Archive of November 7, 2003

Europe cannot conceal its Christian roots, Pope says

Vatican City, Nov 7, 2003 (CNA) - Addressing 200 participants of a seminar organized by the Robert Schuman Foundation, Pope John Paul called Europeans not only to remember, but also to cherish their Christian roots.

Speaking first on Robert Shuman, the post-war French Minister of Foreign Affairs and regarded as the “father” of the European Union, the Pope noted he spent his “political life in the service of the fundamental values of freedom and solidarity, understood fully in the light of the Gospel.”

Schuman, in fact, helped reconcile Germans and French after the War. The blue and golden stars of the flag he proposed for Europe are inspired in the colors of Virgin Mary. The Church in France has started his cause of beatification.

“As Christians engaged in public life,” he remarked, “you have come together to reflect on the prospects currently opening up before Europe,” including the building of the “new” Europe which “means finding a proper balance between the role of the (European) Union and that of the member States, and between the unavoidable challenges which globalization presents to the continent and the respect of its historical and cultural distinctiveness, the national and religious identities of its people, and the specific contributions which can come from each member country.”

The Holy Father stated that “for this to happen, it is necessary that Europe recognize and preserve its most cherished patrimony, made up of those values which have and continue to guarantee her a providential influence in the history of civilization.” 

The Pope acknowledged that “many cultural roots have helped to solidify these values,” “yet it is undeniable that Christianity has been the force able to promote, reconcile and consolidate them,” he explained. 

“For this reason,” he continued, “it seems logical that the future European constitutional treaty, aimed at achieving ‘unity in diversity’, should make explicit mention of the Christian roots of the continent. A society forgetful of its past is exposed to the risk of not being able to deal with its present and – worse yet – of becoming the victim of its future!”

“In this regard,” John Paul II added, “I am pleased to note that many of you come from countries preparing to enter the Union, countries for which Christianity often provided decisive assistance on the path towards freedom.”

“From this standpoint you can also easily see how unjust it would be for today’s Europe to conceal the pivotal contribution made by Christians to the downfall of oppressive regimes of whatever stripe and to the building of authentic democracy,” he said.

The Pope concluded calling Catholics to a greater involvement in political activism. “The complaints often made against political activity do not justify an attitude of disengaged skepticism on the part of the Catholic, who instead has the duty of assuming responsibility for the well-being of society,” he finally said.

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Europe can’t forget the history of Martyrdom behind its history, the Pope says

Vatican City, Nov 7, 2003 (CNA) - On the occasion of the eighth public session of the Pontifical Academies, which took place yesterday at the Vatican, Pope John Paul sent a message to Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Coordinating Council for the Pontifical Academies, warning that Europe can loose its sense of humanity if it looses the memory of the martyrs.

In his message, the Holy Father writes that “the theme of the public session, ‘Martyrs and Monuments to their Memories, Living Stones in the Building of Europe,’ offers a singular key to understanding the historical change that we are living through in Europe”.

“It means we must discover the profound link between yesterday and today’s history, between the evangelical testimony courageously offered by so many men and women in the first centuries of the Christian era and the testimony, also in our times, that many believers in Christ continue to offer to the world to reaffirm the supremacy of Christ’s Gospel and of charity,” he explained

The pontiff then warned that “if the memory of Christians who sacrificed their life to reaffirm their faith is lost, the modern age with its projects and ideals, would lose a precious component since human and religious values would no longer be supported by concrete testimony, manifested in history.”

After emphasizing that “persecution is fortunately no longer a problem” in Europe, John Paul II says that Christians, “together with all men and women of good will, are called to build a true ‘common house,’ which is not only a political and economic edifice but also a ‘house’ rich with memories, values, spiritual contents”.

“These values have found and continue to find in the Cross an eloquent symbol that embodies and expresses them,” he added.


At the end of the Message, the Pope entrusted Cardinal Poupard with the task of bestowing this year’s prize of the Pontifical Academies upon Giuseppina Cipriano for her paper, “Mausoleums of the Exodus and Peace in the Necropolis of El-Bagawat. Reflections on the Christian origins of Egypt.”

