Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2004 (CNA) - The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has elected the Most Reverend William S. Skylstad, Bishop of Spokane, in Washington, to succeed Bishop Wilton Gregory as its new president this morning. Bishop Skylstad has served as vice president of the conference during Bishop Gregory’s term in office.The new Vice President is Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago. If the tradition of electing the vice president of the conference as the next president remains intact, at the end of Bishop Skylstad’s term, three years from now, Cardinal George will become the next president of the USCCB, and the first cardinal to ever hold the post.
Vatican City, Nov 15, 2004 (CNA) - Meeting with the Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See, Albert Edward Ismail Yelda, this morning, Pope John Paul II affirmed that the “entire Catholic Church” is committed to aiding the Iraqi people reconstruct their country and stressed the importance of inscribing the right to religious freedom and the principle of the defense of the dignity of all persons into law in order that they “become an enduring part of the living fabric of society.”
The Pope, who said he has been following the events in Iraq, asked the ambassador to assure the Iraqi people "of my ongoing concern for the many victims of terrorism and violence."
"Your ancient culture has been described as the 'cradle of civilization' and has boasted the presence of Christians since the beginning of Christianity itself," said the Pope in English. "Indeed, it has been a fine example of the many ways in which the adherents of different religions can live in peace and harmony."
The Holy Father said that “the rule of law as an integral element of government,” is essential to protecting the dignity of every person. “Preserving this fundamental principle is basic for any modern society that truly seeks to safeguard and promote the common good,” he said.
“It is my hope,” said the Pope, “that the Iraqi people will continue to promote their long tradition of tolerance, always recognizing the right to freedom of worship and religious instruction.”
He noted that “once these fundamental rights are protected by ordinary legislation and become an enduring part of the living fabric of society, they will enable all citizens, regardless of religious belief or affiliation, to make their proper contribution to the building up of Iraq."
"The entire Catholic Church, and in a special way the Chaldean Christians present in your country since the time of the Apostles, is committed to assisting your people in constructing a more peaceful and stable nation," said the Holy Father.
"Iraq is currently in the throes of the difficult process of transition from a totalitarian regime to the formation of a democratic State in which the dignity of each person is respected and all citizens enjoy equal rights," noted the Pope.
"As you prepare your people to undertake the task of freely electing the men and women who will lead the Iraq of tomorrow,” he said, “I encourage the current government in its efforts to make certain that these elections are fair and transparent giving all eligible citizens an equal opportunity in this democratic right which they are encouraged to exercise."
The Holy Father, noting "the struggle to overcome the challenges brought about by poverty, unemployment and violence currently faced by Iraq,” said: "May your government work untiringly to settle disputes and conflicts through dialogue and negotiation, having recourse to military force only as a last resort."
"Accordingly," he concluded, "it is essential that the State, with the assistance of the international community, promote mutual understanding and tolerance among its various ethnic and religious groups" to "create an environment ... committed to justice and peace" and "capable of sustaining the necessary economic growth and development integral for the well-being of your citizens and the country itself."
Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2004 (CNA) - Family and pro-life groups are pleased with the Scott Peterson’s conviction for the murder of his wife, Laci, and his preborn child, Connor. This is the first case in which the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which was passed after the murders of Laci and Connor, was applied.
"It is heartening to know that Scott Peterson is being held accountable for the two crimes that he committed against his wife, Laci, and his preborn child Connor,” Judie Brown, president of American Life League. “The verdict makes it crystal clear that he, and all those who reside in the womb, are indeed human persons; not possessions. This is a landmark conviction because of its recognition of the preborn child as a human being who deserves equal protection under the law.
The American Life League noted the legal contradiction that while the new law recognizes the preborn child as a human being deserving justice when he or she is killed due to a violent act perpetrated against his mother, abortion is not a crime.
"This case put the unborn child on the map,” said Randy Thomasson, executive director of Campaign for California Families.
Thomasson said the jury should have delivered a first-degree conviction for Peterson’s premeditated murder of his unborn son. “Connor's life was worth as much as Laci's,” said Thomasson. “A person is a person, no matter how small."
