Archive of December 23, 2003

Migration is a human right, the Pope says

Vatican City, Dec 23, 2003 (CNA) - In a letter for the 90th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which will be celebrated in 2004, Pope John Paul says that immigrants and refugees have rights, including the basic right to migrate.

The Pope writes in the message that “unfortunately we are used to witnessing the hopeless journey of immigrants, the desperate escape of refugees, their arrival by any means in the richest countries, seeking to satisfy their personal and family needs.”  “Therefore,” he continues, “the question is: How can we talk about peace when situations of tension are reported in so many regions of the world?  And how can the phenomenon of migration contribute to building up peace among men?”

After emphasizing that peace “is not only the absence of conflicts,” the Holy Father encourages “gestures and concrete efforts of forgiveness and reconciliation, overcoming differences and division. There can be no peace without justice and respect for human rights.”

“Creating specific peaceful conditions for migrants and refugees means working seriously to safeguard above all the right not to emigrate, that is to live in peace and dignity in one's own country.”

John Paul II recalls that “the right to emigrate also exists.”  “It is up to governments to regulate the flow of migrants with full respect for the dignity of people and the needs of their families, keeping in mind the needs of the societies that accept these migrants.”

“May no one be insensitive to the conditions in which so many migrants live!” exclaims the Holy Father. 

After underscoring that we must “recognize the great effort made by so many public and private organizations to alleviate the troubling situations in many regions of the world,” he writes: “We must never cease to denounce the traffic of those who, without scruples, abandon people at sea, in precarious boats, people who are desperately seeking a more certain future.”

The Pope indicates that despite these problems, migrants can “offer a valid contribution in order to establish peace.  Migrations can facilitate exchange and understanding among cultures, as well as among people and communities.”

“If the gradual integration of all immigrants is promoted, there is less of a risk that immigrants form ghettos where they are isolated from the social context, which sometimes results in the desire to gradually take over the territory.”

John Paul II concludes the message by affirming that “if the 'dream' of a peaceful world is shared by many, if the contribution of migrants and refugees is valued, humanity will be able to become a family and our land will be truly a ‘common house’.”

The World Day of Migrants will be celebrated in each local church on a date to be established by the bishops’ conferences.  This year's theme is: “Migration in the perspective of peace.”

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Rome Clarifies: OK to kneel after communion

Washington D.C., Dec 23, 2003 (CNA) - The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement indicating that it is acceptable to kneel after receiving Communion. The news came after months of confusion in U.S. dioceses about the appropriateness of the longstanding tradition.

Based on the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), many U.S. bishops had directed the faithful that they should kneel only during the sacred silence, which follows after everyone in the church has received Holy Communion. Until then, the faithful should stand. In addition, the singing during communion should end once everyone has received the Eucharist.

However, because of the widespread and longstanding practice of individuals returning to their places to kneel or sit in private prayer after having individually received Holy Communion, this directive caused much controversy.

In an effort to clarify the situation, Cardinal Francis George, OMI, chairman of the Committee on the Liturgy, submitted a request to Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments May 26.

In his response June 5, Cardinal Arinze said the intention of the Church document was not to “regulate posture rigidly in such a way that those who wish to kneel or sit would no longer be free.” Instead, it was only intended to “ensure within broad limits a certain uniformity of posture within the congregation for the various parts of the celebration of Holy Mass.”

“In the implementation of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, therefore, posture should not be regulated so rigidly as to forbid individual communicants from kneeling or sitting when returning from having received Holy Communion,” said the U.S. bishops.

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Judge orders Palm Beach to decide on Nativity scene before noon on Christmas Eve

Tallahassee, Fla., Dec 23, 2003 (CNA) - A Federal Judge in Florida has ruled that the town of Palm Beach has until noon on Christmas Eve to decide whether it will allow Maureen Donnell and Fern deNarvaez to display Nativity scenes on public property alongside Jewish Menorahs.

For several months, Donnell and deNarvaez, residents of Palm Beach, requested that the city permit them to display a Christmas Nativity on public property alongside Jewish Menorahs that the city has allowed to be displayed during Hanukkah.

Judge Daniel Hurley concluded that the city of Palm Beach’s characterization of the Nativity dispute “is plainly erroneous” and that the city was in “error” by arguing that they need not respond to citizens’ requests to display a Christian Nativity.

In his order, Judge Hurley stated that it “is axiomatic that all persons, including municipal corporations like the Town of Palm Beach, are subject to the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

Hurley further noted that “a governmental decision-maker confronted with a citizen’s request for permission to express him or herself on public property is simply not at liberty to decline to consider (i.e. ignore) such requests by inaction.”

