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Archive of March 30, 2006

Catholics must be engaged in political debate, says Pope

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2006 (CNA) - Speaking earlier today to a group of parliamentarians from Europe’s Popular Party, Pope Benedict affirmed the need for a Catholic voice in the public square that informs consciences and helps citizens act “freely and responsibly.”

The Church has come under heavy fire in recent years--particularly in the U.S.--for engaging in political debate where some say it has no place. Critics charge that many politicians worldwide seek to relegate faith life merely to the private sphere.

Benedict reminded the parliamentarians however, "that when Churches or ecclesial communities intervene in public debate, expressing reservations or recalling various principles, this does not constitute a form of intolerance or interference.”

He said that the Church’s political interventions “are aimed solely at enlightening consciences, enabling them to act freely and responsibly, according to the true demands of justice, even when this should conflict with situations of power and personal interest."

In this light, the Pope said that the main area of the Church's intervention in the public sphere "is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person.” “…She is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable."

Here, he listed a number of principles for which Catholics must continue to fight. Namely, these are: "Protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family, as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage, and its defense from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role; and the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.”

While he admitted that "These principles are not truths of faith, even though they receive further light and confirmation from faith,” he stressed that “they are inscribed in human nature itself and therefore they are common to all humanity.”

The Pope explained that “The Church's action in promoting them is therefore not confessional in character, but is addressed to all people, irrespective of any religious affiliation they may have."

He closed by calling on the politicians "to be credible and consistent witnesses of these basic truths through your political activity, and more fundamentally through your commitment to live authentic and consistent lives."

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Pope to European politicians: Ignoring Christian heritage is sign of historical immaturity

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2006 (CNA) - As he met today with members of the European parliamentary group, the Popular Party, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged Europe to recognize its Christian roots and charged that ignoring them would be a sign of immaturity and even weakness.

The group met with the Holy Father during the “Study Days on Europe,” an initiative organized by the party.

Speaking in English, Benedict told the parliamentarians that "Roman Pontiffs have always devoted particular attention to this continent; today's audience is a case in point, and it takes its place in the long series of meetings between my predecessors and political movements of Christian inspiration."

He explained that "At present, Europe has to address complex issues of great importance, such as the growth and development of European integration, the increasingly precise definition of neighborhood policy within the Union and the debate over its social model.”

“In order to attain these goals,” he continued, “it will be important to draw inspiration, with creative fidelity, from the Christian heritage which has made such a particular contribution to forging the identity of this continent.”

The Holy Father encouraged Europe to value its Christian roots, and in doing so, he said they will “be able to give a secure direction to the choices of its citizens and peoples.”

Likewise, he said “It will strengthen [Europe’s] awareness of belonging to a common civilization and it will nourish the commitment of all to address the challenges of the present for the sake of a better future."

Benedict thanked the Popular Party for their own "recognition of Europe's Christian heritage" which, he said, "offers valuable ethical guidelines in the search for a social model that responds adequately to the demands of an already globalized economy.”

It will help assure, he said, “growth and employment, protection of the family, equal opportunities for education of the young and solicitude for the poor.”

"Your support for the Christian heritage,” he told the group, “can contribute significantly to the defeat of a culture that is now fairly widespread in Europe, which relegates to the private and subjective sphere the manifestation of one's own religious convictions.”

“Policies built on this foundation”, the Pope stressed, “not only entail the repudiation of Christianity's public role; more generally, they exclude engagement with Europe's religious tradition, which is so clear, despite its denominational variations, thereby threatening democracy itself, whose strength depends on the values that it promotes."

He also pointed out that opposing or ignoring the European Christian tradition "would be a sign of immaturity, if not indeed weakness. ... In this context one has to recognize that a certain secular intransigence shows itself to be the enemy of tolerance and of a sound secular vision of State and society."

The Pontiff said he was pleased however, "that the European Union's constitutional treaty envisages a structured and ongoing relationship with religious communities, recognizing their identity and their specific contribution.”

He said that above all, he trusts “that the effective and correct implementation of this relationship will start now, with the cooperation of all political movements irrespective of party alignments.”

