Archive of February 25, 2004

Pope calls Christians to asceticism during Lent

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2004 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II began Lent this morning calling on Catholics to live this season as “a journey of prayer, penitence and authentic Christian asceticism.”

The Holy Father presided over a celebration of the word for Ash Wednesday in the Vatican Basilica during which ashes were blessed and distributed.

In his homily, John Paul II affirmed that “external gestures of penitence have value if they express an interior attitude, if they express the firm will to avoid evil and to take up the just path. It is here that the profound meaning of Christian asceticism lies.”

“‘Asceticism’: the word itself evokes an image of rising up toward higher goals. This necessarily involves sacrifice and self-denial. In order to become authentic disciples of Christ, it is necessary to deny oneself, take up the cross every day and follow Him. It is the arduous path of holiness which every baptized person is called to take,” he explained.

The Pope also said that Lent begins with the imposition of ashes, “an austere, penitential act that is highly esteemed in Christian tradition. It emphasizes the awareness of man who is a sinner before the majesty and sanctity of God. At the same time, it shows man’s willingness to embrace and translate adhesion to the Gospel into specific choices.”

John Paul II recalled that the Church indicates many ways of embarking on this path: “Above all, it is the humble and docile adhesion to the will of God, accompanied by incessant prayer; these ways are the typical penitential customs of Christian tradition, such as abstinence, fasting, mortification and giving up goods that are in and of themselves legitimate; there are the specific gestures of embracing our neighbor which today’s Gospel evokes with the word ‘alms’.”

“All of this is proposed again with greater intensity during the period of Lent which represents an ‘intense time’ of spiritual training and generous service to our brothers and sisters,” he added.

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Holy See gives details of publication on sexual abuse

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2004 (CNA) - The Vatican Information Service (VIS) announced today the publication of a volume produced by the Pontifical Academy for Life containing the findings of the symposium organized by the academy, in collaboration with other offices of the Holy See, that was held at the Vatican April 2-5, 2003, on the subject of the “Abuse of Children and Young People by Catholic Priests and Religious.”

As CNA informed earlier this week, the volume is entitled, “Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church: Scientific and Legal Perspectives.” According to Vatican Information Service, the book has been sent to the world’s episcopal conferences and will be made public at the end of March, but an advanced copy was made available to journalists for consultation.

The Pontifical Academy said in a statement that the scope of the April 2003 conference and of this book, “was exclusively to present the phase reached by scientific research on this theme. Obviously, it was not possible to invite all experts in this sector, however several of them, of the highest scientific stature, were available to come to Rome and to publish their contributions, even if none of the eight experts is Catholic.”

Bishop Elio Sgreccia, Vice President of the Academy for Life, notes in an introduction to the volume, that the 2003 symposium touched upon “a terrible phenomenon that, in recent years, has increasingly created unease in the Church and in the media. Pope John Paul II has clearly and emphatically drawn attention to the grave injustice done to the victims.”

“He called upon the Church to do everything in its power to assuage the resultant pain and to prevent future incidents. Many men and women in the Church have already dedicated themselves to this important task, bishops’ conferences have produced guidelines and the Holy See has devoted itself intensely to this issue through various dicasteries. Sexual abuse presents a huge challenge,” Bishop Sgreccia added.

He also explained that “to formulate responsible solutions requires the consideration of psychological, medical, ethical, anthropological, theological, pastoral, juridical, and many other perspectives. Obviously all this goes beyond the scope of what one can achieve in one single symposium.”

Bishop Sgreccia explained that the scientists present at the symposium “were able to present the theme in its complexity and also presented different opinions current in the scientific world.”

He noted that “international ecclesial personalities who are actively involved in the treatment of priests and religious” were at the symposium, though “they did not participate in the role of experts to be consulted. Instead they were the listeners and questioners. The criterion for inviting them was that the institutions they represent are de facto used by bishops’ conferences for the treatment of priests and religious.”

Calling the book “a first step,” Bishop Sgreccia said “important aspects of the theme have yet to be dealt with. May this publication prove to be a support and stimulus for all who deal with this troubling and complex issue.”

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Pope mourns victims of earthquake in Morocco

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2004 (CNA) - Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, sent a telegram of condolences on behalf of Pope John Paul II, to Archbishop Antonio Sozzo, Apostolic Nuncio in Morocco, for the victims of the earthquake in the northern part of that country which has killed an estimated 600 people.

The message expressed the Pope’s prayers “to the families and to all Moroccans touched by this drama.”

He also asked “the Almighty to welcome into His Kingdom the victims and to bring comfort and courage to the wounded, to those close to them and to persons participating in rescue operations, in the hope that gestures of solidarity will be shown to lighten the pain of our brothers and sister in mankind.”

