FEBRUARY 23, 2004


Scope of clergy sex abuse
to be reported on Feb. 27

Korean cloning of embryo draws religious criticism
Central American bishops ask PICO for help

Berkeley grandmother returns to Baghdad

Small Christian communities to gather for day of renewal
Call to Action says priests support optional celibacy

A celebration of Scouting

Gibson reworks ‘Passion’
to mute anti-Semitism
Was Jesus King of the Jews or King of the Judeans?
U.S. bishops caution
against anti-Semitism

TV movie depicts what drove Judas Iscariot

Lenten regulations

Catholics invited to join Operation Rice Bowl

Activities during Lent
• Same sex marriage
• Proposition 57
• Pope's Lenten message




Official newspaper of the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Oakland, California encompassing all of
Alameda &
Contra Costa counties.



Catholics take on housing crisis

By Barbara Erickson
Associate editor

On the feast of Corpus Christi in June 2002, Oakland Bishop John Cummins sent out a call to parishes in the East Bay, inviting Catholics to join the fight against a housing crisis “in our midst.”

His pastoral letter, asking that parishioners not “stand idly by” as families suffer from the lack of affordable homes, touched a responsive chord in many communities, and today, more than a year and a half later, the Catholic Housing Initiative of the East Bay is bearing fruit — from Fremont in the south to Pittsburg in the north.

In Oakland and Piedmont, three St. Vincent de Paul Society conferences responded to the call by forming a coalition to provide housing for needy families, and the Alameda County District Council of the society created a housing committee to explore the crisis. And CHI-sponsored forums in support of Proposition 46 – a measure to provide housing and emergency shelter – helped pass the new state law in November 2002.

Throughout the East Bay, housing advocates found new recruits as the bishop’s call legitimized their cause, inspiring more residents to join the battle for affordable housing. With this additional help, advocates convinced local city councils to ease the way for more moderate and low-income homes.

One of these longtime advocates is Holy Family Sister Elaine Sanchez, who led the effort to create the Oroysom Village housing complex in Fremont. Because of CHI, she said, housing activists had a “larger base of people” when they appeared before local officials. “And,” she said, “you also had new faces there speaking, from young adults to seniors.”

Ralph Morales, another longtime advocate and a parishioner at All Saints in Hayward, said the initiative not only “helped recruit new people to justice and peace,” but it also revived the “passion to do social justice” in old timers. When his group of advocates went before the Hayward City Council, he said, they had a larger crowd than usual and one that was more informed.

The new and old activists found much of the information they needed in a loose-leaf binder of materials titled “Tools for Reflection and Action,” a “kit” prepared by Maurine Behrend, coordinator of CHI, who works out of Catholic Charities of the East Bay in Oakland.

It was Behrend, together with Sacred Heart Sister Barbara Dawson, CCEB director of public policy, who first put forth a plan for the initiative some three years ago. They were soon joined by Barry Stenger, executive director of Franciscan Charities, and leaders in the St. Vincent de Paul Society. It found support from Bishop Cummins, who insisted that the effort be aimed at parishes because they form the heart of the church.

CHI today is funded with grants from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County and Franciscan Charities as well as support from CCEB. It calls on the Catholic community to reflect on the housing crisis in the light of “our faith tradition” and encourages each parish and individual to respond.

Soon after Bishop Cummins issued his call to action, CHI began to hold training sessions for groups of neighboring parishes, drawing on the expertise of advocates such as Sister Sanchez. In the course of six English and five Spanish sessions, 55 parishes received training and 100 kits went out to parish representatives.

The sessions themselves went a long way to creating networks among housing activists. “As it happened,” Behrend said, “most of the connections were made at the training sessions because we had advocates at the meetings. We called them our technical advisers.”

It was thanks to CHI that Congregations Organizing for Renewal and South Hayward Parish, two interfaith coalitions, were able to join forces. “When each group called me,” Behrend said, “they were both so pleased that they were working together.”

This alliance bore fruit when the Hayward City Council passed its first inclusionary zoning ordinance last year, requiring that new housing include a set percentage of units for low- and moderate-income residents. Shortly before this Fremont, with the help of Sister Sanchez and her fellow soldiers on the housing front, had increased the percentage in its existing law.

The new laws are a good beginning, but it takes more to alleviate the housing crisis, Morales noted. “Until the policy is actually used,” he said, “it hasn’t changed the lives of people who need affordable housing.”

But action by a coalition of St. Vincent de Paul conferences, including St. Margaret Mary and St. Theresa in Oakland and Corpus Christi in Piedmont, did make a material difference in the lives of families and individuals. Two single mothers – one with four children and the other with three – a disabled woman, and two single persons now have housing because of the coalition of Vincentians.

The conferences came together after members attended a CHI training session. They pooled their resources to create a housing fund that provides rental deposits for needy families. “We established a set of guidelines,” said Cynthia Wyman, St. Margaret Mary conference president, “that we wanted to intervene in cases where the person showed motivation but lacked resources.”

Conference members interviewed the families, Wyman said, and, in the Vincentian spirit, continue with follow-up visits. “We check in with them,” she said. “Sometimes they have other needs.”

Wyman is also on the St. Vincent de Paul Alameda County district housing committee, which came into being as a response to CHI. The initiative, said Ed Frakes, a parishioner at Corpus Christi in Fremont and chairman of the committee, “made us look at the reality of the expenses we are putting out throughout the county and the extreme need. Our largest expenditure is for housing.”

The group meets monthly, Frakes said, and has put together guidelines for conferences to use in helping clients with housing. It is also surveying parish employees – such as teachers, gardeners and house cleaners – to learn about their housing needs, and it is looking at ways it can join with other groups and possibly find ways to use its own property as well as parish properties to ease the housing crisis.

The committee is also documenting the work of the three Oakland and Piedmont conferences, Frakes said, “to create a model of cooperation based on their experiences.”

In the Lafeyette-Moraga-Orinda area, CHI gave a boost to Lamorinda Advocates, a coalition of three parishes formed shortly before the bishop’s call in 2002. Pat Snyder, coordinator of the social justice committee at St. Perpetua in Lafayette, said, “The training was a great support and helped us because we were all novices needing direction and where to turn.”

Because of CHI, she said, “We came from a position of being able to say to our parishes, ‘This is not just our idea, but the whole diocese is behind us.’” She is also grateful for Behrend’s “tool kit,” which she calls a “grand document.”

The kit includes everything a parish might need to get started in housing: statistics underscoring the crisis, Catholic social teaching on housing rights and advocacy, forms for taking parish surveys of housing needs, prayers and theological reflections, a glossary of housing terms, to-do lists for holding meetings and getting started in housing advocacy, information on housing laws, opportunities for action designed for five major areas of the diocese and a resource list of groups and individuals involved in housing.

Ralph Morales in Hayward has also made use of the kit. “I keep digging it out,” he said. “For someone who doesn’t quite get it, it explains why we are doing this.” He often hands new recruits “one or two pages from the tool kit,” he said, because it is “easier to digest.”

As for longtime advocates such as himself, Morales said, it was “a shot in the arm” to read about the theological basis for action. “We forget that this is a part of our faith,” he said, and it is good to be reminded “that our faith position is our guiding force in this work we do.” It has also helped in tense moments, he said, “when we are getting hot and heavy into the politics, to see that this comes out of our faith.”

