News briefs: February 8, 2008

Tornadoes cause death, destruction across mid-South states

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CNS) -- Father Ernest Hardesty, pastor of Assumption Parish in Atkins, said he witnessed "three miles of destruction" from a twister that hit his community Feb. 5. "I've never seen anything like it," he said. A series of tornadoes brought death and destruction to several communities in the mid-South. As of midday Feb. 7, 56 people were confirmed dead as a result of the rare winter twisters. Arkansas and western and middle Tennessee bore the brunt of the Feb. 5 tornadoes, although funnel clouds also touched down in Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky and Missouri. According to Greg Standish of Catholic Mutual Group, no parishes or schools in the Diocese of Little Rock reported tornado damage, but several buildings were damaged by high winds. Father Hardesty's church was about half a mile from the tornado and was not damaged. The parish hall was opened to anyone needing a place to sleep overnight. "It's pretty big destruction, considering it hit the rural part of the city," he told the Arkansas Catholic, Little Rock's diocesan newspaper. Four were confirmed dead in Atkins.

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Campus club helps gay, straight students better understand each other

PORTLAND, Ore. (CNS) -- Officials at the University of Portland, run by the Holy Cross Fathers, have recognized a club that seeks to build community and understanding between students who are heterosexual and those with a homosexual orientation. Approval came in January for the Gay Straight Partnership. The group's mission statement says it aims "to help all students grow in friendship, knowledge, faith and service." Club members also plan to educate students on issues surrounding sexuality -- without advancing an agenda. John Goldrick, the university's vice president for enrollment management and student life, approved of the club after asking for some changes in the proposal, including new advisers and the removal of a section on networking with other schools. The university's officers also suggested the group strengthen the wording of its mission to ensure that "the group will provide balanced programming and education and will offer a clear, faithful presentation of the Catholic Church's teaching about human sexuality and sexual orientation," said a memo from Goldrick to the student activities office.

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Israel OKs multiple-entry visas for 'high-ranking' church workers

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- The Israeli Ministry of the Interior has agreed to provide multiple-entry visas to "high-ranking church personnel" who must travel in and out of Israel for their work. In a letter to Archbishop Antonio Franco, papal nuncio to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said the church would need to submit a list of such personnel to be "checked and approved" by the ministry before the multiple-entry visas would be issued. Sheetrit said all other religious who need to leave Israel for work would be able to apply and receive re-entry visas to Israel before departure from the country, thus avoiding the complication of having to apply for such a visa from outside Israel. Emergency cases would be treated as such and would be dealt with "immediately and on the spot," wrote Sheetrit. However, Archbishop Franco said the church "was not fully pleased with the changes." He said, "Even parish priests need to move around. In the Latin patriarchate they have many meetings and pastoral duties. (The priests) do not fit into (the category) of VIPs. The practicality, it is not there."

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Vatican cardinal defends reformulation of Tridentine prayer for Jews

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A Vatican cardinal defended Pope Benedict XVI's reformulation of a prayer for the conversion of Jews and said he hopes it will not become an obstacle in Catholic-Jewish dialogue. Cardinal Walter Kasper, who heads the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, said the Catholic Church cannot hide its belief that Jesus Christ is the savior of all peoples, including the Jews. But that does not mean the church is launching a missionary effort among the Jewish people, he told Vatican Radio Feb. 7. Cardinal Kasper was responding to Jewish criticism of the pope's new Good Friday prayer for Jews in the 1962 Roman Missal, known as the Tridentine rite, which can be used with greater freedom under new norms issued last year. The pope removed language that spoke of the "blindness" of the Jews, which Cardinal Kasper said was "a little offensive." "The Holy Father wanted to remove this point, but he also wanted to underline the specific difference that exists between us and Judaism," the cardinal said. That difference is that for Christians Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, he said.

