National Catholic Reporter

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Faith & Parish

Chaput takes the reins in Philly

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PHILADELPHIA -- Archbishop Charles J. Chaput was installed yesterday as leader of the 1.5-million strong Archdiocese of Philadelphia, placing the outspoken culture warrior at the helm of a once tight-knit bastion of American Catholicism that now faces a series of crises.

From a damning clergy sex abuse scandal to a strike by Catholic school teachers, the 66-year-old Chaput has his work cut out in restoring the spirits of Philadelphia’s faithful while not backing down from debates on hot-button issues like gay marriage and abortion.

But Chaput, who spent the last 14 years as archbishop of Denver, seemed to relish the challenge, combining both tasks with characteristic confidence in his homily at Thursday’s installation Mass.

“This church in Philadelphia faces very serious challenges these days,” Chaput told an audience of 1,700 that filled the Byzantine-style Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. “There’s no quick fix to problems that are so difficult, and none of us here today, except the Lord himself, is a miracle worker.”

Parish sheltering Texas wildfire victims

WASHINGTON -- Ascension Parish in Bastrop, Texas, has been serving as a shelter and a nerve center for relief efforts related to the ongoing Texas wildfires that have struck the state.

As of Sept. 7, wildfires had been recorded for 296 straight days in drought-stricken Texas. But in the recent surge of such blazes in early September, more than 1,000 homes in the state had been destroyed and four deaths were attributed to the fires.

"We're not turning anybody away," said Steve Venzon, one of four Ascension parishioners who are taking daily six-hour shifts in directing aid efforts at the church. The town of Bastrop and Bastrop County are in the heart of the fire zone in the 25-county Diocese of Austin, Texas.

Ascension started housing its first evacuees Sept. 4 but quickly filled up its parish hall. Evacuees moved to the parish's religious education building, where 50 people were staying, Venzon told Catholic News Service in a Sept. 7 telephone interview.

Detroit archdiocese launches $135 million campaign

DETROIT -- Strengthening the 270 parishes of the Archdiocese of Detroit is the No. 1 priority of the $135 million stewardship campaign officially launched Sept. 6.

Strong parishes make for a strong archdiocese and a strong church, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said as the multi-year "Changing Lives Together" campaign was rolled out before an audience of priests and lay representatives from throughout the archdiocese, plus members of the media.

The campaign already has been conducted in a pilot wave of several parishes, but now will begin successive waves that will eventually involve every parish in the six counties that comprise the archdiocese.

Seventy percent of the funds collected -- $95 million, if the campaign reaches its target -- will remain in the parishes of those who donate to the campaign, to be used for whatever purposes the parishes themselves have identified, such as fixing roofs and boilers, establishing new ministries or enhancing tuition assistance.

Philly Catholic high school teachers on strike

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PHILADELPHIA -- As incoming freshmen began orientation for the new school year and the archdiocese prepared to welcome a new archbishop, Philadelphia Catholic high school teachers went on strike Sept. 6.

Other students at the 17 Catholic high schools in the Philadelphia Archdiocese were to begin orientation sessions Sept. 8 -- the date of the installation of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput as new archbishop -- and Sept. 9.

Most of the more than 700 striking teachers voted against the archdiocesan contract proposal presented Sept. 6.

"The main issue now and since the beginning has centered on job security," said Rita Schwartz, president of the Association of Catholic School Teachers Local 1776.

Archdiocesan high schools opened Sept. 7 and were to be staffed by administrators and nonunion employees, according to Mary Rochford, archdiocesan superintendent of schools.

"Every school has its plan and is ready to go," she said during a news conference after the strike was announced.

Richard McCarron, archdiocesan secretary for Catholic education, said the archdiocese had contacted the teachers' union and was willing to resume negotiations.

St. Vincent de Paul Society president steps down

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Mission Management

After six pivotal years, Joe Flannigan will step down as president of the National Council of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Those who have worked with Flannigan are quick to praise his outstanding leadership.

"Joe worked very hard to make the society's councils and conferences really feel connected to each other and to the National Council and the National Council to the International Council," said Sheila Gilbert, who was commissioned to succeed Flannigan -- the first woman to hold the position -- on Sept. 3 at the society's national meeting in Dallas. Gilbert, who has served as the society's national secretary, said Flannigan made these connections "by seeking dialogue, discussion and feedback prior to making significant decisions."

Chant may gain traction under new missal, but hymnody's place secure

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WASHINGTON -- Although the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal has eliminated the use of the word "song" from the General Instruction promulgated just eight years earlier in favor of the word "chant," don't be so quick to ditch those hymnals.

The hymns that have been part and parcel of Catholic worship are likely to continue for some time to come.

Va. quake appears to have hit churches hard

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WASHINGTON -- Historic churches in Washington, Maryland and Virginia were among buildings with the most serious damage after the unusual Aug. 23 magnitude 5.8 earthquake shook the region.

The temblor could be felt as far away as Detroit, north of Toronto and into Florida.

The archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore each reported damage to several churches. But in the Diocese of Richmond, Va., where the quake was centered near the town of Mineral, that town's St. Jude Church had the only reported damage in the diocese, and that was relatively minor, according to its pastor, Father Michael Duffy.

NJ parish blossoms under first-time pastor

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Mission Management

The number of U.S. parishes is declining at a steady rate. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, the total number of U.S. parishes is 17,958 in 2010, down from their peak of 19,331 in 1995. Closures and mergers seem to be the norm in most dioceses.

A mere 22 percent of all Catholics attend Mass on a weekly basis. A recent Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life study points out that Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes.

Ministers hope to build strong marriages

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MILWAUKEE -- Over the past 29 years, Lorrie Gramer helped prepare 25,000 couples for marriage in the Rockford, Ill., diocese.

“On the Friday night before the wedding, I tell the couples that they have paid the florist and the caterer and they’ve gone home,” Gamer said. “But the church is still there.”

The church is more to a marriage than a backdrop for the ceremony -- it is a couple’s lifelong commitment to uphold church teachings.

Gramer is president-elect of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministries, a group that attracted some 280 participants to a conference called the “Marriage-building Construction Zone” at Marquette University in Milwaukee Aug. 3-6. Almost all attending were lay parish leaders who had paid their own way, although there were a few priests and permanent deacons.

“Marriage-building is a lay movement,” Gramer said. “The bishops gave us the framework, but this is the third annual conference where this has been our theme.”

Orange diocese increases bid for Crystal Cathedral

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ORANGE, Calif. -- The Diocese of Orange has upped its bid to buy the Crystal Cathedral complex in Garden Grove from $50 million to $53.6 million.

Once the home church of the Rev. Robert Schuller, a noted television preacher, the cathedral property was put up for auction earlier this year as part of the Crystal Cathedral Ministries bankruptcy proceedings.

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