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Pakistani Catholics, Muslims cooperate to extinguish fire at friary

Karachi, Pakistan, Jul 25, 2014 / 02:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When a fire broke out last week at a Capuchin friary in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, both local Christians and Muslims rushed to put out the blaze.

On July 16, a fire began at Karachi’s “Capuchin House” around 11:00 a.m. People in the neighborhood heard a huge blast, and then saw a raging fire engulf the residences of the friary.

“We thank God that no lives have been lost and the friars are safe,” Asif Nazir, a local teacher, told CNA July 21.

“Only a assistant parish priest, Fr. Javed Kashif, sustained burn injuries on his hands while trying to extinguish the fire.”

Nazir explained that the lack of casualties was because “the friars were in the city on their missionary assignments, and the rest of the staff were on summer vacations.”

He added that it has been confirmed that the fire was caused by an an electrical short circuit.

“The Muslim neighbors rushed for help in extinguishing the fire, which brings a ray of hope for dialogue, communal harmony, and sustaining peace,” Nazir reflected.

He lamented that the friary’s “precious books, documentation file folders, and electronics such as computers” have all “turned into ashes.”

“The quantified assessment of actual damage is under process,” he added.

The friars have asked for prayers, support and encouragement as they work to restore their home.

At the time of the fire, Fr. Qaiser Feroze was on a pastoral visit to the Agha Khan Hospital, while Fr. Javed Kashif and Fr. Bernard Younas were at St. Philip’s parish.

The Capuchin Franciscans are among the 11 religious priests in the Archdiocese of Karachi, who serve alongside the local Church’s 26 diocesan priests. Together, they serve some 166,000 Catholics, who constitute just over one percent of the area’s total population.

The archdiocese does works of charity, serving the youth and women with education, and health and social development. Both Christians and Muslims are served by the 14 archdiocesan high schools.

Pakistan’s population is about 97 percent Muslim, with Hindus and Christians each constituting nearly two percent of the total population.

Ceasefire signed in Central African Republic conflict

Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo, Jul 25, 2014 / 12:03 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Rival factions in the Central African Republic signed a ceasefire on Wednesday in hopes of halting the deadly violence, but it is unclear whether it will be effective.

“We have signed this ceasefire agreement today in front of everyone. Our commitment is firm and irreversible,” Mohamed Moussa Dhaffane, who represented the Seleka faction, said July 23.

Patrick Edouard Ngaissona, head of the anti-Balaka negotiating team, said anyone caught violating the ceasefire would be arrested, the BBC reports.

The agreement was signed after three days of talks in the neighboring Republic of the Congo. The predominantly Muslim Seleka forces dropped their demand that the Central African Republic be split into a Muslim north and a Christian south.

Members of the Seleka delegation failed to attend the second day of talks, the Associated Press reports.

Violence broke out in Central African Republic in December 2012. Seleka rebels, loosely organized groups that drew primarily Muslim fighters from other countries, ousted the president and installed their own leader in a March 2013 coup.

The Seleka were officially disbanded, but its members continued to commit such crimes as pillaging, looting, rape, and murder.

In September 2013, after 10 months of terrorism at the hands of the Seleka, anti-balaka self-defense groups began to form. The anti-balaka picked up momentum in November, and the conflict in the nation took on a sectarian character, as some anti-balaka, many of whom are Christian, began attacking Muslims out of revenge for the Seleka’s acts.

After international pressure and resistance from the anti-balaka, Djotodia stepped down as president in January 2014.

Soon after, a national council elected an interim president, Catherine Samba-Panza, a Christian who has appealed for an end to bloodshed from both sides yet has proven unable to quell the bloodshed.

The nation is now in the midst of continuing conflict among political, tribal, and religious groups, which the ceasefire aims to end.

Thousands have been killed, more than 1.1 million displaced, and millions more are without assurance of food or safety. The presence of some 7,000 international peacekeepers has failed to end the violence.

Catholic institutions have provided refuge to displaced Christians and Muslims alike; such as the 700 Muslims sheltered at St. Peter’s parish in Boali in January and February, before they were evacuated, and the 800 given refuge by Fr. Justin Nary in Carnot.

