Archive of April 6, 2004

In Letter to Priests Pope calls for promotion of vocations especially among altar servers

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2004 (CNA) - In his brief Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 2004, presented today at the Vatican, Pope John Paul asked priests to give witness of holiness and promote vocations among the youth, especially among altar servers.

“Our annual encounter through this Letter,” the Pope writes, “is a particularly fraternal one, thanks to our common sharing in the Priesthood of Christ, and it takes place in the liturgical setting of this holy day marked by two significant celebrations; the morning Chrism Mass, and the evening Mass ‘in cena Domini’.”

The Holy Father reflects on Holy Thursday, saying it is the day “we were born as priests,” and also the day the Eucharist was established.

He then says that the Eucharist, which was “entrusted by Christ to the Apostles and has been passed down by them and their successors in every generation,” is “a gift from God ‘which radically transcends the power of the assembly’.”

Pope John Paul asks the faithful to pray “that priests will never be lacking in the Church,” noting that in some parts of the world there is a shortage of priests while in others, “thank God, we see a promising springtime of vocations.”

He says that the fidelity of priests, their commitment to Christ, their love for the Eucharist, their Christ-like behavior will all help bring “new workers to the vineyard.”

The Pope asks priests to, “among other initiatives, show special care for altar servers, who represent a kind of ‘garden’ of priestly vocations.”

“The group of altar servers, under your guidance as part of the parish community, can be given a valuable experience of Christian education and become a kind of pre-seminary,” the Pope also says. 

“Help the parish, as a family made up of families, to look upon altar servers as their own children, like ‘olive shoots around the table’of Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life,” he adds.

“With the help of the families most involved and catechists, be particularly concerned for the group of servers so that, through their service at the altar, each of them will learn to grow in love for the Lord Jesus, to recognize Him truly present in the Eucharist and to experience the beauty of the liturgy.”

“Initiatives for altar servers,” also write the Pontiff, “on the diocesan or local level should be promoted and encouraged, with attention to the different age groups.”

“Never forget,” John Paul II urges priests, “that you yourselves are the first ‘Apostles’ of Jesus the High Priest. Your own witness counts more than anything else. Altar servers see you at the regular Sunday and weekday celebrations, in your hands they see the Eucharist ‘take ‘place’, on your face they see its mystery reflected, and in your heart they sense the summons of a greater love.”

“May you be for them fathers, teachers and witnesses of Eucharistic piety and holiness of life!”.

> Read the Pope's Letter to Priests at

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Priests faithful to their vocation are magnet to new vocations

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2004 (CNA) - During the presentation on Tuesday morning of Pope John Paul’s Letter to the Priests, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy and Archbishop Csaba Ternyak –Secretary of the same dicastery- said that priests who are faithful to their vocation are an inspiration for new vocations among young people.

During the presentation of the Letter, which the Pope traditionally releases on Holy Thursday, Cardinal Castrillon emphasized  “the intimate connection of the sacrament of the Eucharist with the ordained priesthood,” as well as “the irreplaceable nature of the ordained ministry.”

The Cardinal then said that the Pontiff also wants to stress in his letter the need of a “vocational pastoral” care. 

Prayer for vocations “must be accompanied by pastoral care with the purpose of understanding life is a vocation and that God calls some of us to follow Him more closely in communion with Him and in self-giving.”

“Therefore,” he added, “Christian families have an important and invaluable mission and a responsibility for vocations, especially through the parish, to help them to correspond in a generous and conscious way.”

Archbishop Ternyak, for his part, said that it is necessary “to speak to young people directly in order to show them the beauty of Catholic priesthood, lived out with a heart full of love for God and for others, and by men who happily consecrate themselves and their freedom to the service of their brothers and sisters.” 

“One of the fundamental tools of vocational pastoral care is the priest himself, with fidelity to his vocation and enthusiasm in the exercise of the ministry. (The Church needs) men in love with the Eucharist who can help young people to discover their devotion for a vocation of ontological identification with Christ who offers Himself for the salvation of all and who becomes a gift in the Eucharist,” he concluded.