At. St. Peter Martyr Parish in Pittsburg, pastoral associate Carolyn Krantz, said the initiative “put housing on the front burner instead of the back burner. I would never have taken housing on because I was already over-involved with several other projects,” but the call from CHI “got all of us doing it.”

The parish social justice group, part of Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organizations, Krantz said, voted to join in when local housing advocates need support. “Where turnout is important,” she said, “we show up.”

Maurine Behrend provides much of the impetus behind their housing work, she said, by calling and checking in, by providing resources and support. “Because she’s there, the work gets done,” Krantz said. “It increases our ability out here to do the work exponentially.”

Back at the office in Catholic Charities, Behrend is planning for the year ahead. “Right now,” she said, “we are developing an action plan to address the homeless crisis.” CHI expects to provide sessions this spring to train parishes in ways to construct permanent supportive housing for homeless and at risk families. She also hopes to work with parishes with land that could be developed for housing.

As for parishes who have yet to sign on to CHI, Behrend said, she can arrange new training sessions if she gets enough calls from one area. “If they want to be brought on board sooner,” she said, she will connect them with ongoing groups.

For more information on the Catholic Housing Initiative, call Maurine Behrend at (510) 768-3164.

Affordable housing struggle
is decades old

By Barbara Erickson
Associate editor

Catholics in the East Bay have fought for housing rights since the Oakland Diocese was founded in 1962, beginning more than 40 years ago with a campaign for fair housing and continuing through the decades with projects to create homeless shelters, build low-income units and protect the rights of tenants.

Soon after Bishop Floyd Begin arrived as the first leader of the diocese, he endorsed the state’s Rumford Fair Housing Act, which outlawed discrimination in home sales, and when Prop. 14 was placed on the ballot to repeal the act, he fought passionately against its passage.

Although Prop. 14 passed in spite of his efforts, Bishop Begin was vindicated when the law was declared unconstitutional three years later. In the meantime, the Catholic Interracial Council, created to take up the cause of racial justice, continued to work for fair housing in the East Bay.

Some 10 years later, a group of Jesuit priests was still struggling with fair housing, fighting the practice of redlining, in which banks refused loans for houses in blighted areas.

Community involvement
At the same time, two Oakland parishes – St. Patrick and St. Andrew-St. Joseph – joined with Senior Satellite Homes to sponsor affordable apartments for senior citizens. Ground was broken in April 1972 and construction completed the following year. St. Patrick’s Terrace offered 66 units three blocks from St. Patrick Church and St. Andrew Manor provided 60 units on San Pablo Avenue across the street from the church.

Also during the 1970s Carondelet Sisters Joanna Bramble and Pat Sears and community organizers, such as Fran Matarrese of Oakland Community Organizations, began work to purchase and rehabilitate abandoned buildings for affordable housing. Sister Bramble’s project became Jubilee West in West Oakland, which has built 24 new housing units and restored 68 units since it was incorporated in 1980.

As the homeless population grew in the 1980s, parishes, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, religious orders and Catholic Charities of the East Bay responded by opening shelters, both temporary (for the winter months) and permanent.

One of these was the St. Leander’s Women’s Refuge, which opened on church property in San Leandro on Christmas Eve of 1984 and has now expanded to include a refuge for battered women. Another was the Family Emergency Shelter Coalition, opened in 1988 to serve families near All Saints Parish in Hayward.
FESCO, created by a coalition of local churches, has also grown and now consists of four transitional housing units, eight transitional co-housing units (in which tenants share a kitchen) and support services for families.

About the time FESCO was forming, the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Alameda County opened Casa Vincentia in Oakland for single pregnant women, many of them homeless, and also rehabilitated housing for up to 12 homeless families in the county; Holy Cross priests in north Oakland opened a house for homeless adult men; the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Contra Costa County opened a temporary shelter in Pittsburg for up to 100 adults; and local Catholics helped create transitional housing in Pittsburg run by the non-profit group, Shelter, Inc.
1989 earthquate

When the 1989 earthquake hit the Bay Area, more residents were left homeless, and a temporary shelter at St. Francis de Sales Cathedral had to be closed. Catholic Charities stepped in to help, along with St. Vincent de Paul and the Sisters of Mercy, to create temporary housing and help some of the homeless find permanent homes.

The summer following the quake, the St. Columba Development Corporation’s new 56-unit apartment complex for low-income seniors, the Sister Thea Bowman Manor, opened across San Pablo Avenue from the church, and by the following year OCO leaders at Mary Help of Christians in Oakland were working toward the construction of affordable housing in Jingletown, a project which opened with 53 new family units in 1998.

Catholic Charities began to rehabilitate housing in 1991, beginning with a 30-unit quake-damaged building on 10th Street in Oakland. CCEB’s project, called CREDO housing — for Catholic Real Estate Development Corporation — continued to develop more affordable housing units, and in 1997 properties were turned over to Mercy Services Corporation, which today manages 396 CREDO units on six sites in Oakland and San Leandro.

Specialized housing programs
In the fall of 1991, the Sisters of Providence opened Providence House, a 41-unit project designed for the disabled on 23rd Street in Oakland, and the same year, Elizabeth House opened in a former convent rented from St. Augustine Parish in Oakland. Elizabeth House, a Catholic Worker program, houses up to nine single women or families headed by women for up to a year and typically serves seven families, two single women and 12 to 16 children.

Other specialized housing programs include A Friendly Place/Manor, run by the Carondelet Sisters, which opened transitional housing for 26 women in 1997; and Mary’s House, near St. Paul’s in San Pablo, established in 2002 by the Divine Mercy Foundation as a home for up to 10 pregnant single women, who can stay in residence for six months after giving birth.

In 2000, after a seven-year battle headed by Holy Family Sister Elaine Sanchez, Oroysom Village was ready for tenants, with 41 senior and 60 family units of new affordable housing on land next to the Sisters’ motherhouse in Fremont The project includes one- to four-bedroom units and won a Pacific Coast Builders
Conference Gold Nugget award for excellence in 2001.

When the Alameda Naval Air Station closed in 1997, parishioners at St. Barnabas joined with other churches in the city to save 590 units of base housing as affordable and work-force houses. In 2001 they succeeded in getting the City Council to agree that nearly 200 units of affordable housing would be included in housing development on the base.

The city also agreed that in all future developments, 25 percent of the units would be designated as affordable housing.

Many parishes and individuals have also given time and effort to housing through groups such as Habitat for Humanity, the Tri-Valley Interfaith Poverty Forum, South Hayward Parish and organizing groups including OCO, Congregations Organizing for Renewal (southern Alameda County) and Contra Costa Interfaith
Supporting Community Organization.

COR recently ended one battle in a long-running initiative to secure rights for tenants in unincorporated areas when the county board of supervisors voted to require landlords to notify tenants of mediation programs when they raise rents. CCISCO and OCO have also lobbied on behalf of renters, and all of the groups have worked with local cities to increase the percentage of affordable units called for in their housing plans.

Two affiliates of Habitat for Humanity International — East Bay, serving Alameda and West Contra Costa counties, and Mt. Diablo, serving Central and Eastern Contra Costa County — include many Catholic parishes among their covenant churches. Some of these parishes have raised funds to build specific home sites, and all have contributed volunteer hours to help plan, build and furnish affordable units.

