Archive of December 12, 2003

Pope insists: Europe must preserve its Christian identity

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2003 (CNA) - On the eve of a crucial meeting in Brussels that will define the new European Constitution Pope John Paul II insisted that Europe must keep its Christian identity.

Presiding on Thursday evening at a Mass for 10,000 students from universities in Rome in preparation for Christmas, the Pontiff said “the most intimate human aspirations find their full response only in God. For this reason I encourage you, dear ones, to see to it that your formatives years be ceaselessly sustained by seeking God.”

John Paul II underscored that many of the students present in the basilica had taken part in the congress of recent days promoted by the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe and by the Rome diocesan office for campus ministry “which dedicated its attention to the process of European integration.”

“In this process you too, who are part of the university world, must offer your contribution. For European unity, great importance is given to social, political and economic structures but the humanistic and spiritual aspects must absolutely not be overlooked,” he added.

“It is indispensable for Europe today,” the Pope insisted, “to preserve its patrimony of values and to recognize that it was Christianity above all that was the force behind promoting them, reconciling them and consolidating them.”

Then, in a reference to Christmas, the Pope said, “This is a privileged occasion to underline the most heartfelt Christian values. With the birth of Jesus, in the simplicity and poverty of Bethlehem, God gave again dignity to the life of every human being; He offered everyone the possibility of participating in his own divine life. May this incomparable gift always find hearts ready to receive it!”

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Pope evaluates ending year: a moral sense in public life is needed

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2003 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II made a quick evaluation of the ending year in a speech delivered to four new ambassadors to the Holy See, including the first ambassador ever from Qatar.

Speaking in French, the Pope accepted the diplomatic credentials of Birger Dan Nielsen of Denmark, Walter Woon of Singapore, Mohamad Jaham Abdulaziz Al-Kawari of Qatar and Priit Kolbre of Estonia.

“The end of the civil year,” the Holy Father said, “is a propitious occasion to analyze the world situation and the events to which we are witnesses. As all diplomats, you attempt to create bonds among persons and among countries, thus favoring peace, friendship and solidarity among peoples.”

“You do so in the name of your governments, who have as their concerns a globalization of fraternity and solidarity, with the certitude that what brings men together is more important than what divides them,” he added.

The Pontiff went on to say that “for a lasting development as well as for international stability and the very credibility of government bodies, national or international, those involved in public life, especially in the political and economic domains, must have an ever more refined moral sense in conducting public affairs with, as their primordial goal, the public good, which is the sum of all individual goods.”

He then asked those in service to their country to “place your skills in the service of your fellow countrymen, and more broadly, of the international community.”

In conclusion, the Pope said that “in this season where men and women around the world exchange wishes for peace and happiness, these are what I wish for you, your governments, the people of your nations and, indeed, for all of mankind.”

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Pope encourages performers of fund-raising Christmas concert

Vatican City, Dec 12, 2003 (CNA) - The Pope John Paul II received on Friday a group of artists who will perform at the traditional Christmas concert in the Vatican, which will take place on Saturday evening in the Paul VI Hall.

Noting that “this is a show organized to gather funds to build new churches in Rome, especially on the periphery,” the Pontiff expressed his best wishes for Christmas to the promoters, organizers and performers.

“Christmas,” he said, “reminds us that the Son of God, taking on human nature, became the traveling companion of every person throughout time. May this feast, so deeply felt by families, be a propitious occasion to feel the closeness and love of God.”

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Two years after major stroke, Mother Angelica lives life of prayer

, Dec 12, 2003 (CNA) - An official press release from the Eternal World Television Network (EWTN) announced that almost two years after suffering a major stroke, Mother Angelica, foundress of EWTN, is still improving and leading a life of prayer at the Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville.

According to the press release, while her fellow Religious prepare to celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ, "they can't help but be reminded it was on Christmas Eve two years ago that Mother Angelica suffered her second major stroke, leaving her with partial paralysis and a speech impediment.”  As she nears the second anniversary of that incident, the Foundress of EWTN Global Catholic Network has improved greatly while quietly living a cloistered life, according to Sister Mary Catherine, Vicar of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery.

