Archive of April 4, 2006

Pope Benedict will preside over Vatican’s Holy Week celebrations

Vatican City, Apr 4, 2006 (CNA) - The Holy See has released its schedule for the celebration of Holy Week and the Easter Triduum this year in the Vatican. Officials announced that Pope Benedict himself will preside at the solemn events which mark the holiest days on the Church calendar.

The Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff said in a statement today that the Church’s Holy Week celebrations will begin April 9th--Palm Sunday--with the traditional blessing of palms and olive branches. Following a procession, Pope Benedict will preside at the Mass of the Lord’s Passion.

On Holy Thursday morning in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father will concelebrate the Chrism Mass with Cardinals Bishops and a number of priests from the diocese of Rome.

The Holy See called this concelebration “a sign of the close union between the pastor of the Universal Church and his brothers in the priestly ministry.”

That evening, the Easter Triduum will begin at the Basilica of St. John Lateran at 5.30 p.m. with the Mass of Our Lord's Last Supper, presided at by the Holy Father. During the liturgy, the Pope will wash the feet of 12 place recalling Jesus own action at the Last Supper.

Those present will be invited to give alms for the victims of recent landslides in Maasin, Philippines.

Following Mass, the Blessed Sacrament will be transferred to the chapel of reposition, where it will remain until Saturday night, signifying Jesus’ death and burial.

On Good Friday, Pope Benedict will preside at the celebration of the Passion of Our Lord in the Vatican Basilica before leading the Stations of the Cross at Rome’s Coliseum at 9.15 p.m. Following that, he will address the gathered faithful and will impart his apostolic blessing.

The pinnacle of the Holy Week celebrations, the Easter Vigil will begin at 10.00 p.m. in St. Peter's Basilica, where the Pope will begin by blessing the new fire in the atrium of the church.

Benedict will then preside over the Mass and the Baptismal liturgies. He will concelebrate with members of the College of Cardinals who are in Rome.

Triduum celebrations will conclude on Easter Sunday at 10.30 a.m., when the Holy Father will celebrate Mass in St. Peter's Square, after which he will impart the "Urbi et Orbi" blessing ("to the city and the world").

This historic blessing will be given from the central loggia of the Vatican Basilica.

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Pope Benedict: John Paul II’s faith was authentic, free from fear and compromise

Vatican City, Apr 4, 2006 (CNA) - Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI gathered with thousands of faithful from around the world in remembering the late John Paul II--a man whom he called a “rock” in the faith. He passed from this life to the next one year ago Sunday.

Thousands of faithful from various countries--most from the late pope’s native Poland--were on hand in St. Peter’s Square Monday afternoon for a Mass marking the first anniversary of the pontiff’s death.

A number of cardinals concelebrated with Pope Benedict, including Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar general for the diocese of Rome, and Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, former secretary to John Paul II and now archbishop of Krakow, Poland.

During his homily, Pope Benedict recalled John Paul’s “many human and spiritual gifts”, pointing out that when he died last year, "Passing through the crucible of apostolic labors and of illness, he appeared ever more as a 'rock' in the faith."

"Those who had the opportunity of frequenting him personally”, he went on, “were able almost to touch that pure and solid faith which, if it impressed his inner circle of collaborators, did not fail to spread its beneficial influence, during his long pontificate, throughout the Church in a crescendo that reached its peak in the final months and days of his life."

The Pope described John Paul’s faith as "committed, strong and authentic,” calling it “free from fear and compromise."

He pointed out that it "touched the hearts of so many people, thanks also to his numerous apostolic pilgrimages all over the world, and especially thanks to that final 'journey' of his agony and death."

Recalling the motto of his predecessor’s pontificate "Totus tuus," Benedict stressed that the late Pope's life was "completely oriented towards Christ through Mary."

"This evening," he said, "our thoughts turn with emotion to the moment of the beloved Pontiff's death, but at the same time it is as if our hearts are compelled to look ahead. We hear, resounding in our hearts, his repeated invitations to advance fearlessly down the road of faithfulness to the Gospel in order to be heralds and witnesses of Christ in the third millennium.”

"We remember”, the Pope said, “his incessant exhortations to cooperate generously in creating a more just and united humanity, to be workers for peace and builders of hope."

Concluding, he prayed: "May our gaze always remain fixed upon Christ, 'the same yesterday and today and forever,' Who firmly guides His Church. ... May the strength of Jesus' Spirit be for everyone, as it was for Pope John Paul II, a source of peace and joy."

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Hong Kong diocese to baptize 2,400 catechumens

, Apr 4, 2006 (CNA) - The Diocese of Hong Kong will baptize an astounding 2,400 catechumens during this year’s Easter vigil, leaving some wondering if this isn’t a record of sorts.

