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Archive of April 17, 2006

One dead after attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt

, Apr 17, 2006 (CNA) - About 600 Christians demonstrated against what they consider government indifference to sectarian attacks after a Coptic Christian was fatally stabbed and at least five others were wounded Friday outside several churches in Alexandria.

The attack came on what is Good Friday for many of the world's Christians. But the Copts and other Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Easter a week later.

The Christian demonstrators claimed that if the government had held the perpetrators of previous Muslim-Coptic clashes — that killed 22 people in southern Egypt in 1998 and four people in Alexandria in October — to account, this incident would not have happened.

But the Interior Ministry has called on Christians to understand that the assailant in this latest case, Mahmoud Salah-Eddin Abdel-Raziq, was "psychologically disturbed." Officials and legislators have gone to the churches concerned "to explain that the attackers are insane and that the people should not blow things out of proportion," reported the AP.

Fr. Augustinos of the Mar Girgis church told the Associated Press that he is trying to explain the situation to parishioners. "We are trying to calm the situation after many of our youth started protesting,” he said. “We want to live in peace and tranquility, but these are people who had their family members killed or wounded. We are doing our best."

There were some conflicting reports over the number of assailants and the number of wounded. One victim said he saw youth holding two machetes. Another witness said the police sentry posted outside Saints Church did not want to intervene.

Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 72 million people. They generally live in peace with the Muslim majority, but occasional sectarian clashes do occur.

Christians complain that they suffer job discrimination, particularly in the high ranks of the civil service where high-ranking positions are mostly held by Muslims.

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Pope calls Catholics to be like ‘living stones to build the Holy Church’

Vatican City, Apr 17, 2006 (CNA) - Today, Pope Benedict prayed the Easter Marian prayer, the “Regina Caeli”, from his residence of Castelgandolfo, where he invited the faithful to be “like living stones, to build the Holy Church.”

“Mary”, said the Pope, “kept in her the heart the ‘Good News’ of the resurrection, thesource and secret of the true joy and real peace that the Dead and Risen Christ conquered for us with the sacrifice on the Cross.”

Moreover, he called on the Blessed Mother “to continue guiding our steps in this time of spiritual joy so that we may always grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord and become witnesses and apostles of His peace.”

Benedict XVI continued his message, affirming that “in the context of Easter, I would like to share with you the joy of an important anniversary. Five hundred years ago—April 18, 1506, to be exact—Pope Julius II laid thefirst stone of the new Basilica of St Peter, [a structure] that the entire world admires for the powerful harmony of its forms”.
 
Recalling the many Pontiffs who through centuries, contributed to building and decorating of the Basilica,” the Holy Father stressed that this anniversary should reawaken “in every Catholic the desire to be likeliving stones (1 Pt: 2,5) to build the Holy Church in which the ‘light of Christ’ is brightly visible through charity that is lived and witnessed before the world.”

After praying the Regina Caeli, the Pope greeted in different languages the pilgrimswho had gathered in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace. He concluded by giving the Apostolic Blessing.

The Easter Marian prayer was broadcast live via satellite in Saint Peters square, where thousands of faithful were gathered to follow the event on giantscreen.

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Investigative report provides little-known facts about Gospel of Judas phenomenon

, Apr 17, 2006 (CNA) - The Gospel of Judas, a third-century manuscript unearthed in Egypt three decades ago, is surrounded by questionable circumstances. A report published in the New York Times Thursday reveals the particulars that the National Geographic Society omitted two weeks ago in its announcement that it had gained access to the 1,700-year-old document.

In its recounting, National Geographic says the gospel was found by farmers in an Egyptian cave in the late 1970s, sold to a dealer and passed through various hands in Europe and the United States.

In 2000, art dealer Frieda Tchacos Nussberger bought it for about $300,000 from another dealer who had placed it in a Long Island safe-deposit box. She tried to sell it to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, but Yale declined, reported the New York Times.

Yale officials did not specify to the New York Times why it did not buy the document, but the newspaper reports that Robert Babcock, curator of early books at the library, said through a spokesperson that "there were unresolved questions about the provenance."

The following year, Tchacos Nussberger sold the document to an antiquities dealer in Ohio for $2.5 million, but that fell through when the dealer did not make the payments, reported the Times.

Aided by her lawyer, Mario Roberty, she regained ownership of the document and, at his suggestion, turned it over to the Maecenas Foundation, which Roberty established years earlier, the Times reported.