Before the outbreak of violence 20 months ago, Christians and Muslims in Central African Republic coexisted peacefully. According to Aid to the Church in Need’s section for Africa, Christine du Coudray, many of the Seleka are not Central Africans, but come from Chad or Sudan.

Most Central Africans are Christian, though significant minorities practice indigenous religions or Islam.

Earlier this year, Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of Bangui wrote that “for many years, the people of the Central African Republic have lived in harmony; we have known brotherhood – this communion among communities.”

“The upheaval and violence has brought division, death, suffering, the destruction of the other,” he lamented. “Now the time has come to open our hearts more widely still, so that God can give us a new dynamism — fill up our hearts so that we will be able to offer our hand to others, in love, and to begin life together anew.”

The conflict has continued, however. Both side have faced accusations of war crimes. Muslims have fled Bangui and most of the west of the country; Christians have had to leave their homes as well.

Some Muslim combatants and civilians told the BBC they believe the ceasefire is worthless.

On Thursday suspected anti-balaka fighters ambushed two ex-Seleka fighters in the central town of Bambari, killing one.

The transitional government aims to hold national elections by February 2015, despite the violence.

Federal judge strikes down Colo. marriage defense amendment

Denver, Colo., Jul 24, 2014 / 08:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A federal judge ruled Wednesday against Colorado’s marriage defense amendment, leading the state attorney general to say the case will ultimately be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. &nbs…

EWTN to open new studio at Orange County cathedral

Orange, Calif., Jul 24, 2014 / 04:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Thursday, EWTN Global Catholic Network announced it has begun construction on a television studio on the West Coast, located on the campus of the Diocese of Orange’s Christ Cathedral.

“As we transform the Christ Cathedral campus into a dynamic and inspirational center of Catholic worship and outreach, we are blessed to partner with EWTN to share our community’s energy and faithful witness with the world,” Bishop Kevin Vann of Orange said July 24 at the Napa Institute.

“EWTN’s partnership will profoundly benefit our Church, enabling us to share the love of Christ with millions across the world in multiple languages from the Cathedral campus, here in Orange County.”

The new studio is expected to be operational by the end of 2014, transmitting news and Masses across the world.

Bishop Vann made the announcement along with Michael Warsaw, chief executive officer of EWTN, who said that the network is “pleased to be able to collaborate with Bishop Vann and the Diocese of Orange on this important new project. The studio being developed there will be of great benefit to EWTN’s programming efforts around the globe.”

He added that the West Coast location “gives EWTN a presence in an area of the country where the Network will be able to execute programs that would be difficult to produce elsewhere, particularly for our Spanish-language channels.”

“We are also pleased to develop this West Coast studio in advance of the historic renovation of the Christ Cathedral itself,” he said, adding that EWTN “will be well positioned and prepared to share news of this closely watched transformation with our viewers.”

The Diocese of Orange purchased the 3,000-seat Crystal Cathedral in February 2012 from the Protestant community which founded it. The structure was renamed Christ Cathedral, and will serve as the seat of the Bishop of Orange.

The purchase was made after Crystal Cathedral had filed for bankruptcy in October 2010 when some of its creditors sued for payment.

The Diocese of Orange, one of the nation’s largest, is home to the more than 1.2 million Catholics who live in California’s Orange County.

Established 33 years ago, EWTN is the largest religious media network in the world, reaching over 230 million television households in more than 140 countries and territories.

The network includes television, radio and a publishing arm, along with a website and both electronic and print news services.

New auxiliary bishop for US Syro-Malabar eparchy named

Chicago, Ill., Jul 24, 2014 / 04:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Francis on Thursday named a Chicago-area priest to become an auxiliary bishop of the Syro-Malabarese Eparchy of Saint Thomas the Apostle of Chicago.

Father Joy Alappat, 57, the vicar of Mar Thoma Sleeha Cathedral in Bellwood, Ill., will become a bishop for the diocese which serves the faithful of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in the U.S.

He was born in Parappukara, in the Indian state of Kerala, in 1956. The bishop-designate attended St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary in Vadavathoor and was ordained a priest of the Syro-Malabarese Diocese of Irinjalakuda in 1981.

