DUBUQUE, Iowa (CNS) -- Speakers at a Dubuque forum focused on supporting and building effective partnerships on a range of issues: job creation, small business development, economic recovery, promoting healthy communities, fighting hunger, improving schools, promoting service and recovering from disasters. "The government can't take care of all of this alone. That is why President (Barack) Obama formed our office early in 2009 -- to help build the important relationships between government and community organizations," said Alexia Kelley, deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, in her opening remarks. "That's also why we organized this series of regional gatherings so we can have face-to-face conversations so people can find the resources they need," she said. The Town Clock Center of Northeast Iowa Community College Dubuque was one of the U.S. regional sites for "Conversations and Partnership Opportunities" with the Obama administration's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhoods Partnerships Aug. 16. This event followed the White House Rural Economic Forum held at the NICC campus in Peosta earlier in the day, hosted by Obama and members of his Cabinet. About 125 people from churches, faith-based and secular nonprofit organizations attended the panel discussion on "Connecting Communities for the Common Good."
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Parish serves as shelter for victims displaced by Texas wildfires
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Ascension Parish in Bastrop, Texas, has been serving as a shelter and a nerve center for relief efforts related to the ongoing Texas wildfires that have struck the state. As of Sept. 7, wildfires had been recorded for 296 straight days in drought-stricken Texas. But in the recent surge of such blazes in early September, more than 1,000 homes in the state had been destroyed and four deaths were attributed to the fires. "We're not turning anybody away," said Steve Venzon, one of four Ascension parishioners who are taking daily six-hour shifts in directing aid efforts at the church. The town of Bastrop and Bastrop County are in the heart of the fire zone in the 25-county Diocese of Austin, Texas. Ascension started housing its first evacuees Sept. 4 but quickly filled up its parish hall. Evacuees moved to the parish's religious education building, where 50 people were staying, Venzon told Catholic News Service in a Sept. 7 telephone interview. Venzon added that the religious education building had cots laid out for 200, and was expecting an upsurge in evacuees with the closure of a Red Cross emergency shelter. He said the parish, the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were coordinating efforts; with a Sept. 7 federal declaration of disaster status for wildfire-stricken areas, FEMA is able to marshal more resources to help those affected by the fires. If the religious education building fills up with evacuees, Venzon said, they would return to the parish hall to add bed space. "After that, God help us," he added.
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Detroit's $135 million capital campaign aims to strengthen parishes
DETROIT (CNS) -- Strengthening the 270 parishes of the Archdiocese of Detroit is the No. 1 priority of the $135 million stewardship campaign officially launched Sept. 6. Strong parishes make for a strong archdiocese and a strong church, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said as the multi-year "Changing Lives Together" campaign was rolled out before an audience of priests and lay representatives from throughout the archdiocese, plus members of the media. The campaign already has been conducted in a pilot wave of several parishes, but now will begin successive waves that will eventually involve every parish in the six counties that comprise the archdiocese. Seventy percent of the funds collected -- $95 million, if the campaign reaches its target -- will remain in the parishes of those who donate to the campaign, to be used for whatever purposes the parishes themselves have identified, such as fixing roofs and boilers, establishing new ministries or enhancing tuition assistance. "One of the most important things to me is that we all do this together, that we stop and think about the mission of (your) parish, and that we work together to accomplish what we need to do -- that we identify the resources we need for our mission," Archbishop Vigneron said during the Sept. 6 launch event at Our Lady on the River Parish in Marine City.
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Crying out to God is sign of faith, pope says at audience
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Crying out to God when one is in the grips of pain or fear is a sign of faith in God, Pope Benedict XVI said. A central tenet of faith is believing that the loving God is always close to his creatures and ready to reach out and save them, the pope said Sept. 7 during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square. The pope, who is still staying at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo, returned to the Vatican by helicopter for the general audience with about 11,000 pilgrims and visitors. Afterward, he went back to the papal villa, about 20 miles south of Rome. Continuing a series of audience talks about prayer, Pope Benedict told those gathered for the audience that when they are really hurting or afraid, they can use Psalm 3 to express both their suffering and their trust in God. Like the psalmist, he said, "we, too, are tempted to think perhaps God won't save me, doesn't know me, there's no possibility (of being rescued). The temptation against faith is the ultimate aggression of the enemy. And we must resist it. In this way we will find God and find life." The psalm, attributed to King David when he was fleeing the army of his rebellious son, demonstrates that believers are never abandoned and "enemies are not unbeatable like he thought because the Lord hears the cry of the oppressed and responds," the pope said. "Man cries in anguish, in danger, in pain; man cries for help and God responds," he said. "To cry out means to have faith in God's closeness and willingness to listen."
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Why does Catholic Latin America need missionaries?
