Vatican City, Dec 14, 2004 (CNA) - In a meeting yesterday with Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Hoshyar Zebari, minister of Foreign Affairs of Iraq, “confirmed his government's commitment to promote religious freedom and, in particular, to defend Christian communities,” stated Joaquin Navarro-Valls, director of the Holy See Press Office.
"In the course of the conversations the situation in Iraq and the Middle East in general was examined,” said Navarro-Valls, and "the minister thanked His Holiness and his aides for the help they have always demonstrated toward Iraq.”
"In the discussions the painful scourge of terrorism was deplored once again, in the hopes for a speedy return to respecting for moral values which are the basis of all civilizations," he said.
New Orleans, La., Dec 14, 2004 (CNA) - Gov. Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, a Democrat, responded to charges by the American Civil Liberties Union that Louisiana’s abstinence program is promoting religion in violation of a 2002 court settlement, saying that images of a man and woman being married by a priest are simply reflective of the vision of marriage held by the majority of Louisiana’s citizens.
In 2002 there was a court settlement to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU claiming that the Louisiana Government’s Program on Abstinence was funding overtly religious education programs.
Now, reports Kevin McGill of Associated Press, the ACLU is pointing to links on the Abstinence Program’s website, AbstinenceEdu.com, to websites with faith-based content.
Gov. Blanco responded by saying that the links do not violate the settlement, because the articles were not composed by the Abstinence program, and a notice was added next to the links indicating whether or not they had faith-based content.
Commenting on an ACLU complaint about an online question and answer forum in whch religious views were expressed by some participants, Gov. Blanco said "if these young people choose to discuss their faith in God as a motivating factor in their abstinence decision, they are well within their rights under the Constitution."
She also commented on a ACLU complaint about a script for a skit called “The Wedding,” which makes references to God, saying that "like most Louisiana citizens, I believe that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman. Therefore, I do not believe it inappropriate for the website to portray a couple being married by a religious leader which, after all, is the way the overwhelming majority of our citizens are married in this state under its laws."
"This promotes no specific religious belief,” she said, “It is merely reflective of reality."
Louisiana ACLU director Joe Cook said that "We still believe that we're on firm legal grounds. People can certainly base their decision about engaging in sexual activity on religious beliefs but the government cannot convey that message and use tax funds as a vehicle to do it."
, Dec 14, 2004 (CNA) - Oral arguments were presented yesterday in a case over whether the Nativity scene can be displayed in New York City schools. At issue is whether it is legal to display Jewish and Muslim religious symbols, but not Christian ones.
For the past few years, New York City schools have allowed the menorah and the crescent and star, but not the Nativity scene. The Catholic League secured a plaintiff to challenge this decision, and the Thomas More Law Center provided an attorney.
Last December, Judge Charles Sifton of the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of New York City’s policy, saying that the menorah and crescent and star have a secular dimension while the nativity scene was “purely religious.” This is the decision that is being appealed.
Catholic League president William Donohue pointed out that the ADL files an amicus in this case last September on the side of keeping the menorah in the schools while banning Nativity scenes, arguing that the crèche was an “overly religious” symbol.
Donohue said the Catholic League finds the ADL’s actions in this case disappointing and disturbing. “If the menorah were banned from the same schools that allowed the Nativity scene, the Catholic League would be filing an amicus on the side of protesting Jews,” he said.
, Dec 14, 2004 (CNA) - The cause for sainthood for the most popular TV bishop in the United States – whose program led many to God – got a significant push yesterday.
Hundreds gathered for a memorial mass for Archbishop Fulton Sheen at News York’s St. Patrick’s cathedral on the 25th anniversary of his death. According to a report in the New York Times, the people gathered hoping to jump-start the process that will lead to Archbishop Sheen’s canonization.
"It's like a kickoff, so to speak, with a liturgy," Msgr. John E. Kozar, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, told the Times. "It's a public announcement in the most fitting way."