Fr. Alappat undertook graduate studies at St. Joseph’s Pontifical Institute in Aluva and at Adheva University in Wattair. He then did pastoral work in Chalkudy, Mala and at the Irinjalakuda cathedral.

He was a chaplain in Chennai before he was transferred to the U.S. in 1993.

Fr. Alappat served as a chaplain at  Georgetown University Medical Center from 1999-2002, where he completed the university’s clinical pastoral education program.

His pastoral assignments in the U.S. include New Milford, Conn., and Newark and Garfield in New Jersey.

The date of Fr. Alappat’s episocopal consecration has yet to be determined.

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is an India-based Eastern Catholic Church. It is of the East Syrian rite, and most closely related to the Chaldean Catholic Church.

There are some 4 million Syro-Malabarese Catholics in the world, mainly in India, making it the second largest Eastern Catholic Church.

The Syro-Malabarese Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Chicago is led by Bishop Jacob Angadiath, who was appointed in 2001 when the eparchy was established.

In 2010, the eparchy, which serves all the Syro-Malabarese Catholics in the U.S., included 86,000 faithful, 37 diocesan priests, 10 religious priests, and 18 parishes.

Holy See calls for immediate ceasefire, lasting peace in Gaza

Geneva, Switzerland, Jul 24, 2014 / 01:34 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- In a statement issued during a special session of the Human Rights Council, the Holy See urged an immediate ceasefire and the start of negotiations aimed at a lasting peace between Israel a…

Iraqi abbot calls for action to ensure local Christians’ future

Baghdad, Iraq, Jul 24, 2014 / 10:50 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Following the effective expulsion of Christians from the city of Mosul by Islamists last week, a prominent local abbot has voiced the need for concrete action supporting Christians in Iraq.

“The question and challenge is how to convince Christians they have (a) future in Iraq,” Archimandrite Emanuel Youkhana wrote in a July 23 message to Aid to the Church in Need. “Nice words and sympathy statements are not enough. There should be deeds and practices.”

He called “public relations” statements made by the Iraqi government, such as “we are all Iraqis and all Iraq is ours” akin to “a person who is issuing bank checks but he doesn’t have a bank account.”

Early in June, the Sunni militant organization ISIS began attacking cities in north and northwest Iraq, capturing Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province. On July 18, the group issued an ultimatum to Christians in the city, insisting they convert to Islam, pay jizya tax, or be killed. Thousands of Christians and other religious minorities fled the city, seeking refuge in villages in the Nineveh Plains and Kurdistan.

Archimandrite Youkhana’s letter detailed the extent of ISIS desecration in Mosul: the city’s some 30 churches and monasteries have all been seized, and their crosses removed. Many were looted and burned. The Syriac Orthodox cathedral of Mar Ephraim has been converted to a mosque.

The homes of Christians who have fled have been marked with the Arabic letter ‘nun’, standing for ‘nusrani’ – meaning Nazerene, or Christian. The homes have been confiscated for use by ISIS.

As Christians flee both north and east into Kurdistan and the Nineveh Plain, they are being stripped of what few possessions they had been able to carry with them. According to a report of Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, a displaced family was forced from a car at a check point, beaten, and their gold, phones, cash, and car were all confiscated.

ISIS has not limited its attacks to Christians, however; all non-Sunni communities are targets. Shia mosques have been demolished, Archimandrite Youkhana recounted, and the Yazidi – an ethno-religious community – have also been targeted. The homes of Shiites have been marked with ‘ra’, standing for ‘rejecter.’

ISIS has begun implementing female genital mutilation, according to reports.

Local Shiites of both the Turkmen and Shabak peoples have had their homes seized and destroyed, and they have fled to Erbil, in nearby Iraqi Kurdistan, 55 miles southeast of Mosul.

Archimandrite Youkhana noted that Turkmen and Shabak people adhering to Sunni Islam have been left in safety, saying this “reflects how deep the sectarian conflict is” in Iraq.

“The current situation reflects how the Iraqi structure was a fragile one,” he wrote. “Is there really a common Iraqi people feeling that they are one people and one country?”

Noting that the Shiites fleeing for Kurdistan are to be resettled in southern Iraq, where the majority of inhabitants are also Shiite, the abbot asked, “can anyone really expect” that they “will return back again to Talafar and Mosul? Personally, I doubt (it).”