COCHABAMBA, Bolivia (CNS) -- Half a millennium has passed since missionaries arrived in what is now Latin America, and the region -- which was then inhabited entirely by native peoples, some with complex civilizations -- is now considered the most Catholic in the world. So why does it need missionaries? Meeting in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007, the region's bishops called for the Latin American church to be in a "permanent state of mission." The bishops realized that "Latin America is a continent of people who are baptized, but who are not really disciples, much less missionaries," Jesuit Father Victor Codina, a theologian who lives in Bolivia, told Catholic News Service. "Many people have little sense of belonging to the church." Experts say that building a sense of belonging among Catholics and encouraging them to share their faith experience -- which is the essence of missionary action -- are challenges for the church in the region. "You have to begin by encouraging people to have a spiritual or religious experience, which in technical terms is called mystagogy -- initiation into the spiritual life," Father Codina said. "Without that, there is no faith, no mission, no Christian life." At a symposium held in Cochabamba -- a modern city with an indigenous Quechua face -- in late August to mark the centennial of the U.S.-based Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, participants described challenges and new arenas for mission in Latin America. Perhaps most important, they said, was viewing the church's mission not as taking the Catholic faith to other people, but as a process of dialogue and developing relationships with others, especially those on the margins.
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Post-9/11 world needs religion to be weapon of peace, spokesman says
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- If humanity wants to build peace out of the ruins of Sept. 11, 2001, religion has to play a major role in dialogue, said the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi. The day of the attacks 10 years ago was "a monstrous day," he said during a presentation at Vatican Radio Sept. 6 of a new book on the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy. Dialogue is the key to overcoming hatred and the risk of religious fanaticism, he said. "If we want to build peace for humanity, we have to be able to develop a discourse in which the religious dimension becomes an active force for peace," he said. Father Lombardi was one of a number of speakers presenting a new book written by a Vatican Radio journalist. "11 Settembre: Una Storia che Continua" ("September 11: A Continuing Story"), by Alessandro Gisotti, is a series of vignettes examining the tragedy from the point of view of people whose lives were directly affected by the disaster: a television journalist in New York; a firefighter; a Pentagon employee; the family of a young student who was killed in the plane crash near Shanksville, Pa.; a Catholic priest whose church is one block from ground zero; and others. Miguel Diaz, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, said in a statement that in spite of the grief and losses endured on 9/11, "the human spirit has triumphed in the face of fear, violence and tragedy: the world's nations have united -- including the more than 90 nationalities of people who lost their lives on that day -- to stand together in a show of unity and defiance in confronting those who feed upon and want to spread fear. Nations and peoples have joined together to say, 'Never again.'" The 90-page book is published only in Italian. Its foreword was written by U.S. Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago.
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Pakistan suicide bombs shatter windows in church buildings
QUETTA, Pakistan (CNS) -- Two suicide bombs that killed at least 23 people and wounded 82 affected nearby church structures. The Sept. 7 blasts near the home of a top paramilitary official also shattered windows in the residence of Bishop Victor Gnanapragasam, local offices of Caritas Pakistan, and three Catholic schools. The roof of the computer laboratory of a Catholic high school also caved in. The schools were closed immediately. The Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for the attacks, to avenge the recent arrest of a senior al-Qaida leader by Pakistani security forces in Quetta. "I had just taken the roll call when the blast echoed; the children started crying and screaming. 'It's an earthquake,' they shouted," said Uzma Tahmeen, a Catholic teacher. "I closed the door to avoid panic and waited till the parents arrived to collect the children," she added. "When I stepped outside, I could see body parts lying inside a giant smoke tomb rising in the sky." Oblate Father Cecil Paul said he felt the vibration of the blasts in his parish office, located about a kilometer from the targeted site. "Our country has reached the (nadir) of instability now. Violence continues unendingly after the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden in the Northern province," he said.
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Managua church leaders reject police explanation of priest's murder
SAN SALVADOR (CNS) -- Catholic officials in Managua, Nicaragua, rejected the police explanation of the death of Father Marlon Pupiro Garcia and demanded a thorough investigation of the crime. In a statement issued in early September, Archdiocese of Managua said the version given by the police had "inconsistent and implausible elements that do not convince us as bishops or the people of God crying out for justice." Father Pupiro, 40, was found asphyxiated Aug. 23. His body was wrapped in plastic in a dumpster located along the road that leads to Leon from Masaya. Five days later, police arrested Yasker Blandon Torres, who allegedly murdered the priest to steal his Mitsubishi SUV. Authorities said Blandon confessed the crime. Seven other people linked to the murder were arrested. A hearing is scheduled Sept. 9. Police said the priest had been drinking beers at a restaurant where Blandon, a waiter, put sleeping pills in his drinks. They said the waiter took him, almost asleep, toward home in the Mitsubishi and killed him on the road. Church officials do not believe the priest was killed for his SUV. "It is a violent crime that has so many inconsistencies," Father Carlos Aviles, head of the archdiocesan press office, told Catholic News Service by telephone.
