Vatican City, Feb 27, 2006 (CNA) - In his message to all the youth in the world, for the celebration of the XXI World Youth Day, which will take place on Palm Sunday, April 9, Pope Benedict called the youth to be “a new generation of apostles anchored firmly in the word of Christ, capable of responding to the challenges of our times and prepared to spread the Gospel far and wide.”
The Pope’s offers to the youth a reflection based on words of the psalmist, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Ps 119 :105), and he reminded the word of his predecessor John Paul II : "The one who prays pours out his thanks for the Law of God that he adopts as a lamp for his steps in the often dark path of Life" (General Audience, Wednesday 14 November 2001).
Pope Benedict acknowledge that “It is not easy to recognize and find authentic happiness in this world in which we live, where people are often held captive by the current ways of thinking,” and warned them of the illusion of freedom proposed by the world :“they may think they are "free", but they are being led astray and become lost amid the errors or illusions of aberrant ideologies.”
The Holy Father encourages the youth to “meditate often on the word of God, and allow the Holy Spirit to be your teacher,” and to discover “that God’s way of thinking is not the same as that of humankind’s.”
Reminding the words of Saint Paul, "Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (4:12). Pope Benedict vowed for an understanding of the word as a “an indispensable ‘weapon’ in the spiritual struggle.”
“My dear young friends, I urge you to become familiar with the Bible, and to have it at hand so that it can be your compass pointing out the road to follow. By reading it, you will learn to know Christ.”
Repeating the words of Saint James tells us: "Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves, the pope reminded the necessity of an action deeply rooted in the word of God.
“There is an urgent need for the emergence of a new generation of apostles anchored firmly in the word of Christ, capable of responding to the challenges of our times and prepared to spread the Gospel far and wide,” the Holy Father stressed.
Looking forward to the next international encounter for the Youth in Sydney, “ We will prepare for that great appointment reflecting together on the theme The Holy Spirit and the mission in successive stages.
Pope Benedict concludes his message by an invocation of Mary, “ May she be your mother and guide. May she teach you to receive the word of God, to treasure it and to ponder on it in your heart.”
To read full message:
Vatican City, Feb 27, 2006 (CNA) - Reflecting Sunday on the upcoming liturgical season of Lent, Pope Benedict XVI challenged faithful to approach the period with a new spirit; not one that is heavy and burdened, but one that sees Jesus, and his Life, offered through the cross.
He spoke particularly on Sunday’s Gospel of St. Mark which, he said, "offers a catechumenal itinerary guiding the disciple to recognize in Jesus the Son of God.
"By a happy coincidence," he said, "today's Gospel text touches on the subject of fasting.” He explained that “As Jesus was sitting at table in the house of Levi the publican, the Pharisees and the followers of John the Baptist asked Him why His disciples were not fasting like them.”
In the familiar account, “Jesus replied that the wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them; when the bridegroom is taken from them, then they will fast.”
"With these words,” the Pope pointed out, “Christ reveals His identity as the Messiah, Bridegroom of Israel, Who has come for the wedding with His people. Those who recognize Him and welcome Him with faith celebrate.”
The major theme of Lent comes, he said, in that the Christ “must be rejected and killed by His own people: at that moment, during His passion and His death, will come the time of mourning and fasting."
Benedict stressed that this episode, which anticipates Lent’s significance, "constitutes a great memorial of the Lord's passion, in preparation for the Easter of Resurrection.”
“The period of Lent”, he warned, “must not be approached with an 'old' spirit, as if it were a heavy and troublesome burden, but with the new spirit of one has found in Jesus and in His mystery the meaning of life, and is aware that everything must now refer to Him."
"On our Lenten journey, may our guide and teacher be Most Holy Mary who, when Jesus set out for Jerusalem to suffer His passion, followed Him with total faith. Like a 'new wineskin,' she received the 'new wine' brought by the Son for the messianic wedding."
Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2006 (CNA) - A series of Lenten radio retreats is now available in English and Spanish.
The series includes six half-hour English-language and six Spanish-language editions of the retreats -- one for each Sunday of Lent. The programs were produced for the U.S. bishops' Catholic Communication Campaign by Franciscan Radio, a ministry of the Franciscans and St. Anthony Messenger Press.
Each radio retreat program features a bishop as retreat guide and homilist. The homily is followed by a song for meditation and a question-and-answer segment with the bishop concerning the themes of his homily.
The programs have been offered to Catholic dioceses and radio outlets throughout the United States on a non-exclusive basis.
They can be heard on a companion Internet Web site, http://www.radiorereat.org, and can be downloaded from the Web site as MP3 files for podcast or other personal use. The Web site has descriptions of each program, bishops’ biographies and links to other Lenten spiritual resources.
The first retreat is offered by Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati in English and Auxiliary Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez of Miami in Spanish.