Last week, Archimandrite Youkhana visited Bakhdida, Bartella, and Bashiqa, towns located fewer than 30 miles east of Mosul. All of them suffer from a lack of drinking water, electricity, and medicine, ISIS having cut off their supplies. Most of the Christians there are Syriac, either Catholic or Orthodox.

Bakhdida is a city of some 50,000, nearly all of them Syriac Catholics. Much of the city fled when ISIS seized Mosul, but local leaders told the abbot that about 80 percent had returned. “The current security situation is calm but the fear and horror is there as well,” he said.

In the town of Bashiqa, the local church is hosting 210 Christian families who were displaced from Mosul, Archimandrite Youkhana said. “This is good but it is extra burden upon the church whose resources are limited.”

Looking to the future, the abbot said he does not expect ISIS to expand into the Nineveh Plain, because of the peshmerga, or Kurdish militants; the Iraqi military in Tikrit; and because the population is not largely Sunni, and so is not inclined to accept the Islamist group.

In the larger picture, however, he said that “the indicators are for more and deeper conflicts between Shiite on one side, and Sunni and Kurds on the other side.”

Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq noted: “We hoped, after 2003, that Iraq would emerge a strong country with a constitution that will guarantee the rights of all Iraqis regardless of their religion, ethnicity, sect, social, and political affiliation … but that hope started fading rapidly.”

In a July 20 statement to the Christians of Mosul, the Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, Louis Raphael I Sako, said that “our suffering, if joined to the suffering of our Savior Jesus, ‘Man of Sorrows’, will turn out to be a blessing and salvation to us and to others.”

The bishops of Mosul – gathering across denominations – assembled in the Erbil suburb of Ankawa July 22, under the leadership of Patriarch Sako. Their statement said they are “shocked, in pain, and worried about what happened to the innocent Christians of Mosul because of their religious affiliation,” adding that “it is a crime against humanity.”

“How else one can understand the expulsion of innocent civilians from their houses under the threat of death, the acquisition of their money, and the burning of their churches and monasteries that some of them go back to the pre-Islamic times? Isn’t it a human and heritage disaster?”

The Mosul bishops called on the Iraqi government to protect Christians and other minorities; to provide financial support for the displaced families; and to give those families housing and schools if the crisis persists.

“We also call on people of conscience in Iraq and the world to (put) pressure on to those militants to stop the destruction of churches and monasteries and the burning of manuscripts and relics of the Christian heritage (which are) a priceless Iraqi and global heritage as well.”

The bishops showed their gratitude to Iraqi Kurdistan “for receiving and embracing the displaced families, providing them with the necessary aid,” contrasting this with their statement to the national government that “we are waiting for practical acts to reassure our people, not for statements of condemnation and denouncement.”

Their call for action and solidarity echoed the plea which ended Archimandrite Youkhana’s letter: “Keep Iraqi suffering church and people in your prayers.”

Meriam Ibrahim lands in Rome, meets with Pope Francis

Vatican City, Jul 24, 2014 / 06:44 am (CNA/EWTN News).- A young Sudanese woman dismissed of a death sentence for refusing to renounce her Christian faith has arrived to Rome with her family, where they met with Pope Francis shortly after arriving.

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Soaring student debt sparks response from Catholic colleges

Denver, Colo., Jul 24, 2014 / 04:23 am (CNA/EWTN News).- With a national student loan debt of slightly more than $1 trillion, American colleges may have to start re-thinking the way they do business.

Recent graduates of Catholic colleges are among those feeling the weight of student loan debt. Karissa O’Hearn and her husband Joe both graduated from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., a few years ago. As a student, Karissa said she did not realize how signing for loan after loan would affect her financial future.

“(Financial aid offices) let you sign a piece of paper saying you’re responsible for 30,000 + dollars in debt, but (they do not) take the time to tell you what that really means,” Karissa told CNA. “For the next 20+ years you could be paying that off, depending on who you marry or what job you get.”

According to Forbes, nearly 12 percent of all student loans are currently delinquent by 90 days or more, making them the type of debt most likely to be in default.

