WASHINGTON (CNS) --- Picking up from efforts to stem sex trafficking at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, 11 women's religious orders from Indiana and Michigan are working to stop sex trafficking at this year's Super Bowl. The orders are members of the Coalition for Corporate Responsibility for Indiana and Michigan, established in the early 1990s. The coalition is a member of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, which spearheaded the anti-sex trafficking efforts two years ago in South Africa. The nuns aren't always the biggest football fans, but they've picked up some of the terminology. When ICCR's human trafficking working group mentioned during its meeting last June that Super Bowl XLVI would be held in Indianapolis, "we picked up the ball and ran with it," said Sister Ann Oestreich, an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister who ministers as justice coordinator for the Sisters of the Holy Cross in South Bend., Ind., and is the two-state coalition's justice co-chair. "In CCRIM, we had done a process in terms of picking one issue that was important to all of our members. Prior to the Super Bowl, the issue of human trafficking came up," Sister Ann told Catholic News Service during a Jan. 12 telephone interview from South Bend. "It's such a broad issue. How do we get at it as investors, as socially responsible investors? So we decided to take a look at the hospitality industry and purchasing stock in their companies so we could get into a conversation with the hotels." Coalition representatives contacted the federal Department of Health and Human Services for assistance. "We asked for printed copies of brochures on their website, and HHS was kind enough, when they heard what we were doing, to provide 2,000 printed copies of those brochures."
Pope prays for migrants, refugees seeking a better life
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- The millions of refugees and migrants in the world are not numbers but people in search of a better life for themselves and their families, Pope Benedict XVI said. "They are men and women, young and old, who are looking for a place they can live in peace," the pope said Jan. 15, which the Vatican marked as the World Day for Migrants and Refugees. The pope welcomed migrants living in Rome to his recitation of the Angelus in St. Peter's Square and told the thousands of people gathered for the midday prayer that migrants and refugees are not only recipients of the church's outreach, but also can be agents of evangelization in their new communities. In his main Angelus address, Pope Benedict spoke about the day's Scripture readings at Mass and how Samuel in the Hebrew Bible and Simon and Andrew, James and John in the New Testament recognized the Lord's call with the help of a wise guide. "I would like to underline the decisive role of a spiritual guide in the faith journey and, in particular, in responding to the vocation of special consecration in the service of God and his people," the pope said. "The call to follow Jesus more closely, to give up forming one's own family in order to dedicate oneself to the larger family of the church, normally passes through the witness and suggestion of a 'big brother,' usually a priest," he said.
Vatican official: Imprisoned clergy 'damaging for China'
VATICAN CITY (CNS) --- The Vatican's highest-ranking Chinese official called on Beijing to release nine arrested Catholic bishops and priests, saying their continued detention "damages China's international image." Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-fai, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, made his remarks in an interview published Jan. 17 by AsiaNews, a Rome-based missionary news agency. "We need to pray for these bishops and priests ... but we must also appeal to those who are holding" them, Archbishop Hon said, endorsing a public campaign recently launched by AsiaNews. Eight of the arrested clergy are members of the so-called "underground" or clandestine Catholic community, whose leaders refuse to register with the Chinese government. The government's refusal to acknowledge the church leaders' detention shows that the priests and bishops "disappeared for religious reasons," Archbishop Hon said. "If these people have done something wrong, please send them to court, not to prison or isolation." Asked what the Vatican is doing to obtain their release, Archbishop Hon said that requests were being made through personal channels and diplomats from third countries. But he also noted that the "Holy See cannot publicize all the help it gives and its closeness to them." Noting that the Vatican does not distinguish between Catholic communities that register or do not register with the government, the archbishop called for unity of the church in China in spite of government persecution.