During the scrutiny with the catechumens March 19, which precedes the baptism, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun (who was elevated to the College of Cardinals less than one week later) likened the Church to a big family, reported AsiaNews.

Once candidates are baptized, they will share in the joys and sorrows of the faithful, the bishop of Hong Kong reportedly said before the packed church of St. Francis of Assisi.

“Being a catechumen is somewhat like going through a period of courtship. With baptism at Easter, it is like getting married to the Church after which, through their parishes, those who have been baptized become members of the Hong Kong diocese and members of the universal Church; the Body of Christ,” he reportedly said.

Despite the growth of Catholicism in China, relations between the Vatican and the communist country remain tenuous. The Vatican wants to improve relations with China but China has insisted the Holy See must first break ties with Taiwan.

The Vatican is currently exploring ways to better serve Catholics in China, where a government-sponsored Church discourages the faithful -- sometimes violently -- from adhering to the Pope.

A large underground Church, faithful to the Pope, exists as well, but experts say its religious liberties are being trampled by government.

Pope Benedict XVI’s prayer intention for April is that the Church in China “may carry out its evangelizing mission serenely and in full freedom." He has expressed interest in visiting China, but said the timing is up to God.

Cardinal Zen has been on record for having encouraged Catholics in China to “be patient” as they wait for religious freedom.

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U.S. Bishops urge national Catholic support for federal marriage amendment

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2006 (CNA) - Bishop William Skylstad, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is calling on all bishops across the country to mobilize their dioceses and urge the U.S. government to establish a federal constitutional amendment protecting marriage as an institution between one man and one woman.

In a letter, made public yesterday, Bishop Skylstad, who also oversees the Diocese of Spokane, Washington, said that “there is a growing sense shared by many people, including a wide range of religious leaders, that a Marriage Protection Amendment is the only federal-level action that ultimately will protect and preserve the institution of marriage.”

 Addressing the bishops specifically, he wrote that “timely and focused efforts are needed to help the Catholic faithful form their consciences on such an important matter.”

In June, the drafted Protection of Marriage Amendment (S.J. Res. 1) is slated to be brought before the U.S. Senate.

At that time, said Bishop Skylstad, the Church “will have the opportunity once again to stand publicly in support of marriage as the God-given union of a man and a woman.”

He also said that he is “aware that the time is short for taking action”, and so urged the bishops “to do whatever you can, given the situation and the resources available to you.”

Because “in some states there are upcoming votes for either legislation or constitutional amendments defining marriage,” Bishop Skylstad admitted that “We are challenged…to give attention to the interplay of state and federal level policy as well as to focus our efforts where they are most needed and can do the most good.”

Calling married love “a gift of God to humankind and to his Church,” the bishop said that “It needs to be promoted, preserved, and protected now and for the future. Indeed, in his first encyclical letter, Deus caritas est, Pope Benedict XVI places the highest value on love between a man and a woman ‘where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness.’”

On March 14th, the USCCB’s Administrative Committee formally reaffirmed its support for a federal marriage amendment in the document ‘Promote, Preserve, Protect Marriage.’

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Vatican analyst evaluates pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI

Madrid, Spain, Apr 4, 2006 (CNA) - One year after the death of John Paul II and the beginning of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, Vatican analyst Sandro Magister has offered an evaluation of both papacies, highlighting the similarities and differences in style of the two popes.  

In an interview with the Spanish daily, El Correo, Magister offered a brief analysis of the first year of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, noting that the Pope “has inaugurated a very particular style, substantially based on words.” Benedict, he stated, “acts as a sort modern-day doctor of the Church, teaching what he believes to be the central element to be defended and appreciated: Christian truth.”  

According to Magister, the response to this new style has been “unexpected, surpassing all expectations.”  The proof lies in the high numbers of attendance at St. Peter’s, “greater than for John Paul II, double or even triple,” he added.  

“And what is most important is that people listen to him with great attentiveness.  He is a Pope who speaks and is truly listened to, in contrast somewhat to John Paul II, who people came more to see than to hear.  He attracts attention, and in any case, he inspires respect for his serenity and depth,” he wrote.

Asked about changes in the Curia, Magister pointed out that “they have been few and measured, but they have already set a course that will be followed in the coming months.”  “The naming of his successor to the Doctrine of the Faith, William J. Levada, indicates that this congregation will again become the central institute of the Curia, under the direct control of the Pope.”  

“Levada”, he said, “does not have the role of protagonist, but rather of executor of orders.  This is returning the office to what it was before Paul VI, who made the Secretary of State the central focal point of the Curia.  Therefore I see the Secretary of State losing power in the future.”

