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Archive of December 15, 2003

Pope asks Sudanese bishops to keep speaking on behalf of persecuted

Vatican City, Dec 15, 2003 (CNA) - During an audience on the occasion of their Ad Limina visit to Rome, Pope John Paul II encouraged Sudanese Catholic bishops to keep speaking on behalf of the persecuted Christian minority in the mostly Muslim African country.

Addressing the bishops in English, the Pontiff highlighted “the figures of two intrepid witnesses to the faith, two holy individuals whose lives are intimately connected with your land: St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Daniel Comboni.”

 “From her earliest years,” said the Pope, “St. Josephine Bakhita knew the cruelty and brutality with which man can treat his fellow man.” “Her life inspires the firm resolve to work effectively to free people from oppression and violence, ensuring that their human dignity is respected in the full exercise of their rights.”

The Holy Father said this is “the same resolve that must guide the Church in the Sudan today as the nation makes the transition from hostility and conflict to peace and concord.”

Later, highlighting “the hardships and pain that afflict those fleeing war and violence — especially women and children,” the Holy Father noted the efforts of Church agencies to help refugees and displaced persons in these situations. He also pointed to the Church’s many contributions to Sudan’s social and cultural life and lauded the “reactivation of the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue.”

“You should do all that you can to encourage this, even as you insist that religious pluralism, as guaranteed by the Sudanese Constitution, should be respected,” he added

 “As you know so well,” John Paul II told the Sudanese bishops, “it belongs to the Church to speak out unambiguously on behalf of those who have no voice and to be a leaven of peace and solidarity, particularly where these ideals are most fragile and threatened.”

He then noted that St. Daniel Comboni “was keenly concerned that Africans should have a key role in evangelizing the continent.” “… In the course of his missionary activity, he did not let the great suffering and many hardships that he endured — privation, exhaustion, illness, mistrust — divert him from the task of preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. Bishop Comboni was moreover a strong advocate of inculturating the faith.”

A new Catechism for the Sudanese

On the formation of the laity, especially catechists, the Pope suggested, “It would prove helpful if a simple catechism in the language of the people were prepared and made available. Similarly, suitable texts in local languages could be prepared and distributed as a means of presenting Jesus to those who are unfamiliar with the Christian message and as a tool for interreligious dialogue. This could be especially helpful in those areas exempt from Shari‘ah law, particularly in the Federal Capital of Khartoum.”

Urging the bishops “to cherish your priests with a special love and to regard them as precious co-workers and friends,” he stated that priests “are called to be detached from material things and to devote themselves to the service of others through the complete gift of self in celibacy. Scandalous behaviour must at all times be investigated, confronted and corrected.”

He also counseled the bishops to, as much as possible, have contact with the faithful and to be attentive to their human and spiritual needs. “Time and resources should never be spent on diocesan or parochial structures or on development projects at the expense of the people.” He said “equity and transparency must be the indispensable traits characterizing all financial matters, with every effort being made to see that contributions are truly used for the purposes intended.”

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Pope to Dominican Republic: keep spiritual and moral values alive

Vatican City, Dec 15, 2003 (CNA) - During the presentation of the diplomatic credentials of the new ambassador of the Dominican Republic, Carlos Rafael Conrado Marion Landais-Castillo, Pope John Paul II asked this Caribbean nation to keep the spiritual and moral values that helped build the nation.

“It is appropriate,” said the Pope, “to recognize the activity carried out in your country through the dioceses, parishes, religious communities and apostolic movements.” He mentioned specifically “ecclesial activity in favor of the disabled, AIDS patients, ethnic minorities, migrants and refugees,” as well as the “presence of the Church in the field of education.”

John Paul II recalled that although the Church does not propose “solutions in the public or technical sphere, it must however indicate the motivations and guidance offered in the Gospel in order to illuminate the search for responses and solutions.”  Therefore, he continued, its mission is “to recall, defend and consolidate the genuine ethical, spiritual and transcendental values, particularly at the present moment during which internal and external causes have produced grave deterioration in your country and a descent in the quality of life of Dominicans. “

“While solving these problems,” the Pontiff continued, “one must never forget that the common good is the objective to achieve for which the Church lends its collaboration to the government and society, without interfering in other realms beyond its mission.”

 “In today’s world,” he continued, “it is not enough to limit oneself to the law of the market and its globalization; we must foster solidarity, avoiding the evils that come from a Capitalism that puts profit before the person and makes man the victim of so many injustices.”

“A model of development that does not keep in mind these inequalities or confront them decisively would not prosper in any way,” the Pope finally said.

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Iraqi bishop on Saddam’s capture: “Head of the serpent has been crushed”

Rome, Italy, Dec 15, 2003 (CNA) - In an interview given to the Catholic missionary Agency “Asia News,” Iraqi Bishop Rabban al Qas expressed his hope for significant improvement in political and religious freedom after the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The 54 year-old bishop of Kurdish origin, who is at the hospital waiting to be operated, saw the news of Saddam’s capture while watching Arab and Italian TV news.

