Saturday, March 31, 2012

Former atheist promises encounter with God through saints' relics

Father Carlos Martins never expected to be a priest, or to be touring North America to promote devotion to the saints through their sacred relics. 

For much of his life, he did not believe in God.

“I was raised in a very nominally Catholic family. We didn't go to church,” the 37-year-old priest told CNA on March 27. 

“The Catholic school that we went to was 'Catholic' in name only.”

“By the time I became an adult, aside from being a 'practical atheist,' I became an intellectual one as well. I thought it was impossible for God to exist, given the state of the world.”

During his university years, some “very committed Catholics” made him question his atheism – leading to a profound encounter with Christ in Eucharistic adoration.

Sixteen years and one priestly ordination later, Fr. Martins helps others encounter God, through another traditional Catholic practice: the exposition and veneration of sacred relics.

He leads the Treasures of the Church ministry, which brings thousands of relics by request to locations in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Its collection includes relics of St. Maria Goretti, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Faustina Kowalska.

Fr. Martins spoke with CNA during his March 25-April 1 tour of Colorado. After a 60-minute presentation explaining the veneration of relics, attendees can spend time in prayer with a selection that includes a large piece of Christ's cross, and fabric from the Virgin Mary's veil.

As his presentation makes clear, the experience is unlike anything that most attendees have experienced before.

“I do not have a 'traveling museum,'” he explained. “What I have, is a ministry of evangelization and healing.”

Fr. Martins refers to the period of veneration, following his introduction to the practice, as the “walk with the saints.” 

During this time, he promises that those with an open heart will experience God – and the supernatural reality known as the “communion of the saints” – in a new and profound way.

“People aren't just going around and viewing the multitude of relics that are there,” he explained. “They're encountering these heroes of the faith, wanting to connect with them.”

“I guarantee them that there is going to be one saint, that is present at the exhibition, that will communicate with them in a personal way … Their job is to go find 'their saint.'”

“Ever since my own conversion from atheism,” he recalled, “my interaction with the saints was always very personal. I could intuit very specific saints extending an offer of friendship to me, with an uncanny deepness and regularity.”

“That is going to happen, when you encounter the relics,” the priest said. “I guarantee people that's going to happen.”

While some non-Catholics may find the veneration of relics unusual or even strange, it is solidly rooted in scripture and the constant tradition of the Church. Saints and their relics are not worshiped, but honored in a manner that acknowledges God's work in their lives.

Through his work with Treasures of the Church, Fr. Martin has seen God's work continue through the relics of the saints – sometimes in surprising ways.

“People come to a relic exposition for all kinds of different reasons,” he noted.

While some are there because of their devotion to saints, others may attend for different reasons: historical interest, an interest in “antiques,” or curiosity about a practice with which they are unfamiliar.

“They can't believe that there is a 'medieval circus act,' running around with human bones, in this day and age,” Fr. Martin joked.

In the presentation that precedes the “walk with the saints,” the priest makes a promise to all of these attendees.

“I make a public guarantee that they will encounter the living God in that exposition.”

“In the years I've been doing this, the hundreds of thousands of people that have come – I have never had anybody make a 'warranty claim,'” he said.

Instead he has heard testimonies of healing, accomplished by God's grace, through the intercession of the saints.

“I've had thousands of healing stories communicated to me: cancers gone, heart conditions, osteoporosis, you name it.”

But the “most dramatic effect” Fr. Martin sees, following the exposition of relics, is a healing within the human soul.

It is this kind of healing that the priest finds “most exciting” in his ministry.  Through their encounter with the saints, those living on earth are called to remove the obstacles to receiving eternal life.

“You can go to heaven with cancer in your limb. You can go to heaven with a bad heart (condition),” Fr. Martins noted.

“But you can't go to heaven with a heart that has shut God out. You can't go to heaven with unforgiveness in your heart. You can't go to heaven by refusing to participate in the sacraments and live your Catholic identity. You just can't. ”

“If I've managed to help God penetrate the human heart, that invigorates and exhilarates me,” he said.

New seminary reflects hope, challenges for Cuban vocations

For the people of Cuba, the recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI is both a sign of hope and a call to spiritual renewal.

On March 28, the Pope encouraged the nation to “look again to the faith of your elders” as a source of “strength to build a better future.”

After facing numerous challenges in recent years, the Catholic Church in Cuba is continuing to overcome obstacles as it proceeds on its journey of faith.

Both its turbulent past and hope for the future are illustrated by the new San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary, which sits on archdiocesan land on the outskirts of Havana.

When the seminary facility was inaugurated in Nov. 2010, it became the most prominent new religious building in the country in over half a decade since Fidel Castro took power in 1959.

The new location provides more space and a quiet, more peaceful atmosphere than the historical seminary, which was built by Jesuits in the mid-18th century and is located in the tourist center of Old Havana.

Both the Knights of Columbus and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops helped to fund the construction of the new facility, which includes classrooms, dormitories, offices and a chapel, as well as a dining room, a library and recreation space.

At almost 6,000 square meters in area, the building can house up to 100 seminarians.

However, it is currently home to just over 50, illustrating the shortage in vocations that the country is currently experiencing.

Cuba is home to about 6.7 million Catholics, making up just over 60 percent of the country’s population of 11 million.