Parishes in the Lamorinda area, Pleasant Hill and Concord also joined Contra Costa Interfaith Housing in its decade-long effort to provide affordable housing for families. The group is beginning to rehabilitate an apartment complex in Pleasant Hill, and families will move into the 28 affordable units by the end of the summer. CCEB is helping provide supportive services; Mercy Services is managing the property.

East Bay housing prices
among the nation’s highest

By Barbara Erickson
Associate editor

As housing prices rise and incomes remain stagnant, fewer and fewer residents of the Bay Area can afford to pay fair market rents or buy homes to shelter their families.

Among the seven least affordable counties for rentals in the United States, six of them are in the Bay Area, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group. This means that full time workers must earn from $27 to $35 an hour in this area to afford a two-bedroom apartment at local fair market rents.

These amounts – known as “housing wages” — are from four to five times the state minimum wage of $6.75, and they force many families to find substandard housing or go without other necessities to pay for rent. At the minimum wage, a full-time worker would have to put in 162 hours a week to pay for a two-bedroom fair market unit in Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

The NLIHC calculates these statistics based on a long-accepted norm: that households should pay no more than 30 percent of their income for housing.
The news is equally grim in home sales. According to the California Association of Realtors, only 25 percent of California households can afford a median-priced home. This is down from 30 percent a year ago.

And in the Bay Area, the situation is even more critical. In Alameda County only one in five households, and in Contra Costa County only one in eight, can afford the median-priced home, which reached $560,240 in the Bay Area in 2003, according to a report by the California Budget Project. The state median price reached $386,760 in November of last year, the realtors association said.

The budget project found that Bay Area residents needed to make $124,000 a year to pay the local median price with a 5 percent down payment and $104,166 with a 20 percent down payment. This compares to median household incomes of $76,600 in the Oakland metropolitan region and $91,500 in the San Francisco region.

The realtors association said the minimum household income needed to buy a median-priced home in California was $90,800 in November, based on a typical 30-year fixed-rated mortgage at 5.85 percent and assuming a 20 percent down payment. In November of 2002, the minimum income was set at $78,663.

These numbers contrast with national statistics, which last November showed a minimum household income of $40,120 was necessary to buy a $170,900 (median-priced) home in the United States overall.

According to the association, the affordability index is expected to worsen in the coming year. The group predicts that the median home price in California will increase 13 percent in 2004 to $414,100, and the percentage of households able to buy that home will drop to less than 20 percent.

The cost of housing has forced families and individuals into homelessness. A count last fall showed more than 6,000 persons in Alameda County were homeless on any given night. Half of them were individuals and nearly 30 percent were children.

Based on raw data from 1994, Contra Costa Continuum of Care states that 4,829 persons are homeless in the county on any given night, and half of these are children.

Media and reality don’t match in Haiti

Haitian leader gives eyewitness report

By Barbara Erickson
Associate editor

Pierre Labossiere, contact person for the Haitian Pastoral Center, has no faith in the press accounts of unrest in Haiti. He has experienced firsthand the gap between media reports and reality when these concern his native land.
At the end of last year, Labossiere flew to Haiti with a group of East Bay residents to attend the bicentennial celebrations of the country’s independence, and even then the news was telling of violence and conflict in the Caribbean nation.

“I was wondering what was happening because I was reading the news accounts,” Labossiere said. “Some members of the delegation were having second thoughts about going.” But he remembered his relatives living in Haiti and told himself “If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.”

Now, Labossiere said, he and all the members of his group are glad they didn’t back out. For a week the group of six Californians joined in the celebrations and witnessed the people’s support for President Jean Bertrand Aristide, a former priest. The mood in the capital of Port-au-Prince, he said, was festive and relaxed.

But back in the U.S. Labossiere’s wife Maria was getting a different story from the news reports. She put in an urgent phone call to his brother’s house in Port-au-Prince to ask if he was all right. According to the media, she said, rebels prevented President Aristide from landing in the city of Gonaives, and they fired on a helicopter carrying South African President Thabo Mbeki to that city.

Labossiere had just returned from Gonaives, and he was amazed. He had seen President Aristide in Gonaives, he said. He had seen him speak to the crowd and then wade into the press of people to shake their hands. As for Mbeki, he had come nowhere near Gonaives.

Labossiere did see some signs of conflict. In Gonaives the residents had been warned by opponents of Aristide to stay away from the celebrations, and a smaller crowd than expected turned out, about 7,000 people. And as Labossiere and his friends were driving away from the city, someone threw rocks at their car.

But along the road from the capital to Gonaives, he said, “peasants and townspeople were lining the street and raising their five fingers,” showing their support for President Aristide, who was elected to a five-year term in 2000.

In Port-au-Prince anti-government demonstrators “went on a rampage after the celebration,” he said, “because it was a success. That’s what captured the international attention. That little demonstration didn’t even attract our notice. We just heard about it later on the news.” The protest, however, was featured on U.S. television.

Reports on Haiti are distorted, Labossiere said, because “most of the media owners in Haiti have always been supporters of the Duvalier regime.” They hate Aristide, he said, because “they couldn’t buy him off as they always did before.”
With their connections to the international press and their use of English, these media owners spread the message that serves their interest. “So they put the stuff out, nobody checks it, and it gets transmitted all over the world,” Labossiere said.

The elite business class, including the media barons, forms a large part of the opposition. Another segment includes former death squads and members of the military that Aristide disbanded after he returned to power in 2000.

“People love him for disbanding the Haitian military,” Labossiere said. “It was useless and repressive” and consumed 40 percent of the national budget. Today Aristide depends on a civilian police corps of some 4000 men, and it is this force that is trying to keep order in the country as the opposition increases its efforts to unseat the elected government.

Their job has become more urgent in recent days as former heads of death squads have re-entered the country to join the opposition efforts. Labossiere said he spoke to friends in Haiti on Feb. 15 and heard that “everyone is very worried and upset” at the return of these men.

Moreover, he said, the attackers are “pretty well armed,” and although “the people are resisting,” they fear that the opposition has outside support from the Central Intelligence Agency, which supported these groups in years past.

While some scholars and other observers report that groups of Aristide supporters have killed and terrorized the opposition, Labossiere notes, “It’s very hard for people who have been victimized. You have to be a saint not to be angry and they are parading in front of you like that.” But always, he said, President Aristide calls for peace and forgiveness, even in the face of taunts and atrocities.

Labossiere said the U.S. Department of State is partly to blame for the situation. The ambassador to Haiti, James B. Foley, “has given aid and comfort to these rebels,” he said, “and he has really created the climate where these guys feel there will be no consequences.”

His statements have the support of congressional representatives Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Barbara Lee (D-Oakland). Both have written to Secretary of State Colin Powell to protest U.S. support for the attacks on Aristide. The congressional Black Caucus and U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut) have also been staunch Aristide supporters, Labossiere said.

Waters said she was in Haiti for the bicentennial celebrations and again this month, when she visited a wide range of Aristide supporters and opponents, diplomats and “other individuals from civil society” in the country. “I am outraged at the State Department’s apparent willingness to sabotage democracy and the rule of law in Haiti,” she wrote in a letter to Secretary Powell on Feb. 13, calling the protests and unrest “a power grab by the same forces that staged a coup d’etat” in 1991.