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Cardinal Castrillon announces world conference on priesthood and holiness

Vatican City, Apr 6, 2004 (CNA) - At the end of the presentation of Pope John Paul’s Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, announced a world conference on the priesthood and holiness.

The event, which will take place next October on the Mediterranean island of Malta, will have as theme “Priests, forgers of saints in the third millennium.”

Cardinal Castrillon, as well as several experts from around the world, will attend the event, and proceedings will be made public immediately after.

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Number of parishes halved in canadian diocese, in hope of reviving Church

Halifax, Canada, Apr 6, 2004 (CNA) - Fewer buildings, more life, more people. That’s the idea behind the new parish reorganization and renewal plan for the Archdiocese of Halifax that will cut its 75 parishes and missions down to 24.

Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ, is optimistic that the reorganization and subsequent creation of new, active faith centres in the archdiocese will attract more people to church, especially those “who may not come to church because of a lack of vibrancy,” reported the Atlantic Catholic.

The archbishop and the chancellor, Deacon Bob Britton, unveiled the new report on pastoral renewal and parish reorganization in the archdiocese, called “Forward in Faith”, in early February.

The report recommends the creation of 24 new “vibrant” parish communities, carved out of the current 53 parishes and 22 missions. These new parishes would be organized around a parish centre, which would consist of one central church, and a parish facility for offices, meeting rooms, classrooms and kitchen facilities.

While this process will include some church closures, it will also include new structures. For example, in rapidly growing suburban areas, there is the possibility of building a larger church to accommodate the large number of young families.

“The parish is the most significant part of the archdiocesan Church,” said Britton. “The parish is where the Church is made real and we have come to conclude that parishes have to be vibrant communities.”

Churches that are almost empty every weekend, have few ministries being carried out, or are lacking financial support are not “vibrant.” The recommendation to amalgamate parishes arises out of the principle of subsidiarity, whereby “parishes need to be built by parishioners, who must take responsibility for their parish communities,” said Britton, according to the Atlantic Catholic.

The renewal will be a gradual process, with plenty of room for feedback and dialogue, the archbishop assured. Over an 18-month process, clergy and laity from the various parishes that are recommended for amalgamation, will collectively decide how to create their new parish unit and which church will be at its centre. The archbishop will approve all final decisions.

“We need to ask how we can be the Church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century,” the archbishop was quoted as saying. “It will be a sad process for some people, but it is a positive process and our concern is the pastoral good of the people.”

“Forward in Faith’ was prepared in 15 months by a committee of 15 laity, clergy and religious.

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Major league baseball players use ‘Passion’ as outreach

Kissimmee, Fla., Apr 6, 2004 (CNA) - Spring training has been more a little more than just playing ball for some major league baseball teams. Convinced that “The Passion of the Christ” is a great outreach tool, some Christian players arranged for their teammates to see the film by renting out a movie theater or by handing out free tickets, and the response has been positive, reported the Baptist Press.

New York Mets pitcher Braden Looper had organized a screening and about 50 players and their wives showed up. Other players, such as Mike Matheny of the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, did the same.

Methany invited his teammates, as well as the minor leaguers and their wives.

“We have Bible studies, and I think this is going to be a good first study and kind of open the doors to everybody,” he reportedly said.

Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane, a Southern Baptist deacon, wanted his players to see the movie, but he also knew that his involvement might keep some players away. So, he enlisted the help of outfielder Lance Berkman.

The players attended and the movie was “a hot topic of conversation in the locker room” for a couple of days afterward, Berkman reportedly said.

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Church in Colombia repeats call for truce during Holy Week

, Apr 6, 2004 (CNA) - Cardinal Pedro Rubiano Sáenz, President of the Colombian Bishops Conference, is repeating the Colombian bishops’ call for a truce that will allow all Colombians to live Holy Week in an atmosphere of reflection.

