Vatican City, Jul 27, 2004 (CNA) - Fr. Ciro Benedettini, C.P., vice director of the Holy See Press Office, declared this morning that the Holy Father has asked for the release of Colombian Bishop Misael Vacca Ramirez who was kidnapped on July 24 by members of the Jose David Suarez Front of the National Liberation Army (ELN) while visiting the Christian community of Morcote in eastern Colombia.
"The Holy Father received the news of this criminal act, in no way justifiable, with sorrow and concern, and he asks with paternal firmness for the immediate release of this prelate. It is regrettable and reproachable that a bishop, dedicated to announcing the Gospel of peace and hope to the faithful entrusted to his care, especially the poorest of the poor, is prevented in such a contemptible way from freely exercising his pastoral care," declared Benedettini.
One month ago, Alvaro Uribe, president of Colombia, began a dialogue with the ELN through the Mexican government. The kidnappers have made it known that they wanted to give a message to the prelate. The local Church has started contacts to free the bishop.
Boston, Mass., Jul 27, 2004 (CNA) - In a break from tradition, the Democratic Party did not invite the archbishop of Boston to offer a blessing at the Democratic National Convention this week, reported the Boston Globe.
Instead, the party invited Fr. John B. Ardis, director of the Paulist Center, where the senator and his wife often worship. The Paulist priest has taken Senator John F. Kerry's side in the debate over whether pro-abortion politicians should receive Communion.
The party admitted that it did not invite Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley of Boston. The bishop’s spokesman, Fr. Christopher J. Coyne, said Archbishop O'Malley had planned to be out of town this week, reported the Globe.
This week, Kerry will likely to become the first Catholic major-party nominee since John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Democrats opened their 44th national convention yesterday. It will feature former President Bill Clinton as a major speaker.
, Jul 27, 2004 (CNA) - Bishop Misael Vacca Ramirez of Yopal, Colombia, was kidnapped Sunday by members of the National Liberation Army (ELN) while he was making a pastoral visit to Morcote, northeast of Bogota. The rebels said they planned to release the bishop with a message to the government.
The Bishops Conference of Colombia expressed outrage at the kidnapping and demanded the ELN respect Bishop Vacca’s life. Bishop Fabian Marulanda, General Secretary of the Conference, called the act “painful” and explained that Bishop Vacca was part of a Church committee seeking to bring about a dialogue between rebel groups and the government.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe ordered a rescue operation be carried out by the military, in conjunction with local police and the Colombian Air Force.
President Uribe held an emergency security meeting in Pereira with top military officials, who said they were willing to take the necessary measures to rescue the bishop. “We are determined to see that the bishop is swiftly returned to freedom. The kidnapping is inexplicable,” said President Uribe.
Bishop Vacca Ramirez was born in Somondoco, Colombia, on November 5, 1955.
His priestly formation took place in Tunja and in Bogota, and later in Rome, where he received a degree in theology with an emphasis in Youth ministry and catechesis in 1992.
He was ordained to the priesthood on December 3, 1983, and was named Bishop of Yopal on June 22, 2001.
Sioux Falls, S.D., Jul 27, 2004 (CNA) - Prayer must become an important part of every Christian’s daily life, said Bishop Robert Carlson of Sioux Falls at the concluding mass of the Yahweh-Shalom Conference at Mount Marty College.
The absence of it often leads to despair, the bishop said during the Sunday mass. "When I don't feel the Father loves me, that's when I need worldly crutches," he said, which will leave a person feeling empty.
"It's not important how people pray," he said. "But when we have these conversations with God, we like to do the talking. We have to let Him talk. The Lord has to be invited in on the conversation. We are here to listen once in awhile.
"When we are hurting, we need to pray. Jesus was in deep conversation with the Father, and we must be in conversation with the Father," said Bishop Carlson. "When we do not know the Father's love, we can't enter into a deep experience.
"A college student said he was heavily into alcohol and sex, and now he didn't pray as much. I told him I wasn't surprised, because you have taken yourself outside the Father's protection," he said. "You have to start the healing process with confession of your sins. You have to ask the Lord to ‘fill me with Your Holy Spirit’."
The bishop encouraged the adults in the assembly to pray in front of their children and grandchildren, just as Jesus prayed in front of his disciples.
He also recounted how his mother’s faith has helped her survive four cancers and how prayer has played an important role in helping him deal with his own cancer.
Toronto, Canada, Jul 27, 2004 (CNA) - The parents of a nine-year-old Toronto girl, who was abducted last fall and murdered, have found comfort and solace in the Christian faith.
