Archive of December 13, 2004

Pope highlights importance of Nativity scenes

Vatican City, Dec 13, 2004 (CNA) - Pope John Paul II spoke about the importance of Nativity scenes during the Angelus prayer yesterday, Gaudete Sunday, noting that they are “a sign of faith in God, Who in Bethlehem came 'to live in our midst'."

"As Christmas approaches,” he said, “many places are setting up nativity scenes, such as here in St. Peter's Square. Large or small, simple or elaborate, the crib is a familiar and very expressive representation of Christmas. It is part of our culture and art, but above all it is a sign of faith in God, Who in Bethlehem came 'to live in our midst'."

The pope blessed statues of the Baby Jesus, brought to St. Peter's Square by children and young people, who will place them in the nativity scene in their homes, schools and parishes.

There are campaigns in various regions of Italy to eliminate symbols of Christmas from public avenues and schools.

The Holy Father said that in Nativity scenes “we can already find Joseph and Mary, silent witnesses of a sublime mystery. With their look of love they invite us to be vigilant and to pray to receive the divine Saviour, who comes to bring the joy of Christmas to the world."

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Veneration of Guadalupe statue in Methodist church sparks controversy

Chicago, Ill., Dec 13, 2004 (CNA) - Some Hispanic members of “Amor de Dios” United Methodist Church in Chicago celebrated the traditional feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe yesterday. They even prayed their first novena as a community to the Virgin this year. They processed a 2-foot-high statue around the neighborhood, singing, reciting the rosary and bringing it into parishioners’ homes for prayer.

This feast has sparked some concern among other Methodist churches, which consider the veneration of statues idolatry. It has also raised concern among local Catholic parishes, which worry that the church might be presenting itself as something that it is not.

But Rev. Oscar Carrasco, director of connectional ministries for the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, told the Chicago Tribune that exploring practices such as venerating the Virgin Mary could further the ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Methodists.

The church pastor, Rev. Jose Landaverde, said he sees no harm in embracing a tradition that might bring people closer to God. He agreed to keep the statue of the Virgin even after most of the church’s 15 founding parishioners left when Latino parishioners placed it in the sanctuary last year.

The 31-year-old student pastor, formerly a Catholic seminarian, said the Virgin is an unofficial national symbol of Mexico. He believes that a church must embrace cultural traditions if it is to make disciples for Jesus Christ in transitional communities.

An activist for migrant workers, Landaverde joined the Methodist church in 1998. In 2000, he organized an advocacy group for Chicago day laborers, and in 2003 he enrolled to become a Methodist pastor.

Many of the Catholic workers and families that he helped have joined Amor de Dios. Since his arrival in June 2003, the congregation has swelled from 15 members to 150 members and about 100 regular Sunday visitors.

Parishioner Oscar Hernandez, who grew up Catholic in El Salvador but now considers himself a Methodist, told the Chicago Tribune that he and his fellow parishioners “don't want to take away the faith that this community has, but we want to nourish it."

"Since I was little, it's always been right to have the Virgin Mary in the church," Olivia Serrato, 40, told the Tribune. "It's now a great honor to bring the Virgin Mary to my Methodist church. Before I didn't feel complete."

In the U.S., currently, churches of all denominations are competing to serve the growing Latino community. Though Latinos are traditionally Catholic, more have been gravitating toward evangelical and mainline Protestant churches in recent years.

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Wave of divorce follows Massachusetts’ same-sex weddings

Boston, Mass., Dec 13, 2004 (CNA) - Several same-sex couples in Massachusetts have begun seeking divorces less than seven months after they were given the legal right to marry.

The Associated Press reported that Hampshire County received a divorce filing within two months of its first same-sex wedding. The state’s largest county, Middlesex, received its first same-sex divorce case Dec. 2.

Suffolk County received its first same-sex divorce last week. A male couple, who exchanged vows on May 22 – five days after same-sex marriage was legalized – filed for a divorce Dec. 8.

The couple said in their divorce filing: "Our interests have grown in different directions." Each man signed a settlement attesting that the marriage had "irretrievably broken down."

The AP also reported that the exact number of same-sex couples seeking divorces and the finalization of these divorces is not clear since not all counties record the number of divorce filings from homosexuals.

Opponents of same-sex marriage say they’re not surprised and add that the divorces, occurring so soon after the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state, confirms that homosexual couples are not equipped for marriage.

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Pope’s message for peace, AIDS foundation to be presented

Vatican City, Dec 13, 2004 (CNA) - On Thursday, December 16 at 11 a.m. in the Holy See Press Office, the Holy Father's Message for the World Day of Peace 2005 will be presented by Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi and Msgr. Frank J. Dewane, respectively president and undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

On Friday, December 17 at 11:30 a.m. in the Holy See Press Office, there will be the presentation of the "Good Samaritan Foundation," an initiative promoted by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry. The foundation, whose purpose is to financially support needy sick people, especially AIDS patients, is based in the Vatican.

Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, Bishop Jose Luis Redrado Marchite, O.H., and Fr. Felice Ruffini, M.I., respectively president, secretary and undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, and Dr. Raffaele Perrone, extraordinary commissary of the Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases, will participate in the press conference.

