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Archive of August 11, 2004

Pope prepares for Lourdes, says sanctuary reminds Christians of need for conversion

, Aug 11, 2004 (CNA) - Through her apparitions to the young Bernadette in Lourdes, Mary reminds all people that prayer and repentance are the way to ensure “the victory of Christ,” said Pope John Paul II during a general audience this morning.

The Pope spoke of his upcoming pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, Aug. 14-15, and the significance of the Marian apparition there for the People of God.

“The motive of my pilgrimage is the 150th anniversary of the Blessed Pope Pius IX’s proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 8, 1854,” he said.

“Four years later, the Virgin appeared to St. Bernadette, in the grotta in Massabielle, presenting herself as ‘the Immaculate Conception.’ I consider it a special gift of Providence to have the possibility to return to Lourdes,” he continued.

“With one act of praise to God and the Virgin, I will embrace the two great Marian mysteries: the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary into heaven in body and soul. These, in effect, constitute the beginning and the end of Mary’s earthly life, joined with God, who called her to participate in a singular way in the salvific event of the Redemption, through the Lord, Jesus Christ.”

The Pope underlined that there will be three public events during his pilgrimage: the prayer of the rosary Saturday afternoon, the traditional candlelight procession that evening and the mass Sunday morning. The Pope said he also looks forward to his time in silent prayer in the grotto.

“At all times, I will carry in my heart, the thanks and the petitions of the entire Church, and I will proclaim to the whole world that only in God can one find peace and salvation. 

“What, in fact, is the message that the Lord wanted to reveal to humanity through the Marian apparitions of Lourdes?” the Pope asked. “This can be summarized in a well-known passage found in Holy Scripture: God does not want the death of the sinner, but that he converts and lives. (Ez. 33, 11).

“Revealing herself to the young Bernadette, Mary wanted to remind us of this fundamental evangelical message: prayer and repentance are the way through which the victory of Christ can be actualized in each individual person and in society,” the pontiff explained.

“However, to change one’s behavior, one needs to listen the voice of one’s conscience, where God has placed the sense of good and bad,” he said. “The modern man, unfortunately, demonstrates, at times, of having lost the sense of sin.

“It is necessary to implore for him an interior reawakening, which will allow him to rediscover fully the holiness of God’s law and the moral obligations that derive from it,” he stated. 

“With these intentions in my spirit, I prepare myself to leave for the Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes,” he said. “I ask that you all accompany me spiritually, so that the pilgrimage of the Successor of Peter will bear much fruit for the entire People of God.”

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Bishops questionnaire criticized for seemingly supporting Democratic positions

Abuja, Nigeria, Aug 11, 2004 (CNA) - A political questionnaire, issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops and distributed to both major-party presidential candidates, has been criticized for presenting questions that are traditionally associated with Democratic Party policy positions, says a report by the Culture of Life Foundation.

The questionnaire contains 41 questions, asking the candidates to answer "support" or "oppose" to statements on a range of issues.

The report, published in Culture and Cosmos, indicates that the questionnaire had seven questions on immigration and refugees. Abortion and school choice were each given three questions. Capital punishment, gun control, agriculture and rural development, aid for low-income families, housing, federal education programs, and marriage each received two. Fourteen other topics received one question each, including health care, decreasing nuclear weapons, cloning, physician-assisted suicide, and embryonic stem-cell research.

Patrick F. Fagan, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says that many of the questions involve policies over which Catholics may properly disagree, but that this official questionnaire gives the impression that these are the only acceptable Catholic positions.

Robert Royal, president of the Faith and Reason Institute, said that many of the questions, such as those calling for more gun control and public funding of health care, are written in such a way as to endorse the Democratic Party approach. He says this gives the appearance of bias and therefore undermines the usefulness of the questionnaire.

Frank Monahan, director of the Office of Government Liaison at the USCCB, told Culture and Cosmos that the questionnaire "reflects the Bishops' public policy agenda."

