Archive of January 22, 2004

Vatican issues official statement on “The Passion of the Christ”

Vatican City, Jan 22, 2004 (CNA) - Trying to put an end to the controversy sparked over whether or not John Paul II said “it is as it was”  regarding Mel Gibson's film “Passion of the Christ,”  the Holy See Press Office Director Joaquin Navarro-Valls issued a statement confirming the Pope's comments were not intended to become  “official.”

“After consultation with the Holy Father's personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, I can confirm that the Pope has had the opportunity to see the film, ‘The Passion of the Christ’,” the statement says.

The press release describes positively the film as “the cinematographic recounting of the historical fact of the passion of Jesus Christ according to the Gospel accounts.”

The description is not irrelevant, since one of the bones of contention for some Biblical scholars -like Boston University's Paula Fredriksen- has been Gibson's accuracy in portraying the historical facts of the crucifixion.

The statement says that “it is the Holy Father's custom not to express public judgments on artistic works, judgments which are always open to diverse evaluations of an aesthetic nature.”

In other words, the statement does not deny the Pontiff said “it is as it was,” but explains that, if those words were pronounced, they were not intended to become public.

According to  a new release from the Catholic monthly “Inside the Vatican,” the statement, “in our view, has a double purpose: it seems to respond to evident pressure to distance John Paul from any direct connection with the upcoming film, while still giving guarded support to the film.”

“The statement,” Inside the Vatican continues, “makes clear its main message that the Pope does not make public judgments about ‘works of art’ (evidently because, being of an "esthetic," and not a moral or doctrinal, nature, works of art, like films, are outside, as it were, the Pope's competence).”

“But the statement does not reverse the Vatican position, expressed repeatedly in recent months -- notably by Archbishop John Foley, head of the Vatican office for Social Communications, Cardinal Dario Castrillon-Hoyos, head of the office which oversees all Catholic priests in the world, and Monsignor Augustine Di Noia, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith . that the film is deeply moving, worth seeing for all people, and not anti-Semitic.”

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Cardinal Kasper to go to Moscow in February

Vatican City, Jan 22, 2004 (CNA) - Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Holy See Press Office director announced today that Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, will go to Moscow on February 16.

The Cardinal is responding to an invitation of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Russian Federation.

During his visit, which will end February 20, Cardinal Kasper will meet with the Catholic bishops present in the Russian Federation and the Catholic community in Moscow.

The statement also says that “during this visit, motivated by feelings of esteem for the Russian Orthodox Church, Cardinal Kasper will be received in audience by His Holiness Alexei II, patriarch of Moscow and all the Russias, and will have talks with Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, and with the president of the department for foreign ecclesiastical relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow, in view of the ecumenical dialogue between the two Churches.”

Cardinal Kasper will travel accompanied by Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the pontifical council, and by Fr. Jozef M. Maj, an official in the council’s Oriental Section.

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Goal of today's March for Life: ‘overturn Roe vs Wade’ organizer says

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2004 (CNA) - Thousands of demonstrators will gather for the annual March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., today with the goal of having the Roe vs Wade decision, which legalized abortion in the United States 31 years ago, overturned.

"This March for Life is … an annual reminder to all of Washington officialdom that it must overturn the Supreme Court's infamous Roe vs Wade decision,” said Nellie Gray, president of March for Life Fund.

Roe vs Wade, she said, unleashed the “the feminists/abortionists' evil agenda of 'choice' to kill preborn humans” and began the slippery slope to decriminalize infanticide, euthanasia, assisted suicide and fetal research.

“We are calling for Americans to come together on goals and strategies to overturn Roe vs Wade, by following the guidance of the Life Principles,” she said. This notion was worked into theme of this year’s march, which is Build Unity on the Life Principles.

She explained: “This means providing Constitutional protection for the unalienable right to life of each human in existence at fertilization. …. Murder is not a feminist/abortionist's right of 'privacy'.".

President George W. Bush is expected to address the rally by telephone. Several members of Congress will speak at the rally as well.

An estimated 4,000 preborns are aborted each day in the United States, and an estimated 42,000,000 preborn U.S. babies were aborted since Roe vs Wade.

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Gibson expects ‘the worst is yet to come’

Orlando, Fla., Jan 22, 2004 (CNA) - During yet another screening of his film on the Passion of Christ, Mel Gibson predicted that "the worst is yet to come," reported Reuters.

The news service said Gibson made this comment at a screening of “The Passion of the Christ” to 4,500 evangelical Christian pastors at the Global Pastors Network conference in Orlando yesterday.

Referring to the controversies the film has created, Gibson thanked the pastors for their prayers, but warned: "I anticipate the worst is yet to come. I hope I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong."

Gibson recounted how he had been thinking and imagining the film for 12 years as he meditated on the Gospel stories of a God who became human so he could pay the price for human sin, reported Reuters.

"He could have done it by pricking his finger and shedding a little blood. He didn't; he wanted to go all the way," Gibson told the pastors.

The Catholic filmmaker has openly shared with the press and preview audiences how his conversion of heart and faith journey were driving factors in the making of the film.

In a report Jan. 15, Gibson recounts how his relationship with Christ began to grow only after he had reached the depths of despair.

"Couple years back, I was looking out of a window wondering why I shouldn't jump,” Gibson told “Life had no meaning for me. It was boring. Purposeless. That's when I turned to Him. That's where my relationship with Christ really starting growing. You see, I was a bad guy . . . a really horrible guy. My sins were the first to nail Him to the Cross. I wanted to tell His story."

The Passion of the Christ received an R-rating, based on the graphic depictions of violence and torture. But Gibson’s publicity director, Paul Lauer, said it should not dissuade pastors from sending youth groups to watch the film when it opens in North America Feb. 25.