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Afghan Christian convert flees to Italy

Rome, Italy, Mar 30, 2006 (CNA) - Italy has granted asylum to a Christian who faced the death penalty in his native country of Afghanistan for having converted from Islam 16 years ago. Conversion is a crime under Afghanistan's Islamic law. He was arrested after police discovered him with a Bible.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi said yesterday that Abdul Rahman, 41, whose case made headlines worldwide, was in the care of the Interior Ministry after arriving in Italy earlier in the day, reported the Associated Press.

Rahman’s case was dismissed on a technicality but many still feared for his life once released.

Pope Benedict XVI had appealed on Rahman’s behalf to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and the United Nations had made efforts to find a country to take him.

Afghanistan's Parliament had demanded earlier Wednesday that the government prevent Rahman from fleeing the country.

Italy has close ties with Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s former king, Mohammed Zaher Shah, lived with his family in exile in Rome for 30 years. They returned to Kabul after the fall of the Taliban regime. Italian troops were sent into Afghanistan to help with reconstruction, after the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2001.

Muslim clerics in Afghanistan condemned Rahman's release, saying it was a "betrayal of Islam," and threatened to incite violent protests.

According to the AP, Abdulrahman Jan, the top cleric in Zabul province, said the government should either force Rahman to convert back to Islam or kill him. "This is a terrible thing and a major shame for Afghanistan," he reportedly said. The cleric had met with about 500 other people in a mosque to criticize the government’s release of Rahman.

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Despite vocation shortage, God continually calls men and women to serve his Church, says Pope

Vatican City, Mar 30, 2006 (CNA) - As the Church prepares to celebrate the World Day of Prayer for Vacations, due to be held in May, the Holy Father is stressing that although many corners of the world currently face a priestly shortage, God continues to call men to “take care of his people” through the priesthood.

Today the Vatican made public Pope Benedict XVI’s Message for the 43rd annual prayer day, which falls on May 7th. It’s theme this year is “Vocation in the Mystery of the Church.”

In his message, dated March 5th, the Pope writes that "The weight of two millennia of history makes it difficult to perceive the novelty of the fascinating mystery of divine adoption which lies at the center of St. Paul's teaching."

He added that "We are called to live as brothers and sisters of Christ, to consider ourselves as sons and daughters of the same Father. This a gift that overturns all exclusively human ideas and projects."

In this light, the Pope asked "What, then, must we say of the temptation, so strongly felt in our own time, to think ourselves so self-sufficient as to shut ourselves off from the mysterious plan God has for us? The love of the Father, revealed in the person of Christ, calls out to us."

Benedict pointed out that through the centuries, men and women, "transformed by divine love, have consecrated their lives to the cause of the Kingdom," and "through Christ have known the mystery of the Father's love."

These people, he said, "represent the multiplicity of vocations that have always been present in the Church."

The Holy Father went on to describe the Second Vatican Council's universal call to sanctity. In each generation, he said, Christ "calls individuals to take care of His people; in particular He calls men to the priestly ministry to exercise a paternal function.“

He stressed that “The priest's mission in the Church is irreplaceable. Therefore, even though some areas suffer a shortage of clergy, we must not lose the conviction that Christ continues to call men" to the priesthood.”

He added that "Another special vocation occupying a place of honor in the Church is the call to consecrated life.”

Although these men and women “undertake various forms of service in the field of human formation and care for the poor, in education and in assistance to the sick, [consecrated people],” the Pope said, “do not consider these activities as the principle aim of their lives because, as the Code of Canon Law says: 'Contemplation of divine things and assiduous union with God in prayer is to be the first and foremost duty of all religious'."

As he concluded his message, Pope Benedict issued a call to pray "for vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life,” saying that “The Church's sanctity depends essentially on her union with Christ and her openness to the mystery of grace at work in the hearts of believers.”

“For this reason,” he said, “I would like to invite all the faithful to cultivate an intimate relationship with Christ, Master and Pastor of His people, imitating Mary who guarded the divine mysteries in her heart and contemplated them assiduously."