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U.S. mission directors leave Rome feeling their efforts are working

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A pilgrimage of U.S. mission directors left Rome with a sense that their efforts are making a difference in the universal church, participants said. Msgr. John E. Kozar, national director of the pontifical missionary societies in the United States, led about 140 diocesan directors to Rome Jan. 29-Feb. 5 for Vatican meetings, workshops on communications, and visits to Assisi and other pilgrim spots. The goal was twofold: providing the spiritual uplift of a pilgrimage and energizing participants as missionaries by bringing them to the church's international center. Msgr. Kozar said what struck him during their stay was that people from mission countries are now assuming leadership roles in the universal church. Many are studying in Rome, while others are representing their countries in various roles at the Vatican, he said. He met with about 80 missionary sisters from Africa and Asia, including China and Vietnam, and said he was "overwhelmed" by the spirit of thankfulness among them.

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Prelate says church in Mozambique plays important role in society

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- More than 15 years after the Catholic Church played a major role initiating long-term peace and stability in Mozambique, the church maintains an important role in society, said an African archbishop. Mozambique is a model of how a country "can go from war to peace" with a relatively stable government and democracy and functioning parliament, Archbishop Jaime Goncalves of Beira told Catholic News Service Feb. 4. But recognizing that the government still faces problems, such as the current movement toward a one-party system, church officials meet formally with government leaders once a year to encourage dialogue across political lines, said Archbishop Goncalves. The archbishop, who was in Washington meeting with officials of the U.S. bishops' Office of International Justice and Peace, was one of the four mediators of Mozambique's peace process. In 1992 the process ended a 16-year civil war preceded by five centuries of Portuguese colonization. Two members of the Rome-based Sant'Egidio Community and an Italian legislator also helped mediate.

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Lebanese cardinal urges mending of Lebanese-Syrian relationship

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNS) -- Lebanon's Maronite Catholic cardinal called for the mending of Lebanese-Syrian relations "for the welfare of both countries." "If the nature of the ties between Lebanon and Syria is not once and for all determined, this is likely to reflect negatively on both countries," said Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, the Maronite patriarch, in his annual Lenten address. Syria's 15-year occupation of Lebanon ended in 2005, but it still wields considerable political power in Lebanon. Cardinal Sfeir criticized foreign intervention in Lebanon's internal affairs and Lebanese politicians "who serve as tools in the hands of foreign powers." He said, "Some politicians ally themselves with foreign forces to serve their personal interests ... and this is the worst of behaviors." He noted that political rhetoric has "sunk way too low, and this contradicts all principles of freedom."

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Cardinal to host meeting with Muslims on next step in dialogue

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, will host a meeting with Muslim representatives in early March to plan a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and the next step in their dialogue. Sohail Nakhooda, editor in chief of Islamica Magazine in Jordan, said the meeting with Cardinal Tauran was scheduled for March 3-4. Nakhooda was one of the 138 Muslim scholars who wrote to Pope Benedict and other Christian leaders in October proposing new efforts at Christian-Muslim dialogue based on the shared belief in the existence of one God, in God's love for humanity and in people's obligation to love one another. Pope Benedict responded in November by inviting a group of the Muslim scholars to meet with him and to hold a broader working session with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and with representatives of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies and the Pontifical Gregorian University. Five of the 138 scholars, including Nakhooda, will participate in the March meeting.

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Benedictine sisters score needed funds during Super Bowl

PHOENIX (CNS) -- While the NFL and advertisers used Super Bowl XLII as a chance to further their enterprises and increase profits, some Benedictine sisters in Phoenix used the big game as an opportunity to further the work of the Catholic Church in spreading the Gospel. By turning their Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery and Retreat Center into an affordable hotel for football fans, the sisters raised much-needed funds for expansion, increased awareness of and promoted religious life, and established vocation and retreat contacts. "Really, we did it as a fundraiser," said Sister Linda Campbell, prioress of the monastery. Sister Linda, a season-ticket holder for the Arizona Cardinals, knew football fans would appreciate the 3.5-mile drive from the Phoenix monastery to the Super Bowl's playing field at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. The sisters opened their 10 retreat rooms -- that feature twin beds, a shared bathroom and no TV or phone -- to 20 fans, who filled the rooms. The football fans -- who included a blend of New England Patriots and New York Giants fans -- got a decent deal on a room and the sisters raised $10,000. Their income stemmed from lodging fees and raffle tickets for a large, flat-screen TV to be given away Feb. 24.


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