Vatican City, Dec 2, 2004 (CNA) - Receiving the president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Guema, this morning, Pope John Paul II said that the Church, "inspired by the Gospel, only wants to serve in promoting man's dignity, in a normal climate of freedom, cooperation, reconciliation, understanding and respect that facilitates the peaceful and fruitful execution of its spiritual and humanitarian mission."
He recalled his1982 trip to the country where "the Church, through evangelization, develops with the means at her disposal generous achievements in education, health care, and in promoting the poor."
The Holy Father expressed his desire that this meeting "may contribute to mutual understanding and cordial and peaceful relations between the public authorities and the Christian community, and that they will help all citizens in their desire to improve their conditions in life, so that they may be realized as persons and as sons and daughters of God."
"I convey my best wishes for the entire Guinean people and I invoke God's blessings upon them to encourage them in their hopes and legitimate aspirations," said the Pope.
Vatican City, Dec 2, 2004 (CNA) - Receiving 180 members of the secular institute, "Servants of Suffering," on the 10th anniversary of its foundation this morning, Pope John Paul II said that their witness as ‘silent Cyrenians’ assures those suffering that “God forgets no tears.”
The Pope noted that the institute, founded by Msgr. Pietro Galeone, "was born from an explicit wish of St. Pio of Pietrelcina with the aim of serving all those who suffer."
"Over this period of ten years," said the Holy Father, "the institute has grown notably, becoming a vehicle of hope for so many people who are sorely tried, both physically and in spirit. You are called to proclaim the Gospel of suffering illuminated by faith."
"Looking at the clouds of physical and spiritual pain that envelop humanity,” he said, “how much more necessary is the witness that you give! As 'Servants of Suffering' you are silent 'cyrenians' who help all those undergoing trials assuring them that God forgets no tears, but rather gathers them and writes them in His book."
"Follow in the wake of Padre Pio,” urged the Pope, “whose teachings are always current: be constantly inspired by them. Be apostles, like him, of prayer and suffering!”
“Prayer illuminates the heart and makes it ready to accept suffering: suffering, welcomed with docile abandonment in God, opens the soul to understanding the pain of others," said the Holy Father in conclusion.
Atlanta, Ga., Dec 2, 2004 (CNA) - A new study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing that newly diagnosed HIV infections in gay and bisexual men has risen in many U.S. states since 2000 has confirmed that the incidence of AIDS in men engaged in homosexual behavior is significantly higher than that among other groups in the U.S., Reuters reports.
The study released to commemorate World AIDS Day, showed that between 2000 and 2003, 11% more infections of HIV/AIDS were diagnosed in among men who have sex with men.
Of the 125,800 diagnoses reported during the period, said the Center, 44% were accounted for by Gay and bisexual males.
During that same period, reported the CDC, the HIV/AIDS diagnosis rate for the overall population retained relative stability increasing by only 0.2% from 19.5 cases per 100,000 people in 2000, to 19.7 per 100,000 people in 2003.
Blacks, representing about 13 percent of the U.S. population, made up 51 percent of all diagnoses from 2000 to 2003, said the CDC.
"This is not a trend we want to ignore," said Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, deputy director of the CDC's HIV/AIDS prevention program. "We need to make sure the leadership in the gay community understands the importance of tracking this very carefully.”
HIV/AIDS has been showing signs of an increase since the late 1990’s when deaths from AIDS has been stable at a rate of about 16,000 per year, while new HIV infections stabilized at about 40,000 a year.
The increase has been noted particularly among gay and bisexual men, who are believed to account for the majority of the 900,000 or so Americans who live with HIV.
There has also been a recent surge in syphilis infections among gay and bisexual men Syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases increase the risk of contracting HIV.
Harrisburg, Pa., Dec 2, 2004 (CNA) - Pennsylvania's Catholic bishops have appealed to Gov. Ed Rendell to do whatever is within his power to stop the execution of George Banks, scheduled to take place today.
Although a stay of execution was issued by the Commonwealth Court Nov. 30, the execution may still take place as scheduled depending on a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling. This being the case, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has submitted a letter of appeal to the governor yesterday.
In the letter, the bishops urge Rendell to "do everything in (his) power to prevent the execution of Mr. Banks." They add: "Punishment should reflect the belief in the inherent human dignity of each person."
