Vatican City, Oct 31, 2003 (CNA) - Addressing 350 participants at the Conference of the Ministers of the Interior of the European Union, Pope John Paul II told European leaders that religion in public life is key to protecting human life and to promoting peace in the world.
The Conference has as its theme, “Interreligious Dialogue: a Factor of Social Cohesion in Europe and an Instrument of Peace in the Mediterranean Region.”
The Pope told the ministers that this theme “recognizes the importance of religion, not only for safeguarding human life but also for promoting peace.”
The Pope said that building spaces of freedom, security and justice “involves seeking new solutions for the problems linked with respect for life, with the right of the family, with emigration; problems which must be considered, not only in the European perspective but also in the context of the dialogue with the countries of the Mediterranean area.”
It also requires, he continued “the awareness of being one family of persons called to build a more just and fraternal world,” an awareness present “above all in the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”
“In this regard, how can we not note with a certain sadness that the faithful of these three religions, whose historical roots are in the Middle East, have not yet established among them a fully peaceful coexistence precisely where they were born?,” the Pope also said.
John Paul II also said that “current efforts at intercultural and interreligious dialogue” in Europe do not exclude “an adequate recognition, even legislative, of the specific religious traditions in which every people is rooted.”
The Crucifix in public
In a clear reference to the debate sparked in Italy concerning the presence of crucifixes in public schools, the Pontiff said “the recognition of a specific religious patrimony of a society calls for the recognition of the symbols which qualify it.”
“If, in the name of an incorrect interpretation of the principle of equality, one were to renounce expressing such a religious tradition and the cultural values linked to it, the fragmentation of today's multiethnic and multicultural societies could easily be transformed in a factor of instability and, therefore, of conflict.”
The Post Sept. 11 Europe
Turning to the question of initiatives for peace, the Pope recalled that, “following the dramatic events such as the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, even representatives of different religions multiplied their initiatives in favor of peace.”
He pointed out that at the end of the January 24, 2002 Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, religious leaders issued a declaration committing themselves to “uprooting the causes of terrorism, defending the right of every person to a dignified life according to their own cultural identity and to freely form a family, sustaining one another in a common effort to defeat selfishness, abuse of power, hatred and violence, learning from past experience that peace without justice is not true peace.”
The Holy Father concluded repeating what he said in Assisi: “God Himself has placed in men's hearts an instinctive desire to live in peace and harmony. It is a longing that is more intimate and tenacious than any instinct for violence.”
“Whoever uses religion to foment violent contradicts its most authentic and profound inspiration.”
Vatican City, Oct 31, 2003 (CNA) - In a message sent to the participants of a congress organized by the Pontifical Commission for Historical Sciences to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Pope Leo XIII, Pope John Paul II renewed his wish of bringing to light the truth about the Catholic Church’s history.
“Like Leo XIII, I too am personally convinced that bringing to light the full truth about the 2,000 years of Church history, through science, benefits her,” the Holy Father writes in the message.
“Historians are asked not only to scrupulously apply all the instruments of historic methodology, but they are also asked to pay conscious attention to the scientific ethic that must always distinguish their research.”
Therefore, they cannot “be accusers or judges of the past, but they must attempt to patiently understand each event with the maximum depth and amplitude, in order to delineate a historic context as close as possible to the truth of the facts.”
After emphasizing that in the past years he has spoken about the “need to ‘purify the memory’ which is an indispensable premise for an international order of peace,” John Paul II affirms that those who research the roots of conflicts discover that the negative consequences of events in the past continue to be present.
“Frequently, these ‘contaminated’ memories have become integral elements of the national identity, and in some cases, even of the religious identity. This is why we must renounce any manipulation of the truth.”
“The historian's love for his own people, community, even religious community, must not compete with the rigor for scientifically prepared truth. It is from here that the process of purifying the memory begins,” the Pope also writes.
“This effort to purify one's memory entails for individuals as well as peoples the recognition of errors for which they must ask forgiveness,” the letter also says.
“This sometimes requires much courage and self-denial. However, it is the only way that social and national groups, freed from the remnants of old resentment, can come together with fraternal and reciprocal loyalty in order to build a better future for all,” the Pontiff concludes.
Vatican City, Oct 31, 2003 (CNA) - The Vatican Press office made public today the Holy Father's prayer intentions for the month of November, which are focused on a better understanding between Christians in the West and the East, as well as on the Church in America, on the occasion of the upcoming, Second American Missionary Congress (known as CAM 2.)
The Pope’s prayer intention is: “That the Christians of the West may constantly increase their knowledge and appreciation of the spirituality and liturgical traditions of the Oriental Churches.”
His missionary intention is: “That the Church in America, celebrating the Second American Missionary Congress in Guatemala, may be inspired to more generous evangelizing activity even beyond her own frontiers.”
