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Archive of April 1, 2004

Contradictory reactions to “The Passion” by Bishops of Italy and France

Rome, Italy, Apr 1, 2004 (CNA) - The Committee on Communications of the Bishops Conference of France published yesterday a statement critical of “The Passion of the Christ,” in open contrast with the “pastoral analysis” of the Italian bishops, who said the movie was “appropriate for provoking thought on the person of Jesus.”

The Mel Gibson movie was released in France on Wednesday, March 31, a week ahead of the April 7 debut in Italy.

In its statement, the Committee on Communications of the Bishops Conference of France said “the sincerity of the film’s creator is not in question, and it could be that the film motivates men and women to find out who Jesus is.”  Nevertheless, the statement says, “the face of Christ is not as apparent [in the movie] as are our modern obsessions: the anguish of evil, fascination with violence, and the search for the guilty.”

The statement claims that the decision to “portray images of the last hours of the life of Christ, with intentional historical reconstruction,” has “consequences.”

“The choice to isolate the Passion from the life and preaching of Christ,” the statement adds, “does not allow consideration of the complex motives which little by little inspired the multitudes to follow Jesus, and ignited the controversy surrounding his person, his intentions, and his mystery.”

The French bishops say in addition that “independently of knowing whether or not the movie is intentionally anti-Semitic, it could be used to stir up anti-Semitic opinions.”  “This violence (in the film), which overwhelms the viewer, ends up erasing the meaning of the passion and the essence of the person and the message of Christ: love carried to perfection by the voluntary surrender of himself,” says the document, which concludes with a question.  “Is it not ironic that a movie about Jesus can’t be shown to children?”

The comments by the Italian bishops, on the other hand, are notably more extensive and positive, underscoring that “Gibson’s perspective is not in the tradition of the classic iconography of the Romance period (of which ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ by Franco Zeffirelli is the best example) but rather follows decidedly the portrayal of the disfigured face of Jesus which is evoked in the iconographic works of the 15th and 16th centuries.”

According to the commentary by the Italian Bishops Conference, “the narration (of the film) proceeds according to the traditional stations of the cross, from the encounter with Veronica to the falls of Jesus under the weight of the cross.” 

In this sense, contrary to the opinions of the French bishops, the bishops of Italy underscore that “The Passion of the Christ,” “employs a clever use of ‘flashbacks’ to the infancy of Jesus, and more frequently, focusing very effectively on the Last Supper, suggesting a unified reading of the historical event of Jesus, and in particular, a unified look at the very mystery of salvation.”  “In fact,” continues the commentary, “the relationship of Jesus to Mary is portrayed with superior gracefulness, culminating in the image of the pieta after the descent from the cross.”

The Italian bishops’ commentary also emphasizes that the depiction of violence toward Jesus requires that we recall that the redemption of mankind was achieved “not by the quantity of suffering Jesus endured,” but by his “free choice to undertake it.”

The bishops recommend that pastors and religious educators provide some type of guidance so that the experience of the film will be as rewarding as possible.

“The movie belongs in the realm of cultural and aesthetic entertainment and conveys a strong religious conviction.  It can therefore constitute an occasion for thought-provoking questions about the about the meaning of the person of Jesus and his life and mission, which will require a more catechetical and ecclesial context in order to be adequately embraced,” the statement concludes.

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Pope’s prayer intentions for April focused on solid priestly formation

Vatican City, Apr 1, 2004 (CNA) - The Vatican Press office announced today that Pope John Paul’s prayer intentions for April will be focused on solid priestly formation.

The Pontiff’s general intention for the month is: “That solid preparation of the candidates for holy orders and permanent training of ordained ministers may be carefully provided for.”

His missionary intention is: “That the missionary spirit of ‘ad gentes’ may become a theme of reflection and a matter of constant commitment in the ordinary pastoral activity of the Christian community.”

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Materialism and violence threaten families around the world, Cardinal says

Vatican City, Apr 1, 2004 (CNA) - Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, spoke on Thursday in Mexico City at the concluding session of the Third World Congress of Families, denouncing materialism, violence and permissiveness as the most dangerous threats to families.

