Archive of March 23, 2004

Vatican presents book with shocking stories of martyrdom in Eastern churches

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2004 (CNA) - Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, presented this morning at the Holy See Press Office the book “Faith and Martyrdom: The Eastern Churches in Twentieth Century Europe,” which includes shocking stories of martyrdom in the 20th Century.

The book, a summary of the proceedings of the meeting on contemporary Church history held on October 22-24, 1998, at Vatican City, documents the suppression of various Eastern Catholic Churches including the Ukrainian, Romanian, Slovakian and Ruthenian.

“After being erased from history,” said Cardinal Daoud, “these Churches have come back into existence and today strive to never forget the persecution they suffered.”

After emphasizing that the publication “gives a voice to those who suffered so much,” he said: “Despite this, there is no rancor. Despite difficult relations in the past, in many cases during the ‘century of martyrs’, Eastern Catholics and people of other confessions learned how to suffer together in prisons, in the ‘gulags’, in the forced labor camps.”

Professor Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio Community explained that Eastern Catholics “belonged to a group that communist policy did not admit in any part of the Eastern empire (from the former Czechoslovakia to Romania), with rare exceptions, such as in the small and tormented Bulgarian community and in Hungary. These pages illustrate the Soviet design to exterminate Eastern Catholicism.”

Referring to the term “martyr,” Riccardi Explained that “this is a word which is abused in our language.” In this way, people speak about “suicide martyrdom, which is very different from Christian martyrdom.” Christian martyrs “do not die in order to kill others but rather give their life to save the life of others, so that they do not have to give up their faith, to support other believers out of love. They are not seeking death, but they do not renounce their faith or human behavior in order to save their own life. This is the story that is told in these pages.”

Shocking testimonies

Msgr. Tertulian Ioan Langa, 82, spoke of his 16 years in communist prison camps, describing the “massive and threatening atheistic Soviet presence on the Romanian borders,” the “violent and atrocious presence of atheistic communism” and “the brutal and humiliating presence of Soviet troops who had occupied almost a third of the national territory.”

In spine-tingling terms he described the indescribable: the countless times he was interrogated, the years of torture, deprivation, humiliation, and unspeakable suffering, the “diabolic rituals” prisoners underwent to make them talk. What became important for him and helped him to survive were his own rituals: praying, composing litanies, remembering and reciting Psalms.

 “I have never written much about these dramatic experiences,” said Msgr. Langa today. “Who can believe what seems unbelievable? Who can believe that the laws of biology can be overcome by the will?  But even Jesus was not believed by all who saw Him. ‘After this many of His disciples drew back and no longer went about with him’. Nothing is pure chance in life. Every second the Lord gives us is laden with grace – the impatient benevolence of God – and with our chance to either answer it or, filled with fear, to refuse it.”

He spoke of his bishop and his intellectual guides, “all victims of atheistic communism,” whose lives and teachings marked his own life. “Through them I discovered the meaning of communism, what it means to eliminate Christ from society and how mutilated the human soul can become” without Him. He underscored “the flagrant difference of perception and reaction to communism “between the Christians and intellectuals of the West” and those in the East who had lived through and undergone communism.

Bishop Pavlo Vasylyk, 77, one of 11 children, was imprisoned many times over many decades by Soviet authorities. During his first term in prison from 1947 to 1956, he was ordained a deacon and performed his ministry in prison, saying he only found the strength to do so because “what is impossible for a human person is possible for the Lord. The conditions we lived in the concentration camps were pitiless, worse than the German concentration camps…The Gospel…kept us human, kept us Christian.”

Shortly after being freed in 1956 he was ordained a priest, imprisoned again from 1959 to 1964 and exiled upon his release, forbade to minister in western Ukraine, though he did anyway. Ordained a bishop in 1974, he was constantly threatened by the KGB, but continued his episcopal ministry. On August 4, 1987, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church “announced to the entire world our Church’s exit from the catacombs to a full and normal religious life.”

The prefect of the congregation assured that his dicastery will continue to collect documentation about the faith experience of Eastern Catholics, “reflecting on the witnesses of the faith of our Churches, which can explain the root of so many prejudices.”

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Pope appoints new bishops for New Jersey and Montana

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2004 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II appointed today Bishop Joseph Anthony Galante, coadjutor of Dallas (Texas) as the new Bishop of Camden (New Jersey); and appointed  Bishop George Thomas, auxiliary of the archdiocese of Seattle (Washington) as the new Bishop of Helena (Montana.)