"She has shown tremendous improvement since her stroke, although her verbal communication is still difficult.  Mother is able to lead prayers and gently encourages her sisters in their daily lives," she said.

"While she is not as mobile as she once was, using a wheel chair and walker to get around, Mother Angelica herself decided several months ago to stop her rehabilitation and speech therapy sessions," Sister Mary Catherine continued. 

"Mother is content living her life in whatever physical condition Our Lord wills for her."

Sister Mary Catherine said that Mother still receives letters, cards and emails from her friends around the world who offer her prayers and good wishes.

"Many thousands of people have offered prayers for her in the past two years and she is so grateful for them all," she said.

 Sister Mary Catherine said Mother Angelica takes a very active part in her religious community.  "Mother is with us at daily Mass, prayers and devotions.  She is with us for meals and community time.  And, her sense of humor continues to show itself in unexpected ways," Sister Mary Catherine exclaimed.

"Recently, when Mother was leading a ceremony for one of the new brothers in the lay community that serves the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, who was eagerly waiting to hear his new religious name, Mother Angelica playfully withheld the information from him for a few minutes.  Then, with a gleam in her eye, she gave him his new name, much to his delight." 

According to Sister Mary Catherine, in addition to prayer time, Mother spends much of each day reading.  "She is currently reading a book about the life of St. Benedict," she said.

Mother Angelica celebrated her 80th birthday on April 20th and that evening made a surprise appearance on "EWTN Live."  Her classic programs are aired several times each week on the Network, so her EWTN family around the world continues to enjoy her timeless wisdom, wit, humor and prayers.

Michael Warsaw, EWTN's President said, "Even though Mother Angelica no longer is seen and heard 'live' on EWTN, she will always be part of the Network's programming."

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Bishops' official applauds Abortion Non-Discrimination Act

Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2003 (CNA) - A new act, which does not discriminate against health-care professionals who choose not to perform an abortion, received praise from an official of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

This legislation responds to the co-ordinated effort to force health-care providers – hospitals, insurance providers, and outpatient clinics – to provide, pay for, and make referrals for abortion.

"Forced abortion participation has no place in a country that respects the right of conscience for all," said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, Esq., the director of planning and Information for the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. "Congress has another opportunity to protect health-care providers who do not want to participate in abortions.”

On Dec. 8, Congressman Mike Bilirakis (R-FL) re-introduced the bipartisan Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA) in the House of Representatives, H.R. 3664. The bill had previously passed the House in 2002. Senate bill S. 1397, introduced by Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), also enjoys bipartisan sponsorship. This legislation would prohibit governmental discrimination against health-care providers, who decline to be involved in abortion.

Current federal law already protects "health-care entities" from having to perform or provide for abortions, but it has been interpreted to protect only individual physicians and training programs, leaving hospitals, health plans, nurses, and other health-care participants without protection.

"ANDA simply clarifies what should be obvious," Ruse stated. "Legal protection for 'health-care entities' includes the full range of participants who provide health care. No one who provides health care should be forced to participate in abortion.

"The irony here cannot be ignored: The same abortion advocates, who promote a 'right to choose', deny the right of health-care providers to choose not to perform abortion," Ruse noted. "They tell us: ‘If you don't like abortion, don't have one.' Pro-life health providers must be able to say: 'We don't like abortion, so don't force us to perform them.'

"We urge Congress to act swiftly in the New Year to pass this common-sense protection for the rights of conscience," she said.

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Native Americans venerate Our Lady of Guadalupe

Cowlic, Ariz., Dec 12, 2003 (CNA) - The feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is expected to gather hundreds of people today in Cowlic, a village on the Tohono O'odham Reservation, about 75 miles southwest of Tucson, reported the Arizona Daily Star.

El Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, which is Our Lady's feast day, is an important day not only for Latin Americans, who revere the Virgen, but for American Indians also.

