Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mother’s Day

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

A priest once told me one of his worst experiences as a celebrant was walking down the aisle to celebrate Mass and seeing all the mothers wearing corsages. It was only then that he realized it was Mother’s Day. He had prepared his homily based on the readings of the day and had made no connection to the revered U.S. holiday. Luckily, he could think fast and successfully winged it.

A different Mother’s Day story from the pews has also stayed with me, told to me by a Mom whose life was changed by a parish priest’s advice one May morning. Said the celebrant: All you mothers who are estranged from your children, call them.

The woman went home, called her married daughter who hadn’t spoken with her in months, and said, “I want to see you.” Later that day, the young woman showed up at her mother’s. She carried the birthday card she had bought but not sent, the Valentine’s Day card she had bought but not sent, the Easter card she had bought but not sent, and the Mother’s Day card she purchased a few days before.

The mother was flabbergasted. As she had stewed in the pain of absence from her child, she never imagined her daughter was pining for her. She never imagined that her poised young adult daughter didn’t know how to overcome stubbornness and reconcile.

The daughter was angry, the mother learned, because Mom sold the family home after her husband died. It was a logical move for the widow with adult children, who no longer needing the big house where she and her husband had raised six kids. But the sale was something the young woman grabbed on to, to focus her anger at her father’s death. It wasn’t logical; it wasn’t fair; but it was real.

Mother and daughter talked it out; and the mother finally said, “Don’t ever do that to me again.” The daughter was relieved enough to know she didn’t want such a separation ever again either.

I don’t know the priest, but his homily was inspired. We all know the commandment, “Honor thy father and mother.” We’ve also been schooled to respect our elders. But we also know reality. Older people may have less energy than the young, but they have more resources, such as life experience. They don’t have to establish their identities, they’ve long been set. In their sixties they can chuckle at things they would have died for when they were in their twenties. By their seventies they can laugh at nearly everything. Given all the knocks from life they’ve encountered, they have a perspective that increases with age.

Hurts abound, of course, and they can paralyze relationships if we let them. I think my friend’s Mother’s Day story may hold a message for all.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Unmistakable New Voice of Pope Francis

The Church is a mother, not a babysitter. The Church is a "love story."

God is a person, not a mist or a "God spray."

Christians must avoid the "dark joy" of gossip.

And yes, pessimism, cynicism and calumny are from Satan.

In case anyone managed to miss it, these comments cement the obvious: the world has a new pope.

At first I wondered if the colorful language Pope Francis has employed in his homilies and audiences wasn't some side effect of a native Spanish speaker preaching in Italian and then getting translated into English. But it soon became clear that the pope's flair for evocative imagery and unique phrases is something meant to cut across languages, not the result of being mangled by them.

Pope Francis uses vivid, at times unexpected language to challenge, inspire and otherwise get his point across. Often bluntly. Sometimes humorously. Always memorably.

It was evident from the beginning in the now public "Bergoglio intervention." Given by the soon-to-be pope at the cardinals' daily meetings before the conclave, he argued against "theological narcissism" and a Church that is "self-referential." Like Cardinal Ratzinger's "dictatorship of relativism" in 2005, these words probably helped elect him. Pope Francis, however, focuses his critique not on the modern world, but on the Church's response, saying Christians must go out into the world, even to its margins (phrasing that has cropped up in subsequent homilies and even tweets).

Pope Francis' talks are marked not by theological narcissism but by examples of daily life. He quotes his grandmother. He compares Heaven to getting cataract surgery. He addresses Catholic life at the parish level. He cuts across cultural and ideological lines and simultaneously comforts and challenges practically everyone in his path. He does this so deftly that he's even proved to be a good fit for Twitter. It's difficult to imagine someone being more inspirational in 140 characters. Rather than analyze this point to death, here are some highlights:

True power is service.  The Pope must serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the vulnerable. (March 19)

We must not believe the Evil One when he tells us that there is nothing we can do in the face of violence, injustice and sin. (March 24)

Being with Jesus demands that we go out from ourselves, and from living a tired and habitual faith. (March 27)

To experience Holy Week is to enter more and more into God's logic of love and self-giving. (also March 27)

Accept the risen Jesus into your life. Even if you have been far away, take a small step towards him: he awaits you with open arms. (March 31)

God loves us.  We must not be afraid to love him.  The faith is professed with the lips and with the heart, through words and through love. (April 4)