“I appeal to those who are on the fringes of the law.  I ask respect for these days.  They too all called by the Lord to be renewed in Him and to seek out the good of all Colombians,” the Cardinal said.  He also recalled that “every day is holy and should be lived in peace, but Holy Week demands greater peacefulness and respect for life.”

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Spokesman for Spanish Bishops Conference rejects accusations of anti-Semitism in “The Passion”

Madrid, Spain, Apr 6, 2004 (CNA) - The spokesman and secretary general of the Spanish Bishops Conference, Fr. Juan Antonio Martinez, said this week “The Passion of the Christ” “is not anti-Semitic nor does it inspire hatred for the Jews.”  Instead it presents “the rejection of evil, compassion for Jesus, and faith in his sacrifice of love.”

Fr. Martinez made the statements during in celebrations marking the beginning of Holy Week in the Spanish town of Gijon.

He said he was mystified at how the move “has inspired such angry reactions,” some of which in response to the film’s supposedly “gratuitous” violence.  

“Gibson has also been accused of making suffering into entertainment and of portraying too much gratuitous violence.  It is true that this is a brutal story of torture and death, perhaps unsuitable for sensitive people and for minors, but gratuitously violent?  With the exception of a few cases of artistic license, it rather reflects what we know to be true about those truly savage executions,” said Fr. Martinez.

He added that watching “The Passion of the Christ” is to witness “not a legend, but history,” in which “it is clear that Jesus freely chooses to goes to his death.”

Likewise Fr. Martinez said that “one of the greatest achievements of Gibson’s work” is the Eucharist aspect of the Lord’s Passion.

“In order to die with Christ his same death for love, his generous surrender to God and to neighbor, we need to see him die in the pictures of Holy Week and in the images of quality films,” he said.

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Church in Venezuela responds to new attacks by President Chavez

Caracas, Venezuela, Apr 6, 2004 (CNA) - Bishop Roberto Luckert Leon of Coro, Venezuela, responded to new attacks by the country’s president Hugo Chavez, emphasizing that the Catholic Church in Venezuela “will not be silent” in the face of aggressions.

Last Sunday in his television program, “Hello Mr. President,” Chavez responded to a recent document by the Venezuelan Bishops Conference that calls for a recall vote, saying he prays that God “will forgive the bishops.”

While clutching a statue of Jesus carrying the cross, Chavez dramatically stated: “Forgive them for forgetting the preferential option for the poor…, for aligning themselves, like Judas, with the most ominous and evil interests of the Venezuelan capitalistic oligarchy.  I ask the poor to pray with me: forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do.”

Bishop Luckert underscored that despite the crisis the country is facing, the Catholic Church “will not be silenced…Chavez seeks to make the bishops afraid, but we are not afraid of the boogey man.”

Bishop Luckert said he was shocked by the reaction of the President, who he said uses the poor to create the impression that more people support him than actually do.  “He breathes belligerency and confrontation, democracy scares him.  When it comes to violence he is successful, but in matters of governance he is weak,” said the bishop.

He reminded the President that the bishops of Venezuela “do not wish to fight with him, or to hurt him.  We wish to work for Venezuela, we want to support him, but not like this for the love of God.”

Bishop Luckert called on Chavez to submit to fair elections “to see if the people want him or not.  But they are mistaken if they think he is the same as the Chavez of 1998. The people are tired and fed up with so many promises.  He should get to work, not a single thing has been accomplished since he took office five years ago and a lot of money has been squandered,” he concluded.

The President of the Venezuelan Bishops Conference, Archbishop Porras, expressed regret that Chavez manipulated a religious symbol to attack the bishops, saying the President “wants to make himself the master, owner and lord over good and evil, the divine and the human…He’s like a guru or an ayatollah who thinks he speaks the divine truth about everything.”

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