However, the nation has only about 350 priests and 650 religious to serve the people.

While recent years have seen low levels of new vocations in many countries, the Church in Cuba has faced particular challenges, including repression under an atheist state.

The Church is now in a period of recovery in the twenty years since the state ceased its official support of atheism.

When Pope John Paul II visited the island country in 1998, he blessed the cornerstone of the seminary, emphasizing its importance for the future of the local Church.

The former Pope’s historic visit also helped to promote better relations between the Church and state in Cuba. 

The Catholic Church played a significant role in working to obtain the freedom of 52 Cuban political prisoners in 2010.

Now, the country is turning to the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, who visited the island country on March 26-28. 

At a welcoming ceremony shortly after he descended from the papal plane, Pope Benedict acknowledged the impact of his predecessor’s 1998 visit to Cuba.

He said that Pope John Paul II brought “a gentle breath of fresh air” that strengthened the country and “left an indelible mark on the soul of all Cubans.”

Continuing the message of the previous Pope, the Holy Father encouraged the people of Cuba to return to the rich faith that shaped the nation’s history in order to achieve a “rebirth of society.”

In doing so, he emphasized the need to embrace and live out the “spiritual and moral values which fashioned the nation’s true identity.”

RTÉ Religious Programmes for Holy Week and Easter 2012

Religious Programmes for 

Holy Week and Easter, 2012

On RTÉ Television and Radio

Sunday 1st April – Palm Sunday

0700-0900 Gloria - Tim Thurston introduces seasonal sacred music, including a Russian Orthodox Passion, Bach’s Passion Chorales for organ and a stunning version of Allegri’s Miserere.  (RTÉ Lyric  FM)

1000-1100 Mass for Palm Sunday from the Divine Word Church, Donamon, Co Roscommon. The celebrant is Fr Tom Cahill, SVD. Music comes from the parish choirs of Kilbegnet and Glinsk. (RTÉ Radio One LW 252 / Digital platforms)

1100-1145 Passiontide Reflection led by Canon Maureen Ryan, a Minister of the Church of Ireland parish of Galway. (RTÉ Radio One LW 252 / Digital platforms)

1115-1210 Fr Philip McShane celebrates Mass for Palm Sunday with the congregation of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Clonakilty, in the Cork & Ross Diocese. Music is by the Clonakilty Folk Choir, led by Sigrid Rose. (RTÉ One TV)

1130-1230 Aifreann an Lae ar Dhomhnach na Pailme, deo ó Shéipéal Muire, an Daingean, Co Chiarrai. (RTÉ Raidio na Gaeltachta)

1735-1745 Passover: A Celebration of Freedom. Every year Yanky Fachler  a member of the Dublin Jewish Progressive Community runs a communal Passover – he recounts the story of his father’s escape from Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport and how his departure from oppression into freedom is very much the theme of Passover. (RTÉ One TV)

2235-2305 Would You Believe? The Secret Peacemaker. Fr Alec Reid never meant to have a public role in the Troubles, but when he knelt to give the last rites to one of two British Corporals killed by a West Belfast lynch mob, in 1988, the image went global. Behind the scenes, he was already starting to work as a secret peacemaker between Gerry Adams, John Hume and the Irish Government – efforts which were rewarded ten years later with the Good Friday Agreement. As he turns 80, WYB? tells his remarkable story, with contributions from key players and commentators, including Gerry Adams, Martin Mansergh and the Rev. Harold  Good. (RTÉ One TV)

Thursday 5th April – Holy Thursday

1900-2000 Monsignor Dan O’Connor celebrates Mass of the Lord’s Supper in the RTÉ Television studios with the choir of St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Duboyne, Co Meath, directed by Hannah Evans. The Mass also marks the culmination of the Trócaire Lenten campaign. (Live simulcast on RTÉ One TV & Radio One Extra /LW 252)

Friday 6th April – Good Friday

1345-1400 Good Friday and So Forth – A Note on the Compassion Narrative, written and presented by Aidan Mathews.  (RTE Radio One. All wavelengths.)

1400-1500 Music for Good Friday With Tim Thurston. Music from Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Pergolesi’s  Stabat Mater, Haydn’s Seven Last Words and Allegri’s Miserere. (RTE Radio 1 FM)

1400-1430 Why Did He Die? A Special Edition of The God Slot for Good Friday. All we can say with historical accuracy about Jesus of Nazareth is that a young Jewish Galilean healer, preacher and exorcist called Jesus was executed by the Romans in or around the year 33 AD, and that he had such an effect on his group of followers that their lives were transformed forever, so much so that they believed that he was the Christ, the Son of God who rose from the dead and walked among them. Those are the facts, but there is a lot more to truth than mere facts, and on Good Friday, one of the most sacred days in the Christian calendar, The God Slot asks: Why did he die?

To help find an answer, presenter Eileen Dunne is joined by the Abbot of Glenstal, Mark Patrick Hederman; lecturer in Theology & Ethics and our regular film critic, Barry McMillan: Emeritus Professor of Theology at the University of Wales and Visiting Professor at St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, Mary Grey, and the rector of Kill of the Grange, Blackrock and Theology graduate, the Rev Ferran Glenfield.

