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Archive of May 28, 2004

Pope says U.S. bishops must confront culture of relativism with the Gospel

Vatican City, May 28, 2004 (CNA) - Addressing a group of American bishops from Indianapolis, Chicago and Milwaukee, Pope John Paul II spoke about the urgency of confronting the spirit of agnosticism and relativism with the Gospel.

“Every Christian, in carrying out (the) prophetic mission, has taken on a personal responsibility for the divine truth revealed in the Incarnate Word,” said the Pope. “This ‘responsibility for the truth’ demands of the Church a forthright and credible witness to the deposit of faith.”

The Holy Father affirmed that “an effective proclamation of the Gospel in contemporary western society will need to confront directly the widespread spirit of agnosticism and relativism which has cast doubt on reason’s ability to know the truth which alone satisfies the human heart’s restless quest for meaning.”

He added: “The presentation of an authentically biblical understanding of the act of faith, one which emphasizes both its cognitive and fiducial dimensions, will help to overcome purely subjective approaches and facilitate a deeper appreciation of the Church’s role in authoritatively proposing ‘the faith which is to be believed and put into practice.’”

Reaffirming a consistent theme throughout his teaching the pope added: “An essential element of the Church’s dialogue with contemporary society must also be a correct  presentation, in catechesis and preaching, of the relationship between faith and reason.”

“The word of God must not be chained,” he continued; “instead it must resound before the world in all its liberating truth as a word of grace and salvation.” On this subject, he underlined the need for “a profound renewal of the missionary and prophetic sense of the whole People of God,” and for the Church “to speak courageously and with a united voice in addressing the great moral and spiritual issues confronting the men and women of our time.”

“The Church in the United States,” said the pope, “is challenged to an evangelization of culture, … (and) called to respond to the profound religious needs and aspirations of a society increasingly in danger of forgetting its spiritual roots and yielding to a purely materialistic and soulless vision of the world.”

The Holy Father thanked the American prelates for their efforts in contributing to a “respectful discussion of important issues affecting the life of your nation. In this way the light of the Gospel has been brought to bear on controversial social questions such as respect for human life, problems of justice and peace, immigration, the defense of family values and the sanctity of marriage. This prophetic witness … is a significant service to the common good of a democracy like your own.”

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Archbishop O’Malley assures faithful that church closings is step in right direction

Boston, Mass., May 28, 2004 (CNA) - Boston’s massive parish reorganization is necessary to advance the mission of the church, said Archbishop Sean O’Malley at a press conference yesterday.

At the end of a six-month process, which included consultation with thousands of lay people, the archdiocese decided to close 70 of its 357 existing parishes. Five new parishes will be created in parish mergers. In the end, there will be 65 less parishes but only 60 less churches, since five of the former parish churches will continue as worship sites.

The archbishop assured that in no way would the sale of the churches be used to finance legal settlements with victims of sexual abuse by priests. 

“The sale of the Brighton property of the former archbishop's residences and surrounding land has raised the $90 million dollars needed to do so,” Archbishop O’Malley said. “No money from the future sale of parish assets will be used to pay for the settlement.”

The bishop said the funds from church sales would be used to support remaining parishes and schools and to recapitalize the archdiocese’s pension and medical funds.

“This process of reconfiguration is directed not toward the past, but toward the future mission of the Church,” he underlined.

Though the recent decision may seem radical and quick, the bishop said, parish reorganization has been discussed for many years.

The closures are necessary due to changes in population, the movement of people from the cities to the suburbs, and the decrease in the number of active Catholics, he said.

In addition, more than one-third of Boston parishes is operating in the red and parish buildings and churches need major reparation – to the tune of $100 million in the city of Boston alone, the bishop pointed out. There is also an aging priest population – 130 pastors are over the age of 70 – and a shortage of new vocations to the priesthood.

The alternative to closing parishes would be far worse in the long run, said the bishop.

“We would experience a continual decline in some areas of our archdiocese, closing parish after parish, school after school, out-reach program after out-reach program, all because the archdiocese would be unable to subsidize these entities,” he said.

“Furthermore, the archdiocese would be faced with the serious reality of not being able to meet its pension and medical fund obligations for its employees. This we cannot allow to happen,” he added

Parish closings can bring ‘new life’ to diocese

The bishop said he is “profoundly aware of the emotion the announcement of the closing of a parish evokes.”