Bishop Joseph Anthony Galante was born in Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) on July 2,  1938. He studied at the “Saint Charles Borromeo” Seminary in Overbrook (Pennsylvania) from 1954  to 1964 and was ordained priest for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on May 16, 1964.

He studied Canon Law at the Pontifical Lateran University and in 1968 he was sent to serve at the Diocese of Brownsville (Texas) until 1972.

He then returned to Philadelphia and served at the Metropolitan Tribunal and professor of Canon Law at the “Saint Charles Borromeo” Seminary. From 1979 to 1987 was the Vicar for Religious, from 1987 to 1992, Undersecretary at the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life at the Vatican.

He was appointed Auxiliary of San Antonio (Texas) on October 13, 1992, and appointed bishop of Beaumont (Texas) in 1994.  On November 23 1999, he became the Coadjutor of Dallas (Texas.)

Bishop Galante is currently the President of the Committee for Social Communications and a member of the Committee for the Administration of the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

Bishop George L. Thomas was born in Anaconda (Montana) on May 19, 1950. He studied at the “Saint Thomas Seminary” in Seattle (Washington,) where he also obtained a Masters in Psychology in 1983 and a degree in History in 1986.

He was ordained priest for the Archdiocese of Seattle on May 22, 1976.

From 1976 to 1987 he was appointed vicar at the Holy Family Parish in Kirkland and then at the Saint James Cathedral  in Seattle. He was also prison chaplain at the state penitentiary.  In 1987 he was appointed Chancellor and Vicar General  of Seattle.  In 1996 he was elected Diocesan Administrator after the death of Archbishop Thomas Murphy.

He was appointed Auxiliary bishop of Seattle on November 19, 1999.

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“National Right To Life” decision to kill South Dakota pro-life bill sparks controversy

Ann Arbor, Mich., Mar 23, 2004 (CNA) - The Thomas More Law Center has accused National Right to Life of “betraying the unborn,” after the well-known pro-life organization decided to kill a South Dakota bill criminalizing abortion.

According to the Center, the bill was defeated “by a single vote over National Right To Life’s complicity with pro-abortion groups to kill the legislation that pro-abortion lobbyists called the most restrictive anti-abortion measure since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.”

The Bill was sponsored by Republican State Representative Matt McCaulley, who had asked the Thomas More Law Center to help draft a bill that would directly confront the holding of the Roe decision. As a result, House Bill 1191 banned virtually all abortions in that state and made it a felony punishable for up to 15-years.

Immediately after the Bill was announced, National Right To Life spokespersons and officers of their state affiliate opposed passage of the Bill as not being the right time.

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center accused National Right to Life of betrayal, saying that  “it is one thing for National Right to Life to disagree with the timing of a bill banning abortions, it is another thing for them to join forces with pro-abortionists to kill the ban – it is betrayal of the unborn and the pro-life movement. When is it the wrong time to do what is right? This organization has lost the moral authority to lead the pro-life cause.”

In a statement, the Thomas More Law Center said the bill passed the state House by an overwhelming majority, 54 to 14. But state Senator Jay Duenwald, an officer in both the state and National Right To Life organizations, led behind-the-scenes opposition when the bill reached the State Affairs Committee.

“Together with pro-abortion Senators, Duenwald’s lobbying efforts succeeded in removing the ban and replacing it with an informed consent measure, something already covered by South Dakota law,” the statement said.

South Dakota Representative McCaulley observed, “There is something horribly wrong when South Dakota Right to Life and Planned Parenthood are on the same side of an issue."

Leslee Unruh, a member of Right to Life for 25 years, and Director of the South Dakota Alpha Health Center, an abortion counseling service, whose husband helped start local Right to Life chapters throughout the state, expressed shock as well. “We were shocked, saddened and dismayed that National Right to Life lobbied against this bill. In effect, they aborted the right to life bill.”

“One thing we know for sure, Planned Parenthood and NARAL could not be happier with National Right To Life,” concluded Thompson.

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Catholic schools to close in Chicago, reorganize this fall

Chicago, Ill., Mar 23, 2004 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Chicago announced the closure of four more elementary schools Monday in order to create a regional school in the southeast suburbs of the diocese.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has been developing a new model of regional Catholic schools in the last several years in order to address declining student enrollment, rising education costs and a budget deficit.

The four schools set for closure this September in the most recent reorganization include: St. Victor and Our Lady of Knock in Calumet City; Queen of Apostles in Riverdale; and Holy Ghost in South Holland.

