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Archive of April 7, 2004

Vatican slams communist China for imprisoning bishop

Vatican City, Apr 7, 2004 (CNA) - Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Director of the Vatican Press Office, harshly criticized Communist China on Wednesday for the arrest and imprisonment of Bishop Jia Zhi Guo.

“We have learned that a Catholic Bishop, previously held in prison for 20 years, was arrested again by the authorities of the People’s Republic of China,” said the spokesman.

“Once again, a member of the Catholic hierarchy has been deprived of his personal freedom without any juridical motives being provided. This is inadmissible in a State of law that declares that it guarantees ‘freedom of religion’ and ‘respects and safeguards human rights’,” Navarro-Valls concluded.

The 69 year-old Bishop of Shijiazhuang, who belongs to the underground Catholic Church faithful to Rome, was arrested on Monday at his home in the town of Wuqui, 175 miles south of Beijing.

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Pope calls Catholics to live intensively the Easter Triduum

Vatican City, Apr 7, 2004 (CNA) - During Wednesday’s general audience, Pope John Paul explained the importance of the Easter Triduum, which begins tomorrow on Holy Thursday, and called on Catholics to “relive the great mystery of our salvation.”

John Paul II recalled that on Holy Thursday morning the bishop celebrates with his diocesan community the Chrism Mass during which oils are blessed.

In the afternoon, at the Mass of “the Last Supper, the institution of the Eucharist and the Priesthood, will be commemorated,” during which there is the washing of the feet, a sign of “Jesus’ new commandment of love.”  After Mass, it is a customary to adore the Blessed Sacrament throughout the night. 

“On Good Friday,” he continued, “the Church commemorates the passion and death of Our Lord.  The Christian assembly is invited to meditate on the evil and sin that oppress humanity and on the salvation obtained through Christ’s redemptive sacrifice.” On the same day, the Cross is venerated and the Way of the Cross is usually recited.

The Pope indicated that Holy Saturday “is characterized by great silence.” On this day, there are no liturgical celebrations scheduled, “as the faithful, imitating Mary, prepare for the grand event of the Resurrection.”

In the evening “the solemn Easter vigil, the mother of all vigils,” takes place and the Church “meditates on the great promise of the definitive liberation from the slavery of sin and from death.”

“The announcement of the Resurrection,” he said, “interrupts the darkness of night and all of creation is awakened from the slumber of death to know the Lordship of Christ.”

The Holy Father ended by indicating that these days “are an opportune occasion for a sincere conversion of heart to Him Who died for us out of love.”

“Let us allow Mary, the faithful Virgin, to accompany us. With her, let us be in the Cenacle and stay alongside Jesus on Calvary, in order to meet Him, the Risen Lord, on Easter day,” he concluded.

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Low population means less vocations, warns Congregation for the Clergy

Rome, Italy, Apr 7, 2004 (CNA) - During the presentation of the Pope’s Holy Thursday Letter to Priests, Archbishop Csaba Ternyak, Secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, said that although the number of priests in the world is on the rise, where populations are declining so are the number of priests.

Archbishop Ternyak said the total number of clergy in the world (including bishops and deacons) at the end of 2001 was 439,850, while in 1961 it was 406,509.  14% of existing parishes (216,736 at the end of 2001) were created during the last 30 years.

In addition he said the proportion of priests expressly dedicated to parish ministry has risen even more notably: 221,095 parishes are led by a priest, while only 200,295 were in 1978.

The Archbishop underscored that the drop in vocations in some Western countries “corresponds to the progressive aging of the local population, the troublesome phenomenon of the drop in birth rates, and finally to the cultural phenomenon of the increase in secularism.”

At the same time, he said that a growth in the clergy is occurring, especially on the younger continents, “where procreation is still significant and where the culture has been less affected by religious crisis.”

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English Church backs abortion documentary

London, England, Apr 7, 2004 (CNA) - A controversial new documentary will be the first to break through one of Britain’s last television taboos and show footage of an abortion. And the Catholic Church in England and Wales is supporting it, saying that it "could prove a powerful anti-abortion message."

“My Foetus”, which will be aired on Channel 4 this month, will show a "vacuum-pump" abortion. The results of the three-minute procedure, generally performed on pregnancies under 12 weeks gestation, are then placed on a petri dish. Viewers will see fetuses aborted at 10, 11 and 21 weeks.

In a press release from Channel 4, a spokeswoman for the network said the film uses the images of the abortion procedure in the context of a wider discussion about the fierce debate between pro-life and pro-choice groups.

"Television images of an abortion, disturbing and repulsive as they undoubtedly would be, could prove a powerful anti-abortion message, highlighting the full horror of abortion,” said Archbishop Peter Smith in a written statement. “The truth of what is being done out of the public gaze is the true scandal of abortion. Every day in England and Wales there are 481 abortions on average."

The archbishop, who is also the chairman of the department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, said everyone, especially women, has a right to know what abortion really involves.

“If the tide of public opinion were to be turned by these disturbing images, it would be for the common good," he said. Currently, 23 percent of all pregnancies in Britain now ends in abortion. This figure rises to 36 per cent of pregnancies in women under 20.

The Pro-Life Alliance, banned by broadcasters from showing graphic images of aborted fetuses, said the decision marked "the end of the line for politically-correct censorship by broadcasters." It has welcomed the broadcast, too, and has signaled its intention to use such images in its upcoming general-election campaign.

