Archive of April 18, 2006

Israeli wall severs ancient pilgrimage route that follows Jesus’ footsteps to Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel, Apr 18, 2006 (CNA) - An ancient pilgrimage route that follows in Jesus’ footsteps, from the place where he raised Lazarus from the dead to Jerusalem, is about to be severed by the construction of Israel’s 30-ft wall, reported the U.K Telegraph.

According to the British newspaper, the cutting of the two-mile path, from Bethany over the Mount of Olives and down past the Garden of Gethsemane into the Old City, will end a 1,600-year tradition begun by early Christian pilgrims.

The wall stands above the site revered as the place where Jesus performed the miracle of Lazarus a few days before his crucifixion. The Gospel of John describes how the miracle led many Jews to walk from Jerusalem to see what had happened. Exactly the same route was used by 4th-century Christians, who traveled in large numbers to Bethany, located east of Jerusalem, for a service on the second Sunday before Easter.

Archaeological evidence also shows that Bethany was a thriving Jewish town in Jesus’ time, reported the Telegraph. The remains of ancient homes with ceremonial Jewish bathing cisterns were found near Bethany when the wall was being erected, and the route of the wall was diverted to protect the Jewish artifacts.

But today, Bethany is a Palestinian town, outside the wall, with a large Arab population. The wall has made life extremely difficult for thousands of Bethany residents who used to commute into Jerusalem for work. Furthermore, the local economy has suffered. The short drive from Jerusalem to Lazarus's tomb now requires pilgrims to make a one- hour detour. Consequently, the thousands of pilgrims who used to come monthly have trickled to a few hundred

Israel is increasingly referring to the wall as the country's new eastern border. When the border is formalized, pilgrims will have to cross an international frontier.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague has declared the wall illegal, saying that it is being built on occupied land, but Israel continues to argue that it is a necessary defense against suicide bombers.

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More than 4 million attended papal audiences, celebrations during first year of Benedict’s pontificate.

Vatican City, Apr 18, 2006 (CNA) - Today, the Vatican’s Prefecture of the Pontifical Household released attendance figures for Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audiences, held each Wednesday, as well as all other public events presided by the Holy Father at the Vatican during his first year of his pontificate.

During his first year as head of the Catholic Church, more 4 million people attended Pope Benedict’s public events. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected one year ago, on April 19 2005.

The report showed that the Wednesday general audience continued to draw important crowds to the new Pope, with more than a million people attending from April 2005 to April 2006 and an average of 24,000 each week.

The most popular event was the Holy Father’s Sunday Angelus with 1,875,000 people having attended.

Overall, for most of the major events, the peak months of attendance were October and November 2005, with an average 150,000 attending the Wednesday audience and 250,000 the Sunday Angelus during the two months.

The figures confirm the vitality of Vatican celebrations and events celebrated by the Pope, despite speculation that Benedict would struggle in succeeding the charismatic Pope John Paul II.

As last week’s Holy Week celebrations demonstrated, the Vatican continues to be a massive center of attention for the world.

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Archbishop survives assassination attempt

Castries, St. Lucia, Apr 18, 2006 (CNA) - Archbishop Kelvin Felix of St. Lucia has survived an assassination attempt, reported Caribbean Net News.

The archbishop was reportedly speaking to someone outside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception after mass Wednesday when a man walked up behind him and attempted to slash his throat with a knife.

The 73-year-old archbishop fell and the attacker fled the scene. Police have arrested the attacker, a 28-year-old resident of Rock Hall, but are not releasing his identity until he is formally charged.

Church officials say the archbishop’s life was saved by his clerical collar which he was wearing at the time. “It’s a two-layered collar, so the knife cut the first layer and it could not get to the throat because of the second layer,” Msgr. Patrick Anthony told Caribbean Net News.

Internal Security Minister Calixte George denounced the attack as reprehensible and abhorrent.

On December 31, 2000 the cathedral was the scene of another brutal attack. Two machete-wielding men stormed the building during mass and doused the worshippers with gasoline before setting them ablaze. Others worshippers were hacked with cutlasses. The attack left two people dead and at least a dozen injured.

