EUROPE: NORWAY: REINDEER HERDERS NOW HAVE A BIBLE IN THEIR LANGUAGE -
AMERICA: USA: BISHOPS CRITICIZE CURRENT HEALTH CARE REFORM BILL-
AFRICA: KENYA: UK GOVERNMENT FREEZES FUNDING FOR PRIMARY ED-
ASIA: PHILIPINES: ROUND THE CLOCK RELIEF FOR EVACUEES-
AUSTRALIA: BLESSED MARY MACKILLOP GAINS APPEAL-
Dear Brothers and Sisters!“A child is born for us, a son is given to us” (Is 9:5). What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar, consoling Israel amid its trials and its darkness, is now proclaimed to the shepherds as a present reality by the Angel, from whom a cloud of light streams forth: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11). The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly “God with us”. No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us. The words of the risen Christ to his followers are addressed also to us: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). For you the Saviour is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God’s incarnation have to tell us? The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch – they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. What does this mean? The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His “self” is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one’s own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another. Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God. To awake, then, means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which he chooses to guide us; for the many indications of his presence. There are people who describe themselves as “religiously tone deaf”. The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed – our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today’s world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us “tone deaf” towards him. And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly. In order to arrive at this vigilance, this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others, for those who appear “tone deaf” and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest himself. The great theologian Origen said this: if I had the grace to see as Paul saw, I could even now (during the Liturgy) contemplate a great host of angels (cf. in Lk 23:9). And indeed, in the sacred liturgy, we are surrounded by the angels of God and the saints. The Lord himself is present in our midst. Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing you close to others as well!Let us return to the Christmas Gospel. It tells us that after listening to the Angel’s message, the shepherds said one to another: “‘Let us go over to Bethlehem’ … they went at once” (Lk 2:15f.). “They made haste” is literally what the Greek text says. What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately. In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. The Saviour is born. The long-awaited Son of David has come into the world in his own city. What could be more important? No doubt they were partly driven by curiosity, but first and foremost it was their excitement at the wonderful news that had been conveyed to them, of all people, to the little ones, to the seemingly unimportant. They made haste – they went at once. In our daily life, it is not like that. For most people, the things of God are not given priority, they do not impose themselves on us directly. And so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities God is often more or less at the end. We can always deal with that later, we tend to think. The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God’s work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: “Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the divine office)”. For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. God is important, by far the most important thing in our lives. The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place – however important they may be – so as to make our way towards God, to allow him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in his name, to our neighbour is never time lost. It is the time when we are most truly alive, when we live our humanity to the full.Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. The commentators go on to say: this is quite natural. The shepherds lived nearby. They only needed to “come over” (cf. Lk 2:15), as we do when we go to visit our neighbours. The wise men, however, lived far away. They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. And they needed guidance and direction. Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, his neighbours and they can easily go to see him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to him. But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals. He calls each one of us, so that we too can say: “Come on, ‘let us go over’ to Bethlehem – to the God who has come to meet us. Yes indeed, God has set out towards us. Left to ourselves we could not reach him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has travelled the longer part of the journey. Now he invites us: come and see how much I love you. Come and see that I am here. Transeamus usque Bethlehem, the Latin Bible says. Let us go there! Let us surpass ourselves! Let us journey towards God in all sorts of ways: along our interior path towards him, but also along very concrete paths – the Liturgy of the Church, the service of our neighbour, in whom Christ awaits us.Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: “Let us see this thing that has happened.” Literally the Greek text says: “Let us see this Word that has occurred there.” Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. The God of whom no image may be made – because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him – this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of his life and ministry, in his dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God himself. This is what God is like. The Angel had said to the shepherds: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God’s sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist’s sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God’s love. Origen says of the pagans: “Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood” (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: “Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)” (in Lk 22:3).Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this Holy Night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen. (SOURCE: http://www.radiovaticana.org/en1/Articolo.asp?c=344739
USCCB reports that the current health care reform bill is “deficient” and should not move forward without “essential changes,” the chairmen of three committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said December 22.
The chairs, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities; Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, of the Committee on Migration, stated their position in a December 22 letter to senators working to pass the Senate version of health reform legislation.
The entire letter can be found at http://www.usccb.org/healthcare/letter-to-senate-20091222.pdf.
The legislative proposal now advancing “violates the longstanding federal policy against the use of federal funds for elective abortions and health plans that include such abortions -- a policy upheld in all health programs covered by the Hyde Amendment as well as in the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program -- and now in the House-passed ‘Affordable Health Care for America Act,’” the bishops said.