How beautiful is the gaze with which Jesus regards us – how full of tenderness!  Let us never lose trust in the patience and mercy of God. (April 7)

Being a Christian is not just about following commandments: it is about letting Christ take possession of our lives and transform them. (April 10)

If we act like children of God, knowing that he loves us, our lives will be made new, filled with serenity and joy. (also April 10)

Worshipping God means learning to be with him, stripping away our hidden idols and placing him at the centre of our lives.(April 14)

Jesus’ ascension into heaven does not mean his absence, but that he is alive among us in a new way, close to each one of us. (April 17)

Each one of us longs for love, for truth, for life – and Jesus is all of these things in abundance! (April 22)

At this time of crisis it is important not to become closed in on oneself, but rather to be open and attentive towards others. (April 25)

Dear young people, do not bury your talents, the gifts that God has given you! Do not be afraid to dream of great things! (April 26)

The Holy Spirit truly transforms us. With our cooperation, he also wants to transform the world we live in. (April 28)

You could write an encyclical with these!

It's a reminder that the papacy is an office, but the pope is a unique human being, with his own experiences, observations and voice.

For a wonderfully complete round up of memorable quotes from Pope Francis thus far, check out this blog post from John Thavis, former Rome Bureau Chief for Catholic News Service.

(CNS Photo/Paul Haring)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Five Things To Remember On April 26

1. Vatican Radio has an audio interview with Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City on immigration reform. Bishop Wester, who chairs the USCCB Communications Committee, says, "“We’re hoping that the focus can always be on the family, on the sanctity of human life, on the dignity of the immigrant and treating people with respect.”

2. The St. Vince de Paul Society of Austin, TX is looking for case worker volunteers to assist the people impacted by the plant explosion in West, TX last week. St. Vincent de Paul and Catholic Charities of Central Texas have united to help in the tragedy down there.

3. This weekend Catholics are being encouraged to show their solidarity in the  the annual Catholic Home Missions Appeal collection. Grants keep mission parishes open and give isolated communities a Catholic presence.

4. World Youth Day is in Rio this July and will be the only international travel for Pope Francis this year. He used his Twitter account to address young people Friday, saying, "Dear young people, do not bury your talents, the gifts that God has given you! Do not be afraid to dream of great things!"

5. God loves you.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Five Things To Remember On April 25

1. Bishop Richard J. Malone of the Diocese of Buffalo, thanks to the hard work of the people of Daybreak TV, has been doing a weekly series of video reflections on Youtube called "Consider This." He tackles issues including the recent Boston Marathon bombing and Texas explosion.

2. With one week left in April, it's worth reminding everyone that it is Child Abuse Awareness Month. The Catholic Church works year-round to implement procedures to protect children today and in the future. The USCCB has a series of resources available on the topic. 

3. Pope Francis continues to make great use of Twitter. Today, he said, "At this time of crisis it is important not to become closed in on oneself, but rather to be open and attentive towards others."

4.We are saying goodbye to a friend in the media this week. Cathy Grossman is taking a buyout from the USA Today. Cathy brought depth and dedication to her craft, Sister Mary Ann Walsh says.

5. God loves you.

Immigration reform, a rise in Catholics and warm wishes for a friend

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Been busy this week. We started out with a telephonic media conference on immigration reform Monday with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City. Almost 40 people signed up for it. I saw interesting stories from the presser by Pat Zapor of Catholic News Service, David Gibson of Religion News Service  that was also carried by Washington Post’s On Faith column, which is online, and Huffington Post), Michael Sean Winters of National Catholic Reporter and Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia. 

We’ve got the transcript  and audio online for anyone who missed it. Also online are the survey results from a poll in December that show strong support among Catholics for immigration reform.

Getting ready to release annual report on ordination class next week along with some blog posts by men about to become priests. The survey for the report gathered hard data but also asked respondents to fill in the blank after “People might be surprised to know that ….” There won’t be a media release on the answers but they will be online. Class of 2013 includes widowers, Eagle Scouts, research scientists, converts to Catholicism, a weight lifter, pole vaulter, juggler and professional pilot. It’s a fun read.

Looked over soon to be released stats from the 2013 National Catholic Directory. Data show number of Catholics in the U.S. has increased, as have number of new parishes and permanent deacons. Baptisms, First Communions and marriages are down

In late May, USCCB will release the annual report of the Office for Child and Youth Protection. The significant decline in number of youth who have been abused continues There’s also a decline in reports of older cases. The decades-old cases show that the pain from abuse lasts a lifetime.