The cross-cultural passion for the Dec. 12 annual feast day stems from the indigenous connection to the story of the Virgen, and in the case of the Tohono O'odham in Arizona, a devout Catholicism that has not faded since Spanish missionaries converted the tribe in the 1600s. About 85 per cent of the residents remain Catholic.

Since Dec. 3, the 200 residents of Cowlic have been making nightly novena observances, processing a wooden statue of La Virgen to different village families.

"I try to always get it in my house for one night, for my grandchildren," Caroline Valenzuela, 61, told the Daily Star. The tribal member and lifelong resident of Cowlic remembers feast days when she was a young girl attending the village parish, named after Our Lady of Guadalupe. The church was built in 1921.

The statue of the Virgen stayed Monday night in the home that Valenzuela shares with her two daughters and 11 grandchildren. Her devotion to Mary is evident by looking around her home. It is decorated with statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus, an embroidered depiction of La Virgen de Guadalupe that takes up an entire wall in the front room, and a framed picture of Our Lady on a bookshelf, draped in rosaries. A closer look at Our Lady's eyes, Valenzuela noted, reveals images of San Juan Diego.

Before 30 villagers came take the statue to begin the nightly novena on Tuesday, Valenzuela and some of her granddaughters said silent prayers. They placed their hands on the statue's head and made the sign of the cross.

Reciting the Rosary, villagers, followed by several dogs, walked the statue across the dusty dirt roads under an archway that the women made of paper flowers. The tribal members, ranging in age from 5 to more than 60, held candles and roses.

Many Cowlic residents, including 64-year-old Martin Pancho, took time off work this week to prepare for today’s feast day, which will begin with a 10 a.m. mass. It is expected to go into nighttime with music, dancing, fireworks and food, including homemade tamales, chili and menudo. Tribal members from across the 2.8 million-acre reservation often travel to Cowlic, which is known for its elaborate Dec. 12 festivities.

Carmella Pablo, an 18-year-old senior at Baboquivari High School, who participated in the novena, said she intends to maintain devotion to Our Lady when she's older. She may one day have children and walk in the Cowlic processions with them, she told the newspaper.

Pam Pancho, who is now in her 40s, remembers walking in the processions with her parents as a little girl. "I always wondered why my parents were so loyal to Our Lady," Pancho told the Daily Star. "Now I know. She's mother to us all."

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Filippino Catholics launch new Marian ‘army’ against abortion

Manila, Philippines, Dec 12, 2003 (CNA) - Hundreds of Filippino Catholics gathered at the cathedral in Manila today, on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to pray for the intercession of Mary in the creation of a law, considered to be anti-family and favorable to abortion, and to launch a new pro-life organization, reported AsiaNews. The law is currently being reviewed by Congress.

Archbishops Gaudencio Rosales of Manila, Paciano Aniceto of Pampanga, Francisco San Diego of Pasig  and Bishop Ramon Arguelles of the military ordinariate concelebrated the mass.

After the mass, the Catholic community launched ARMADA, an acronym for Mary’s Army Against Death and Abortion. ARMADA’s goal is to sesitize the world about the anti-life bills that have been proposed and are currently being reviewed in the Philippines. The group is supported by many pro-life families and movements in the Philippines.

The three anti-life laws that the government is currently revising address population-control for economic development, an anti-discrimination law for homosexuals and a law on reproductive rights.

According to ARMADA, the third law will damage women’s health because it will institutionalize the “sexual rights” of adolescent girls and give them access to abortions, without parental consent.

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Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue meets to finalize document on ‘The Church as way of Salvation’

Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2003 (CNA) - Representatives of the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue in the United States met Dec. 4-7 at St. Paul’s College to finalize a text on the long-awaited study of koinonia, or communion. The extensive study is expected to be made public in April.

The Lutheran-Catholic Dialogue was established in 1965. The 10th round of the Dialogue began in 1998 with the theme The Church as Koinonia of Salvation: its Structures and Ministries. Koinonia is the New Testament designation of the Church, its unity in faith, sacraments, and decision-making, which expresses union with God and with one another.