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center that filed the lawsuit, said that “the town has been lectured by the judge that they are not above the law. What happens in this case will have a far reaching effect on how Christmas is celebrated throughout Florida.”

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Canadian PM pledges to protect religious freedom

Ottawa, Canada, Dec 23, 2003 (CNA) - Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin pledged to protect the freedom of religious groups, and even use the notwithstanding clause if necessary, if a law on same-sex marriage in Canada would require religious groups to change their definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

In a recent CBC interview, only six days after he was sworn in as Canada’s new prime minister, Martin said that “if a decision [by the Supreme Court of Canada] came down to force churches mosques and synagogues to change their definition of marriage” he would use the notwithstanding clause.

The notwithstanding clause is a provision in Canada’s Charter of Rights, which allows government to invalidate a decision made in court. It allows Parliament to step around, or in a sense veto a law that it decides is not in conformity with the Charter. Implementation of the notwithstanding clause is controversial. Few prime ministers have ever threatened to use it. In fact, it has never been used since the Charter was created in 1982.

Martin clarified that he would not use the notwithstanding clause on a law that would allow same-sex marriage but only on a law that would impact religious freedoms.

“I would not use it [the notwithstanding clause] to take away a right. But I would use it to affirm a right,” he told the CBC Dec. 18.

Martin also confirmed that if same-sex marriage legislation were to be tabled in Parliament, it would be put to a free vote.

A draft bill on same-sex marriage was submitted to the Supreme Court of Canada for judicial review July 17. The court is to determine the constitutionality of the bill. A decision is not expected until late next year.

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Cuban Cardinal: imprisoned shall not be forgotten this Christmas

Havana, Cuba, Dec 23, 2003 (CNA) - In his Christmas message read in parishes yesterday, Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana, Cuba, exhorted Cuban families to cultivate joy and love despite economic hardships and the absence of love ones because of emigration, imprisonment or death.

“I am not talking about a worldly joy, a boisterous and exterior joy that can be offensive to someone who is feeling pain or sadness, but rather a profound joy of the heart that comes from the action of the Holy Spirit in us,” the Cardinal said.

He added that “there are families that have lost a loved one recently, and families with relatives in prison,” and therefore “we must extend the love of family to those we do not know and even those who are forgotten.”

“The Christian family, parents and children should resolve to strive firmly to capture joy.   In so doing we are not betraying our loved ones who are absent or missing, terminally or temporarily ill, or suffering from loneliness,” he added.

Cardinal Ortega announced the Cuban bishops have decided to make 2004 the year of the family, since the family is “the place where life, God’s most precious gift to man, springs forth and develops.”

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“Pops” celebrates 15 years of ministry to street kids

Montreal, Canada, Dec 23, 2003 (CNA) - On Dec. 8, 1988, Fr. Emmett Johns and a few volunteers parked a second-hand van in the middle of downtown Montreal and started serving hot dogs to street kids. This year, the ministry celebrates its 15th anniversary and, given the growth of his ministry, there’s a lot to celebrate.

Fr. Emmett Johns, known to Montreal’s street kids simply as “Pops”, founded Le Bon Dieu Dans La Rue (The Good Lord on the Street) after suffering a depression in his 36th year as a priest. Unable to return to parish ministry, he set out to discern where God was calling him. He heard about a project for street kids in Toronto and thought that it was something he could do in Montreal as well.

It wasn’t long before the priest had everything he needed to set up his ministry. “Everything just fell into place,” he said.

On the night of Dec. 8, 1988, Fr. Johns set out on Montreal’s streets with a used van, offering hot dogs, compassion and friendship.

It wasn’t just coincidence that Fr. Johns set out on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. “Mary and I are good friends,” he told the Catholic Times (Montreal). “I wanted to start on the good side,” he added with a laugh.

“I was scared at first,” admitted the 75-year-old priest. “I didn’t know what to expect. But the Lord has been good to me.”

The street ministry grew incredibly over the last 15 years. In addition to the van that offers food and friendship to countless youth, there is also a 20-bed emergency shelter; a day centre and a school, called Ecole du Bon Dieu, which currently offers the courses required for a high school diploma to 56 street kids. Some of the kids have even gone onto college, said Fr. Johns.

“We started without a nickel, and now we have an annual budget of $2.5 million and a healthy endowment fund. That didn’t happen because of my great management skills,” he told the Catholic Times (Montreal). “It happened because God stood by a deal that we made years ago.”

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New diocese may be created in Virginia

Richmond, Va., Dec 23, 2003 (CNA) - A proposal to create a new diocese in eastern Virginia has the support of Cardinal William H. Keeler, the Richmond diocese's interim bishop, reported the Associated Press.