We’re conducting a survey of media who covered the papal transition to see what worked and didn’t work. If you’re a member of the media and didn’t get the questionnaire, let me know. What worked, of course, was the election of Pope Francis. His homily at morning Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the guest house where he lives, has become a must-read. Vatican Radio translates the remarks as quickly as possible. The six-hour time difference between Rome and Washington lets us read the homilyalmost first thing in the morning.

It was an “Oh, Rats!” moment Tuesday when Cathy Grossman, religion reporter at USA Today, called to say she is taking a buyout. Cathy has been a stalwart on the religion beat, a real pro, who went the extra mile and educated herself in areas such as bioethics to bring greater insight into her reporting. We’ll miss her and so will the Religion Newswriters Association where she worked tirelessly as cheerleader and friend to all.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dialogue and Building Trust After Tragedy

By Anthony Cirelli, Ph.D.

Courage and trust are the essential qualities of dialogue, said Pope John Paul II. He knew that true dialogue is fragile, a balancing act among people. The presence or absence of truth hangs in the balance. Tragedies like the recent events in Boston can make it difficult to be courageous and trusting of others.

“Why,” one might ask, “should I bother trusting them? How can I tell if my neighbor is who they say they are?”  Can we ever tell for certain that a Muslim neighbor, fellow Christian in the pew, or that Hindu down the street, or the Jehovah’s Witness at the door is not out to manipulate or, in the extreme case of Boston, eliminate me? It seems that paranoia, a real limitation on our freedom, not to mention a form of madness, can only ensue when we withhold trust and replace it with a vigilant suspicion.

As difficult as it might seem at the moment, there is another way. Catholics in dialogue, for example, recognize that we must listen to other people and their stories with an openness devoid of hostility, defensiveness and—at least at first—challenge. In this we go against the tide of suspicion that leads to broken communion between persons and, ultimately, broken communities. Catholics in dialogue are called to choose, like our Lord, to put ourselves out there and give the other person respect, trust, attention and understanding.

Effective dialogue unfolds as an exercise in what Catholic thinkers call the shepherding of being; drawing out the true, good and beautiful that we hold dear and precious, and which alone can bring about the transformation of the world.  Our example is Jesus, who welcomed others, including those on the margins. Just as Christians are called to accept the invitation of the Lord to trust him and share our life with him, so too are we called to imitate his act of welcome by extending it to others.

This give-and-take of dialogue can dramatically impact the lives of individuals and nations.  Welcoming others, encouraging them to love and share his/her life with the world, and so bringing people into the light and out of the shadow world of loneliness and fear, is the basis for transforming the world through positive action that will lead to the formation of healthy minds and the building of culture. Our commitment to dialogue remains the best and only chance to foster understanding and peaceful coexistence, and so alone can serve our nation and the world in the prevention of another tragedy.

Anthony Cirelli is associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More information on interreligious dialogue is available on the USCCB website.

(CNS Photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

Five Things To Remember On April 24

1. The heads of the USCCB Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development and International Justice and Peace respectively, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, California, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, urged Congress in April 22 letters to both chambers to weigh decisions surrounding the budget by how they impact human life and dignity, serve "the least of these" and reflect government's shared responsibility to protect the common good. The bishops' letters followed President Obama's 2014 budget proposal.

"The President's proposal moves Food for Peace funding allocated for food needs during emergencies to International Disaster Assistance (IDA) while substantially cutting existing IDA programs. The proposed reductions are deeply troubling, especially as humanitarian needs grow in places like Syria. Congress should reject these cuts in shelter and medical assistance to very vulnerable populations."

2. Pope Francis has tweeted each day this week on his @Pontifex account. He made headlines today during his daily Mass when he said the Church is in a love affair.

3. In a well-done video, Catholic News Service looks at how "Pacem in Terris" holds up 50 years after the Cold War-inspired papal encyclical on peace was written by Blessed John XXIII.

4. Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of the Diocese of Austin, Texas will take part in a memorial service held tomorrow in Waco for victims of last week's plant explosion.

5. God loves you.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Five Things To Remember On April 23

1. Today is the Feast Day of St. George and Pope Francis, who you will recall was Cardinal Jorge Brogolio before March 13. Pope Francis celebrated Mass on his name day and stressed how integral being part of the church community is to strengthening a relationship with Jesus.

