Archive of February 8, 2006

High court suspends anti-life law in Guatemala

Guatemala City, Guatemala, Feb 8, 2006 (CNA) - The Supreme Court of Guatemala has placed a new law on family planning under provisional suspension, at the request of the country’s president, Oscar Berger.  The law caused widespread controversy in Guatemala, as it would have opened the door to legalized abortion.

Berger filed for an injunction after Congress overrode his veto and approved the new law, together with another measure that sets pension rates for the elderly at around $50 a month.  The Court suspended both laws and said it would study the measures after receiving a report from Congress. 

Speaking to local reporters, government spokesman Rosa Maria de Frade said the administration hopes to obtain a permanent injunction from the Court but that if not, it would seek out other legal measures to block the laws.

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Colombian bishops call on FARC to end conflict through negotiations

, Feb 8, 2006 (CNA) - Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Colombia, called on the members of the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) to abandon violence and to opt instead for a negotiated settlement to the country’s civil conflict.

During the opening of the bishops’ Plenary Assembly in Bogota, Archbishop Castro said the only thing that can be done now is “the initiation of preliminary discussions which, in due course, may lead to taking effective steps towards a ceasefire and a definitive process of reconciliation and peace.”

The archbishop also noted that “at this moment of profound divergence between the FARC and the government of President Alvaro Uribe, we feel the urge to remind the insurgents that peace is not something made with friends, but with enemies.”

In recent weeks FARC spokesmen have said an agreement with President Uribe is impossible, but they did not discount the possibility of negotiating with the government over the exchange of hostages for prisoners, something that has not been possible up to now due to disagreements between the two parties over the best location for such an exchange.

Archbishop Castro said the Church would continue “discreetly but persistently” working for a release of the hostages held by rebels. 

On the other hand, he noted that the bishops were pleased with the progress being made in negotiations between the government and the National Liberation Army (ELN), another left-wing insurgent group, and with the demobilization of various contingents of the right-wing paramilitary group United Self-Defenses of Colombia (AUC).

Archbishop Castro said the Church’s vision of peace is not simply one of “a ceasefire or end of hostilities,” but rather “one of an ending of the armed conflict while at the same time working for a solution to the social conflict.”

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Honduran bishop hopeful dialogue with gangs will lead to peace

Tegucigalpa, Feb 8, 2006 (CNA) - Auxiliary Bishop Romulo Emiliani of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, said this week he is hopeful dialogue between the government and leaders of violent gangs would lead to peace in the country. 

Gang leaders recently accepted an invitation to engage in talks with the new president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya.  An estimated 36,000 young people are involved in gang activity in the Central American country.

Speaking to Reuters, Bishop Emiliani—who is heavily involved in the rehabilitation of gang members—said gang members first want random arrests of tattooed suspects to end and guarantees that their leaders would be safe.

"Let us hope that these conversations will be successful and that we soon have peace and tranquility in the country,” the bishop said.  Talks could begin in two weeks. 

Hondurans consider gang-related activity the biggest threat to public safety.

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Catholic legal group files lawsuit against Italian artist for defamation of the Catholic faith

Madrid, Spain, Feb 8, 2006 (CNA) - The Thomas More Law Center in Madrid has filed a lawsuit against Italian artist Leo Bassi and the owners of the Alfil Theater in Madrid, where the anti-Catholic play “Revelation” is currently being featured until March 12.

The intention of the theatrical production, according to Bassi himself, is to offend anyone who holds religious beliefs, which is forbidden under Spanish law.  The Center is calling for the show to be immediately suspended.

A spokesman for the Catholic legal association, Javier Perez-Roldan, denounced artists who “are bent on gratuitously offending the deepest sentiments of the vast majority of the public.”

“There are those who think they enjoy impunity from violating the law by hiding behind artistic freedom,” Perez-Roldan said.  “This is a double-standard, since these are the same artist who silence any reasonable and respectful criticism of certain minorities and who nevertheless, want to enjoy the privilege of mocking others in a crude and ridiculous way for the sole purpose of offending the sentiments and beliefs of the majority,” he added.