Cecilia Zhang was abducted from her bed last fall. Her remains were found in March, and Min Chen, 21, a visa student from Shanghai, was charged last Thursday with her murder.
A feature article in The Globe and Mail tells of the role faith has played in the lives of these parents as they mourn their daughter’s death.
According to the newspaper report, little Cecilia would often ask her mother if she believed in God. However, born and raised as atheists in Communist China, her parents would often avoid the question.
Sherry Xu and her husband, Raymond Zhang, only embraced religion soon after their daughter's abduction. In April, after her funeral, they were baptized into an evangelical Christian denomination.
Reverend Daniel Lee said he visited the couple to offer spiritual help days after Cecilia's abduction. Soon, members of Chinese Evangelical Alliance Church of Toronto, which Lee founded 11 years ago, became constant companions, said the Globe.
The church is part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, which has three million members in 60 countries.
This church organized Cecilia's huge memorial service. Lee said the couple, who had never been to church before, now attends church every Sunday, as well as several smaller fellowship meetings each month.
Last Wednesday, police told the couple that a young man they knew had been charged with their daughter's murder, and they were instantly forgiving.
"They are absolutely incredible people," Peel Regional Police Chief Noel Catney told the Globe. "They reflect a position of forgiveness and empathy and compassion."
The couple held a press conference the following day. Lee, who watched press conference on television, wasn't surprised by the couple's attitude of forgiveness.
"They are Christians now," he told the Globe. "For them to forgive requires a lot of strength. I think they get it from God. They know everyone is a sinner."
He said the congregation was praying for the couple to have another child. “We hope God will give them more children to comfort them."
Rome, Italy, Jul 27, 2004 (CNA) - A movie entitled “The Story of Karol,” about the life of John Paul II is to be filmed in Poland in September, and will be based on the book of the same name by Gianfranco Svidercoschi.
The Polish actor, Piotr Adamczyk, 32, will play the role of Karol Wojtyla in a film directed by the Italian director Giacomo Battiato.
The Austrian actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, the American John Malkovich, and the French actress Emmanuelle Béart will also take part in the movie.
The movie is slated to air next year on the Italian channel, Canal 5.
Madrid, Spain, Jul 27, 2004 (CNA) - During the celebration of the feast of St. James the Apostle, Patron of Spain, the Archbishop of Madrid and President of the Bishops Conference of Spain, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela encouraged the more than 1,300 young people present in the Cathedral of Oviedo to follow the example of the apostles who lived the “passionate adventure” of Christianity.
Cardinal Rouco celebrated Mass with the young people, with whom he began a pilgrimage on Tuesday to Santiago from the Asturian town of Navia.
During his homily, the Cardinal emphasized the important role of young people in the Church and the today’s world, and he warned them that because of their faith “in many cases you will be criticized, persecuted and told you are wrong.” He exhorted them to follow the example of the apostles, “twelve young people who began a passionate adventure.”
Despite the fact that the Catholic faith is “questioned and relativized, the Christian revolution shall not pass away,” he added.
Cardinal Rouco will lead the young people on pilgrimage following the Way of St. James to Compostela, where they will participate in the European Youth Days, which will take place August 4-7, in anticipation of World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne, Germany.
He called the experience “a personal revolution which is physically tiring but spiritually comforting.”
Rome, Italy, Jul 27, 2004 (CNA) - Writing in his weekly column for the Italian online journal “L’Espresso,” noted Vatican observer Sandro Magister reveals that, according to data and statistics from Aid to the Church in Need and other organizations, Christians are being persecuted in countries in Asia where Buddhism is the majority.
“In the West, Buddhism is synonymous with peace, compassion, wisdom, and ecumenical brotherhood,” writes Magister, adding that in the West it is known as a persecuted religion, with the Dalai Lama being its most noted figure. Nevertheless, he explains, “in almost all of the countries in Asia where Buddhism is the religion of the majority, religious persecution is present,” affecting all other faiths that are not part of Buddhism.
Magister runs through a list of the eight countries in Asia with a Buddhist majority, giving special attention to Myanmar—formerly called Burma—where there has been a merciless persecution of the Christian and Muslim minorities, with numerous forced conversions to Buddhism.
Myanmar, recalls Magister, is on the US State Department’s list of the worst countries in the world in terms of religious persecution. Laos, another country with a Buddhist majority, is also on the list.
Magister’s column is available at: www.chiesa.espressonline.it/english