2. Full audio of Monday's immigration reform press conference with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop José Gomez and Bishop John C. Wester can be heard at Justice for Immigrants. Cardinal Dolan

3. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, media relations director for the USCCB, wrote a blog about addressing the cultural sickness of violence and how government, churches and individuals can work together to change that trend.

4. Catholics nationwide will be called to support Church communications through contributions the weekend of May 11-12 to the Catholic Communication Campaign (CCC) annual collection. The second collection, taken up in most parishes in the United States May 11 and 12, supports national and international media projects. Fifty percent of the collection targets local media efforts, such as print publications, television and radio programs, and digital initiatives.

5. God loves you.

Monday, April 22, 2013

When the sheep are sick …

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Last Sunday the pastor told of three shepherds and a visitor who asked how the shepherd knew whose sheep were whose. The visitor saw one shepherd stand, call his sheep to follow and a group of them did. Then a second shepherd did the same with the same results. Then the visitor tried calling sheep to follow him but none moved. “Do they ever just follow anybody who calls them?” he asked. “Oh sure,” said the last shepherd. “When sheep are sick, they’ll follow anyone.”

The story has stuck with me, perhaps because I’ve always wondered how people can go off to follow the wrong person, such as charismatic leader Jim Jones who convinced so many people to commit suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. Or young people who go off to cults. Perhaps this is why reading the homily that Cardinal Seán O’Malley delivered last Sunday in Boston made so much sense. He spoke of the “wanton violence and destruction” inflicted at the Boston Marathon by two strangers.

 “We know so little about the two young men who perpetrated these heinous acts of violence.  One said he had no friends in this country, the other said his chief interests were money and his career,” said Cardinal O’Malley.  “People need to be part of a community to lead a fully human life.  As believers one of our tasks is to build community, to value people more than money or things, to recognize in each person a child of God, made in the image and likeness of our Creator. “

Cardinal O’Malley said “the individualism and alienation of our age has spawned a culture of death.  Over a million abortions a year is one indication of how human life has been devalued.  Violent entertainment, films and video games have coarsened us and made us more insensitive to the pain and suffering of others. The inability of the Congress to enact laws that control access to automatic weapons is emblematic of the pathology of our violent culture.” He also decried the death penalty when he spoke with reporters after Mass about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was charged April 22 with using a “weapon of mass destruction” that left three dead and more than 200 injured at the marathon.

“Forgiveness does not mean that we do not realize the heinousness of the crime. But in our own hearts when we are unable to forgive we make ourselves a victim of our own hatred,” said Cardinal O’Malley. “Obviously as a Catholic I oppose the death penalty, which I think is one further manifestation of the culture of death in our midst.”

Living near the venerable Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cardinal O’Malley respects knowledge but warned that it doesn’t equate to virtue. “As Chain Ginott, the concentration camp survivor, reminds us, doctors, nurses, scientists and soldiers were part of the Holocaust machinery, showing that knowledge is not virtue, and often science and technology have been put at the service of evil,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “It is only a culture of life and an ethic of love that can rescue us from the senseless violence that inflicts so much suffering on our society.”

Individualism, alienation, disdain for the rights of the unborn, dismissal of the sanctity of all life – including that of bombers – and the preponderance of all kinds of assault weapons in America: All represent a societal sickness that lures many sheep away from a life-giving shepherd to follow another who leads them to their destruction. These sicknesses needs to be addressed by Congress, churches and we individuals ourselves.

Five Things To Remember On April 22

1.  Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said in a press conference April 22 that “now is the time” to fix the nation’s broken immigration system.
“Let me say that now is the time to address this issue,” Cardinal Dolan said. “As we speak, persons are being deported and an untold number of families are being divided. Human beings continue to die in the American desert. This suffering must end.”

2. A recent column in the New York Times by T.M. Luhrmann about evangelicals relationship with God as a therapist, led Sister Mary Ann Walsh, media relations director for the USCCB, to write a letter to the editor defending the intimate relationship Catholics have with God each day. 

3. During the last several months, tragedies such as the Newtown shootings, the Boston Marathon bombing and the West, Texas plant explosion have brought communities together amidst incredible sadness. What those communities have rallied around is faith and the Catholic Church has been there at the center of the healing afterward. 

