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Faith & Parish

Catholic and Orthodox Unity: Close Enough to Imagine

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COMMENTARY

As we celebrate another Week of Prayer for Christianity, what is there to fuel our hope that this isn’t all just an exercise in futility? What’s to celebrate?

Signals are there that this movement called “ecumenical” does in fact move, that reflection as we go along on an increasing degree of “life together” is shaping our perception of the future in positive ways.

Shaping a spirituality of sustainability

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In Catholic schools when we were young, the sisters connected the dots for us, teaching us where we were in the world and what was important. These teachers bricked in the foundations for a spirituality, the ground floor of an ongoing encounter with a tradition of wisdom, complete with techniques for prayer and strategies for inner work and conversion.

The sisters provided a container -- not a perfect one, but workable -- into which we could pour our strivings to make sense of life and the world around us. Catholic education offered pious devotions and greenhoused a seedling sense of the world’s sacredness into flourishing growth.

As we enter the second decade of a new century, we can see clear signs of real change in the terrain of Catholic spirituality and culture. There are a variety of individuals and religious communities that are engaged in ecological education, in Earth-friendly enterprises and projects.

Pope denies appeal of Boston parish closings

After a lengthy appeals process, the Vatican has ruled that nine Boston-area Catholic parishes should be closed despite six-year vigils and other forms of protest from parishioners.

In a letter dated Dec. 15, the Vatican’s Secretariat of State said Pope Benedict XVI had “decided not to accept” an appeal from the Council of Parishes, which represents parishioners fighting to keep their churches open.

The decision brings new pressure to end a drawn-out standoff between the Archdiocese of Boston, which closed 66 parishes in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and groups of disgruntled parishioners who continue to occupy five church buildings after years of round-the-clock vigils.

Peter Borre, chairman of the Council of Parishes, said the Archdiocese could still reverse its decision, as it has in past cases, and re-open the parishes in question. He’s working toward that outcome, he said.

Romans evangelize Denver

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DENVER (CNS) -- Marco and Monica Tesei consider themselves a normal couple: married for 18 years; three children, ages 16, 14 and 11; living in a peaceful family neighborhood in Denver.

The unusual thing about them is that the family left their home in Rome five years ago to serve as missionaries in the Archdiocese of Denver.

They're part of the Neocatechumenal Way, a parish-based faith formation program that has sent hundreds of missionary families around the world over the past 30 years to be a Christian presence by living a life of service, simplicity and poverty.

Refugees rejuvenate Minnesota parish

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) -- Father Mike Anderson waited patiently on the front steps of St. Bernard in St. Paul on a recent Sunday morning, his purple vestments cloaking him from the chill. Clanging church bells heralded the 10:30 Mass, but only a smattering of parishioners prayed silently in the pews.

Minutes later, a yellow school bus pulled up to the curb, then another one behind it. The priest's face lit up as he greeted dozens of people pouring off the buses into the church.

Phoenix bishop gives ultimatum to hospital

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Updated: Dec. 17

The Phoenix diocese released the following statement Friday:

The Diocese of Phoenix has been in continuing conversation with Catholic Healthcare West about their Catholic identity and adherence to the teachings of the Church regarding their facilities within the Diocese of Phoenix. Late on Thursday, Dec. 16, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted was in receipt of further communication from Catholic Healthcare West officials. Given the ongoing communication and attempts to rectify the situation, Bishop Olmsted is extending his deadline until Tuesday, Dec. 21.

PHOENIX -- St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center here is on a Friday deadline for an ultimatum that could determine whether it can remain a Catholic hospital.

As of Thursday afternoon, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix was waiting for hospital administrators to respond to an ultimatum he had sent the month before. Olmsted has been in a dispute with the hospital over a medical procedure performed at the hospital last year that the bishop deemed an abortion.

Olmsted’s chief complaint is that hospital has “not acknowledged my authority to settle this question.”

His ultimatum: The hospital must comply with three demands or St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, one of the largest hospitals in the Phoenix area, would lose its Catholic status. The deadline is tomorrow, Friday.

Bishop says Mary appeared in Wisconsin, but who can say for sure?

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In 1859, a Wisconsin farmwoman recounted three mystical meetings with the Virgin Mary, who told her to pray for the conversion of sinners and teach children the Catholic faith.

On Dec. 8, the Bishop of Green Bay finally sanctioned Adele Brise's visions as both supernatural and “worthy of belief.” It was the first officially approved Marian apparition (the Catholic Church's term for paranormal appearances by Mary) in the United States.

Of the many questions kindled by Bishop David Ricken's announcement, two seemed particularly keen: How does the church investigate mystical visions? And why does it take so long to approve them?

Brise was 28, partially blind, and far from her native Belgium when she reported speaking with a woman wearing a brilliant white gown and starry crown who seemed to float above the fields.

The vision called herself “the Queen of Heaven,” and gave Brise a mission. “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.”

For the rest of her life, Brise did just that, trudging across the untamed frontier to catechize children, build a school, and found an order of Franciscan sisters.

Few friends, many enemies in diocesan down-sizing

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CLEVELAND -- Even before he was officially installed as the Roman Catholic bishop of Cleveland in 2006, Richard G. Lennon was already talking about the need to close churches.

“As painful as a funeral is, it’s there that you commend your loved one to God,” Lennon told reporters just weeks before his installation.

Those words, coming from an auxiliary bishop who had just closed scores of churches in Boston, sounded a death knell for dozens more in Northeast Ohio—and unleashed a small but shrill backlash across Lennon’s new flock.

The extensive downsizing is essentially over, although some of the closings remain under appeal with the Vatican. In the end, 50 parishes were closed. Vacant churches are up for sale, merged parishes are moving forward.

Now, Lennon must minister to a diocese where emotions remain raw.

Like many U.S. bishops in financially struggling regions, Lennon faced a rapidly changing church: too few priests and too few members for too many buildings.

Outline of new life

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27th and last in a series

Eighteen months ago, I started out on a reporting project that soon became a series and took the name “In Search of the Emerging Church.” Twenty-six reports later, looking back through scores of interviews, demographic data, anecdotes and personal experience, what emerges is the outline of new church life, much of it quite healthy, if less fastened than the church has been to traditional clerical structures.

In hindsight, the headline -- Emerging Church -- was, as headlines often are, at least inadequate, suggesting that something whole might be emerging in place of something else. The reality is more complex.

The reporting would take me to Ohio, New Jersey, New Mexico, California and Pennsylvania, and included interviews with experts both inside and outside the Catholic community. What precipitated the project was a conference in Florida in 2009, the culminating event of a four-year study, Emerging Models of Pastoral Leadership, financed by a $2 million Lilly Endowment grant. The financing and the study have since been extended. The 1,200 people who showed up at the gathering, most of them lay, and the stories they told clearly demonstrated that change was under way.

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April 11-24, 2014

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