Washington bishops: Allowing same-sex marriage 'not in the public interest'
SEATTLE (CNS) --- Legislation introduced by lawmakers in Washington state that would redefine marriage to allow same-sex marriage "is not in the public interest," said the bishops of the state's three Catholic dioceses. "Marriage in faith and societal traditions is acknowledged as the foundation of civilization. It has long been recognized that the stability of society depends on the stability of family life in which a man and a woman conceive and nurture new life," the bishops said in a statement released Jan. 13. "In this way, civil recognition of marriage has sought to bestow on countless generations of children the incomparable benefit of a loving mother and father committed to one another in a lifelong union," they said. The current state law says that "marriage is a civil contract between a male and a female," the bishops noted. "This same law also prohibits marriage to close-blood relations, a clear indication that the definition of marriage is related to bringing children into the world and the continuation of the human race." The bishops called on all citizens of Washington to support the current legal definition of marriage and contact their state senator and representatives to urge them to "defend the current legal definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman." At the same time, the bishops asked everyone to join them in praying "for married couples and families and to do everything possible to support them." The statement was signed by: Archbishop Peter Sartain and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle; Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane; and Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima. It was released by the Washington State Catholic Conference in Seattle, the public policy arm of the state's bishops.
Nigerian bishops call for negotiated end to nationwide strike
LAGOS, Nigeria (CNS) --- The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria called on the Nigerian government and organized labor to negotiate a settlement to a crippling nationwide strike. The bishops expressed concern Jan. 12 that "things seem to be deteriorating by the day" as the country endured the fifth day of a work stoppage that at times erupted into violence. A union representing 20,000 oil and gas workers threatened to shut down all production starting Jan. 15 to join the strike. The strike began Jan. 9, a week after the government ended a fuel subsidy. Pump prices shot up by as much as 300 percent overnight, leading to higher prices for consumer goods and services. A meeting between Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and leaders of the Nigerian Labor Congress and the Trade Union Congress late Jan. 11 failed to resolve the impasse. Another meeting was scheduled for Jan. 13. Archbishop Felix Alaba Job of Ibadan, conference president, signed the statement, which called for the parties to use restraint and to take steps to return the country to normal activities. "All parties claim that they have the welfare of the poor in mind, but as we can see, it is actually the poor who are caught in the crossfire," the bishops said. The bishops condemned the violence that erupted during the strike. They said they were concerned that the strike had been "hijacked by rogues, hoodlums and persons that have other interests apart from the nation's in mind."
Mexican priest investigated for helping displaced Guatemalans
MEXICO CITY (CNS) --- Mexican human rights groups and the migration ministry of the Mexican bishops' conference have expressed outrage at the attorney general's office for pursuing anonymous criminal complaints against a priest who provided material and spiritual support to a group of displaced Guatemalans. The groups also took issue with Mexican immigration officials forcibly removing some of the Guatemalans, who had been residing in a camp they established in Tabasco state near the Mexico-Guatemala border since August after fleeing a violent displacement in their country. Franciscan Father Tomas Gonzalez Castillo is accused of human trafficking for doing what his supporters say was nothing more than providing food and shelter to the displaced Guatemalans. Father Gonzalez was in Mexico City Jan. 12 to meet with judicial officials. He told reporters his migrant shelter in the border town of Tenosique and a parish human rights center were the only organizations that offered support to the Guatemalans who "arrived with nothing more than the clothes on their backs." Federal officials removed 72 Guatemalans from the camp during a predawn raid Jan. 9, saying their actions were done for "humanitarian" reasons and due to poor sanitary conditions at the camp. A press release distributed by the Jesuit-run Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center in Mexico City alleged federal agents lured children and then used them to take their parents away.
Belgian bishops pledge to pay damages to abuse victims under new plan
OXFORD, England (CNS) --- Belgium's Catholic bishops pledged a "culture of vigilance" against future sexual abuse by priests and said guilty clergy must compensate their victims even if their crimes are no longer punishable by law. "We cannot repair the past, but we can take moral responsibility by recognizing sufferings and helping victims recover," Bishops Guy Harpigny of Torunai and Johan Bonny of Antwerp, the church's delegates for abuse, told a Brussels news conference Jan. 12. "Above all, we ask forgiveness for the suffering we weren't able to prevent, and we commit to treat this problem differently in future." Days after the announcement, Belgian authorities searched church offices in four dioceses as part of their investigation into whether church officials protected alleged abusers. Police searched offices of the Diocese of Brugge Jan. 17, a day after conducting similar raids of church offices in the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels and the dioceses of Antwerp and Hasselt, the Associated Press reported. Peter Rossel, spokesman for the Brugge Diocese, confirmed authorities searched the offices and that church officials cooperated with the investigation. At their news conference, the bishops introduced a 52-page booklet, "A Hidden Suffering," setting out lessons from the abuse scandal and a "global action plan" to prevent similar "contradictions of the Gospel ethic."