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Last days of John Paul II were serene, says former secretary

Krakow, Poland, Mar 30, 2006 (CNA) - The archbishop of Krakow and former personal secretary of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, said Wednesday in Rome that the Polish pope was serene and alert during his last days.

Cardinal Dziwisz, who was at the Pope’s side during his final illness, said his last days “were not as tragic as the media claims they were” because the Pope “was aware that his time was drawing near and he was fully prepared for death.”

According to the cardinal, Pope John Paul II “was totally conscious, he heard the prayers of the multitudes gathered under his window and with this calmness and tranquility he helped those around him maintain or recover their spiritual peace.”

In an interview with the Italian radio network RAI, the cardinal also said that John Paul II “said goodbye one by one to his closest associates, such as the Secretary of State or Cardinal Ratzinger, who was dean of the College of Cardinals, but also to the ordinary people who cared for his living quarters…it was something very emotional and moving,” Cardinal Dziwisz said in conclusion.

Today is the anniversary of John Paul’s last public appearance. He greeted pilgrims from his study window on March 30th of 2005.

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Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund announces 2006 endorsements

Washington D.C., Mar 30, 2006 (CNA) - The Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund announced its first round of endorsed candidates for the 2006 election cycle at a campaign kick-off event March 29 on Capitol Hill.

The SBA List Candidate Fund is a connected political action committee of The Susan B. Anthony List, a nationwide network of Americans dedicated to mobilizing and advancing pro-life women in politics.

“We have every intention of using the 2006 elections to increase the number of pro-life seats in Congress and the number of pro-life women in politics,” said SBA List Candidate Fund president Marjorie Dannenfelser. “In addition to financially backing these candidates, we’ll be running independent expenditure campaigns to mobilize pro-life women voters in several states.”

The number of winning candidates endorsed by the SBA List Candidate Fund has increased in the past four election cycles. In 2004, SBA won 27 of 35 races.

The organization has more than 140,000 members residing in all 50 states. For more information on the SBA List Candidate Fund, go to: www.sba-list.org

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Catholic population on the rise in Bible-belt entrenched Atlanta

Atlanta, Ga., Mar 30, 2006 (CNA) - Notre Dame Academy in Duluth is a symbol of the growth of Catholicism in metro Atlanta, Archbishop Wilton Gregory told the students and staff during a recent visit.

The school, which has Grades K-8, has more then 200 students and school officials expect enrollment to double to about 400 for the next school year. The growth of the Catholic community has meant that the demand for Catholic schools has outstripped the supply.

After touring the school, consecrating altars in a chapel and in the school auditorium, and celebrating mass, Archbishop Gregory pointed to more growth in the archdiocese. He said he has already participated in the consecration of three new churches in his first year since being appointed to Atlanta. The Catholic population is currently 5 percent.

Notre Dame opened as an independent Catholic school in August. Its board purchased a converted office park. Operational expenses are financed independently by the fundraising efforts of laypeople who wanted to make a Catholic school available to families in the northern part of Gwinnett. The school is not supported financially by the archdiocese.

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Expert: Alameda County, CA Facing More Than $30 Million in Damages against Christian school

Alameda County, Calif., Mar 30, 2006 (CNA) - The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed an independent expert report, detailing that damages against their client, Redwood Christian Schools, will amount to at least $30 million.

Redwood Christian brought suit against Alameda County in 2001 after county officials denied Redwood Christian a permit to build a Christian school on its property in Castro Valley. The school claims the officials’ decision is in violation of the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

This figure, says the expert report by Dr. Philip Allman, includes only damages from loss of enrollment, construction delay, and increased financing costs. The County could also face additional damages for deprivation of constitutional rights such as free exercise of religion and freedom of speech.

The case, Redwood Christian Schools et al. v. County of Alameda, et al., is scheduled to begin June 26 in the federal district court in San Francisco.

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Mexican bishops call on presidential candidates to offer solutions to immigration problem

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 30, 2006 (CNA) - In a statement released on Wednesday, the bishops of Mexico called on presidential candidates to offer “concrete plans for the short, medium and long term” for dealing with the problem of immigration, rather than simply pointing out the problem.