Vatican City, Oct 31, 2003 (CNA) - Pope John Paul welcomed six members of the Diplomatic Corps to the Holy See, representing various geographical areas, on Friday, October 31, to present him with their best wishes for the Silver Jubilee of his Pontificate.
Representing all members of the Diplomatic Corps were Ambassadors Alejandro Emilio Valladares Lanza of Honduras, for the Americas; Kazys Lozoraitis of Lithuania, for Europe; Raniero Avogardo from Italy, for the European Union; Henri Antoine Turpin of Senegal, for Africa; Youm Seong from Korea, for Asia, and Giovanni Galassi of San Marino, dean of the Diplomatic Corps to the Holy See.
The Diplomatic Corps gave the Holy Father a highly artistic pectoral cross for his anniversary.
The Pope thanked them for their presence, their “fervent best wishes” and for “the significant gift that you have given to me on this occasion.”
Noting that they represent diverse geographic areas, he told the diplomats that he was “happy to greet all the countries with which the Holy See maintains diplomatic ties. I willingly take this opportunity to express my great gratitude for the many signs of closeness that have been shown to me in these days by each one of them.”
Washington D.C., Oct 31, 2003 (CNA) - President George W. Bush renewed his pledge to work toward the faith-based initiative and give religious groups that offer social services, equal access to federal funding, as long as their services are available to anyone.
Bush made the announcement at the Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas Oct. 29, when he dedicated a new youth education centre that will offer job and literacy training.
The Associated Press reported Bush as saying: “We don't want the church to be the state and we don't want the state to be the church, but the government should support the good work of religious people who are changing America.”
Despite the fact that the faith-based initiative was stalled in Congress, Bush created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives with the purpose of strengthening and expanding grassroots and faith-based services.
“The office will take the lead responsibility in the Executive Branch to establish policies, priorities, and objectives for the Federal Government’s effort to enlist, expand, equip, empower and enable the work of faith-based and community service groups,” reads the White House document.
The new initiative will ensure that faith-based programs have equal opportunity to compete for federal funding and that it “will benefit all nonprofit service organizations, but especially small and faith-based groups that have traditionally been neglected or excluded in the past,” it reads.
Alberta, Canada, Oct 31, 2003 (CNA) - Alberta’s bishops urge Catholics to participate in discussions on the province’s educational reforms in order ensure that Catholic education and its mission are preserved.
“Catholic education is an enduring gift in our community and central to the mission of the Church,” said the Alberta bishops in their recent pastoral letter, written in response to the final report of the Alberta Commission on Learning, released Oct. 7. The report made 95 recommendations for improving education in the province.
“As the recommendations are being studied by government, we urge all Catholics to work closely with their local school boards to fully understand the report and how it supports the common good of all Alberta's children,” said the bishops.
They encouraged Catholics to engage in “careful discussion… concerning shared school facilities, amalgamation of school boards and taxation,” with government and school authorities.
“Implementation of these recommendations will require our vigilance and input,” they said. “We must all study this report to ensure the enduring gift of permeated Catholic education is preserved for our children today and all generations of children.”
The bishops said Albertans and government representatives increasingly see the value of the unique role of Catholic education.
“With Catholic education we teach that all meaning is ultimately rooted in a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ,” said the bishops. “This is what it means to say that our schools must be places permeated by the Gospel.”
Caracas, Venezuela, Oct 31, 2003 (CNA) - In a meeting with opposition leaders responsible for organizing a rally in protest against attacks on the Church by the government, the Apostolic Nuncio of Venezuela, Archbishop André Dupuy, and the Secretary General of the Bishops Conference of Venezuela, Archbishop José Luis Azuaje, said nothing will fracture the unity between the opposition movement and the Church.
Waving flags and holding signs, protesters marched with opposition leaders through the streets of the capital to the Apostolic Nunciature to express their support for the Nuncio in the face of “continuous verbal assaults against Church leaders by government officials.” They gathered together outside the Nunciature, which was protected by a squadron of police officers.
Opposition leaders then met with Church leaders and gave a written letter of support to Archbishop Dupuy, recognizing his efforts at promoting the activities of the Church in Venezuela.
Sources said Church leaders urged them to continue working in communion, solidarity and unity. “Communion with God, solidarity with those in difficult situations, and unity among Catholics,” the Bishops said. They also stated the Bishops know “that the only thing happening here is an attempt to divide the clergy to continue discrediting the Church for her role in seeking a solution to the crisis.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct 31, 2003 (CNA) - Meeting with Catholic radio representatives, Archbishop Mario Maulión of Paraná and President of the Bishops Committee for Social Communications, said Catholic radio stations should bear witness to the faith and not simply become another source of news.
During the Congress of Professional Communications Experts of Catholic Broadcasting, which took place in the city of Rosario, Archbishop Maulión encouraged Catholic radio officials to have “a clear institutional and broadcasting plan” because “good will alone is not sufficient to ensure proper use of this medium.”