One regional school, drawing from six parishes will be reopened, as an east campus at the existing St. Andrew the Apostle in Calumet City and a west campus at St. Jude in South Holland, reported The Star.

The two campuses will have their own principals, and the pastors of all six parishes will serve on an advisory board to oversee the school.

These parish schools aren’t the only ones affected by the reorganization. Earlier this month, the archdiocese announced the closure and reorganization of three other elementary schools.

More than 20 Catholic schools have closed in the last two years and more schools might face similar reorganizations in the near future, said archdiocesan spokesperson Diane Dunagan.

A major fundraising drive to build a Catholic school endowment fund will begin later this year. The archdiocese has also considered asking parishioners to tithe, reported The Star.

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Socialists in Spain announce end of religious education, violating Concordat with the Holy See

Madrid, Spain, Mar 23, 2004 (CNA) - The newly elected Spanish government, under the leadership if the Socialist PSOE party, has announced it will immediately strip religious courses of their accreditation in schools and change the way teachers are hired, signaling an end to religious education in Spain and in violation of the Concordat signed with the Vatican in 1979.

Carmen Chacón, who heads up the Socialist Party’s Education, Universities and Culture Committee, said in an interview that “the first act of the PSOE will be to revoke” what she considers “the imposition of obligatory Religious education.”

The measure will do away with educational reforms instituted by the outgoing Popular Party that allowed for more freedom in the teaching of religion and will strip religious education of any accreditation in school curricula.  The Spanish bishops supported those reforms, calling them a step forward in “the exercise of religions and intellectual freedom.”

Later in the interview, Chacón also announced the State take a more aggressive role in the oversight of teachers.  That would mean a violation of the Concordat between Spain and the Holy See, which guarantees the right of the Catholic Church to select teachers based on its own academic and moral criteria.

If the selection of religion teachers were to follow government norms, a bishop would not be able to remove a religion teacher who was teaching contrary to the Church or who was living in an openly immoral state of life.

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Successful opening weekend for “The Passion” in Latin America

Lima, Peru, Mar 23, 2004 (CNA) - Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” has become a box-office hit in Latin America, out-selling any other movie in theaters this past weekend.

In Mexico, despite the decision by the government ratings board to restrict entrance to those above 18 years of age, the film opened on 700 screens throughout the country.  Weeks before the release, theater chains offered advanced sales of tickets, which resulted in the movie being shown in four theaters at once in the same complex.

Students and professors from the University of Mayab carried out a poll among the large crowds that were moved by the film.  82% said they would see it again, and 100% said they would recommend the film to family members and friends.  48% said they were spiritually moved by the movie, and 88% said “The Passion of the Christ” is a movie the entire public.  Only 10% thought it was movie exclusively for Catholics.  Regarding the principle goal of the movie, 82% said the director was plainly concerned with showing the capacity of Jesus to love.  Regarding the main message which the movie gave them, 28% said it was gratitude for the Redemption, 24% adoration of Christ on the cross, and 22% to celebrate the Eucharist more authentically.  The majority said it was a great spiritual experience.

In Chile more than 33,000 people saw the film on the first day, making it the third biggest release ever in the country.  “The release was incredible because we thought the film was going to be well received, but not like this,” said Esteban Morgado of 20th Century Fox.  Morgado said more than 200,000 people saw the movie during the entire opening weekend.

In Ecuador, “The Passion” also drew large crowds of all ages.  “This movie makes us realize that the Passion of Christ is real,” said Archbishop Alain Paul Levaupan, Apostolic Nuncio to Ecuador.  Bishop Antonio Arregui, Vice President of the country’s Bishops Conference, said this version of the Passion of Jesus “follows exactly what the Bible says happened to Him.”  Local media reports also praised the movie and rejected claims of anti-Semitism.  The Ecuadorian daily “El Comercio” said, “Only the paranoia of a few extremists could see this film as an attack on the Jews.  Gibson follows the Bible.”  The Cinemark theater chain reported 50% of the tickets for the opening weekend were purchased in advance.

In Peru, the film had the biggest four day opening for 20th Century Fox and the second biggest of all time after “Spider-Man,” which got its boost from younger audiences.  According to Jorge Licetti Humphery of Warner-Fox Peru, the film is expected to be seen by as many as 600,000 people, which would make the biggest movie of all time in the country.  “The reaction to the film has been extraordinary.  The opening was a milestone not only for the movie industry but for the spiritual lives of thousands of Peruvians as well,” said Licetti.