Archbishop Sheen became a household name with his Emmy Award-winning half-hour program, "Life is Worth Living." He drew 25 million viewers of all faiths every week, getting higher ratings than Milton Berle, then host of one of one of the most popular TV shows at the time.
But he was more than a TV personality. His mix solid theology, simple wisdom, persuasive language and Irish sense of humor, won many converts to Catholicism, including Henry Ford II.
Archbishop Sheen died in 1979 in Manhattan at the age of 84. The Times reported that 25 years later Fr. Andrew Apostoli, a Franciscan friar the archbishop had inspired as a boy, began the push for his canonization.
In 2002, the Vatican declared Archbishop Sheen a Servant of God. This allows his supporters to prepare and submit a detailed report about his life, teachings and writings, and at least two miracles attributed to him.
Joan Cunningham, 77, a niece of the archbishop who lives in Yonkers, told the Times that the recovery of a sick boy might be one.
Knoxville, Tenn., Dec 14, 2004 (CNA) - Police are investigating a disturbing case of vandalism that struck the Chancery Office of the Diocese of Knoxville.
Early Sunday morning someone destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus, by painting a red upside-down cross on the statue.
Mary's face was also painted red and her nose was smashed. In addition, Baby Jesus' head was knocked off and thrown through the front window of the diocese. Although the window was broken, no one entered the building and nothing was stolen.
No one was hurt in the incident.
Paris, France, Dec 14, 2004 (CNA) - Teachers in a rural school in northern France returned 1,300 packages of chocolates intended for their kindergarten students last week because they were shaped like St. Nicholas and his cross, reported The Associated Press.
While the chocolates were a longstanding Christmas tradition for kindergarten students at this school, the French ban on all religious symbols in public schools made the chocolates illegal.
The law, which took effect in September, was adopted mainly to keep Muslim girls from wearing traditional Islamic head scarves to class and stem what the French perceive as growing Muslim fundamentalism in their country. The law bans all overt symbols, such as Islamic headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and Christian crosses.
“It’s an unhealthy political affair. Absolutely regrettable,” said André Delattre, mayor of the northern town of Coudekerque-Branche, which has shipped the traditional chocolates to local schools for 11 years.
“What’s the point? It’s the children who are being penalized for this difference of opinion,” the Socialist mayor reportedly said. “They’ve been deprived of a festive moment.”
Delattre, whose $5,300 gift of chocolates was returned, was annoyed that the new law could break a longstanding Christmas tradition. The mayor said his office replaced the chocolate figurines with regular chocolate bars.
This is the first time the law has been used to challenge Christian imagery. A spokeswoman for the Education Ministry told the AP yesterday that she was not aware of any other incidents involving Christian symbols.
Paris, France, Dec 14, 2004 (CNA) - While French public schools are battling to implement a new ban on all religious symbols, the former finance minister is lobbying to amend a law and allow state subsidies for religious groups, reported The Associated Press.
Nicolas Sarkozy, who heads President Jacques Chirac’s conservative Union for a Popular Movement Party, is leading a campaign to modify the 1905 law that led to the full secularization of the country.
Sarkozy, who is considering running for president in 2007, wants to give France’s five million Muslims funds to build mosques. He believes that bringing Islam out into the open would help Western Europe’s largest Islamic community integrate into French society, reported the AP. It would also discourage extremism from flourishing among believers now meeting underground, he argues.
Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin disagree with Sarkozy’s proposal, saying there is no reason to change the law that has served well as a cornerstone of modern French society.
Madrid, Spain, Dec 14, 2004 (CNA) - The Bishops Conference of Spain has announced that December 26 it will dedicate the traditional “Family and Life” Day to the defense of marriage between one man and one woman.
During the announcement, General Secretary of the Conference Father Juan Antonio Martinez Camino said, “Whoever attempts to erase that distinction between marriage and other forms of living together and unfortunately attempts to erase a distinction that is evident to anyone who has eyes to see, causes grave harm to reason and to society.”
