Archive of December 11, 2003

Pope tells Israel’s Chancellor that crisis in Holy Land must be resolved

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2003 (CNA) - During a private audience with Israel’s Chancellor Silvan Shalom, Pope John Paul II made a plea in favor of a solution for the critical situation in the Holy Land.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, director of the Holy See Press Office, revealed in a statement that the Pope received Shalom, minister of Foreign Affairs for the State of Israel, who afterward met with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State, and Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, secretary of the Section for Relations with States.

“In the course of their conversations,” said Navarro Valls, “the parties expressed their point of view on the path to follow in order to obtain peace in the Holy Land,” in particular, “the need to find a solution to the current situation was insisted upon, as well as the need for concrete acts of reconciliation on both sides.”

“During the encounter, bilateral issues that concern the life of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land were examined in light of the commitments undertaken with the Fundamental Agreement of 1993,” the Vatican spokesman concluded.

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Pope appoints Philippine bishop as Auxiliary of Los Angeles

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2003 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II appointed Fr. Oscar Azarcon Solis, pastor of St. Joseph Co-Cathedral Parish in Thibodaux (Louisiana,) as auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, California.

Fr. Oscar Azarcon Solis was born on October 13 1953 in San Jose City, (the Philippines.) He studied at the minor seminary “Maria Assumpta” in Cabanatuan at San Jose City, and he completed his studies in philosophy at the “Christ the King Seminary of the Society of the Divine Word” and his theology at the University of Saint Thomas in Manila.

He was ordained a priest on April 28,1979, for the diocese of Cabanatuan (the Philippines.) Since then he has been Chaplain for the Movement “Christian Family” (1979-1980), as well as Chaplain at Araullo University (1980-1984) and for the Knights of Columbus (1982-1984).  He was Secretary of the Association of Directors of Catholics Schools (1981-1984); Director of Studies at the Seminary (1980-1981); Director of the Diocese’s Department of Vocations (1982-1984) and Rector of the Minor Seminaries (1981-1984).

In 1984, Fr. Azarcon was transferred to the United States and until 1988 he was vicar at Saint Rocco’s Parish  in Newark (New Jersey).

With the authorization of his ordinary in Cabanatuan, he was transferred to the diocese of Houma-Thibodaux (Louisiana) on June 17, 1992. He was Vicar of Saint Joseph Co-Cathedral Parish in Thibodaux (1988-1993); Pastor of Our Lady of Prompt Succor at Golden Meadow (1993-1999); and Pastor of  Saint Joseph Co-Cathedral Parish from 1999 until now.

The Bishop-elect speaks Tagalog (the Philippine native language,) English, Spanish and Creole.

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Pope receives 110 year-old Christmas tree

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2003 (CNA) - A 98 feet tall, 110-year old spruce tree from the northern Italian region of Valle D’Aosta will be placed in St. Peter’s Square tomorrow,  next to the large nativity scene currently being constructed by Vatican workmen.

The tree, along with twenty other smaller ones that will be placed in and around the Vatican, are the gifts of this Italian region to the Holy Father for Christmas 2003. 

John Paul II has spent seven summer vacations in Valle D’Aosta, and one large Alpine mountain on the border with France has been named after him.

Three hundred people from Valle D’Aosta, including the governor of the region, will symbolically present the tree to the Holy Father at the general audience on Wednesday, December 17. One of the other trees, decorated by regional artisans, will grace the Paul VI Hall.  At the foot of the tree will be a handmade nativity scene in wood, which last Christmas was in the upper Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

That same day in the afternoon at St. Peter’s Square, Cardinal Edmund Szoka, president of the Governorate of Vatican City, will preside at the official tree lighting ceremony. Officials of Valle D’Aosta and members of local folklore groups will join him, and choirs will entertain.

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A book with Popes’ teachings on Faith and Culture presented at the Vatican

Vatican City, Dec 11, 2003 (CNA) - The Pontifical Council for Culture presented on Thursday the book  “Faith and Culture. An Anthology of Texts of the Pontifical Magisterium from Leo XIII to John Paul II.”

Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the dicastery, said that the 1,500-page book covers a variety of topics from papal teaching over the course of more than one hundred years: “From art to technology, ideologies to the family, from sports to politics, universities to cultural identity, from globalization to inculturation.”