The Italian journalist also pointed to important changes in two other dicasteries.  “At the Congregation for Divine Worship, which deals with issues very dear to the Pope, such as the liturgy, he has named a completely unknown bishop of Sri Lanka who is very close to him, and he has relieved Fitzgerald as president of Inter-Religious Dialogue because of his different vision especially with regards to Islam.”

Magister also underscored the Pope’s openness to dialogue and debate, noting that he is “very willing to meet with people and have serious discussions.”  “The number of people he meets with daily is less than that of John Paul II, but the meetings last longer and are richer,” he adds.  

Benedict XVI “speaks and discusses with many people, at the audiences, at the synod, with the bishops.  But later, he makes the decisions personally and alone, and that’s why we are almost always taken by surprise.”

Continuity and complimentarity

Asked his opinion on the pontificate of John Paul II one year after his passing, Magister responded that the late Pope “was sometimes a genius at laying out great perspectives, he wrote great titles.  Benedict XVI, on the other hand, is writing the story behind the titles.”

“But there is an element of continuity,” he said: “John Paul II returned the Church to the center of public life and Benedict XVI wants to build the capacity of the Church to communicate with the world upon this foundation of great visibility.”  

Magister also noted that Benedict XVI is continuing the dialogue begun by John Paul II with other Christians and with different groups inside the Church, “but in a much more selective way.  He appreciates the positive in each movement, but he has no problem calling them to a new discipline.  He has done so with the Neocatechumenate.”

“With other Christians, the Pope wants to highlight not so much that which unites them but that which separates them, thus underscoring the uniqueness of Roman Catholicism.  He is not proposing that we find common ground and leave the divisions in parenthesis, but rather he is going to the heart of the divisions in order to see which road to take from there,” Magister said.

Lastly, Magister noted that Benedict has a unique strategy in dealing with other religions.  “When he met with Muslims in Cologne, it was not at a mosque, but at the bishop’s residence , with a large cross behind him.”

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Key Dead Sea Scroll debut in Cleveland, part of exhibit which seeks to walk visitors through New Testament

Cleveland, Ohio, Apr 4, 2006 (CNA) - The Cradle of Christianity exhibit, which opened at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Cleveland April 1, is designed to give visitors the sense of walking through chapters of the New Testament, reported National Public Radio journalist David Barnett.

The curator made great efforts to link historical objects to biblical stories. For example, bronze and silver coins dating back 2,000 years, have been arranged on a pedestal to illustrate the annual fee that worshippers were charged when they visited the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem during biblical times.

Curator David Mevorah told NPR that is what prompted an angry Jesus of Nazareth to kick the moneychangers out of the courtyard.

The 15 tons of artifacts on display also include a cornerstone bearing the name of Pontius Pilate, a rusted nail that was used in a crucifixion, an ancient incense container, a first-century ossuary with the inscription: "Jesus (Yeshua) son of Joseph." However, both were very common names during that time. The exhibit also includes the reconstruction of the altar area of a Byzantine-era Christian church, the components of which were excavated from 10 different sites.

One of the main attractions, however, comprises three scraps of slightly yellowed parchment, illuminated by a dim spotlight that slowly pulses on and off at 40-second intervals. They form one of the most important texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls and they are making their first appearance ever outside of Israel.

The 2,000-year-old Hebrew scrolls, whose author is unknown, are clearly legible and read as a critique of religious practices of the time.

The artifacts, including the scrolls, are permanently housed in Jerusalem's Israel Museum.

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Australian government to oppose same-sex unions

Canberra, Australia, Apr 4, 2006 (CNA) - Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard has said he will oppose any new laws legalizing same-sex unions.

Prime Minister Howard said he did not intend to allow the institution of marriage "to be in any way undermined," saying that there is "a special place” in Australia for marriage “as historically understood,” reported the BBC.

Authorities in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) introduced a bill on same-sex civil unions last week. If the legislation is passed, it will be the first such law in Australia, but the federal government can overturn it.

Attorney General Philip Ruddock added that if is “quite inappropriate” if the ACT authorities “seek to portray civil unions as a marriage."

"It suggests to people who might be interested in civil union that what they have is a marriage, when in fact it is not," he stated.

Australian law formally defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

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Parish holds memorial for unknown girl

Chicago, Ill., Apr 4, 2006 (CNA) - More than 100 Catholic parishioners in the suburb of Little Village near Chicago gathered Saturday to pray around the grave of a 5-year-old girl whom they never knew but whom they’ve taken in as one of their own, reported the Chicago Tribune.

The circumstances around the death of Jessica Chavez one year ago April 2 remains a mystery, and the people who claimed to be her family have disappeared. But parishioners at St. Agnes of Bohemia continue to pray for the little Mexican girl, whom they call "God's little angel." They held a memorial service on the first anniversary of her death.