4. Pope Francis has taken the last week to really explore the nature of God's existence, which touches on issues raised by Sister Mary Ann's letter to the editor as well. His homily today reflected on the Gospel's account of Jesus as the "gate." He said, "Sometimes it's closed: we are sad, we feel desolation, we have problems with knocking, with knocking at that gate. Do not go looking for other gates that seem easier, more comfortable, more at hand. Always the same one: Jesus. Jesus never disappoints, Jesus does not deceive, Jesus is not a thief, not a robber. He gave his life for me: each of us must say this: 'And you who gave your life for me, please, open, that I may enter.' "

5. God loves you.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Five Things To Remember On April 19

1. A large majority (77 percent) of Catholics support immigration reform legislation that provides a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, according to a recent survey sponsored by the Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs of the USCCB.

2. Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, CA, who is the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, expressed "deep disappointment in the Senate's failure to support reasonable regulations to reduce gun violence in our nations," in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority LeaderMitch McConnell.

3. In the first English-only tweet of his papacy, Pope Francis said, "Please join me in praying for the victims of the explosion in Texas and their families."

4. Today is the eighth anniversary of the election of Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI. While the election of Pope Francis is fresh in our minds, it's interesting to see the coverage of Pope Benedict's debut as well.

5. God loves you.

Immigration Reform, Boston Prayer Service, Vocations, Gun Laws and World Youth Day

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Catholics show strong support for immigration reform, according to poll taken at the end of 2012. USCCB will release poll results soon. Meanwhile, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB; Archbishop Jo?e Gomez of Los Angeles, chair of the bishops’ Migration Committee; and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chair of the bishops’ Communications Committee, will offer reactions to the new immigration reform proposal during a conference call with media on Monday, April 22, at 1 p.m. ET.

Prayer service at Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross for victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, was touching. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston spoke eloquently when he said that “In the face of the present tragedy, we must ask ourselves what kind of a community do we want to be, what are the ideals that we want to pass on to the next generation.  It cannot be violence, hatred and fear.  The Jewish people speak of Tikkun Olam, ‘repairing the world.’  God has entrusted us with precisely that task, to repair our broken world. We cannot do it as a collection of individuals; we can only do it together, as a community, as a family. Like every tragedy, Monday’s events are a challenge and an opportunity for us to work together with a renewed spirit of determination and solidarity and with the firm conviction that love is stronger than death.”

We asked some men who will be ordained soon to write of their hopes for priesthood. One of my favorite responses comes from North American College where a Minnesota hockey player, Nicholas Nelson from Duluth said: “I’m not sure how the Lord will use my athletic abilities. I want to join a men’s league when I return to Northern Minnesota. Priests need to invite people back to the sacraments. In Minnesota, hockey can be that evangelical tool.”

The April 17 defeat of legislation aimed at stemming gun violence is mind-boggling. Given the deaths of the little children gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December and the recent pleas of their parents who lobbied in Washington that these deaths not be in vain, one might have expected courage and leadership from more U.S. senators for the good of society and the protection of human life. The U.S. bishops will have more to say on this travesty.

World Youth Day preparations continue to gear up. Media are now calling as they prepare for Pope Francis first visit to Latin America as pope.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Five Things To Remember On April 18

1. Today's ecumenical prayer service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston was an emotional one and Cardinal Sean O'Malley told those in attendance that the beatitudes set a way for living. He went on to say that God has entrusted us with repairing a broken world. Follow Cardinal O'Malley on twitter @CardinalSean.

2. Earlier today Pope Francis announced the appointment of Father David J. Walkowiak as Bishop-designate of Grand Rapids, replacing the retiring Bishop Walter A. Hurley, who is 75. Bishop-designate Walkowiak is a pastor in the Diocese of Cleveland.

3. The horrific explosion in West, Texas has many people wondering how they can assist. Catholic Charities of Central Texas has a disaster relief site set up to help and so does the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

4. The USCCB's migration chair, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, said he welcomed immigration reform proposals this week and pledged to assist so that it respects human rights and dignity of migrants.

5. God loves you.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pope Francis: Rebuilding the Church Through Communication

Bishop of Rome, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Servant of the Servants of God and... Global Communications Focal Point?

It may already be happening.