The bishops’ position on the death penalty is nothing new. They made their opposition to the death penalty clear in their 2001 statement, “The Death Penalty: Choose Life.”
In it, the bishops refer to the teaching of the Catholic Church on capital punishment, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "If . . . non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person."
In the statement’s conclusion, the bishops write: "We oppose capital punishment not just for what it does to those guilty of horrible crimes but for what it does to all of us as a society.
“Increasing reliance on the death penalty diminishes all of us and is a sign of growing disrespect for human life. We cannot overcome crime by simply executing criminals, nor can we restore the lives of the innocent by ending the lives of those convicted of their murders,” they continue. “The death penalty offers the tragic illusion that we can defend life by taking life.”
Banks would be the first person executed in Pennsylvania since 1999.
Washington D.C., Dec 2, 2004 (CNA) - A pro-life group has called it “a scandal” that a woman who claims to have been raised a Catholic has taken the helm of the country’s largest pro-abortion organization.
The American Life League is dismayed by the recent appointment of Nancy Keenan as president of NARAL.
"For a woman who was taught to respect all innocent human beings, it is a scandal that Ms. Keenan has agreed to lead such an anti-life, anti-Catholic organization,” said the American Life League in a statement.
“The Catholic Church does not waver in its teaching that the act of abortion is gravely evil in every circumstance, and Ms. Keenan has made it perfectly clear that she believes the Church is wrong,” continued the statement.
The American Life League pointed out that NARAL's news release, announcing Keenan's appointment, praised Keenan’s unwavering pro-abortion position during a public effort to excommunicate her from the Catholic Church a few years ago.
The league said it would ask Keenan’s bishop, Bishop Paul S. Loverde of Arlington, Va., “to clarify her current status with the Catholic Church,” given that “Catholic teaching sends a clear message: you cannot be both Catholic and pro-abortion."
“We want to be assured that Ms. Keenan is not using her 'Catholic identity' to further denigrate Christ and His Church,” it said.
Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 2, 2004 (CNA) - Despite being snubbed by Hollywood and the Motion Picture Academy, Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” has made it onto the Top 5 list for the People’s Choice Awards.
Fans are urged to log onto the People’s Choice Awards Web site and vote for the epic film, listed in the Favorite Movie Drama category.
Voting ends Dec. 13.
To vote, go to http://www.pcavote.com/voting/film/f02.shtml
, Dec 2, 2004 (CNA) - Despite efforts to root out racism and prejudice against various groups, anti-Catholicism persists in the United States, said William H. Cardinal Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore.
“We live in a culture in which anti-Semitism, homophobia and racism are rightly condemned. Yet anti-Catholicism is tolerated,” he said in a comment published in the Baltimore Sun, Nov. 28, adding, “most Catholics seem resigned to it.”
The cardinal summarized the long history of anti-Catholicism in Maryland, despite the fact that it was a colony founded by Catholics. Too few recall that it was “the first home of religious freedom in the English-speaking world,” he said, and that Marylanders were later denied this freedom for almost a century.
Religious freedom was reclaimed with American independence. However, said the cardinal, anti-Catholicism has persisted.
It has taken on different forms, “evolving across the years from violent expressions and the outright denial of basic human rights, to rumors of papal conspiracies, to behaviors we now too often witness in the public square—policy-makers who defame our clergy and assault our doctrinal beliefs, policy initiatives that not only promote abortion and gay marriage but also ridicule our Church's teachings in those matters,” he said.
“Regrettably, religious groups that should defend one another against such calumny sometimes do not,” he said, pointing out that “on sad occasion, they support it.
“Signs of a reviving anti-Catholicism are also apparent in the mainstream media, recalling a time when it was ‘vogue’ to depict Catholics as abnormal or unpatriotic,” he said.
The cardinal cited Philip Jenkins’ 2003 book, “The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice,” in which the author states that in modern American history "no mainstream denomination has ever been treated so consistently, so publicly, with such venom" as has the Catholic Church.
Today, Catholics seem resigned to this treatment of their Church and faith, and some even engage in Catholic-bashing, the cardinal pointed out, except for two groups.