Venezuela's bishops urge end to country's political, social divides
CARACAS, Venezuela (CNS) --- As the presidential election year begins, Venezuela's bishops urged people to come together for the common good, "based on mutual respect and appreciation," to close the country's political and social divides. In a pastoral letter covering topics ranging from human rights to crime and prisons to politics, the bishops acknowledged that "building unity among Venezuelans is not an easy task," but said, "the progress and welfare of this country can only be achieved with the participation of all citizens." The bishops issued the letter in mid-January at the end of their annual assembly, when they elected Archbishop Diego Padron Sanchez of Cumana president of the Venezuelan bishops' conference. Venezuela has been highly polarized for years, with little room for negotiation between the government of President Hugo Chavez and the political opposition. The bishops often have taken stands at odds with the controversial chief executive, a former military officer who has been in office since 1999. The polarization between the president's supporters and opponents is likely to come to the fore in October, when voters choose a president. It is not clear whether Chavez, who underwent treatment for cancer last year in Cuba, will be a candidate. Calling on Catholics to pray for and promote the common good, the bishops wrote that the election should be viewed "from the human and Christian standpoint of national reconciliation."
Gallup Diocese mourns death of deacon killed in head-on collision
GALLUP, N.M. (CNS) --- Bishop James S. Wall of Gallup and the clergy, religious and parish communities in the diocese mourned the death of Deacon Marcellino Morris Jr., who was killed in a head-on auto accident Dec. 30. A rosary was held Jan. 8 at St. Mary Church in Tohatchi, on the Navajo reservation, where Deacon Morris served. Deacon Morris, who was Navajo, was ordained at Sacred Heart Cathedral in 2001. Since that time, he had ministered at St. Mary as well as at its mission church, St. Anthony in Naschitti, and served the Catholic community in Coyote Canyon. A visitation was held at Sacred Heart Cathedral Jan. 9 with words of remembrance recited in English and Navajo. Afterward, Bishop Wall celebrated the funeral Mass for the deacon. Interment was at Naschitti Community Cemetery. Deacon Morris, who lived in Naschitti, was recently featured in an article by Catholic News Service, where he talked about his vocation and joy he found serving in the diaconate for the Gallup Diocese. He said he chose the diaconate because he felt called to serve the tribal elders by being able to read the Gospel and preach in the Navajo language at Mass. But ordination wasn't on his mind when, years ago, he decided to get more involved in the church in which he was raised and enrolled in a Jesuit-run program for Native Americans called "Builders of the New Earth" to refresh his knowledge about the Catholic faith. "It really enlightened me more about the church, the faith that we have and also made me appreciate our cultural values more (as a Navajo)," he told CNS in an interview last October.
Prominent death penalty opponent recalled as 'quiet, effective leader'
BETHESDA, Md. (CNS) --- Frank McNeirney, co-founder and national coordinator of Catholics Against Capital Punishment, died of a heart attack in his Bethesda home Dec. 1. He was 75. "Frank was a quiet and effective leader in efforts to end the use of the death penalty when it was a lonely cause and later when many others joined him," said John Carr, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development. "He is a great example of how a faithful Catholic can make a difference in defense of human life and dignity." McNeirney was born in the New York City borough of Queens. He graduated from St. John's University in New York in 1957, and in 2001 he and his wife, Ellen, received the president's medal from the university for their work in opposing the use of the death penalty. He worked for trade magazines and associations in New York and in Washington, where he moved in 1982. Even in retirement he was a part-time editor and writer. In 1991, after retiring from his public relations job, he and his wife founded the nonprofit organization against capital punishment. He told Catholic News Service at the time that he was concerned that fellow Catholics ---particularly legislators --- were unclear about the church's position on the death penalty and needed to be educated about it. He said the group primarily aimed to be a clearinghouse of information on Catholic teachings and statements by U.S. bishops on the topic.