Vatican City, Nov 9, 2005 (CNA) - During his weekly audience, given today before thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the mercy of God, and His accessibility to mankind through creation.
He continued his ongoing catechesis on the Psalms, today speaking on Psalm 135, known as the “great Hallel”, a hymn normally sung by the Jewish people during the Passover celebration.
The Pope told the crowd that the key word in this solemn hymn of praise is, "mercy…part of the language characteristically used by the bible to express the alliance between the Lord and His people.”
“Within this relationship,” Benedict continued, “God does not appear as an impassive and implacable Lord, like destiny against whose mysterious power all struggle is useless.”
He said that “Rather, [God] appears as a person Who loves His creatures, Who watches over them, follows them on their journey through history, and suffers from their frequent unfaithfulness to His merciful and paternal love."
The Holy Father pointed out that for the psalmist, it is clear that the first sign of this divine love can be found in creation.
"Before discovering the God Who reveals Himself in the history of a people,” he said, “there is a cosmic revelation, open to all. ...There exists, therefore, a divine message secretly inscribed in creation, a sign of the loving faithfulness of God, Who gives his creatures being and life.”
“The prayer of praise”, the Pope concluded, “arises, then, from the contemplation of the 'wonders' of God ... and is transformed into a joyous hymn of praise and thanksgiving."
He added that, "from the works of creation, it is possible to ascend to the greatness of God, to His loving mercy. This is what the Fathers of the Church teach us."
Pope Benedict then quoted St. Basil the Great, who wrote on the book of Genesis, saying that "if some people ... 'imagine the universe without guidance of order, as though at the mercy of chaos,' the sacred writer 'immediately enlightened our minds with the name of God at the beginning of the story: In the beginning God created. ... If, then, the world had a beginning and was created, seek out the One Who began it, the One Who is its Creator'."
Fairfield, N.J., Nov 9, 2005 (CNA) - Given the growing religious voice in public affairs and an anonymous $2-million donation, Fairfield University launched Monday its Center for Faith and Public Life Monday.
The center will offer the public a place to discuss and research the issue of faith and politics, and hear politicians and leaders talk about the role of faith in their life. It will also address local social issues, offer classes, disseminate information to media and conduct polls.
Fr. Richard Ryscavage, SJ, a former director of the Jesuit Refugee Service and sociology professor, was named the center’s director.
In his keynote address, Fr. Ryscavage said there's been a "major re-emergence of religion in public affairs" and the nation could be entering a "post-secular era," reported the Stamford Times.
"It is not a matter of creating theocracy in this country but rather creating a sophisticated understanding that religion has much to offer society," he was quoted as saying.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop Celestino Migliore and a Bush administration official were among the 200 people attending the event, reported the newspaper.
The cardinal reportedly said the issue of whether a person with a strong faith can responsibly carry out public policy has been debated since the Old Testament.
He said the center would meet a Jesuit goal of serving the common good by exploring the issue fearlessly, honestly and lovingly.
White House official, Richard Boucher, deputy director of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, read a statement from President George W. Bush, in which he said the creation of the center is "timely" and would contribute positively to society.
Lawrence, Kan., Nov 9, 2005 (CNA) - Yesterday, the Kansas Board of Education passed a long-awaited vote which would allow Intelligent Design--the theory that the universe is too complex to be completely random, and that some sort of creator lies at its origin--to be mentioned along side of evolution theories in the state’s public schools.
The vote, which passed 6-4, asks teachers to point out that there are holes in the theory of evolution, and that some see the creative hand of an intelligent being as an alternative to the unproven aspects.
Simultaneously, in Dover, Pennsylvania, where a trial has been raging over the place of intelligent design in that school district, all eight members of the local school board have been swept out of office by challengers who disagreed with their policy to mention the possibility of a creator as a viable alternative to evolution theories.
Since October of 2004, the Dover school district had required teachers to mention the fact that evolution was still a theory--not proven science, and that some see intelligent design as a viable alternative.
The policy sparked a trial in Federal District Court which concluded last Friday. A verdict is expected by Judge John E. Jones III by early January.
Opponents say that Intelligent Design has no place in public schools because it is merely religion, under a thin, scientific façade.
Judy McIlvaine, one of the newly-elected school board members said that, "We are all for it being discussed, but we do not want to see it in biology class. It is not a science."
In contrast, Creighton University professor Michael Behe, who was one of the Dover trial’s major defendants, pointed out that while Intelligent Design recognizes the place of a creator, it makes no claims as to the identity of that creator.
During the trial, he said while evolution should continue to be taught in schools because it is "widely used in science" and "many aspects are well substantiated," Intelligent Design challenges only part of the theory, namely that of natural selection.
Recently, Vienna’s Cardinal Christof Shoenborn said in a New York Times op/ed piece, that while the Catholic Church does not see a conflict with certain aspects of evolution, like common ancestry, any theory of evolution which removes the role of an active, creative God from the formation of the universe, is untrue, and in fact, atheistic.
Columbia, S.C., Nov 9, 2005 (CNA) - They’re praying the rosary, holding Bible studies which look at Mary as a model of Christian holiness, and wearing trendy t-shirts emblazoned with things like ‘Mary is my home girl.’ The odd thing is that they’re Protestant.
