Archive of February 24, 2006

Pakistani Prime Minister promises to protect religious minorities

Rome, Italy, Feb 24, 2006 (CNA) - During a meeting with a group of Catholic bishops in Islamabad, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz, promised he would protect the rights of religious minorities in the wake of an attack on a church over the ongoing Mohammed cartoons controversy.

At the meeting Aziz noted the loyalty of Catholic citizens in Pakistan who have made great contributions in different areas of society.  He also announced the creation of coordinating committees for different regions in order to safeguard peaceful coexistence between followers of different faiths, in an effort to promote tolerance and harmony.  The committees would consist of local leaders, representatives of the government and members of all religions.

Aziz assured the bishops investigators would track down and bring to justice those responsible for burning a Catholic church Sunday as part of their protests against the cartoons depicting Mohammed that were published last September Denmark.  “No one shall be allowed to take justice into his own hands,” Aziz said.

The prime minister noted that the Pakistani Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and government protection of places of worship.  On February 19, more than 400 Pakistanis protesting the cartoons set fire to a Catholic church in the town of Sukkur.

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Thousands of young people participate in family catechetical congress

Lima, Peru, Feb 24, 2006 (CNA) - On February 19 more than 4,000 young people from different countries gathered together with Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, Archbishop of Lima, for the inauguration of a congress for family catechesis youth leaders.  The theme of the congress is: “Young man, get up, listen be nourished by the Eucharist, and set out with Jesus.”

Organized by the Family Catechesis Movement, the event is designated to emphasize the importance of catechetical leaders and to strengthen their mission as a bridge between parents and children.

Among those scheduled to attend the event include Cardinal Tarsicio Bertone, Archbishop of Genoa, Msgr. Alberto Campos, Apostolic Vicar of St. Joseph of the Amazons, and Bishop Angel Francisco Simon Piorno of Chimbote, Peru.

The young catechists will be attending talks on formation and will have the chance to interact with leaders from other parts of the world to share their experiences.

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Relics of St. Francis Xavier to be brought to Navarre

Madrid, Spain, Feb 24, 2006 (CNA) - Coinciding with the 500th anniversary of his birth, most important relic of St. Francis Xavier—the saint’s right arm--currently on display in the Church of Gesú in Rome, will be brought to Navarre, Spain on March 3.

The government of the Navarre province, in conjunction with the Society of Jesus, the Archbishop of Pamplona and various universities, has scheduled a series of spiritual, musical, artistic and theatrical activities.  The events will take place at the famous Castillo de Javier, a medieval fortress that dates to the 14th century.

The main celebrations will take place on April 7, the birthday of St. Francis Xavier.

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Colombian bishop: Church leaders have right to encourage pro-life voting

, Feb 24, 2006 (CNA) - The secretary general of the Bishops’ Conference of Colombia, Bishop Fabian Marulanda Lopez, said this week he was surprised by former president Alfonso Lopez Michelsen’s opposition to the bishops’ call to vote for pro-life policies and candidates in the upcoming elections.


In response to a column Michelsen wrote for the Colombian daily El Tiempo, in which the former president chided the bishops for “meddling in Colombian politics” by “calling for the prohibition of abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia,” Bishop Marulanda responded with a letter in which he wondered aloud if the former president had even read the bishops’ statements.  “One would think you would have read the statement of the bishops” before criticizing it, he said, “because there is nothing in that text related to what you are so concerned about: no finger-pointing or subtle prohibitions.”


The statement, Bishop Marulanda continued, “does not mention the word ‘abortion’ nor ‘gay marriage’ or ‘euthanasia’.”   Nevertheless, he said, this does not mean “that the bishops are not concerned about these issues.”


Bishop Marulanda said he was surprised that “such a ‘profoundly liberal’ man like you, Dr. Lopez,” would be so upset at the bishops for “calling on citizens to participate in the political process” and for demanding candidates support policies that respect life, fight poverty, and promote education and peace. 

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Sister awarded Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Award

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2006 (CNA) - Sr. Lourdes Sheehan, associate general secretary at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been awarded the Holy Cross Pro-Ecclesia et Pontifice medal by Pope Benedict XVI.


She received the gold medal Jan. 27 at the USCCB, from which she will retire in March. The medal is bestowed to lay people and clergy who have given zealous and outstanding service to the Church.