He said he and his priests' council “agonized together over parish closings.”

The council, he explained, “tried to distribute closings across all regions of the archdiocese so that we shall be able to ensure the Church's presence in all areas … in the future, especially in the inner city and in rural areas.”

Archbishop O’Malley said he understand how difficult a church closing can be for parishioners. “It means the loss of a spiritual home, the place where so much time and resources have been invested, the house where so many important moments in people's lives, from birth to death, have taken place,” he acknowledged.

But the bishop added that parish closures could also mean new life in other areas and parishes in the archdiocese.

“As one church is closed, another church is waiting to welcome its people to a place which can become more alive, more spirit-filled, and more able to proclaim the good news of our faith because of the talents, treasure, and time its new members will bring,” he said.

“Closing a parish does not mean an end to the book, just a chapter in the story of life and faith that is being written every day of our life as a Church,” he comforted.

The bishop said the reorganization and upcoming closures “will challenge all of us to move beyond a parochial mindset and realize that we are Catholic, which means universal.

“I appeal to every Catholic in the archdiocese to accept these changes in the spirit of faith,” he said. “To lay aside their anger and disappointment, to cast off their sadness and work with each other to build a stronger Church.”

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Polls surveys voter opinions on Catholic Church and politics

, May 28, 2004 (CNA) - About 66 percent of the Catholics surveyed in a recent national poll said U.S. Catholic bishops should not publicly pressure Catholic politicians on abortion;  and 87 percent said the bishops’ comments would not influence their vote in November, according to a poll carried out independently by the Quinnipiac University.

The university’s survey polled 1,160 Americans. Of this total amount, about 71 percent believe the bishops should not publicly pressure Catholic politicians; and 85 percent said their view of Democratic Senator John Kerry was unchanged by bishops' recent criticisms.

As well, 55 percent of respondents said abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

Also according to the poll, Catholic voters favor President George W. Bush over Sen. Kerry 48 -- 41 percent with 3 percent for independent candidate Ralph Nader. Among all voters, Bush gets 43 percent to Kerry's 42 percent, with 6 percent for Nader.

Catholics give President Bush a 50 -- 44 percent overall approval, while all voters disapprove 50 -- 45 percent of the job Bush is doing.

The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted from May 18 to 24. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percent. The margin of error for the subgroup of Catholic respondents was plus or minus 5.6 percentage points.

See the Quinnipiac University poll at: http://www.quinnipiac.edu/x11346.xml

The Quinnipiac University poll seems to contradict another one carried this week by Zogby,   which indicates that only 20% of America's 51 million Catholics support Kerry on issues  where he opposes Church teaching.

Zogby asked 1,388 American Roman Catholic voters  whether they'd vote for a Catholic political candidate if he  supported legislation that was in opposition to Church teaching on  specific moral issues. 

80% of Catholics are less likely to support a Catholic  presidential candidate who "voted to allow minors to be transported  across a state line for an abortion in order to evade parental  notification laws in another state." 

Also according to the Zogby poll, only 23% of Catholics favor stem cell research, 12% support not protecting the unborn, 10% favor same-sex marriage and only 6% oppose parental notification.

Only 1 in 5 Catholic respondents said that issues "other than those of a religious nature" would take  priority in their choice of a candidate.

See the Zogby poll at: http://www.emediawire.com/releases/2004/5/emw128303.htm

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Vatican highlights importance of Muslim-Christian Summit in Qatar

Vatican City, May 28, 2004 (CNA) - In a press release, the Vatican Press Office higlighted the historic relevance of the Mulsim-Christian Dialogue that started on Thursday and will end on Saturday, May 29 at Doha, the capital city of Qatar.

The origins of the Doha Conference on Muslim-Christian Dialogue, which began yesterday in the capital of Doha, go back to the first visit to Rome, in February 2004, by the new ambassador of Qatar to the Holy See,  Mohamed Alkawari, following the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two States on November 18, 2002. At that time he expressed his government’s desire to initiate an Islamic-Christian dialogue together with the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. The council welcomed the proposal and started organizing, along with the Gulf States Center of the University of Qatar, the conference now underway in Doha. The three days of meetings end May 29.

