Archive of June 7, 2004

Pope pays tribute to Ronald Reagan and his role that "changed the lives of millions"

Bern, Switzerland, Jun 7, 2004 (CNA) - On the second day of a 32-hour pilgrimage to Switzerland, John Paul learned of Reagan's death with "sadness" and immediately prayed for the "eternal rest of his soul," said the Director of the Vatican Press Office, Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

Navarro-Valls' statement said John Paul recalled Reagan's contribution to "historical events that changed the lives of millions of people, mainly Europeans." The statement also praised Reagan's contributions to his own country.

Last Friday, during his meeting with President George W. Bush, the Pontiff recalled that it was Reagan who established diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1984.  "These relations have promoted mutual understanding on great issues of common interest and practical cooperation in different areas. I send my regards to President Reagan and to Mrs. Reagan, who is so attentive to him in his illness," said the Pope.

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Pope challenged Swiss youth to "rise up" and accept God's call to family, priestly or consecrated life

Bern, Switzerland, Jun 7, 2004 (CNA) - In a festive meeting with 10,000 Swiss youth gathered at the Ice Palace in Bern's Expo Center, Pope John Paul challenged them to "rise up," react against the temptations of contemporary society and accept God's call to follow Christ closely.

The Holy Father noted that the words "leve-toi" (rise up) referred to words in the Gospel of Luke spoken by Jesus in Nain to a young man, an only child, who had died and whose bier was being accompanied by his mother. He said he was in Switzerland to say these same words to young people, to ask them to arise and follow Christ as His disciples.

With forceful words, the Pope told the young people they could be part of "that sad procession in Nain" if they "give in to desperation, are seduced by the mirages of consumer societies and are distracted from true joy by enjoying passing pleasures, if you become wrapped up in indifference and superficiality, if, in the face of evil and suffering you doubt God's presence and His love for every person, if you seek in a disordered affection the answer to your inner thirst for true and pure love."

"It is in such moments that Christ comes close to you  ... and says 'arise'. 'Welcome my invitation to get back up!'" said the Holy Father.

"Christianity," he added, "is not a simple book of culture or an ideology; nor is it a system of values or principles, even lofty ones. Christianity is a person, a presence, a face: Jesus, Who gives meaning and fullness to man's life."

"Do not be afraid of meeting Christ," he told his young listeners. "I too, like you, once was 20 years old. I loved sports, skiing, acting. I studied and I worked, I had desires and concerns.”

“In those years,” he continued, “now in the distant past, in times when my native country was wounded by war and then by the totalitarian regime, I sought meaning for my life. I found it in following Christ!"

"My second invitation to you is 'Listen!' Never tire of the difficult discipline of listening. Listen to the Lord's voice as He speaks to you in the events of everyday life, the joys and sufferings that accompany you, the persons near you, the voice of your conscience thirsty for the truth, for happiness, goodness and beauty."

If you listen carefully, he said, you will be able to discern your vocation, be it for family life or a call to the priesthood and religious life.

He exhorted the young people, with their energy, enthusiasm and ideals, "to make the Gospel permeate the fabric of society and produce a civilization of authentic justice and love without discrimination."

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Pope calls Swiss Catholics and Immigrant Catholic communities to renew the Church's mission

Bern, Switzerland, Jun 7, 2004 (CNA) - Yesterday, during the second day of his third Apostolic visit to Switzerland, Pope John Paul II gathered with some 70,000 enthusiastic Catholics -many of them Spanish, Italian and Latin American immigrants- at the Allmend Square in Bern, in what turned out to be an unusually enthusiastic celebration of Catholicism.

In his homily, the Holy Father said that the "celebration of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity constitutes for Christians every year an energetic call to our commitment to unity. It is a call that concerns us all, pastors and faithful, and it drives us to a renewed awareness of our own responsibility in the Church, Christ's bride.”

“How,” he asked, “can we not talk about our concern for ecumenism in light of these words of Christ? I reaffirm also on this occasion the will to go forward on the path, full of joy, to the full communion of believers."

"It is certain, however," he continued, "that a great contribution to the ecumenical cause comes from the commitment of Catholics to live unity amongst themselves.”

