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Archive of December 18, 2003

Pope John Paul endorses “The Passion of Christ” with five simple words

Vatican City, Dec 18, 2003 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II saw Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of Christ” and endorsed the film saying: “It is as it was,” reported National Review columnist Peggy Noonan.

The Pope reportedly saw the film the weekend before last in his private rooms with his close friend, Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz. He shared his review with Msgr. Dziwisz, who in turn gave the film’s co-producer, Steve McEveety, the Pope’s five-word response the following Monday.

The Pope’s response was: "It is as it was." Essentially, the Pope felt that the film tells the story of Christ’s Passion the way that it actually happened.

The Vatican has avoided official comment on the film because the film has been accused of being anti-Semitic. But, according to Noonan and McEveety, John Paul II wanted to see the film despite the controversy.

McEveety had flown to Rome uninvited to try to show the film to as many Vatican officials as he could. He ended up giving the DVD to Msgr. Dziwisz on Dec. 5.

The Pope saw the film, found it very powerful and approved of it, reported McEveety.

A week later McEveety was still marveling at what he felt was the oracular quality of the Pope’s statement, comprised of five words and eleven letters.

"I was kind of relieved; it's a scary thing," said McEveety. "But Billy Graham saw it and was very supportive, and now JPII."

John Paul’s response to the film is significant, argues Noonan, “because of his history, the facts of his life. He is a scholar, a poet and former playwright who loves the drama and himself considered acting on and writing for the stage professionally.

And no pope has done more for Jewish-Christian relations than he has. He has had a profound engagement with Jews and Judaism both since his elevation and before it. He would know cheap when he sees it, and he would know anti-Semitic, too. His approbation would not be given lightly.” 

“I don't know if [the Pope’s words] will settle the matter. But for me they do, and for many they will,” said Noonan, who saw the film in a private screening in Washington last July.

“ I’m glad the Holy Father chose to see it; I’m glad he has spoken; I’m glad his judgment was ‘It is as it was’,” she wrote.  “If this ends the controversy, or quells it, and I believe it should, that would be a beautiful gift to everyone this holiday season.”

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New vocations must be attracted by “audacious witnesses,” Pope says

Vatican City, Dec 18, 2003 (CNA) - Addressing the issue of the dramatic fall of vocations among traditional religious communities in France, Pope John Paul told a group of French bishops that new vocations can be attracted only by “courageous witnesses.”

Speaking to bishops from the ecclesiastical province of Marseille, a region that has seen one of the most dramatics falls in Catholic devotion, the Pontiff underscored the need for a “renewal of the spiritual life of pastors, the faithful and entire communities.”

In this renewal, the Pope said, “persons committed to the consecrated life have a primordial role to play. Consecrated life in all of its forms, old and new, is a gift from God to the Church.”

John Paul II said he wanted “to repeat with conviction and strength the need for consecrated life in the Church and the world.  Indeed, a diocese without communities of consecrated life would be deprived of many spiritual gifts, of places reserved for seeking God, of apostolic activities and specific pastoral methods.”

The Pope then turned to the crisis of several French communities of consecrated life, citing the bishops’ five-year report on this subject.

He said this crisis “is marked in a notable way in the apostolic congregations, by the progressive and constant decrease in the number of members of the diverse institutes,” and “by the weak numbers of candidates for the novitiates.”

“Members are ageing, with the inevitable consequences on the life of the institutes, on their witness, on their government and even on the choices linked to their missions and to where their resources are destined,” he added.

The Holy Father lauded the work done by consecrated persons “in France and in the poorest of countries, especially in Africa” where they see to “excluded people, illiterate children, street youths, people in precarious situations or poverty, those sick with AIDS, migrants and other displaced peoples.”

Attracting the young

John Paul II underscored many times in his talk the need to devote attention to young people, especially in their early and formative years, and with particular regard for those who are considering a vocation to the religious life. Young people, he said “need audacious witnesses who call on them to live the Gospel and to place themselves generously at its service.”

 “In your dioceses,” the Pope continued, “consecrated life has many faces, with old and new communities existing side by side.”  “New communities are a fortune for the Church,” he added, and older congregations can learn much from the enthusiasm and the ardor of new communities. The latter, he remarked, “have a courage that sometimes is missing in older institutes.”

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Pope to preside at key celebrations during Holidays

Vatican City, Dec 18, 2003 (CNA) - The Vatican’s Office of Liturgical Celebration  revealed today Pope John Paul’s schedule of  celebrations for December and January.

The Pope’s schedule for the coming days is as follows:

- Wednesday, Dec. 24: Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord. The Pope will celebrate Midnight Mass at the Vatican Basilica.

- Thursday, Dec. 25: Solemnity of the Birth of the Lord. At noon from the central balcony of the Vatican Basilica, the Pope will deliver his Christmas message and will impart the “Urbi et Orbi” (“to the city and the world”) blessing.

- Wednesday, Dec. 31: At 6 p.m. in the Vatican Basilica, the Holy Father will preside at first vespers on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, during which the traditional “Te Deum” hymn of thanksgiving will be sung for the conclusion of the civil year.