Boston, Mass., Nov 15, 2004 (CNA) - Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley of Boston issued a letter Nov. 13 to all Catholics in the archdiocese, explaining once again the reasons for parish closures. In it, he said that closing parishes is the hardest thing he has ever had to do in 40 years in religious life.
The archbishop noted that several parishioners have protested church closings by camping out at their churches and refusing to leave.
In his letter, the archbishop spoke about the solidairity of the members of the Early Church, who made sacrifices for the good of the whole community. He said the current situation in the archdiocese also requires sacrifice for the good of the the entire local Church.
“The financial situation of the archdiocese is much worse than most people realize,” he said. And it is not because of the settlements for the sexual abuse cases, said the bishop, which have been paid in great part by the sale of the archbishop's residence, the adjacent property, and by insurance.
Committed to financial transparency, the archbishop spelled out the financial situation of the archdiocese.
“We have more buildings and churches than we can afford to maintain. We have more parishes than we need to meet the pastoral and sacramental needs of our archdiocese,” he continued.
He described the decline in the number of priests as a “serious problem.” Five decades ago, the archdiocese was ordaining about 60 priests per year. This year, only seven were ordained. More than 100 of the current pastors are in their 70's or 80's.
“The 50 percent reduction of annual income to the diocese caused by the scandal has dealt a very serious blow to our local Church,” the archbishop added. “At the same time troubles in the stock market that have adversely affected pension plans, and retirement accounts across the country have left us with an unfunded pension liability of $80 million,” he explained.
The archbishop said the archdiocese's operating budget has been slashed by $14 million over the past three years, but it still experiences an annual $10-million deficit. Subsidies to poor parishes suffer and many parishes are unable to pay their bills.
In addition, “$35 million, borrowed three years ago to pay operating expenses, is exhausted and needs to be repaid,” said Archbishop O’Malley. Many communities have sold their land and buildings to keep afloat, he noted. In the last nine years, parishes have sold 150 pieces of property mostly to pay bills.
“I am appealing to all Catholics to be Catholics first. I know that we all have a great love for our parish and parish church, but our first love must be for Christ and the Body of Christ, which is the Church,” he said.
“At times I ask God to call me home and let someone else finish this job, but I keep waking up in the morning to face another day of reconfiguration,” he said. “So when people ask why I am doing this, I can only say it is because I love the Church and want to give my life to the service of the Church.”
“Past generations of Catholics in Boston have made untold sacrifices to establish parishes and institutions of which we have been the beneficiaries,” he wrote. “Future generations of Catholics need our sacrifices so that they can inherit vibrant parishes and institutions in the future.”
Konigstein, Germany, Nov 15, 2004 (CNA) - More than 100 bishops from the Europe and Africa met outside Rome last week to tackle the problems facing Christianity in Europe and the suffering of the people in Africa.
The gathering of prelates from 32 African countries and 30 European nations Nov. 10-13 was the largest gathering of its kind, reported ACN News.
The four-day symposium, called Communion and Solidarity, was also attended by leaders of aid organizations, such as Aid to the Church in Need, Catholic Action for Overseas Development Caritas, Misereor and Missio.
Speakers underlined the gravity of the problems on both continents. Citing statistics showing that Africa's Gross Domestic Product represented barely two percent of the world total, Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo, said sometimes his continent fears that "if Africa disappeared, the rest of the world would not notice."
Militant Islam emerged as a key concern for the African bishops, who reported on the in-roads the religion was making from traditional strong ground in the north of the continent into more central African countries.
Gabriel Cardinal Zubeir Wako, archbishop of Khartoum, Sudan, urged the conference to realize "the dangers of Islam." Reporting on how Sudan's faithful had "foiled" the authorities' plan to make the country totally Islamic by 2000, he said: "We are playing the problem of Islam too cool in the name of dialogue. In Africa, there are many evangelistic forces but Islam is the most active. Collaboration with these Muslims is very difficult."
Andrys Cardinal Backis, archbishop of Vilnius, Lithuania, said secularism in Europe was causing a decline in faith even in former communist countries, where Christianity had been so strong.
