Vatican City, Jun 9, 2004 (CNA) - The Vatican Press Office confirmed today that Pope John Paul II is sending the Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, as his personal representative to the funeral of President Ronald Reagan.
Cardinjal Sodano, who is rarely sent as a representative because of his top position and responsibilities at the Vatican, will participate at the funerals of President Reagan scheduled for Friday, June 11, in Washington DC.
The Italian press has commented on the appointment of Cardinal Sodano, saying it expresses the deep sympathy the Pontiff had for the former US President who established diplomatic relationship.
Vatican City, Jun 9, 2004 (CNA) - In Wednesday's general audience, celebrated in St. Peter's Square, the Pope spoke about his apostolic trip to Switzerland on June 5th and 6th.
After thanking the civil and religious authorities, especially Joseph Deiss, the president of Switzerland, for their warm welcome and for organizing the trip, the Holy Father also thanked the federal council for their "decision to elevate the diplomatic representation of Switzerland to the Holy See."
John Paul II reminded the crowd of 10,000 people that the main reason for the trip was "to meet young Catholics in Switzerland." During the trip "I proposed a message to the younger Swiss generations that I wanted to extend to the young people of Europe and the world," which can be summed up in "three words: 'rise, listen to, and follow Christ.' It is Christ Himself, risen and alive, Who proposes these words to each young person of our age. He invites young people of the third millennium to 'rise', to give meaning to their lives" because "only Christ, the Redeemer of man, can help young people to overcome negative experiences and mentalities in order to grow and achieve a high human, spiritual and moral dimension."
He noted that on the solemnity of Trinity Sunday, during the Eucharist celebrated in Allmend Square, "I renewed my call for unity among Christians, especially inviting Catholics to live unity among themselves, making the Church "'home and school of communion'."
The Holy Father concluded by indicating that before returning to Rome he met with members of the Association of Former Swiss Guards. "It was a providential occasion to thank them for the service that the Swiss Guard Corps provides to the Apostolic See for more almost five centuries."
Vatican City, Jun 9, 2004 (CNA) - Pope John Paul "received with joy and relief the news of the release of the three Italian and one Polish hostages" that had been held in Iraq for nearly two months, said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, Holy See Press Office director yesterday afternoon, after hearing the news.
"While the Pope shares the joy of their families, he also feels close to the family of Fabrizio Quattrocchi who was assassinated in a barbaric fashion after being kidnapped."
The three Italians and a Polish worker were freed Tuesday after 56 days in captivity. The operation was led by Polish and U.S. special forces and took place after an intensive intelligence investigation, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.
The arrived home on Wednesday to an emotional welcome.
Umberto Cupertino, Maurizio Agliana and Salvatore Stefio were greeted by their families and a high-raking Italian government delegation in scenes of joy and tears.
Their landing, at Rome's military airport of Ciampino, was broadcast live on five of Italy's seven national television networks.
San Diego, Calif., Jun 9, 2004 (CNA) - Los Angeles County and some of its officials are being sued in a federal district court in California for agreeing to remove the cross from the county’s official seal.
The West Coast regional office of the Thomas More Law Center filed the lawsuit June 4 on behalf of Ernesto Vasquez, a county employee.
Vasquez “objects to the removal of the cross because it sends a government-sponsored message of hostility towards Christians in violation of the United States Constitution,” said the law center in a press release.
LA County supervisors caved in to a demand June 1 made by the ACLU, which threatened to sue the county if it did not remove the cross from the seal.
According to the lawsuit, LA County's actions have "conveyed an impermissible state-sponsored message of disapproval of and hostility toward Christianity in violation of the Establishment Clause." Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the LA County, the LA County Board of Supervisors, and the five County supervisors.
"LA County now has a choice to make,” said associate counsel Robert Muise, “offend the ACLU and keep the cross or defend their unconstitutional policy of discrimination against Christians in federal court.
“The county supervisors were sadly mistaken if they believed that Christians would just roll over and let the county treat them as second-class citizens," he added.
