, Jun 14, 2005 (CNA) - During a luncheon Tuesday at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong, Bishop Joseph Zen told reporters that the Vatican's policy on China has not changed under Pope Benedict XVI and that the Vatican desires to make every effort in order to normalize relations with Beijing.
A major sticking point in the establishment of relations has been the appointment of Catholic bishops. The Vatican has the sole right to do this; however, as it has with the government of Cuba, Bishop Zen suggested that the Vatican might want to compromise on the issue, "not to surrender completely, but to make some compromise so that the Beijing government may also have some say in that appointment of bishops".
China also demands the Vatican severe relations with Taiwan and refrain from "interfering" in China's internal affairs – for instance, agitating for religious freedom - before relations can be restored. Bishop Zen conceded that a switch to relations with Beijing would come at the expense of Taipei, with which the Vatican currently has diplomatic relations.
"The Holy See is ready to switch diplomatic relations with Taiwan to Beijing. Until now the Holy See never unilaterally abandoned any friend," he said. "So this time, it may be forced to make a painful decision, because otherwise the China authority would not accept dialogue with the Holy See”. But, the bishop cautioned, the Vatican should only accept normalization if Beijing will guarantee genuine religious freedom. "The Vatican should be sure that the Beijing government is going to grant a real religious freedom. It's unfair to switch diplomatic relations and to start negotiations later. Nobody works that way," he added.
Relations between Beijing and the Holy See have been severed for more than 50 years, since the Communists took power at the end of China's civil war and expelled the Vatican's ambassador in 1951--a move that was followed by the severance of diplomatic ties.
Bishop Zen says the Vatican has tried to discuss a restoration of ties with China in the past, but he says Beijing in recent years has not shown any interest in pursuing the matter despite visits by Vatican officials to the mainland.
The government only allows Catholics to worship in the state-sanctioned church, and officials and followers of the underground, Vatican-affiliated Church often face persecution.
The government's Patriotic Catholic church claims 4 million believers, but foreign experts say the unofficial church has 12 million followers. Bishop Zen said that both groups of Catholics would unite if China allowed them to have ties with the Vatican. "When they hear the voice of the Holy Father, they'll all be ready to obey," assured the Prelate, adding that there should not be a problem integrating the two groups because many of the bishops in the government-sanctioned church are already recognized by the Vatican.
Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, but under the "one country, two systems" principle, retains the freedoms it enjoyed under British colonial rule. The Catholic Church in Hong Kong is officially under Vatican supervision and operates without restrictions.
Vatican City, Jun 14, 2005 (CNA) - A large delegation of 500 Trenitalia workers will take part on tomorrow’s general audience with Pope Benedict XVI. Led by the chairman of Trenitalia, Gianfranco Legitimo, and director general, Massimo Ghenzer, the group of workers will pay the Holy Father a historic homage during the course of the meeting.
The railwaymen delegation will be conformed of engineers, assistants, managers and coordinators, who after the death of John Paul II guaranteed the movement of more than 800 thousand pilgrims from Italy and abroad, with 1000 extra trains, and who a few days later brought thousands of the faithful to Rome for the election of Benedict XVI.
Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2005 (CNA) - Washington’s Catholic schools are growing as the result of a new federal voucher program that provides low-income students with grants that they can use toward tuition at private or faith-based schools.
The program, currently running in the District of Columbia, gives parents the choice to enroll their children in schools other than their local failing public schools.
The program has been a boon for more than a dozen of Washington’s Catholic elementary schools, which were slated for closure after three decades of decline, reported the Washington Post.
Of the 983 students in the voucher program, 61 percent have reportedly enrolled in Catholic schools. The percentage is expected to remain the same when the program expands to 1,600 students in September.
St. Benedict the Moor in Northeast Washington is one Catholic school that has benefitted from the voucher program. From February 2003 to June 2004, St. Benedict's enrollment dropped from 150 to 110. With the launch of the voucher program in September 2004, enrollment rose to 165. The school expects to reach its capacity of 200 students over the next few years.
Education analysts say parents in the voucher program are choosing Catholic schools because their tuition is less than the program’s $7,500 maximum allotment — elite private schools are much more expensive — and because of proximity — several Catholic schools are located in low-income neighborhoods.