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Catholic health ministry urges President Bush to hold White House health care summit

Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2004 (CNA) - President George W. Bush’s plan for expanding health coverage “falls short of addressing the dire circumstances surrounding more than 43 million individuals who are uninsured and the millions more who are underinsured,” said Fr. Michael D. Place.

The president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA) issued his statement following the president’s State of the Union address Jan. 19, in which he outlined his plans for health care coverage.

“The truth is that this nation lacks an integrated national health policy that assures all individuals access to a comprehensive array of basic health services,” said Fr. Place. He explained that the many families and individuals, who have no or inadequate health coverage, are making huge sacrifices just to access the basic care they need.

“Being uninsured is not an inconvenience; it is a formidable barrier to obtaining necessary medical care,” that can lead to serious sickness and even death, he said. 

The CHA called on the president to convene a White House summit on health care this spring “to achieve a new national policy that ensures quality, affordable health care services across the continuum for all individuals.”

This summit would gather representatives of various government, corporate, provider, and consumer stakeholders.

“The Catholic health ministry stands ready to assist the President and other national leaders to transform the health care delivery system into one that is just, improves quality, expands access, and dramatically improves the health status of people and communities,” said Fr. Place.

For more information, visit the CHA Web site at

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HLI calls on Argentinean President to withdraw pro-abortion Supreme Court nomination

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jan 22, 2004 (CNA) - In an open letter addressed to Argentinean President Néstor Kirchner, Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer and Dr. Ignacion Barreiro, President and Director of Human Life International (HLI) respectively, have requested the withdrawal of the nomination of Dr. Carmen Argibay to the Argentinean Supreme Court.

The letter states that the nominee’s decision to call herself a “militant atheist” and “in favor of abortion” is “cause for grave concern to the members of Human Life International, a Catholic organization that defends life, faith and the family all over the world, through a wide network of various national groups.”

The letter recalls that “the defense of the inalienable rights that God has granted to the human person is not limited to political borders, and therefore it does not constitute an intrusion into the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation.”

The letter also recalls that one of the arguments put forth in favor of Dr. Argibay was that they were looking for someone who would represent Argentinean women.  “It is profoundly perplexing that one would consider an average Argentinean woman someone who defines herself as a ‘feminist,’ ‘militant atheist,’ ‘abortion supporter,’ ‘leftist,’ and someone who has never been married or raised a family, despite being 64 years-old.”

Leaders of Human Life International also reminded Kirchner of “the oath you swore upon the Holy Gospels when you became President of your country,” and they point out that “it is very important that you take care that all those in public service respect the laws of the Argentinean nation.”

“One cannot serve in public office and act against the laws and values of one’s nation.  There is no legal argument to justify the nomination of a person with values opposed to the Constitution, to legal tradition, history, and the sense of the great people of Argentina.”

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Argentinean Bishop says “magnifying glass” necessary to find good politicians

Puerto Iguazú, Jan 22, 2004 (CNA) - Bishop Joaquín Piña of Puerto Iguazú, Argentina, is encouraging the faithful to trust that there are good politicians out there, even though one might need a “magnifying glass to find them,” and he expressed his hope that “a better society can be built and that corrupt politicians who up to now have attempted to deceive people with speeches that almost no one believes would be thrown out.”

Bishop Piña made his comments during an annual summer camp that brings together thousands of young people from the diocese for recreational and educational activities.

Bishop Piña considers young people the principal victims of this dishonesty and he commended them for looking beyond themselves when considering their futures. 

A certain percentage of young people are victims “of alcohol and drugs, which is where they generally begin to get lost.  Many times I wonder why the police and other security officials don’t take more action, especially by controlling the places where this problem is prevalent.”

Bishop Piña said, “It is curious that in Iguazú everyone knows it except those who should.  Of course, whenever I have tried to find out, I get the same answer:  the problem is with those who are afraid to take action because there are many higher-ups who are involved.”

“One time I spoke about the great mafias or ‘cartels’ that also exist in our country and that, for sure, are spread out all over the place.  I just read in one of the newspapers that everything we suspected is true: drug-trafficking and money laundering go hand in hand.  How is it that some people have made so much money so quickly when the nation’s industries have collapsed?  How many accomplices are behind all of this!”

Bishop Piña said, “It is no wonder that some jump like snakes when these things are uncovered.  I hope that, as our President appears to want, we can have more effective and independent justice throughout the country, so that all these things and other economic scandals can be uncovered.”

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Numbers of Protestants in Europe on the decline, thousands of churches being sold

Madrid, Spain, Jan 22, 2004 (CNA) - New statistics are indicating that in European countries of protestant tradition, the last three decades have seen an increasing decline in the number of protestant faithful accompanied by the rental and sale of more than two thousand churches. In countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Great Britain, Germany and Holland, many churches have been converted into bank offices, supermarkets, museums and student residences.

Since 1969, Anglicans in England have put some 1,600 churches up for sale—10% of all the churches they possess—and the number goes up by 20 to 25 each year.  The number is so large that there is even a web address to hold all of the information.

Other religious groups have been taking advantage of the situation.  In Great Britain, Hindu temples in Leicester and Bristol occupy buildings that once belonged to Anglicans.

Similar situations exist in Edinburgh, Highlands and Glasgow. In some cases, churches have been turned into museums, gymnasiums, hotels and residences.

In Holland, more than 600 places of worship, mostly belonging to Lutherans, Reformed Protestants and other evangelicals, have been closed down in the last decade.

The drop in membership has not only led to the disappearance of Protestant places of worship in Europe.  Analysts also point to it as a factor leading to the decision of Calvinists, Lutherans and other Protestants to join in a single worship service, a decision which their respective synods announced will take effect next May.

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