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Answering spiritual hunger


We don’t know all that much about the Magi. Mentioned briefly in Matthew’s Gospel, we’re only told they’re “from the east,” and are looking for the newborn Jesus to pay him homage with gifts.

Yet what we do know about these men is crucial. They are the first to ask where the “king of the Jews” can be found. With that question, they are the first to announce God’s human presence on Earth. They are the first evangelizers.

Pope: Prayer shouldn't be all about requests


VATICAN CITY -- Prayer should not center just on asking God to fulfill one's hopes and desires, but must include praise, thanks and trust in God's plan which may not match one's own, Pope Benedict XVI said.

The way Jesus prayed to his Father "teaches us that in our own prayers, we must always trust in the Father's will and strive to see all things in light of his mysterious plan of love," he said during his weekly general audience Dec. 14.

In his catechesis to nearly 6,000 people in the Vatican audience hall, Pope Benedict continued a series of talks on Christian prayer.

Everyone should seek to understand that when asking something of God in prayer, "we mustn't expect the immediate fulfillment of what we are asking for, of our will, but rather trust in the will of the Father," the pope said.

Requests, praise and thanks must be included in every prayer. "even when it seems to us that God is not living up to our real expectations," he said.

Prayer is a dialogue with God and entails "abandoning oneself to God's love," he said.

Campaign aims to bring Catholics back to church


ATLANTA -- A new advertising campaign aims to bring Catholics back to church with ads airing on major television networks Dec. 16-Jan. 8.

The campaign, sponsored by the Atlanta-based organization Catholics Come Home, aims to reach 250 million television viewers in more than 10,000 U.S. cities.

Tom Peterson, the organization's founder, said the campaign's "inspiring messages" are an invitation to Catholic neighbors, relatives, and co-workers to come "to the largest family reunion in modern history."

The ads -- airing in prime time on broadcast and cable channels -- focus on the richness and history of the Catholic Church and highlight Catholic traditions of prayer, education and help for the poor.

"If you've been away, come home to your parish, and visit today" is part of the ad's message scheduled to air more than 400 times starting before Christmas and going through the feast of the Epiphany.

Since they began their media campaigns in 2008, Catholics Come Home officials say Mass attendance has increased 10 percent in the markets where the ads have shown and 300,000 people have come back to the church.

One-third of shelter residents are newly homeless


WASHINGTON -- Almost one in five clients of Christian rescue missions said they were victims of physical violence within the past year, a 6 percent jump from the previous year, according to a new survey.

"It's quite possible that the uptick in physical violence ... is due to a friend or family member's feeling of desperation and helplessness accompanying their unemployment and underemployment," said John Ashmen, president of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM).

The Snapshot Survey of the homeless is conducted annually by AGRM, North America's oldest and largest network of independent homeless shelters and rehabilitation centers.

Almost 19,000 individuals took the survey in October at 114 rescue missions; 17 percent of those surveyed were not currently homeless, but all had received services offered at the missions, such as food and medical care.

Although a quarter of those surveyed said they had been homeless three or more times before, an even higher figure -- 35 percent -- said they had never before been homeless.

American Academy of Religion forgets what's important



Ian Linden, director of policy at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, gave this report on the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting Nov. 19-23 in San Francisco. The AAR is the world's largest gathering of religious scholars.

What do you call 10,000 theologians, religious studies professors and religious booksellers? A disputation of theologians? A proliferation of professors? A sub-angelic host?

About 10,000 people traveled to San Francisco for the 2011 American Academy of Religion annual jamboree.

I haven't seen so many elderly white-bearded men in one place before. It's enough to create an identity crisis. And if you have ever published a book on an even marginally religious topic, seeing about an acre of them all in one place is kind of depressing. How many commentaries on the Gospels can the secular world take before it capitulates and surrenders? Dropping them all on Richard Dawkins would bury him a mile under.

Vatican official urges Hindus, Christians to promote religious freedom


VATICAN CITY -- In a message to the world's Hindus, a top Vatican official called on Christians and Hindus to work together in promoting religious freedom.

The lack of religious freedom is "taking center stage in many places, calling our attention to those members of our human family exposed to bias, prejudice, hate propaganda, discrimination and persecution on the basis of religious affiliation," wrote Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

The freedom to "profess, practice and propagate" one's religious belief "is the answer to religiously motivated conflicts in many parts of the world," especially as so many people desperately seek full human development and peaceful coexistence with others, he wrote.

His comments came in an annual message to mark the Hindu celebration of Diwali, a three-day religious festival that was to begin Oct. 26 in most parts of the world.

The cardinal's letter, released by the Vatican Oct. 20, said when religious freedom is hampered or denied "all other human rights are endangered."



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