The foundation, run exclusively by Roberty, is involved returning antiquities to their countries of origin, the lawyer told the newspaper. He also told the Times that when Tchacos Nussberger gave the document to the foundation in 2001, he quickly contacted officials in Egypt and assured them that the manuscript would be returned.

The Times reported that under the deal with the foundation, Tchacos Nussberger, 65, is entitled to receive about $2 million from gospel-related projects. The sum is equivalent to what she would have received from the Ohio dealer, minus the value of several pages of the manuscript the dealer bought. In addition, she is entitled to recoup about $800,000 she lent to the foundation for legal costs and early restoration efforts.

Roberty told the Times the foundation had already started paying money to Tchacos Nussberger; he declined to say how much she has received so far.

The Times’ report also reveals that Tchacos Nussberger was detained several years ago in an unrelated Italian antiquities smuggling investigation. She and Roberty claim the issue was not very serious and that her dealings in antiquities in Italy and elsewhere had been lawful.

As for the National Geographic Society, it claims it has taken on the project to help save a unique historical document, reported the Times. It claims that a critical aspect of its contract with the Maecenas Foundation was the group's pledge to return the document to Egypt.

National Geographic did not buy the document. Instead, it paid $1 million to the Maecenas Foundation for the rights to use the manuscript's contents and to tell its story. The Times also discovered that part of the revenues generated by the National Geographic’s gospel-related projects will go to the foundation.

National Geographic is running a large campaign for the Gospel of Judas, featuring it in two new books, a television documentary, an exhibition and the May issue of its magazine.

In one book, authored by Herbert Krosney, Tchacos Nussberger says she is motivated by religious conviction to save the document. "I think I was chosen by Judas to rehabilitate him," she is quoted as saying. Krosney is an independent television producer who brought the gospel project to National Geographic.

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On first Easter Mass, Pope Benedict calls for peace in Iraq, Holy Land, resolution of nuclear crises

Vatican City, Apr 17, 2006 (CNA) - As Pope Benedict XVI yesterday celebrated his first Easter Mass since becoming pontiff last year, he called for a peaceful resolution to the Iraq war and also for what he called, an “honorable solution” to the world’s growing nuclear standoffs.

Following Mass in St. Peter’s Square, attended by some 150,000 pilgrims, the Holy Father said that “Concerning the international crises linked to nuclear power, may an honorable solution be found for all parties through serious and honest negotiations.”

Although the Pope’s comment was not connected to any specific country, many saw a clear reference to the growing nuclear standoff with Iran. The country has argued recently that it seeks nuclear power for energy reasons, but some western nations fear the technology could be used on weapons building.

Speaking on the conflict in Iraq, the Holy Father was greeted by thunderous applause when he prayed for “peace [to] finally prevail over the tragic violence that continues mercilessly to claim victims.”

Likewise, Benedict said that he also prays “sincerely that those caught up in the conflict in the Holy Land may find peace, and I invite all to patient and persevering dialogue, so as to remove both ancient and new obstacles.”

He added his hope that “the international community, which reaffirms Israel’s just right to exist in peace, assist the Palestinian people to overcome the precarious conditions in which they live and to build their future, moving toward the constitution of a state which is truly their own.”

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900 New Englanders find new spiritual home in Catholic Church

Boston, Mass., Apr 17, 2006 (CNA) - Two New England states welcomed the largest number of new Catholics this Easter Vigil since the priest sex abuse scandal broke four years ago. The Archdiocese of Boston welcomed 500 new members while the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., welcomed 400, reported the Eagle-Tribune newspaper.

"It shows that the faith is growing and that we can see beyond the controversy that God works in wonderful ways," Diane Jarvis, director of religious education at St. Patrick's Church in Lawrence, Massachusetts told the Eagle-Tribune.

At St. Patrick's, the 26 new members ranged in age, from 10 to 60. It was largest group of converts in the past four years. The new members include people with special needs. The parish offers religious education for people with disabilities.

Pamela Pfifferling, 37, and her 12-year-old daughter Courtney were among those receiving first Communion at St. John the Baptist Church in Haverhill. Pfifferling told the Eagle-Tribune that the scandal led her to postpone her decision to join the church. But she lost her fear and changed her mind after meeting Fr. Keith LeBlanc, pastor at St. John’s, who made her feel at ease.