The honor was instituted by Pope Leo XIII in 1888. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington recommended Sr. Sheehan, a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, for the papal award.


“Sr. Lourdes Sheehan has given exemplary service to the Catholic Church,” he said.


In March, Sr. Sheehan will complete a five-year term as associate general secretary at the USCCB. Previously, she served two terms as the U.S. Bishops’ Secretary for Education.


Born in Georgia, Sr. Sheehan became an education. She served as director of secondary education, superintendent of schools, and director of Christian formation for the Diocese of Richmond. She served with the National Catholic Educational Association and of the National Association of Boards of Catholic Education.


For her excellence in education, she received of the Presidential Award for Outstanding Service to Catholic Education from the NCEA and the Catholic School Executive Leadership Award from Fordham University.


Sr. Sheehan has also served her religious community as provincial and as a councilor.

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March calendar calls for prayer, almsgiving

Washington D.C., Feb 24, 2006 (CNA) - Lent calls Catholics to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. With the start of Lent March 1, the U.S. Catholic Bishops have issued a calendar that provides several opportunities for prayer and almsgiving within the Church.

The season will begin with a special collection for Aid to the Church in Need in Central and Eastern Europe. It is to be held in parishes on Ash Wednesday, March 1, or on the First Sunday of Lent.

The Collection for Black and Indian Missions will be held March 6. The third collection will be March 26; all proceeds will help fund Catholic Relief Services.

The faithful also urged to join in prayer for the 17th Annual Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, March 5-11, and to observe the Feast of the Annunciation March 25.

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Vatican officials call on Muslims to stop violence against Christians

Rome, Italy, Feb 24, 2006 (CNA) - The Vatican is urging Islamic countries to show more tolerance towards Christian minorities after riots in Turkey and Nigeria saw two priests murdered and left 146 Christians and Muslims dead.

The violence erupted in response to the cartoons of Mohammed that appeared in a Danish newspaper in the fall and which have been reprinted in other newspapers since then.

After criticizing both the cartoons and the violent protests in Muslim countries, the Vatican has restated the Church’s longtime concern that the rights of people of other faiths are severely limited in Muslim states.

In a meeting Monday with the new Moroccan ambassador to the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said peace can only be assured through "respect for the religious convictions and practices of others, in a reciprocal way in all societies".

Since then, several Vatican officials have shared the Church’s concern and their perspective on the situation with the Italian secular press. "If we tell our people they have no right to offend, we have to tell the others they have no right to destroy us," Vatican's Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano told journalists in Rome.

Foreign Minister Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo told the daily Corriere della Sera that the Church “must always stress our demand for reciprocity in political contacts with authorities in Islamic countries and, even more, in cultural contacts.”

Reciprocity refers to Muslim states granting Christian minorities the same rights as Muslims generally have in Western countries, such as building houses of worship or practising religion freely.

Currently, Saudi Arabia bans all public expression of any non-Muslim religion and sometimes arrests Christians for worshipping privately, reported Reuters. Pakistan allows churches to operate but deprives Christians many rights.

Iraqi Christians say they were well treated under Saddam Hussein, but believers have been killed, churches burnt and women forced to wear Muslim garb since Islamic groups gained power in 2003, reported Reuters.

Bishop Rino Fisichella, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, told Corriere della Sera the Vatican should speak out more and drop its “diplomatic silence.”

"We should put pressure on international organizations to make the societies and states in majority Muslim countries face up to their responsibilities," he said.

Msgr. Velasio De Paolis, secretary of the Vatican's supreme court, was probably the most expressive about his frustration with the treatment of Christians in Islamic states. "Enough now with this turning the other cheek! It's our duty to protect ourselves," he told La Stampa. "The West has had relations with the Arab countries for half a century, mostly for oil, and has not been able to get the slightest concession on human rights.”

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Bishop says ‘pro-choice’ Catholics adhere to ‘right-to-murder’ heresy

Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 24, 2006 (CNA) - Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, has warned the faithful that Catholic politicians or voters who are pro-abortion commit heresy against the Fifth Commandment’s prohibition of murder.

“Bishop Vasa is to be praised for his clear, courageous, and firm defense of the integrity of the Fifth Commandment and the most innocent of human life,” said canon lawyer Marc Balestrieri. Balestrieri serves as president of the nonprofit organization De Fide, which was established in 2004 to combat the “right-to-murder” heresy and other grave crimes within the Church.

