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Spirituality

Death of innocents a call to renewal this Easter

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Commentary

"I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief."

As this Lenten season draws to a close, I seem suffocated with the death of innocents, from Afghanistan to Florida. It wounds my spirit, but it can no longer shock me, this pouring out of the blood of the blameless, wherever we find violence valorized and guns made holy.

In the background, we hear the murmurs concerning a poor man who was completely fractured by too much exposure to the horrors of war, finally turning his confusion, rage and self-loathing onto the sleeping citizens of two villages in an occupied land. Closer still, we hear the guilty plea of Deryl Dedmon, a bewildered and disconnected near-adult in Mississippi who drove his truck over and killed a black man. He proclaimed, "I was young and dumb, ignorant and full of hatred" as he confronted the dark place inside him that urged him to find a black body he could destroy. And in our face, day after day, night after night, we see the pretty young boy, holding the baby up and smiling in the camera. We see the trembling mother and barely focused father asking, "What did our son do? What did he do?"

After papal request, Cuba makes Good Friday 2012 a national holiday

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VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican spokesman praised Cuba's decision to accept Pope Benedict XVI's request to make Good Friday a national holiday this year.

"It is certainly a very positive sign," Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said Sunday.

Good Friday, the commemoration of Jesus' passion and death, falls on April 6 this year.

During the pope's private meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana on March 27, the pope asked for further freedoms for the Catholic church in the communist nation, including the declaration of Good Friday as a holiday.

The Cuban government accepted the proposal Saturday after the pope's March 29 return to the Vatican.

Lombardi said the Vatican hopes the holiday will enable people to attend religious services and have "happy Easter celebrations."

The Vatican hopes Pope Benedict's March 26-28 visit to Cuba "continues to bring the desired fruits for the good of the church and all Cubans," the spokesman added.

Only Good Friday 2012 has been made a public holiday; the government hasn't decided whether it will become a permanent celebration, news reports said.

Quietly witnessing: missionary outreach to Middle-Eastern Christians

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In September 2011, Msgr. John Kozar of the Pittsburgh diocese became president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), the New York City-based papal agency. Kozar succeeded Msgr. Robert Stern, who led the organization for a quarter century.

The association, founded in 1926 by Pope Pius XI, serves in the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. It has a fourfold mandate: to support the pastoral mission and institutions of the Eastern Catholic churches, to provide humanitarian assistance to all, to promote Christian unity and interreligious understanding and collaboration, and to educate people in the West about the history, cultures, peoples and churches of the East.

NCR endorses call for a new sexual ethic

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We wholeheartedly second the invitation by Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson for a thorough and honest reexamination of the church’s teaching on sexuality. (See story.) Robinson’s invitation, coming in a paper delivered in Baltimore at a conference sponsored by New Ways Ministry, is a gentle but elegant plea that offers hope for Catholics who want to stop the church’s headlong plunge into irrelevancy as a moral voice in our culture.

Do atheists have anything to learn from religion?

Stripped of its supernatural elements, does religion have anything to offer atheists? What can nonbelievers borrow from the organizations, practices and rituals of believers -- without borrowing a belief in God?

According to Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton, a lot.

In his new book, Religion For Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion, he outlines an array of things he contends religions get right and that atheists can adopt to create a better, richer secular society.

"The starting point of all religions is that humans are weak and vulnerable and needing direction," de Botton said shortly after arriving in the United States from his home in England to promote the book.

"But as I look at secular society, I see how we've been abandoned to make our own way through life and how challenging that is."

Religion, de Botton writes, has a lot to say about how to live and love, caring for others, handling suffering, dealing with death and all the other universal experiences that make us human.

And while he is not suggesting that atheists adopt a belief, he argues that atheists ignore religion's wisdom at their peril.

Nonbelievers to rally for unbelief in Washington

Thousands of atheists and nonbelievers will gather Saturday on the National Mall in Washington for the Reason Rally, a daylong event featuring speakers, music and comedy to promote secular values.

The goal of the event is to "unify, energize and embolden secular people nationwide," said Jesse Galef, a Reason Rally spokesman.

"For this many of us to come together is hopefully a sign of things to come," Galef said. "Greater organization, greater cooperation and greater awareness nationally of who we are."

Organization and participation within the secular movement is growing. Atheists held their first mass gathering on the National Mall in 2002, with "The Godless March on Washington," an event that attracted 2,000 participants, according to news reports at the time. As many as 30,000 people are expected to attend this year's event.

The growing visibility mirrors the growth of secular Americans overall. The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey found that 15 percent of American adults identify as having no religion -- up from 8.1 percent in 1990.

Fears in the garden

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LENT

They came to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray. My soul is sorrowful even to death." He prayed to his Father: "Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will." (Mark 14:32-36)

Were you frightened in the garden, Jesus? You knew they were coming to get you, but did you know what would happen next? I guess you knew some of it because you knew the scriptures. But you didn’t know how it would feel, how it would hurt, how degrading it would be, how lost you would feel, how alone you would be. Your fear must have been overpowering.

I’m frightened because I have Alzheimer’s. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I don’t have any idea how I will feel when I can’t remember who I am or what I’m doing and my thoughts are confused and my emotions in turmoil.

Did you wonder what your friends and family would do when you were taken away? Would they know how painful it was for you? How could they know? Would they try to help you but find they could do nothing to change the course of what was to come? Would they be fearful for their own safety? Would some of them abandon you?

Bishop urges change in 'church teaching concerning all sexual relationships'

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BALTIMORE -- At the Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality, retired Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson called Friday for "a new study of everything to do with sexuality" -- a kind of study that he predicted "would have a profound influence on church teaching concerning all sexual relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual."

The trouble with being more than just pro-life

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Commentary

GARNER, N.C. -- In the predawn hours of Jan. 23, my wife, Mary Rider, and I roused our four youngest children out of bed to meet a bus that would take us to Washington, D.C., for the March of Life, the annual event that calls for an end to abortion. Two of our other daughters made the same trip with their Catholic high school in Raleigh, Cardinal Gibbons High School.

The trip marked our third family trip to the nation's capital in less than a month. During a Holy Innocents retreat in the days after Christmas, two of my daughters, Veronica, 15, and Annie, 11, joined a die-in in front of the White House to protest U.S. drone attacks on civilians. After a cardboard drone facsimile touched them on the head, my daughters fell to the ground on Pennsylvania Avenue to play dead with others.

On Jan. 11, following another trip (this time on a biodiesel bus with a composting toilet), my family marched from the White House to the U.S. Supreme Court to protest the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison on Guantanamo Bay, where scores of detainees have been tortured, held indefinitely and denied due process.

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April 11-24, 2014

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