They said that the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives “keeps in place the longstanding and widely supported federal policy against government funding of elective abortions and plans that include elective abortions” and “ensures that where federal funds are involved, people are not required to pay for other people’s abortions.” The Senate bill does not maintain this commitment.
In the Senate version, “federal funds will help subsidize, and in some cases a federal agency will facilitate and promote, health plans that cover elective abortions,” the bishops said. “All purchasers of such plans will be required to pay for other people’s abortions in a very direct and explicit way, through a separate premium payment designed solely to pay for abortion. There is no provision for individuals to opt out of this abortion payment in federally subsidized plans, so people will be required by law to pay for other people’s abortions.” The public consensus against abortion funding, said the bishops, “is borne out by many opinion surveys, including the new Quinnipiac University survey December 22 showing 72 percent opposed to public funding of abortion in health care reform legislation.”
“This bill also continues to fall short of the House-passed bill in preventing governmental discrimination against health care providers that decline involvement in abortion,” the bishops said. And it also “includes no conscience protection allowing Catholic and other institutions to provide and purchase health coverage consistent with their moral and religious convictions on other procedures.”
The bishops also called for all immigrants, regardless of status, to be able purchase a health insurance plan with their own money.
“Without such access, many immigrant families would be unable to receive primary care and be compelled to rely on emergency room care,” the bishops said. “This would harm not only immigrants and their families, but also the general public health. Moreover, the financial burden on the American public would be higher, as Americans would pay for uncompensated medical care through the federal budget or higher insurance rates.”
The bishops urged removal of the five-year ban on legal immigrants accessing federal health benefit programs, such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and Medicare, which was proposed by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). His proposal, “which would give states the option to remove this ban, should be included in the bill.”
The bishops said they want health insurance to be affordable and said that while the Senate bill “makes great progress in covering people in our nation,” it “would still leave over 23 million people in our nation without health insurance. This falls far short of what is needed in both policy and moral dimensions.”
The bishops urged Congress and the Administration to “fashion health care reform legislation that truly protects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all.”
Right now, they said, “in all the areas of our moral concern, the Senate health care reform bill is deficient. On the issue of respect for unborn human life, the bill not only falls short of the House’s standard but violates longstanding precedent in all other federal health programs. Therefore we believe the Senate should not move this bill forward at this time but continue to discuss and approve changes that could make it morally acceptable. Until these fundamental flaws are remedied the bill should be opposed.”
“Regardless of the outcome in the Senate, we will work vigorously to incorporate into the final legislation our priorities for upholding conscience rights and longstanding current prohibitions on abortion funding; ensuring affordability and access; and including immigrants,” they added. “We hope and pray that the Congress and the country will come together around genuine reform.”
----- (SOURCE: http://www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2009/09-267.shtml
KENYA: UK GOVERNMENT FREEZES FUNDING FOR PRIMARY ED
CISA reports that the UK government has frozen funding for Free Primary Education (FPE) in Kenya until an investigation into fraud allegations has been carried out.The Department for International Development (DFID) said no more money would be released until USD1 million (£615,000) said to have disappeared earlier this year had been accounted for.The money was supposed to go towards building new classrooms and buying text books in impoverished parts of Kenya.A DFID spokesman said the department "does not tolerate fraud in its programmes" and it welcomed an investigation into the allegations by Kenyan authorities.The spokesman added, "We have not suspended our aid programme, but no new funds have been transferred to the Ministry of Education in Kenya since the matter was uncovered. We will consider what action to take once the Kenyan government has completed its investigation."Our support for education in Kenya has helped get one million more children into school over the past five years, and we remain committed to improving education for the country's poorest children,” he said.According to reports, the DFID a UK government department blamed the Ministries of Finance and Education for the loss of the money.The Kenya National Parents Association (KNAP) has also demanded an investigation to establish the extent of the loot saying Kenyan pupils will be affected.However, the Ministry of Education dismissed the allegations immediately.(SOURCE: http://www.cisanewsafrica.org/story.asp?ID=4308
PHILIPINES: ROUND THE CLOCK RELIEF FOR EVACUEES
UCAN reports that fear of outbreaks of disease is growing among Church aid providers working round the clock to bring relief to evacuees from the danger zone around Mayon volcano.
Some Calabayog villagers, displacedby the volcanic activity, are housedin this classroom
Sanitation and shelter have become the main concerns with evacuation centers already overflowing.
There is a dire need for portable toilets, tents and building materials.
"We now have 502 families -- 2,288 people -- in our school. Of course our classrooms can't accommodate all of them," Adelia Vibar, principal of the primary school in the town of San Jose, told UCA News.