Lee demanded to know whether the U.S. was “covertly funding the opposition” and had given USAID money to those groups. She also wrote, “We understand the Haitian government made several requests over the last two years for equipment and training of Haiti’s police force. Why were these requests never responded to?”

Labossiere said the U.S., citing irregularities in the 2000 elections, has blocked money that should be coming to the Aristide government, some $146 million in aid for water projects and other improvements in this poorest of countries. The elections in question, he said, were for legislative seats, not for the presidency, and although the issue has been resolved, the U.S. still refuses to allow the funds to be released.

All of this is no surprise to his friends in Haiti, he said. They claim that ever since independence in 1804, the powerful countries of the world have opposed them and the elite in Haiti itself has tried to maintain a “society of exclusion.”

“Father Aristide,” he said, “was able to articulate these things into Creole in the base community churches.” And even in the face of powerful opposition and a lack of funds, the president has been able to improve conditions. For instance, Labossiere said, in 1991 there were only 32 high schools in the country, all of them in major cities. Today there are 200.

Short history of Haiti

1804 – Haiti wins independence from France, becoming the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere.

1825 – France forces Haiti to assume a debt of $90 million to compensate plantation owners for the loss of their slaves. It will take nearly a century to pay the balance.

1838 – France recognizes Haiti’s independence in return for debt payments.

1956 – Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier seizes power and is elected president the following year with U.S. support.

1964 – Duvalier declares himself president for life and forms his personal army of the Ton-tons Macoutes, noted for their brutality.

1971 – Duvalier dies. His son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier takes over.

1986 – Baby Doc flees Haiti with U.S. help after rioting and protests against his corrupt government. The military takes control. Riots and assassinations continue.

1990 – Haiti holds its first free elections, making Jean-Bertrand Aristide president.

1991 – Aristide is overthrown in a military coup and leaves for the U.S.

1994 – The military gives up power under pressure from a U.N. embargo and a U.S.-led multinational force prepared to invade. U.S. troops arrive to oversee transition to civilian rule. Aristide returns.

1995 – U.N. peacekeepers take over from U.S. troops. Rene Preval is elected president as Aristide’s term expires.

2000 – Aristide is re-elected; the opposition boycotts the election.

2004 – Conflict between the opposition and government grows.


Scope of clergy sex abuse
to be reported on Feb. 27

By Voice staff

Officials at the U.S. office of the Catholic bishops say their commissioned reports on the extent of clergy sex abuse of minors are still being finalized, but CNN broadcast Feb. 16 that roughly 4,450 priests allegedly abused 11,000 minors between 1950 and 2002 in the United States.
The news organization said it based its report on a draft document it obtained of the study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York on sexual abuse of minors by priests. James Levine, dean at John Jay, told Catholic News Service that “whatever they (CNN) reported is premature.” He said his staff was still finalizing their report, which will be issued on Feb. 27.
The National Review Board, established by the bishops to help them respond to the abuse crisis, will also issue a report on Feb. 27 analyzing the causes and context of the abuse.

Korean cloning of embryo
draws religious criticism

By Amanda Mantone
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — News that South Korean scientists have successfully cloned the first human embryo in order to extract stem cells for medical research has drawn sharp criticism from religious and ethical groups in the United States and abroad.

Stem cells are the universal cells, harvested from embryos or adult tissues, that scientists hope can be developed into replacement organs for rejection-free transplants, or used to cure spinal cord injuries and neurological diseases like Parkinson’s.

Religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Focus on the Family, sharply criticized the cloning breakthrough.
Cloning opponents say creating embryos marked for destruction once stem cells have been removed is ethically troubling, and they fear cloning will lead to “designer babies” and embryo screening.

“While touted as scientific progress, this is a sign of moral regress. Human cloning turns procreation into a manufacturing process,” said Cardinal William Keeler, chairman of the Committee for Pro-Life Activities of the bishops conference.

The Vatican also condemned the cloning, with Pope John Paul’s bioethics adviser comparing it to the medical experiments done by Nazis in World War II concentration camps.

“It’s really an issue of if this is best for women” said Carrie Gordon Earll of Focus on the Family, citing concerns the procedure carries physical and emotional risks for donors.

Opponents said they favor adult stem cell harvesting because it doesn’t require the creation of embryos later discarded once stem cells are removed.

Stem cells taken from post-natal donors can be extracted from blood or bone marrow samples, and are known to differentiate into liver, skin, digestive and neural tissue, according to the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics. Such potential for embryonic stem cells has not yet been proven.

The House of Representatives voted to ban human cloning last year, but debate in the Senate is stalled on whether an exception for stem cell research should be added.

John Kilner, president of the Center of Bioethics and Human Dignity, said embryo adoption is an ethical option that would prevent destroying human embryos.
“It enables other couples to carry them to term,” he said, noting that agencies such as the Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program already do just that.

Separately, the National Council of Churches announced it was creating a Human Genetics Policy Development Committee.

“A majority of Christians would have some reservations about the unbridled application of technologies to human life in ways that alter the nature of human life itself,” said the Rev. Eileen Lindner, NCC deputy general secretary for research and planning.

Don Buckley, a doctor and fellow of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Research Institute, said Southern Baptists should oppose cloning for therapeutic as well as reproductive purposes.

“The simple fact is that these researchers’ work has resulted in the death of pre-born human beings, and has the potential to lead to future human loss,” he told the Baptist Press.


Central American bishops approve
joint project with Oakland’s PICO

By Voice staff

The Pacific Institute for Community Organization, an Oakland umbrella organization that has empowered grassroots groups throughout the United States, is expanding its network of faith-based activism into Central America.

PICO, founded more than 30 years ago in Oakland, is moving into Central America at the invitation of the region’s Catholic bishops. During a meeting of the Episcopal Secretariat of Central America (SEDAC) held in November, the group endorsed a plan to work with PICO in confronting the area’s social and economic problems.

As a result, bishops will attend two PICO training workshops this year in order to learn the group’s principles of community organizing. According to Jesuit Father John Baumann, PICO director, Bishop Alvaro Ramazinni of San Marcos, Guatemala, SEDAC president, and one other bishop will attend the first weeklong training session in New Orleans this month.

Others will take part in a second session to be held in Philadelphia in April, and still others, together with clergy, will attend a later session in Central America. The bishops, Father Baumann said, “are those who are really giving birth to the organization, so it’s important they understand what it’s about.”

The weeklong training sessions prepare activists, most of them lay persons, in the principles of organizing. “We spend some time on faith-based organizing,” Father Baumann said, “on how our values relate to our organizing, then we move into some of the more practical tools.”

PICO leaders determine which battles to fight by interviewing community members. They then research the issues to determine what can be done to improve conditions and who is responsible for taking action. In the U.S., PICO groups often hold action meetings in which they present their findings and demands to local officials.

Central America may require a different approach, Father Baumann said. “I feel we have to do a lot of listening and get an understanding from them and work together with them on what our approach is going to be,” he said. “The governments there go by different rules.”

The structure of the Central American group is also to be determined, he said. In the U.S. local groups form within county, city or regional boundaries – such as Oakland Community Organizations in Oakland and Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization in Contra Costa County – and local organizing committees, usually within parishes, become part of these groups. All of the larger groups contract with PICO for training and oversight.

Father Baumann, who attended the SEDAC meeting and a preparatory session held in September, said he suggested that the bishops begin gradually by forming PICO organizations in one country. But the bishops insisted on working together, he said, with all six Central American countries unified in confronting the problems they face.