The Thomas More Law Center is a national, public-interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Washington D.C., Jun 9, 2004 (CNA) - The Freedom House Center for Religious Freedom is calling upon the G-8 nations to issue an immediate appeal to Saudi Arabia for the release of one Christian and seven Muslim Saudi human rights activists, who have been detained for the peaceful expression of their beliefs.
In a press release June 7, Freedom House stated that it issued the appeal on behalf of Indian citizen Brian Savio O’Connor, who has been imprisoned for the past six months by the Saudi religious police.
During this time, the Catholic Indian reportedly has been whipped and tortured with electric wires and threatened with death to force him to convert to Islam.
His brothers, Raymond and James, confirmed to L’Osservatore Romano that Brian has been “tortured with the intention of obliging him to abjure his faith.” He is now being held in the Olaya prison in Riyadh.
According to L’Osservatore Romano, the Saudi religious police have accused O’Connor of drug peddling and preaching Christianity – both accusations carry the risk of the death penalty.
The prisoner’s brothers call the drug charges mere fabrications, but do not deny that Brian is a Christian. The Indian Bishops Conference sent an official letter to the Saudi Arabian Embassy in New Delhi, urging the release of O’Connor, but received no reply.Saudi human rights activists detained
In addition, the Washington-based Saudi Institute informed Freedom House of the arrest March 15 of 11 human rights activists. Four of them were released two days later, but seven others remain in the General Intelligence prison in Riyadh.
According to the Saudi Institute, these activists were arrested for criticizing the lack of independence of the Saudi National Commission on Human Rights, for submitting an application to form an independent human rights organization, and for actively participating over the last two years in peaceful activities, calling upon the government to take steps towards political reform, democracy, and respect for human rights.
They also had submitted a statement advocating a “Constitutional Kingdom” to Crown Prince Abdullah. The Saudi Interior Ministry has agreed to release the detainees only on the condition that they sign a pledge to cease their campaign to reform the political and human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.
“The oil riches of the Saudi kingdom must not blind us to its continuing abuses of religious and other human rights,” said Freedom House director Nina Shea. “The voices of moderate Muslims, such as those now being detained, need to be especially welcomed in the world today.
“Nor is there any justification for holding and torturing a peaceful Christian like Brian O’Connor. Pressuring him to convert to Islam and punishing him for his Christian beliefs would be an egregious violation of international rights to religious freedom,” she said.
Buffalo, N.Y., Jun 9, 2004 (CNA) - Pro-life activist and former evangelical Christian pastor Paul Schenck converted to Catholicism in February and is now researching whether he can join the priesthood, even though he is married and has eight children, reported Buffalo News.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Schenck led protests and attempted blockades of abortion clinics in Western New York, with his twin brother, Robert, being arrested, fined, and even charged with perjury.
He left New York in 1994 to become the director of the American Center for Law and Justice in Virginia Beach, Va. He moved again in 1997 to the Washington, D.C., area.
But it was in 2000 that Schenck began contemplating a conversion to Catholicism. As a guest of the Greek Catholic Archbishop of Jerusalem, he participated in the Pope’s pilgrimage from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, reported Buffalo News.
Four years later, he was welcomed into the Catholic Church and now works as a pastoral associate with Priests for Life, a Catholic pro-life group, and as executive director of its ecumenical initiative, Gospel of Life Ministries. He also serves as a lector and eucharistic minister at his parish, Church of the Resurrection.
The 45-year-old is also trying to find out whether a 1982 papal decree, opening the Catholic priesthood to some Episcopal priests, would enable him to be ordained.
His research into the priesthood has not stopped Schenck from being involved in other projects. He recently completed research into the landmark Roe v. Wade case in 1972.
He also spent time in Italy for a six-part series for Eternal Word Television Network on the civic responsibilities of Christians. While there, he told Buffalo News, he spoke with several cardinals and had a general audience with Pope John Paul II.
San Salvador, El Salvador, Jun 9, 2004 (CNA) - Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle of San Salvador, El Salvador, is calling on the country’s new president, Elias Antonio Saca, to strengthen “respect for human life and the family” during his term.