 “The serpent’s head has been finally crushed,” he told Asia News. “Now we can peacefully rebuild our country” with the help of a military presence he defines as “liberating” and not “occupational”. 

“I can say that his arrest is a moment of joy for all Iraqis. As well as for us bishops. Ours fears are finally over. All the weight we bore on our shoulders for all those who died and for (the fear of) murderers.”

“In the months following Iraq’s liberation, there was the suspicion that there were still spies around, that Saddam would reappear. Now there is no longer any fear. Now the serpent’s head has been finally crushed and his regime is finally over,” he said. 

According to the Catholic bishop, “Saddam has met his end, and for us in Iraq, (this means) the reconstruction period can now truly begin. If there is peace in Iraq’s future, freedom for all religions, then our country will be able to grow. She will be rich and her numerous cultures will live together in harmony. This explains why upon hearing the news of Saddam’s arrest, all of Baghdad and the entire country burst into joy and is now celebrating in the streets.”

Bishop Rabban also revealed to the Rome-based agency that he spoke with seminarians and bishops in Baghdad after Saddam’s capture. “Yesterday (Sunday,) they were all at the airport awaiting the new Patriarch’s arrival. And they were celebrating with other Iraqis. I would like to clarify one aspect of your question: Saddam’s capture and arrest does not mean one thing for the Church and another for Iraq citizens. Christians are not any different from the rest of the nation. Christ sent us to live within society. Under Saddam Hussein, the Church and Iraqi populace have suffered together.  Under his dictatorial regime, we have all been persecuted: Christians, Shiites, Arabs, Kurds, and Syrian-Chaldeans alike. We are the Iraqi nation and it we Iraqis who have been oppressed.”

Finally, speaking about the US military presence in Iraq, the bishop said: “For us (their military presence) is liberating, not occupational. If they weren’t here, Iraqis would still be under (Saddam’s) yoke. But now thank God the nightmare is over.”

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Country music world impressed by "The Passion of the Christ"

Nashville, Tenn., Dec 15, 2003 (CNA) - According to Chonda Pierce, a best-selling Southern comedienne with an audience of 1.5 million nationwide, a private screening of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" in Nashville, Tenn., shocked the country music world.

“I don't think I have words to convey to you the overwhelming observations last night at the movie,” she wrote in a personal testimony on her Web site.

The private screening was attended by about 200 of the biggest names in Nashville’s country and Christian music world, including producers, songwriters and artists.

The movie began after an opening prayer. “As the story unfolded and the brutality of what we were watching set in people were moaning. I will never forget it,” she wrote.

Pierce said she had invited her pastor and her brother to the screening, both of whom have dedicated their lives to evangelization. “Several times I saw them wipe tears away, stir in their chairs…. It was incredible,” she said. Pierce admitted that she too was moved to tears.

When the movie was over, no one moved, she said. “It was as if the room could not take a breath. There were no words – silence,” she wrote. “A few minutes later, a man stepped up to the microphone as they slowly turned the lights on and quietly asked: ‘Do you have any questions?’ Still silence. He broke the ice by saying: ‘Well, maybe Mel could answer your questions.’ And in walked Mel Gibson, less than 10 feet away. He was incredibly humble yet excited as he took the microphone and sat on the edge of the stage.”

As Gibson walked in, the room erupted with applause and shouts of gratitude, reported Pierce.

“It's a brutal movie. It will be rated R and half the Christian community will stew over that!” she said. But Pierce said Gibson's comment about the brutality and the rating was: “If you read the Bible, the whole thing is pretty much rated R!” 

When Gibson was asked what his goal is for the movie, Pierce reported him saying: "I hope they watch the movie and want to read the book! I hope they are changed."

When asked why he spent $30 million of his own money to make this movie despite his opposition, he said: "It was time. I just had to do it. It was just time for it come out."

“I, for one, will love stronger. Work harder. Live bolder, embracing the sacrifice made for my sins. I am changed forever. Don't miss this movie,” Pierce wrote.

The comedienne plans to promote the film on her Web site and in newsletters to the people on her database. “The Passion of Christ” will be released Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25.

For more on the film, go to: www.ThePassionoftheChrist.com . For more of Pierce’s testimony, go to: www.chonda.org

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Canadian bishops request to intervene in Supreme Court on same-sex marriage law

Ottawa, Canada, Dec 15, 2003 (CNA) - Canada’s Catholic bishops have asked the Supreme Court for permission to intervene in the case that could legalize same-sex marriage, reported Canadian Catholic News.

Last July, the Canadian government drafted legislation to legalize same-sex marriage across Canada and submitted it to the Supreme Court for judicial review. The court’s decision on the constitutionality of the draft legislation is not expected until late next year.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) says the government’s bill “breeches freedom of conscience and religion” and that the proposed definition of marriage is not constitutional.

The proposed bill, introduced by Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, is not intended to affect the “freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs,” he said.

However, “the CCCB argued in its motion Nov. 26 that the proposed legislation would establish a social and moral order that would threaten freedom of conscience and religion,” said Canadian Catholic News.