The cardinal said Catholic immigrants and Catholic youth actively defend their beliefs and are “unapologetic about their Catholic heritage and about what it means to be Catholic.”
Other Catholics, he said, should be emboldened by their example and follow suit.
Vatican City, Dec 2, 2004 (CNA) - In a message to Ambassador Wolfgang Petritsch, president of the First Review Conference of the Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction, being held in Nairobi, Kenya, Pope John Paul II called for the definitive eradication of landmines and for special attention and support to be given to landmine victims.
“Five years after entering into force,,” said the Pope, the Ottawa Convention, “has become for the ratifying countries a fundamental and inescapable norm that reinforces the strict application of international humanitarian law and is a tangible proof of solidarity between nations and peoples."
He underscored that "the Holy See, who was among the first to ratify this convention, intends to contribute in an active way to seeing to its implementation, in a sincere and constructive dialogue with the other signatory States.”
“The Holy See, he said, “has launched a campaign to sensitize local Churches to the problem of anti-personnel landmines, to spread information on this grave problem," and is asking for involvement and for "prayers for the victims of landmines and for the success of this conference."
"The destruction of landmine stockpiles" and "the socio-economic reintegration of victims," the great majority of whom are innocent people, who are mutilated or killed, is the most important objective, said the Pope.
He said that there must also be "bilateral and multilateral cooperation" between countries in order to make the correct decisions to eradicate mines. ... When States unite, in a climate of understanding, mutual respect and cooperation, to oppose a culture of death and to build confidently a culture of life, it is the cause of peace that advances in the consciences of people and all of mankind."
The Holy Father stated that “victims of landmines deserve special attention, even after stockpiles are reduced or eliminated. The international community must allot both financial and human resources to helping people become the protagonists of their own development, to rehabilitating the handicapped, and to reintegrating victims of mines into society."
The Pope concluded by making "a fervent appeal for the universalization of the Ottawa Convention, inviting the nations who hesitate to adhere to it, to join the side of peace by definitively neutralizing these engines of death.”
Toronto, Canada, Dec 2, 2004 (CNA) - The second largest religious group in Canada, after Catholics, are those who identify themselves as belonging to “no religion,” according to a report in the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail.
According to a statistical profile on the family carried out by the Vanier Institute, 17% of Canadians have “no religion,” while the number of Muslims in the country have grown by 129% between 1991 and 2001.
The increase in non-traditional religions in Canada during the same period is also dramatically high, with the numbers of Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs all up by more than 80%.
The number of Presbyterians, a mainline Protestant denomination, however, declined by 35 per cent between 1991 and 2001.
Ann Arbor, Mich., Dec 2, 2004 (CNA) - A Michigan woman won a five-year legal battle for the right to see her court file regarding a request that she had made when she was 15 to a court judge for an abortion.
FG was suffering from a mental illness that required her to take prescribed medication when she found out she was pregnant. She was 15 years old at the time, and instead of informing her parents about the pregnancy, she went to a Washtenaw County Probate Court Judge for a judicial bypass to get an abortion.
In February 2000, a few years after her abortion, FG, through the Thomas More Law Center, requested to see her court file. She wanted to learn whether the probate court had been informed about her mental condition and whether she actually agreed to the judicial bypass and to the abortion. She also wanted to learn if any of her rights had been violated. Because of her medical condition, FG claims she only had a vague memory of what had taken place during the probate court proceeding.
A Washtenaw County Probate Judge denied her request. However, after a series of appeals lasting five years, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled Nov. 23 that FG had a right to see her file.
Edward L. White III, a Law Center attorney, said the ruling sets an important precedent for future cases dealing with judicial bypass proceedings.
Lima, Peru, Dec 2, 2004 (CNA) - As people around the world marked World AIDS Day, the Health Ministry Department of the Peruvian Bishops Conference called on Peruvian society to adopt urgent measures against the disease and said that “stable and Christian families” are privileged means for combating it.
The Department published a message in which it called on Peruvians to reflect on the scourge of AIDS and to consider it “a social problem that afflicts young people, male and female,” destroys families and even affects the economy.
The statement argued that one way to avoid spreading the disease is “to live safe and responsible sexuality,” practicing chastity and fidelity. In this sense, the statement recalled that “a stable and Christian family will form young people to be responsible, mature, free and sure of themselves.”