All aspects of the death of Jesus are examined, from traditional Theology to the Hollywood treatment of the event to its impact on our world. The programme is repeated on all wave-lengths at 2200 and an extended edition will be available on podcast. (RTE Radio 1 Live Extra / 252 LW)

1430-1500 The Tullamore Passion The Rev William Hayes, Msgr Sean Heaney, the Rev. Rosemary Lindsay, Canon Gerald Field, Fr Shane Crombie and Pastor Oladipo Niran lead Christians of all denominations in a commemoration of the Passion of Christ, through readings, reflections, music and prayer, on the streets of Tullamore, Co. Offaly. (RTE Radio 1 Live Extra / 252 LW)

1455-1600 Solemn Liturgy for Good Friday Fr John McCarthy leads liturgies marking the crucifixion of Jesus, in St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, in the Diocese of Cloyne. The combined Cathedral and Chamber Choirs are directed by Dominic Finn. (Live on RTÉ One TV & simulcast on Radio One Extra /  LW 252 from 1500, with commentary by Mary Curtin.)

1500-1600 Craolfar Searmanas na Páise inniu ó Shéipéal Mhic Dara ar an gCeathrú Rua.  An tAthair Ciarán de Blácam.

Good Friday ceremonies today will be broadcast from Séipéal Mhic Dara in An Cheathrú Rua, Connemara. Celebrant is An tAthair Ciarán de Blácam. (RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta)

2000-2200 The Lyric Concert presented by Paul Herriott Haydn: Seven Last Words on the Cross. RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet with Denis Conway (narrator) , recorded in the Unitarian Church in Dublin in 2010; Mozart: Requiem: Ton Koopman conducts the Amsterdam Baroque Chorus and Orchestra with soloists Dorothee Mields, Bogna Bartosz, Tilman Lichdi and Klaus Mertens. (RTÉ Lyric FM)

Saturday, 7th April – Holy Saturday

2100-2230 The Easter Vigil Mass from St. Clonleth’s Church, Newbridge, Co. Kildare. The celebrant is Fr. Joe McDermott. Music from St. Clonleth’s Parish Choir. (RTÉ Radio One LW252 / Digital Platforms)

2315-0045 The Easter Vigil Mass from St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, Co. Cork. The Principal Celebrant is Fr Michael Leamy; Dominic Finn conducts the combined Cathedral and Chamber Choirs. (RTÉ One)

Sunday 8th April – Easter Sunday

0700-0900 Gloria. Tim Thurston offers a selection of sacred music to celebrate Easter Sunday. (RTE Lyric FM)

0915-1100 Mass for Easter Sunday celebrated by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in St Peter’s Square, Rome with live commentary by Fr Thomas McCarthy, OP. (RTÉ One) Followed by…

1100-1135 Urbi et Orbi: The Pope’s Easter Message, with live commentary from Fr Thomas McCarthy, OP. (RTÉ One)

1000-1045 Mass for Easter Sunday from the Church of the Assumption, Tullamore, Co. Offaly. The celebrant is Fr. Patrick Donnelly. Music comes from the Family Mass Choir. (RTÉ Radio One LW252 / Digital Platforms)

1045-1130 Easter Sunday Service of Worship from Cavan Presbyterian Church, led by Reverend Jean Mackarel. (RTÉ Radio One LW252 / Digital Platforms)

1100-1145 Aifreann an Lae. Craolfar Aifreann an Lae beo ó Shéipéal Mhic Dara ar an gCeathrú Rua. An tAthair Ciarán de Blácam. Beidh Raidió na Gaeltachta ag ceiliúradh 40 bliain ar an aer i mbliana. Ba ar Dhomhnach Cásca sa bhliain 1972 a thosaigh Raidió na Gaeltachta ag craoladh, lá stairiúil do phobal na Gaeltachta agus na Gaeilge. (Raidió na Gaeltachta)

Sunday Mass will be broadcast from Séipéal Mhic Dara in An Cheathrú Rua, Connemara. The celebrant is Fr Ciaran de Blácam. (Raidió na Gaeltachta)

Raidió na Gaeltachta is celebrating 40 years on air this year. On Easter Sunday, in 1972, Raidió na Gaeltachta came on air for the first time. It was an historic day, and the result of a battle hard-won by the Gaeltacht Civil Rights movement for a radio station for the Gaeltacht and Irish-language population of the country. 

2235-2315 Would You Believe? As every Irish schoolchild knows, on Holy Saturday, over 1500 years ago, St Patrick lit a Paschal fire on Slane Hill to banish pagan darkness and transform the Irish into a  Christian people. The trouble is there’s absolutely no evidence that he did anything of the sort. Mick Peelo goes on a journey to find out what we really know for certain about Patrick… from an Archbishop, a Bishop and a mitre-ful of historians and scholars. He discovers that much of our “knowledge” is a mixture of myth and propaganda, which is often in danger of eclipsing what Patrick actually himself revealed about his life, faith and legacy. (RTÉ One TV)

For further information, please call:  Roger Childs (01 208 4586) or Vivienne Flood (01 208 3164) for television enquiries and Joe Hoban (01 208 2399) for radio enquiries.

Irish bishops: God not missed in lives of many Europeans

Europe today is a culture in which God appears to be "silent and unmissed in the lives of many" the Irish bishops warn in a new pastoral letter issued March 29.