“If Canadian law would compel that intimate sexual relations at the core of same-sex unions be shown the same public respect and approval as sexual relations at the core of heterosexual marriages, a risk is created that those who believe and publicly support the premise that homosexual conduct is immoral, could be considered anti-gay, homophobic, intolerant and no better than racists,” the bishops said in their motion. “It adds legitimacy to the charge – which is also being made – that those who teach or espouse these views are hate-mongers,” they added.

The CCCB application argued that the current definition of marriage as being between one many and one woman is constitutional and that there is “an obvious and compelling state interest in the institution of marriage, which is the creation and nurturing of the next generation of citizens.”

“There is no compelling state interest to protect and promote sexual relationships based on the sexual orientation, sexual preferences, personal preferences, individual tastes, cultural practices or religious beliefs of the individuals involved,” said the bishops. “There may be a state interest in recognizing these relationships for the purpose of regulating them but there is no state interest in institutionalizing them.”

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Spanish Bishops ask families to care for their roots and to defend life

Madrid, Spain, Dec 15, 2003 (CNA) - In preparation for the coming celebration of the feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28, the bishops of Spain have issued a statement fervently calling on families to protect their roots and to defend life.

“Care for your roots and defend life,” the title of document which was prepared by the bishops’ Subcommittee for the Family and Defense of Life, repeats the words of John Paul II in his last trip to Spain during which he told families, “Do not lose your Christian roots.”

The bishops state that “the family has in itself much potential as it is an institution solidly rooted in the very nature of man.

The Christian family has the grace of the Holy Spirit received in the sacrament of marriage, who will never abandon it in its vocation and mission.  The deepest roots of marriage and the family are in God.”

The document also points out that “marriage, the family and life are of special concern to the Church of our time, because the dangers are very grave in the areas of philosophy, morality and some civil legislation that threatens them.”

After explaining that “some are attempting to impose false concepts of marriage and the family based on a concept of freedom that ignores the truth about the nature and dignity of the human person,” the bishops warn that today “the very identity of the family is questioned.”

The document goes on to state that “the genealogical tree of each one of us has a trunk, our parents; the roots, our grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.  The branches need a strong trunk—a marriage based on love that is totally human, faithful and fruitful—and deep roots that provide the necessary sap of values and the meaning of life, inherited from the best traditions and experience of one’s ancestors.  These roots are given life by the love of God ‘from whom all fatherhood is derived’.”

After recalling that “children are the fruit of spousal love” and that “human life is a gift received to be given in return,” the bishops make mention of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, “defender of the life of the unborn,” who one time said, “All life belongs to God.  Abortion destroys peace in the world.”

In conclusion, the bishops recall that Mother Teresa called on young people to live chastely and purely saying, “If you make a mistake, I ask you to not destroy the child.  Help each other to love and welcome this unborn child.  Don’t kill him, because you cannot erase a mistake with a crime.” “If you do not want the children, give them to me,” she said.

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Research finds spiritual meaning of Christmas brings more happiness

London, England, Dec 15, 2003 (CNA) - A new study, designed to see if there is a link between Christianity and happiness, suggests that keeping Christ in Christmas makes the holiday season better and provides people with a sense of purpose, reported Family News. The University of Warwick in the UK conducted the study.

Dr. Robert Rogan, a Christian psychiatrist in North Carolina, isn't surprised the link was found — but disagrees that the proper term is "happiness."

"Actually, I think as Christians we use the term 'joy' a lot more, which kind of implies a deep sense of well-being, independent of circumstances," he told the Evangelical news organization.

"If you get the true meaning of Christmas, and you realize that basically we're in a relationship with an infinite being [who] has designed us to have a life of purpose and meaning, I think that kind of ties everything together," he said.

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Cardinal Rivera blesses first stone for new shrine dedicated to St. Juan Diego

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 15, 2003 (CNA) - In a Mass celebrating the feast of St. Juan Diego, the Archbishop of Mexico, Cardinal Norberto Rivera, blessed the first stone that will be used to build a new shrine dedicated to the Indian saint who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

During his homily Cardinal Rivera recalled some of the more important aspects of the process of canonization of St. Juan Diego which can be found in historical documents dating back to1666.  The Cardinal said they prove the existence of Juan Diego and show that his holiness was acknowledged by many Indians.

Several local and federal government officials attended the celebration, as well as many representatives of the indigenous communities of the country, who offered prayers for all the indigenous peoples of America.

According to the rector, Fr. José Antonio Vallejo, the new shrine for Juan Diego will be especially dedicated to the indigenous peoples, making all of the sacraments and religious ceremonies (baptisms, quinceañeras, etc.) freely available to them.

Referring to Juan Diego, Fr. Vallejo said the presence of Catholics of indigenous descent “helps us see that the divine grace which Juan Diego received in baptism and developed in his life, rather than canceling them out, made the seeds God had planted in his heart and in the hearts of his people since before the arrival of the Gospel become fruitful and blossom.”

“His Christian holiness was deeply rooted in his Mexican Indian identity, which was demonstrated by the fact that many virtues which he exercised during his encounter with our Blessed Mother, such as love, gentleness, obedience, promptness and discretion, were a direct result of his Indian upbringing,” he concluded.

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