The 1999 signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation marked a new stage in the relationship between these two churches on the road toward full communion. It put to rest the division of the 16th century over the relationship between grace and good works in God's plan of salvation. It did not, of course, resolve all of the issues that keep these churches divided.

A team of 20 scholars has been working to provide a report on issues that still divide Lutheran and Catholic churches. In spite of agreements on grace and the Eucharist, there are still differences on ordained ministry, priesthood and bishops that need to be resolved. Also, Lutherans have traditionally emphasized the local parish and its minister as the focus of local church, while Catholics have emphasized the diocese with its bishop. This study has shown the similarities and complementarities of Lutheran and Catholic understanding of church life and ministry.

On the basis of this research, the dialogue will make 10 recommendations to the two churches, which are expected to improve the mutual agreement, understanding and practice of living together that can embody the real communion on the diocese/synod and parish/congregation levels. The agreement is also expected to explain the implications of the Joint Declaration and recommend ways of strengthening the bonds of communion between the churches.

"It has been a privilege to work with a group that shows how the Spirit calls us into community," said Bishop emeritus Charles Maahs, who co-chaired the Dialogue. "This dialogue has been an exercise in rigorous, critical thinking and has been blessed by the gift of koinonia. This has enabled the dialogue, with our agreement and with our differences, to reflect ‘a firm belief in the church as koinonia of salvation.'"

Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee, who also co-chaired the meeting, said: "Five years of intensive and meticulous research have produced a striking consensus within our dialogue group. It has become very clear to me that the differences between our respective Lutheran and Catholic notions and practices of ministry are not church dividing. We continue to pray for the gift of reconciliation for our churches."

During the meeting, participants worshipped with the Paulist community at St. Paul's College and at Reformation Lutheran Church on Capitol Hill.

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650,000 sign petition to include Christianity in EU Constitution

Rome, Italy, Dec 12, 2003 (CNA) - Members of the European Parliament presented to the Vice Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini a petition signed by more than 650,000 people calling for the inclusion of a reference to the “Christian heritage” in the future EU Constitution.

The petition, which received the support of 143 members of the EU Parliament and of various NGOs, was presented in Rome by a delegation headed up by Helene Monfort of France and Dana Scallon of Ireland.

 While Spain, Poland and Portugal support a reference to Christianity in the text’s preamble, the latest proposal by the EU Presidency, currently held by Italy, does not include any such reference.  However, the Italian representatives in the EU parliament have show favorable signs towards the proposal, but they prefer to leave the matter for member states to decide during final negotiations.   

The governments of Belgium, Finland, and especially France, which has frequently argued in favor of a secular definition of the EU, form the strongest opposition to the mention of Christianity in the document.     

“We are not motivated by religious or confessional reasons.  What concerns us is that the EU institutions be secular and democratic, something that only the Christian heritage of Europe guarantees, inasmuch as Christianity established from the beginning the separation of religion from temporal power,” explained Mario Mauro of the Italian delegation.

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Church working with Colombian government to re-launch efforts to free hostages

Bogotá, Colombia, Dec 12, 2003 (CNA) - The Catholic Church and the Columbian government have reached an agreement that will strengthen the negotiating committee, which is seeking to reach an agreement with the Revolutionary Forces of Columbia (FARC) for the release of the hostages being held by the guerrilla group.

President Álvaro Uribe Vélez met with the Archbishop of Bogotá, Cardinal Pedro Rubiano Sáenz, and with representatives of the families that had occupied the city’s Cathedral for more than 29 hours to draw attention to those being held by the FARC.

After the meeting the families agreed to leave the Church, expressing their optimism at the good will shown by the government in advancing towards a solution.

Although details of the agreement were not made known, local reports indicated the government will seek the release before Christmas of at least those hostages that are in poor health as well as ask for assurances of the well-being of the other hostages.

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