"It's a powerful witness to those who are cradle Catholics to see how non-Christians or those of no faith tradition at all make a definite choice to establish a relationship with Christ," Fr. Robert Couto of St. Jude Parish in Londonderry, N.H., told the Eagle-Tribune. Fourteen people became Catholic at St. Jude’s this year.

Edward Wolfe became a Catholic over at St. Michael Parish in North Andover. He was raised Methodist, but his wife, Mary, is Catholic, and their four children are being raised Catholics.

"For me, the most important thing is to share the Eucharist with my family," he told the newspaper.

Wolfe said he was never deterred by the abuse scandal. “Even though we went through a rough time, I knew it was a small portion of the church that needed to be corrected. I had faith and confidence," he was quoted as saying.

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Opus Dei officials apologize for controversial Muslim cartoon in affiliate magazine

Rome, Italy, Apr 17, 2006 (CNA) - Officials at the Rome headquarters of Opus Dei have expressed their regret at the recent publication of a cartoon depicting Mohammed in hell in an Italian magazine affiliated with the group.

"As could be expected,” wrote Manuel Sánchez Hurtado in a statement, “the cartoon published by the magazine Studi Cattolici has offended Muslims and drawn the attention of journalists and others.”

“Making a joke about Dante putting Mohammed in hell”, he said, “is a serious error. It is one thing to appreciate Dante’s Divine Comedy and a very different thing to joke about this particular scene in the present climate and in a Catholic magazine.”

The communications office official pointed out that the debacle “comes in the context of the unfortunate publication of cartoons in Denmark, which was considered provocative.” He stressed however, that those cartoons did not justify the violent reactions with which they were received.

Although Opus Dei noted that its Prelature is not responsible for Studi Cattolici, it admitted that some members of the apostolate do work on the publication. “Understandably”, he said, “this fact has created some confusion.”

“Also, many Muslims and persons from different religious beliefs cooperate with the works of Opus Dei. Consequently our office has been receiving queries concerning this matter, and we have felt it necessary to provide a response,” Hurtado said.

“The editors of the magazine”, he pointed out, “have stated that they did not intend to offend anyone and publicly apologized for any offense they may have given. In accord with what we have expressed repeatedly over the past several months, we feel obliged to unite ourselves to this request for forgiveness.”

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Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic gospel of little value to Christians, says analyst

, Apr 17, 2006 (CNA) - The latest media frenzy over the Gospel of Judas reveals “the [secular] media's profound ignorance of ancient history,” says Brian St. Paul, editor of Crisis Magazine, in his April 13th e-letter to readers.

The third-century manuscript claims that Jesus took Judas aside three days before the Last Supper and asked the apostle to turn Him in. In turn, the secular media has reported, Judas wasn't such a bad guy after all and Christianity may have gotten the whole thing wrong from the start.

But Brian St. Paul points out that the Gospel of Judas is one of the many Gnostic gospels, which “offer no reliable historical insight into the actual events of the first century.” In sum, the Gospel of Judas is “hardly a theological earthquake.”

“Gnosticism was a parasite theology. It latched onto whatever religion was available and rewrote the host's scriptures and doctrines to fit its own unique beliefs,” explains St. Paul. “Often, the villains of the original religion were turned into the heroes of the Gnostic variation.”

St. Paul explains that one of the primary tenets of Gnosticism is salvation through hidden or secret knowledge. The Gospel of Judas begins by stating that it is “the secret account of the revelation that Jesus spoke in conversation with Judas Iscariot.”

“While the Gospel of Judas sheds no light on historical Christianity, it is nevertheless a significant find,” says St. Paul. “After all, it's a pretty big deal when an ancient work long considered lost is rediscovered. And the document does flesh out the heavenly pantheon of second-century Gnosticism.”

St. Paul concludes by quoting St. Irenaeus and his comments in A.D. 180 on the historical unreliability of the Gospel of Judas: “[The Gnostics] declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with these things, and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal; by him all things, both earthly and heavenly, were thus thrown into confusion.”

“They produce a fictitious history of this kind,” he added, from “which they style the Gospel of Judas” (Adversus haereses 1:31:1).

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International experts to analyze latest discoveries on Shroud of Turin

Valencia, Fla., Apr 17, 2006 (CNA) - Scientists from around the world are scheduled to gather at the Catholic University of Valencia, Spain, April 29-May 1 for an International Scientific Convention entitled, “The Shroud Today,” where they will discuss the latest discoveries about the revered artifact that tradition says is the burial cloth of Christ.