The perpetrators - Kim John and Francis Phillip - have since been convicted and are currently on death row.

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U.S. Bishops appalled by arbitrary arrest of human rights workers in Congo

Washington D.C., Apr 18, 2006 (CNA) - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has expressed its “deep concern” over what they call the arbitrary arrest and detention of two human rights workers in the African nation of Congo.

In a letter to Ambassador Serge Mombouli of the Republic of the Congo, Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, chairman of the Bishop’s committee on International Policy joined the voices of the U.S. bishops “with those of our brother bishops in the Republic of the Congo” in expressing dismay over the arrest of Brice Makosso and Christian Mounzeo.

He pointed out that the two have “now been held in custody since Friday, April 7, 2006 without charge.”

Bishop Wenski cited an April 10th declaration from the Conference of Bishops of the Congo (CEC) which stated that the prelates are “particularly alarmed by the numerous irregularities in judicial procedure leading to this incarceration that would suggest other, less explicit motives for this affair.”

“The U.S. bishops”, he said, “share the apprehension that these two men may be suffering harassment as a result of their tireless efforts to ensure a measure of transparency in the management of your country’s abundant natural resources, rather than for any sort of malfeasance.”

Calling for justice and due process of law, he added that “the U.S. bishops request you to convey to your government an urgent appeal for the immediate and unconditional release of…Makosso and Mounzeo, as well as for an end to all forms of harassment of, or reprisals against, these two defenders of human rights.”

The USCCB reported that Brice Makosso is Permanent Secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Congo Bishops’ Conference, while Mr. Christian Mounzeo serves as President of the Peace and Human Rights Group (RPDH).

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Opus Dei urges Sony to include disclaimer in Da Vinci film

, Apr 18, 2006 (CNA) - Opus Dei made another attempt earlier this month to urge Sony to include a disclaimer at the beginning of the Da Vinci Code film, indicating that it is a work of fiction, reported E! Online. The film, directed by Ron Howard and based on the best-selling book by Dan Brown, will be released in theatres May 19.

"Such a decision by Sony would be a gesture of respect toward Jesus Christ, the history of the Church and the religious beliefs of viewers," Seizo Inahata, Opus Dei's information officer in Japan, wrote in the letter to Sony.

Opus Dei is worried that moviegoers will accept the Brown’s view of the life of Jesus, the Church and Opus Dei as truth.  

"The novel mixes reality and fiction, and in the end, one doesn't know where the lines are between true deeds and invented deeds, so that the reader who knows little history can arrive at the wrong conclusions."

Inahata’s letter also warns that Sony's stock price may suffer if the studio fails to add the disclaimer.

Sony released a statement in response to the letter, indicating that they: "have no plans to reveal any details regarding what is or isn't in the film until the release. [The Da Vinci Code is] a work of fiction, and at its heart, it's a thriller, not a religious tract."

In a Good Friday sermon at St. Peter's Basilica, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, speaking before Pope Benedict XVI, attacked the book and the upcoming film as "pseudo-historic" works aimed at undermining the Church's authority

Without mentioning Brown or publisher Random House by name, Cantalamessa lashed out at those who seek to profit by smearing the Catholic Church.

"Christ is still sold, but not anymore for 30 coins, but to publishers and booksellers for billions of coins," he said.

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University chancellor seeks to slash budget for Catholic group

, Apr 18, 2006 (CNA) - University of Wisconsin Chancellor John Wiley has agreed to cut funding to the University of Wisconsin Roman Catholic Foundation, reported Madison’s Channel 3000 News.

Wiley said the money comes from university funding and therefore cannot support a religious organization.

Fr. Randy Timmerman, pastor of the St. Paul’s University Catholic Center disagrees, saying that the money comes from student fees. The church group is willing to take their case to court.

He pointed out that "The vast majority of other student organizations are at the level of 100 percent in their budget…We're not asking for 100 percent. We just want to be treated with the same level as the other organizations."