In addition, he asks him to give the pontifical medal to Sara Tamarri for her work, “Iconography of the Lion from Late Antiquity to Medieval Times.”

The Pope congratulates the winners on their work, “which underscores the value of archeological, liturgical and historical patrimony, to which the Christian culture owes so much and from which it can still draw elements of authentic humanism.”

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Catholic Health Association Applauds Bush For Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act

Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2003 (CNA) - The Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA) is applauding President George W. Bush for signing the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 into law.

“We are grateful that our nation's leaders agree that partial-birth abortion is an abhorrent practice that has no place in a society, which believes in compassion and dignity for all,” said the statement, issued Nov. 5.

“While abortion advocates are seeking to challenge the constitutionality of the Act, those of us in the pro-life community believe that there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that would allow for unborn children to be subjected to such a brutal procedure,” said the 2,000-member association, based in St. Louis.

“We hope and pray that the courts see the partial-birth procedure for what it is – the killing of children who are in the process of being born.”

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Canadian bishops to soldier on in same-sex marriage debate despite government push for law

Ottawa, Canada, Nov 7, 2003 (CNA) - While most Canadian citizens and politicians have settled into the idea that the legalization of same-sex marriage is only a matter of time, Canada’s bishops are holding fast and saying that the battle to retain the traditional definition of marriage in Canada is not over yet.

At the annual plenary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), which ended last week, outgoing president Bishop Jacques Berthelet told the assembly of bishops that “the game isn’t over yet,” reported Canadian Catholic News (CCN).

The Supreme Court of Canada is expected to hold hearings in the upcoming year on the draft legislation for same-sex marriage, submitted for judicial review in July by the federal government. Bishop Berthelet pledged that the Canadian bishops would present their arguments to the court at that time.

The Canadian bishops have been involved in the debate on same-sex marriage since its inception last year. They issued an official statement in September and presented a brief at the public hearings held across the country in the spring.

The Ontario bishops have also been members of the Interfaith Coalition on Marriage and Family, which includes other religious and family groups. The coalition submitted a request to the Supreme Court of Canada for a leave to appeal the June 10 Ontario Court ruling that opened the door to same-sex marriage in Ontario and subsequently, in other parts of the country.

The coalition submitted the application in the summer after the federal government announced that it would not appeal the decision, opting instead to move toward legalization of same-sex marriage across Canada. The five-judge Supreme Court panel turned down the coalition’s application.

Bishop Berthelet said that even if the government's bill wins the approval of the Supreme Court, it would still have to clear the House of Commons and the Senate before becoming law.

He also said the conference's permanent council is looking at proposing the possibility of separating religious marriage and civil marriage and leaving it up to the state to decide the other "forms of union" that could occur, reported CCN.

Bishop John Pazak, eparchial bishop of Slovaks of the Byzantine Rite in Canada, spoke for the Ontario bishops, who believe the draft bill, which the government says will protect religious institutions from being forced to marry same-sex couples, is flawed.

The wording of the bill protects priests and ministers on the basis of individual conscience. "This does not offer any institutional protection for a Church such as ours which takes doctrinal positions about same-sex marriage," said Bishop Pazak, CCN reported.

The Canadian news agency reported that Archbishop Adam Exner of the Archdiocese of Vancouver said Canada is in the midst of an epistemological crisis, which is what makes the discussion on marriage so difficult. Noting the high degree of relativism in Canadian society, Bishop Exner said the idea of objective morality and natural law is absent in the national discussion. 

"The root issue goes back to (Pope) Paul VI and Humanae Vitae,” Bishop Eugene LaRocque, bishop-emeritus of the Ontario Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall, is reported to have said. “If married couples can separate the marriage act into pleasure and no children, then what leg have we to stand on when we address the whole question of homosexuality or lesbianism?"

LaRocque said the Canadian Church has to revisit the teaching on marriage of the universal Church if the bishops are to have any success in the same-sex marriage debate.

“I know how difficult it's going to be because the artificial contraception mentality has pretty well taken over our western civilization, including our Catholics," said LaRocque, according to CCN.