In an article in the Catholic Sentinel, Bishop Baker wrote: “There is a point at which passive ‘tolerance’ allows misleading teachings to be spread and propagated, thus confusing or even misleading the faithful about the truths of the Church . . . There is a very strong word, which still exists in our Church, which most of us are too ‘gentle’ to use. The word is ‘heresy’.”

“Pro-choice” Catholics “reject the clear and consistent teaching of the Church,” the bishop wrote.

The bishop’s strong stance followed on the heels of a heresy trial adjudicated last month in the Diocese of San Bernardino. According to Balestrieri, the bishop’s words “lend further weight to canonical action now advancing against several prominent U.S. politicians.”

For more on De Fide, go to:

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‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’, Pope Benedict tells Bishops of war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2006 (CNA) - Meeting today with prelates from the Catholic Bishops Conference of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the war-torn former Yugoslavia, Pope Benedict XVI stressed the need for them to “be peacemakers” and to be a bridge between the Church and the greater society.

"Following the sad years of the recent war,” the Pope told the prelates, “you as peacemakers are called to reinforce communion and to disseminate mercy, understanding and forgiveness in the name of Christ, both within the Christian communities and throughout the complex social fabric of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

He commended them, saying "I well know that yours is not an easy mission, but I also know that you maintain your gaze constantly fixed upon Christ, Who ... gave His disciples a fundamental task that sums up all the others, that of loving.”

“Love”, he stressed, “must not simply follow earthly laws ... but translate into that higher measure of justice which is mercy."

It is with this spirit, the Holy Father said, that the bishops "will easily be able to carry out the mission entrusted to you, contributing to healing still-open wounds and to resolving contrasts and divisions left over from past years."

Noting some of the many problems facing Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Pope mentioned "the position of exiles, for whom I hope appropriate agreements will be reached in respect of everyone's rights.” Likewise, he addressed "the indispensable equality between citizens of various religions ... the urgent need for measures to meet the growing lack of work for young people, and attenuating ominous tensions between ethnic groups."

Benedict also sought to reaffirm the Holy See's closeness to Bosnia and Herzegovina, a closeness which he said is confirmed by, among other things, "…the recent appointment of a resident nuncio, who will be able to maintain permanent contact with the country's various requirements."

Building the Kingdom of God in the Dioceses

Turning to the need for the bishops to build up their own respective dioceses, the Pope said that "it is important that every effort be made to increase the unity of the flock of Christ ... overcoming, if necessary, misunderstandings and difficulties associated with events of the past.”

“The Church everywhere”, he said, “pursues a single objective, that of building the Kingdom of God in all lands and in the hearts of all people.”

He likewise stressed that “the mission of preserving intact the heritage of the Lord”, is, at least in part, the responsibility of “the successors of the Apostles and to their collaborators in the pastoral ministry.”

Inasmuch, Benedict said that this heritage must adhere “faithfully to the doctrinal and spiritual patrimony of the Church in her entirety."

"Blessed are the peacemakers," the Pope reaffirmed. "As well as to the Church's mission in the outside world, these words are also applicable to internal relations among her members.”

He said that “The various ecclesiastical elements…are regulated by canonical norms that are an expression of a centuries-old experience. ... It is up to the bishop, father of the community entrusted to him by Christ, to discern what is appropriate to the building of the Church of Christ.”

“In this sense,” he told them, “the bishop is pontiff, a 'builder of bridges,' between the various elements of the ecclesial community."

The Pontiff concluded by saying that all of this "constitutes a particularly important aspect of episcopal ministry at this moment in history, as Bosnia and Herzegovina resume the path of collaboration to build a future of social development and peace."

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Pope will preside at Ash Wednesday Mass, procession; act will renew ancient tradition

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2006 (CNA) - The Vatican announced today that next week, Pope Benedict himself will mark the beginning of lent with an Ash Wednesday Mass at Rome’s Basilica of Santa Sabina, an act which will serve to renew an ancient Lenten tradition long held by the Diocese of Rome.

The late Pope John Paul II was forced to abandon the practice as his health deteriorated late in life.

Prior to Mass, the Holy Father will preside at brief prayer in the nearby Church of St. Anselm on Rome’s Aventine Hill.