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Opus Dei says Da Vinci Code film just fiction, prepares media, public response

, Feb 8, 2006 (CNA) - With the release of the upcoming film based on Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” May 19, Opus Dei is creating opportunities for curiosity seekers to learn more about the prelature, its founder and the Church.

Their approach is non-confrontational, and Opus Dei leaders are looking at this film’s release as an opportunity to spread the message of Christ.

According to a report in the New York Times, the group is promoting a blog by an Opus Dei priest in Rome, revamping its Web site and arranging interviews with Opus Dei members throughout its network. One of these members actually bears the same name as the fictional assassin in Brown’s book, Silas.

But real Opus Dei member Silas Agbim, a Nigerian stockbroker who lives in Brooklyn, is the father of three grown children. He is married and says Opus Dei teaches its members to hold themselves to the highest standards. "If you do your work well, it's pleasing to God," he told the New York Times. "And if you think you will get holy by reciting 10 rosaries a day and doing your work sloppily, that is wrong."

When plans were revealed for a movie based on the book, Opus Dei leaders say they tried to persuade Sony Pictures to eliminate any mention of their group.

Opus Dei's United States leader, Fr. Thomas Bohlin, sent the letter to Sony Pictures last year, saying the book was "a gross distortion and a grave injustice" and asking that Opus Dei be left out of the movie. Fr. Bohlin received a "polite but noncommittal" response, reported the Times.
Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for Sony Pictures, reportedly said: "We see 'The Da Vinci Code' as a work of fiction and not intended to harm any organization. At its heart the film is a thriller, and we do agree that it really provides a unique opportunity for Opus Dei and other organizations to let people know more about their work and their beliefs."

A positive spin-off from this pop culture phenomenon, say Opus Dei leaders, is Doubleday’s imminent release of "The Way," a collection of spiritual writings by the Opus Dei founder, Fr. Josemaria Escriva. Opus Dei spokesperson Brian Finnerty told the New York Times that Brown’s book opened the door for the publication.

Still, the movie is expected to revive a long debate over Opus Dei’s influence in the Church, its financial clout, its reputation for secrecy and the practice of corporal mortification by some of its members. Its recruiting practices, described on the Web site for the Opus Dei Awareness Network, have also caused debate.

The New York Times article attributes Opus Dei's reputation for secrecy to the group's tradition that members do not publicly proclaim their affiliation, and the impression of the group’s significant financial clout to Opus Dei’s U.S. headquarters in New York — a 17-story building at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 34th Street on which the group spent $69 million.
Author and Vatican correspondent John Allen determined Opus Dei’s assets to be $2.8 billion, much of it tied up in schools and hospitals worldwide. This figure, however, is difficult to confirm, as the organization does not have central financial records.

Allen authored "Opus Dei: An Objective Look Behind the Myths and Reality of the Most Controversial Force in the Catholic Church” and concludes that Opus Dei’s power and wealth have been largely exaggerated.
There are about 84,541 Catholic lay people and 1,875 priests around the world that belong to Opus Dei. Among its members, 70 percent are supernumeraries, who are usually married, live in their own homes and work in their professions. About 20 percent are numeraries, who have given their lives entirely to the work of the organization, making a promise of celibacy and living in an Opus Dei center. Ten percent are associates, who are celibate but live on their own and not in Opus Dei centers.

Opus Dei was founded 1928 by Spanish priest Fr. Josemaría Escrivá. Its spirituality emphasizes holiness through work and the importance of the family. In 1982, John Paul granted Opus Dei the status of a personal prelature, meaning that it has its own bishop who reports directly to the pope. Fr. Escriva was canonized in 2002.

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Compendium of the Catechism Available March 31

Washington D.C., Feb 8, 2006 (CNA) - The new Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a 200-page synthesis of the 1992 catechism, will be available starting March 31 from the publishing office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.