A recent limited-release documentary from CNN films entitled “Ivory Tower” even goes so far as to question the value of a college degree, given the present condition of loan defaults coupled with ever-increasing costs of tuition.

Students with tens to even hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt talked about their struggles to find any job, let alone jobs that would utilize their degrees and help them rise out of debt.

Some professors and experts featured in the film even wonder if there will be some sort of collapse within the college system, leaving the last schools standing to pick up the pieces and forge a more sustainable model of higher education.

If such a collapse were to happen, it is likely that private Catholic colleges, whose tuition is higher than state schools, would take a hit.

But like most national issues, the college debt problem is not simple, and neither are the solutions. CNA spoke with three of the nation’s top Catholic colleges to see how they are dealing with the student debt crisis.  

The struggle: A Catholic college student’s view

Karissa O’Hearn represents a fairly typical situation for college graduates.

O’Hearn started out at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), but transferred to Benedictine College in Kansas after her sophomore year. She was drawn to the close community feel and active faith life of the college every time she visited her then-boyfriend (now-husband), Joe, there.

“I felt really called to be at Benedictine even though there were really great things going on at UNL, it just seemed to fit, it felt like where I was supposed to be,” Karissa said.

She attended Benedictine for three years and earned degrees in special education and elementary education. Joe earned dual degrees in philosophy and theology a year earlier than Karissa, and the couple married soon after his graduation.  

Finding a job after graduation was easy for Karissa, especially in the area of special education. For Joe, however, things proved difficult.

“He was working jobs a high school student could be easily hired to do, and that was really hard on him because he’s questioning, ‘What about my education? What is that value? How did I spend so much money on school and now I’m getting paid minimum wage?’”

The couple moved back to Grand Island, Neb., after Karissa graduated, where Joe worked as a phlebotomist for the American Red Cross. They then moved to Lincoln so Joe could work on his master’s in order to be able to teach philosophy at the college level. Between the move, taking on more loans for graduate school, and a new baby, the O’Hearns realized they were not longer able to afford the $1,000 a month that was going towards their debt.

They started to default on their loans. Even though Karissa was working full-time for Lincoln Public Schools, times were tight.

“We would be going, ‘Oh my gosh we can’t go get groceries, we can’t do this, we can’t do anything,’ we would be panicking because we were waiting for my paycheck to come in at the end of the month,” Karissa said, “and that was really a scary time for us, and it got so scary that we just stopped making payments on our loans completely, which is not good because our credit score starts dropping.”

After a year, Joe left grad school.

“It was just putting us further into debt because he couldn’t get funded, and the guarantee for a job as a philosophy professor just isn’t there,” Karissa said. Their combined debt now is “well over $70,000.”

Going into college, Karissa said she felt unprepared and uneducated about what it would take to afford college and how loans would impact her finances years into the future. Taking out more loans to afford another semester sounded like a good idea at the time.

“For me it was like ‘oh okay, there’s my answer to that prayer, I’ll take out a loan,’” she said.

Karissa also said the college system seems to favor the very disadvantaged and the upper middle class, while the lower middle class seems to struggle the most.

“You have people like myself and Joseph and tons of other people that are lower middle class, where our parents didn’t go to college, they don’t prepare, they don’t have a college fund waiting for us, they don’t have all these things,” she said.

Finances have become the topic of conversation among fellow Benedictine graduates who are going through similar struggles.

“When we talk about the stress of adulthood, that’s what we talk about, we don’t talk as much about kids and other financial things, we talk about our loans,” she said.  

If she could go back, Karissa said she would have thought to try to earn better grades in high school. She would have thought to be educated on the financial terminology surrounding college loans. And, she would have been more up front in asking about the real cost of private college over three years.

“I would have been fine at UNL, I fit in well enough there, but it’s hard because when you’re discerning it’s like, ‘What does God want from me?’, the first thing you don’t want to think about is finances,” she said.

“You think, ‘Oh God has all the money in the world so I’m not going to think about finances,’ but in a lot of ways we’re still called to be responsible for our finances and that is of God too.”

“I really value my time at Benedictine, I’m so grateful for it, I’m so grateful for the lifelong friends that I made there, and for the encounters I had with Christ there,” Karissa said.

“But I don’t know, had I recognized the financial burden, I’m not sure if my educational decisions might have been different.”

