Vatican City, Jan 5, 2004 (CNA) - Before praying the Angelus Sunday morning before thousands of pilgrims gathered at St. Peter's Square, John Paul II recalled that on the first Sunday of the New Year “the liturgy proposes once again to our meditation the wonderful page of the Prologue of the Gospel of John.”
While the feast of the Epiphany was celebrated on Sunday in most of the Catholic Church around the world, the Pope recalled the Gospel of the Second Sunday of the Christmas season, which is taken from the famous prologue of St. John.
The Vatican, Italy, Spain and Mexico are some of the countries in which the Epiphany was not celebrated on Sunday and will celebrate it on its original date, tomorrow, January 6.
The Holy Father said that upon affirming that the “Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” St. John “emphatically confirms the reality of the Incarnation.”
“He uses,” the Pontiff continued, “two seemingly incompatible words: ‘word’ and ‘flesh’.”
“Yes! Jesus is true God and true man. He is the only Son of God that John and the other apostles have ‘seen, heard, and touched.’ In His humanity, He lives the fullness of divinity,” he added.
“Guided by the evangelist John,” the Pope concluded, “let us get closer to the mystery of the Child of Bethlehem in whom God fully revealed His face. Let us be silent with Our Lady before the eternal Word that for us is a little baby. He gives the ‘ability to become children of God’ to all those who believe in His name. And this is the mystery and gift of Christmas!”.
Washington D.C., Jan 5, 2004 (CNA) - The first of two reports on the state of sexual abuse in the U.S. Church will be released in Washington Tuesday. The second will be released Feb. 27.
The focus of the first report will be on how well the 195 U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses have implemented the mandatory discipline plan for sexually abusive priests, which was adopted in June 2002.
The second, more detailed report will reveal how many abuse cases the Church has faced since 1950 and how it has dealt with them, including the amount of money spent on settlements and treatment. It will also offer a preliminary analysis of the "causes and contexts" of the scandals, reported the Associated Press.
The bishops commissioned the Gavin Group, a Boston consulting firm led by former FBI official Bill Gavin, to conduct the national review as part of the new sexual-abuse policy they adopted at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas in June 2002.
In speaking with a group of religion writers last September, the USCCB president Bishop Wilton Gregory underlined that such a review was the first of its kind in any profession and urged the press to view and place the findings in perspective and avoid sensationalist coverage.
"I can find only minimal attempts on the part of the media to discover the extent of the problem outside the Catholic priesthood,” he said. "If society has any hope of eliminating this terrible exploitation of our youth," he also said, "then we also have to face up to this scourge as it exists in the family, in school systems, and in all forms of professional and volunteer work with young people."
Auditors for the Gavin Group visited dioceses in small teams, interviewing bishops, diocesan personnel, victims, abusive priests, prosecutors and lay people. They also required dioceses to fix problems and to act on certain recommendations by a given date.
Kathleen McChesney, a former top FBI agent and head of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, said Jan. 2 that auditors did find "a few" abusive priests still in ministry, but they were removed as soon as the breach was discovered.
She also said the first report shows that most dioceses are complying with the new plan, but "there is still a lot that needs to be done," reported the AP.
Vatican City, Jan 5, 2004 (CNA) - On January 8 at 5 p.m. –Rome time- at the altar of the Cathedra in the Vatican Basilica, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State, will celebrate a Mass for the repose of the soul of Archbishop Michael Courtney, Apostolic Nuncio in Burundi, slain on December 29, 2003.
Meanwhile, Vatican Radio aired an interview this Monday with Bishop Bernard Bududira of Bururi, in Burundi, who openly blamed a group of rebels from the Hutu ethnic group for the murder of Archbishop Courtney.
“There are no doubts that the (Hutu-controlled) National Liberation Front was behind the murder,” because “neither the police nor the army had any information about the movements of the Archbishop,” Bududira told the Vatican Radio.
Vatican City, Jan 5, 2004 (CNA) - Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Secretary of State, sent a telegram in the Holy Father's name to Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli, Apostolic Nuncio in France, upon news of the Egyptian plane that crashed into the Red Sea shortly after taking off from Sharm el-Sheik Airport.
All passengers aboard, the majority of whom were French, died.
“The Holy Father expresses his heartfelt condolences to the families affected and assures all those hit by this catastrophe of his solidarity and spiritual closeness. He entrusts those who died to the mercy of God and asks God Almighty to embrace them in His peace and light. He asks God to sustain and console all the persons who are so harshly tried by this drama, with the hope that they may be able to find the help that they need in these sorrowful hours,” reads the telegram.
Early on Monday, an unknown Islamic group “Ansar al Haq” claimed responsibility for the crash, and threatened with further attempts against French airplanes.
A man speaking in Arabic with Egyptian accent called some international agencies in El Cairo, claiming that the so-called Ansar al Haq is based in Yemen.
Mexico City, Mexico, Jan 5, 2004 (CNA) - During a Mass celebrated in the Archdiocesan Cathedral, Cardinal Norberto Rivera, Archbishop of Mexico City, said social change in the country will come when people make an effort to be renewed in hope and bring about concrete changes in their personal and community lives.
In his homily the Cardinal said Mexicans are under a cloud of pessimism because of the culture of violence, economic troubles, and frustrated attempts at reform. Nevertheless, he recalled that beginning a new year ought to bring back hope in the love of God.