The main sponsoring group in Central America, he said, will also contract with PICO, just as OCO and other groups do. “I feel it is very important that they pay for it,” Father Baumann said, so it won’t be charity but empowerment. “It really has to be owned by them,” he said.

Father Baumann said the bishops “are seeing the suffering and pain the people are going through, the severe poverty,” and for this reason they turned to PICO. “I think what attracted the bishops is that we have a principle that the power is in the relationship,” he said, the relationship between leaders working in community.

The Central American bishops connected with PICO after Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, visited California in 2001 and met with organizers in Sacramento. Through one of these activists he contacted Father Baumann some nine months ago and set in motion the meetings held this fall.

In September Father Baumann, along with other PICO members, made his first trip to Latin America to attend a meeting with 13 bishops. Over two days, the PICO representatives explained their process of organizing.

“The end result,” Father Baumann said, “was a core group of them saying, ‘We’ve got to do something. If we don’t, as religious leaders, who’s going to do it?’”
The PICO Central America project, Father Baumann said, is a first for the organization. The group took part in an exchange with German organizers many years ago, he said, but that was not a partnership.

Berkeley grandmother
returns to Baghdad

By Barbara Erickson
Associate editor

The last time Kara Speltz saw Baghdad, bombs were falling on the Iraqi capital and the old regime was hanging on by a thread. Now Speltz, a parishioner at Holy Spirit/Newman Center in Berkeley, is preparing for a second visit to the city, under new rulers but still full of perils.

As before, she is going with a delegation sponsored by Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization dedicated to non-violence, which sends volunteers to areas of conflict. It has had a presence in Iraq since October 2002.

In March of last year, Speltz’s group of nine volunteers planned to spend two weeks in Iraq, providing support to the people in wartime, but they were held up for a week in Amman, Jordan, before they could get visas. Several members of the group were expelled after a few days in Baghdad because they had visited a bombed out site without a government minder.

Today no one needs a visa to enter Iraq, and the current regime – the Coalition Provisional Authority – does not require minders. Speltz’s delegation of seven was scheduled to fly to Amman on Feb. 19 and leave immediately for Baghdad, where they will spend nearly two weeks working with families who have male relatives held by the CPA.

The trip by van from Jordan, she said, may be even more dangerous than her journey during the height of the war last March. Now, she said, much of the violence in Iraq takes place along the roads where mines have been set to explode under vehicles and where snipers target U.S. convoys.

But she is reassured by knowing that Christian Peacemakers has a good record of safety with its volunteers.

Once in Baghdad, Speltz said, “We’re mostly going to be interviewing families who’ve had their men taken off to internment camps by Americans.” Some 12,000 Iraqis, nearly all of them men, have been arrested since the war, she said. They range in age from 12 to 90.

“They go into houses in the middle of the night, based on some tip,” she said, “they put hoods over the men’s heads and take them off to camps.” Her delegation, headed by Father Bob Holmes, a Basilian priest from Canada, will try to find out where the men are housed and arrange for family visits.

Speltz learned of the delegation through an e-mail message from Christian Peacemaker Teams. “When I read this,” she said, “I thought, ‘I’ve got to go back.’ It’s going to be very exciting work.”

CPT has already interviewed more than 70 families, she said, and what they have learned is disheartening. “They’re treating the Iraqis with such disrespect,” she said. “One 14-year-old was taken during summer in his night clothes. He’s not been allowed any clothing since then, and it’s winter there.”

Speltz, who has two grandchildren attending Our Lady of Grace School in Castro Valley, and other members of her group will also meet with representatives from non-governmental organizations, the U.S. military and Iraqis who lost loved ones during the war as well as with relatives of detainees.

Small Christian communities
to gather for day of renewal

By Voice staff

Members of the nearly 700 small Christian communities in the Oakland Diocese will gather for a day of reflection and enrichment on March 27 at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland. Others in the diocese interested in learning about such communities are invited to join them.

Bishop Allen Vigneron will open the day with a talk on the place of small communities in the church. His presentation will be followed by a talk on the impact of these communities on parish life, given by Father Dan Danielson, pastor of the Catholic Community of Pleasanton.

Both these talks will be delivered in English with simultaneous translation in Spanish. The concluding talk by Jesuit Father Sean Carroll of St. Patrick Parish in Oakland will be delivered in Spanish with simultaneous translation in English.
Two sets of workshops will be offered during the day for both English and Spanish speakers.

The seven morning workshops in English focus on spirituality, leadership, social action, family participation, group dynamics and marketing. Among the presenters are Mercy Sister Maureen Roe who will talk on personal prayer; Mary Doyle, diocesan social justice resource coordinator, who will offer ways to accomplish community service; and Anna Marie Franco, a licensed family counselor, and Chuck Siebenand, diocesan director for pastoral planning, who will discuss how to deal with personal problems within a small community.

Similar topics will be explored by Spanish presenters, including Carlos Rivas, associate director of the diocesan Faith and Ministry Formation department; Ligia and William Lanzas, leaders of a small Christian community; and Francisco Herrera, musician and social justice advocate. Their seven sessions will repeat in the afternoon.

Afternoon sessions in English include how to invite new members, given by Roberta Emerson, a marketing professional; and how to include young adults, given by Evelyn Gonzalez, diocesan director of youth and young adult ministry. Linda Krehmeier, diocesan liturgy resource coordinator, will talk about the links between RCIA and small Christian communities.

Throughout the day there will be times for prayer, sharing and music, coordinated by Tom Gilfether, music minister at St. Felicitas Parish in San Leandro. During the lunch break, Irene Cheung, a member of a Chinese small Christian community in Oakland, will demonstrate Tai Chi.

Nora Petersen, diocesan director for small Christian communities, said she hopes the day will be one of renewal for members and an invitation to others to consider joining a small community. There are communities in more than half of East Bay parishes, she said.

Cost of the day is $5, which includes lunch and child care for children two and over. Registration is due by March 22. Call (510) 267-8351 for registration details.

Call to Action says priests support talk on optional celibacy

By Voice staff

A survey of Northern California priests on whether the church should allow an open discussion of mandatory celibacy has found that two thirds of the respondents support the idea. In the Diocese of Oakland, 84 percent of the 126 priests who answered the question came out in favor of the proposal.

The Northern California chapter of Call to Action, a Catholic advocacy group that supports open discussion of the issue, conducted the survey late last year in the Dioceses of Fresno, Monterey, Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose, Stockton and the Archdiocese of San Francisco and released the results earlier this month. A total of 458 diocesan and religious order priests responded out of the 1339 who were mailed the survey.

In the Oakland Diocese, 301 priests were sent the survey. Of the 126 responding, 106 said they favor an open discussion.

Clergy support in other dioceses ranged from 11 priests (48 percent of diocesan respondents) in the Stockton Diocese to 71 priests (68 percent of respondents) in the San Francisco Archdiocese. The highest number of priests (27) opposing discussion was in the archdiocese. Seventeen priests in Oakland opposed the discussion and three said they were unsure.

The Oakland priests supporting open discussion came from all age groups, including 46 who identified themselves as retired. Of those, 34 favored the discussion.

Call to Action plans to survey as many dioceses as possible in the U.S., according to Joan McIntyre of Oakland, a Call to Action member and a parishioner at St. Leo the Great in Oakland.