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Thousands of Zambians line streets for US-born bishop's funeral
MONGU, Zambia (CNS) -- Thousands of Zambians lined the streets of Mongu during a four-hour funeral procession for U.S.-born Bishop Paul Duffy. The head of the Zambian bishops' conference, Bishop Ignatius Chama of Mpika, told those gathered in the western city that the best way to honor the late bishop was to be "the voice of the voiceless." Bishop Duffy, 79, the retired bishop of Mongu, died of leukemia in San Antonio Aug. 23. He was buried Sept. 5 at Mongu's Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral. The bishop, an Oblate missionary, lived in western Zambia from 1984 until earlier this year. Many marginalized and poverty-stricken people regarded him as their voice against injustices and underdevelopment. Zambian Vice President George Kunda described him as "the missionary bishop whose voice was loved by the poor and the marginalized ... a bishop who was so touched by the poverty in western Zambia that he decided to live among the poor and even died poor himself."
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Retired bishop hopes people recall 9/11 lessons about God's providence
HOLLIDAYSBURG, Pa. (CNS) -- In the minutes, hours and days immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States, Bishop Joseph V. Adamec was gratified to see people turning to God and praying together as they sought to make sense of the tragedy. Because the tragedy hit home in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, with United Flight 93 crashing in Shanksville in rural Somerset County, the bishop who retired earlier this year was quick to underline the message that God had shown special care for the people of west-central Pennsylvania. "The plane flew over Johnstown and over other communities in our area," he said in an Aug.31 interview at the Diocesan Administration Center in Hollidaysburg. "It could have crashed into any one of those towns. The plane could have crashed into a home, or on a car on Route 219. But it didn't. It crashed in an empty field. I don't believe that was just a coincidence. When God is in charge, nothing is coincidental." Like many people in the eight-county diocese, Bishop Adamec thought the first reports of a terrorist attack involved only places at some distance away from the Allegheny Mountains. But soon after learning of what was happening in New York and outside Washington, Bishop Adamec, who headed the diocese for nearly 24 years, found out that rural Pennsylvania was not beyond the reach of international terrorists. "I had walked some guests to their car, and when I came back into the house, my secretary said 'Come and see what's happening on television.' We sat glued, hearing about New York and Washington. Then we heard a local report that Route 219 was closed. That made me wonder what was going on," Bishop Adamec recalled. "There was some fear and doubt in my mind. I wondered where we fit into what was going on elsewhere. Then I heard that a plane was down in Somerset County."
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First woman elected to head US Society of St. Vincent de Paul
ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- Sheila Gilbert, a national officer for the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul for the past six years, became the first woman to head the organization Sept. 3. Gilbert said she was humbled and grateful for this new responsibility. "Having been involved in the organization for some 30 years, I am privileged to serve in the company of exceptionally talented and compassionate men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving those who are most in need," she said. The St. Vincent de Paul Society, with U.S. headquarters in St. Louis, is a Catholic lay organization committed to helping the poor around the world. Gilbert said she not only hopes to help members of the society, known as Vincentians, grow personally and spiritually, but she also wants to help the organization more effectively bring people out of poverty. She is a strong advocate of systemic change and says the organization needs to collaborate with other groups on effective ways to reduce or eliminate poverty and it should also advocate for long-term change at the local, state and national levels. "These goals are attainable," said Gilbert. "We just need to find the will to carry them out."
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Philadelphia Catholic high school teachers on strike
PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- As incoming freshmen began orientation for the new school year and the archdiocese prepared to welcome a new archbishop, Philadelphia Catholic high school teachers went on strike Sept. 6. Other students at the 17 Catholic high schools in the Philadelphia Archdiocese were to begin orientation sessions Sept. 8 -- the date of the installation of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput as new archbishop -- and Sept. 9. Most of the more than 700 striking teachers voted against the archdiocesan contract proposal presented Sept. 6. "The main issue now and since the beginning has centered on job security," said Rita Schwartz, president of the Association of Catholic School Teachers Local 1776. Archdiocesan high schools opened Sept. 7 and were to be staffed by administrators and nonunion employees, according to Mary Rochford, archdiocesan superintendent of schools. "Every school has its plan and is ready to go," she said during a news conference after the strike was announced. Richard McCarron, archdiocesan secretary for Catholic education, said the archdiocese had contacted the teachers' union and was willing to resume negotiations. "This is not a contract for the past, it's a contract for the future," McCarron said. "If we are to educate our students to enter a very rapidly changing world, then we need to be able to deliver the educational services that are going to prepare them for this world. That doesn't necessarily mean holding on to the same ways we have done things."
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Nun beaten, priest injured in dispute over property in China
LESHAN, China (CNS) -- A nun was severely beaten and hospitalized and a priest suffered minor injuries after being attacked while trying to reclaim two former church properties in southwestern Sichuan province. Sister Xie Yuming suffered head and chest injuries and remained in the hospital several days after she and Father Wang Xueqing were attacked by around a dozen unknown assailants Sept. 3, local sources told the Asian church news agency UCA News. The two were trying to assert church rights to two schools that formerly belonged to Kangding Diocese. The schools were among several properties confiscated by authorities in the 1950s but were due to be returned to the diocese. Sources said the attack sparked anger among many parishioners, who gathered outside their local church, vowing to defend their rights. Kangding Diocese currently has three priests and two nuns serving 13,000 Catholics in the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The diocese has no bishop and is currently being administrated by Leshan Diocese.