Following that, he will lead a penitential procession to the Basilica, which will be attended by local cardinals, archbishops, bishops, as well the Benedictine monks of St. Anselm, the Dominican Fathers of Santa Sabina and an expected throng of lay faithful.

During the Mass at Santa Sabina, the Pope will also preside over the traditional rite of blessing and imposition of ashes.

The Vatican pointed out in a communiqué earlier today that the day’s activity will renew an ancient Lenten tradition, long held by the Church in Rome of celebrating Mass in designated "station" or churches, which change each year.

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Who decides nature of human embryos? Vatican conference to explore scientific, ethical issues

Vatican City, Feb 24, 2006 (CNA) - Earlier today at the Vatican Press Office, a veritable who’s who of scientific and ethical experts gathered to discuss the nature of the human embryo, seeking to understand how it may be more fully understood and respected within an increasingly hostile society.

The group had gathered to present plans for an international congress themed, "the human embryo prior to implantation, scientific aspects and bioethical considerations," which will be held at the Vatican on Monday and Tuesday of next week.

The congress is being held to mark the 12th general assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

On hand for today's press conference were Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life; Adriano Bompiani, gynecologist and director of the International Scientific Institute of Rome's Sacred Heart Catholic University; Fr. Kevin T. Fitzgerald, associate professor of genetics at the oncological department of Georgetown University, Washington, U.S.A.; and Bishop Willem Jacobus Eijk of Groningen, Netherlands, moral theologian, expert on bioethics and doctor.

Andrio Bompiani explained the nature of the conference, saying that "In order to attribute a 'juridical status' to the embryo, it is necessary to 'understand' its nature." Such understanding, he pointed out, must be based on ontological study.

"Today,” he said, “it is not enough to examine the embryo under the microscope." He said rather, that it is necessary "to use all available means" from the fields of genetics, morphology, biochemistry and molecular biology.

Bompiani also said that in order to really “recognize“ the embryo, "we come up against the concepts of human life, human being, human individual, and person.”

He said that while “Reflection on these concepts is…the aim of ontological study,” in his opinion, it “should be undertaken only after having described and understood what happens in the few hours following the encounter between a living human ovum and a spermatozoon."

Bishop Eijk, who traveled from the Netherlands for the conference, spoke of the extrinsic and intrinsic criteria for attributing a moral status to the human embryo.

He showed that many of these extrinsic criteria fall short of true understanding, citing a mindset, arising in the 1960’s which suggested that the status of human being and personality only emerge at the moment of nidation.

This status, he corrected, "already comes about in the fusion of the spermatozoon and the ovum as the fruit of a sexual relationship between the parents.”

He also examined other fallacious extrinsic criteria held by much of society, including the pluralistic mindset that the status of the human embryo can be defined by democratic consensus or by the “choices” of researchers and parents, specifically for those embryos created by in vitro fertilization, and pending whether or not they should be allowed to develop.

He explained that because many of these extrinsic criteria "are inadequate for establishing the moral status of the embryo,” that “it is necessary to use intrinsic criteria in order to achieve an objective judgment on the respect due to the embryo."

Likewise, he said that people must be recognize that "the embryo, even in the pre-nidation phase, is a being with its own life separate from that of the mother, a human being from a biological point of view, an individual, and a being with an intrinsic destiny to become a human person."

Citing the late John Paul II’s groundbreaking Encyclical "Evangelium vitae," Bishop Eijk said that modern science can offer "a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life."

Aristotle's theory of animation, he added, "was based upon his mistaken understanding of the embryo," while "modern anthropological theories which attribute the status of human person to an embryo only at the moment of self-awareness (at the end of pregnancy), or even at that of manifest rational consciousness (some time after birth), are characterized by a profound dualism incapable of explaining the human being as a substantial unity."

"Current embryological and genetic knowledge” the Bishop concluded, “provides precious indications that the embryo has a specific identity as a human person," a fact which "is determined fundamentally, though not alone, by the human genome, which is present and active at conception.”

He told the crowd that “Although it is impossible to demonstrate empirically a personal presence from conception, philosophical reflection on the bio-anthropological status of the human embryo points to an incongruity between [the idea of] indirect or gradual humanization and the vision of a human individual as a substantial unity of spirit and body."

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