The group decided to conduct the survey after 163 priests in the Milwaukee Diocese wrote last August to Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to say it is time to have an open discussion of mandatory celibacy. The following month the Association of Pittsburg Priests publicly came out in favor of such a dialogue.

Pope John Paul II has repeatedly said that the discipline of mandatory celibacy will not be changed.

Some of the Oakland respondents turned in comments with their survey forms.
“The discussion should not be based on our needs and desires,” wrote one priest opposed to the proposal, “but on who Jesus is! We are to conform ourselves to him. There are many ways of doing this, and celibacy is one such way of giving ourselves completely.”

Another priest wrote, “I have freely and lovingly chosen – and continue to choose – to be celibate,” calling it a “viable, authentic and deeply life-giving way of life.” He nevertheless supported dialogue on the issue.

A celebration of Scouting
Bishop Cummins congratulates Bill Ford, diocesan director of youth and young adults, who received the “For God and Youth” award for his 25 years of diocesan service. The award is the highest granted by the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry. Scouts enter Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Oakland on Feb. 8 for the annual Catholic celebration of scouting. Father Larry D’Anjou, new diocesan scout chaplain, presided.
Boy Scouts recite their oath, led by Troop 6 of Corpus Christi Parish in Piedmont.

Girl Scouts from St. Edward School in Newark join in the entrance procession.



Gibson reworks ‘Passion’
to mute anti-Semitism

By David Briggs
Religion News Service

LOS ANGELES—The blood pours more freely than in any Jesus film in history, but the final cut of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” takes some care to distance Jewish people from centuries-old anti-Semitic charges of deicide.

The filmmaker deleted a controversial scene that drew objections from Christian and Jewish leaders alike—the so-called “blood curse” from the Gospel of Matthew that has been abused for centuries to hold all Jews accountable for the death of Jesus.
And several flashbacks, added without fanfare after primary filming was completed, show Jesus commanding his followers to love all people and declaring he faced death “of my own accord.”

Yet a special screening of the version of the movie opening nationwide Ash Wednesday (Feb. 25) shows Gibson remains true to his artistic vision to show the horror indicated in biblical accounts of Jesus’ final hours. That effort at brutal realism along with the director’s attempt to stick closely to biblical texts that are part history, part theology, part apologetic is likely to evoke passionate reactions from theatergoers.

The Passion narratives millions of Americans hear each spring in church are relatively unadorned accounts of Jesus’ execution that describe the process with little more explication than the phrase “and they crucified him.” What separates Gibson’s film from any other mainstream movie about Jesus is the director’s unflinching attempt to show the reality of torture and crucifixion in a first-century Roman province.

Blood covers the courtyard where Roman soldiers scourge Jesus nearly to death. It oozes from underneath the strips of skin hanging off Christ’s broken body as the wooden cross he can no longer carry falls on him. And the blood flows from his hands all the way through the other end of the wood as the nails are pounded into his hands on Golgotha.

The advance screening shows the film earns its R rating. Yet it is not discouraging many evangelical supporters, who say it should be labeled R for reality.
Christians believe the Passion represents the greatest act of sacrificial love in human history: Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of all humanity.

“My ultimate hope is that this story’s message of tremendous courage and sacrifice might inspire tolerance, love and forgiveness,” Gibson said in the film’s production notes.

But those concerned about centuries of anti-Semitism will still have issues with this film. The movie sticks closely to biblical texts that assign great responsibility to Jewish leaders for the death of Jesus. It is less concerned about modern scholarship that raises questions about the motives of all who took part in the Passion drama and the intentions of the Gospel writers decades later.

Only the Roman authorities of the time could order executions by crucifixion, and the limited historical record gives a mixed account of Pontius Pilate, the provincial governor who had the power of appointment over the Jewish high priest. Some extrabiblical evidence casts Pilate as a ruthless tyrant who brutally suppressed rebellions.

Gibson’s film sticks to the Gospel accounts, which portray Pilate as a weak-willed figure who recognizes Jesus’ innocence, but feels powerless to stop his execution in the face of organized opposition from Jewish leaders.

Was Jesus King of the Jews
or King of the Judeans?

By Father David O’Rourke, O.P.
Special to The Voice

Mel Gibson’s movie about the Passion of the Christ is, once again, highlighting the reality of anti-Semitism, the prejudice against Jewish people. I have not yet seen the film – to be released on Feb. 25 — so obviously I cannot comment on it. But over the years I have become familiar with the religious roots of prejudices against Jewish people. This, of course, includes the ways Jews are described in the Gospels.

But accusing the Gospels of prejudice against Jews really misses the target because the issue here is not the ancient Gospels. It is their later English translations.

So what do the Gospels say about the Jews?

The Gospels never mention the Jews. The Gospels were first assembled in Greek and then translated into Latin. When they speak of the people in the ancient land of Judea where the events took place they use the Greek and Latin words, which are “IUDAIOY” and “IUDAEI.”

Our English Bibles translate these ancient words using the more modern English words Jew and Jews. That is a mistranslation because the English words don’t fit the reality. Even more, it bypasses another English word which does fit the situation – geographically, historically, and linguistically. And that is the word “Judean.”

In the Good Friday Gospel, for example, we are told that Pilate had a sign fixed to the cross, in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, calling Jesus the King of the Jews. What it said in Latin was that Jesus was “Rex Iudaeorum.” That does not mean King of the Jews. It means King of the Judeans.

Judea was the name of the land in which these events took place. Jerusalem was its capital. Pontius Pilate was the Procurator of Judea. And the people who lived there, including the religious and political leaders, were Judeans. And that is the point.

Jews are a modern people who, like other modern peoples, have ancient roots. Judeans are an ancient people in whose capital Jesus was tried and executed. Normally we keep these ancient and modern names separate. No one, for example, is going to call the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate an Italian.

But there is one major exception. We don’t talk of Judeans. We talk of Jews. Why?

Because the first translators of the Gospels into English 400 years ago were steeped in the anti-Jewish prejudice of their times. People in London in 1600 made no distinctions between the few Jews in the city and the Judeans in Jerusalem 1500 years earlier. They were all Jews, all the same, and all bad. And the translators wrote their prejudices into their translations. Four hundred fifty years later we’re still using their words.

The English words Jew and Jewish are obviously no older than the English language which we use. And in English when we talk about ancient peoples we use different names to describe people then and now.

When we speak of the peoples who lived more than a thousand years ago in France, England, Germany, Ireland, Italy, we don’t call them French, English, Germans, Irish or Italians. We talk of Franks, Lombards, Goths, Etruscans, Romans, Gaels, Celts, Saxons, Teutons and Livonians. And we do so because, whatever the continuities, we know that the people then and the people now are not the same.

During the centuries since these ancient peoples arrived in Europe they and their histories have changed so much that to refer to them using contemporary English words like French, German, Irish and Italian would be inaccurate.

So why do we use our contemporary English words – Jew and Jewish – to describe a people who lived half a world away and 2,000 years ago? Why don’t we call them Judeans, which is the name that fits the geography, the history, the language, and the religion?

