Vatican City, Feb 16, 2006 (CNA) - Earlier today, Pope Benedict XVI met with Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, to whom he stressed the need for peace in the troubled Holy Land--particularly for Christians, and regarding violence over recent Danish cartoons, found offensive to many Muslims.
The Prime Minister, who was accompanied by an official Lebanese delegation, also met with Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano.
According to a communique released by the Vatican, the aim of the visit was to confirm “the great devotion of the Lebanese people towards the Roman Pontiff, and towards the Holy See in general, which has always remained close to that noble country.”
The Vatican press office noted that “opinions were exchanged concerning the current situation in Lebanon and in the Middle East in general, highlighting the joint commitment to work towards educating people in reconciliation and peace, while respecting human rights, especially that of religious freedom.”
Prime Minister Siniora told reporters after the meeting that the Pope had been supportive of peaceful demonstrations in the Arab world over cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed--something Islamic law forbids.
A number of violent clashes and protests have broken out in recent weeks after a Danish newspaper published the questionable cartoons.
Earlier this month, the Vatican spoke out against both the cartoon’s publication as well as the violent response on the part of many Muslims.
"The pope”, Siniora said, “was very supportive of the peaceful expression of opinion in the Arab world, the Muslim world, because he condemns himself, as well, the efforts that are being made by others to trespass on the freedom and the convictions of other people."
The Vatican also noted that the meeting particularly focused on the situation of Christians in the Middle East and the contribution which they intend to make to the progress of Lebanon.
In this vein, strong reference was also made to guidelines laid down, prior to the Jubilee 2000 year in the Apostolic Exhortation "A new hope for Lebanon." That document was written by the late Pope John Paul II.
, Feb 16, 2006 (CNA) - Stating that it does not intend to organize any boycotts, Opus Dei has once again asked Sony Pictures to consider editing the soon-to-be-released film The Da Vinci Code, based on Dan Brown’s bestseller, so that it would “not contain references that might hurt Catholics.”
In a statement released Feb. 14, Opus Dei said Sony Pictures still had time to make changes to the film, expected to hit theatres in May. The film is currently in postproduction.
“A conciliatory gesture like this would be much appreciated, especially in these times when we are all lamenting the painful consequences of intolerance,” said the statement, making an obvious reference to the violence sparked by the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.
"It's not enough to offer to the offended party the opportunity to defend itself while the offence continues," the statement said. "Correct behavior is to avoid offence while it's still possible."
By making the changes, Sony would “demonstrate that freedom of expression is compatible with respect for beliefs.” This would do “a great service to the cause of dialogue among cultures and would honor its own respectable reputation," Opus Dei said.
Brown's book posits that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and had children, and that Opus Dei and the Catholic Church have spent 2,000 years covering it up. The book portrays Opus Dei as a secretive cult that is power-hungry and responsible for murder.
Opus Dei reiterated in its Feb. 14 statement that its members “have no desire for controversy, and there will not be a boycott or anything similar. We will continue to approach this situation with transparency, serenity and a constructive spirit.”
The statement also said Brown’s book offers a “deformed” image of the Church and that Opus Dei will use this opportunity to educate about the Church. Citing Pope Benedict’s first encyclical, the statement went on to point out the charitable work of the Church in Africa. It urged people to support Catholic development projects in Africa, two of which are run by members of Opus Dei.
Vatican City, Feb 16, 2006 (CNA) - The Vatican announced today plans for an upcoming press conference which will mark 75 years of Vatican Radio and look toward the future of the influential, worldwide station.
The gathering is scheduled to be held at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, February 21st in the Holy See Press Office. It will be entitled "Vatican Radio at 75. New ways to serve the Church and future prospects."
Fathers Federico Lombardi S.J. and Andrzej Koprowski S.J., Vatican Radio’s respective director general and director of programs, will be on hand for the presentation, as will Sandro Piervenanzi, technical vice-director, and Pietro Cocco, head of the Vatican Radio Web Team.
Over the weekend, Pope Benedict XVI praised the station on its anniversary recalling Pope Pius XI’s first ever radio-message to the world in the 1931. “With radio, and later with television,” the Holy Father said, “the message of the Gospel and the word of Popes have reached all peoples more rapidly and easily.”