USCCB Publishing will launch the compendium in English and Spanish at the 2006 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. The annual congress gathers more than 30,000 parish and diocesan leaders in faith education, liturgy and youth ministry.


The compendium consists of 598 questions and answers, a format similar to the very popular Baltimore Catechism, which was a standard text in many Catholic parishes and schools, from 1885 to the 1960s.


Msgr. Daniel Kutys, USCCB deputy secretary for catechesis, said the compendium was initially developed for the purpose of catechizing teens and young adults. However, “the bishops on the Catechism Committee have recommended that the text be used as a standard reference companion to which teachers and catechists refer their students in much the same way that they use Bibles for instruction,” he said.


The compendium is structured in four parts, like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The text has some direct quotes from the catechism used as sidebars, but the questions and answers are original text.


In addition to the questions and answers, the compendium also includes two appendices. The first is a list of Catholic prayers. The second appendix contains “Formulas of Catholic Doctrine,” including the Ten Commandments, Beatitudes, theological and cardinal virtues, and spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Fourteen masterpieces of Christian art are also reproduced in the text.


The paperback version is available in English for$14.95. The hardcover will be available in English and Spanish for $24.95. To order, go to:

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Office to Aid the Catholic Church in Central and Eastern Europe

Washington D.C., Feb 8, 2006 (CNA) - Aid to the Church in Need is calling on Catholics in the United States to hold a collection for the Church in Central and Eastern Europe on Ash Wednesday, March 1.

Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic organization that helps promote and support the pastoral work of the Catholic Church in 27 countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and in developing countries.

The theme for the 2006 Collection to Aid the Church in Central and Eastern Europe is “Hope.” Proceeds from the Collection go directly to support seminaries, social service programs, youth ministry, pastoral centers, church restoration, and the spreading of the Gospel message through the mass media.

For years, Catholics in Central and Eastern Europe have counted on the solidarity of Catholics in the U.S. Yet, in a touching show of solidarity, the Church in Lithuania recently took up a collection to aid the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

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Delaware refuses to authorize embryonic stem-cell research

Dover, Del., Feb 8, 2006 (CNA) - Legislators in the Delaware House of Representatives yesterday failed to pass Senate Bill 80 that would authorize embryonic stem-cell research. Instead, they passed a severely reduced version of the bill, which removed all reference to human embryonic stem-cell research and the destruction of frozen in-vitro fertilization embryos.

The amendments also clarify the definition of "human reproductive cloning" to clearly ban any cloning that results in a human fetus or child for any purposes, and to close a loophole that would have allowed fetal farming.

According to sponsors, SB 80 was based on HR 810, Mike Castle’s bill now in the US Senate.

Several supporters, including sponsor Rep. Deborah Hudson, R-Fairthorne, said the bill’s references to embryonic stem-cell research were removed because of a powerful lobbying and advertising campaign that opposed the bill.

A multifaith grassroots effort, called A Rose & a Prayer, has been referenced as one of these. More than 2,400 Delawareans signed up for a total of more than 1,500 hours of prayer in opposition to SB 80. The campaign was supported by many Christian leaders, including Bishop Michael Saltarelli of Wilmington.

Also as part of the campaign, state legislators last week received 1,500 roses with cards from individual voters asking them to vote against the bill. In addition, over 10,000 Delawareans contacted their representatives asking them to vote against the bill.

"We hope that other states will recognize Delaware’s decision to refuse to authorize embryonic stem cell research as an indication that Americans do not want or need research that destroys human embryos," said attorney Stephen Jenkins, was part of A Rose & a Prayer. "Rather, we need research that focuses on adult stem cells, where scientists are increasingly finding real cures."

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God extends special attention to the poor, defenseless, says Pope

Vatican City, Feb 8, 2006 (CNA) - During his general audience today, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of God’s special care for those who are poor and defenseless, encouraging faithful to approach the Father “as hungry beggars”, trusting in his promise of intimacy and protection.

Some 8,000 pilgrims were on hand in the Vatican to hear the Pope’s continuing commentary on the Psalms, today speaking on the second part of Psalm 144, which he titled, "Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom."