The first day of meetings began with a morning public session of Christian and Muslim keynote speakers, including Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, former secretary of Relations with State. This session was moderated by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims.

In the afternoon there was a second public encounter on the topic of “Religions and Peace” which was moderated by Maher Abdallah, head of foreign relations of the Al-Jazeera TV channel.

Speakers at this event were, on behalf of Muslims, Sheikh Fawzy Fadel Al-Zafzaf, president of the permanent committee of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif for Dialogue with Monotheistic Religions and, for Christians, Youssef Kamal El-Hage, a consultor on the pontifical commission and a professor of physics at Notre Dame University in Lebanon.

The first closed session of work by the pontifical commission was held last evening and brought together nine of the ten commission members and two Catholic experts in the field of Christian-Muslim relations as well as ten invited Muslim guests, including several professors of Islamic law, theology and philosophy, and directors of Islamic religious studies and comparative religions from Tunisia, Qatar, Egypt, the United States, Pakistan, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Iran. 

Closed-door meetings continue today and end late tomorrow evening. Journalists were invited to the session last evening in which the members introduced themselves and their work, and shared personal experiences they have had with religious freedom - the focus of the meetings today and tomorrow.

Both Archbishop Fitzgerald and Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata, respectively president and vice president of the pontifical commission, noted the historic nature of these two days of meetings. The commission, founded in 1974, normally meets once a year and has always been a meeting of just the Catholic members.

The Doha meeting is the first time in the 30-year commission history that Catholics have met jointly with Muslims.

Archbishop Fitzgerald also remarked that the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who has a great interest in inter-religious dialogue, expressed the desire last year to open a Center for Muslim-Christian dialogue in Doha.

As Catholics and Muslims meet to discuss religious freedom, they will do so from a theoretical point of view with a look at the historical roots of such dialogue, at Catholic canon law and the Magisterium of the Church, as well as the visions of religious freedom as expressed in Islamic law and history.

Case studies will be made of three countries: Pakistan, where Muslims are in the majority and Christians in the minority, France, where Christians are the majority and Muslims a minority, and Nigeria, where there is parity between the two.

The archbishop noted at last evening’s session that “two days are both a very short period and a very long period” for such an historic encounter of the pontifical commission.. A working document on religious freedom was given to each participant for the two days of meetings.

The authors of the document are scheduled to explain each section and then contributions will be made by the Muslim and Catholic men and women present for each side. Archbishop Fitzgerald said that both sides are asking and attempting to find answers to the question: How can we contribute to peace and harmony?

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Pope calls Slovenia to remain faithful to its Christian tradition

Vatican City, May 28, 2004 (CNA) - Upon receiving Anton Rop, Prime Minister of Slovenia, Pope John Paul called the Balkan nation separated from Yugoslavia to remain faithful to its Christian tradition.

“I know that Slovenia wishes to contribute to the shared commitment to make Europe a true family of peoples in a context of freedom and of mutual cooperation, at the same time protecting her own cultural and spiritual identity”.

The prime minister, who was accompanied by a delegation, visited the Holy Father after having exchanged the instruments of ratification – with Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano –  for the agreement between Slovenia and the Holy See which concerns certain juridical matters of mutual interest. The Pope recalled that the agreement, which was signed in Lubljana, Slovenia, on December 14, 2001, “bears witness to the commitment of the Republic of Slovenia to maintain good relations with the Holy See”.

Referring to the recent integration of Slovenia into the European Union the Pope highlighted his conviction that the country will make an effective contribution to the continent “because it can also refer to its Christian values, which constitute an integral part of its history and culture. May it always remain faithful to those values!” He concluded: “May God help (the Slovenian people) to progress constantly along the path of development and peace.”

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Vatican publishes guidelines for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist

Vatican City, May 28, 2004 (CNA) - In a communique released today, the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops announced the publication of the “Lineamenta” for its Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly. The gathering is to be held from October 2 to 29, 2005, and will be dedicated to the theme: “The Eucharist, source and culmination of the life and mission of the Church.”

The “Lineamenta” – in other words the document that aims to stimulate study, consultation and response from “all the living forces of the Church” – will soon be published on the Vatican’s internet site, under the link to the Synod of Bishops: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/index.htm

The text consists of seven chapters, with a presentation by the Secretary General, an introduction concerning the Eucharist, and a brief conclusion, followed by a questionnaire and index.