The Archbishop said, “We raise our prayers to the Lord that He may bless the new leaders of our country, so that in this new time respect for human life and the family might be strengthened, that there might be social peace and that they might ensure that the basic rights of work, health, housing and education for all.”
“It is wonderful that in his speech the President placed an emphasis on social issues, on development and all the social aspects of life, but there needs to be more solidarity with those most in need,” the Archbishop added.
Likewise, Archbishop Lacalle called upon all Salvadorans to “pay taxes,” to live out the principle of “subsidiarity,” which implies that “not only does the government have to do things, all of us have to collaborate in the social development of the country.”
The Archbishop underscored that last Thursday President Saca met with different opposition leaders to discuss ways of working together to govern the country and to resolve outstanding issues.
On the other hand, regarding a petition by the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva calling upon El Salvador to reverse an anti-gang law because it violates conventions on the rights of children—prosecuting 12 year old children as adults—the Archbishop defended the legislation saying, “We need security and peace.”
“We need special protection for children, but we also need respect for innocent life, and if some minors constitute a danger, there must be concrete measures to prevent them from doing harm, and this does not mean that they are not protected or that they are not being taken into consideration, but rather maybe it is the best way to keep them from becoming criminals,” the Archbishop added.
Rome, Italy, Jun 9, 2004 (CNA) - In an interview with the Catholic missionary news service AsiaNews, the Patriarch of Bagdad expressed his joy at the liberation of Italian hostages in Iraq, but he prudently avoided making any comments about reports that the Catholic Church played a key role in the rescuing.
“We thank the Lord with all our heart for the liberation of the Italian hostages on the eve of the Feasts of the Most Holy Sacrament and the Sacred Heart,” said His Beatitude Emmanuel Delly, Patriarch of Bagdad.
On Tuesday the Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed the news of the release of the 3 Italian hostages, kidnapped April 10th along with Fabrizio Quattrocchi, who was killed April 15. The rescue operation was carried out in conjunction with US Special Forces.
“We are very pleased by this positive outcome. As always we put our trust in God and pray that his will be done always,” the Patriarch added.
Asked by AsiaNews whether the Catholic Church in Iraq played a role in the liberation, as some Italian reports suggest, the Patriarch responded, ““I prefer not to comment on that”.
According to Italian media, during the kidnapping, Auxiliary Bishop of Baghdad Shlemon Warduni, had made a series of contacts in the Shi’te and Sunni communities aimed at obtaining the release of the hostages.
“We must all do whatever is possible to bring peace and security to Iraq. Pray for us,” the Patriarch said.
Rome, Italy, Jun 9, 2004 (CNA) - Italian police shocked the country this Monday when they announced the discovery of a satanic sect responsible for killing three youths between 1998 and last January in northern Italy.
According to official sources, the sect know as “Beasts of Satan,” was composed of 10 youths from Milan and Somma Lombardo who were into satanic rituals, heavy metal music and the use of cocaine.
During one of these rituals on January 17, 1998, Favio Tollis and Chiara Marino were “sacrificed” and bludgeoned to death. Their remains were found buried in a forest last week.
The two were dating each other and had disappeared without a trace seven years ago, but the boy’s father suspected the sect his son was involved in was responsible and he continued to investigate.
It was because of his continued interest in solving the case that investigators followed up on the lead after 26 year-old Mariangela Pezzota was found dead last January 24. She was shot in the head and buried the garden of a country home in the Varese province.
The girl’s boyfriend, Andrea Volpe, was the primary suspect in the killing. Police found various instruments used in satanic rituals at the home of Volpe.
Investigators revealed that the first two victims, Fabio and Chiara, were taken to the forest to participate in a satanic ritual without knowing that they themselves would be the victims.
They also said Chiara was to be the only victim but that Fabio was killed trying to defend her. Cult members raped the girl before beating her with hammers and finally stabbing her to death.
Authorities have not ruled out that the satanic group, which regularly met to celebrate “Black Masses,” is related to the suicide of two people and the disappearance of another pair of youths during the last few years.
There are 250 known members of organized satanic groups in Italy, although the actual number of those involved in such cults could reach 5000.