Vatican City, Feb 21, 2006 (CNA) - According to statistics from the 2006 edition of the Annuario Pontificio, the official Vatican yearbook, the world’s Catholic population grew by 12 million, or 1.1%, between 2003 and 2004.
The 2006 volume showing figures compiled by the Church's central statistical bureau was formally presented to Pope Benedict XVI on February 18 by Cardinal Angelo Sodano. Among the interesting figures in the latest addition is the creation in 2005 of 15 new episcopal sees, one metropolitan see and one apostolic administration. During the same year 170 new bishops were consecrated.
Catholics number about 98 million among the world’s six billion inhabitants according to data from the 2003-2004 period. While in that time the Catholic population grew by 12 million, the percentage of baptized Catholics among the world's people declined from 17.2% to 17.1%.
The Annuario also noted that in 2004 there were 405,891 priests, one-third of which are religious and two-thirds diocesan. The number of priests grew during that same period by 441, with higher numbers in Africa and Asia, stationary growth in America and Oceania and declining numbers in Europe. Since 1978 the number of permanent deacons has continued to grow throughout the world, with a total of 32,324 in 2004, most of whom are in North America and Europe.
The number of seminarians grew from 112,373 in 2003 to 113,044 in 2004. Vocations to the priesthood were more numerous during that period in Africa and Asia and were down in Europe.
Mexico City, Mexico, Feb 21, 2006 (CNA) - Bishop Alfonso Garza Treviño of Piedras Negras said this week numerous priests from the region have gone to the Pasta de Conchos mine near the town of San Juan de Sabinas, 85 miles southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas, to provide spiritual support and hope for the families of 65 workers who have been trapped inside since early Sunday morning.
An explosion at the mine early Sunday left the men trapped 600 feet underground and officials have been unsure whether emergency ventilation systems have been able to provide them enough oxygen to survive.
78 workers were originally trapped but 13 were rescued and treated for injuries.
Fatima, Portugal, Feb 21, 2006 (CNA) - Some 250,000 people gathered on Sunday to witness the transfer of the remains of Sister Lucia, the last witness to the Marian apparitions of 1917, from the Carmelite convent in Coimbra to the Basilica of Fatima in Portugal.
Before Mass the crowd participated in an act of homage to the three Fatima children, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco, who witnessed the apparitions in 1917. Amid a sea of white handkerchiefs and loud applause, the casket bearing the body of Sister Lucia was carried to the Basilica of Fatima. Her tomb in the shrine was sealed with the inscription, “Maria Lucia of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart – To whom Our Lady appeared.”
During the homily for the Mass, Bishop Serafin Ferreira of Leiria called on the faithful to build a “kingdom of truth, justice, love and peace.” He recalled Sister Lucia as “an example of courage” and he expressed gratitude for her “testimony and fidelity” to the Church.
Pilgrims from across Europe traveled to Fatima for the ceremony, with the largest groups coming from Spain and Ireland.
Sydney, Australia, Feb 21, 2006 (CNA) - Australia’s Minister for Health, Tony Abbott, will present a $60-million package to cabinet today, which would allow women with unplanned pregnancies to seek counseling from trained professionals.
The plan’s measures would allow women with unplanned pregnancies to seek optional counseling from trained professionals under a Medicare rebate. The women would be referred to psychologists, doctors of nurses with psychology training by their general practitioners. It also includes a proposal for a 24-hour national telephone service for pregnancy counseling, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.
Church groups have expressed an interest in offering such services under the plan. Many already run pregnancy support services and say that, although their views on abortion are well known, their counseling services canvass all options.
Abbott said he does not have a problem with church groups expressing their interest. He said he has “a great deal of confidence” in church groups to deliver professional health services, which they currently offer with a “Christian ethos of love and compassion.” But he did not commit to including them in the plan.
Catholic Welfare Australia executive director, Frank Quinlan, agrees there is a need for the new plan, but says more counseling services are needed to help women with unplanned or unwanted pregnancies make decisions about their future and to help women after they had abortions.
Front Royal, Va., Feb 21, 2006 (CNA) - Christians continue to be persecuted and treated unfairly around the world. In an effort to make their experiences more known, Christian Freedom International has launched a new educational series on the persecuted church. The first episode is titled “Remember the Persecuted: Indonesia.”