Reflections for the second Sunday of Lent are offered by Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City, South Dakota, in English and Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, New Mexico, in Spanish.
Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino will offer the reflections in English and Spanish for the third week.
Reflections for week four will be led by Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore in English and Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala of Los Angeles in Spanish.
Bishop Joseph Galante of Camden, New Jersey, will offer reflections in English for the sixth week, and Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Soto of Orange, Calif., will offer them in Spanish.
Reflections for week six will be given by Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh in English and Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio in Spanish.
The programs are being offered free on compact disc. For ordering or information, e-mail Pat Ryan Garcia at [email protected].
Vatican City, Feb 27, 2006 (CNA) - At noon today, Pope Benedict XVI met with a group of priests and seminarians visiting as representatives of the Orthodox Church of Greece. He told them that as the culture of Europe and the world become increasingly hostile to the Christian faith, Catholics and Orthodox must work together to spread the Gospel message.
The papal visitors came from the Theological College of "Apostoliki Diakonia", as well as the University of Athens.
Following a brief personal meeting, the Pope consigned a written message to the group, in which, he laments that "For we Christians of both East and West, at the beginning of the second millennium the forces of evil acted in the divisions that still persist between us today.”
Nonetheless, he wrote, “over the last 40 years many consoling and hopeful signs have caused us to see a new dawn, that of the day on which we will fully understand that being rooted and founded in Christ's charity means truly finding a way to overcome our divisions through personal and community conversion, listening to others and common prayer for our unity."
Recalling these hopeful signs in building positive relations between the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches, the Pope specifically called to mind the historic 2001 meeting between John Paul II and His Beatitude Christodoulos, archbishop of Athens and of all Greece.
The meeting, which took place at the Greek Areopagus was followed, Benedict wrote, by "initiatives aimed at closer mutual knowledge and at educating the younger generations."
Likewise, he expressed his certainty "that reciprocal charity will nourish our inventiveness and bring us to start down new paths.”
Both Churches, he said, “face the challenges that threaten the faith, cultivate the spiritual 'humus' that has nourished Europe for centuries.” To this, he challenged the churchmen to “reaffirm Christian values, promote peace and encounter even in the most difficult conditions, and strengthen those elements of faith and ecclesial life that can lead us to the goals of full communion in truth and charity.”
He especially stressed the importance of this challenge now, “as official theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church as a whole begins again with renewed vigor."
Denver, Colo., Feb 27, 2006 (CNA) - On Sunday at Denver’s Colorado Convention Center, organizers of a weekend-long pornography expo were busy packing up the last of their gear. Meanwhile, across town at the Denver Coliseum, throngs of local young people were promoting a different view of sexuality.
4,000 youths gathered this year for the third annual Pure by Choice rally, themed, “Ashamed no More,” to hear speakers, musicians and receive encouragement from their peers to keep fighting for purity and chastity within a sex-drenched culture.
Organizer Bob Lemming called the Rally, “a dynamic, family-centered event…designed to empower young people and their parents to value that gift and to live a lifestyle that honors God’s plan for life, love, and healthy relationships.”
He said that “Today’s young people see first-hand through their own experiences and the culture around them, the brokenness and pain that comes from living promiscuous and impure lives. And they are ready to stand against the tide.”
Not missing the ironic timing of the nearby pornography expo, Lemming told Denver’s Rocky Mountain News that "We're both talking about sex, but from a totally different perspective.”
“Here's the difference,” he said: “From their point of view, they're talking about individual pleasure and the taking of pleasure…From our point of view; we're talking about the fact that our sexuality is a gift from God. It's not that sex is bad, but we're in a giving posture. I'm going to give myself to my wife (after marriage)."
The Pure by Choice organization calls itself a statewide alliance whose goal is to mobilize faith and community leaders “to advance the counter- cultural revolution honoring Gods plan for life, love and healthy relationships by equipping young people and their families to meet the challenge of sexual purity.”
Likewise, they encourage young people to “discover [their] role in the revolution.”
One rally attendee, Jessie Kops, a Denver High School senior told the Rocky Mountain News that at his school, having an attitude of sexual purity can be difficult. "It's like, if you're a virgin, it's a bad thing almost," he said. "There's a lot of pressure to have sex. It's like to be cool, you have to have sex."
On Sunday however, he said, "I'm not ashamed anymore to say I'm a virgin."
Vatican City, Feb 27, 2006 (CNA) - As the Vatican’s much-anticipated International Congress on “the human embryo prior to implantation” begins today, Pope Benedict XVI met with delegates, to whom he stressed the importance of the divine reality of God, shining forth through even the simplest and smallest human being, namely, the embryo.
The General assembly, being held today and tomorrow at the Vatican, is being hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Life.