"I have only five toilets for all these people. If we are to avoid epidemics we need more urgently," Vibar said.
The Social Action Center (SAC) of Legazpi diocese had provided six portable toilets for the evacuation camp in Anislang and is planning to provide another 100 for other camps, SAC team member Jason Sevilla, 28, said.
In all, nearly 10,000 families, more than 47,000 people from 32 villages, have fled their homes.
The SAC has begun to focus on the many evacuees from remote areas who have so far received little attention.
"We will try to provide blankets, mosquito nets, toilets, water, disinfectant, medicine and milk for the kids," said SAC director Father Ramoncito Segubiense.
Evacuees might not be able to return for up to three months, putting intense strain on infrastructure and resources. The government warns an eruption could come within days.
Water supplies are already erratic and hard to find in some places.
"We have to spend hours fetching water from the pump," Amelia Bolanos, 27, a refugee from Calabayog village staying in San Jose, told UCA News.
"We are very afraid of what will happen to our homes and also for our men who, despite the danger, go to the village during the day to protect our belongings and animals from theft."
Querino Volante, 59, headman of the village, also worries about the future and the damage already done to crops. "The wind is blowing ashes toward our village. All our crops are lost and I don't have any idea how we will recover our livelihoods," he said.
More than 5,000 people from Santa Misericordia and Fidel Surtida villages are now living on just four hectares of land in small bamboo shelters.
Venecia Banta, 47, from Fidel Sortida who has seven children, perhaps sums up the plight of refugees. Although "we don't have proper water supply or toilets, the worst thing is we don't know how long we are going to stay here," she said.
BLESSED MARY MACKILLOP GAINS APPEAL
Cath News reports that the media coverage of Blessed Mary MacKillop's imminent sainthood continues unabated, with various reports tackling different angles from "airbrushed" facial features, to her role as a spiritual inspiration, to her potential to be a religious attraction.
The Australian picked up on Mary's "beautification" that is reportedly enhancing her appeal. Even the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart admit Mary has been "airbrushed", the newspaper says.
Sisters of St Joseph archivist Benedetta Bennett says the most popular image of Mary is an artist's impression that touches up the colours in her cheeks and lips.
"The people who come to the shop are looking for that one," Sister Benedetta is cited saying by The Australian. "It looks very much like one of the very ordinary images except that it has been done in rich colours and make-up and things.
"I think it's the richness of the tones in it that appeal to a lot of people."
The Courier reports on Ballarat's Sr Dominic Foley, who first entered a Sisters of St Joseph convent more than 60 years ago and encountered sisters alive who had known Mary MacKillop.
"I heard from them what a compassionate, loving and courageous woman she was," Sr Dominic recalled this week, saying she was drawn to the Josephites' order having been inspired by Mary's life story.
"If her life were known, I think it would make a difference to young women."
"She was a spiritual woman only in her 20s. She lived under very difficult circumstances, but she knew what she felt God wanted her to do and nothing stopped her from doing it."
Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald explores Mary's potential as a drawcard for a Church "weakened by successive scandals".
Katrina Lee, a spokeswoman for the Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell, debunks the notion, saying there were no plans to use Mary in a recruitment drive.
"She certainly will not be used in any promotional campaign to get non-Catholics. She won't be used in any advertising." Ms Lee said that the North Sydney order of Josephite sisters founded by Mary did not "work on this for decades just to attract other people."
"The Catholic Church would not want people to say Mother Mary was a terrific person, so let's join up," Ms Lee said. "There is more to it than that."
The paper goes on to quote a few ideas from marketing executives on how to use the "golden opportunity" that Mary's story presents to the church.
MYSTIC AND MARONITE HERMIT
Feast: December 24
May 8, 1828, Bekaa Kafra (North Lebanon)
December 24, 1898
October 9, 1977 by Pope Paul VI
Mystic and Maronite hermit. He was born in 1828 in Lebanon and became a Maronite monk at Annaya Abbey at the age of twenty. As a hermit, Charbel was famous for his spiritual gifts, even among his Islamic neighbors. He spent almost a quarter century displaying many miraculous abilities and was noted for his love of the Holy Eucharist. Charbel died in 1898. He was beatified in 1965 and canonized in 1977 by Pope Paul VI (r. 1963-1978).(SOURCE: http://www.ewtn.com/saintsHoly/saints/C/stcharbelmakhlouf.asp
Luke 1: 67 - 79
And his father Zechari'ah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying,
"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people,
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us;
to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath which he swore to our father Abraham,
to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."