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Cuban reform leader demands respect for rights on the island

Havana, Cuba, Nov 7, 2003 (CNA) - Oswaldo Payá, leader of the Varela Project, which seeks a referendum to bring about democratic changes in Cuba, announced his support this week for the United Nations’ condemnation of the U.S.-led embargo against Cuba, but called on the organization to be just as “intense” in its demand for the release of political prisoners and for respect for human rights on the island.

A day after the U.N. General Assembly denounced the Cuban embargo by a vote of 179 to 3 in favor, with 2 abstentions, Payá released a statement concerning a group of political prisoners who are on a hunger strike. Seven dissidents imprisoned in region of Holguín have been on a hunger strike since October 18.

In his statement, Payá, who is also founder of the Christian Liberation Movement, asked the Assembly to also condemn “the cruelty of the Cuban government.”

“If the governments represented at the U.N. are truly concerned with the well-being and rights of the Cuban people and are morally consistent, they should demand the government of Cuba stop the cruel and degrading treatment of political prisoners, and release them,” Payá said.

Other non-violent opposition leaders, including Vladimiro Roca, also expressed satisfaction with the U.N. vote—which has rejected the embargo for 12 consecutive years—but they questioned the triumphalism displayed by Fidel Castro’s government in light of the U.N. statement.

“How can it be that Cuba demands the UN General Assembly’s resolutions on the embargo be respected when it refuses to respect the 13 resolutions that this same assembly’s Human Rights Commission has passed (since 1989),” Roca asked.

Roca also said the UN should condemn the government of Fidel Castro “for having embargoed all of our rights as citizens.”

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Second priest murdered in less than 24 hours in Columbia

Bogotá, Colombia, Nov 7, 2003 (CNA) - Father Henry López of the city of Villavicencio became the second priest to be murdered in less than 24 hours in Columbia. A parish employee found the priest’s body, which was tied up and decapitated, in the parish rectory.

According the police information obtained by Columbia’s National Radio Network, the corpse of Fr. López was discovered when the parish employee arrived for work in the morning. Reports also said the priest was found seated in a chair with his hands died and his mouth gagged. The crime appeared to have occurred Tuesday night but so far police do not have motive or a suspect.

Meanwhile the community of Saravena, Columbia, gathered in the Church of Christ The King to pay their last respects to Fr. Saulo Carreño, was murdered earlier on Tuesday.

Hundreds of parishioners held a vigil before the remains of their pastor, and church bells were rung every hour as a sign of mourning. Bishop Carlos Meza of Arauca, together with 30 priests from the area, traveled to the city to participate in the vigil.

The body of Fr. Carreño was later taken to Bogotá where the funeral and burial will take place.

Civil and Church authorities have stated Fr. Carreño never denounced the threats against his life.

Police Chief Luis Alcides Morales said initial investigations indicated the murder “took place by order of the dark forces of the guerrilla.” He also said a reward has been offered for information leading the capture of the perpetrators.

European parliament supports embryonic stem-cells research

After rejecting amendments proposed by the EU Executive Committee, this week the Industry Committee of the European Parliament approved a budget that would set aside more than 2 billion dollars for embryonic stem cell research.

If passed by the full body on November 11, the budget would have to get final approval from each member of the European Council, where various countries have expressed their rejection of the use of stem-cells.

The ban on the use of embryonic stem-cells was enacted last July when the European Commission presented new norms for the financing of this type of research. However, although EU legislators assured they would give “priority” to research which used adult stem-cells, they rejected the suggestions of the Commission, which included the stipulation that on embryos conceived before June 27, 2002, could be used to produce stem-cells.

Stem-cells have the ability to transform themselves into other types of cells, including cells that make up the brain, heart, bones, muscles and skin. 

Researches usually obtain these cells from embryos that are discarded during the process of in-vitro fertilization or that are created specifically for this purpose. However, scientific study has shown that these same cells can be obtained from the umbilical cord, the placenta and bone marrow, without having to create or destroy embryos.

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