Likewise the document exhorts Christians to support those who are suffering from the disease and to embrace a new pastoral approach to AIDS victims by welcoming, accompanying, serving, educating and defending the rights of the thousands of people affected by this disease and who are often marginalized by society.
The Department encouraged those who work with carriers of the virus, exhorting them to continue being “good Samaritans” and “apostles of mercy.”
“May Mary, comfort of the afflicted, make us all more sensitive to the suffering of so many brothers and sisters and may she intercede for those who voluntarily dedicate themselves to their care.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 2, 2004 (CNA) - Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, called on the faithful this week not to be afraid and to persevere in the faith in response to a blasphemous art exhibit taking place in the Argentinean capital.
“For some time public expressions of ridicule and insult of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Most Holy Virgin Mary, as well as numerous exhibits against the religious and moral values we profess, have been on display throughout the city,” the Cardinal warned.
He lamented that the exhibiting of blasphemous art is taking place at a cultural center that is funded by tax-payer money.
“Jesus warned us that these things would take place, and with much tenderness he told us not to be afraid, that we are his small flock, that we should persevere in the struggle for the faith and in charity, placing our hope in Him and praying with the true confidence of children of a Father who loves us,” he added.
He also announced an act of reparation and request for forgiveness will take place on December 7, the vigil of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. “I invite you to pray and fast on that day, as a day of penance during which we pray to the Lord, as a Christian community, for forgiveness of our sins and of those of our city. May our Lady of Lujan be with us in her affection,” he concluded.
The Cardinal made his statement in response to an art exhibit by Leon Ferrari, a well-known militant atheist who has made hundreds of anti-Catholic works such as saints burning themselves in a toaster, the Blessed Mother in a frying pan, and a statue of the Last Supper in which Christ and the Apostles face a pack of rats.
In 1997, Ferrari founded the Club for the Impious, Heretics, Apostates, Blasphemers, Atheists, Agnostics and Infidels.
Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 2, 2004 (CNA) - Bishop Renato Ascencio Leon of Juarez, Mexico, said this week bishops whose dioceses are on the borders of the US and Mexico will meet in the coming days to discuss various issues related to migrants and immigrants, such as the use of rubber bullets by the Border Patrol.
Bishop Ascencio said the meeting will take place in Reynosa, Mexico.
Regarding the use of rubber bullets against people who attempt to cross the US-Mexican border, the bishop said they could only be used when patrol agents are attacked by an immigrant; in other words, only in self-defense.
However, Bishop Ascencio said he knew they have been used in many other occasions and that such instances constitute “true harm to the rights of migrants.” He stated that there is no reason that can justify an attack on the human dignity of a person.
The bishop also revealed that after the meeting, he will meet with the bishops of Texas and New Mexico about pastoral issues and issues related to marriage.
Santiago, Chile, Dec 2, 2004 (CNA) - Bishop Gonzalo Duarte of Valparaiso, Chile, told Chileans this week that seeking reconciliation and forgiveness can be very difficult for somebody who has no faith, and he called on everyone to make the effort to face the denouncing of the government of Augusto Pinochet for the use of torture.
“Truth and justice are necessary, but they are very painful. And lastly, reconciliation and forgiveness are very difficult, they are Christian virtues, and it is very difficult for one who does not believe in Jesus Christ to forgive and be reconciled,” he said.
According to Bishop Duarte, “It is difficult as well for those who believe in Jesus Christ, but for those who do not believe, it is incomprehensible and very difficult to accept to the Christian traditions of reconciliation and forgiveness, which do not mean that we wipe clean the slate.”
Asked about the official report on Political Imprisonment and Torture, which was released a few days ago, Bishop Duarte underscored that “the acknowledgement of the terrible things that occurred in our country has been a process of maturity in suffering.” He also recalled that the Church has always said we must struggle for truth, justice, moral reparation and material reparation inasmuch as possible, but in the end forgiveness and reconciliation must take place.
Although he said the country was still “far from forgiving and reconciling,” he called the recent report “a step forward, a painful, but important, step. And the fact that important individuals and institutions, such as the Military, have assumed responsibility and have recognized the moral value of this report is very significant.”
The report includes 35,000 testimonies by persons who suffered torture during the dictatorship of Pinochet.