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Pope urges Russian youth to reject temptations, false ideals; says the Church needs witnesses

, Aug 11, 2004 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II issued a message to Russian youth, who are gathering in Irkutsk, Russia, in preparation for the 20th World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, next August. The youth gathering, promoted by the Russian Catholic bishops, begins today and will conclude Aug. 15, on the feast of the Assumption.

“I greet each one of you with affection,” said the Pope in his message. “This gathering is an important moment for the Church, living in the Russian Federation, a Church which in the past knew many tribulations, which was persecuted and martyred…but which persevered in Christ, and in the proclamation of the perennial truths of the faith.

“In this proclamation of faith were Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Protestants. Their testimony became for us a common patrimony,” he said.

The Pope spoke of the ecumenical nature of the Church. “The ecumenism of the saints, of martyrs, is perhaps the most convincing,” he said.

“It is for this reason that the Church has great hope in you, dear young people, and with trust looks to your enthusiasm and the vigor of your youth to infuse new blood in the Church’s mission,” he continued.  

“You must resist, dear young people, temptation, today which is subtle and lethal, of letting God out of your life or of reducing faith to formal gestures or occasions. 

“The Church needs witnesses, ready to follow Christ to the cross,” he wrote. “This radical faithfulness to the Gospel is needed more than ever for your contemporaries, who are easily distracted by illusions of an easy and comfortable life, by the temptations of drugs and hedonism…becoming slaves to violence and desperation.

“Do not let the freedom, which was regained in your dear nation, at the price of great sacrifice and suffering, be lost to false ideals,” he warned. “Christ is our true freedom, having freed us from the slavery of sin. Only in Him can we find meaning and peace in our hearts.

“Unite yourselves to other young Christians the world over in the ideal pilgrimage to Cologne, to live together the 20th World Youth Day. At this time, I cordially invite you not to miss this great ecclesial meeting,” he said.

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Marriage battle will determine future of U.S., says pro-family lawyer

Washington D.C., Aug 11, 2004 (CNA) - Liberty Counsel president Mat Staver says the battle for traditional marriage has become the fight that will determine the future of the United States, and it has overtaken abortion as the most important cultural issue, reported AgapePress.

"If the family goes, it in fact destroys the entire structure, and it in fact is an additional nail in the coffin against the unborn child," he was quoted as saying.

"Once you start breaking apart the family and say that marriage is really not necessary for procreation, you have even further escalated the issue of abortion and cheapened the sanctity of human life," he said, according to AgapePress.

He also predicts that if the marriage battle is lost, Christians will eventually lose the right to openly acknowledge biblical truth and face legal penalties for speaking against homosexuality.

In related news, two women and a man in Utah have initiated a court challenge to have the state ban on polygamy lifted.

The Family Research Council believes this court challenge may have a positive impact in the same-sex marriage debate and help people realize that the slippery-slope warnings, advocated by pro-family groups, are true and not alarmist or exaggerated.

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New poll says practicing Catholics more likely to support Bush

Princeton, N.J., Aug 11, 2004 (CNA) - While Catholics tend to show a slight preference for Senator John Kerry over President George W. Bush, a recent Gallup poll indicates that among practicing Catholics, who attend church on a weekly basis, Bush leads Kerry in the upcoming presidential race. On the other hand, Catholics who attend church infrequently support Kerry.

Historically, Catholics voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in large part. However, in the past three decades, Catholics, who comprise 25 percent of the U.S. population, have become a key swing voting group. They proved their influence on election results when they broke with their historical voting pattern to support the winning Republican candidates in 1972, 1980, and 1984.

While, Bush had at least a slight lead over Kerry among Catholics in every poll before mid-May, the last five Gallup surveys have shown the opposite. In the most recent poll, Catholic registered voters favored Kerry by a 51 percent to 45 percent margin.