- Thursday, Jan. 1:  Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. The Holy Father will preside at the celebration of the solemnity within the octave of Christmas in the Vatican Basilica at 10 a.m. on the occasion of the 37th World Day of Peace on the theme “An Ever Timely Commitment: Teaching Peace.” The Eucharist will be celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of State.

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FDA ruling on morning-after pill is ‘reckless experiment’ on women: bishops

Washington D.C., Dec 18, 2003 (CNA) - The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must reject a “reckless experiment” on women that will make the morning-after pill, otherwise known as Plan B or “emergency contraception” available without a prescription, say the U.S. bishops.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the statement Dec. 17, after the federal Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee and the Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs voted yesterday to approve a proposal to make the morning-after pill available without a prescription. The final decision is yet to be made by the FDA.

"A drug which destroys human embryos and puts women at greater risk of ectopic pregnancy does not belong on the shelves of a drug store," said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, director of Planning and Information for the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.

The petition to make the morning-after pill available without a prescription was filed by Women's Capital Corporation, a for-profit drug company, which has sold the Plan B distribution rights to Barr Laboratories.

"This is about a drug company that wants to sell more drugs to women," said Ruse. "It is being marketed and advertised as a contraceptive, but it works before and after conception. Women deserve to know what is being marketed to them." In other words, the morning-after pill functions as an abortifacient.

Making this drug available without a prescription also poses serious health risks to women, since the drug is associated with an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy, a potentially fatal complication.

Proponents of the proposal claim that the drug does not terminate a pregnancy because pregnancy begins when the embryo implants in the uterine wall. "This is an argument about rhetoric, not reality," said Ruse.

"There is a difference between preventing new human life and destroying life that has already begun," Ruse noted. "Women are being misled about this drug, and putting it on the shelves of a drugstore would only exacerbate the problem."

The proposal also allows minor girls free access to the morning-after pill without their parents' knowledge.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has submitted a motion this month to Health Canada, which is also planning to make the morning-after pill available without a prescription.

The bishops argued from a pro-life perspective but also from the secular perspective – women, who receive the morning-after pill, are not informed by medical professionals or Health Canada about the damaging effects it can have to a woman’s health.

A doctor’s prescription for the morning-after pill is already unnecessary in Canada. Currently, the law permits women to access the drug with the prescription of a pharmacist.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must reject a “reckless experiment” on women that will make the morning-after pill, otherwise known as Plan B or “emergency contraception” available without a prescription, say the U.S. bishops.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the statement Dec. 17, after the federal Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee and the Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs voted yesterday to approve a proposal to make the morning-after pill available without a prescription. The final decision is yet to be made by the FDA.

"A drug which destroys human embryos and puts women at greater risk of ectopic pregnancy does not belong on the shelves of a drug store," said Cathy Cleaver Ruse, director of Planning and Information for the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.

The petition to make the morning-after pill available without a prescription was filed by Women's Capital Corporation, a for-profit drug company, which has sold the Plan B distribution rights to Barr Laboratories.

"This is about a drug company that wants to sell more drugs to women," said Ruse. "It is being marketed and advertised as a contraceptive, but it works before and after conception. Women deserve to know what is being marketed to them." In other words, the morning-after pill functions as an abortifacient.

Making this drug available without a prescription also poses serious health risks to women, since the drug is associated with an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy, a potentially fatal complication.

Proponents of the proposal claim that the drug does not terminate a pregnancy because pregnancy begins when the embryo implants in the uterine wall. "This is an argument about rhetoric, not reality," said Ruse.

"There is a difference between preventing new human life and destroying life that has already begun," Ruse noted. "Women are being misled about this drug, and putting it on the shelves of a drugstore would only exacerbate the problem."

The proposal also allows minor girls free access to the morning-after pill without their parents' knowledge.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has submitted a motion this month to Health Canada, which is also planning to make the morning-after pill available without a prescription.

The bishops argued from a pro-life perspective but also from the secular perspective – women, who receive the morning-after pill, are not informed by medical professionals or Health Canada about the damaging effects it can have to a woman’s health.

A doctor’s prescription for the morning-after pill is already unnecessary in Canada. Currently, the law permits women to access the drug with the prescription of a pharmacist.

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Massachusetts marriage ruling opens door for lesbian wedding cruise in July

Boston, Mass., Dec 18, 2003 (CNA) - While family groups are trying to find ways to overturn the landmark Massachusetts high-court decision allowing same-sex marriage, a lesbian-themed travel company plans to take advantage of it by organizing a wedding cruise for as many as 1,200 lesbian women, reported WorldNetDaily.com yesterday.

The company, Olivia, said the ruling allows them to start the cruise with a legal wedding in Boston July 3. The cruise will sail from Boston to Provincetown to Montreal, Canada, and will include performances by openly homosexual singer k.d. lang. The cruise, which can cost between $1,100 and $5,600 per person, depending on accommodations, is already two-thirds booked.

The July 3 ceremony will take place three weeks before Boston hosts the Democratic National Convention, and 48 days after the court's decision is scheduled to take effect.

Opponents of same-sex marriage, however, call Olivia’s plans premature, especially since they are working on ways for legislators to detour the court’s decision.