The answer is that, without ever giving it any thought, we have simply accepted the 400-year-old mistranslation which embodies the translators’ anti-Semitism.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We could say “And Jesus said to the Judeans…” rather than “and Jesus said to the Jews…” That would have a greater linguistic, geographical, and historical accuracy. Equally important, we would not be misusing language to connect our own contemporaries with an ancient people to their disadvantage.

Anti-Semitism has deep roots. But we don’t have to nurture those roots by using words in the English Gospels that have little, if any, historic or biblical justification.

(Dominican Father David O’Rourke is a member of the diocesan Marriage Tribunal and parochial administrator at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Pt. Richmond. He has taught at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley and is former editor of Church magazine.)

U.S. bishops caution
against anti-Semitism

By Voice staff

The nation’s Catholic bishops have issued a 150-page booklet, “The Bible, the Jews and the Death of Jesus: A Collection of Catholic Documents,” to reaffirm Church teaching that Jews do not share collective responsibility for the death of Jesus.

The booklet restates 40-year-old church teachings and more recent statements by Pope John Paul II. Included are a landmark 1965 statement from the Second Vatican Council, and a 1975 statement by the U.S. bishops.
The booklet can be purchased for $11.95 through the bishops’ offices in Washington, D.C. To order, call 1- 800-235-8722.

TV movie depicts
what drove Judas Iscariot
By Voice staff

It is a crucifixion that forms young Judas Iscariot, and it is another that marks the end of his life. In between those two milestones, the young boy grows into a man, the man discovers Jesus and, in his quest for deliverance, becomes his betrayer.

As shown in the made-for-TV movie, “Judas” — to air from 9 to 11 p.m., Monday, March 8 on KGO Channel 7 — the man who turned Christ over to his executioners is driven by a rage to expel the Romans from his land. This mission attracts him to Jesus and also leads to his act of treason.

ABC’s movie, a Paulist Productions film, is an “interpretive dramatization” of the life of Judas, focusing on the last two years of his life, when he follows Jesus of Nazareth as he performs miracles and preaches the Kingdom. It begins when Judas is eight-years-old and standing at the foot of a cross where his father has been executed at the hands of the Romans.

The story then moves forward 22 years to depict Judas as a wine merchant who is eager to take on the occupying power. Before he can foment his own rebellion, he sees Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple and decides that this is the man who will save the Jews.

But Judas grows disillusioned as Jesus insists that he is “not of this world” and it becomes clear that he will never lead a war against the Romans. At this point, Judas gives in to pressure from Caiaphas, the high priest, and betrays Jesus.

Although Judas Iscariot has been reviled through the ages as the man who betrayed Jesus Christ, the film shows his fellow disciples in a more forgiving stance. When Peter, James and Andrew find him hanging dead from a tree, they take down his body and pray for his soul, because, as Peter says, Jesus “would’ve wanted us to.”

The director, Charles Robert Carner, a Catholic with highly regarded films to his credit, said the project was “a personal responsibility to the faith I take very seriously.” It provided an opportunity to tell the story of Judas from a new angle, he said, and it combined his professional career with his faith.

Carner said he got the job because he knew Paulist Father Frank Desiderio, head of Paulist Productions and an executive producer of the movie. Father Desiderio was familiar with his work, and the two knew each other from Catholics in Media Associates, headquartered in Studio City.

The film was the final project of Paulist Father Ellwood “Bud” Kieser, the founder of the Humanitas Prize and Paulist Productions. He died Sept.17, 2000 at the age of 71.

Carner recalled that “Judas” was filmed over the course of 23 days in Morocco in 2001 and said the crew was in the mixing studio when the twin towers fell on Sept. 11. Everyone was in shock, he said, so he called them together and they prayed for the victims of the attacks.

“People came up to me in tears,” Carner said, and told him, “Thank you for making this movie at this time.” They felt as if they were doing something meaningful at a time of sorrow and bewilderment.

After the film was completed in 2002, it remained on the shelf until ABC decided to release it this year. The company was waiting for the right moment, Carner said, and with the publicity surrounding Mel Gibson’s “Passion,” they decided that moment had come.

Carner also said he was walking a fine line in depicting Jesus, trying to show him respectfully but also as a human being. With the help of a solid cast, he said, he was able to stay on course.

Johnathon Schaech plays Judas with “marvelous intensity,” he said, and Jonathan Scharfe, who plays Jesus, shows the “intangible qualities of Jesus, a holistic sense of care and confidence and loving and values.” Carner added, “I felt it was important the viewers get a sense of joy from him.”

And the script by Tom Fontana – best known for “Oz” and the series, “Homicide: Life on the Streets” - also hit the right note, Carner said.

Carner himself is known for directing “Crossfire Trail,” “The Fixer,” (starring Jon Voight) and “Who Killed Atlanta’s Children?” He also directed and produced “Red Water” and “Christmas Rush.”


Lenten regulations

Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25, marks the beginning of Lent. The following regulations regarding fasting and abstinence are observed in the United States: Catholics ages 14 and over are to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays of Lent.

Individuals between 18 and 59 are also obliged to fast – eat one full meal – on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Eating two smaller meals is permitted if necessary to maintain strength, but eating between meals is not.
These obligations, however, do not apply to those whose health or ability to work would be seriously affected.

Catholics are also encouraged to do penance in other ways, such as prayer, acts of self-denial, almsgiving, and through works of kindness and compassion.

Catholics invited to join
Operation Rice Bowl

By Jennifer Flowers
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON—Shrunken AIDS funding in President Bush’s 2005 budget proposal released Feb. 2 dampened the spirits of Christian groups and aid organizations, which said he is not following through on his promise to combat the disease globally.

“We all heard (Bush) make a very powerful and passionate statement about global AIDS in last year’s State of the Union, but this year he didn’t say anything about AIDS,” said the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, a grass-roots Christian anti-hunger lobby group. “Now that we see his budget, it’s clear that he’s not willing to make financial commitments that are in keeping with his promises of a year ago.”

Groups such as the National Association of Evangelicals pressured Bush last month to include in his budget proposal a $3.6 billion catch-up on his 2003 Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that promised $15 billion over five years. The first installment last year was $2.4 billion.

Maureen Shea, director of the Episcopal Church’s U.S. government relations office, said her denomination was particularly concerned about Bush’s funding cutback for multilateral AIDS organizations such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, for which the president proposed $200 million, down $350 million from 2004.

“We have particular concerns about the Global Fund because once people (with HIV/AIDS) have started on treatment, you have to keep people on treatment or it won’t work,” Shea said.

Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town, South Africa, urged congregations in the denomination to become more involved in Africa’s AIDS crisis.

Faith-based groups are pinning their hopes for increased AIDS funding on Congress. Beckmann said Bread for the World plans to send 150,000 letters to members of Congress.

Activities during Lent

The Lenten season offers Catholics the opportunity to renew and deepen their faith. Numerous activities and events in the Oakland Diocese can help many in their journey. Some of these opportunities are highlighted below:

Social justice reflections

The Pax Christi/Social Justice group at Our Lady of Grace Parish in Castro Valley begins its annual Lenten reflection series, Feb. 25, with a presentation on hunger in America by David Gist, California Regional Organizer for Bread for the World.
Subsequent topics are: “A Crisis in Health Care,” by Michael Mahoney, president and CEO, St. Rose Hospital in Hayward, March 10; “The Plight of the Immigrant,” by Sister Barbara Dawson, director of public policy, Catholic Charities of the East Bay, March 17; and “Ending Homelessness,” by Maurine Behrend, consultant for Catholic Housing Initiative of the East Bay on March 24.

