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Archive of February 5, 2004

Pope slams Anti-Semitism, supports Palestinian plight

Vatican City, Feb 5, 2004 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II received on Thursday a group from the American Jewish Committee and, during brief remarks, recalled their previous visit in 1985 on the twentieth anniversary of the Conciliar Declaration, ‘Nostra Aetate,’ which “has so significantly contributed to the strengthening of Jewish-Catholic relations.”

“As we now approach the fortieth anniversary of this historic document,” the Pontiff said, “there is regrettably a great need to repeat our utter condemnation of racism and anti-Semitism.” 

“Violence in the name of religion –he continued- is always a desecration to religion.  Countering this alarming trend requires that together we stress the importance of religious education which promotes respect and love towards others.”

“In these days our attention remains drawn to the Holy Land which continues to be afflicted by violence and suffering.  He concluded by saying: “It is my fervent prayer that a just solution will be found which respects the rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

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Program for World Day of the Sick revealed

Vatican City, Feb 5, 2004 (CNA) - Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, presented on Thursaday at the Vatican Press office the program of the Twelfth World Day of the Sick, which will be celebrated from February 9 to 11 at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Cardinal Lozano explained that this year the World Day of the Sick will take place in Lourdes because “this year marks the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and it was in Lourdes that Mary in one of her apparitions said that she was the Immaculate Conception.” 

The theme for the event will be “The Immaculate Conception and Health Care in the Christian Roots of Europe.”

February 9th will be dedicated to studying the situation of health care ministry in every country in Europe.

On February 10th the topics of bioethics and the meaning of the Immaculate Conception as a source of health will be discussed.

Finally, on February 11th the solemn welcoming of the special papal envoy is scheduled as well as a concluding Eucharistic celebration.  There will also be a procession with candles and a Eucharistic blessing for the sick and many of them will receive the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

 “Our objective,” Cardinal Lozano explained, “is to renew health care ministry all over the world and especially in Europe through the celebration” of this Marian anniversary.  “We think that in the Christian roots of Europe there is always the search for harmony through Christ; and Mary in her Immaculate Conception begins this Christian harmony that will mean fullness in health and life in her Assumption.”

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Marriage, not civil unions, for same-sex couples, says Massachusetts court

Boston, Mass., Feb 5, 2004 (CNA) - The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared yesterday that the creation of a new legal category for the union of same-sex couples – civil unions – would not comply with the state’s constitution regarding marriage. Only marriage, said the court, would comply with the state’s constitution regarding a same-sex couple’s right to marry.

"The dissimilitude between the terms ‘civil marriage’ and ‘civil union’ is not innocuous; it is a considered choice of language that reflects a demonstrable assigning of same-sex, largely homosexual, couples to second-class status," said Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall of the state's Supreme Judicial Court.

This decision makes Massachusetts the first U.S. state to uphold same-sex marriages, and it allows same-sex marriages to begin taking place in mid-May. 

The court's ruling was issued in response to a state Senate question about whether civil unions would meet the requirements of a 4-to-3 ruling by the court last November that same-sex couples had the right to marry.

The decision also cannot be overturned by the Massachusetts Legislature and cannot be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. But the state’s lawmakers will have a constitutional meeting next week to consider an amendment that would legally define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. This decision would be followed by two votes in the Legislature and a state referendum. The entire process could take three years.

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Archbishop Conti accuses BBC of bias against Catholic Church

, Feb 5, 2004 (CNA) - Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow accused the BBC of “gross insensitivity” to the Catholic Church and of encouraging “a tabloid culture” in a letter to The Herald yesterday.

In the letter, the archbishop recalled the BBC’s decision to coincide the broadcasts of the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s pontificate and Mother Teresa’s beatification in October with a documentary about the efficacy of condoms in the fight against AIDS, called Sex and the Holy City, which presented the Church in a negative light.

"Such scheduling showed gross insensitivity to the spiritual and historical significance of these moments," he wrote.

The archbishop wrote of the BBC’s plans to broadcast a satirical cartoon called Popetown. He also mentioned the inappropriateness of "the hounding of the Archbishop of Westminster last year . . . by the Today program and Newsnight", and " a sneering and aggressive interview on the Church's position on shared-campus schools" in the program Newsnight Scotland.

The archbishop said this tabloid culture is unsuited for "the world's most distinguished broadcasting organization."

A BBC spokesman defended the British news broadcaster’s accuracy in reporting and said the BBC would be happy to respond to the archbishop about his concerns directly rather than through the press.

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Gibson may delete a scene in 'Passion'

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 5, 2004 (CNA) - The New York Times reported yesterday that a close associate of Mel Gibson said the actor/director has decided to delete a controversial scene about Jews from his film “The Passion of the Christ” after receiving criticism from focus groups and Jewish groups.

The scene, which the Gibson associate claimed would be cut, has Caiaphas calling down a curse on the Jewish people. In the scene, the Jewish high priest says of the crucifixion: "His blood be on us and on our children."