Why this shift? Gallup suggests one possibility is that as voters learn more about Kerry, they become aware that he professes the Catholic faith.

Support for Kerry depends on church attendance

The poll indicates that Catholics are divided in their support for Kerry, according to church attendance.

Combined data from Gallup's two most recent polls, conducted July 19-21 and July 30-Aug. 1, show that Catholic registered voters, who attend church weekly, support Bush over Kerry by a 52 percent to 42 percent margin. This group represents about one-third of all Catholic registered voters.

Among Catholic registered voters, who attend church on a semi-regular basis, that is, nearly every week or monthly, Kerry leads Bush by 50 percent to 45 percent. This group represents 27 percent of all Catholic registered voters.

Among Catholic registered voters who attend church on an infrequent basis, Kerry has a 57 percent to 39 percent lead. This is the largest group of Catholics, representing 38 percent of all Catholic registered voters.

Poll results show that Kerry tends to appeal to non-practicing Catholics, while Bush appeals more to practicing Catholics. Bush's policy stands on abortion, stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage appear to be more consistent with Catholic teachings than Kerry's.

Gallup also suggests that Kerry's higher appeal may be linked to his appeal to Hispanic voters, who are overwhelmingly Catholic – 62 percent, according to Gallup's June Minority Relations poll. Nonetheless, recent Gallup data suggest that Hispanic Catholics are only slightly more likely to support Kerry than are white Catholics.

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 545 Catholic registered voters, aged 18 and older. The polls were conducted July 19-21 and July 30-Aug. 1, and have a margin of error of ±5 percentage points.

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Abortion T-shirt creates online debate, shows ‘hard-heartedness’ toward God

Washington D.C., Aug 11, 2004 (CNA) - A new T-shirt, branded with the phrase, "I had an abortion", has become the topic of debate on the Internet and among advocates on both sides of the abortion debate since Planned Parenthood began selling the T-shirt online last month for $15US. 

Though not created by Planned Parenthood, the pro-abortion organization stated on its Web site that it was "proud to offer yet another T-shirt in our new social fashion line," reported Sun Valley Newspaper.

The fitted shirt was created by Jennifer Baumgardner of New York for the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in January 2003.

Baumgardner said the shirt is not meant to be shocking but to “personalize and make specific a debate that's become abstract and divisive,” she told SVN.

News of the shirt brought disbelief and sadness among pro-life supporters. Pat Gaumer, executive director of Hope Pregnancy Center, reportedly said her concern is that the shirt will cause more pain for post-abortion women.

As well, she fears the shirt will further a "flippant attitude about life" among today’s young people, who she says have the attitude that "life has no value because the government says it doesn't."

Baumgardner, who is pregnant with her first child, said she will not wear the shirt because she has not had an abortion.

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Iraq’s Christians fleeing to Syria to escape violence

Damascus, Syria, Aug 11, 2004 (CNA) - Iraqi Christians are fleeing to neighbouring Syria in search of refuge from violence and persecution meted out by Islamic militants, according to reports by the Associated Press.

“Iraqis from all sections of the Iraqi society have been approaching our office,” said Ajmal Khybari, senior officer at the UNHCR (United Nations High Comissioner for Refugees) office in Damascus. “But in the past two or three months we have seen an increase of Iraqi Christians.”

Iraq’s Christian minority (3% of the country’s population) are reeling after 7 were killed and dozens wounded in explosions set off by Islamic militants in 5 churches in Baghdad and Mosul on August 1.

The assault was the first major one on the Christian community since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April 2003. Iraqi Christians had, however, reported harrassment in the form of violence and death threats by Islamic militants, and Christian women being forced to wear veils.

Christians in Iraq have generally been free to practice their religion and integrate peacefully into Iraqi society, even under Saddam Hussein’s rule.

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Italian Senator to propose drop in federal funding of abortion

Rome, Italy, Aug 11, 2004 (CNA) - An Italian senator announced last weekend he intends to sponsor a bill that would require women to pay half of the costs of a second abortion and all costs of any subsequent ones.