"I'm certainly supportive of the idea that the strength of the Church, the vitality and growth that we see here, will be, in due time, recognized by the Holy See," Keeler reportedly said Sunday to a crowd of several hundred at local high school.

The archbishop of Baltimore was named apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Richmond after Bishop Walter F. Sullivan retired in September.

Last year, Bishop Sullivan proposed that the diocese be split and that a new diocese be established in eastern Virginia, around Hampton Roads, where about half of the diocese's 210,000 Catholics reside.

Keeler said the proposal was receiving very serious study, but he wasn’t sure how long the study would take.

The Diocese of Richmond was established in 1820. Its boundaries were redrawn in 1974, when the Diocese of Arlington was created in northern Virginia.

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Prayers get Santa back on track in Canada

Montreal, Canada, Dec 23, 2003 (CNA) - Thanks to their prayers, everything for Christmas is back on track, said Santa in a letter to millions of Canadian children.

Santa sent the children the personal message Dec. 9 after a parade accident landed him in a Montreal hospital Nov. 30.

The recuperating Claus sent his message from the North Pole, via Shawinigan, Que., after receiving get-well messages from children across the country. In the letter, which was published in Quebec’s daily newspapers, Santa thanked the children for their good wishes and assured them that he was doing better.

It all began when Grade 2 Vancouver student Siobhan Desormeaux learned on the evening news that Santa Claus (a.k.a. retiree Roger Caron from Shawinigan, Que.) fell three meters from his horse during a Santa Claus parade in Laval, north of Montreal. The fall resulted in 12 stitches to the head and a short hospital stay.

Concerned about his condition and feeling badly that children around the world might miss their Christmas this year, the seven-year-old prompted her class at St. Francis of Assisi Elementary School to send the ailing Claus get-well wishes. They were sent in early December, along with their usual letters to Santa Claus. They also offered heartfelt prayers for Santa’s recovery, said teacher Anne Hewitt.

The action of these Catholic school students prompted other young Canadians to do the same.

In his letter, Santa thanked Siobhan, her teacher and her school personally.

“I also send a big thank you to all who prayed for me, since there’s no doubt that’s the reason for my quick recovery,” wrote Santa, who was resting at home and being cared for by Mrs. Claus (a.k.a. Nicole Caron, a retired nurse).

“I feel good about things now that I know Santa is okay,” Siobhan told the B.C. Catholic after receiving the good news from Santa.

When asked about what she had included on this year’s Christmas list to Santa, Siobhan told the newspaper: “I asked for a new gym for my school because we don’t have our own and we have to use the gyms at other schools.

“Oh, and I asked for peace in the world, too.”

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Colombian guerrillas free 5 foreign tourists and 2 Columbians

Bogotá, Colombia, Dec 23, 2003 (CNA) - Five foreign tourists and two Colombians were released on Monday after being held since last September 12 by the National Liberation Army (ELN) in the northern mountains of Santa Marta, Colombia, according to sources with the negotiating commission under the direction of the Catholic Church.

Four Israelis and one British citizen who have also been held by the group are scheduled to be released today.   The tourists were visiting an ancient archeological site when they were kidnapped in September by the ELN. 

Bishop Héctor Fabio Henao and Fr. Dario Echeverry, who are at the place where the hostages are being released, issued a report last week on the humanitarian crisis facing the indigenous and rural populations, who have been victims of the decades-long armed uprisings in the country.

Two other tourists, one from Germany and one from Spain, who were also kidnapped last September 12, were released by the ELN on November 24, with the logistical help of the International Red Cross.

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Light increase in number of pilgrims to Bethlehem for Christmas

Rome, Italy, Dec 23, 2003 (CNA) - According to the Fides News Agency in Rome, the number of pilgrims in Bethlehem has increased slightly this Christmas, but the volume is still not sufficient to offset the overall drop in visitors.

Fr. Ibrahim Faltas, a Franciscan from the Basilica of the Nativity, told Fides that Christian families in Bethlehem and Jerusalem are preparing to celebrate Christmas in prayer and poverty.

“There is a small increase in the flow of pilgrims: we hope the situation improves and continues to get better.  The economic situation is very difficult, there is much bitterness.  Unemployment affects about 85% of the population.  It’s hard to find smiling faces,” said Fr. Faltas.

“Christmas of 2003 will nevertheless be better than last year,” he said, “but we want pilgrims from all over the world to ‘invade’ the Holy Land again.”

“I remember in the past how thousands of pilgrims would come at Christmas.  This year if there are a thousand we will be lucky.  We hope the international community will strive to implement the Road map and bring peace back to this land which has been martyred for so many years from the scourge of war.”

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