Chicago, Ill., Feb 16, 2006 (CNA) - Cardinal Francis George has named the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago to oversee future allegations of sexual abuse by clergy.
Announced this week, Jimmy M. Lago has already ordered an independent review of the policies and procedures regarding abuse allegations. This announcement came just days after a priest was indicted on charges of sexual abuse, reported the Chicago Tribune.
According to the Tribune, Lago has also commissioned a review the archdiocese's monitoring practices for priests permanently removed from ministry and for those who are waiting for allegations to be investigated.
Lago’s new responsibilities include “disciplinary actions, if called for, in cases where a policy or practice is violated,” the cardinal said.
Lago is an experienced child advocate who has been associated with the archdiocese since 1976, reported the Tribune. He serves on the Ethics Commission of the Inspector General's office of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. He also played a part in the passage of the state's Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act and was the author of the 10-year report on clerical sexual abuse in the archdiocese in 2003. He has been chancellor since 2006.
Washington D.C., Feb 16, 2006 (CNA) - Pro-life politicians are steadily chipping away the effect of Roe v. Wade on state laws, announced Concerned Women of America (CWA) in a press release. The organization provided an update on the status of abortion laws across the country.
The organization cited USA Today in reporting that Unborn Child Pain Awareness bills were introduced in 19 states last year, and legislatures in Arkansas, Georgia, Minnesota and Wisconsin have already passed them.
Wisconsin’s governor vetoed the bill, but pro-life groups are preparing to reintroduce the bill during the new legislative session, said CWA.
Similar bills have passed through the House chambers of Utah and Indiana this year and are awaiting Senate approval. These bills require physicians to inform their patients prior to an abortion that their babies may feel pain during the process. Legislators in Arizona, Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma have also introduced Unborn Child Pain Awareness legislation this year.
South Dakota’s representatives introduced a bill that bans most abortions and classifies “knowingly caus[ing] or help[ing] in the termination of a pregnancy” as a felony. CWA of South Dakota State Director Linda Schauer testified on behalf of the bill, which includes an exception for saving the life of the mother.
“This quick action by states to pass pro-life legislation that was first introduced only recently is a good sign for that day when Roe v. Wade is overturned,” said CWA president Wendy Wright. “While radical hold-outs still believe that no sympathy whatsoever must be shown to unborn babies, that they can be killed and must also experience torturous pain in the process, most Americans and most of their representatives do not agree.”
, Feb 16, 2006 (CNA) - In addition to the massive distribution of condoms, health officials in the Brazilian state of Bahia announced they would be distributing the morning after pill during the upcoming Carnaval celebrations.
Officials said nine stations would be set up during Carnaval—a sort of Mardi Gras celebration in Brazil—where women could obtain the abortifacient pill. The announcement has been met with harsh criticism from women, doctors and Church leaders.
Health official Tânia Nogueira claimed the purpose of the plan “is not to incite people to have unprotected sex, but rather to reduce the number of abortions after Carnaval.” The distribution of the morning after pill will be part of the campaign officials are promoting with the slogan, “Don’t transform your desire into an undesired pregnancy.”
Auxiliary Bishop João Carlos Petrini of the Archdiocese of Salvador criticized the decision and said that “while on the one hand there seems to be a concern about the people, the idea here is highly questionable, not only in its effectiveness, but also because it itself constitutes a form of abortion.”
Cincinnati, Ohio, Feb 16, 2006 (CNA) - A Catholic conference for men will be held March 4 at in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. “Answer the Call” will bring together a full schedule of speakers and offer opportunities for fellowship and worship March 4 at Cincinnati’s Music Hall.
Speakers include Guy Doud, a former teacher of the year, who will talk about attaining the basics of life, love, family relationships and success
Another speaker is Jim Towey, the director of the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Towey served as legal counsel for Mother Teresa, was head of Florida’s health and social services agency and was a legal advisor to Senator Mark Hatfield.
Gerry Faust is a member of the advisory board of the Catholic Men’s Fellowship and former head football coach at the University of Notre Dame. Faust will discuss the impact faith has had on his life.
Fr. Richard McAlear is a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. An author and lecturer, Fr. McAlear devotes his life to his teaching and healing ministry.
