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First Network director gets presidential medal

Sr. Carol Coston, the Dominican nun who was first director of Network, the Catholic social justice lobbying group, joined Muhammad Ali and Elizabeth Taylor Jan. 8 in receiving the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest award the president can bestow on civilians.

At a ceremony honoring the 28 medal recipients on the White House lawn, President Clinton told how Coston "left the security of her convent to live and work in a public housing project," in answer to Pope John XXIII's call for Catholics to address the needs of the poor.

Coston was one of 47 sisters who founded Network in December 1971 to provide a lobbying voice for social and economic justice policies. She was its director until 1982.

Coston earlier had worked as a teacher and on civil rights issues in Florida, Puerto Rico and Michigan. In the 1970 and '80s, she also chaired the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and helped establish Mary's Pence, a Catholic foundation to finance projects that assist poor women.

She currently is director of Partners for the Common Good 2000, an alternative loan fund sponsored by religious institutions that she founded in 1988. It supports housing and entrepreneurship in low-income neighborhoods and is based in San Antonio.

In an interview, Coston said receiving the medal was "a wonderful honor" for her order, for all women religious, for Network and for the Center for Corporate Responsibility as well as for herself.

When she first received a call from the White House about the award a week earlier, "I thought they were testing," she said.

Among the other honorees were Ruby Bridges, who in 1960 at age 6 was the first black child to enter the first school in New Orleans to be desegregated, Muhammad Ali, Elizabeth Taylor and, posthumously, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.

Blood drive marks King holiday

Leaders in the Lansing, Mich., diocese have organized a "Blood of the Martyrs" blood drive to honor the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. this year.

Organizers want the drive to be a living memorial to the slain civil rights leader and other Christian martyrs whose blood was shed for justice and equality throughout the nation.

"This is the first coordinated effort of its kind in the nation for the purpose of honoring Dr. King and other martyred symbols whose blood has been spilled for the cause of helping to make our nation a better place," said Ronald Landfair, director of black Catholic ministry for the diocese.

The blood drive -- sponsored by the diocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry in conjunction with the American Red Cross -- was scheduled at parishes and other locations throughout the mid-Michigan area Jan. 13-15.

King, whose birthday is commemorated as a national holiday, was fatally shot on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn. This year his Jan. 15 birthday and the national observance fall on the same day.

"What is important about this symbolism is that blood is the life-giving and sustaining entity that we all share, regardless of ethnicity, race or income," Landfair said. "In that sense, it could serve as a unique point of identity across faiths and denominations, across cultures and colors."

Congressional delegation presents medal to pope

House Speaker Dennis Hastert presented Pope John Paul II with the Congressional Gold Medal Jan. 8, praising the Roman Catholic pontiff for delivering "a message of love and truth" to the world.

Hastert, R-Ill., led a delegation of about a dozen members of the Senate and House of Representatives, including Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Barbara Mikulsi, D-Md. They were accompanied to Rome by Fr. Daniel Coughlin, Congress' first Catholic chaplain.

The speaker told the 80-year-old pope the medal is "considered the most distinguished" recognition that Congress can bestow. …