The State, a South Carolina newspaper recently reported that devotion to Mary is on the rise--particularly among non-Catholics.
Although there are still theological divides on the proper role of Mary, a study released by Anglican and Catholic church leaders in May, suggested that the Blessed Virgin ought to be an important figure of devotion for all Christians.
The Rev. James Lyon, pastor of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Columbia, South Carolina told The State that, “The new position is that there’s nothing wrong with appropriate devotion. The key is to keep in mind that Mary can be seen as someone who points the way toward her son, Jesus Christ.”
“Mary”, he said, “is an intercessor for the people of God, a model of submission and obedience to the will of God for the whole Christian church.”
Rev. Lyon’s church regularly recites the rosary with a group from nearby St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.
The report also noted that more and more Protestant churches, particularly United Methodist and Episcopal, are offering Bible studies on Mary’s obedience to God and her valuable example for all--particularly women.
Betsy Biega, who works at the Fields Episcopal Church in Columbia, told The State that, “What attracts women is the need to understand the significance of our mother Mary as the child who said yes to God.”
, Nov 9, 2005 (CNA) - Catholic League president Bill Donohue said the assessment made by Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire this past weekend—that many Catholics are turning to the Anglican Church as a result of Pope Benedict’s pontificate and the Church’s stand against homosexuals in the seminary—is wrong.
The Episcopalian bishop “is profoundly ignorant of what has been happening to his own church,” said Donohue, who pointed to David Shiflett’s “Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity” and Thomas Reeves’ “The Empty Church: Does Organized Religion Matter Anymore.”
These books demonstrate that just the opposite is happening, said Donohue. They state that people in the United States are leaving liberal churches that allow the ordination of homosexual bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions, to join more conservative churches.
Bishop Robinson is the first openly homosexual priest in the Episcopalian Church to be ordained a bishop. His ordination and the blessing of same-sex unions in an Anglican diocese in Canada have created division within the Worldwide Anglican Communion.
Washington D.C., Nov 9, 2005 (CNA) - China and Vietnam have been renamed to the U.S. government’s list of countries designated as Countries of Particular Concern due to their policies that deny citizens religious freedom and human rights.
The designation was indicated in the State Department's 2005 International Religious Freedom Report, which was released by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
Congressman Chris Smith (R—NJ), chairman of the Committee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, commended the Bush administration for the report.
"By forthrightly naming the countries that systematically and egregiously violate the right to religious freedom, no matter friend or foe, we can begin to develop solutions that will guarantee the right to religious freedom to all people as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he said.
Smith pointed out that Vietnam signed a "binding agreement" last year to improve its observation of religious liberty. But, since then, the situation in Vietnam has deteriorated, particularly that of the Montagnard Christians, Smith said in a release.
The Vietnamese government recently arrested Vo Vanh Thanh Liem (Nam Liem), a leading figure among the independent Hoa Hao Buddhists, and sentenced him to seven years in prison. Eight other Hoa Hao Buddhists were arrested along with him; some received long sentences as well.
Smith called Nam Liem’s arrest “an outrage.” Nam Liem had testified at a human rights hearing in Vietnam in June 2005, which Smith chaired.
"Nam Liem courageously submitted testimony to my committee in June 2005 in which he ominously predicted that the government of Vietnam would disregard any signed agreements,” Smith said.
Smith added that he trusts President George W. Bush will raise the issue of religious freedom in face-to-face meetings with the Chinese government, which continues to arrest and persecute members of "unofficial" churches, including Catholics, members of Protestant house churches, and Falun Gong practitioners.
This is the seventh straight year that China has been designated a CPC, Smith said, but the persecution has only worsened.
"Despite the hopes that trade with China would usher a modicum of respect for basic human rights and fundamental liberties, the simple fact of the matter is that the dictatorship in China oppresses, tortures, and mistreats tens of millions of its own citizens," Smith said.
Other countries designated as Countries of Particular Concern include Russia, Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Laos and Cuba.
Smith’s committee will hold a hearing on the 2005 report and the CPC designations Nov. 15. The principal adviser to the president and the secretary of state on issues of religious freedom, Ambassador John Hanford, will testify. Other witnesses include: Dr. Michael Cromartie, chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, New Mexico; Nina Shea, director of Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House; and David Aikman, author “Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the World Balance of Power.”
Vatican City, Nov 9, 2005 (CNA) - Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development and social service agencies, has pledged to continue its relief and development work in North Korea, which continues to suffer from famine.
The first Caritas food aid shipment reached North Korea Nov. 24, 1995. Ten years later, Caritas is in the process of shifting its involvement from humanitarian aid to sustainable development.
After a recent visit to North Korea, Kaethi Zellweger of Caritas Hong Kong said bad roads, erratic electricity supply, and poor water, sanitation and health facilities “still make life difficult” for the people. But she affirmed that Caritas food, health and agriculture programs continue to help.
Bishop Lazzaro You of Daejeon, president of Caritas Corea, said this is the 60th year that the nation is divided into North and South. He said he felt ashamed that Korea was the only divided nation on Earth.