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Cardinal Pell says Australia has an obligation to help ‘build a decent Iraq’

Sydney, Australia, May 28, 2004 (CNA) - George Cardinal Pell believes Australia has an obligation to try to build a decent society in postwar Iraq.

The archbishop of Sydney had initially opposed the war, saying that the grounds for attack – weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s support of Al Qaeda – were never established.

However, in a recent issue of the Catholic Weekly, the archbishop is reported as saying that since the Australian military is now there "we should work, certainly for a significant amount of time, to try to hand over the country to a legitimate and lawful government".

The cardinal said he is pleased that Saddam has been toppled as leader but he added that the “appalling” abuses of Iraqi prisoners “badly damage the moral legitimacy of our case to be there and I unhesitatingly condemn them.”

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Cuban bishops worried by US measures to tighten embargo

Havana, Cuba, May 28, 2004 (CNA) - The Bishops Conference of Cuba issued a statement this week expressing their concern about recent measures the US said it would take to tighten the embargo against the island.  They also said decried the prices hikes the Cuban government said it will implement in response.

This month President George Bush was presented a package of measures designed to intensify economic sanctions against Cuba in order to speed up political transition in the country.  They include limiting how often Cuban-Americans can visit relatives, decreasing how much they can spend while here, prohibiting money transfers to Cuban officials and Communist Party members, and strengthening investigations into those who do business with Cuba.

Havana organized a march in protest and raised prices an average 15 percent on gasoline and nearly all goods sold in dollars.

The bishops said, "It hurts us to see that the measures announced by the United States and those taken by the Cuban government affect, directly or indirectly, the poorest families of our nation."

“We reiterate our rejection of the economic sanctions which in the Unites States are known as the embargo and in Cuba as the blockade,” the bishops said, recalling that “Cuban families, which are the place for reconciliation and dialogue in the midst of our reality, are especially endangered, since new hardships and deprivations are being added to the difficulties and burdens which are already known to all and the separation between those who live in Cuba and those who live in the US is being aggravated.”

“This is happening,” they add, “at a moment when peace, dialogue, reconciliation, unity and hope are needed to revitalize the institution of the family and place its well being above political and ideological prejudices.”

Likewise, the bishops underscore that they consider it “unacceptable that the future of Cuba be designed on the basis of exclusions, and even more so on the basis of interventions conceived of by a foreign government.  We are not talking about separating ourselves from the international community, whose friendship and closeness we appreciate, but rather about anything that might foster a climate of unrest and division that undermine the efforts for reconciliation needed by all Cubans.”

Lastly, the document reiterates, “The solution to the situation in which the Cuban nation finds itself should come through a process of dialogue of reconciliation and searching among Cubans.”

 “Urged on by the love of Christ, who forgives, trusts, hopes and always endures, committed as pastors to the present and the future of the Cuban people, we exhort those who are involved, or attempt to get involved, in the future of Cuba, both inside and outside the country, be they Christians or not, to show their good will through respectful dialogue alone and the application of measures that guarantee reconciliation and peace among Cubans,” the text concludes.

Dated May 26, the statement was signed by the Executive Committee of the Cuban Bishops Conference, lead by Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, Archbishop of Havana.

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Colombian bishops: 40 years of mourning is legacy of Guerrilla

, May 28, 2004 (CNA) - Fearing the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) might “celebrate” the 40th anniversary of their uprising with violence, the bishops of Colombia are asking the group to seek new paths to peace.

“The best celebration which they could have would be to give a sign of hope, a sign of love to Colombians by freeing their hostages,” said Cardinal Pedro Rubiano Saenz, Archbishop of Bogota.

Several bishops have spoken out saying the FARC should offer a gesture of good will instead of celebrating their 40th anniversary with terrorist acts.

Meeting in the Colombian capital, the bishops said the last 40 years of have been sterile and have brought nothing but mourning to Colombia.

Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro of Tunja, who has been a negotiator with the guerrilla group, was emphatic: the path taken by the Colombian guerrillas 40 years ago has led to nowhere.

He called on FARC leaders to be participants in an authentic transformation: “begin the next 40 years with a political commitment, rather than a commitment to violence.”

At the same time, military and police forces intensified their patrols in the country in order to prevent any attacks.

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