The passage had been included in some versions of the film that were shown before select groups, mostly of priests and ministers.

The associate only spoke to the New York Times on the condition of anonymity. Gibson’s film company, Icon Productions, has not confirmed the new editing.

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Canadian Catholic development agency excludes funding for programs that distribute condoms

Ottawa, Canada, Feb 5, 2004 (CNA) - Canada’s Catholic development agency has adopted a policy that excludes funding for HIV/AIDS programs that distribute condoms.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP), the Canadian bishops’ development arm, says any program it funds for HIV/AIDS prevention must include information about the Church’s teaching on marital fidelity and abstinence, reported Canadian Catholic News (CCN).

The seven-page statement was developed in consultation with the Canadian bishops.

The policy promotes a “holistic approach” to HIV/AIDS prevention and does not support projects that are “isolated from broader action to fight poverty,” says the statement.

CCODP official Gilio Brunelli said poverty and underdevelopment is a major contributing factor in the spread of HIV/AIDS. About 95 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases are in the poorest countries of the South and sub-Saharan Africa. 

The agency said its policy is based on the principle that all people of goodwill should “show compassion” toward the millions worldwide, who are infected by the virus or are suffering from AIDS and be clear-sighted in addressing the situation, reported CCN.

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Italian referee leaves professional basketball to become missionary

Rome, Italy, Feb 5, 2004 (CNA) - At 28 years of age, Simone Strozzi had a successful career as a referee for Series A Italian Basketball, the most competitive in the country.  However his true passion lies off the court and after a long wait he will finally be able to pursue it: he has left the sport to become a missionary priest.

Strozzi refereed his last game on Sunday, at the end of which both teams presented him with basketballs autographed by all the players.  “It was a surprise,” he said.

”I want to place my life into the hands of Jesus Christ.  This is his will for me,” said Strozzi, who has been a referee in Series A Basketball since 2001 and will now join the Congregation of St. Francis Xavier to begin his missionary formation.

According to the young referee, this decision is in response to a vocation he discovered as a child:  “Already at 13 years of age I asked my mother to let me follow this path.  But I have humble origins and I am the youngest of four children.  The silent look on my mother’s face told me I should first help out at home.”

“My brothers wanted to get married and I had to help support the family.  Therefore I studied and obtained my degree.  Later I entered law school, from which I only need to pass 11 more tests to graduate.  I found work, and with part of the money I earned I have helped my family to buy a home and to save a little bit of money,” he added.

During his formation, Strozzi will study for four years and once ordained, he will be sent to one of the congregation’s missions.  His dream is to serve in Africa.

Referring to his experience in basketball, Strozzi says he never was “a great athlete” but “being a referee has allowed me to help others and to provide guidance to people.”

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Cubans establish prison ministry to assist political prisoners

Havana, Cuba, Feb 5, 2004 (CNA) - A parish in the Cuban city of Güines has established a prison ministry to assist political prisoners in the region, according to a report from the Cubanet News Agency.

Volunteers visit political prisoners and pray with them and their families for their swift release.  They also distribute pamphlets, books and Bibles to prisoners.

Catholics in Güines, encouraged by local pastor Fr. Silvano Pedroso, support the families of prisoners by donating clothing, medicine and first aid products.

Among the prisoners being assisted by the ministry include Miguel Galván Gutiérrez, sentenced to 26 years; independent journalist José Ubaldo Izquierdo, also from Güines, sentenced to 15 years; José Patricio de Armas, president of the December 10th Human Rights Movement, sentenced to 18 months in prison and accused of painting anti-government slogans on the sides of his house.

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Bishops say Argentinean government should enforce Constitution and oppose abortion

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb 5, 2004 (CNA) - The Bishops Conference of Argentina has published a document calling attention to the protection the country’s Constitution grants to the unborn, saying all Argentineans are obligated to respect the founding document and demand that the government enforce it and not allow the legalization of abortion.  Amidst the controversy surrounding the nomination to the Supreme Court of Carmen Arigbay, a self-proclaimed militant atheist and abortion supporter, the bishops said that “to propose the eventual legalization of abortion contradicts the spirit and letter of the Constitution and the sense of the vast majority of our people who believe life to be a gift from God entrusted to the care of all.”

In the statement, the bishops state, “We need laws that promote life,” adding that “laws should care for and defend life, the first of all human rights—inalienable and irrevocable—and its ‘sanctuary’, which is the family.”

“Therefore those who are responsible for legislation should carry out their duty with serene analysis, openness to the truth, and respect for the common good of society, conscience moreover of the educational value that laws have.  A just law is ennobling and promotes society.  We reiterate this as we are concerned about the existence of proposals that would seek to legalize the horrendous crime of abortion,” they added.

Likewise the bishops insist that “respecting the National Constitution is the duty of all Argentineans.  Its enforcement is a function the State cannot delegate to others and must be guaranteed by the Judicial Powers.”

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