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John Paul II three weeks away from third longest pontificate in history

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2004 (CNA) - The pontificate of John Paul II is approaching a new record.  On March 17 it will become the third longest in history.

In three weeks, the Holy Father will have completed 25 years, 5 months and 1 day on the throne of St. Peter, surpassing the length of Leo XIII’s pontificate (1878-1903).

Only St. Peter and Pius IX have reigned longer.  Pius IX guided the Church for 31 years, 7 months and 2 days, from 1846 to 1878.

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U.S. President calls on Congress to enact amendment to protect marriage

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2004 (CNA) - President George W. Bush called upon the Congress to promptly pass an amendment to the United States Constitution, defining and protecting marriage as a union of man and woman as husband and wife. The preservation of the definition of marriage is an issue of “national importance,” said the President.

The amendment protects marriage, buts leaves state legislatures free to define legal arrangements other than marriage.

“The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution, honoring -- honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith,” said Bush. “Ages of experience have taught humanity that the commitment of a husband and wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society.”

Eight years ago, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act. It defined marriage in federal law as the legal union between one man and one woman. The Act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 342 to 67, and the Senate by a vote of 85 to 14.

Bush said in recent months, “some activist judges and local officials have made an aggressive attempt to redefine marriage,” said Bush, referring to the Supreme Judicial Court decision in November and the more recent events in San Francisco and New Mexico.

“After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence, and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization,” said Bush. “On a matter of such importance, the voice of the people must be heard.”

Bush said the constitutional amendment to the Defense of Marriage Act would prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever.

“Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society. Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all,” he continued.

The United States’ commitment of freedom “does not require the redefinition of one of our most basic social institutions,” said the president. “Our government should respect every person, and protect the institution of marriage. There is no contradiction between these responsibilities.”

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Court cancels oral arguments in Roe V. Wade consideration

, Feb 25, 2004 (CNA) - A federal appeals court canceled oral arguments on a motion to reconsider the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion in the country.

The oral arguments were to have been heard next week but the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Feb. 23 that it will now only review written briefs, reported the San Antonio Express-News. The judges offered no explanation for their decision.

Norma McCorvey of Dallas, who fought for legal access to abortion under the pseudonym Jane Roe more than 30 years ago, has contended that Roe vs. Wade should be re-opened and re-decided in light of evidence that the procedure may harm women. McCorvey, who is now a pro-life activist, filed her motion in June 2003.

This is not McCorvey’s first attempt to have the decision overturned. She filed her request to a federal district court in Dallas last year, but it was thrown out days later. The judge said that it wasn’t filed within a reasonable time.

The 5th Circuit panel could reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. It could also reverse the 2003 lower court's decision to throw out McCorvey's motion and order it be granted a hearing. But the panel could also the lower court's decision, which would push the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Church in Cuba says goodbye to Bishop Riverón

Havana, Cuba, Feb 25, 2004 (CNA) - After the Mass of Requiem celebrated by Cardinal Jaime Ortega in the Archdiocesan Cathedral, thousands of faithful paid their last respects to Havana Auxiliary Bishop Salvador Riverón Cortina, who was laid to rest at the Christopher Columbus Cementary in the Cuban capital.

Visitation for the Bishop, who died last Sunday at 55 years of age from advanced cancer, took place at the Cathedral of Havana.  Several foreign dignitaries attended the Requiem Mass, including James Cason, head of the US Interests Section, and Jesús Gracia, the Spanish Ambassador to Cuba.

The Cuban government was represented by Carlos Samper of the Communist Party’s Office of Religious Affairs.

A message sent by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, in the name of Pope John Paul II was read during the ceremony, as well as a message from Isidro Gómez Santos, the Cuban Ambassador to the Holy See.

 Bishop Riverón “was a shining beam of light” whose brief passing “through the Church was filled with meaning,” said Cardinal Ortega during the funeral Mass.

Bishop Riverón was born in Camaguey on July 7, 1948, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1982.  He was named Auxiliary Bishop of Havana on April 24, 1999, by Pope John Paul II.

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Study says religious indifference prevalent among Spanish youth

Madrid, Spain, Feb 25, 2004 (CNA) - A report by the Santa María Foundation revealed that the majority of young people in Spain are “indifferent” to religion.

The report called, “Young People 2000 and Religion,” revealed that only 35% of Spanish youth consider themselves practicing Catholics, 10% atheists, and the rest “indifferent.”

 According to the Foundation, these statistics contrast alarmingly with those of 1960, when the number of practicing Catholics was 95%.

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