According to the Cardinal, the book, edited in Italian, “is meant to serve as a source of reference for episcopal conferences, cultural commissions as well as researchers at universities and institutes in theology, the religious sciences, and professors in the faculties of philosophy, theology, social sciences, education and at seminaries.”

Fr. Bernard Ardura, Secretary of the Pontifical Council, said that “the popes, in a span of one hundred years, have been witnesses and protagonists in significant evolution in the field of culture and its relationship with the Christian faith, departing from the concept of ‘civilization’ in order to achieve a more complete understanding of the human person with the concept of ‘culture’.”

The anthology of texts is the result of ten years of work and is divided into three major sections: faith and cultures - guidelines, challenges and reference points, and concrete proposals.

The book has three indexes, one of which lists 1,266 different pontifical texts, classified under the name of the pope that wrote them.

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Canadians have  new Catholic TV

Toronto, Canada, Dec 11, 2003 (CNA) - The Toronto-based Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation is dedicated to bringing the Gospel message back into mainstream Canadian culture with 100 per cent Catholic broadcasting 24 hours a day.

The Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation is a non-profit national organization, committed to providing Catholics with the opportunity to connect with their beliefs and to celebrate their faith. It was established in 2003 and has since received the endorsement of the Canadian and U.S. bishops and the Vatican Television Centre.

“I believe that Salt and Light provides the opportunity for Catholics to be engaged in their faith and receive the hopeful and encouraging message of the Church,” said Fr. Thomas Rosica, the foundation’s CEO. The Basilian Father was the CEO and national director of World Youth Day 2002.

The foundation’s function is twofold: it is both a producer and a distributor of Catholic programming. Salt Light Television Productions will develop and produce shows for worldwide distribution to networks and specialty channels. And Salt Light Television, the foundation’s licensed, digital television network, will broadcast programming in Canada. The station received its broadcast license from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) Nov. 17.

The television station features diverse programming to both young and mature audiences, primarily in English. Its five major programming streams – Prayer and Devotion, Liturgy and Worship, Faith and Reason, Action and Justice, and Community and Media – are intended to celebrate Canadian Catholics who make a difference in their communities.

A number of shows already in production include: Salt Light Magazine, Living Proof and “In Conversation”… with Fr. Rosica and Gaetano Gagliano. Gagliano is the founder and owner of St. Joseph Corporation, the largest privately owned communications company in Canada, which made the license application to the CRTC on behalf of Salt and Light Media Foundation.

“In Conversation” is a 13-episode series broadcast weekly (Sunday at 1 p.m.) on Telelatino (TLN), which reaches more than three million households across Canada. Other shows under development include “Cooking with Saints” and “Courage to be Catholic”.

Salt and Light Television will be accessible across Canada on a subscription basis. It is currently available on Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 617, in major markets of Southern Ontario, and it is in discussions with Bell ExpressVU, Star Choice, COGECO, Shaw, Videotron and Eastlink for availability on digital TV by the spring of 2004.

The foundation also envisions a French television counterpart, “Télévision Sel Lumière”, and Web-based programming in the near future.

For more information, go to

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Canonization cause opens for record number of martyrs from Spanish Civil War

Madrid, Spain, Dec 11, 2003 (CNA) - Archbishop Antonio Cañizares of Toledo, Spain, has opened the cause for canonization for 800 martyrs of the ecclesiastical province of Toledo, all of whom were victims of religious persecution during the Spanish Civil War.

During a ceremony in the Cathedral of Toledo, the Archbishop declared that between 1936 and 1939, there occurred “an authentic religious persecution, in which there were true martyrs,” emphasizing at the same time that the Church does not pretend to judge those responsible for the martyrdom, “because [the Church’s] philosophy is that of faith and love, not hatred and revenge.”

The ceremony also included the creation of a tribunal for the cause of canonization and declaration of martyrdom, whose members took an oath over the Gospels that the process will be carried out in accord with Church laws.

Archbishop Cañizares emphasized that the motive for promoting the canonization of the more than 800 candidates was the statement by Pope John Paul II that the twentieth century had seen a multiplication of martyrs and that in order that their memory should not be forgotten, “the necessary documentation should be collected.”