Benedictine College

Since the O’Hearns have graduated, Benedictine College has responded to the need for students to be more educated about loans and financial terminology.

Tony Tanking, director of financial aid at the school, said he started teaching a class on personal finances last year.

“We’re trying to touch base with more students at an earlier stage by incorporating some financial literacy within our curriculum,” Tanking told CNA.

“Not only do we go over aspects of different parts of their lives with regards to applying for loans and dealing with credit cards (in the class), we also go over terminology and aspects of student loans that those students will be dealing with when they get out of school.”

While the class is currently an elective, it is something Tanking hopes becomes part of the required curriculum for every student.

The increasing expectations students have for a college experience is part of what keeps costs high, he said. Students at Catholic colleges are looking for what a college can offer them academically, spiritually and socially.

“When you take into account all of those things, it’s a challenge for the school because while you’re providing a high level of performance for those students, you also have the accountability of keeping up on buildings, making sure that you’re staffed properly, and making sure that you have competitive wages for your faculty,” Tanking said.

Students who are concerned about their finances should establish a relationship with their college’s financial aid office early on, he suggested.

“Focus on communication, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Talk to your financial aid office, that is an office that is available for free for the students to come in, whether they come in as a freshman or as a sophomore or junior or senior,” Tanking said.

“If they develop a relationship with that office, that office has their information and can help them with understanding what their situation is.”

Tanking said he even has students who will call him and ask for financial advice after they’ve graduated.

“There’s no greater satisfaction than knowing I’ve had an impact on these students and I’m helping them,” he said. “So keep communicating, keep communicating.”

Ave Maria University

Ave Maria University, a Catholic college in Florida, announced in the fall of 2013 that they would be cutting their tuition by $5,000, effective for the 2014-2015 school year. Jim Towey, president of Ave Maria University, said he believes colleges have a moral responsibility to keep costs low.

“You have to look at the morality of a system of higher education that’s placing so much debt on the shoulders of our graduates, even if they’re willing to borrow the money,” Towey told CNA. “You have to ask questions about whether it’s right for a system like that to lead to that outcome.”

Part of the reason Ave Maria University was able to make cuts is the fact that it is still a relatively new and growing university.

“We made a number of cuts back in 2011, we cut our budget by 3.6 million dollars, we laid off a couple dozen people and eliminated positions,” Towey said. “We went through a process of right-sizing the university. I don’t think a lot of universities ever go through that exercise but when you’re a young university you can.”

The process of right-sizing included evaluating the worth of some administrative positions, as well as making sure professors were teaching a full class load.

“Some of these universities where a professor’s teaching one class a semester, is that working for the professor? Sure. Does that help his research? Sure. Does that drive up the cost of that education for the students? Yes,” Towey said.

The current average debt of an Ave Maria graduate is around $22,000 a year, almost $10,000 lower than the average private college graduate. One way the college protects potential students from over-borrowing is by looking at their ability to pay before they are accepted to the school through a program called CAP.

“Are they a fit with our Catholic culture, that’s the ‘C’. Are they academically capable of succeeding, that’s the ‘A’, and ‘P’ can they pay?” Towey explained. “And sometimes private, non-profit universities will admit students where there’s a real question as to how that family is going to afford four years of that education.”

The University of Dallas

Despite the national default rates, there are several people in the field of higher education who say things are not nearly as bleak as they appear. A recent New York Times piece examined many of the cliché arguments surrounding the issue, finding that tuition prices have actually not out-paced inflation as is often believed. Most students still carry a moderate amount of debt, with the highest burden falling on those who drop out. History, the article says, is still on the side of those who earn a degree.

Taryn Anderson, director of financial aid for the University of Dallas, agrees that the issue has been blown out of proportion recently.

“I was at a conference last week for NASFA (National Association of Student Financial Aid Advisors) and they had done some research based on some of the media that was coming out,” Anderson told CNA, “(and they) found that the types of loan debt that are featured in the media, of people who have $100,000 or $200,000 is not the norm, it is a very small percentage that actually have that.”  

The national average debt burden a student borrower graduates with is close to $30,000. Students who graduate with loans from the Catholic honors college in Texas are on par with that.