This 20-minute, fast-paced DVD is segmented into four, five-minute chapters. The first segment tells about three wrongly accused Sunday School teachers are in prison for allowing several Muslim students to attend their class. The second segment offers an in-depth look at Christians fleeing “Jihad Warriors,” a large Christian refugee camp, and a makeshift hospital. The third segment epxlores the forced shutdown of dozens of churches in the Indonesian province of West Java. The last segment tells about the forgotten mostly Christian-populated Nias Island, which was hit by the tsunami and which the mainstream media never mentions.
To order the DVD, go to www.christianfreedom.org
Boston, Mass., Feb 21, 2006 (CNA) - Brandeis University and Boston College, through its Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, will co-sponsor a two-day conference next month to mark the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate.
The conference will provide an opportunity to explore the nature of interreligious dialogue with keynote speaker Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a highly regarded specialist in Islam, as well as other distinguished speakers representing different faith traditions.
Nostra Aetate is a document of the Catholic Church, which emerged from the Second Vatican Council and gave a new direction to the Church’s relationship with other world religions, including Judaism and Islam.
Washington D.C., Feb 21, 2006 (CNA) - Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, D.C., has taken a keener interest in the plight of Holy Land Christians and, at a recent meeting on foreign trade at the White House, asked President George W. Bush for help, reports nationally syndicated columnist Robert Novak.
Cardinal McCarrick’s immediate concern is the West Bank village of Aboud, whose residents are about half Christian and half Muslim.
Novak underlines that while King Abdullah of Jordan met with members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops earlier this month about this situation and the Vatican has stepped up its interest, there is no sign that the Bush administration is interested in engaging this problem.
“The problems of the Catholic and Orthodox Christians of Aboud do not resonate in American politics,” says Novak. “The evangelicals have signed a blank check to Israel in the interests of security in the Middle East.” He says Rep. Henry Hyde, among all of the Catholics in Congress, is the only one who has shown interest.
According to Novak, Aboud is being threatened by Israel’s security barrier, which, once completed, will confiscate 39 percent of the village's olive fields and take over the aquifer that supplies one-fifth of the West Bank's total water supply. In October, construction uprooted 500 grapevines in the village. Twelve kilometers of the barrier will be built on Aboud's land, and two other villages will also lose territory, he reports.
Israel justifies the construction of the wall as protection against terrorists, but some reject this argument. The Holy Land Christian Society says the security barrier is really about the annexation of land for the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and Israeli control over the water supply, reports Novak.
Cardinal McCarrick told Novak that he fears the Christian presence is being lost in the Holy Land. He plans to visit the West Bank next month and may meet with Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for Public Diplomacy.
Vatican City, Feb 21, 2006 (CNA) - In light of continued violence in many Muslim populated parts of the world over Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed, Pope Benedict has called for an end to the clashes--particularly to those recently in Nigeria, which have been some of the bloodiest yet.
As of yesterday, 16 people--mostly Christians--had been killed and 11 churches burned in that country.
Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano sent a telegram, in the name of the Holy Father, to the ecclesiastical and civil authorities of Nigeria, following the clashes.
In the message, the Holy Father was "Saddened to learn of the tragic consequences of the recent violent protests in northern Nigeria,” and that he “assures all those affected of his closeness in prayer.”
The Pope also commended the late Reverend Father Michael Gajere, killed … as well as “all the deceased to the loving mercy of the Almighty.”
“Upon their grieving families”, Cardinal Sodano wrote, “the Holy Father invokes divine blessings of strength and consolation. He likewise prays for all involved in providing security, encouraging them in their efforts to ensure peace and to promote the rule of law for which all people of good will long."
Vatican City, Feb 21, 2006 (CNA) - Earlier today, the Vatican released a letter from Pope Benedict XVI, reflecting on the death--one year ago tomorrow--of Monsignor Luigi Giussani, founder of the Church’s prominent Communion and Liberation movement; a man whom he called “a zealous pastor” and “a man who loved Christ.”
The letter was addressed to Fr. Julian Carron, current president of the Communion and Liberation association and successor to Msgr. Giussani, who died at the age if 82 last year.
Recalling the Monsignor’s life, the Pope called him "a father and teacher of so many young people to whom he indicated Christ as the center of their lives."
He also gave thanks to God "for the gift of such a zealous pastor, who loved man because he loved Christ."