But he added: “We have to clearly separate humanitarian assistance from politics. In other words, we should distinguish between the authorities and poor people. It is our Christian duty to give concrete help to those suffering from famine and disease in order to give them a better life.”
Bishop You expressed gratitude to Caritas Internationalis “for its evangelical love for the people suffering in North Korea.”
“Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, said he always kept a special affection for the people of North Korea and prayed for them. I hope he continues to pray for us in heaven,” he said.
The response of Cartias Internationalis to the serious but little-known situation in North Korea over the past 10 years has totaled about $32 million.
Vatican City, Nov 9, 2005 (CNA) - The Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, said this week his recent visit to Russia to meet with political and religious leaders was positive for Vatican-Russian relations.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, Archbishop Lajolo explained the visit took place “at the express invitation of Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Lavrov, and this is itself indicative of the amiable tone which characterized my meeting with him on October 28.”
The archbishop also said his “meetings with other Russian leaders, with the four Catholic bishops of Russia and with Metropolitan Kyril of the Russian Orthodox Church” were warm and cordial. “The press, radio and TV have positively reported on the visit with much interest,” he noted.
Archbishop Lajolo said that the main problem facing the 600,000 Catholics in Russia today is the shortage of priests.
Regarding relations with the orthodox, the archbishop said they are “complicated” because of “the different history experienced by the two communicates and the different sensibilities regarding concrete problems, although it would be a serious error to forget that there are also positive relations.”
Madrid, Spain, Nov 9, 2005 (CNA) - During a visit to Spain this week, Cardinal Jozef Tomko, president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, said that only a laity committed to serving the truth will overcome the crisis of values that is affecting the country.
Cardinal Tomko made his comments during the opening lecture for the 2005-2006 school year at the University of St. Anthony in Murcia. He noted that Spain is a country that is “traditionally Catholic and is witnessing a crisis of values that touch profoundly upon the very concept of the person.” Believers “cannot remain passive” in response to this situation, he added.
According to Cardinal Tomko, “when the human values of liberty, coexistence, respect for inalienable rights, family values, and proper education are in jeopardy, if there is no enlightened and courageous witness adequately conveyed even through the social communications media, there is a danger of provoking an anthropological catastrophe, as has occurred in other places and in other political systems of the 20th century.”
In the context of this crisis of “moral, social, family and religious values,” there is an urgent need for the laity to “become promoters of genuine human values through their service to the truth and to life.”
In this sense, he emphasized the need for Catholic centers of learning like the University of St. Anthony to turn out well-formed Christian adults and exemplary professionals.
Madrid, Spain, Nov 9, 2005 (CNA) - Organizers of a November 12 march in protest of a new government policy on education are now saying they expect the number of those participating to swell to 2 million, resulting in a turn-out twice as large as that of the pro-family march of June 18.
The president of the civil rights watchdog website HazteOir.org (“Make yourself heard”), Ignacio Arsuaga, said, “There is no doubt the number of those attending the protest will easily exceed 1.5 million, and it would not be surprising for there to be more than 2 million.”
According to the latest data collected by the website, the number of buses that will be coming from the region of Catalonia will be five times greater than those that brought participants to the June 18 protest. Similar turn-out from other regions is also expected.
“The number of assistants at these protests increases in an inversely proportionate manner to the amount of dialogue that the Zapatero government offers to those who disagree with its plans,” Arsuaga stated.
The president of the Popular Party, Mariano Rajoy, called on party members to join in the protest against the new education policy “in order to defend constitutional principles and freedom of education in Spain.”
Likewise, the Platform for the Promotion of Family, Marriage and Children, expressed its support for the protest, in order to defend “freedom and the quality of education and the right of parents to decide what is best for their children.”
Archbishop Antonio Cañizares of Toledo maintained that the new education policy violates the constitution because it respects neither fundamental rights nor the accords with the Holy See regarding the teaching of religion.
Lima, Peru, Nov 9, 2005 (CNA) - Renowned astrophysicist and long-time collaborator of the Vatican Observatory, Jesuit Father Manuel Carreira, told a group of Peruvian young people this week that “faith is not a feeling and must be backed up with reasons, for it is a rational act.”
Father Carreira was in Peru to give a talk at the 18th Encounter for Catholic University Students being held at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. His talk was titled, “Christian Faith, Science and Miracles.”
Speaking to CNA, Father Carreira explained that “if God has made us rational, He can’t ask us not to be so when we’re talking about drawing close to Him, for through reason we can discover things that are important for faith.”
“Within Christian theology we talk about faith as a gift from God in a new sense—for it is given to us as a theological virtue, as a gift from God that presupposes my active attitude that gives me the ability to do something eternal,” he said.
“If one has a little bit of logic,” Father Carreira continued, “when he seeks a reason for the existence of the universe he finds that the only answer is a Creator, and science has no other explanation for the origin of the universe except to call it Creation.”
In speaking about the relation between science and the Church, Father Carreira maintained that the Church is present in science through the Vatican Observatory which has carried out “a serious and respected work and has kept us in contact with scientists all over the world.”