Ronald A. Crews, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, along with other family-advocate groups, has been urging state legislators to figure out a way to detour the state Supreme Court ruling, reported WorldNetDaily.com.

Some lawmakers have proposed Vermont-style "civil unions," offering many of the rights and responsibilities of marriage without using the term, but the institute rejects that plan.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decided, Nov. 18, that homosexual couples are legally entitled to wed under the state constitution and should be allowed to apply for marriage licenses.

However, the 4-3 ruling stopped short of declaring homosexual couples should be granted the licenses, and does not call for them to be immediately issued to the plaintiffs in the case. Instead, the court ordered the state legislature to come up with a solution within 180 days.

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Archbishop of Miami apologizes for 'the sins of a few,' in a letter to parishioners

Miami, Fla., Dec 18, 2003 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Miami moved one step closer to reconciliation and came clean about alleged sexual abuse by clergy last weekend in a report, issued to its parishes through the Florida Catholic newspaper. The eight-page insert acknowledges that 38 diocesan priests have been accused of sexual misconduct involving minors since the archdiocese was founded 45 years ago, reported the Miami Herald.

According to the Associated Press, Miami reported that 4,302 of the diocesan priests since 1958 (99.1 percent) have never been accused of sexual misconduct involving minors. Most priests are law-abiding examples to the community, says Archbishop John C. Favalora in his letter. Still, he apologized for “the sins of a few.

''I, as the chief shepherd of the archdiocese, express my most sincere apologies,'' Favalora wrote. “I also apologize for any action or inaction on my part that has lessened your sense of trust in the Catholic Church and its ministers. I encourage those harmed in this way to seek the healing, reconciliation and renewal that come from counseling, prayer and Christian hope.”

The diocesan report also explains what steps are being taken in the diocese prevent further sexual misconduct by clergy, such as criminal background checks, installation of a code of conduct, psychological testing and training programs, reported the Miami Herald.

''This primary mission of the Church is to characterize all our actions, including our response to claims of sexual abuse, which is always a sin, an offense against the dignity of the human person, and a crime according to Church law and secular law,'' Favalora wrote.

The report comes on the heels of the suspension of two priests, following allegations of sexual misconduct in two separate lawsuits. Fr. Alvaro Guichard, pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Miami Beach, was reinstated in August after a 15-month suspension stemming from similar accusations. Guichard and Fr. Héctor González-Abreu, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, denied the allegations.

The Archdiocese of Miami is not the only one to release such information. Several others have already publicized these facts. All 195 U.S. dioceses must make these numbers known to the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, which will tally the number of abuse claims in the U.S. since the 1950s, as well as the costs for legal settlements with victims, attorneys' fees and therapy for victims and offenders. The report, commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, will be released before Lent, Feb. 24, reported the Miami Herald.

Miami is one of the nation’s largest dioceses, serving 1.2 million Catholics in 110 parishes with 430 priests.

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New Catholic TV network will broadcast to all of Italy from Padre Pio’s monastery

Rome, Italy, Dec 18, 2003 (CNA) - A new television station associated with the Church in Italy will begin broadcasting in January 2004, from San Giovanni Rotundo, the home of Padre Pio, and will be called “Padre Pio TV.”

The capuchin saint, who is very popular in Italy, was canonized in 2002 by John Paul II and lived in San Giovanni Rotondo for many years, where he founded a hospital.  The shrine dedicated to Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, which is located in southern Italy, is one of the visited shrines in the world.

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First statue in Brazil of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is blessed

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Dec 18, 2003 (CNA) - Cardinal Eusebio Sheid, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, blessed this Wednesday in the Church of the Resurrection in Copacabana the first statue of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, which was brought to the country from Italy.

During the ceremony, 250 food baskets, collected by parishioners, were also for distribution to the poor.  Later after the ceremony a group of actors from the parish of St. Benedict in Santa Cruz performed a dramatization of the birth of Jesus.

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Venezuelan parish attacked for second time

Caracas, Venezuela, Dec 18, 2003 (CNA) - According to law enforcement officials, the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Los Teques, Venezuela, was attacked again last week by arsonists, who managed to set fire to some interior and exterior parts of the church.  This is the second attack the parish has seen in seven days, as the first attack took place on December 9, when a gasoline bomb exploded at the church’s entrance.

Flames destroyed the church’s entrance and further damaged the roof and several statues.  Bishop Ovidio Pérez Morales of Los Teques confirmed that the attack did indeed take place but he refrained from comments about the identity or motives of those responsible.

According to the Efe news agency, Local reporters speculated after the first attack that religious fundamentalists were behind the acts, saying the perpetrators may be members of an Evangelical sect.

Bishop Pérez Morales deplored the attacks saying, “I have asked for permanent security guards to stand watch over the church at night and in the early morning hours.”  He did not speculate on the reasons for the attacks, but emphasized tolerance, understanding and reconciliation.  He said the country needs an atmosphere of tolerance and respect, and he invited Catholics to express their dismay at the attacks.  “This aggressiveness is very worrisome and it requires us to be renewed in our faith,” he said. 

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