The defense of marriage between a man and a woman as a “natural, rational and human” reality is defended in a pamphlet published by the bishops called, “He Created Them Male and Female,” the phrase from Genesis that emphasizes “the fundamental anthropological basis” for marriage; as “all marriage based on reason and human nature has this fundamental characteristic” which guarantees “the biological, spiritual and moral survival of humanity.”
“The Church did not invent marriage,” Father Martinez Camino said. Marriage is a reality that “exists chronologically and culturally even before Christianity” in cultures such as that of the Roman empire.
The pamphlet also points out that “through a father and a mother, a child acquires his personal and identity as a male or female.”
“Man is a being meant to live in community and therefore human beings are fundamentally different as men and women,” the pamphlet states.
“Not all human relationships are marriages nor can they be, but not only when they are sacramental, because marriage is a human reality, not merely a Catholic one, which enables society to welcome children with dignity.”
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Dec 14, 2004 (CNA) - The Bishops Conference of Brazil has published a statement calling on the government not to expand the legal justifications for abortion in the country and to defend human life in all of its stages.
The bishops were responding to the federal government’s announcement it will seek to broaden the exceptions for abortion, which is currently allowed in cases of rape and the life of the mother.
“We reaffirm the ethical principle of complete respect for the dignity and
life of the human being, regardless of the stage of development or condition.
This principle, upon which all other rights of the person is based, is the
foundation and condition for a noble, just and unified society,” the bishops
Likewise, they called for a cultivation of “a culture of life and not death.
Scorn for human life has lead people and governments of the past and the
present to commit the greatest absurdities and has resulted in an escalation
of violence, insecurity, vengeance, murders, assaults, robberies and an
increase of misery and hunger.”
“We need to be educated on how to live with each other in unity rather than
killing one another. Respect for the defenseless and for fragile life is an
expression of true culture and humanity,” the bishops stated, recalling as
well that only respect for life “can guarantee true peace.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 14, 2004 (CNA) - As the controversy surrounding abortion in Argentina widens, the director of the feminist organization “Women on the Waves,” Rebecca Gomperts of Holland, arrived in Buenos Aires last week to begin a campaign promoting the arrival of the organization’s abortion boat.
Gomperts began her pro-abortion campaign alleging that in Argentina women who want to get an abortion are “treated very badly” because they do not have access to legal abortion.
She also said she would return to Argentina in a few months aboard the abortion boat, the “Aurora,” to dock in Argentina and offer abortion services to women there.
State representative Fernanda Ferrero said Gomperts and Noemi Olivetto, the State representative who is sponsoring her visit, have no concern for “the sinister consequences this will cause.”
Ferrero called the campaign “amazingly hypocritical” because “they want to start a debate which should be carried out with the utmost seriousness and yet they display a lack of respect for life which goes way beyond the limits of what is acceptable in a media campaign.”
“The numerous press releases issued by Representative Olivetto on this issue say nothing about the juridical impossibility of this boat offering abortion services in countries that outlaw them,” said Ferrero.
Another State representative, Ricardo Lopez Murphy, denounced Gomperts for not revealing “the consequences of using RU-486, which is administered on the boat.”
Madrid, Spain, Dec 14, 2004 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Valencia, Spain, said last week more than a million people in the province of Valencia alone have signed a petition to support religion classes in public schools.
The signatures were collected by the Catholic Confederation of Parents of Students and by the “National Platform in Defense of Religion Classes.”
Leaders of both organizations, whose goal was to collect one million signatures, said they were “totally surprised by the success of the initiative” and they underscored that the petition garnered more support than any other in the history of the province.
The Confederation collected more than 600,000 signatures and expects to
receive an additional 200,000 by December 20, when signatures collected in
other provinces will be sent in to the Confederation, which will then send the
entire petition to the government.
“The response has been extraordinary and the campaign has been met with enormous success,” said Alejandro Quintana, national secretary of the National Platform.
The President of the Committee for Education of the Archdiocese of Valencia,
Father Rafael Cerda, told the AVAN news agency that he was extremely satisfied because “the campaign has surpassed all expectations.”