“In order for a radio station to be Catholic, it must first a foremost be a radio station. Therefore, it should be a means of communication. But if it claims to be Catholic, one should be able to notice its Catholicity” because “a Catholic cannot be an anonymous Christian, dedicated only to cultural issues, without having a true identity. Diluting these aspects means the station is not seriously Catholic, no matter how much it claims to be.”
Archbishop Maulión also explained that the “proper nature of being a radio station and of being Catholic implies a unique harmony of various aspects: communication, means of communication and Catholic. The complexity of this reality requires clear ideas and firm resolve. In a Catholic station there must be a set of principles, a plan of action and a coherent approach.”
The Archbishop added that a Catholic station should “be legal, and economically just. In its entire operations, down to the smallest detail, it should be consistent with our vision of faith. There cannot be a divorce between the message it proclaims and the way it is managed.”
Referring to those who carry out the different responsibilities in the operation of a Catholic radio station, the Archbishop said they should be professional, “but at the same time have a deep faith life,” and he asked that “continual formation in the faith be a part of every Catholic radio station.”
Rome, Italy, Oct 31, 2003 (CNA) - The Sports Film Festival taking place in the Italian city of Milán has debuted a new movie called, “John Paul II Talks About Sports,” which explores the current Pontiff’s fondness for sports.
The movie was shown as part of the inauguration of the festival and was produced by Mario Farneti and Massimo Lavena, with material provided by Vatican Television (CTV). It was shot mostly in the childhood home of Karol Wojtlya in Krakow, which has been converted into a museum that displays photos and objects related to the numerous sports activities in which the future pope participated, from skiing to canoeing.
Washington D.C., Oct 31, 2003 (CNA) - In a candid interview with the Italian Catholic magazine "Mondo e Missione," Iraqi Bishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk said that terrorists, financed by fundamentalist Muslims and some neighboring countries, are behind the attacks that prevent Iraq from becoming stable and democratic.
"There aren't any more (Iraqi) people linked to the dictator," Sako said in the interview. "What we have instead are Arab fighters who have entered Iraq, financed by fundamentalist movements in nearby countries, or maybe even by the governments. There are those who do not want Iraq to be open and free."
These groups do not have any popular support in Iraq, the bishop pointed out. "We are moderates by nature," said Sako of the Iraqi people. "The extremists who are operating are supported from outside. It is obvious that, if a democracy is born in Iraq, the surrounding countries will be worried." In particular, Sako mentioned Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and Egypt.
The 55-year-old bishop, who was ordained Sept. 28, served as vice-president of a provisory provincial council in his hometown of Mosul, the first such council in Iraq, after the war. The Mosul model was later reproduced in Kirkuk and other provinces.
Until recently, he was a parish priest in Mosul and before that the rector of the seminary in Baghdad. He knows 12 languages, has studied in Rome and Paris, is
an expert in ancient Christian literature, and has a master's degree in Islamic history. His is a consultant for the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
The bishop pointed out the great influence of the Pope in taking a stand against the U.S. attack on Iraq and preventing the war from being interpreted as a war of
"The Muslims tried to paint the war as a crusade against Islam," said Sako. But thanks to the Vatican's position and the Pope's intervention "they quickly saw that the bombings touched everyone, including Christians, and they understood that the United States was intervening in Iraq for economic and political reasons, not religious ones," he said.
Many friendships formed among Muslims and Christians before and during the war in creating joint groups to defend the churches and mosques, he said. The aid the Catholic Church distributed during the war among Muslims was rightly understood as a witness of charity and not proselytism, he explained. "Some of the Muslims have welcomed our appeal for national unity," he added.
Sako described Iraq as a country emerging from a 35-year dictatorship, "during which the people were deprived of everything: of oil, but even of air to breathe." The two wars and the 12-year embargo caused many deaths and led many Iraqis to flee, yet the people are "satisfied with the change, with the renewed possibility for freedom," he said.
The bishop was clear in pointing out the signs of hope in war-torn Iraq: in just a few months, 80 new political parties have been formed, five of them are Christian; dozens of new publishers have arisen, six of them are Christian. Some Christian television stations were created in Mosul as well.
But he indicated the need for Western help at this time in Iraq's history, stressing the need to develop a democracy in Iraq "with Iraqi characteristics."
"The Christians have a great task, even though we are relatively few," he said. "But our strength is not in numbers; it is rather in our culture, values, openness, fraternity, and capacity for friendly criticism."
He appealed to Western Christians and religious congregations not to forget the Christians in Iraq after the war.
"There are 700,000 Christians in Iraq and, in a year, when the emphasis on Iraq is gone, who will remember them? It has already happened with the Gulf War and
the embargo," said Sako. "I make this appeal to all the religious congregations: come to Iraq to lend a hand, especially in education, and not only for the Christians. Here in Iraq, man himself must be reconstructed, and we can't do it alone. Iraq is rich in economic potential, but it also needs spiritual resources."