He began by pointing out that the psalmist first focuses his attention "on the love that the Lord reserves, in a special way, for the poor and weak.”

“This Divine royalty”, he said, “is not arrogant or haughty, as can sometimes happen with the exercise of human power. God expresses His royalty by inclining before the most fragile and defenseless of creatures."

"God”, the Pope went on, “is, above all else, a Father who sustains those who are about to fall and lifts back up again those who have fallen in the dust of humiliation.”

Because of this, he said that “Living beings are directed therefore to the Lord, as hungry beggars, and as a loving Father He offers the necessary nourishment to live."

He explained that the Psalm writer first "invokes" the Lord with his trusting prayer, and then searches for the Lord "with a sincere heart."

The writer also expresses a certain holy "fear" for his God, respecting His will and being obedient to His word. Above all, the Pope said though, he "loves the Lord with the confidence of being brought under the mantle of His protection and intimacy."

Benedict explained that "The last word of the psalmist is the same as that with which he opened his hymn: it is an invitation to praise and bless the Lord and His name, that is to say, His living and holy Person who works and saves, both in the world and in history.”

He said that “it is the type of timeless song that should raise from earth to heaven, it is the communal celebration of the universal love of God, source of peace, joy and salvation."

Following his catechesis, the Holy Father recalled the sixth century ascetic Barsanufio de Gaza who, he said, advised a disciple facing temptations to ask for the Lord's assistance, with the confidence that He would listen.

"This”, he said, speaking off the cuff, “is valuable for us also…before our difficulties and problems, we should invoke the Lord, asking for His help, with the certainty that He will hear us, without becoming discouraged, knowing that in this way, we will reach the goal: Jesus, the Lord."

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Pope praises priest assassinated in Turkey, prays that his sacrifice will contribute to peace, inter-religious dialogue

Vatican City, Feb 8, 2006 (CNA) - Following his general audience earlier today at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI fondly recalled Fr. Andrea Santoro, the Roman missionary priest who was gunned down in Turkey over the weekend. He also surprised the crowd with a posthumous letter sent to him from the priest.


Fr. Andreas had just finished saying Sunday Mass and was praying inside of a Trabzon church when he was assassinated by unidentified assailants.


The Holy Father prayed today that "sacrifice of his life may contribute to dialogue between religions and to peace among people."


This sparked drawn-out applause from the 8,000-member crowd present in the Paul VI Hall. Afterward, the Pope added: "May the Lord take the soul of this silent and brave servant of the Gospel."


Benedict also revealed that just yesterday, he received what he called "a precious letter" which Fr. Andrea, along together with the small Christian community of Saint Mary's Parish, had written to him on January 31.


"It is an emotional testimony of love and adherence to Christ and His Church,” the Pope said, “But, above all, it is a mirror of his priestly soul and reflects his concern for the children."


The Holy Father said that he had also received another letter, specifically from the women of Saint Mary's inviting him to visit the parish. He called this second letter, a witness "of devotion and love for Christ."

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Historic door will become new Vatican entrance

Vatican City, Feb 8, 2006 (CNA) - The Vatican announced today, that after 75 years, an historic door on the north wall of the Vatican will for the first time, be opened for the use of pilgrims and visitors.

The Governate of the Vatican City State, said that the door, which connects the Vatican with the city of Rome, will be opened on February 10th, and serve as an exit for pedestrians and cars from the Saint Rose parking lot.

In 1929, the year of the Lateran Pacts between the Holy See and Italy, Pope Pius XI had the door opened for the construction of the so-called “Vatican industrial zone.”

The entrance has since been adorned with bronze sculpted by artist Gino Giannetti. It will now be opened permanently and bear the Vatican coat of arms along with the insignia of Pope Benedict and the inscription: "Benedictus XVI Pont.Max. Anno Domini MMV Pont.I."

Vatican officials say that the entryway will also alleviate automobile traffic inside the Holy See, which up until now, has only been accessible through the Saint Anne door.

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