“(Student) debt upon graduation for us is not higher than the national average…and our cohort default rate is much lower than the national average,” Anderson said, “which to us signifies that the degree is worth that amount of borrowing.”

“Now, is it worth double that? Probably not. I don’t think it’s worth borrowing $80-$100,000 and most students are not doing that.”

Part of the debt problem, she said, are families and students who are willing to over-borrow, even despite advice not to do so. Anderson – who meets with potential UD students who are looking at borrowing – says the current system in place requires that she allow students to take out loans regardless of amount.

“The way the federal government is set up, we have to give them our cost of attendance, and we have to allow them to borrow up to that much and we have no say in stopping them from doing that,” Anderson said.

And while Anderson said she tries to help as many students stay at UD as possible by getting creative with financial aid and housing arrangements, she is not afraid to be honest with students.

“I’m not opposed to telling the family this is not the right school for them. I’m definitely not telling the family we’re the cheapest option and they’re going to have to borrow wherever they go,” Anderson said.

Like many of her co-workers, Anderson has attended Catholic school all of her life and deeply values what UD can offer in terms of academics as well as spiritual formation. There are a lot of ways to make Catholic college affordable, even if it means not choosing UD, she said.

“There are options even among Catholic schools that are less expensive, there are options that are closer to your home,” she said. “There’s great Catholic universities all over the country so even just within choosing a Catholic university there are ways that families can keep their costs down.”

El Salvador youth saved from violence by music

San Salvador, El Salvador, Jul 24, 2014 / 02:12 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Nearly 1,000 children and teens who live in violent, crime-ridden areas of El Salvador have turned to the Don Bosco Youth Symphonic Orchestra as an alternative to a life of drugs and conflict.

The orchestra is financed by a $1 million grant from the Social Fund for the Development of Japan, administered by the World Bank. It is run by Spanish Salesian Father Jose Maria Moratalla Escudero, known as Father Pepe, who is president of the Salvadoran Education and Work Foundation.

Formed more three years ago, the orchestra made its debut in San Salvador last year. The young musicians range in age from 8 to 20 and are from various public schools located in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence. Twenty-five year old Bryan Cea, himself from a troubled neighborhood, directs the orchestra.

El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in Central America, along with Honduras and Guatemala. According to El Salvador president Sanchez Ceren, the murder rate in the country has increased from six per day in 2013 to 10 per day in 2014.

Gang violence is so intense that even living in or visiting an area controlled by a rival gang can mean death.

For this reason, the orchestra project is so important, as it gives young people a peaceful alternative for learning, Fr. Pepe said.

In statements to CNA, he noted that gangs tend to use public schools as a base for selling and hooking kids on drugs.

“So this music project is fantastic because it keeps kids occupied all day long. First during school hours and later during their free time, giving them the chance to freely be in an environment where they can get the kind of music classes that most interest them,” he explained.

Carlos Palma, 20, plays the violin and says the project is positive cultural experience, while Madelin Morales, 15, who plays the flute, says belonging to an orchestra has helped her improve in school and to see life “from a better point of view.”

Jania Ibarra, an analyst with the World Bank, which sponsors the project, said it helps “prevent violence through cultural and musical activities.”

Fr. Pepe said the kids do not see themselves as rivals from different schools or neighborhoods, but as members of the symphonic orchestra. “They are all Salvadorans who are restoring unity,” he commented.

The Salesian priest said he hopes that after the World Bank sponsorship ends, other organizations will step up to help keep the project growing.

“Thank God it is not only being maintained, but we also hope to expand. In fact, we are building a conservatory. None exists in El Salvador,” he said.

Fr. Pepe said he is contact with instructors at a conservatory in Spain about coming to El Salvador to train new instructors who would teach there.

In November of this year, the symphonic orchestra is scheduled to travel to Washington, D.C., to play concerts at the Kennedy Center and other venues.

It is also planning a large musical – including nearly 3000 actors – on the life of St. John Bosco, with music and lyrics composed by the orchestra members themselves.

“Let’s say it’s a gigantic explosion of a vitality that seemed to be dormant in the children, teens and young people of El Salvador and that thanks to this project is being awakened,” Fr. Pepe said.

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