In their statement the bishops argue that “to try to stop immigration with different types of ‘barriers’ is impossible” and that “dialogue and thorough solutions,” taking into account the “specific contribution that immigration can offer for world peace,” are what is truly needed.

“The United States,” the bishops continued, “has recognized in practice that it depends on the Mexican worker to keep the economy healthy.  Therefore, it should make a special efforts to establish the legal means for Mexican workers there to find jobs that provide an appropriate wage and just employment benefits and protections, in order to live with dignity.”

“Regulating the flow of immigrants between countries is a process,” the bishops added.  “We cannot lose site of our responsibility to carry out structural reforms so that Mexicans can experience in our country the basic conditions necessary to live with dignity in whatever profession they choose,” they said.

The statement, which was signed by the president of the Bishops’ Conference of Mexico, Bishop Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago, and Conference secretary, Bishop Carlos Aguiar Retes, calls for cooperation by everyone to “seek out solutions together,” so that “the rights of our brothers and sisters who are seeking a better life are recognized” and “justice is served.”

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30,000 children send letters calling on Colombian high court not to legalize abortion

Bogotá, Colombia, Mar 30, 2006 (CNA) - Pro-family groups have collected more than 30,000 letters from children asking the Constitutional Court of Colombia not to legalize abortion in the country. Leaders said they planned to send the letters to high court justices on March 30.

Members of prominent family associations recalled that the Colombian constitution “defends the life of every human being from the moment of conception.”  They said the project was an expression of the right of parents to “educate, train and represent our children in the defense of human life.”

“Children have the right to express themselves and to be heard,” they said, and “parents have the right and obligation” to support children in their development by showing them love and understanding and imparting values to them, “especially love for life.”  “Nobody can deny us that right,” they added.   

Common themes in the letters included, “I think that if more babies are not born, there will be no more people,” and, “I think that if my mommy would have aborted me, I would not be here and I would not be able to enjoy my friends, nature, and so many beautiful things in life.”

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Mexican bishop says he will not support “autonomous church”

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 30, 2006 (CNA) - In a statement sent to Catholic News Agency, Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel of San Cristobal de las Casas and his Auxiliary Bishop Enrique Diaz responded to the controversy surrounding a letter from the Holy See which ordered a suspension of ordinations to the permanent deaconate in the Mexican diocese.

“Although there were some at the Vatican who supported our petition, the decision to suspend these ordinations prevailed,” the statement said.  “Let it be clear, however, that this is not a definitive and permanent suspension, but a temporary one, and those who are already permanent deacons can continue exercising their ministry without any restrictions.”

“First of all,” the bishops continued, “we respect this decision with serene faith and active hope, although with heartfelt sorrow.  We will not ordain any more permanent deacons until this door is opened again.  We could carry out new ordinations and they would be valid; but they would be illicit and we would be breaking ecclesial communion, thus isolating ourselves and making ourselves into an ‘autonomous Church,’ which no one wants.”

They went on to express their concern that “our efforts to become an ‘autoctonous Church’ have been called ‘ideological.’  Although we acknowledge the limitations and deficiencies, we believe that the efforts to implement the idea of an autoctonous Church are being carried out in conformity with the teachings of the Council.”

“We would be falling into an ‘ideology’,” they argued, “into ‘ideological isolation,’ if our project of an autoctonous Church were to be confused with that of an autonomous Church. We are not, nor do we have the intention of becoming, an autonomous Church.”

The bishops also said the ordinations to the permanent deaconate in their diocese were not meant to encourage hopes for a married priesthood, although they said they have received “many requests” for the idea.  The reaffirmed their commitment to fostering vocations to the celibate priesthood.

Regarding the Vatican request to suspend the formation of more candidates to the permanent deaconate, the bishops said, “We will continue the formation of our catechists, not in view of a possible immediate ordination to the deaconate, but rather in order to strengthen their service in the communities, preparing them to be instituted as lectors and acolytes.”  

“When the Holy Spirit thus disposes and the doors are opened again, some of them will already be ready for ordination,” they said.

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