The 12-page document, "Repent and Believe the Good News," deals with the importance of repentance for the Irish Catholic Church.

In their discussion of the European context in which the Irish church is forging its path, the bishops said that today there are "many spheres of life in which even believers rarely recognize the relevance of the Gospel."

They reiterated Pope Benedict XVI's question of whether the West, "the heartlands of Christianity," is tired of its faith, bored by its history and culture, and no longer wishes to know faith in Jesus Christ.

Explaining their reason for promoting repentance, they say the reflection builds on the summons to renewal made by Pope Benedict to the Catholics of Ireland in his 2010 pastoral letter. It is also a motif emphasized in the summary of the findings of the apostolic visitation in Ireland; that summary was released in mid-March.

Acknowledging that "None of us remains unaffected by our culture," the pastoral reflection states that it "takes a real effort in a busy and noisy world to ask the fundamental questions about what our lives mean and where they are leading" and to make the space to get priorities right.

Welcoming the publication of the letter, the primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, said in a statement that repentance was the only path to real renewal for Ireland and the church.

He urged the faithful to resist the temptation to put convenience, celebrity, domination, blindness, dishonesty, pride or any other ambition, craving or comfort in the place of God.

Referring to the preparations being made for the forthcoming International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin June 10-17, Cardinal Brady suggested Catholics should receive the sacrament of reconciliation and renew the practice of making the sign of the cross as they pass a church "in acknowledgment of the real presence in the Eucharist."

Arizona immigration law threatens religious liberty, USCCB argues in court brief

As previously announced by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop José Gomez, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the federal government in its dispute with Arizona over the state’s 2010 immigration legislation. 

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) joined the US bishops in filing the brief in the case of United States v. Arizona.

“The [USCCB] is compelled to file this brief in support of the United States for two reasons,” the brief states. “First, the Conference has a strong interest in ensuring that courts adhere to two important goals of federal immigration law--the promotion of family unity and the protection of human dignity. The provisions of S.B. 1070 [the Arizona immigration law] at issue in this case would hinder these critical federal objectives by replacing them with the single goal of reducing the number of undocumented immigrants in Arizona at all costs. That is flatly inconsistent with this country’s longstanding holistic approach to immigration policy--which underscores why these decisions are properly made at the federal, rather than the state, level.” 

“Second, and more generally, the Conference is acutely interested in protecting the religious liberty of Catholic and other religious institutions,” the brief continued, adding:
The Catholic Church’s religious faith, like that of many religious denominations including those who join the Conference in this brief, requires it to offer charity--ranging from soup kitchens to homeless shelters—to all in need, whether they are present in this country legally or not. 
Yet S.B. 1070 and related state immigration laws have provisions that could either criminalize this charity, criminalize those who provide or even permit it, or require the institutions that provide it to engage in costly (if not impossible) monitoring of the individuals they serve, and then to exclude from that charity all those whose presence Arizona and other states would criminalize. 
This in itself, as well as the proliferation of fifty different laws of this kind, would unnecessarily intrude on the Church’s religious liberty.

Church is approaching breaking point (Comment)

THE LONG awaited Vatican Report into the Irish Church was published last week. 

A couple of weeks ago, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin was quoted as saying that the Church in Ireland is at breaking point.

The statement was of course headline fodder for the newspapers, and reading the reports of the interview he gave in the US, one can easily see why such a statement would raise eyebrows. 

To think that the Church is at breaking point is quite disconcerting, and really I suppose it could be perceived as a very negative idea.

But I feel that while Archbishop Martin is right in some ways, the truer overall picture isn't quite so bad. 

The institutional church, the hierarchy, and the perceived 'all-powerful church' is of course a shadow of its former self. But this needn't necessarily be a bad thing. 

What had evolved, particularly over the last couple of centuries in Ireland, was an institution, which had strayed hugely from what the church should be all about.

When Jesus Christ founded his church on the Apostle Peter, I don't believe he envisaged what happened in Ireland, in fact I think he would have been as disappointed with what it had become, as anyone else.

The church is the people of God, not buildings or clergy or anything else. It is a community founded upon the Truth of the Gospels, and, I believe, THAT church is nowhere near breaking point. 

At present in Ireland, thousands of people are looking forward with a great sense of joy to the Eucharistic Congress, which will be held in Dublin in the summer.

At present in Ireland, there are numerous charities that spread the gospel and live out the full meaning of church every day. 

At present in Ireland, there are countless gatherings of communities of faith that personify the ideal and vision of those early Christians. The Catholic Church may be much smaller today than even ten years ago, and certainly the practice rate is eons away from what it was in the hey-day of the early 20th century, but it is not, by any means, done-for yet.

In saying that, there is a breaking point which has either already passed, or which is fast approaching. 

That breaking point is unavoidable, and it is the breaking point of disillusionment with the leadership of the church. 

The biggest problem that today's Church in Ireland has, is the lack of leadership and the style of leadership.

People feel abandoned, they feel let down, neglected and dishonoured. 

For many ordinary Catholics, the very things which they sacrificed themselves for all their lives, and dedicated themselves to, are all being shown a lack of respect by those who should respect it. 

My parents' generation trusted, believed, followed faithfully, and were let down badly. 

For Diarmuid Martin, or any Archbishop, to say that ' their' church is at breaking point, does those people a massive disservice.