In Guatemala, where the movie opened last Tuesday, theater owners said “The Passion” would be the biggest movie ever, breaking the records held by “Spider-Man,” which was seen by 250,000 people.  In the 47 theaters where the film is being shown simultaneously—unprecedented in Guatemala—posters invite people, especially Christians, to see the movie “with the eyes of faith and to seek an encounter with Jesus on the way of the Cross.”

In Brazil, the movie opened last Friday on more than 512 screens throughout the country.  On the opening day theaters were sold out, and church groups reserved many complexes ahead of time.  After the opening, Cardinal Geraldo Majella, President of the Brazilian Bishops Conference, gave his support to the film and said it was “very faithful to the Biblical narratives.”  “I don’t see the movie as anti-Semitic or as promoting anti-Semitism,” he added.  “The Catholic Church firmly teaches that Christ died for sins of all humanity and not those of one single people.”

In Cuba, where there is no official distribution, low-quality versions of the film are being shown in several parishes, such as St. Rita’s, where Fr. Jose Felix Perez is pastor.  Although other religious films have been shown in the past, he told the Associated Press, this film is generated a lot of interest among Catholics. “There is a lot of anticipation caused by the publicity and the controversy, but after people see it is a meditation on the realism of Christ’s suffering and death,” he said.

In Colombia, “The Passion” opened last Friday in sold-out theaters.  There it is expected as well to be the biggest movie ever.  Currently the film is being shown in the biggest theater chains in the country.

In Panama the film has already become one the biggest ever in the country.  The pre-release alone brought in over $90,000.  Officials from the Archdiocese of Panama said 4,500 tickets were sold for an exclusive screening in four theaters last Thursday.

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Mexican Bishop invites fallen-away Catholics to “return home” this Lent

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 23, 2004 (CNA) - In a message for  the Lenten season, Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, called on fallen-away Catholics to “return to the home of their mother, the Church, who waits with an open heart.”

The bishop explained that “today the Church presents us with the beautiful parable which reflects the heart of our Father God, who waits with open arms for our return to the family home.  He does not reproach nor punish, but rather celebrates with a great feast.  The only condition is that the younger son acknowledges his error, repents, and chooses to change his life.  And in order for the feast to be complete, the older son must accept his brother instead of condemning and rejecting him.  God is pleased when he sees us united as brothers.”

“According to the 2000 census, the number of fallen-away Catholics has grown.  Just as the number of those who abandon the Catholic faith is on the rise, so too is the number of people who no longer practice their faith and become indifferent.  In our country 3.49% declare themselves to have ‘no religion’.  In Chiapas that figure is 12.9%.  The majority are Catholics or Protestants who have fallen away.  Some go from church to church and end up nowhere,” he added.

Bishop Arizmendi said that “during this time of Lent, there are many people who humbly approach the sacrament of Reconciliation, sincerely confess their sins, choose to change their life, receive the generous mercy of God the Father, through the priest who is authorized to forgive in the name of the Lord, and participate joyfully in the banquet of the Eucharist, together with their brothers and sisters in the faith.”

“They were dead to God and to the Church and they have come back to life; they have resurrected.  Nevertheless, there are many who do no take advantage of this time of reconciliation.  Because of their pride, the do not admit their sin and they do not make a good confession.  For this reason, they do not enjoy the Paschal feast in the home of the Church,” he said.

“In our diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas,” the bishop announced, “throughout Lent and until the feast of Pentecost, I have authorized all priests to open the doors of God the Father’s mercy, offering absolution of the penalty of excommunication for the sin of abortion, as long as there is true repentance.”

“One who is freed from the serious sin of killing an innocent and defenseless newly conceived life feels such great joy!  I hope may people take advantage of this opportunity in order to come back to the house of God, which is His Church,” he said.

Bishop Arizmendi underscored that “Lent is an opportune time to think about one’s life, as the younger son in the parable did.  We must be humble in order to acknowledge we are sinners and brave in order to return to our father’s house:  ‘I will get up and return to my father.’  May everybody make a good confession of their sins!  Only this way will one be able to experience the joy of returning the heart of God the Father.”

“May fallen-away Catholics return to the house of their mother, who awaits them with an open heart!  We are sad that you have gone away.  If it was our fault, we ask for forgiveness.  We do not want to be like the older son in the parable, who was filled with scorn.  We are brothers and God wants us to be together,” said the bishop.

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