Cardinal Martino said that “the family is the key for the future of mankind,” and, in order to make society more humane and just, the family as society’s basic institution must be strengthened.

“We must direct our greatest efforts, our best ideas and refine our imaginations and our creativity to make this action of strengthening the family more effective,” he added.

“It is within the family,” he underscored, ”that those forms of anti-culture must be fought, those forms that contradict the vocation inscribed in the hearts of all human beings to a full life, to fraternity and to solidarity.”

Cardinal Martino commented on the serious threats to families, citing “a materialistic culture which places things over people, the culture of violence which considers violence as the only way to produce a more just society and the culture of permissiveness which challenges rules on sexual behavior, interpersonal relations within the family and relations of authority.”

Noting that it is impossible for societies today not to be open to globalization, the Cardinal said that “it is important, however, to educate to discernment and to defend the riches of every culture, avoiding what can place these cultures in danger.”

“A people that loses its cultural identity becomes fertile terrain for inhuman practices and places its own future at risk,” he concluded.

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Open invitation to National Prayer Breakfast

Washington D.C., Apr 1, 2004 (CNA) - Catholics will host a national prayer breakfast at the end of the month “to thank God for the blessings bestowed upon us and our land.”

The National Prayer Breakfast will be held April 28, 2004 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. The keynote speaker is theologian Avery Cardinal Dulles.

The morning will start with the prayer of the Rosary at 7 a.m., followed by mass at 7:30 a.m. Breakfast will be served at 8:45 a.m.

The breakfast is open to people of all denominations and faiths. Tickets are $50.

The hosts include: Hon. Robert Bork, Bill Donohue, Robert P. George, Deal Hudson, Hon. Mel Martinez, Rev. John J. McCloskey, Robert Moynihan, Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, Barbara  Nicolosi, Robert Novak, Hon. Rick Santorum, Prof. David Schindler, Russell Shaw, Hon. Michael Steele, Msgr. Stuart Swetland and Mary Ann Glendon.

For more information, go to: www.catholicprayerbreakfast.com

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World meeting on the family concludes calling for protection of “natural marriage”

Mexico City, Mexico, Apr 1, 2004 (CNA) - The Third World Congress on the Family, which took place this week in Mexico City, concluded yesterday with a statement signed by more than 300 organizations from 50 countries demanding their governments and the United Nations protect marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The statement is broken down into five points, which urge that the natural order of marriage and the family be safeguarded.  The three-day meeting brought together representatives from various governments, ONGs, civic associations and religious leaders, including the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo and Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

The statement declares that “the family is an institution of natural right, the origin of society and its most basic and fundamental unit,” adding that “marriage, based on human nature, is the fundamental unit of family life and is the only moral and ethical means of forming a family.”

“Marriage is constituted by the union of a man and a woman, for the purpose of building of a community of life, mutually helping one another and seeking the preservation of humanity,” the statement says.

Likewise, it underscores that “same-sex unions cannot be recognized as marriages because they are contrary to human nature.”

The statement reaffirms the urgency of defending life and human dignity as “the first and foremost rights of mankind, and as such should be respected from the moment of fertilization or conception.”

The signers of the document called on “the leaders of our respective countries, and the Secretary General of the United Nations, Koffi Annan, to speak out against the efforts in various countries to promote homosexual and lesbian orientation as a human right, which is contrary to human nature and dignity and the basic and fundamental institutions of society, such as marriage and the family.”

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Exegetical commentary on Code of Canon Law published in English

Madrid, Spain, Apr 1, 2004 (CNA) - The Institute of Martin de Azpilcueta of the University of Navarre has published the first English version of the monumental “Exegetical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law.”

According to the publishers, the Commentary consists of an explication of the canonical norms, following the systematic order of the Code.

“Each canon is accompanied by ample commentary, with all of the elements necessary for understanding the text and with cross references to different canons and commentaries but respecting the scientific autonomy of each commentary and commentator,” they said.