“A local Church in which the spirituality of communion flourishes will know how to completely purify itself of all the 'toxins' of selfishness which create jealousy, distrust, desires for auto-affirmation, and deleterious conflicts," affirmed the Pope.

The Pope indicated that taking the risk to overcome these toxins and ardently pursue a true unity “requires spontaneous prayer to the Holy Spirit whom Jesus has promised to send us.

He said that “'When the Spirit of truth comes, it will guide you into all the truth.'  What is the truth? Jesus said one day: 'I am the way, the truth and the life.' Therefore, the proper way to phrase the question is not 'what is the truth,' but rather 'who is the truth?'”

“This is the question that men of the third millennium ask themselves,” said the Pope. “We cannot suppress the response because we know what it is! The truth is Jesus Christ, ... and we are called to bear witness to this truth with the words and especially with our life."

After emphasizing that the Church "is mission," John Paul II said that the moment had arrived "to prepare young generations of apostles who are not afraid to proclaim the Gospel. All baptized persons must move on from a faith of convenience to a mature faith which is expressed in clear personal choices that are decisive and courageous.”

“Only this kind of faith,” he continued, “celebrated and shared in the liturgy and in fraternal charity can nourish and strengthen the community of disciples of the Lord and build up a missionary Church free of false fears because it is sure of the Father's love."

The Holy Father said that "we do not deserve God's love, but it is a gratuitous gift.  Despite our sins, God has called us and has redeemed us, through Christ's blood. His grace has profoundly cured us. ... How great is the Lord's love for me, for others and for every human being!" he exclaimed.

God’s love for him is "the true source of man's greatness, the root of his indestructible dignity. The image of God is reflected in all human beings. Here is the deepest 'truth' of man which must not be denied or violated in any case. Any outrage perpetrated against man is an outrage against His creator who loves him with the love of a father."

"Switzerland," he concluded, "has a great tradition of respect for man. It is a tradition which is behind the sign of the Cross: the Red Cross! Christians of this noble country, always be equal to your glorious past! Know how to recognize and to honor God's image in every human being!  In man, created by God, the glory of the Most Holy Trinity is reflected."

Consecrating Switzerland to Mary

Upon concluding the Mass and before praying the Angelus, the Pope entrusted the Swiss people to Our Lady.

"May Mary watch over families, preserving their conjugal love and sustaining their mission as parents! May she comfort the elderly and help them to make a precious contribution to society! May she nourish in young people a sense of values and a commitment to live them!” prayed the Holy Father.

“May she obtain for the national community the constant and harmonious will to build together a peaceful and prosperous country, with great attention and profound solidarity with those in difficulty."

He continued: "I wanted to entrust the youth of Switzerland, for whom the Pope feels affection and gratitude, in a special way to Mary.”

“For five centuries,” he said, “the young people of this country have assured the Successor of Peter and the Holy See the precious and esteemed service of the Pontifical Swiss Guard.  Everyone can admire the spirit of faith and love for the Church of many Swiss Catholics in the generous fidelity of the Swiss Guards."

John Paul II concluded by asking Our Lady to help Switzerland "to maintain harmony and unity among the different liturgical and ethnic groups that compose it, valuing the contribution of each one."

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Switzerland to normalize diplomatic ties with the Vatican after Pope's visit

Bern, Switzerland, Jun 7, 2004 (CNA) - During Pope John Paul II's visit to Switzerland this past weekend, the President of the Swiss Confederation, Joseph Deiss,  formally announced that his country will normalize diplomatic ties with the Vatican.

President Deiss, in his welcome speech, announced that Switzerland, which broke off diplomatic ties with the Holy See in 1873 and only set up a lower-level mission in 1991, would normalize its relations with the Holy See and send a full ambassador-level representative to Rome.

Hansrudolf Hoffman, who has special emissary duties and currently resides in Prague, will be the Swiss ambassador to the Holy See.

The Holy See does have an apostolic nuncio in Switzerland, even though diplomatic ties have been an anomaly over the years. The first Church representative was sent to Lucerne in 1597 and was accredited for many centuries only to the Catholic cantons of Switzerland.

The Pope, in his speech at the airport, called Switzerland "a crossroads of languages and cultures," noting that the Swiss "preserve old traditions and yet are open to modern ideas."