Antonio Gentile, a senator of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, said, “It is unacceptable that so many children are dying in the wombs of their mothers.”

Girolamo Sirchia, Minister of Health, said he could consider the proposal, arguing that the 1978 law on abortion should be reviewed in order “to evaluate the positive and negative aspects.”

“I don’t know any details about the proposal but I appreciate the motives behind it.  We must avoid thinking about abortion as a form of contraception,” he said on the Sky Italia television network.

Current Italian legislation provides federal funding for abortion during the first trimester.  Funding is also provided for any cases requiring emergency intervention, even beyond the 90 days.

According to the latest statistics, there were 130,000 abortions in Italy in 2002.  The highest abortion rate was in 1982, reaching 235,000.

“Women’s rights” groups, opposition leaders and some government officials have vowed to oppose the measure.  They argue the current abortion law not only guarantees the right to choose but also protects women’s privacy, so that no one can know who has had an abortion and how many.

“I think this idea of charging women is absolute nonsense, it’s scandalous,” said Stefania Prestigiacomo, Minister of Equal Opportunity.  “If they decide to go forward with this, they have to deal with us,” she told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

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Mexican bishops call on government leaders to “learn how to form a consensus and respect differences”

Mexico City, Mexico, Aug 11, 2004 (CNA) - The president of the Bishops Conference of Mexico, Bishop Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago of Leon, denounced this week the political climate in the country, saying it has become contaminated by “verbal violence” on the part of some leaders and parties.  He also said, “We need to learn how to form a consensus and to respect our legitimate differences.

The bishop explained that “it seems there is growing climate of confrontation, of seeking to obtain what one wants through violence.”  He added that “the political climate of the country is certainly at a delicate stage, but in general the verbal violence is worrisome.”

After celebrating Mass at the Cathedral of Leon, the bishop denied that confrontation and verbal aggression are part of a democratic climate.  “Of course this is not part of a truly democratic climate, although at times there are some who say this is the path of democracy.  I don’t think this is true,” he said.

“Democracy,” he continued, “consists in accepting that something I want may not coincide with what the majority has decided.  That is the law of democracy, not that I impose my own wishes.  Therefore when the majority has made a decision, it must be accepted.  Otherwise we head towards anarchy.”

Likewise, Bishop Rabago added that verbal violence will not help to resolve the main problems facing Mexico.  That will require instead consensus and respect for the differences between leaders and parties.

The bishop also explained that verbal violence is proof that politicians do not know how to work in a climate of reconciliation. “This shows we have not been able to fit in with a reconciled society, we have not been able to discover, as citizens and authorities, the common interests of the country,” he said.

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Spanish bishop says government has caved in to homosexual “lobby”

Madrid, Spain, Aug 11, 2004 (CNA) - The bishop of Segorbe-Castelló and president of the bishops’ Subcommittee on the Family and Defense of Life, Bishop Juan Antonio Reig Pla, said the Spanish government has caved in to “pressure from the gay lobby” by accepting legal marriage for homosexuals.

Speaking to the Alba newspaper, published by the Diocese of Sergorbe-Castelló, Bishop Reig Pla said the socialist initiative goes against Western tradition based on Roman law and against Christian tradition.

He said that what is being presented as a social revolution is seen by the Church as an action that “attempts to subvert the natural order desired by God.”  The bishop said the Church tolerates the “homosexual inclination” but does not consider it a stable expression of human sexuality.  Rather, it is a condition that can be overcome.  A vote by Catholic politicians against homosexual marriage, he said, represents therefore “coherence between faith and life.”

Likewise Bishop Reig Pla criticized the decision of the government of Catalonia to permit homosexual couples to adopt children.  “Politicians are caving in to the pressures of the lobbyists and they end up losing the sense of the common good and the rights of children,” he said.

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