The Avan news agency reports that speakers at the Convention will include Bruno Barberis, Director of the International Shroud Center of Turin; American physicist John Carrol; and the President of the Turin Shroud Center in Colorado Springs, John Jackson.

The Spanish Center for Sindonology is organizing the event, which will include conferences, round-table discussions and cultural visits.  The program will also feature a new expo on the shroud entitled, “The Man of the Holy Shroud.”

A significant number of discoveries have been made since studies on the Shroud began in 1977 by a group of scientists led by John Jackson at the NASA center in Pasadena, California.

Participants at the gathering will also discuss the most recent research on the shroud, including studies on pollen samples and the carbon 14 dating.   More information on the event can be found at: www.linteum.com

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Benedict XVI receives birthday greetings from around the world

Rome, Italy, Apr 17, 2006 (CNA) - Coinciding with Easter Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated his 79th birthday yesterday, receiving greetings and well-wishes from around the world.

Pope Ratzinger, who was born in Marktl am Inn on April 16, 1927, began receiving greetings several days ago.  According to the Archdiocese of Munich, more than half a million have been sent over the internet.

Greetings have poured in from all continents, although most have come from his native region of Bavaria.  Some have even sent greetings in Latin.

The president of the Italian republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, sent greetings to the Pontiff on Saturday.

“I sent you my best wishes for this Easter, together will my desire that the occasion of your birthday finds you well,” Ciampi wrote in his message.

Referring to the Pope, the Italian leader wrote in the message that “your important apostolic mission in defense of the dignity of man, of freedom and solidarity, in order to combat intolerance and fanaticism-- which are always lurking about—radiates spiritual strength to all, believes and non-believers alike.”

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Benedict XVI gives 'Urbi et Orbi' blessing, calling humanity not to have fear

Vatican City, Apr 17, 2006 (CNA) - After presiding over Easter Sunday Mass yesterday at Saint Peters Square, Pope Benedict gave his message “Urbi et Orbi”, (to the city and to the world) from the central balcony, inviting humanity not to have fear and to open its heart to Jesus risen, echoing the words of the angel: "Do not be afraid! ... He is not here; he is risen (Mt 28:5-6)".

“Christ is risen!” was the exclamation with which the Holy Father started his Easter message to the World. “Numerous paschal candles were lit in churches, symbolizing the light of Christ that shines on humanity, defeating darkness , sin and evil for ever” said the Pontiff before more than 150.000 faithful gathered on the Vatican square.

Moreover, in his message preceding the blessing, the Pope reflected on the words of the angel in the tomb: “He is not here, he rose again,” affirming that “the Son of God could not be kept imprisoned in death, and the tomb couldn’t keep the 'Living,' himself the source of all life.”

After stressing that in the resurrection, “the Lord of Saturday fulfilled the work of the creation, elevating Man and the entire cosmos to the glory of freedom of the sons of God,” he added that “fulfilling this extraordinary work, the body was filled with the vital blow of God and rose again glorious.”

Remarking the humanity of Christ and the novelty of his resurrection, he continued saying “he walked through our earth, and ended his path in the tomb like everyone, but he overcame death in a new way, through an act of pure love, he opened the earth and opened the doors of heaven to it.”

Benedict XVI remarked that the resurrection of Christ, “thanks to Baptism, integrates us to Him, and becomes our resurrection. Today, the Creator’s promise is fulfilled, even in this modern age marked by anxiety and uncertainty, we relive the event of the Resurrection, which changed the face of our life and changed the history of humanity."

"From the risen Christ, all those who are still oppressed by chains of suffering and death look for hope, sometimes even without knowing it.”

After vowing that “the Spirit of the Risen One might bring consolation to the people of the World, the Pontiff prayed especially that “the Risen Lord grant that the strength of his life, peace and freedom be experienced everywhere. Let the humanity of the third millennium not fear to open its heart.”

“Christ is living now," he said in concluding, "he walks with us."

After this message, the Pope gave the traditional blessing to the city of Rome, and to the World in 63 languages. The blessing was given today on the same day the Holy Father celebrates his 79 birthday.

Last year, on the Sunday of the Resurrection 2005, was the last time John Paul II was seen in public, precisely the moment he gave the “Urbi et Orbi” blessing,” on March 27, he died a few days later, on April 2.

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