The Archbishop asked Mexicans to fulfill their commitment to history and to confront today’s problems with the assurance that “God is with us.” With the love of God, he explained, it will be possible to eradicate the culture of death and corruption, and to find a path towards authentic development, social justice, and respect for life.
Cardinal Rivera said that to live in hope implies seeking changes at the personal and community levels. He asked Mexicans not to begin the New Year without the intention of repenting for mistakes, infidelities and incoherencies.
In this sense, he considered it necessary to recognize the errors of the past in order to build up hope and to be capable of facing the temptations of today.
Finally, the Cardinal expressed his hopes that in 2004 “we might be capable of imagining and building the future according to God’s will, of overcoming the tendency to passively await the future, and instead having the courage to face it, with concrete steps of commitment in order to assure a better future and free ourselves of the evils and faults that burden us.”
Bogotá, Colombia, Jan 5, 2004 (CNA) - Two delegations of the Catholic Church met with a representative of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) to negotiate a humanitarian agreement that would allow for the release of various individuals kidnapped by the guerrilla movement.
According to local press reports, the meeting took place in an undisclosed location and included the Vice-President of the Colombia’s Bishops Conference, Bishop Luis Augusto Castro, Fr. Darío Echeverri, and Raúl Reyes, spokesman for the FARC.
The government of President Alvaro Uribe and the FARC have been locked in disagreement over the conditions of an agreement. The FARC has only accepted negotiations through Church mediators.
The guerrilla movement proposes the release of 60 kidnapped politicians and military personnel in exchange for the release from prison of hundreds of rebels and the demilitarization of a southern area of the country.
President Uribe wants the guerrillas to release all the hostages—including those kidnapped for economic reasons, and that those rebels freed by the government to agree not to break the law again, and he rejects any demilitarization of south.
Madrid, Spain, Jan 5, 2004 (CNA) - Church bells throughout Galicia in northwestern Spain rang out in honor of opening of the Jubilee Year in honor St. James the Apostle, which this year will bring an expected 7 million pilgrims to the saint’s shrine in Compostela.
Some one thousand bells in the archdiocese, where the famous shrine to St. James is located, rang out in unison to celebrate the opening of the Holy Door, an act presided over by Archbishop Julián Barro, the governor of Galicia, Manuel Fraga, who represented the King of Spain, seven bishops and the secretary of the Bishops Conference of Spain, Bishop Juan Antonio Martínez Camino.
The Holy Year of St. James, which is celebrated each time the feast of the Apostle (July 25) falls on a Sunday, brings millions of pilgrims to the shrine from all over Europe.
Havana, Cuba, Jan 5, 2004 (CNA) - Christian dissidents in Cuba are hoping the New Year will bring peaceful change and that urgent reforms the country needs will be implemented. Oswaldo Payá, leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) and recipient of the Sajarov Prize of the European Parliament, said “the time for peaceful change” has come for Cuba. “The patience of the Cuban people has its limits when they see that there is no open door, not even an open window, towards the future,” he said.
For his part, opposition leader Vladimiro Roca said, “We are in the final chapter of this government. It’s a soap opera going on in real-time.”
2003 was a difficult year for Cuban dissidents. In April 75 Cubans were condemned to sentences of up to 28 years for opposing the regime.
Dublin, Ireland, Jan 5, 2004 (CNA) - According to classified Irish government documents, four Catholic countries made repeated proposals to place Jerusalem under Roman Catholic control in the late 1940s, after the State of Israel was created, to ensure access to the Holy City.
However, the proposals never really got off the ground and were finally dropped after the Vatican made the prudent decision to remain uninvolved and to avoid the risk of “promoting further disturbance in Palestine,” say Irish government documents.
The AFP reported that Spain made the first proposal after the United Nations General Assembly voted in November 1947 to partition Palestine. The UN resolution, which also stipulated that Jerusalem would be established as a "corpus seperatum" under a special international regime, was passed by 33 votes to 13, with 10 abstentions.
Italy and Portugal joined Spain in its proposal, and the three countries solicited Ireland to support the plan. Details of these closed-door talks were revealed recently in documents made public by the National Archives in Dublin.
An Irish foreign ministry file said Spain first approached Ireland in December 1948, after a remark made by Pope Pius XII that suggested international control of Jerusalem and the holy sites should be entrusted to the UN.
The file reveals that Madrid advocated for Spanish, Portuguese and Irish representatives to the Holy See to “make separate and concerted demarches to the Vatican suggesting that, if any form of international regime were to be established in the Jerusalem area, the mandate should be entrusted to Catholic countries."
Spain believed this solution was preferable to UN control, which would not have included the principal Catholic countries in Europe at that time.
The issue was dropped, but it resurfaced in April 1949 when the Italian government called on all Catholic nations, which were not members of the UN, to approach Catholic UN members-nations and propose Catholic control of Jerusalem.
Irish, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese ambassadors held talks at the Vatican, but the conclusion was that non-UN governments acting alone could not do much about the situation.
Irish files said the Vatican was reluctant to make concrete demands, "which might lead to the Vatican itself being saddled with responsibility for promoting further disturbance in Palestine."
The proposal did not go further "due to the reluctance of the Vatican to disclose its hand and the natural disinclination of the four Catholic countries involved to proceed further without the assurance that whatever line they take will have Vatican concurrence," said the Irish government files.