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from Photographers' Blog:

An endangered priesthood

Tagaytay city, Philippines

By Erik de Castro

I woke at dawn to the sound of a bell ringing and Gregorian Chant music at the Saint Augustine Minor Seminary compound on Mindoro island in the central Philippines. It was still dark as dozens of seminarians in the first phase of a 12-year journey to priesthood walked towards a chapel for their morning prayers and a mass.

I walked to the same chapel 41 years ago and left after more than two years in the seminary.

As I walked with them in the chilly air, I felt the seminary's sprawling compound was so big now compared to the time I was there. Since 1962 when the seminary opened, there have been 1200 seminarians who have passed through, according to Father Andy Lubi. So far it has produced 72 priests, some who have already left for a variety of reasons. From the 100 recruited during an annual vocation campaign, 12 is the average number of candidates that enter the seminary per year.

Renz Hernandez at the Saint Augustine Major Seminary in Tagaytay city has at least one more year to become a deacon in preparation for ordination as a priest. From a batch of 31 seminarians 12 years ago, he is the only one left. This is a common number for those entering the priesthood and some batches don't even produce any priests.

from Photographers' Blog:

An island of religion in a sea of secularism

Warsaw, Poland

By Kacper Pempel

When Pope Benedict XVI announced last week that he was stepping down, the mood in my country, Poland, was overwhelming. This is one of the most devoutly Catholic countries in Europe, which still proudly identifies itself as the birthplace of Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II. On the day of the announcement my colleagues went to the church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. The worshipers coming out of the church were in a state of shock. "It’s so sad. It’s such a shame. But what can we do? I can’t believe it,” said one woman as she left the Holy Cross church in the Polish capital, who gave her name as Maria. “I am very sorry because I really like the Pope. He is continuing the teachings of our Pope (John Paul II).” Janusz, another worshiper, said: “I don’t think it’s true. In my opinion it would not be a good solution. It would definitely be a huge pity for Poles and Catholics.”

I spent the last few months traveling around Poland taking photographs of Polish people demonstrating their Catholic faith: going on pilgrimages, attending mass, children having religious lessons in schools. I photographed the statue of Jesus in Swiebodzin, near the Polish-German border, which stands 33 meters tall. I visited a huge church built since the fall of Communism in farmland in Lichen, in central Poland. As I drove towards the church, its gold-colored dome, 98 meters high, looked incongruous surrounded by cows grazing in a pasture.

from Tales from the Trail:

Washington Extra – A Deng Xiaoping Moment?

By Warren Strobel

Maybe it’s the careful, consensus-oriented system that produces them, but China’s leaders in recent years have not exactly exuded personality. President Hu Jintao is famous for his stiff manner and scripted speaking style. Jiang Zemin was slightly more relaxed, and enjoyed showing off his English language skills and knowledge of U.S. history.

Washington on Tuesday will get its first close look at China’s next president, current Vice President Xi Jinping, who has a reputation for being more open and refreshingly direct than some of his predecessors. It may be too much to hope for a “Deng Xiaoping moment,” a 1979 turning point in Sino-American cultural relations when the diminutive Deng, China’s great modernizer, attended a rodeo in Simonton, Texas, donned a giant cowboy hat and wowed the crowd. Deng was then China’s vice premier.

from UK News:

Pope’s visit to UK runs into murmurings

Are preparations for Pope Benedict's visit to England and Scotland on track? Well, sort of.

The papal visit in September will be the first since Pope John Paul II's pastoral visit in 1982 and the first ever papal state visit to these shores.

from FaithWorld:

Support for abortion rights declines in America

Public support for abortion rights is ebbing in America while the issue's importance has fallen on the public agenda, especially for liberal Democrats, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

In 2007 and 2008, Pew found that supporters of abortion rights outnumbered those saying it should be illegal in most or all cases by a 54 percent to 40 percent margin.

from Tales from the Trail:

The Pope blessed Ted Kennedy

KENNEDY/As a divorcee who was pro-choice on abortion, the United States's most prominent Catholic politician was not exactly in the Vatican's good books.

Yet Pope Benedict XVI blessed the terminally ill Senator Edward Kennedy, according to correspondence made public at his burial in Arlington National Cemetery on Saturday.

from Tales from the Trail:

The First Draft: Obama and the Pope

POPE-ENCYCLICAL/President Barack Obama heads to Africa on Friday on the final stop of a weeklong trip that included visits to Russia and Italy, but before leaving Rome he will visit with Pope Benedict.

Obama has had an uneasy relationship with some Roman Catholics because of his support for abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research, which the church opposes.

from FaithWorld:

Is a papal visit to Vietnam on the horizon?

Could the Pope make a historic visit to commmunist Vietnam later this year?  A papal envoy hinted at this on Thursday, as Vietnam and the Vatican are seriously discussing establishing diplomatic ties. "This is my wish," Vatican Undersecretary of State Monsignor Pietro Parolin told reporters when asked if he thought the Pope could visit the Southeast Asian country this year. He added that the question had not been discussed in meetings with the Foreign Ministry and government's religious affairs committee. (Photo: Priest outside a Hanoi court trying Catholics for illegal protests, 8 Dec 2008/stringer)

The papal envoy has been attending the first meeting of a joint working group on improving ties this week in Hanoi. He said the talks had made progress, but establishing ties was a process that will take time.

from FaithWorld:

Exercised over yoga in Malaysia

Of all the things to get exercised about, yoga would seem to be an unlikely candidate for controversy. But such has been the case in Malaysia this week.

Malaysia's prime minister declared on Wednesday that Muslims can after all practice the Indian exercise regime, so long as they avoid the meditation and chantings that reflect Hindu philosophy. This came after Malaysia's National Fatwa Council told Muslims to roll up their exercise mats and stop contorting their limbs because yoga could destroy the faith of Muslims.

from FaithWorld:

Can Democrats hold gains they made with faith voters?

DALLAS - In a country where religion plays a big role in politics, U.S. Democrats have made some big gains with voters of faith.

A number of exit polls have shown that President-elect Barack Obama narrowed the "God gap" that existed when President George W. Bush, a Republican, defeated Democratic challenger John Kerry in 2004.

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