The Pope called the Congress theme "fascinating, but difficult and arduous given the delicate nature of the subject being examined and the complexity of epistemological problems concerning the relationship" between experimental scientific data and reflection on anthropological values.
He went on to reference scripture, which "expresses the love of God towards all human beings even before they take form in the mother's womb," adding that "The love of God does not distinguish between the newly-conceived infant still in its mother's womb, the baby, the youth, the grown adult or the elderly.”
In each of these, Benedict stressed, “He sees the sign of His own image and likeness."
The Pope explained that "This limitless and almost incomprehensible love of God for man reveals to what point human beings are worthy of love in themselves, regardless of any other consideration, be it intelligence, beauty, health, youth, integrity and so on. Human life is a good thing, always and definitively."
He also pointed out that "in man, in all men and women, whatever their stage or condition of life, there shines a reflection of God's own reality.”
“For this reason,” he said that “the Magisterium of the Church has constantly proclaimed the sacred and inviolable nature of each human life, from conception to natural end” adding that “This moral judgment also holds at the beginning of an embryo's life, even before it is implanted in the mother's womb."
The Pope closed his brief address by touching on the origins of life itself, calling this "a mystery which science will be able to illuminate ever more clearly, though with difficulty will it decipher it altogether."
He said that "those who love truth must be aware that research into such profound themes puts us in the position of seeing and almost touching the hand of God.”
“Beyond the limits of experimental methods, at the confines of the area that some call meta-analysis, where sensorial perception and scientific tests are neither enough or even possible,” the Pope concluded, “that is where the adventure of transcendence begins."
Vatican City, Feb 27, 2006 (CNA) - The President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Msgr. Elio Sgreccia, said last week the embryo is definitely “a child: a child with a special relationship with her parents, and for believers, a special relationship with God.”
During the presentation of the International Congress on the embryo, scheduled to take place at the Vatican of February 27 and 28, Msgr. Sgreccia said, “The embryo is the crucial center, whether for anthropology or for ethics,” epistemology and the whole of biology.
Msgr. Sgreccia noted that in 1987, then Cardinal Ratzinger underscored that from the moment of conception, the embryo is a human person that should be respected in all of his or her dignity.
Berlin, Germany, Feb 27, 2006 (CNA) - The Bishops’ Conference of Germany recently organized a special forum on marriage and the family in Berlin, with the purpose of discussing perspectives and commitments regarding future policy on the family.
Nearly 120 representatives of the Church, diverse German associations and leaders were invited by the Archbishop of Berlin and president of the Bishops’ Committee on Marriage, Cardinal Georg Sterzinsky, to participate in the event.
According to the Fides news agency, some of the issues the Church considers fundamental for the future of family policy include preventing poverty, encouraging couples to have larger families, solidarity among generations, education and formation and preparation for marriage.
Since the family is the first and fundamental institution for education and formation, a family policy cannot neglect this aspect which should aim to help parents be more involved in the process of children’s formation. Cardinal Sterzinsky underlined the indispensable and fundamental role of marriage. “Marriage, a lasting and personal union of a man and a woman, is a solid institution which offers a frame for a relationship of fidelity and the founding of a family. Instead of trying to invent alternatives to marriage we should ask ourselves: what can we do as Church and as politicians to promote successful marriages? If the Catholic Church is in favor of marriage it is because she is convinced that marriage is the life-form which corresponds best to human nature and it represents a splendid opportunity for the personal growth of husband and wife”.
The forum established by the Bishops’ Conference began in 2005 and will continue through 2007, addressing the issues of the value of marriage and family for society, and in 2007, the value of marriage and the family in the future and for the future.
Rome, Italy, Feb 27, 2006 (CNA) - Amidst the debate over cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed that were published in Europe and have sparked riots across the Muslim world, the director of the Holy See Press Office, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said Friday the “right to free expression is an absolute right but it is linked to other rights such as that of respecting others.”
The Vatican spokesman said that as with any other right, “We must ask ourselves what freedom of expression means when it offends others and at that moment temporarily suspends the rights of others.”
Navarro-Valls made his comments before attending a ceremony in which we was awarded the Honoris Causa Laureate in Communications of the Sor Orsola Benincasa University Institute of Naples.
He said Pope Benedict XVI has called this issue “a very serious situation.” Nevertheless, he added, “this phenomenon will not lead to a war of religions.”
“There are one billion Catholics and one billion Muslims in the world. Not everything is hatred. There are some areas of violence, which can in part be attributed to Islam, and in part to a knee-jerk reaction by certain people in some parts of the world,” Navarro-Valls argued.
Lagos, Nigeria, Feb 27, 2006 (CNA) - The Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria has condemned the recent wave of violence that has swept across the region of Maiduguri in the state of Borno, as Muslim extremists continued to protest the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed.