The network said it has taken steps to ensure “My Foetus” did not breach taste and decency laws. It says the images are "carefully conceptualized" within the wider debate on abortion. It will warn viewers both before and during the program of potentially disturbing images. It has scheduled the broadcast for 11 p.m. and will inform viewers of a support line.

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Human rights group petitions for release of Hmong Christian prisoners in Vietnam

Washington D.C., Apr 7, 2004 (CNA) - Freedom House has petitioned the Government of Vietnam for the immediate release of 10 Hmong Christians as well as other religious prisoners, who were imprisoned for their beliefs, as a good will gesture during this Easter Season.

In its appeal, submitted yesterday, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom argued that the release of religious prisoners is necessary under basic international human rights law and Vietnam's bill of rights.

Three of the prisoners, on whom the Center’s appeal focuses, are elders or leaders of their churches. One of the elders, Ma Van Bay, remains jailed without benefit of due process since November 2003. 

Others among the Hmong prisoners have been charged with vague or catchall offenses, such as "disturbing public order, "taking advantage of religion to take money from the people," and  "resisting a police officer doing his duty." They are serving prison terms, ranging from 18 months to 12 years. 

These arrests are part of a wave of anti-Christian persecution in the Hmong areas of Vietnam, said the Center.

Due to international pressure, Vietnamese authorities now rarely refer to Christianity when discussing charges of religious believers in public. Instead, they use the term "illegal religion."

The Hmong in these provinces converted to Christianity after 1954, when French rule ended and Communist forces under Ho Chi Minh took control of the North. The government only recognizes as Christians those who believed prior to the revolution.

As well, the Vietnamese military has used drug injections in Lai Chau Province as part of its campaign to pressure Hmong Christians to sign statements recanting their faith, reported the Center.

Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom urges the United States government to cite Vietnam on its list of "Countries of Particular Concern" for egregious, systematic, and ongoing religious persecution.

The full prisoner list can be viewed at www.freedomhouse.org/religion.

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Senate postpones vote on hate propaganda bill, bishops fear bill could silence Church

Ottawa, Canada, Apr 7, 2004 (CNA) - A controversial bill, which Catholic bishops fear could be used to silence Church teaching, was not voted on by the Canadian Senate before it adjourned for a one-week break, April 2.

Bill C-250 would add “sexual orientation” to the list of groups protected by the hate propaganda provisions of the Criminal Code. Currently, the only identifiable groups are those distinguished by color, race, religion or ethnic origin.

“Participation in the current public debate on [same-sex] marriage has demonstrated that there are individuals who believe that Catholic Church teaching on homosexual behavior is hatred,” said the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in a letter to senators March 25. “We remain concerned that this bill, as presently drafted, could be used in an attempt to silence Church teaching in this regard.”

If a federal election were called after Easter, before the Senate could vote on the bill, the bill would die. However, if the bill clears the Senate before a federal election is called, all that is required for it to become law is the formality of royal assent, given by Governor General Adrienne Clarkson.

In their letter, the bishops also looked beyond the concerns of the Catholic Church and remarked that Bill C-250 could also be used to silence comment on homosexual behavior by people who do not profess any particular religious faith.

“Everyone has an overall moral framework or belief system,” said the letter. “For some people, this is primarily based on religious convictions; for others, it is informed by philosophical principles, and for others, it is based on what have come to be called secular values. There are people who do not belong to a particular religion who may consider sexual conduct between people of the same sex to be morally wrong.”

The bishops also suggested senators “take the time to make sure that the guaranteed rights of freedom of religion and freedom of expression are not overridden.”

One way of doing that, they said, is to add a section that “clearly exempts, from the hate propaganda provisions, the communicating of statements about the morality of sexual conduct.”

Canadian Catholic News reported that the bishops sent their letter on the same day that the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs approved Bill C-250 without amendment, handing it over to the full Senate for a final vote.

Several church and family groups also oppose the private member’s bill, introduced by New Democrat member of Parliament Svend Robinson. They say it will impinge on freedom of religion and could lead to parts of the Bible being labeled as hate literature.

Robinson, who is openly gay, has maintained that this bill won’t affect freedom of religion.

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Judge’s decision to allow homosexual couple to adopt rejected in Chile

Santiago, Chile, Apr 7, 2004 (CNA) - The Church and several family groups are reacting against the decision of an Appeals court in Temuco, Chile, to grant custody of three children to a lesbian mother, saying it will make it possible for other homosexual couples to adopt.

The controversial decision says that “lesbianism by itself does not make on incompetent” in the custody of minors.”

While the father of the children appeals to the Supreme Court to regain custody of his children, Ignacio Fernandez of the Archdiocese of Santiago’s Family Ministry Office, said the only family model that can truly be such is that of a father and a mother.

He added that to develop properly all children need a father who teaches them values like security, and a mother who gives them an example of service.  “We think the attempt to form a community similar to marriage between to people of the same sex is inadequate.  We were all born into a family and we know that the mother  and the father bring different things to the family,” said Fernandez.

The organization “Family Action” also criticized the decision saying it “violates the natural rights of children and endangers the very concept of family established by law.”

In a statement signed by the group’s director, Juan Antonio Montes, Family Action underscored that “all children have to right to be educated by a father and by a mother and this right is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Children, ratified by Chile.”

Moreover, the group said, “Chilean civil law recognizes the family as the union of a man and a woman, and there is neither legal recognition nor protection for other types of lesbian or homosexual unions.”

Family Action is demanding the Supreme Court “reverse the decision and give clear signs that the family and the rights of children are duly protected in Chile.”

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