Pope Francis appointed a working group of eight cardinals on April 13 to advise him on the governance of the Catholic Church and reform of the Roman curia. This move has many wondering what shape such reform might take. As a communications professional, my thoughts immediately go to something the Canadian communications genius and Catholic Marshall McLuhan once said about the papacy.

Several commentators have already invoked McLuhan's famous line, "the medium is the message," to describe the new pope's gestures of humility, such as refusing to live in the apostolic palace and washing the feet of young inmates. But three years before his death in 1980, McLuhan, who coined the term "surfing" and predicted the Internet as early as the 1960s, addressed how the papacy would be affected by a world of instant communication: "When things speed up, hierarchy disappears and global theatre sets in," he said.

This prophecy came true just a year later with the election of John Paul II, a rock star pope for modern media, if there ever was one. John Paul died in 2005, a year before the launch of Twitter and a year after the start of Facebook. Communications have only become more instantaneous, and the papacy has had to keep pace. The papal Twitter handle, @pontifex, launched in December 2012, is one reflection of this.

Additionally, Pope Francis has taken the interesting step of holding his daily Masses at the Vatican guest house. Earlier popes celebrated these Masses privately with their household staff and guests. Opting for a more open setting, Pope Francis has given himself a daily platform to address just about any topic he chooses in the context of the day's readings. The practical result has been that, by the time people in the United States are waking up, a story is waiting in our news feeds with the latest from the pope.

Vatican commentator John Thavis calls this development the pope's "mini-Magisterium." Another apt description might be that Pope Francis has decided to fill the media vacuum. This is profound not only in terms of exercising his ministry as a universal teacher and pastor, but also for his responsibility to promote unity in the Church and his choice to do so through mass communications. If every Catholic with access to modern media makes an effort to listen to Pope Francis on a daily basis, internalizes what he has to say and informs his or her actions with it, the pope becomes a pontifex maximus (chief bridge builder) like never before.

It also echoes McLuhan's prediction of bureaucracy giving way to communications.

We've seen other bishops follow versions of this model. For instance, to meet the challenges following his 2011 appointment to Philadeliphia, Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., has simultaneously stripped back archdiocesan infrastructure while embracing his bully pulpit through digital media. USCCB President Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who has been tweeting and blogging for a while now, has a newly launched online presence. And one of the pope's eight new advisers, Boston's Cardinal Seán O'Malley, OFM Cap., was the first blogging cardinal in the United States.

But it isn't only about popes and bishops utilizing social media. For instance, the far-reaching quality of Pope Francis' message is tied directly to the men and women of the Catholic press who cover him. Special praise goes to Vatican Radio, which has been on hand to cover the Masses at the Vatican guest house, the administrators at News.va, who promote what the pope says via social media, and Catholic News Service, which has combined web video and a traditional forum -- the pope's Wednesday General Audience -- to generate truly creative and attractive content that any pope would be pleased to have at the service of his message.

And of course social media aren't only in the hands of a few professional gatekeepers. Everyone has access. As a result, these platforms have transformed the Church into a landscape of blogs, tweets and viral content where real conversations happen and the public at large gets a pulse and a picture of life in the Church. Pope Francis seems to recognize that his role is to embed himself at the heart of this universe, evangelize it and draw people closer to each other and to Christ.

For more on Pope Francis' approach to communications, here's a recent reflection by Archbishop Claudio Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

(CNS Photo/Paul Haring)

Five Things To Remember On April 17

1. As Boston comes to terms with Monday's bombings at the Boston Marathon, many, including President Obama, will gather Thursday for an interfaith prayer service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

2. Louisville's Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, who is the vice president of the USCCB, signed a response to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From Birmingham Jail"earlier this week. At a gathering of Christian Churches Together, Archbishop Kurtz said, "While violence surrounded Dr. King's life, he proclaimed in word and deed the direction of his Savior, Jesus Christ – namely, that injustice must not be ignored, but neither can violence be addressed and eliminated by greater acts of violence." Learn more about the Birmingham event.

3. Pope Francis continues to frequently use his @Pontifex Twitter account to share insightful messages. Today, he tweeted twice, saying, "To enter into the glory of God demands daily fidelity to his will, even when it requires sacrifice." He also said, "Jesus’ ascension into heaven does not mean his absence, but that he is alive among us in a new way, close to each one of us."