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Denying Communion ‘painful’ but necessary to ‘protect the sacraments,’ says Cardinal George

Chicago, Ill., Jun 7, 2004 (CNA) - Denying someone Communion is a painful thing to do, however the sacraments must be protected and cannot be manipulated by any person or group, said Francis Cardinal George in a recent column in the Catholic New World.

The archbishop of Chicago wrote the column upon his return from an Ad Limina visit with Pope John Paul II. He was referring to a recent incident in which homosexual rights activists, belonging to the Rainbow Sash Movement, were denied Communion during a mass in his archdiocese.

“Several years ago, members of a movement called the Rainbow Sash began to present themselves for Holy Communion while wearing a sash, indicating they do not accept the Church’s teaching on the objective immorality of homosexual genital relations,” said the cardinal.

The policy of the U.S. Bishops’ conference, “is to refuse Communion to anyone who used its reception as an occasion to protest against the Church’s teaching,” said the cardinal, explaining why the activists were not given Communion. 

“The media insists on reporting this story as a conflict between people. It’s not,” he wrote. “No one wants to refuse to give Communion; it’s a painful thing to do. The policy, however, is about the worship of God, which is not to be instrumentalized or manipulated by any group.

“The Church protects the sacraments,” he said, adding that the basic criterion for receiving Communion is unity in faith and in moral discipline.

“This unity is presupposed, no questions asked, unless someone gives a clear sign at the moment of coming to Communion that he or she is not in communion of faith,” he said.

The archbishop of Chicago said the Pope spoke of the U.S. Church’s mission to address important and controversial social issues, such as respect for human life, justice and peace, immigration and the defense of marriage and the family. The U.S. Church must bring the light of the Gospel to these issues, said the pope, calling this contribution “a significant service to the common good in a democracy.”

However, many today “do not see the Church’s teaching as a contribution to the common good,” wrote the cardinal. He noted that it is “extremely difficult to use the media to even say what the Church teaches, let alone to get a fair hearing.”

The cardinal also lamented that the popular media does little “to help us understand in any depth why we (the Church) are suspect in the eyes of so many others.

“This lack of understanding of others, coupled with their lack of understanding of who we really are because they have their own distortions to deal with, can only destroy us sooner rather than later,” he stated.

“The media’s frequent difficulty in presenting Catholicism, which is not an American invention and has been historically the ‘other’ within this country, demonstrates the difficulty (the media) seem to have with anything that falls outside of a very narrow framework of interpretation,” he wrote.

For Cardinal George’s full column, go to:

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Father of two, former businessman and librarian become priests in Fargo

, Jun 7, 2004 (CNA) - The bishop of Fargo urged his three new priests Saturday not to be afraid to proclaim the truth of the Gospel or to lay down their lives for the people entrusted to their care.

Bishop Samuel Aquila ordained three men to the priesthood June 5 before 400 people at the Cathedral of St. Mary.

The three men have come from diverse backgrounds and each have lived a unique faith journey to the priesthood.

The youngest of the three, Fr. Robert Pecotte came to the priesthood after a dramatic conversion from an irreligious life, he told the Grand Forks Herald.

Pecotte, 33, was born in Oakland, California. By his mid-20s, he had a successful business and was living “the average American life” but he realized that he wasn’t happy.

One night, when he was out with friends, he said he had “an encounter with God.”

“Time stopped. My life played out before me,” he told the Herald, “and then I had a choice: whether to live the life of the world or decide that night to live for God."

He decided to give away his business to an old friend and to retreat to a Trappist monastery for eight months.

The bishop of Fargo contacted him there and offered him a spot in the seminary, where he began his studies in 1997.

The young priest credits his conversion and journey to the priesthood to years of prayers by his mother, who as present at the ordination.

Fr. William Gerlach, 41, grew up in St. Paul. He was an active lay person. He had worked as a librarian at North Dakota State University for 10 years before receiving a call to the priesthood.

Gerlach had simply asked former Grand Forks priest, Fr. Jim Ermer, about becoming a priest one day, and they followed it up together.

Fr. John McGinnis was a father of two for 40 years before following a call he had first heard as a young man.