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The "Bible for children" translated in Ottoman language to evangelize in Turkey

Konigstein, Germany, Dec 13, 2004 (CNA) - Turkish-speaking Christians now have access to a Bible for children printed in Turkish published by the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

The 1st edition of the Bible, entitled "God speaks to his children," comprises 15,000 copies, 5,000 of which are to be distributed in Turkey, while 10,000 are destined for being given to Turkish native speakers in Western Europe.

"There are about 100,000 Christians" among the country's population of about 66 million, said  Father Lorenzo Piretto, O. P., an Italian priest based in Istanbul.

The majority of Christians in the Western Asian country "are Apostolic Armenians. The Catholics are Latins, Chaldeans, Armenians and Syrians. There are also Greek and Syrian Orthodox, as well as various Protestant groups," said Fr Piretto.

"The Catechists are very content to have excerpts from the Bible in Turkish…At the entrance of churches, where the books are displayed, Muslims are free to take a copy," the Dominican priest added.

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Our Lady of Guadalupe honored by Catholics across U.S.

El Paso, Texas, Dec 13, 2004 (CNA) - Catholic Latinos across the United States celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas, with great fervor yesterday. The celebrations saw the Virgen Morena showered with red roses, serenaded with the traditional "Las Mañanitas" and honored by matachine dancers.

"It's an opportunity to honor the Virgen and dedicate some time to her," Luisa Santana told the El Paso Times. In preparation for the feast day, Santana decorated the grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe at Sts. Peter and Paul Church with lights, despite her physical ailments.

"We need to be grateful for everything she did for us," Santana said. This is a sentiment expressed by many Catholic Latinos yesterday since many have a strong devotion to the Virgin and pray to her to intercede for them and watch over them.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the name given to the Virgin Mary who appeared three times to a humble Mexican Indian named Juan Diego in 1531 on a hill.

Fr. Hugo Cordova of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish explained to the El Paso Times how the feast is “a manifestation of our faith as a community” and a celebration of unity.

For some, the feast day is the culmination of a yearlong devotion and prayer. Rosa Inungaray of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish heads the Asociación Guadalupana, which has a mass celebrated in the Virgin’s honor the 12th of every month. She seeks to pray to the Virgin and do good deeds in her honor each day.

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Military hopes retreat will help recruit more priests for the army

Yongsan Garrison, South Korea, Dec 13, 2004 (CNA) - The U.S. Army and its chaplains are hoping to recruit Catholic priests to serve in the Pacific theater, reported Stars and Stripes.

But rather than reaching out to seminaries and parish communities, they’re hoping to recruit from within the ranks and attract men who might be discerning a call to serve both God and country.

For the second year, U.S. Forces Korea is holding a three-day vocations retreat — from Dec. 27 to Dec. 29 — for men who discerning a call to the priesthood. Any man in the Pacific theater, civilian or military, is invited.

Nine men attended the retreat last year in Seoul, and two are now in seminary. About 20 people have expressed interest this year, including two men in Japan.

The military tries to provide one minister for every 1,000 servicemembers of a particular faith. It has chaplains from dozens of denominations and religions, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist. Catholics make up about a quarter of the military.

According to this ratio, the Navy should have 250 priests, but only half of that number is expected to serve next year. In the Army, the numbers are worse.

In 1977, there were 260 Catholic priests serving as Army chaplains. Now, there are about 90. Eighteen priests have agreed to work during their retirement to address the shortage.

For information on the retreat, e-mail: [email protected]

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Catholic Charities report clients' greatest need is for emergency services

, Dec 13, 2004 (CNA) - A recent survey conducted by Catholic Charities USA has revealed that the greatest needs of the clients of local Catholic charities during this Christmas season are for financial assistance, food, and housing.

"The sad reality is that more and more people are turning to Catholic Charities for help because they simply don't earn enough to provide for their basic needs," said Thomas A. DeStefano, president of Catholic Charities USA.

Of the 86 charities surveyed, 57% said that meeting people’s needs this season will be more difficult than in previous years. The report said that 74% of the charities surveyed pointed out that there are more people in situations of need this year.

Fifty-five percent of the charities also said that the economy is an influential factor and 41% say that cuts in government funding has made it more difficult to meet their clients’ needs. The biggest needs are for financial assistance (78%), food (51%) and housing (47%).

"While some funding streams, such as donations, have rebounded from previous years or have remained stable, revenue sources are not keeping pace with an ever-increasing need for services and the costs of providing those services," said DeStefano.

Nine out of ten agencies reported that they need more donations to meet the demands, and three quarters believe that they will not receive enough, while 22% anticipate shortages in food. The report also suggest that there has been a 70% increase in requests for food in 2004.

Seventy-seven percent of the charities surveyed also reported that more families are asking for help and that 63% more seniors have sought aid.

"These survey results are a stark reminder that poverty never takes a holiday," said DeStefano "We hope that people will take a moment from their busy holiday preparations to think of those who have no food, no home, and often little hope."

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