I want to draw a parallel with the church in Ireland and the church in the United States. 

In the past month or so, President Obama's Administration mandated that employers, including faith-based entities like hospitals and universities must provide employees with free birth control as part of their insurance packages.

The mandate will also force such groups to pay for sterilizations, and abortifacient drugs which are approved as "contraception". 

This was vehemently opposed by Church leaders in the US, who were not shy in coming forward to defend their rights, and the freedom of religion. 

Now, the American Bishops weren't in any stronger a position than their Irish counterparts when it came to their mishandling of sexual abuse, but yet they didn't lie down and allow an anti-faith agenda take over. 

They stood up for what they believed in, and despite their damaged moral standing, the truth of the gospels was still to be defended.

If the church is at breaking point it's because there are no leaders anymore, and the breaking point is being leader-less. 

When faithbased schools are being attacked, church leaders are silent. 

When the Taoiseach attacks the Vatican in a Dail speech, church leaders are silent.

When a Labour Party TD wants to discriminate against Catholics and screen them before employing them as civil servants, church leaders are silent. 

When the Tanaiste closes the Vatican embassy, church leaders are silent. 

When The Obama administration attacked religious freedom in the United States, the church leaders were far from silent. 

There was a response, and it was a very loud response.

While the leaders of this Irish church are quiet and cowed in hiding, ordinary members are hurt and feel let down, and gradually they are beginning to let their voices be heard. 

Because there are plenty of people who love God and their faith, and their church, and they are a community of believers. 

In the vacuum of silence, the faithful are beginning to speak, and their church is nowhere near breaking point.

Hungarian kids go to mass as churches take over schools

Financially strapped Hungarian towns are handing over the running of their schools to churches, which means that the constitutional guarantee of a religious-free education is no longer possible.

Hard-hit by the economic crisis, several small towns and villages have argued that they are unable to maintain their schools and so have offloaded them to religious institutions -- most often to the Catholic Church.

Over the past year, nearly 80 public schools -- out of over 4,300 around the country -- have changed hands, according to the ministry of national resources, which also oversees education.

The number of schools controlled by the Catholic Church increased by 20 percent, while the Evangelical Church recorded a 13-percent hike and the Reformed Church a 10-percent increase, the ministry said.

Education remains free, but pupils have found themselves suddenly obliged to receive religious instruction. Prayer has become compulsory and teaching now follows Christian values.

"Every Monday, we start with an act of piety: the children pray in silence and listen to a verse from the Bible," said Katalin Kalina, assistant principal at the Sztehlo Gabor school in Budapest's 18th district. 

The Evangelical Church took it over at the start of the school year.

Most classes also begin every day with a prayer, she said.

District authorities insist they did not relinquish control of the school exclusively for financial reasons, but also to offer children a better education.

"That's partly why the Evangelical Church took over this institution. It provides more educational options in the 18th district."

But not everyone is satisfied with the solution.

"I have a few friends who attend that school," said Adam, 19, who goes to another school in the neighbourhood.

"They are not happy at all about the Church's interference in their studies."

"There are Jewish and Arab kids going to school there," said Istvan Varga, also 19. "Why should they go the mass?"

"One's religion and beliefs should be private, it should be no one else's business. You cannot force an 18-year-old... to believe in God if he doesn't want to."

In Budapest, changing schools even from one district to the next is relatively easy.

But in small villages such as Zsombo, 160 kilometres (100 miles) south of the capital, parents and children have just one school -- and it has now become a religious institution.

"Under the constitution, the state must guarantee a primary education, and one that is ideologically neutral," said Lajos Aary-Tamas, the ombudsman for educational rights.

Last year, he launched an inquiry into whether school takeovers by religious institutions in several villages violated children's rights to a non-religious education. Its findings are still awaited.

But not everyone is upset at the changes.

At the Sztehlo Gabor school in Budapest, several pupils noted the rules were now a little stricter. But it was "not such a drastic change", the added, and they accepted it.

"It's the same as it was before, we just have go to mass on Monday now," said one student who declined to give his name. I don't mind that, although I'm not a believer. It's early in the morning, I don't pay attention to what's being said during mass."

Vatican doctrinal office warns Catholics against schismatic group

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sounded a warning against four excommunicated priests who continue to claim they represent the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the largest of the Eastern churches in full communion with Rome.

Despite encouragement and hopes the excommunicated clerics would reconcile with the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Holy See, recent events and their continued slander demonstrate the leaders are only creating "confusion and havoc in the community of faithful," the congregation said in a written declaration, dated Feb. 22 and released by the Vatican March 29.

The doctrinal congregation formally does "not recognize the validity of their episcopal ordinations and all the ordinations that derived or will derive from them," it said.

The men, Fathers Elias A. Dohnal, Markian V. Hitiuk, Metodej R. Spirik and Robert Oberhauser, were expelled from the Basilian Fathers.

In 2008, they said they were consecrated as bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the statement said.

They were subsequently excommunicated in 2008 after being found guilty, according to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, of illegitimate usurpation of authority, inciting sedition and hatred toward people in the church hierarchy, provoking disobedience, and seriously damaging a person's good name through calumny, the doctrinal office said.

It said the so-called bishops recently sought to register with Ukrainian authorities as the "Ukrainian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church," a movement the four, with three other priests, established in 2009.