4. The tragic death of eight-year-old Martin Richard in the Boston blasts has connected with many people. On social media, a picture of the little boy following his First Communion has been circulating. His father, Bill, told the Boston Globe, "We thank our family and friends, those we know and those we have never met, for their thoughts and prayers. I ask that you continue to pray for my family as we remember Martin."

5. God loves you.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Five Things To Remember On April 16

1. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, reacted to the Boston tragedy Monday, saying, "The growing culture of violence in our world and even in our country calls for both wise security measures by government officials and an examination by all of us to see what we can personally do to enhance peace and respect for one another in our world. "
Cardinal Dolan also recently debuted a new website at CardinalDolan.org.

2. Cardinal Sean O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston, has been traveling in the Hold Land during the last couple of days. Cardinal O'Malley said such events also show the capacity for good amongst people. "In the midst of the darkness of this tragedy we turn to the light of Jesus Christ, the light that was evident in the lives of people who immediately turned to help those in need today," he said."

3. Sister Mary Ann Walsh said immigration reform has long been a concern of the USCCB in her latest blog post.

4. Today is Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI's 86th birthday. In what has to be a first, Pope Francis called his predecessor to wish him a great birthday.

5. God loves you.

Immigration reform, the Gosnell trial and the Boston tragedy

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

The USCCB is gearing up for the immigration discussion surrounding the Senate’s look at the bipartisan proposal for immigration reform. This will affect 11 million people in our country. The Catholic Church has been clear where it stands on the issue.

In the bishops’ 2003 pastoral letter, “Strangers No Longer:  Together on the Journey of Hope,” they outlined several goals for immigration reform, which include:

•    A path to citizenship for the undocumented that is achievable, set within a reasonable time frame and includes the maximum number of persons;
•    The protection and enhancement of the family-based immigration system—based on the union of a husband and a wife and their children—including the reduction of backlogs and the shortening of waiting times;
•    A program which allows low-skilled migrant workers to enter and work in the United States legally and safely, includes appropriate wage and worker protections, allows for family unity, and provides workers the option to apply for permanent residency and eventual citizenship;
•    The restoration of due process protections for immigrants removed by the 1996 Illegal Immigrant Responsibility and Immigration Reform Act;
•    The adoption of policies which address the root causes, or push factors, of irregular migration, such as persecution and the absence of living wage jobs in sending communities.
•    The protection of other vulnerable populations, including refugees, asylum-seekers, and unaccompanied children.

Journalists Kirsten Powers (USA Today), Mollie Hemingway (getreligion.com) and Conor Friedersdorf deserve some kind of public service award for goading fellow members of the media to wake up to the horrific story in Philadelphia, where Dr. Kermit Gosnell is on trial for his chamber of horrors, aka, Women’s Health Society.  Note the grand jury report leading up to the trial if you can stomach it.

National media seem to have their eye open now. For example, Margaret Sullivan, the NYTimes public editor, wrote on her blog April 15, that “The murders of seven newborn babies, done so horrifically, would be no ordinary crime. Any suggestion, including mine on Friday, that this is just another murder trial is a miscalculation.” She added,

“Judged on news value alone, the Gosnell trial deserves more coverage than it’s had, in The Times and elsewhere.”

Boston Marathon
bombings yesterday remind all of the fragility of life and the need to work for peace. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said it well yesterday with this statement:

The tragic end to the Boston Marathon April 15 reminds us all that evil exists and that life is fragile.

The deaths and injuries of people gathered for the celebration on Patriots’ Day in Boston calls on all of us to pray for the souls of those killed the healing of those injured and the restoration of peace for all of us unsettled by the bombings at a world renowned sporting event.

Our special prayers are with the Archdiocese of Boston and the people there who are working in the aftermath of this crisis to address those wounded in so many ways by these events.

The growing culture of violence in our world and even in our country calls for both wise security measures by government officials and an examination by all of us to see what we can personally do to enhance peace and respect for one another in our world. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Media challenge their own

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Kirsten Powers, a USA Today opinion writer, and Conor Friedersdorf, a staff writer at The Atlantic, proved their journalistic chops last week. The two writers challenged fellow journalists to give appropriate coverage to the horrific details of the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell in the City of Brotherly Love. The trial began March18.

Powers’ opinion piece was brief, about 600 words, but packed a wallop. Titled “We've forgotten what belongs on Page One,” it notes that the horror of barbaric, illegal, late-term abortions reached unprecedented levels for modern times in Gosnell’s Philadelphia abortion mill. It also argued that national media seem to be ignoring the ghoulish tale. Friedersdorf, in a more than 3,800-word essay, titled “Why Dr. Kermit Gosnell's Trial Should Be a Front-Page Story”  plows through a sickening grand jury report of the deaths of babies and women.