The late Pope John Paul II chose to send then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the funeral as his representative.
On this, Pope Benedict wrote that "With emotion, I recall the solemn celebration of his funeral in the Duomo of Milan, when I had a further opportunity to note the respect and appreciation that he, in the course of his fruitful life, was able to arouse around his person, his teaching and his apostolic work.”
Recalling his own words during the funeral service, Benedict said that “the most striking things about Don Giussani were his solid faithfulness to Christ and his incessant efforts to communicate the wealth of the evangelical message to all social groups."
The Pontiff closed by calling on Don Giussani's spiritual followers to continue "in his footsteps and his teaching," and always to remain "in communion with bishops and other ecclesial figures.”
To that end, he gave assurances of his prayers, “asking the Lord that Communion and Liberation may serve the cause of the Gospel with joy, continuing the work begun by their venerated predecessor."
Vatican City, Feb 21, 2006 (CNA) - During a press conference, held earlier today to mark the 75th anniversary of Vatican Radio, officials from the worldwide media giant called the station a bridge between the Pope, the Holy See and the world, and looked toward its continuing spread of the Gospel--particularly in poorer parts of the world, where the Church is often growing fastest.
The conference was titled "Vatican Radio at 75. New ways to serve the Church and future prospects."
Speaking to the crowd first, Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J., director general of Vatican Radio said that the mission of the media giant, as laid out in its statutes is "To announce the Christian message freely, faithfully and effectively, and to link the center of Catholicism with the countries of the world.”
This, he said, is done by, “diffusing the voice and teachings of the Roman Pontiff; providing information on the activities of the Holy See; reflecting Catholic life around the world; and encouraging the evaluation of contemporary problems in the light of ecclesial Magisterium and with constant attention for the signs of the times."
Likewise, Fr. Lombardi explained that Vatican Radio is characterized by its flexible and multicultural approach, noting that it now transmits programs in 45 languages.
In a general sense, he said, radio "is vital everywhere and in some parts of the world - such as, for example, Africa - it is the means most capable of deep and effective penetration."
The director also described some of the technological advances that Vatican Radio has gone through in recent years and particularly noted how the internet is making news from the Church and the Vatican accessible to people and places where there would otherwise be media darkness
This is serving to “carry out a useful service for the lay world of communication,” he said, noting the organization’s Japanese page, which is the most visited for searches of the word 'Vatican'.
Fr. Lombardi also boasted of the fact that Vatican Radio offers training courses to young journalists and students of social communications, "an average of 50 a year," he said, although "there were 140 during the Jubilee Year 2000."
The Holy See pointed out that Vatican Radio currently employs 384 people, including numerous priests, religious and male and female lay people - from some 59 countries.
A Bridge to the World
Fr. Andrzej Koprowski S.J., who is director of programs at the station, told those gathered that one of the objectives of Vatican Radio is to be "a bridge between the Holy Father - the Holy See - the Universal Church and the respective societies and the respective particular Churches."
Fr. Koprowski went on to explain the genesis of the unique language sections of Vatican Radio into the media and ecclesial context of the world, explaining that each of these sections "came into being at specific moments in the life of the Church and the world."
For example, he pointed out that after World War II and the Communist takeover of eastern Europe, the station directed its efforts towards the countries and particular Churches that were suffering most.
"For this reason," he the program director said, "we have a wealth of programs and languages above all from European countries, especially eastern and southern Europe."
Today, he said, Vatican Radio has become acutely aware "of the development of the Church in Latin America, Africa and Asia."
Making particular reference to "Arabic language and culture, which is no longer the exclusive preserve of the Middle East but also of various regions of Europe and the world,” Fr, Koprowski said that “the view of the 'Arab world' and the 'Muslim world' is not just a political matter, but also a cultural, social and ecclesial question of primary importance, as the last few weeks have shown."
Speaking on Asia, he said that "We know of the development of the Church in India, and we are aware of the role Indian Christianity has for the future of the Universal Church, just as we are aware of ... the vital need for the Church to enter into dialogue and to understand the cultures of other countries in the immense continent of Asia: China, Japan, Vietnam, etc."
Concluding, Fr. Koprowski stressed the cultural and religious situation in many of the world’s formerly Communist European countries which, he said "currently favors new forms of collaboration through the local media, both public and private, Catholic and non-Catholic."