Fr. Mark Burger is pastor at St. John the Evangelist parish in West Chester and will discuss how to develop a deeper relationship with Christ and guide participants through the service of reconciliation.
The cost for the conference is $35 and includes lunch. For information, go to www.thecall.org.
Rome, Italy, Feb 16, 2006 (CNA) - Italy's highest administrative court ruled on Wednesday that crucifixes should remain in the country's classrooms as a symbol of key Italian values. The judges explained that, as well as being a religious symbol, it was also a symbol of "the values which underlie and inspire our constitution, our way of living together peacefully".
In what could turn into a landmark decision, the 'Council of State' threw out a case brought by a Finnish woman who had asked for the removal of crucifixes in the Padua school attended by her children .
The Court said principles such as tolerance, respect and the rights of individuals, which were now pillars of Italy's secular state, had their origins in Christianity. "In this sense the crucifix can have a highly educational symbolic function, regardless of the religion of the pupils," they added .
Judges also argued that the concept of the secular state, in which the temporal and spiritual dimensions were kept separate, was interpreted and applied in different ways according to a country's history .
The crucifix is not mandatory in any public building, but in the case of schools, it is usually councils of teachers and parents who tend to decide whether they want crosses in the classroom .Similar arrangements are in place in other public buildings .
In the past few years the presence of crucifixes has begun to spark controversy .
Meanwhile, the militant Union of Italian Muslims (UMI) has been in the public spotlight for some time thanks to his campaign to have crosses removed from schools and hospitals .
In 2003, UMI leader Adel Smith won a court order for the removal of crosses at the school his children attended. The order was later reversed after a nationwide protest.
Medellin, Colombia, Feb 16, 2006 (CNA) - The mayor’s office of Medellin, Colombia, has launched an expensive propaganda campaign to foster greater acceptance of homosexuality in all its variants.
Under the theme, “Life is more peaceful if we talk about our differences,” the mayor’s office will distribute posters, flyers, postcards and other written materials in restaurants and public places promoting the different forms of homosexuality.
The promotional material will explain the meaning of terms such as transsexual, gay, bisexual, transvestite, and lesbian, among others. The first phase of the campaign is expected to cost some $18,000.
The plan has been coordinated by homosexual activists, and although city officials insist the purpose is “to call things by their names,” pro-family groups say they plan to strongly protest against it.
Rome, Italy, Feb 16, 2006 (CNA) - The Justice and Peace Commission of the Pakistani Bishops’ Conference has strongly condemned new attacks on the Christian community in Sialkot, where Muslims vandalized a Catholic church. According to the Fides news agency, the attack took place on February 3 and resulted in numerous injuries as well as the profanation of the church.
The president of the Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, issued a statement condemning the “violence against our defenseless community” which he said was growing “because the government has failed to adopt adequate countermeasures against incidents in the past. The most recent example is that of Sangla Hill where, 80 days after the profanation and destruction of three Christian churches, there have been no arrests of those responsible for the attacks against Christians.”
The statement also noted that “discrimination continues to be out of control” and that “places of gathering and prayer of religious minorities are attacked with impunity.” In the wake of the recent attacks, numerous Catholic organizations and human rights groups have energetically called for respect for the rule of law and questioned the continuous false accusations and discrimination against minorities in Pakistan.
Pakistan, which has a population of 155 million, is 97% Muslim. Christians make up about 2.5%, with Catholics numbering about 1.2 million.
Rome, Italy, Feb 16, 2006 (CNA) - The Salesian congregation, founded by St. John Bosco, is celebrating 100 years of service to the young people of China.
According to the Fides news agency, Salesian superior Father Pascual Chavez recently visited the dioceses of Hong Kong and Macao, where Salesians first arrived a century ago led by Father Luigi Versiglia, and where they still have a significant presence.
In the city of Hong Kong, Father Chavez met with religious and young students of the Salesian schools, reaffirming the congregation’s commitment to the growth and development of young people in China.
In Macao, in the presence of the local Bishop Joseph Lau, over 2,000 young people gathered at Yuet Wah College for centenary celebrations with prayers and traditional dancing. Fr Chávez urged Chinese youth to be open to voluntary work and he answered their questions encouraging them to follow the example of St. John Bosco and to consider a Salesian vocation.