According to the Archbishop, this cause for canonization—which could last up to a year—“is a sign of the vitality of our local churches,” which acknowledge the role of these servants of God,” who by their martyrdom, offered their lives in fulfillment of the will of the Lord, in whose hands they placed themselves, as Jesus placed himself in the hands of God during the crucifixion.”

After mentioning that during the religious persecution some who died were true martyrs while others were not, Archbishop Cañizares said that “a careful selection of those called to receive this recognition” was carried out.  In this sense, the postulator of the cause, Father Jorge López, explained that during the religious persecution around 10,000 people were killed, although some deaths were because of other reasons.

The investigation into the cause for canonization will include statements by a series of witness, whose testimony will be evaluated by the tribunal. 

Among the 800 servants of God whose cases will be studied are those of Bishop Eustaquio Nieto Martín of Sigüenza-Guadalajara and Fathers Agustín Rodríguez, Antonio Martínez, Joaquín María Ayala, Joaquín López and Basilio Sánchez, of the dioceses of Cuenca, Albacete, Ciudad Real, Avila and Toledo.

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Brazilian bishops say students need education and not condoms to fight AIDS

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Dec 11, 2003 (CNA) - The Bishops Conference of Brazil has published a clear statement asking the country’s Ministers of Health and of Education to end a campaign to make condoms available in schools, proposing instead comprehensive education for young people in order to stop the spread of AIDS.

The “dirty war” of certain homosexual groups against the Church has not stopped the bishops from speaking out. Signed by the president of the Bishops Conference, Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo, the text points out that condoms have not been proven to be 100% effective in preventing the contraction of AIDS.

The Bishops conference spelled out the urgency of creating a sexual education program that does not trivialize sexuality and that promotes “the living of one’s sexuality as one of the ways of expressing love,…which demands affectivity, self-donation, responsibility and fidelity.”

Likewise the Bishops demand that the role of parents in sexual education be respected, as “the family is the natural place for passing on values, for promoting the dignity of men and women and the true meaning of loving and sexual relationships” within the context of marriage.

In this sense, the Conference supports efforts to foster, especially in young people, “a healthy style of life, behavior governed by Christian and human values, instead of the mere distribution of condoms.”

The Bishops also point out that the Church in Brazil works for the prevention of AIDS and attends to those who are HIV-positive.  The Church “welcomes and is close to those who are infected with this virus and defends their right to free medical care.”

They add that the Church “also works to prevent the spread of the disease by fostering Gospel values and being a presence of mercy and promoting life as the highest good.”

The Bishops say that the work to prevent AIDS should emphasize dignity and value of life, health and sexuality. 

The Bishops’ message came after a heated statement from the Minister of Health which accused the Church of “committing another crime against humanity” for “insisting that condoms do not protect” against the AIDS virus. 

The Ministry of Health statement came in response to the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro’s denouncing of a television spot that was to air nationwide and that blamed the Church for the spread of AIDS.  The five-minute long infomercial was shown on only one television program as part of the campaign “Condoms are not sinful,” produced by various pro-homosexual and “safe-sex” groups.

The Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro was successful in preventing the spot from being widely shown and asked the government to investigate whether or not organizations that work for AIDS prevention are informing the public “about the risks of infection and the defects in the methods of prevention that are being used.”

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Judge orders image of the Virgin removed from Argentinean Supreme Court building

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 11, 2003 (CNA) - A judge in Argentina has ordered the removal of an image of Our Lady of St. Nicholas from the country’s Supreme Court building.

Judge Susana Córdoba ruled in favor of a suit brought by the Association for Civil Rights, an anti-religious group, which claimed the presence of the image or of any religious symbol “would jeopardize the principle of judicial impartiality.”

Fr. Jorge Oesterheld, spokesman for the Bishops Conference of Argentina, told reporters Córdoba’s decision “surprises a country whose Catholic tradition is part of the national culture.”

According to Fr. Oesterheld, the presence of Catholic symbols in public places “has never implied religious discrimination nor been an obstacle to freedom of religion.”

Other Church leaders emphasized that the image was put in place by a group of laymen and not by Church authorities.