According to the CISA news agency, more than 70 people have been assassinated—including Catholic priest Father Michael Gajere—in northern Nigeria. 200 have been injured and various churches have been destroyed. Another 40 people were injured during protests in the southern region of Onitsha.
“The way in which the protests have been carried out, as indicated in the newspapers, clearly shows a great plan by the perpetrators to submerge the country into crisis because of religious reasons,” the bishops said in a statement.
“Upon reviewing the available reports, it would seem that the police are tacitly supporting the violent acts of these fanatics, given that once these acts of vandalism were committed there were ‘deliberately’ hidden,” the bishops added.
Likewise they urged the Nigerian government to “put a plan into action so that events like those in Maiduguri will not take place and so that the churches and the families affected will be duly compensated.”
Washington D.C., Feb 27, 2006 (CNA) - Deliberately targeting and destroying religious sites is “reprehensible as it seeks to damage the core of peoples’ culture, belief and community,” said the United States bishops in a statement issued Friday.
Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Policy, wrote the letter on behalf of the bishops in response to the attack last week on the Al Askariya Mosque-the Golden Mosque of Samarra, one of the most sacred religious sites in Shi’a Islam.
“Attacks on holy sites can only add to the insecurity, division and misery of the people of Iraq and risk further violence and destabilization,” the letter reads.
Bishop Wenski wrote that the bishops were “deeply saddened by the horrible attack” and extended their “prayers and condolences to the people of Iraq.”
“As we have consistently condemned past attacks on Christian religious sites and communities, we now strongly condemn this heinous terrorist attack on the Golden Mosque,” the statement reads. “We are also alarmed and deeply disturbed by retaliatory attacks on other mosques and the loss of life that followed the attack on the Golden Mosque.”
“Terrorism can never be morally justified no matter what the cause,” the bishop wrote.
The bishops said they would continue to support efforts to end the violence and to work toward a responsible transition in Iraq in the hope that all will be able to live and practice their faith in security.
Stamford, Conn., Feb 27, 2006 (CNA) - With the arrest of two more priests in China this month, the Cardinal Kung Foundation is calling on the Olympic Committee to consider canceling the next summer Olympic Games, which are scheduled to take place in China, in 2008.
Chinese security officials arrested Fr. Lu Genjun and Fr. Guo Yanli of the diocese of Baoding in Hebei Feb.17, while the two priests waited for a friend at the Baoding train station, reported the Cardinal Kung Foundation.
Fr. Guo, 39, was sent to Xushui County detention center; Fr. Lu, 44, was sent to an undisclosed location. The Kung Foundation said it does not know why the two priests were arrested.
Fr. Lu, ordained in 1990, was previously arrested on Palm Sunday 1998. He was arrested before Easter 2001 and detained for three years in the Gao Yang County labor camp in Hebei. Shortly after his release, he was arrested again on May 14, 2004 for an unknown period.
Fr. Guo has no previous arrest record. He was ordained in 1998.
Bishop Jia Zhiguo, who was arrested Nov. 8, is still detained. The Kung Foundation has no information on his whereabouts. The 70-year-old was previously in jail for approximately 20 years and has been under strict surveillance for many years. He cares for 100 handicapped orphans in his house. The Kung Foundation speculates that this is the eighth time the bishop has been arrested since January 2004.
In response to this series of continuous arrests, the Cardinal Kung Foundation wrote a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao, appealing that he “bring modern China into an era of true religious freedom.” The letter was signed by the foundation’s president, Joseph Kung.
"A country without religious freedom is never peaceful and constructive," reads the letter, which also challenged the president to realize "the importance of changing the world's perception of China's human rights policy for the better."
The foundation asked that all current religious prisoners be released and that all religious prisoners, “both living and dead, be officially and posthumously exonerated of so called crimes.”
Kung said releasing the prisoners would “also prove that China is honoring the spirit of the Olympic Games that [it] will have the honor of hosting in 2008."
Kung said Hu has never replied to his letter.
Kung recommended that the Olympic Committee should “take note of these arrests and decide whether or not China's continuous persecutions of innocent religious believers is in conformity with the spirit of the Olympic Games.”
He said the Olympic Committee should “consider canceling the games in China in 2008 in order to preserve its good name and spirit” of the Olympics.
Rome, Italy, Feb 27, 2006 (CNA) - Catholic and Jewish representatives met Sunday at the Vatican to discuss joint social programs.
The International Liaison Committee considered social welfare projects in the field of healthcare.
Walter Cardinal Kasper, president of the Pontifical Commission for Relations with Jews, and Israel Singer, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, were to have attended the meeting.
The liaison committee also set the agenda for a meeting of the full committee of Catholic and Jewish participants worldwide, tentatively planned for the end of 2006 in Capetown, South Africa.