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February 3, 2014   •   VOL. 52, NO. 3   •   Oakland, CA
News in Brief

Mexican priests play prominent role in supporting self-defense groups

Members of a self-defense group guard a road near Nueva Italia, Mexico, Jan. 15.
David Agren/cns

APATZINGAN, Mexico — Father Gregorio Lopez Geronimo wears a bulletproof vest while celebrating Mass. A bullet hole marks the wall of his office behind Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in this city of 99,000 residents, where armed self-defense groups have formed to fight back against a drug cartel accused to causing chaos in the western state of Michoacan.

The priest even ordered hundreds of clubs, which he wants a citizen group he's coordinating to carry in an attempt to take back the streets — peacefully, he insists.

"We're talking out because someone has to do so," Father Lopez, the diocesan vicar, said while attending to multiple foreign correspondents in his office, which is adorned by photos of him meeting Blessed John Paul II. Priests such as Father Lopez have played prominent roles in recent months, offering spiritual, moral and material support for self-defense groups, which have surged in the region around Apatzingan over the past year and taken at least 15 communities that were under cartel control.

With the media converging on this corner of Michoacan — where the soldiers and federal police were sent to disarm the groups and re-establish order earlier in January — priests such as Father Lopez have prominently been featured in their coverage. Their candor contrasts with other prelates in troubled parts of Mexico, who have preferred to stay silent on the issues of crime and drug cartels.

New bishop
Msgr. Myron J. Cotta, vicar general of the Diocese of Fresno smiles Jan. 24 during a news conference after Pope Francis named him auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento. Bishop-designate Cotta, 60, will be ordained a bishop March 25 at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.

Colorado bishop
Msgr. Stephen J. Berg, a priest of the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas, speaks during a Jan. 16 press conference in Pueblo, Colo., after Pope Francis appointed him bishop of the Diocese of Pueblo. Bishop-designate Berg, 62, succeeds Bishop Fernando Isern, who resigned last June for health reasons.

Bishop Gainer
Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Lexington, Ky., smiles during a Jan. 24 press conference after Pope Francis named him bishop of Harrisburg, Pa. Bishop Gainer has been Lexington's bishop for the past 11 years. He is a native of Pennsylvania, having grown up in Pottsville, and served as a priest in the Diocese of Allentown for 29 years.

Cardinal, mayor meet
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio laughs with New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan following a 45-minute meeting at the cardinal's residence in the Manhattan borough of New York Jan. 13. De Blasio met with Cardinal Dolan for the first time since he took office, declaring he will join forces with the cardinal to convince Pope Francis to visit New York City. The mayor said the city and the archdiocese share "a tremendous common ground" in their efforts to fight inequality and to help the needy.
Lucas Jackson/Reuters,cns

Little Sisters helped

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court Jan. 24 issued a three-sentence order affirming — for the time being — an injunction blocking enforcement against the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Christian Brothers of a mandate to provide contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance. The order released late in the afternoon affirmed Justice Sonia Sotomayor's Dec. 31 order in the case. It temporarily blocks the federal government from requiring the Denver-based sisters and their co-plaintiffs at the Christian Brothers from having to meet that requirement of the Affordable Care Act.

'Safety first' plan

WHEELING, W.Va. — In a letter to West Virginia Catholics about the recent chemical spill in their state, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield of Wheeling-Charleston said "safety first" must be "a lived reality" within West Virginia's coal mining and chemical industries. He called on state legislators to enact better regulations to protect the state's people and environment from such accidents in the future.

Worry about homeland

WASHINGTON — The ongoing strife in Ukraine is a citizen reaction to an "ideology of control and repressiveness, of control and domination," according to the archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, who has been monitoring events in his ancestral homeland. Based on his communications with Ukrainians living amid the turmoil, "I think there's that sense of joy, of jubilation that people have stood up for the truths that they want to, and it's just become so intolerable that they just have to voice their opposition," said Archbishop Stefan Soroka Jan. 24.

Archbishop meets inmates

SALEM, Ore. — Portland's new archbishop urged 35 Catholic prison inmates to open themselves to let the Holy Spirit work in their lives. "We all think we know what we need: To get out of here. But what is God doing for us while we are here?" Archbishop Alexander K. Sample said to the prison congregation gathered for an early evening Mass Jan. 17 inside the minimum security prison south of Salem, the state capital.