Several months ago the Argentinean Supreme Court ruled that “the Catholic religion is a fundamental fact of Argentina’s culture and social reality.”

Various organizations have announced their intention to appeal the decision by Judge Córdoba all the way to the Supreme Court.

Dr. Roberto Castellano, President of the group “Pro-Life,” denounced the ruling and called it a “sneaky campaign of persecution against what has historically been the faith of the majority of Argentineans.”

“This same logic,” he said, “would have us outlaw the memory of Generals San Martín and Belgrano,” who fought for the independence of the country, “since both of them consecrated their fight for independence to the Virgin Mary, who this judge now wants to send into exile.”

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Prayer and fasting for freedom in Cuba

Havana, Cuba, Dec 11, 2003 (CNA) - In order to mark the International Day of Human Rights, political prisoners and their family members held a day of fasting and prayer this Wednesday in Cuba for freedom and democratic change in the country.

Various dissident and opposition groups took part in the initiative, which included a series of vigils and activities to denounce the treatment of Cuba’s political prisoners.

In Havana, family members of political prisoners met for 12 hours in the home of the wife of dissident Héctor Palacios for a day of fasting and the reading of Scripture.

Palacio’s wife, Gisela Delgado, said, “We are united with our family members who are unjustly imprisoned.  We will be joined by various human rights leaders, political movements and parties, journalists and independent librarians.”

“The Cuban government,” she continued, “wants to win over international opinion, but we will not be silenced by threats and attempts to divide us.  The only solution for the regime is to grant us freedom.”

Political prisoners from four Cuban facilities took part in the initiative, as well.  8 dissidents who were sentenced to long prison terms last April sent a letter saying “although prison rules do not allow fasting, wherever we are…we will be fasting on December 10.” 

Cuban exile leaders in Miami, Italy, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Costa Rica and Dominican Republic, announced their participation in the day of fasting as well.

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Wife of Chinese Christian prisoner appeals to Christians around the world

Beijing, China, Dec 11, 2003 (CNA) - The wife of a Chinese Christian psychiatrist has sent an appeal to Christians worldwide to pray for her husband, who was arrested unjustly, and demand his release.

Dr. Xu Yonghai, an evangelical Christian psychiatrist, was arrested in Beijing Nov. 9 and accused being linked to 43-year-old Liu Fenggang, the head of an underground house church, reported the Rome-based missionary agency AsiaNews.

Fenggang was arrested in Hangzhou while visiting leaders of some house churches, which had been destroyed, and accused of spreading information of their destruction, which was considered a “state secret”. He has been detained in prison since Oct. 13.

At the end of November, Yonghai was transferred to Xiaoshan (Zhejiang), where he is now detained. His wife has written an open letter to Christians around the world, urging them to pray for her husband and demand his liberation.

In her letter, she said her husband has been a Christian for many years. “Since the day I met him and until the day he was arrested, he has been spreading the Gospel. In addition to his professional job as a doctor, he dedicated all his time to the Lord,” she wrote.

“He shares the Gospel with everyone he meets and has dedicated his only home (only 10 square meters) as a house church. By God's grace, many people have come to know their faith in that house.

“Even in the midst of persecutions, he has always trusted Christ and our meetings continued until the government violently destroyed our house,” she said.

According to Hong Kong’s Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy, the police have destroyed at least 10 house churches since July. A total of 392 churches and temples of other religions have been either destroyed or reused as “entertainment centers”. The Chinese government permits worship only in official locales registered and controlled by the Office of Religious Affairs.      

“My husband is a good believer and a good doctor. He has been able to bring the love of Christ our Lord to everyone he met,” she continued. “He was raised in an ordinary family and always dedicated himself in service of others. Wherever there was injustice, you could find his shadow. He is an exemplary social activist.

“His arrest today is a great irony to social injustice. I am convinced that my husband is innocent and maintain he has committed no crime. I beg the Chinese government to release my husband,” she wrote. “I plead with my brothers and sisters in the Lord to pray for their brother Xu. Pray so that the Lord will protect him in peace. Pray so that he will return back home peacefully as soon as possible.”

The letter was made available to AsiaNews by China Aid Association, a Protestant organization battling for religious freedom in China.

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