The sessions begin at 7:30 p.m. following the 6 p.m. Mass and soup dinner in the parish center, 3433 Somerset Ave.

Retreat for Young Adults
Young adult Catholics (18-30) are invited to an evening of listening, prayer, reflection and conversation at Holy Spirit/Newman Hall Parish, 2700 Dwight Way, in Berkeley on Feb. 27. The gathering will be held from 6 p.m. to midnight and includes dinner. Free-will donations are welcome. To RSVP, contact Sister Kathy Littrell, SHF, by phone (510) 267-8374 or e-mail:

Parish Mission, Alameda
Sister Toni Longo, a member of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, will give a parish mission at St. Barnabas Parish, Alameda, March 1-4 at 7:30 p.m., focusing on Jesus’ promise “I have come that you might have life, and have it in abundance.” Sister Longo will also speak at Masses on Feb. 28-29. The church is located at 1427 Sixth St.

Parish Retreat, Antioch
St. Ignatius Parish, at 3351 Contra Loma Blvd, in Antioch, will host a retreat, March 1-5, focusing on the psalms. Participants will gather for morning Eucharist followed by informal Scriptural reflections. In the evenings they will meet for prayer, preaching and ritual. Dominican Sister Patricia Bruno and Dominican Father Jude Siciliano will lead the retreat. They will also speak at all the Masses the weekend of Feb. 28-29.

Alameda School of Faith
Alameda’s School of Faith, sponsored by St. Joseph Basilica, St. Philip Neri, St. Barnabas, and St. Albert, begins a series of faith formation classes March 1.

“Praying with Ignatius.” Holy Names Sister Barbara Williams will present a five-week series (Mondays, March 1-29) on Ignatian prayer and its importance to Catholics today. Sessions will be held 7-8:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Sablan Room, located at Encinal near Chestnut. Suggested donation: $25.

“Free Your Inner Child: Play With God: Art and Spirituality,” March 9, 11, 16 and 18. Sister Toni Longo will guide participants in the expressive arts as a means of personal and spiritual growth. No art experience is necessary. The two-hour classes, which can be attended singly or as a series, will be offered from 10 a.m.– noon at St. Albert Parish, 1022 Holly St., and from at 7-9 p.m. at St. Philip Neri Annex, Van Buren at Fountain. The cost of each class is $15 (includes materials), or $55 for all four.

Sister Longo will offer a workshop, March 20, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., incorporating music, clay, mandala, journaling and collage at St. Joseph Sablan Room, Encinal and Chestnut. The workshop fee is $30 (materials included). Workshop participants should bring a bag lunch.

Thursday Evening series

Concord’s St. Bonaventure Parish will sponsor a series of speakers, March 4 through April 1 at 7:30 p.m. in the church, 5562 Clayton Road. Franciscan Father Kenan Osbourne will host three sessions on living sacramentally and justly; Aidan McAleenan, a seminarian intern at the parish, will facilitate a panel presentation on justice and housing for the poor; and Jesuit Father Bernie Bush will lead the culminating session on spirituality and living justly.

Women’s Retreat
The Corpus Christi Women’s Group will host their Fifth Annual Lenten Retreat on March 6 at the Holy Redeemer Center, 8945 Golf Links Road, in Oakland, from 8:30 a.m.- 4 p.m. A $30 donation, which includes breakfast, lunch and materials, is appreciated. Contact Mary Pryor, (510) 482-2091 or Cynthia Funai, (510) 482-3358.

Prayer and Fish Fry

St. Columba Parish, at 6401 San Pablo Ave., in Oakland, will host a Lenten prayer service, March 5 beginning at 5 p.m. in the parish hall. Fish Fry dinner follows. Ticket donation is $10. Contact the parish office at (510) 654-7600 or Suzette Warren at (510) 534-0271.

Faith Formation Seminar
Toinette Eugene, director of the diocesan African American Catholic Pastoral Center, will discuss “Prophets, Messengers, and Elders: Their Role in Biblical and African American History” on March 7, 1-3 p.m., at St. Benedict Parish Hall, 2245 82nd Ave. in Oakland. Admission is free; donations are welcome. Materials will be provided, however participants are encouraged to bring their own Bibles. For more information call St. Benedict Church at (510) 632-1847 or Jean Evans-Townsend at (510) 287-3563.

Lafayette Lenten Mission
Rick Gaillardetz, theologian, professor and author, will present “Becoming His Disciples, A Lenten Invitation” at St. Perpetua Church in Lafayette from March 7-10. Topics are: “Finding God in Daily Life” on March 7; “Sexuality and Christian Living” on March 8; “Christian Forgiveness, Peacemaking and Discipleship” on March 9; and “Why Belong to the Church” on March 10.
The sessions will be held from 7-8:45 p.m. at the church, 3454 Hamlin Road. Presentations will also be given after morning Mass, March 8-10. The cost is $5 per session or $15 for all four.

Day of Recollection
Father Leo Edgerly, pastor of Corpus Christi Parish in Piedmont, will present a day of prayer and reflection at St. Anne Parish, 1600 Rossmoor Parkway, in Walnut Creek on March 11. The day begins at 9:30 a.m. with three conferences, plus time for private prayer. Benediction will be at 11:45 a.m., followed by Mass. Participants should bring a sandwich for lunch. Beverages and cookies will be provided.

Parish Mission, Fremont
Jesuit Father Tom Allender will present a mission, “Life’s Journey” at Holy Spirit Parish, 37588 Fremont Blvd., in Fremont, March 15-18. Father Allender will preside at the 8 a.m. daily Masses and present his talk at 8:45 a.m. and again at 7:30 p.m. He will also preach at all Masses,March 13-14. All are invited to attend.

Mission in San Ramon

Dominican Father Michael Sweeny from the Siena Institute will focus on “Renewing the Covenant” during the annual mission at St. Joan of Arc Parish in San Ramon, March 20-25. He will preach at all Masses the weekend of March 20-21. Specific topic sessions will be held mornings (9:45-11 a.m.) and evenings (7:30-9 p.m.) from March 22-25. Childcare will be provided.

Small Christian Communities
Six weeks of new materials are available for small groups wanting to do Lenten reflections. The materials begin with readings for Sunday, Feb. 29 and end with the Passion.

Father Sergio Lopez, parochial vicar at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Concord, and Jesuit Father Sean Carroll, parochial vicar at St. Patrick Parish in Oakland, prepared the commentaries on the Scriptures.

For more information or to request copies, contact Nora Petersen at 2900 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland, CA 94610; phone: (510) 267-8351; or e-mail:

Days of Renewal
San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville will offer seven days of renewal during Lent on the theme, “More Than Friends My Beloved Ones.”
Franciscan Father Barry Brunsman, a retreat master at San Damiano, will present the retreats scheduled for Feb. 25, March 3, 9, 17, 22, and 25. Franciscan Sister Michelle L’Allie will present the March 31 Day of Renewal.

The fee for each session is $20. Lunch is included. Pre-registration is required for the sessions, which will be held from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Contact: San Damiano Retreat Reservations, P.O. Box 767, Danville, CA 94526-0767; phone: (925) 837-9141; fax: (925) 837-0522; website: Lenten Reflection Materials for Small Groups available.