Parents of voucher students attending Catholic schools told the newspaper that they like the schools' moral values, discipline and structure.
Ottawa, Canada, Jun 14, 2005 (CNA) - Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said last week that he cannot guarantee full protection to religious organizations that refuse to marry homosexuals under the Liberal government’s same-sex marriage legislation, reported the Canadian Press.
Churches will not be forced to perform same-sex weddings, but it's beyond his legal reach to protect provincial marriage commissioners or religious organizations who turn away same-sex couples, Cotler said June 8.
In Canada, the federal government has the jurisdication to define marriage, but provincial governments have the jurisdiction over the solemnization of marriage. In other words, provincial governments grant marriage licenses and marriage commissioners answer to provincial governments.
Marriage commissioners in several provinces, including Manitoba, Newfoundland, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan, have resigned in recent months after receiving orders to perform same-sex unions against their beliefs.
According to the CP report, Conservative justice critic Vic Toews said Cotler must work with the provinces to enact “corresponding legislation that will protect religious organizations and those who object to same-sex marriage for reasons of conscience."
"Faith-based groups are not all that confident if their rights are going to be left up to the courts," said Derek Rogusky, spokesman for Focus on the Family Canada, reportedly said.
Equality protections tend to trump religious freedoms in court battles over homosexual rights, he pointed out.
Curently, the bill is in parliamentary committee hearings, but it is expected to pass in the House of Commons before summer recess.
If it becomes law, Canada would be the third country, after the Netherlands and Belgium, to legalize same-sex marriage.
Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2005 (CNA) - American scientists say they have found a way to identify brain stem cells and make them multiply to treat degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson's and Huntington's.
The research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
In treating these diseases, the stem cells could come from the patient himself. While scientists have been working on mice, they believe the research can be transferred to humans.
"We've isolated for the first time what appears to be the true candidate stem cell," said Dennis Steindler of the University of Florida, who worked on the study.
Steindler said researchers employed a method called live-cell microscopy, which uses a special microsope us to watch living cells over long periods of time. Through this method, Steindler said researchers witnessed the stem cell give rise to new neurons, reported Reuters.
Researchers have said they are also able to freeze the stem cells. When they are needed, they can be thawed and the cell-generating process can begin.
They also believe the cells may play an important role in cancer treatment.
The new discovery strengthens the case in favor of adult stem-cell research over embryonic stem-cell research.
Washington D.C., Jun 14, 2005 (CNA) - The U.S. government has increased funding for the the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) grant program by $11 million for 2006.
Leslee Unruh, president of the Abstinence Clearinghouse, told the Dakota Voice that the decision was “a victory for America's children.”
The increase was made to the appropriations bill by the House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies.
President George W. Bush had initially requested an increase of $39 million for abstinence education in his proposed budget. But Unruh said she is grateful for the $11-million increase in this year of fiscal restraint.
Unruh said the increased funding is “a clear mandate to improve the health of the next generation and abstinence education is the best way to do that."
The Abstinence Clearinghouse is a non-profit educational organization that promotes abstinence through distribution of age-appropriate and medically accurate materials.
Miami, Fla., Jun 14, 2005 (CNA) - Hundreds attended the three-hour viewing and funeral mass Sunday for Miami’s late Archbishop Edward McCarthy at St. Mary's Cathedral. Archbishop McCarthy, who died June 8 at the age of 87, served as archbishop of Miami from 1977 to 1994.
Archbishop McCarthy's former aide, Msgr. Pablo Navarro, delivered a moving homily. He said everyone was equal in Archbishop McCarthy’s eyes. The late archbishop was equally at ease in the company of Queen Elizabeth as he was with the homeless at a local soup kitchen, Msgr. Navarro.
According to a report by Robert Steinback, those in attendance remembered the archbishop as a kind gentleman, a “magnificent human being”, a mentor and a friend.
The archbishop was able to reach out to people of all backgrounds and ethnicities with his warm personality, said Fr. Michael Carruthers, who also served as the archbihop’s aide.
During his time as archbishop waves of immigrants from impoverished countries, like Cuba and Haiti, were welcomed into the local church.
