Spirit World: Father Damien cleared for sainthood

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Vatican City The unofficial patron saint of those with HIV/AIDS is on the verge of canonization, after Pope Benedict XVI authorized a decree attributing a second miracle to his intercession, the Vatican announced Thursday.

The Rev. Damien de Veuster, a Belgian priest known as ''Father Damien'' who spent more than 15 years caring for lepers on the island of Molokai, Hawaii, died there of leprosy in 1889.

Pope John Paul II declared Damien ''Blessed'' in 1995, after recognizing as miraculous the cure of a French nun who had prayed to the late priest only a few years after his death. A second miracle, occurring after beatification, was required for his canonization as a saint.

In April, Honolulu Bishop Clarence (Larry) Silva confirmed that theologians advising the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints had recognized as miraculous a Hawaiian woman's recovery from lung cancer after she prayed for Damien's intercession. The case was the subject of an article in the ''Hawaii Medical Journal'' in 2000.

The miracle was then approved by the congregation and finally by Pope Benedict. Damien's canonization still requires a papal bull calling for his veneration as a saint. - Religion News Service

Report: Religious giving tops $100 billion in 2007

Giving to religious charities and congregations passed the $100 billion mark for the first time in 2007, according to a recent report by the Giving USA Foundation.

Giving to religious groups increased 4.7 percent, bringing the total to $102.32 billion. Overall giving to charitable causes reached $306.39 billion in 2007, a 3.9 percent increase from 2006.

The report, released June 23, shows that donations to religious causes accounted for half of all individual charitable giving. Three-quarters of all giving in the U.S. came from individual donations to charity, the report said.

Del Martin, chair of the Giving USA Foundation, said, ''And what you can't forget is that the 'little guys,' the families most affected by the economy, kept on giving despite any worries they might have about their personal situations.''

Charitable giving consistently represents 2.3 percent of the average American's disposable income year-to-year, a figure that held up in 2007, according to the report.

- Religion News Service

Priests barred from making donations to candidates

Denver As clergy involvement in politics stirs debate, Roman Catholic priests and deacons in the Denver Archdiocese are being instructed not to endorse or donate money to political candidates.

The directive came from Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, one of the nation's most outspoken Catholic bishops in expressing the need for Catholics to follow their faith in making political decisions.

Published in the archdiocesan newspaper, the directive states that clerics ''may not publicly participate or endorse political campaigns or initiatives, or publicly affiliate themselves with groups whose primary purpose is to do so.''

Jeanette DeMelo, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Chaput wants to give clergy guidance ahead of the 2008 election and wasn't responding to any particular activity by priests or deacons.

She said the directive only affects partisan political activity and said that clergy still have a duty to speak out on moral issues such as abortion or immigration.

- The Associated Press

Unitarians oppose anti-gay marriage ballot measures

Unitarian Universalists ended their annual General Assembly meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with a call to oppose ballot measures in Florida and California that would outlaw same-sex marriages.

Delegates also called for an end to what they called the ''present day slavery'' of undocumented immigrants.

''Our vision of justice is not limited to concern for one oppressed group,'' said the Rev. William Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, at a rally. ''It's a vision of justice in which all American families are valued. We say that the Beloved Community must have room for all of us.''

UUA members, who have historically been vocal advocates of progressive social justice causes, voted to oppose initiatives in Florida and California that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. California began allowing same-sex marriages on June 17.

Immigrant rights also took center stage during the five-day meeting that ended Sunday. The assembly voted to join the Alliance for Fair Food, which promotes ''socially responsible'' food purchasing, and endorsed the efforts of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a Florida-based advocacy group whose work focuses on improving the conditions of undocumented immigrant farmworkers.

The UUA held a ''Community Witness Event'' in Fort Lauderdale to raise awareness of the conditions facing predominantly immigrant farm workers. The event also focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.

''We claim our identity as border-crossers,'' Sinkford said. ''We refuse to allow justice to be viewed as divisible."

- Religion News Service