120 canonists and theologians from over 15 countries contributed to the English edition, under the direction of the University of Navarre.  The five-volume work took 5 years to complete.

During the presentation of the compendium, which took place at the Department of Canon Law of the University, Angel Marzoa, one of the department’s professors, said, “The favorable reception of the Spanish edition, which went through three revisions in just five years, and the requests of so many English-speaking canonists encouraged us to complete this translation.”

According to Marzo, “This is the first time a work of this magnitude and nature has been made available to the English-speaking world.”

The professor mentioned that they have received requests for editions in Italian and French but that the proposals are under consideration.

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Pirated copies of ‘Passion’ strike ‘heavy blow against atheism’ in China

, Apr 1, 2004 (CNA) - “The Passion of the Christ” has “struck a heavy blow against atheism,” says one Chinese youth, despite government policy that could potentially ban the film from cinemas because of its religious nature.

However, since early March, Mainland China Christians have circumvented this possibility and have resorted to viewing pirated copies of the film on DVD, reported AsiaNews.

“The Passion of the Christ” begins showing in cinemas in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan at the beginning of April. But there is no indication about whether the film will be shown in Mainland China.

Foreign movies entering China must undergo strict censorship by government authorities. The State advocates atheism in education, and school textbooks define Jesus as a mythical character. Any film as religious as “The Passion” risks being banned and viewed as a challenge to communist state authority.

"‘The Passion’ is a very powerful evangelization tool, so it is highly unlikely it will be shown publicly in China," said one Catholic webmaster, who requested anonymity.

But the movie’s huge grassroots success, as seen in the demand for pirated DVDs, has "struck a heavy blow against atheism," he said. DVDs of the film have become widely available, and the government has already begun cracking down on these pirated copies.

One underground priest admitted to buying a DVD copy for 9 yuan (about $1) on the street and said he intends to show it to his parishioners on Good Friday, April 9, reported AsiaNews.

"The quality is not good and the Chinese translation is lousy. But for those of us who know the Bible, we know what's going on," he said.

Other parishes in the government-approved official Church have reportedly notified their members of the availability of DVD copies at their own parish stores and encouraged them to watch it.

The webmaster said discussions on the film have been going for some on time on his Web blog. He said many secular sites in China also carry news about the film. In addition, various Protestant Web sites enable the film to be downloaded from another site in China.

"Quite a number of lay people have said they felt their faith strengthened after watching the movie and felt differently when praying the 14 Stations of the Cross at Lent," the webmaster said.

One Chinese university student recommended the film to friends and said one of them asked him to tell him more stories of the Bible, and another expressed his wish to join the Church.

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Bishops in Canada enter sex-education debate

Halifax, Canada, Apr 1, 2004 (CNA) - Nova Scotia’s three Catholic bishops have entered the provincial debate about a new sex-education manual proposed for high school students.

In a letter released to all Catholic parishes in the province March 18, the bishops remind parents that they have “the right and privilege to be primary educators of their children.” Therefore, they also have the right to determine the moral principals and context in which their children learn about sex.

Halifax Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ, his Auxiliary Bishop Claude Champagne, and Antigonish Bishop Raymond Lahey signed the letter, which is a response to the new booklet, Sex, produced by the Nova Scotia Department of Health for students in the province’s public schools.

In the last two months, the booklet has split many school boards because of the explicit descriptions of some sexual behavior – including homosexual behavior – and its lack of any moral content, reported the Catholic Register.

Some boards decided to reject the booklet. Others voted to send the manual to students’ homes. Others are yet undecided and plan to revisit the issue.

The bishops said the parents’ right to control their children’s education flows from their distinction as being co-creators, with God, of human life and their responsibility, which they accepted when their children were baptized, for passing on their faith.

“We believe schools are meant to complement and strengthen what parents are teaching, but never to undermine or contradict the moral values, which parents present to their children,” wrote the bishops. “Parents have the right and duty to protect their children from these detrimental influences.”

For the bishops’ full letter, go to www.catholichalifax.org.

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