The archbishop and other speakers from the West targeted the mass media for creating a society deprived of values, obsessed with wealth and power, all of which were damaging the family.
The symposium, held at the Salesians' general headquarters, examined practical initiatives to encourage co-operation. Among them, were ideas to "twin" an African diocese with a European equivalent, which would facilitate co-operation between priests and religious in the seminaries, and practical help, such as sending second-hand computers to Africa.
Others included public awareness initiatives to raise the profile of Africa's problems. The African bishops no longer want the country to be typecast as poverty-stricken but as people searching for social justice and self-sufficiency.
Vatican City, Nov 15, 2004 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II, receiving participants in the general chapter of the Congregation of St. Elizabeth, told them that the fidelity to their founding charism ensures them of a more effective apostolate.
The Pope recalled that their founders, Clara Wolf, Matilde and Maria Merkert and Francesca Werner, inspired by the example of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, patroness of the congregation, "were completely dedicated to the poor and needy, while contemplating the Redeemer's face.”
He recalled that the congregation has grown considerably since it’s birth in the 1800’s and reminded the congregation that "your apostolate will be much more effective if you stay close to your charismatic roots. While cultivating an intense prayer life and listening to God,” he said, “it will be easier for you to ensure not only material help but also spiritual consolation to your brothers and sisters in need."
In concluding the Pope said that in order "to respond with 'creative fidelity' to the challenges of modern society we must start again from Christ and bear witness, in a simple and concrete way, to His merciful love for everyone, especially those on the margins of society, who are 'defeated' by life."
Rome, Italy, Nov 15, 2004 (CNA) - Participating in the opening of the new academic year at the Lateran Pontifical University in Rome, former president of Poland, Lech Walesa, said it is urgent Europe rediscovers the concept of freedom.
In a brief but well-received discourse, Walesa recalled the role of Pope John Paul II in awakening the Polish people and how his famous phrase, “Be not afraid,” has echoed throughout his pontificate since the beginning.
Referring to the present-day situation in Europe, the Nobel Peace Prize winner said, “One of the challenges we are called to confront is the spread of a concept of freedom that is only understood as individual free will or as the opportunity for market expansion.”
A Europe without fears
The Rector of the Lateran University, Monsignor Rino Fisichella, said Walesa represents “the symbol of a Catholic in recent history who has dedicated his life to social and political work.”
Likewise, he mentioned the events that have placed the European cultural identity in the forefront of people’s minds, underscoring the importance of “reaffirming without any fear that Europe either rediscover its history and traditions, the roots of which are in Christianity, or it will have no future as a force for unity.”
During his discourse, Msgr. Fisichella underscored the role the Pontifical University should play in the renewal of culture. These centers of study are called “not only to interpret the urgencies of the contemporary world,” but also “to respond with wisdom to the questions that are posed,” “to reconcile the demands of science with the urgency of evangelization,” and “to give full and definitive meaning to the perennial question of man about the fullness of his life.”
Madrid, Spain, Nov 15, 2004 (CNA) - The secretary general and spokesman of the Bishops Conference of Spain, Fr. Juan Antonio Martinez Camino, criticized the government’s proposal to make homosexual unions equal to marriage, emphasizing that “there are many unjust laws that were approved by the majority.”
“There are things that, while they may be legal, will never by just or moral, if they are against human dignity and human institutions such as marriage,” he said of the Socialist government’s proposal that has majority support in Parliament.
Speaking on the Spanish network Telecinco, Martinez Camino lamented that there is a desire to make “the covenant of love open to life and to children between a man and a woman” equivalent to same-sex unions, which “the Socialist Party (PSOE) did not campaign for during the elections.” “In any case, it is not embraced by the Church, or by reason or justice, and it should be corrected if the common good is to be served,” he said.
Campaign about euthanasia
Referring to an informational campaign launched by the bishops against euthanasia which began this Sunday, Martinez Camino said it is not aimed at “responding to the government’s proposals” but rather it is an effort “by the bishops to fulfill their obligation to ensure Catholics know the Catholic position” regarding this issue. It is a position “which can be perfectly defended by reasonable arguments,” he underscored.