The 67-year-old spent a career as a social worker and psychotherapist in Philadelphia. He married and raised two children, then divorced his wife, later receiving an annulment.

“We just call him ‘Father Father’,” laughed his daughter, Christina, who attended the ordination with her brother. She told the Herald that she has never seen her father happier.

The Diocese of Fargo has ordained 58 men in the last 10 years and expects to ordain four more next year. But Bishop Aquila has underlined that there is still a great need since some parishes that had three priests now have only one.

The bishop plans to announce parish closures in the upcoming months. About 30 rural parishes have fewer than 25 families on the rolls, he said.

There are currently 84,000 people in 158 parishes in the Diocese of Fargo, and 109 active priests.

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Vatican observer: Bush brought “gift” of alliance between Evangelicals and Catholics in US

Rome, Italy, Jun 7, 2004 (CNA) - This Monday, Vatican observer Sandro Magister is publishing an analysis on the “realignment” of religious forces in the US, pointing out that the visit by President Bush to the Vatican came with a “gift:”  an alliance between Catholics and Evangelicals on issues such as the defense of life and the family.

According to Magister, “A more relevant rapprochement is in an advanced stage between US Catholics and their most heated religious rivals: Evangelical Protestants.”  “This rapprochement,” he adds, “is an absolute novelty in the history of the United States.  And it has been consolidated precisely with the Bush presidency.”

Magister points out that a sign of this process is the meeting which took place a week before Bush met with the Pope, between religious leaders and the President, organized by Billy Graham’s “Christianity Today” magazine.  “Among them were two heavy-weight Catholics:  Deal Hudson, editor of “Crisis” magazine, and Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of “First Things” magazine. 

The meeting lasted two hours, and according to Magister, the impression was that Bush “has a simple and coherent vision of things, with strong religious tendencies.”

In the meeting with the religious leaders, writes Magister, “Bush addresses with confidence, let’s call it as it is, one of the eight churchmen he has in front of him: Fr. Neuhaus.  And he does so on two occasions to show his great admiration for him.”

At one point he literally says, “I need Father Richard around more, he helps me articulate these things”.

Magister recalls that Neuhaus, leader of the “Neoconservative” movement, was the inspiration more than a decade ago behind the Evangelical/Catholic initiative in defense of life, the family and religious liberty called “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.”

“On the way Evangelicals have met and become allies with the Neoconservatives, with Jewish leaders such as Michael Horowitz, the great defender of persecuted Christians throughout the world, with Catholics.  Or better yet, with a current of Catholicism initially in the minority,” says Magister.

He recalls in addition that the Pope is longer seen as the “antichrist” by a large portion of US Evangelicals:  John Paul II has become more popular than historic evangelical leaders such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

Moreover, Magister reveals something even more significant:  In the June 4th edition of the Italian daily “Corriere della Sera,” Luigi Accattoli, “the most accurate Vatican observer of the Papal household,” writes that the Pope prefers the Evangelical Bush to the pro-abortion Catholic Kerry.

Magister’s column is available at:

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Canadian diocese loses 30 percent of parishes in two years

Longueuil, Canada, Jun 7, 2004 (CNA) - Parish reorganizations in Quebec’s third-largest diocese will see its number of parishes drop by almost 30 percent since 2002.

Bishop Jacques Berthelet of the Diocese of St-Jean-Longueuil, located just south of Montreal, announced that 14 parishes would be merged into three by the end of the summer.

The bishop said the closures were necessary because of a drop in church attendance and a shortage of priests. The number of priests in the diocese is 150, down from 250 just 20 years ago.

The decision to close parishes was made after a long period of study and consultation, the bishop said. Committees were set up to consult with and inform parishioners. The committees held about 14 meetings, which registered a total attendance of about 1,000 people.

Bishop Berthelet said he hopes the new reorganization will make resource-sharing and evangelization efforts more effective, and revitalize Christian communities

This is the diocese’s second major reorganization in a year. Massive reorganizations last year included one merger that combined 10 parishes into one.

Two years ago, the diocese had 91 parishes. By the end of this year, the number of parishes will drop to 61, nearly 30 percent less.

A decision has not yet been made about the future of all of these empty church buildings, though some will remain as worship and prayer centers.

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