"The Holy See has followed with great apprehension" the group's unsuccessful attempt to register itself as part of the Catholic Church and said it was "illegitimate and illicit" for any group not recognized by the proper ecclesial authorities to assume the name "Catholic."

The doctrinal congregation warned all Catholic faithful to "not belong to the aforementioned group" as it is not in communion with the Catholic Church and to pray for the members of the group "to mend its ways" so as to return to the church.

According to its website, the movement "accepts the primacy of the Roman pontiff, is founded on the Apostolic and Eastern Catholic tradition and, above all, dissociates itself from the contemporary heresies which destroy both the Eastern and the Western church."

In 2011, the group excommunicated Pope Benedict XVI and most of the world's cardinals and bishops and declared the establishment of the Byzantine Catholic Patriarchate, with Father Dohnal as the patriarch.

Catholic Church Blocks Birth Control For Poor in Philippines

Filippino President Bernard Aquino is backing a bill that promises free or subsidized contraception for women, especially for the poor. 

As a story in Bloomberg describes, the bill was actually introduced in the legislature 14 years ago but has been blocked every time by the Catholic Church. 

About 37 percent of pregnancies in the Philippines are unplanned, says the World Health Organization, with at least one-third ending in an illegal and highly unsafe abortion, says the Guttmacher Institute.

Moreover, it is the poorest fifth of the country’s population that has the highest birth rate. 

The 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey found that the poorest women have an average of 5.2 children, while the wealthiest women have an average of 1.9. 

In addition, 44.1 percent of women aged 15 to 24 in the bottom income bracket have begun to have children. 

The Bloomberg article opens with the story of 34-year-old Lorna Villar, who has given birth seven times in the past fourteen years. She and her family live in one of Manila’s poorest neighborhoods, Tondo, in a 215 square foot room, on the 7,000 pesos ($160) a month that her husband earns from driving cranes and a tricycle taxi.

The Guttmacher Institute estimates that by making modern birth control — the contraceptive pill, condoms, intrauterine devices and others — available to all women in the Philippines, there would be 2,100 fewer maternal deaths and 500,000 fewer induced abortions each year. 

According to Bloomberg, 34 percent of Philippino women aged 15 to 49 use modern birth control.

The country’s population growth is currently twice the average for Asian countries; its self-rated poverty rate was 52 percent in 2012. As activist Carlos Cedran points out, with the Philippines’ population nearing 100 million, a lot more has to be done than just “teaching the poor.” 

Likhaan, a non-governmental organization that provides modern birth control and where Villar had her IUD fitted, says that providing contraceptive to all Philippino women means go a long way to reducing unplanned pregnancies in young women and improve their economic circumstances. 

Currently women wait as long as two hours to obtain condoms and birth-control pills at Likhaan’s clinic.

President Aquino’s support could be key to passing the bill to ensure that all women have access to modern birth control; it is hoped that the measure will be put to a vote in congress in the next three months. 

About 80 percent of the Philippine’s 95 million people are Roman Catholic and the Church seems likely to try to block the measure again. 

“Who are we to say that five children are too many? Children are gifts. If you interfere with that, you are denying that creative role God gave us,” says James Imbong, assistant legal counsel to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines in Bloomberg

But should not the Church do more to help those — certainly including women — living in deep poverty to have a better life and better prospects?

Melbourne priests support inquiry

Senior Melbourne Catholic clergy, including the archbishop's adviser on sexual abuse issues, are backing a call for an independent inquiry into the handling of abuse complaints, reports The Age.

The adviser, Father Tony Kerin, said yesterday he had told Archbishop Denis Hart that an independent review would clear the air and should be held, although the cost to the Church would be high.

''This is really a crunch issue for the Church. If we are to be a Church, we need to minister to the victims and do it much better,'' said Fr Kerin, who is the Episcopal Vicar for Justice and Peace.

He said an independent inquiry would clear the air but would come at a heavy cost to the church in terms of time, energy, and diverted attention.

Father Kerin said he thought an inquiry would uncover two or three problems from the past but would also track how the church had improved its efforts over time.

''My main concern as vicar for justice is to make sure that things don't happen now or in the future,'' he said.

According to Geelong priest Father Kevin Dillon, there is a groundswell of support among Melbourne's clergy for an independent inquiry. He said the abuse crisis was damaging the church and clergy morale.

''I suspect for the majority of priests it's all so ugly we just wish it wasn't there,'' he said.

Fr Dillon said many Melbourne priests believed a government-led inquiry would provide the best possible look at the church's Melbourne Response, the protocol for dealing with complaints of clergy abuse.

New details of State guarantees to Catholic Church on primary school education

Internal Department of Education documents obtained by RTE under Freedom of Information legislation show that the Department of Education gave guarantees that Catholic children in the new schools would receive a full separate Catholic religious education, even though it was already clear that Catholic children would be in a minority in the new schools.

Protestant church leaders and teachers warned that this would be divisive.

VEC officials warned that it could be seen as the segregation of white Catholic children from non-white newcomers.

However a Catholic Church representative has said he has a very serious problem with the way RTE has represented the issue.

Speaking on RTE's Drivetime programme, Father Michael Drumm of the Catholic Schools' Partnership said the way the story was being represented was "completely at odds with the truth".

