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Prayer vigil is held at Manchester medical center

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Catholics and other antiabortion activists held a prayer vigil outside Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, New Hampshire today, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Catholic hospital is in talks with Dartmouth Hitchcock Health to strengthen ties, and members of the group SAVE CMC are concerned that the merged hospital system will undermine the church’s ethical guidelines for healthcare.

Last month, Manchester Bishop John McCormack wrote a letter to priests of the diocese assuring them that he would not approve a deal that would jeopardize the Catholic identity of the hospital. The New Hampshire attorney general is reviewing the deal to ensure it protects the mission of each hospital.

Is health care reform stalled in the Senate?

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Our Washington corresondent, Jerry Filteau filed a report this morning (Stage set for Senate abortion showdown on health reform) saying that the U.S. bishops were firmly behind the the health care reform amendemnt that Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., proposed yesterday that would more clearly restrict the use of any public funds for abortion in the reform bill before the Senate. Filteau also reported that at least some pundits predicted that passage of the amendement was unlikely.

Now CNN is reporting that whether the Nelson amendment is passed or not, it could stall health care reform in the Senate. Without the amendment, the Democrats could use their filibuster proof majority. With the amendment, Democrats may abandoned the latest draft.

Read the CNN's analysis here: Abortion again roils health care debate

'Holy Death' sect, spreads, with drugs

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Among a small but growing portion of Los Angeles' vibrant Mexican spiritual community, a new but troubling object of worship is emerging: Santa Muerte, or "Holy Death." It is the latest, strongest and strangest sign of the powerful hold that the narcotics trade has on Latino culture.

A report in the Los Angeles Times this week outlines the still-developing worship services surrounding Santa Muerte. According to the Times, a handful of storefront churches have been set up in poor Latino neighborhoods to honor Holy Death, portrayed as a female grim reaper dressed in white with a skull for a face. Rites at these services that in some ways mirror Hispanic devotions to Mary.

Turn Copenhagen into 'Hopenhagen' -- a report by Fr. Sean McDonagh

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Irish missionary Fr. Sean McDonagh is currently attending the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. He provides this account of his attendance at prior conferences and situates the present climate change conference within the history of U.N. climate change gatherings.

"This is my fourth time attending the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). My first one was COP 12, which took place in Nairobi in 2006. About 5,000 people were present the event, including country delegates, people from civil society organisations and the media. We all gathered at the headquarters of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) in Nairobi. Security was tight and all events closed down before 6 p.m. I stayed at the Maryknoll house which is situated just outside Nairobi. As far as I can remember the only Head of State who attended, the president of Kenya.

Dec. 8, The Immaculate Conception

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The full title of today's feast is the Solemnity of The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

"From the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world. Above all creatures did God so loved her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully."

--Ineffabilis Deus, Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854



'Women & Spirit' exhibit set to move to Smithsonian

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The “Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America” exhibit will finish up in Dallas at the Women's Museum in one week and will move on to Washington, D.C. where it will open Jan. 15 (and run until April 25) at the S. Dillon Ripley Center at the Smithsonian.

"Women & Spirit" is a traveling exhibit sponsored by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in association with Cincinnati Museum Center and it tells the stories of innovative American women who helped shape our nation’s social and cultural landscape.

Jesuit Father Joseph Neuner, dead at 101, eulogized

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Jesuit Fr. Joseph Neuner, spiritual adviser to Mother Teresa and probably the world’s oldest Jesuit, died Dec. 3 at 101 in Pune, India. Neuner, born in 1908 in Feldkirch, Austria, had been a Puneite since 1938. For many years, he taught theology at the city-based Jnana Deep Vidyapeeth. In the 1960s, Neuner served as an expert at the Second Vatican Council.

Janina Gomes, an NCR contributor and author of the recently published Prayers from the Heart, (Pauline Publications @ Sister Bombay Society), wrote the following tribute.

Wendell Berry says large-scale farms are killing lands and towns

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By Ted Strong

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA -- A passive populace obsessed with easy answers has led to an economy that is destroying America's land, author Wendell Berry told a packed-in crowd at the University of Virginia on Thursday evening.

"Simple solutions will always lead to complex problems, surprising simple minds," he said.

In a lecture in the full auditorium of the Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature and Culture/Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, Berry outlined the need for small-scale landholders engaging in forestry and farming, as opposed to the industrial-scale operations now in place.

The talk was so popular that seats in the auditorium ran out long before the 5:30 speech began. Eventually, a pair of university police officers shooed away the overflow crowd waiting outside.

Even some of those who made it inside were left without seats, and Berry invited them to sit on the stage near him.

Large-scale and corporate operations cause long-term damage to the environment and to rural cultures, he told the crowd.

Poker-playing priest

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Move over, bingo. Poker is the new way to raise money for your parish. At least that's what Father Andrew Trapp, vicar of St. Michael's Parish in Garden City, N.J., is betting.

The recently ordained Trapp admits to enjoying a friendly game of Texas Hold'em poker with friends and family. So when he heard about Fox TV's "PokerStars.net Million Dollar Challenge," he got his bishop's permission to try to compete and raise money for the parish's building fund.

Not only did Trapp qualify for the show, he won $100,000 and qualified for the final show--to air December 27--and compete for $1 million. Although that show has already been taped, Trapp is mum about the outcome.

On his personal website (which also contains reflections such as "Christianity is like the Batmobile" and "Is Ronald McDonald Catholic?") he shares his story and answers FAQs about his appearance, including Catholic teaching on games of chance.

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