Libya and the entire North African region.
The Pope also noted recent episodes of violence in the Middle East. 

He asked that those involved privilege the way of dialogue and reconciliation in the search for “a just and brotherly coexistence.”

Single Catholic divorcees can receive Holy Communion – Curia

Catholic divorcees can still receive Holy Communion and go to confession as long as they are “not engaged in a permanent relationship”, the Curia has clarified.

“The official teaching of the Church states that those who are in a permanent relationship outside the Catholic marriage cannot receive the sacraments in a licit way.

“A divorced person (whether they divorced willingly or unwillingly) who is not engaged in a permanent relationship can receive the sacraments liberally,” a spokesman for the Church told The Sunday Times.

The Church was asked for its comments after certain sections of the media reported that a 12-point leaflet distributed to households stated that divorcees would not be permitted to receive the sacraments.

The leaflet was an insert in the monthly magazine Flimkien which is published by the college of parish priests and distributed to all households free of charge. It is based on a question-and-answer format.

One of the questions asks whether those who remarry civilly after a divorce would be able to receive the sacraments. “(Those who believe this) are definitely misunderstanding. If divorce is introduced, those who are divorced can only remarry civilly and not in the Church.

“They cannot get married as a sacrament and therefore they cannot go to confession or Holy Communion anyway. This is because their first marriage still counts in God’s and the Church’s eyes. Divorce does not nullify a valid marriage between two Catholics.”

As the Church has clarified, this means such divorcees will still be able to receive the sacraments as long as they are not in an intimate relationship with a new partner.

Meanwhile, the Church defen­ded its right to distribute such information to the public in light of the ongoing divorce debate.

“The information given in the referred article falls in line with the Church’s mission to teach and enlighten, in this case through its own media,” the Church spokes­man said.

“(The magazine) conveys the view of the Catholic Church on different aspects of our faith and on Maltese society. As in the case of other magazines, it is obvious that not all that is published is agreed with by all readers, but like other magazines, it helps readers to (form) a diversified opinion on various issues put before them, as befits a pluralistic society.”

The 12 points in brief

1) If battered wives are granted the right to remarry, so too will their abusive husbands.

2) Although people have a right to marry, there is no such right to divorce, according to a 1986 judgment of the European Court of Human Rights.

3) Catholics who vote against divorce are not imposing their values. They have a right to vote according to what they think is best for society.

4) The Church allows priests to leave the priesthood and get married because celibacy is a Church law, not a law of God like the indissolubility of marriage.

5) Divorce weakens the marriage bond, leading to fewer people getting married.

6) If you do not vote it means you do not care about the family or your children.

7) In all countries with divorce, cohabitation increased, marriage decreased and more people fell below the poverty line.

8) There is nothing wrong with Malta being an exception in the world. Malta has the most churchgoers. Unlike the US, it does not have the death penalty. Should those things change too?

9) Divorce increases marital breakdown by 20 per cent. For society’s benefit, sometimes individuals must suffer. For example, people might have to give up their land to make space for an airport. All efforts must be made to reduce their suffering, but the land must be taken for common good.

10) People who remarry civilly after a divorce cannot receive Holy Communion or go to confession.

11) The Church is against abortion, condoms, sex before marriage and divorce because these are all negative actions. However, it is in favour of positive actions.

12) The number of children born out of wedlock increases in countries with divorce because cohabitation increases.