Foundation donation

WASHINGTON — The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, named after the founding magnate of the Hilton hotel chain, has awarded a grant of $2.5 million to the National Religious Retirement Office. The money, to be distributed over three years, will help the office in its efforts to help religious communities in the United States address serious retirement-funding shortfalls.

Cuomo says no room

NEW YORK — Pro-life supporters and members of two Republican organizations Jan. 21 urged New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to issue a formal apology for saying that "extreme conservatives," including those who oppose abortion and same-sex marriage, have "no place in the state of New York." Cuomo, a Democrat," is insisting that political and religious conservatives should leave New York state," said Phil Orenstein, 71, president of Queens Village Republican Club, the nation's oldest Republican group, founded in 1875. "So if you're pro-life, support the right to bear arms and (support) traditional marriage, your opinions and beliefs are too extreme" for the governor, he said.

Chicago releases files

CHICAGO — The Archdiocese of Chicago Jan. 15 released more than 6,000 pages of documents related to cases involving 30 priests accused of sexual abuse. In the majority of the cases, the abuse occurred before 1988 and all were referred to civil authorities. The documents were given to Jeffrey Anderson, an attorney for abuse victims. Anderson is expected to make the files public the week of Jan. 26.

Staffer quit over marriage

SEATTLE — Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain said a local Catholic school's requirement that the vice principal quit after it learned of his same-sex marriage was not discriminatory but held to church teaching and the school's Catholic mission. According to a statement from Eastside Catholic High School in the Seattle suburb of Sammamish, Vice Principal Mark Zmuda resigned in mid-December during a meeting with school officials "for violating his signed agreement to abide by Catholic Church teachings."

ACE program anniversary

WASHINGTON — Some organizations celebrate milestone anniversaries by hosting big events at their headquarters, but not the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education. The program — which serves under-resourced Catholic schools, including several in the Diocese of Oakland — is marking its 20th anniversary on the road. Alliance for Catholic Education, called ACE, began a nine-month 50-city bus tour in October, bringing the program's leaders to Catholic schools around the country in a donated bus decorated with the slogan "Fighting for Our Children's Future National Bus Tour."

Beatification date

MADRID — The prelature of Opus Dei has announced that Bishop Alvaro del Portillo, the successor to Opus Dei founder St. Josemaria Escriva, will be beatified Sept. 27 in Madrid. In July, Pope Francis approved the miracle needed for the beatification of Bishop del Portillo, who served as the head of Opus Dei from 1975 until his death in 1994.

Buffer zone question

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court justices Jan. 15 pressed attorneys about when it is constitutional to prohibit certain kinds of speech in a case over buffer zones around abortion clinics. In oral arguments in a case over a 35-foot buffer zone around Massachusetts Planned Parenthood clinics, the attorney for people who want to approach clinic patients for "sidewalk counseling" to discourage them from having abortions argued that the state law "runs into a big First Amendment problem of even eliminating peaceful, consensual conversation that doesn't disrupt anything."

Increase in hostility

WASHINGTON — A Pew Research Center study issued Jan. 14 shows another increase in hostility toward religion by most of the world's 198 nations. The share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012, the study said. The share of countries with a high or very high level of government restrictions on religion, though, stayed roughly the same in 2012, the year reviewed.

'New era' under pope

OXFORD, England — The cardinal who heads Pope Francis' Council of Cardinals said the Catholic Church is entering a "new era" and accused critics of the pope's statements on economic injustice of failing to "understand reality. I'm firmly convinced we are at the dawn of a new era in the church, just as when Pope John XXIII opened its windows 50 years ago and made it let in fresh air," said Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa in an interview with Germany's Cologne-based Kolner Stadt-Anzeiger published Jan. 20

Bishop praises law

LAGOS, NIGERIA — Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto commended President Goodluck Jonathan for signing a law prohibiting all types of same-sex relationships. In a meeting with journalists Jan. 20, the bishop also thanked the National Assembly for passing the bill. "As far as I am concerned, anybody who lives in Nigeria and most parts of Africa know that culturally, religiously and morally this is not our life and culture," he said.

— Catholic News Service


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