Vatican City, Dec 17, 2003 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II skipped his regular comments on the psalms and canticles of Vespers to focus the last general audience of the year on an encouraging message of Christian hope for Advent and Christmas.
Since the last two Wednesdays of the year will coincide with Christmas eve and New Year’s day, the next regular general audience will take place on January 7, 2004.
Speaking about “An Advent of Hope,” before some 10,000 pilgrims, the Pontiff said, “Advent keeps alive the wait for Christ who will come to visit us with His salvation, fully realizing His kingdom of justice and peace.”
“The annual commemoration of the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem,” he continued, “renews in the hearts of believers the certainty that God keeps faithful to His promises. Therefore, Advent is a powerful proclamation of hope that touches our personal and common experience deeply.”
After emphasizing that all human beings “dream of a more just and unified world where dignified conditions of life and peaceful coexistence make relations among individuals and peoples harmonious,” he said: “Often it is not this way. The mystery of Christmas, which we will relive in a few days, assures us that God is Emmanuel – God with us.” “Therefore,” the Pope said, “we must never feel alone. He is close to us, He became one of us in the virginal womb of Mary. He shared in our earthly pilgrimage, guaranteeing us the joy and peace which we aspire to from the depths of our being.”
The Holy Father said later that Advent highlights “a second element of hope which regards more generally the meaning and value of life.
John Paul then asked: “What meaning do our accomplishments on earth have, what awaits us after death? Are the search for greater material well-being, the pursuit of ever-more advanced social, scientific and economic goals enough to satisfy the most intimate aspirations of our soul?”
“Today’s liturgy invites us to amplify our vision and to contemplate the wisdom of God who comes to us from on high,” he responded.
A third element of Christian hope is that “God has taken the initiative to come in contact with man. Becoming a child, Jesus assumed our nature and established His alliance with all of humanity forever.”
“The meaning of Christian hope which Advents proposes,” he concluded, “is that of confident hope, of docility and joyful openness in encountering the Lord. He came to Bethlehem to be with us forever.”
Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2003 (CNA) - (By Deal Hudson) .- Deal Hudson, Catholic apologist and editor of Crisis Magazine issued today an electronic newsletter criticizing Cardinal Renato Martino’s statements on Saddam Hussein.
During the press conference held on Tuesday to present Pope John Paul’s letter for World Day of Peace, Cardinal Martino, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said “I felt pity to see this man destroyed, [the military] looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures.”
According to Hudson, the release of the images “served a concrete purpose:” For one, “It was important that Iraqis could see with their own eyes that the Americans had captured who they said they'd captured.”
“In addition, the footage showed clearly that Saddam was receiving humane treatment: Doctors were caring for his health, confirming that he had not been injured or abused,” he added.
“And yet Martino not only empathizes with Saddam but criticizes the government's decision to release these images.” “But can anyone really say that showing a picture of his dental exam is somehow demeaning his humanity?,” Hudson asks.
“And why pick this moment, when the entire world is celebrating his capture, to criticize those who caught him? Martino's comments suggest more than just an opposition to the war but a reflexive bias against America's actions... even her intentions,” the editor of Crisis Magazine claims.
Hudson acknowledges that Cardinal Martino’s tenure at the U.N. mission “was very successful -- especially in the defense of life in developing countries -- and made him worthy of his present position.”
Nevertheless, “it's important to remember that Cardinal Martino doesn't represent the official opinion of the Vatican. He is NOT the mouthpiece of the pope.”
“So why is he so often quoted in the news? During the run-up to the war with Iraq, even the Vatican -- who loudly denounced the war -- felt the need to quiet him. It was no longer simply his anti-war comments that were becoming problematic, but his anti-American stance as well,” Hudson explains.
“To protest that this despot had to endure a tongue depressor is, frankly, just silly,” Hudson adds in his message. “The entire civilized world is rejoicing that this genocidal murderer was peaceably captured -- the Iraqi Interim Governing Council (IGC) praised the capture and called it a ‘huge victory’ for the entire human race. Why would Martino do any less?”
“It looks like Martino is pushing his own agenda instead of stepping aside and letting the appropriate officials in the Vatican speak for themselves.”
The electronic mail of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace is [email protected]
Palm Beach, Fla., Dec 17, 2003 (CNA) - A lawsuit was filed against the Town of Palm Beach Dec. 15, after town officials refused to display the Christian Nativity scene on public property, even though they allow the Jewish menorah to be displayed there.
The Thomas More Law Center, based in Ann Arbor, MI, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Maureen Donnell and Fern deNarvaez, two Palm Beach residents, and has described the situation as “another example of the national movement to remove Christ from Christmas.”
The plaintiffs have sought an immediate temporary restraining order that would allow a Nativity scene to be erected on town property in the same manner as the two menorah displays.
The lawsuit alleges that for the past two years the town has permitted the public display of Jewish menorahs at various prominent public locations, and that town officials have repeatedly refused to review requests to have Christian Nativity scenes displayed alongside them.
“It is not our intention to remove the menorahs, but to have a Christmas Nativity scene equally displayed alongside the menorahs to acknowledge the celebration of Christmas,” said Donnell. “The refusal to review my repeated requests is discriminatory and an insult to every Christian in this town.”
“This policy and practice, the suit alleges, demonstrates hostility toward Christians, and impermissibly conveys the message of disapproval of the Christian faith,” said the Thomas More Law Center in a statement. “The suit also alleges that the town has unconstitutionally deprived the plaintiffs of their right to freedom of speech and equal protection of the law guaranteed by the Constitution.”
In September, deNarvaez requested that the town permit a privately financed display of a Christian Nativity scene alongside the menorahs. Donnell had also made four requests in October and November, requesting that town officials respond by Dec. 1, but they did not.