Funding for the Church
Regarding State funding for the Church, Fr. Martinez Camino said the State should maintain “a channel of financial assistance” for the Church because “it provides social services to millions of people.”
He added that the Church as a human institution needs resources. “The Church gives more than it receives,” he emphasized, pointing out that what the Church receives from the State in funding is equivalent to what a small company spends on marketing. “$142,000 of the $181,000 that is received comes from Catholics who have requested their deductions be set aside for the Church,” he underscored.
Quito, Ecuador, Nov 15, 2004 (CNA) - The Medical Federation of Ecuador has joined the Catholic Church in denouncing the abortifacient nature of the morning after pill and has announced its support for calls to have the drug removed from pharmacies.
Responding to promoters of the drug who insist on denying its anti-life mechanism, Luis Sanchez, President of the Medical Federation of Ecuador, said, “The morning after pill cannot be classified as a contraceptive method because by its very nature it acts against something that has already been conceived.”
“To impede a fertilized ovum from implantation in the uterus is a micro abortion, since from that very moment life already exists,” Sanchez said.
Bishop Antonio Arregui, Vice President of the Bishops Conference of Ecuador, warned that “what is being sought here by the sale of these products is the introduction into Ecuadorian society of a certain insensitivity to what amounts to an attack on human life.”
Speaking to reporters, he insisted that the Catholic Church “will awaken consciences so that such a crime against a being in its first stage of existence will not be tolerated.”
He also underscored that “the Church hopes for a positive answer from the Ministry of Health so that this drug will taken off the market, and if this is not the case, we will have recourse to other actions.”
Washington D.C., Nov 15, 2004 (CNA) - The convergence of the historic roles played by Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan in the collapse of Communism was assessed by former Reagan administration national security advisor Nov. 14.
Richard V. Allen gave his talk, titled "Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan and The Collapse of Communism: An Historic Confluence," at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.
Allen explored the impact Pope John Paul II had on the Poles in their struggle for freedom, and in particular the Solidarity Movement, with his 1979 visit.
Prior to becoming national security advisor, Allen served as Reagan's chief foreign policy adviser. He was also a policy coordinator in the Nixon administration. He is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the United States Defense Policy Board, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Heritage Foundation.
Vatican City, Nov 15, 2004 (CNA) - In reflections made before praying the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square yesterday, Pope John Paul II, noting that Italy was “celebrating a Day of Thanksgiving to God for the fruits of the earth harvested during the year,” said that "thanksgiving is fully expressed in the Eucharist.”
“In every holy Mass,” said the Holy Father, “we bless the Lord, God of the universe, presenting Him with bread and wine, 'fruits of the earth and the work of human hands'. To these simple foods Christ bound His sacrificial oblation. United to Him, believers also are called to offer God their lives and their daily work."
Genoa, this year’s ‘European capital of culture,’ hosted the Italian celebration this year. “I gladly join the prayers of the Genoa ecclesial community and of all who work in various ways in the agricultural sector," said the Pope.
In concluding the Pope asked "Mary, Mother of Divine Providence, to teach us to be grateful to the Lord for all that nature and human labor produce for our sustenance, to make us ready to share our resources with those in need."
Mexico City, Mexico, Nov 15, 2004 (CNA) - The Bishops Conference of Mexico warned this week that approval of a new law on casinos is not the path to take for achieving development in the country and could aggravate problems.
On the third day of its Fall Assembly, the Conference of bishops issued a statement on the subject to media.
The Secretary General of the Conference and Bishop of Texcoco, Carlos Aguiar Retes, emphasized that building casinos is not the “panacea” for Mexican development. He questioned wanting to achieve economic progress at the cost of “aggravating other problems.”
Speaking to local media, Bishop Aguiar Retes stated that multiple, “very serious” studies done by the Bishops, as well as studies done in other countries where there are casinos, shows that they lead to increased crime and insecurity.
Even though some lawmakers may have made commitments to certain lobby groups, Bishop Aguiar Retes expressed his hope that they will understand the consequences of a new casino law and that they will avoid “putting such a high cost on supposed economic advancement.”