The grand jury report describes late-term babies born alive during abortion attempts, and then being “snipped,” the euphemistic word at the clinic to describe severing a child’s spinal cord from his or her brain. According to the grand jury report, Gosnell explained this was a way of “ensuring fetal demise.” It is breathtaking to read of the casual law-breaking and crass exploitation of poor women outlined in the report. Stunning too are the accounts of the bureaucratic neglect that permitted this to go on during the decades since Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society was founded in 1979.

You’d hardly think it possible that the writers of USA Today and The Atlantic could do more than anyone carrying a gruesome sign outside a clinic could do:

1.    Make the reality of abortion, especially late-term abortion, real.

2.    Show the exploitation involved in targeting poor minorities for abortion services.

3.    Highlight the need to require abortion clinics to meet healthcare standards.

4.    Show that bias may run through mainstream media when the topic is abortion and the defense of innocent life.

Perhaps the solution to the problem of the huge number of innocent lives snuffed out annually lies not just in legislation and letters to Congress. It may also lie in hard-hitting and unbiased reporting.

On a personal note, I held off writing this piece because the grisly details from modern-day Philadelphia were hard to believe. I wanted to read the grand jury report myself .
It was worse than the news accounts.

In a bit of irony I read the macabre report on Sunday, April 14, when The New York Times, which hasn’t done much to cover Gosnell, ran a huge editorial titled “courage in Kansas.” The piece went on to laud the opening of a clinic in Wichita that will do abortions. I await the day we see courage at The New York Times when it comes to covering abortion. Maybe it is coming, given what Margaret Sullivan, the NY Times public editor, wrote on her blog April 15.

“The murders of seven newborn babies, done so horrifically, would be no ordinary crime. Any suggestion, including mine on Friday, that this is just another murder trial is a miscalculation,” Sullivan said. “Judged on news value alone, the Gosnell trial deserves more coverage than it’s had, in The Times and elsewhere.”

That’s news that’s fit to print.


Five Things To Remember On April 15

1. Cardinal Seán O'Malley was appointed by Pope Francis during the weekend to serve on a committee to advise him and to help reform the curia inside the Vatican. During the days following his election, there was a lot of talk about Pope Francis being a reformer. A month into his papacy, reform is already in his plans.

2. Dioceses require intensive background screening as well as psychological testing for those wishing to enter the seminary.  Audit figures for 2012 report out of 6,368 Candidates for Ordination 6,228 have been trained and 6,316 have had a background check. For more information, please see: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/audits.cfm

3. Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of the Archdiocese of Louisville delivered an address for the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letters from Birmingham April 14. Dr. King's actions and words still resonate with Archbishop Kurtz, as you can see. You can follow Archbishop Kurtz on Twitter.

4. Speaking of Twitter, Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Raleigh is one of the most active bishops around on social media. He tweets practically daily and today's message is Gospel-centered, saying, "Jesus tells us not to work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life. Where will our energy be spent today?"

5. God loves you. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Five Things To Remember On April 12

1. HHS has a lot of counting to do.  As of midnight last night, they tallied 358,727 comments filed on the HHS mandate, and still climbing.  The Sunlight Foundation reported that the 147,000 comments filed on the last two versions represented “more comments than any other regulatory proposal on any subject government-wide.”  Now that figure is more two-and-a-half times larger. 

2. Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, Iowa wrote Secretary of State John Kerry encouraging the Obama administration to sign an arms trade treaty. 

"The Catholic Church has a longstanding commitment to protecting human life and dignity and supporting arms control as a means to this end," wrote Bishop Pates. "As a world leader and a major arms exporter, our nation should set a positive example for other nations to follow in efforts to reduce the flow of weapons into situations that violate human rights and cause terrible suffering."

3.Cardinal William H. Keeler, the retired archbishop of Baltimore, received Boy Scout's highest honor today, the Silver Buffalo Award. Cardinal Keeler was an Eagle Scout as a young man. He is also the former president of the USCCB.

4.The growing number of Hispanics inside the Catholic Church, particularly here in the U.S. means empowering many in leadership roles, this Catholic News Service story says.

5. God loves you.