“The Nativity scene represents the birth of Jesus Christ, celebrated by Christians around the world. I simply cannot accept this double standard being applied to the Christmas holiday,” said deNarvaez.
The center filed a similar suit last year against the New York City public school system, whose written policy permits students to display the Jewish menorah and the Islamic star and crescent, but prohibits students from displaying Christmas Nativity scenes. A ruling on that case is expected soon.
Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2003 (CNA) - A new resource, compiled by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Prolife Committee, shows that international scientific experts agree that embryonic stem-cell research is unnecessary for medical progress.
It cites more that 25 research studies reported in the press and medical journals, which indicate that adult stem-cell research is a more favorable alternative to embryonic stem cells.
The use of adult stem cells is just as effective in getting the desired results and is more favorable because it avoids the ethical dilemma involved in embryonic stem-cell research, say the experts.
The use of an embryo for research necessitates the killing of the embryo, that is, the killing of a baby, and is against the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Scientists have found that adult stem cells are more readily available than embryonic stem cells and as just as flexible, if not more so. Experts say adult stem cells may be easier to manage, arguing as well that they may require less work to be transformed into specialized cells for transplantation. Adult stem cells, derived directly from the patient, would reduce the likelihood that transplanted cells would be rejected. The findings also contradict the theory that adult stem cells are developmentally restricted.
The advantages of adult stem cells were only discovered due to continuous research in the field for alternatives to embryonic research.
“Until just a few years ago, conventional wisdom held that only embryonic stem cells could turn into any cell in the body. But that thinking began to change as studies showed that stem cells from bone marrow could become heart, muscle, nerve, or liver cells. Now, the results of clinical trials conducted in Britain, Germany and Brazil show that heart patients injected with their own bone marrow cells benefit from the treatment,” read a report from the Genome News Network, May 2, 2003.
“This new technology offers a viable option … The procedure raises no ethical concerns and removes the need to resort to embryos or aborted fetuses,” said a report in the July 2003 issue of Current Medical Research and Opinion. “The technology is also cost-effective, donor-friendly producing relatively large quantities of stem cells within a short time, which could eventually save patient lives and shorten patient waiting lists.”
Vatican City, Dec 17, 2003 (CNA) - The Apostolic Prefecture of the Vatican announced Pope John Paul II has broken the record for the number of people that he has received in his general audiences.
According to statistics, more than 17 million people during 1,112 general audiences have been received by the Pope in the 25 years of his pontificate.
2003 was a record year itself, with more than 48 audiences attended by 500,000 people, surpassed only by 1983, during which the Pope held 49 audiences. 1979 and 2000 saw the greatest number of visitors to the Vatican, topping 500,000 each year.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 17, 2003 (CNA) - Auxiliary Bishop José Antonio Gentico of Buenos Aires says “it is absurd that in a country like Argentina where bread abounds, children are dying of hunger. This cannot be!” he said in a magazine interview published by the Archdiocese’s Committee on Childhood and Adolescence.
The Church “cannot ignore” such situations and must “denounce those in public power and make them see reality. There needs to be a social consciousness that this is a problem for the State, a problem for the country. We encourage the laity to be more politically and socially committed.” The root of this problem is selfishness. “This means,” he continued, “that there is a group of nations, of peoples that accumulate [wealth] while others die of hunger. If people do not change, the structures will not either.”
For Bishop Gentico the anxieties which children suffer are “terrible” and “cry out to heaven,” and therefore “as the Church we should denounce this with a prophetic voice.” He reiterated the need for a greater commitment on the part of “all Christians in the social and political spheres as well. Because if we give away a piece of bread but the policies don’t change, it’s useless.”
Referring to the question of jobs, the bishop said that “without a decent job to provide for the family’s well-being, we’re just putting band-aids on the problem. The culture of work needs to be renewed. The culture of work upon which our parents and grandparents build their families has been broken. And therefore, today we have young people who don’t know what to do, who have no vision, who can neither study nor work.”
Rome, Italy, Dec 17, 2003 (CNA) - Speaking with the Catholic news agency Fides, Fr. Nizar Semaan, a renowned priest of the diocese of Nineveh (Iraq), said the capture of Saddam Hussein is an opportunity for Iraqis to begin building a new future.
“The news that Saddam Hussein had been captured was welcomed with great joy by the people of Iraq despite uncertainty about the future because we know that behind the repeated acts of terrorism in Iraq there are other groups not connected with the former dictator,” said Fr. Nizar.
“The arrest of Saddam Hussein” Father Nizar said “is the end of a chapter in the history of Iraq a chapter of crimes against humanity, injustice, poverty, sanctions, emigration of youth in desperate search of a better future”.
“Now we can turn the page. With the help of the international community we must now build a new Iraq of peace, justice and harmony,” he added.
According to Fr. Nizar, Hussein should not be tried only by Iraqis, because “most of us were victims of his dictatorship, we all applauded him when he was in power. We are too involved to be able to pass objective judgment. It would be better to have an international Court which includes Iraqis among the judges”.
Vatican City, Dec 17, 2003 (CNA) - At the end of today’s weekly general audience, during his multi-language greetings to the faithful, Pope John Paul expressed special thanks to the people of the northern Italian region of Valle D’Aosta, accompanied by their bishop and civil authorities, for the Christmas trees that they provided for the Vatican.
A choir and musicians from the region entertained the Pope and the pilgrims present at the audience.
“You came to present me,” said the Pope, “with the immense tree that has been placed in St. Peter’s Square and the trees set up in this audience hall and in other areas of the apostolic palaces and the Vatican. These are a gift from your autonomous region of Valle D’Aosta. Thank you very much!”
“I am especially grateful to all those who made possible this very welcome Christmas gift which will remind visitors and pilgrims of the birth of Jesus, light of the world,” he concluded.