In 2008 the state introduced a brand new model of primary school, called the Community National School in response to a dramatic and unprecedented rise in immigration.

Its aim was to meet a growing need for non-Catholic schools.

When the first two schools opened that year, almost 80% of their pupils were non-Catholics.

The documents released to RTE indicate that from the start the State gave a commitment to the Catholic bishops that Catholic children in the new schools would receive a fully Catholic religious education.

This meant that children would have to be separated according to their beliefs for Religious Education.

But when the schools and VEC officials were told this they reacted with concern.

According to these documents VEC officials said the move was likely to be seen as the segregation of white Catholic children from non-white newcomers.

Teachers called the move divisive. 

The Principals said it went against the schools' ethos of equality. Protestant leaders had earlier signalled their opposition to such a move.

In the end it was agreed to segregate children for religious for a number of weeks per year at Eastertime.

There are now five Community National Schools in operation in Dublin and surrounding counties and more are planned to open in coming years.

Responding, a senior educationalist said she is surprised "to put it mildly" by revelations in the documents.

Professor Aine Hyland said she was surprised to see the State still deferring to the church, as it had done in the past.

She said there was no ambiguity in the Constitution that it was for parents and the family, not any of the churches, to decide on the education of their children.

Ms Hyland is Emeritus Professor of Education at UCC and a founder member of the first Multidenominational school established here, the Dalkey School Project.

However speaking on RTE's Drivetime, Fr Michael Drumm said it was up to the Minister to decide on school policy and there was no point in blaming the church.

A statement from the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference said they rejected what they said was the contention that the Community National Schools' Programme to teach religion to pupils was proposed and designed by the Catholic Church.

Meeting told of 'scandal' of child poverty

The scale of child poverty in Ireland is a “scandal” given “the “prosperity and extravagance that became the norm during the Celtic Tiger years”, the social campaigner Sr Stanislaus Kennedy has said.

At Social Care Ireland’s annual conference in Kilkenny last Wednesday, she said 6,000 young people were in HSE care last year, but there was no “systematic monitoring evaluation of services so we have no guarantee that they are effective and well-run”.

She criticised the lack of information on what happened to young people after they turned 18 and left care. 

She maintained the lack of accommodation or support meant many become homeless as a result.

On the topic “Justice for All our Children”, Sr Stan said: “Ireland has consistently failed to put children’s needs first . . . Despite the fact that we enjoyed unimaginable economic prosperity for over a decade, child poverty was not addressed and more than 90,000 children continue to live in consistent poverty in Ireland today. This means they live in dire or chronic poverty without adequate food or basic comforts like heat.”

The fact that an additional 200,000 children were at risk of poverty was a scandal, she 

She told delegates that society’s attitudes to children would only change if people become empathic and viewed such children as they would their own.

Grave concerns: Council seeks to reclaim plots

The home repossession controversy has taken a macabre turn in Limerick. 

Long-time residents in the city’s graveyards are facing "time up" notices from the city council.

A new bylaw being pursued by Limerick City Council would allow the local authority to take ownership of old family graves in the city’s graveyards.

A spokesperson for the council said the proposed bylaw referred to graves that were more than 40 years old and which had fallen into disrepair.

However, councillors are furious that residential matters are bad enough for the living, without upsetting the dead.

Cllr Joe Leddin (Lab) said a fund should be set up to repair graves rather than take them from their owners.

"While there are issues with many graves that have deteriorated, I believe the city council should carry out appropriate remedial works without the necessity to take ownership of the grave of a particular family.

"I can foresee a situation where a family member who may have emigrated and wants to be brought back to Limerick to be buried in the family grave and finds they no longer have a right to the grave.

"Under the proposed new bylaw, the council would then own the plot and may not open it up."

The bylaw will be debated at the April monthly meeting of the city council.

Limerick undertaker Ger Griffin warned that the council will find it next to impossible to bring in a new law as families have burial rights enshrined for generations under old laws.

"We have family members who have lived abroad for decades and whose burials have taken place in old family plots. But we find the authorities are now using every regulation they can to disallow burials in old plots and that you can’t open old graves to bury remains among old remains as has been done for generations because of health and safety reasons."

Latest census shows major surge in divorce

The number of divorced people has risen by 150% since 2002, according to the latest census figures.

The number of divorced people has risen by 150% since 2002, according to the latest census figures.

The figures are up from 35,059 to 87,770. 

In contrast the number of people identified as separated has levelled off and stood at 116,194, up marginally from 107,263 in 2006.

There are now more women that men in the country - 42,854 more to be precise - resulting in an overall sex ratio of 98.1 males for every 100 females. 

This is a reversal of the situation in 2006 when the sex ratio was 100.1. 

The overall population has also increased and now stands at over 4.58 million.

Penny Dinners worth fortune to the hungry

Paddy, a regular at Cork Penny Dinners for the last eight years, has witnessed first-hand the impact the recession has had on the marginalised and vulnerable.

Single, unemployed and struggling to get by on reduced disability and fuel allowances, he was among the almost 90 people who called in for a hot meal at the Penny Dinners’ small soup kitchen on Little Hanover Street, off one of the busiest streets in Cork city centre, yesterday.

"When I first started coming in here, I would be sitting down with about 30 people," he said.