Altida Simon, who moved to Miami from Haiti in 1972, said the archbishop granted her community a Haitian Mass. “He never refused us,” she said.
Mexico City, Mexico, Jun 14, 2005 (CNA) - The president of the Bishops’ Conference of Mexico, Bishop Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago, warned this week that if the control of drug traffickers over certain areas of the country is not contained, Mexico could see the same suffering being endured in Colombia.
Bishop Martin was referring to the violence that has taken place in Nuevo Laredo in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, where the post of security chief was vacant from more than thirty days, and when Alejandro Dominguez Coello was nominated to be chief of police, he was assassinated on the day he was sworn in.
“Here is my interpretation of this act: Drug traffickers say, ‘We are willing to accept as security chiefs those whom we choose,’ and this is a risk, a very grave risk that the security forces will be chosen by drug traffickers themselves,” the bishop warned.
“This means that, in the end, political power and state institutions would be in the hands of drug traffickers. This is what is happening in Colombia and it appears that we are traveling down the same path, with very serious risks,” said Bishop Martin.
He underscored that “if drug traffickers have the power to decide in the end who they are, who will want to take up the task of protecting the public order? In other words, if we allow the wolves to care for the sheep, in whose hands are we?”
“I can’t say that everyone in security positions in these states is a drug trafficker, but we have just seen what took place in Nuevo Laredo,” the bishop noted.
Asunción, Paraguay, Jun 14, 2005 (CNA) - Bishop Adalberto Martinez Flores of San Lorenzo, Paraguay, is exhorting Paraguayans to “restore the face of the family” because from the family comes the good and the bad fruit that influences society.
On the feast of St. Anthony of Padua, Bishop Martinez noted that only by restoring the nuclear family could the country’s situation change and the insecurity and violence be overcome.
In his homily, the bishop called for the “reestablishing of the bonds of reconciliation, dialogue, and forgiveness,” so that families can become “promoters of social welfare.”
He added that in their homes, parents should strive to provide proper education and care to their children. He also encouraged families to participate in the missionary nature of the Church, to work for unity, to foster prayer and to reach out to those in need.
Vatican City, Jun 14, 2005 (CNA) - The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano is praising the agreement reached by the G8 countries to provide complete debt relief to 18 countries considered among the poorest of the world.
The paper noted that John Paul II had presented this idea to the international community as a goal of civilization and progress.
Gordon Brown, Great Britain’s Economy Minister, announced Saturday that the G8 countries have agreed to cancel the debt of Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, totaling more than 40 billion dollars.
The secretary general for Caritas International, Duncan MacLaren, said the announcement represents “a step in the right direction” but he warned, “There is still much to be done if we really want to offer hope to the poorest countries of the world that they can get out of the desperate situation in which they find themselves.”
La Paz, Bolivia, Jun 14, 2005 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, Cardinal Julio Terrazas Sandoval, exhorted Bolivians this week to tear down “the walls of separation” that prevent them from building an authentic peace, but he added that justice, which is one of its requirements, is not achieved by only “repeating nice words.”
During Sunday Mass, the cardinal recalled the difficult moments facing Bolivia and noted that unless “we put God at the center of our lives,” the country cannot move forward and rebuild.
He warned that with the ascension to power of a new president, the work of peace in the country is still yet to be completed, as the problems facing Bolivia “require more profound work that will lead to true reconciliation.”
Only by building “bridges of unity,” the cardinal continued, will Bolivians be able to truly live as “the people of God” and not as “islands separated by towering walls that prevent us from seeing each other and knowing each other as brothers and sisters.” He also thanked those who have been praying for Bolivia, especially the Bishops of Chile, and he invited the faithful to pray for their neighboring country.Violence does not lead to justice
On the other hand, during the Mass for peace, Cardinal Terrazas emphasized that peace requires the presence of justice and cannot be achieved through violence or the use of arms.
“The peace that truly comes from God…comes through that which God desires for all: respect for the dignity of His children,” the cardinal said.
He called on authorities to improve the country’s security, without forgetting that it “cannot be imposed out of hatred” because “repression is not the way to impose peace.”
Justice, he noted, is a cause bestowed on us by the Lord for the benefit of all, but that to bring it about requires more than just the repetition of “nice words.” Words must translate into action, he warned.