Parishioners speculate that Jessica was being smuggled into the country from Mexico and her real mother was here illegally, which would explain why she never came forward. The little girl has become a symbol for many in Little Village of the tragedies that often befall illegal immigrants.

"We gather because none of us walks alone, and none of us is forgotten,” said Fr. Matt Foley, who buried the girl in an unmarked pauper's grave at Mt. Olivet Cemetery on the South Side last year.

“We gather because we're all responsible to remember that each moment we have a child in our midst is a moment we are blessed." Jessica’s grave remained unmarked until recently, when a local company donated a headstone.
Jessica was brought to a hospital in Kansas City, Mo., by a short and heavyset woman who identified herself as Mariam Chavez and claimed to be her mother.

Hospital officials pronounced the girl dead on arrival. An autopsy later showed that the dirty and skinny girl had died of sepsis, a blood infection, caused by a severe case of bronchopneumonia.

The woman told police in broken English that the girl had been living in Mexico with relatives, but had gotten sick. Chavez said she had gone to Mexico, picked up Jessica and was bringing her back to Chicago.

But the following day, a tall, fluently English-speaking woman showed up at St. Agnes Church in Chicago claiming to be Mariam Chavez. She told Fr. Foley her daughter had died in Kansas City the night before and she needed help getting the body back to Chicago. The priest made all the arrangements, but on the day of the funeral, April 7, the woman did not show up. Only a few people claiming to be relatives quietly paid their respects. Fr. Foley was never able to reach members of Jessica’s family again.

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Pope Benedict accepts resignation of Cleveland’s Bishop Pilla, elevates Bishop Lennon in place

Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2006 (CNA) - Today, the Vatican announced that Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Cleveland’s Bishop Anthony M. Pilla, who has served as head of that diocese since 1981.

In his place, the Holy Father appointed Bishop Richard G. Lennon, who is auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Boston and Titular Bishop of Sufes. He was ordained a bishop in 2001.  

The announcement was made in Washington by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.

From 1995 to 1998, Bishop Pilla served as head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, an office now occupied by Spokane’s Bishop William Skylstad.

The Diocese of Cleveland is the 15th largest in the country, and home to 802,767 Catholics, or 28 percent of the 8-county geographic area which comprises the diocese.

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U.S. Presbyterian leader claims ‘religious freedom’ exists in Cuba

Havana, Cuba, Apr 4, 2006 (CNA) - During religious services Monday at the first Presbyterian church in Havana, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA, Rick Ufford Chase, denied that there is a “lack of religious freedom” in Cuba, despite the constant complaints by believers and abundant evidence to the contrary.

Chase said church leaders in the US “are asking our government for more openness, more opportunities to make pastoral visits to Cuba for religious reasons,” and he denied there were restrictions on freedom of religion in Cuba, openly contradicting the report on human rights by the US State Department and the public testimony of leaders in Cuba such as Oswaldo Paya of the Christian Liberation Movement.

“The official US government has this idea that there is no freedom to practice religion in Cuba.  After being here for one week, this is obviously not true,” Chase claimed.  “It’s obvious that the churches here are active and are growing and they are doing so openly,” he added.

In a recent interview with the internet magazine Encuentro en la Red, Paya argued that while there is a certain freedom of worship in Cuba, the oppression in many places is “palpable,” with government agents openly monitoring Masses in an attempt to intimidate people. 

“Although this is not public, I must speak about it,” he said, “because I know firsthand how many religious sisters and brothers are victims of threats, intimidating phone calls and blackmail.”

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Church fair towards homosexuals, according to Bishop from Quebec

Quebec City, Canada, Apr 4, 2006 (CNA) - Bishop Luc Cyr of Valleyfield in Quebec depicted the Church’s behavior towards homosexuals as fair, in reaction to the open letter published on February 26 by 19 priests of Quebec strongly criticizing the Church’s position on the issue.

The Bishop accused the priests of "lack of intellectual rigor." Bishop Cyr expressed his opinion in a letter sent to the priests, deacons and all the pastoral agents of his diocese, and to the media as well.

"It is important for me to give you my reaction, because it has to do with the spirit of truth and the necessary communion within the Church to perpetuate the Gospel, as Our Jesus transmitted it to his apostles and their successors, the bishops."

"There are many points in this open letter that reveal a partial, biased analysis, adding to the lack of spiritual discernment, in the act of publicly laying out what should be discussed between them and their bishops," added Bishop Cyr.

The letter referred to the instruction from the Congregation of Catholic Education barring men with "deep-seeded" homosexual tendencies to enter the priesthood. Bishop Cyr says the instruction doesn’t reject homosexuals and reminded that the vocation is not a right but rather a call from the Lord that the Church has the responsibility to confirm.

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