"But now it’s up to 80 or 90 people a day at weekends. I’ve definitely seen a lot more come in here since the recession started.

"And the latest thing I’ve seen is families coming in here — parents with their children.

"If that’s where we are now, I can see no hope for this country for the next 10 to 15 years."

Originally from the west of Ireland, but living in Cork for almost 30 years, he left his dog tied up outside as he tucked into a hot meal of pork chops and potatoes.

He was joined at one of the four long tables by dozens of men and women of all ages, from all walks of life, all with different stories.

"It’s not just the food — it’s the human contact too," said Paddy. "The staff are just wonderful — so welcoming. I’ve made many friends in there."

Betty, who is out of work while recovering from mental health illness, agrees.

She relies on Penny Dinners for a meal several times a week because she just doesn’t have enough money to get by.

"I was embarrassed coming in here for the first time — coming in for a free meal," she said.

"But the staff made me feel so welcome. I feel much better about coming in here now. People just wouldn’t survive without it."

Across the table, a middle-aged man said that without Penny Dinners, he would have had nothing to eat yesterday or on Tuesday.

As dessert is served, volunteer Ray heads out to deliver hot meals to some of the Penny Dinners’ regulars who are housebound.

One of them died at home alone over Christmas. A concerned Penny Dinners volunteer found him — four days after he passed away.

Penny Dinners trustee Florence Harrisson said the service is about so much more than the food.

"Everyone who comes through the door is treated with respect," she said.

"It’s the normality of the place. And for many, it’s often the simple act of just being served — nobody else serves them."

Standing outside, greeting each person by their first name, Catriona said: "The people we deal with could be your aunt, your uncle, your grandparent, your neighbour.

"Everybody in there is somebody that somebody knows.

"For whatever reason they come here, they come here to be fed — and that’s very difficult to appreciate.

"Because no matter how short of money you are, to be short of money for food must be the hardest thing in the world."

The discreet city centre location allows people to access the building from several nearby lanes.

But the building, its cramped kitchen and dining room, are in desperate need of a revamp. The walls are damp and cracked. A tree which was growing through the kitchen wall was removed recently. There is so much work to be done that the service will have to move out.

But Ms Twomey said it is absolutely vital, now more than ever before, that the service continues.

She appealed to the owners of nearby vacant buildings, and to the city authorities, to help them find alternative temporary accommodation for about nine months.

Penny Dinners gets no state support and relies completely on volunteers.

"We depend entirely on the generosity of the people of Cork and beyond," she said.

The service relies on people like Dave Buckley and Bryan Jackson from daily deals website Foffit, who dropped in yesterday after raising €4,200 over Christmas, and on Regina Mundi transition year students Angela Quinlan and Megan Dwyer, who were working in the kitchen yesterday.

Outside in the sunshine, Paddy headed off in to the city, his dog trailing behind.

"The staff are doing their best to get the building upgraded. It would make a huge difference," he said.

* Anyone who can help can contact Florence on 021-4275604, or email

Hot meal

Yesterday’s menu:

* Vegetable soup.

* Pork chops, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, stuffing and gravy.

* Peaches and jelly.

* Tea or coffee. 


* Packed sandwiches and fruit.

Surge in demand pushes soup kitchen to breaking point

A voluntary soup kitchen which dates from the Famine is now serving about 900 free meals a week — almost five times more than it was before the recession hit.

The explosion in demand at Cork Penny Dinners prompted the group to issue an urgent public appeal last night for temporary premises so it can begin a €400,000 revamp of its city centre property.

"We were providing meals for between 20 to 30 people a day around 2008," said Caitriona Twomey, one of the Penny Dinners trustees.

"But now we’re serving meals to almost 100 people every day. And it’s busier at weekends — we’re close to 900 meals a week now.

"It used to be single men mostly, some of whom were homeless, others with mental health issues, coming in to us. But now we’re seeing women and children, even families, coming through our doors."

The recession, soaring unemployment, and sweeping cuts to various allowances have all contributed.

Penny Dinners is one of the country’s oldest independent caring organisations. It depends entirely on volunteers and donations.

It can trace its roots back to the Quaker-run Famine soup kitchens of the 1840s when the principle of paying 1p for a quart of soup and half a loaf of bread was established.

Today, Penny Dinners offers a hot midday meal and takeaway sandwiches and fruit to anyone who comes through the doors of its ageing Little Hanover St premises, seven days a week.

The building is struggling to cope with the numbers. There were almost 50 people in the dining area by noon yesterday, with up to 15 volunteers working in the cramped kitchen.

"We are in this building since the mid-1950s and it’s falling down around us," said Ms Twomey.

"We need a bigger kitchen, we need better kitchen facilities to cope with the surge in demand, we need better seating areas and we need storage space. We have no heating system here — we’re relying on electric fires and we have one outside toilet."

She appealed to the owners of vacant buildings nearby to offer accommodation for nine months, so the group can continue the service during the revamp.

Cllr Joe Kavanagh (FG) raised the issue at city council level but said more needed to be done to ensure Penny Dinners could continue to meet the rising demand.

"With the high rates of building vacancy in this city at the moment, we should surely be in a position to support them," he said.

He urged city officials to explore using a nearby building which is leased to the Probation Service but is effectively vacant.