The chancellor had made the suggestion in a letter to the Associated Students of Madison, which makes the final decision on who gets funding.

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L.A. Archdiocese loses battle to keep priest files confidential

Los Angeles, Calif., Apr 18, 2006 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Los Angeles faced a disappointing decision yesterday when the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request to take up the Church’s case regarding the confidentiality of files for priests accused of sexual abuse.

The Supreme Court denial means that rulings from 14 lower courts stand and the archdiocese must hand over the confidential files of two priests to a California grand jury.

In a statement, the archdiocese called the decision disappointing. For the moment, it ends a four year battle, but Church officials say they will still continue to pursue mediation in the civil cases.

According to the Reuters News Agency, the decision could pave the way for 500 more people seeking lawsuits against the archdiocese to demand opening confidential files.

L.A.’s Cardinal Roger Mahony has argued that the subpoenas are an intrusion into private Church affairs and may be a violation of the separation of church and state.

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Argentine bishop warns against distortion of human rights

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Apr 18, 2006 (CNA) - In his Easter message, Bishop Baldomero Carlos Martin of San Justo, Argentina exhorted faithful to have a proper understanding of human rights, “because there is a risk that they become ‘warped rights’ if we forget that it is Christ who reveals to man his authentic dignity as a person.”

Bishop Martini began his Easter message by expressing hope that “in Christ may we experience that God is love,” adding that “in the risen Christ the new man is revealed.”  He also called on Christians to remember that “authentic human rights are those that have as their basis human dignity.  Human rights, unhinged from man as image and child of God, if they do not encompass of all man and all mankind, become warped rights and denigrate man’s dignity as a person.”

In addition, Bishop Martini said that Christians “cannot remain indifferent when human rights are disconnected from the dignity of all of man and all of mankind, from conception to natural death and everything in between, of the dignity of man as man and woman as woman, of children, of young people, of families.”

“We must enlighten the temporal realities,” he continued, “with the strength of the Gospel, with the strength of the Risen One so that politics, justice, laws, society and the economy may be at the service of man and his dignity, and not vice-versa.”

Bishop Martini insisted that “as believers and as humans we must protect authentic human rights that include all and they must be respected in all.  They are not the property of ideologies but rather of a humanity that does not forget nor turn its back on its origin and its Liberator.”

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Mexican prelate supports immigrant boycott of U.S. goods

Mexico City, Mexico, Apr 18, 2006 (CNA) - Bishop Renato Ascencio of Juarez, Mexico, announced during Holy Week he would support a commercial boycott planned by immigrants in the U.S. for May 1 in order to demand “integral and just” immigration reform.

Bishop Ascencio, who is also president of the Committee on Human Mobility of the Bishops’ Conference of Mexico, said the boycott was being undertaken by all Hispanics and calls for refraining from the purchase of any U.S. goods.

He said he himself would “set the example” and that on May 1 he would not cross the border into the United States to make purchases.

“We Mexicans who live on this side should express our solidarity with immigrants, just as the Guatemalans, Nicaraguans and others from Central America are doing,” he added.,

Bishop Ascencio said the faithful could join in the boycott by not entering El Paso on May 1 and by refusing to buy U.S. products in Juarez.

As one of the fiercest supporters of the undocumented who travel to, or live in the United States, Bishop Ascencio organized an inter-religious day of prayer last January and expressed his rejection of the “anti-immigrant” law passed in December by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The pending legislation, yet to be passed by the Senate, authorizes the building of a wall on the U.S./Mexican border and seeks to make undocumented immigrants and all those who provide them with assistance, felons.

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Spanish newspaper accuses Health ministry of distorting abortion rates to avoid taxes

Madrid, Spain, Apr 18, 2006 (CNA) - The Spanish newspaper “Alba” has published a report denouncing the country’s Ministry of Health for distorting the number of abortions being performed in an effort to avoid paying taxes.

The director of the Euskalduna abortion center, Roberto Lertxundi, and the head of gynecology at the Santiago Apostol Hospital in Vitoria, Iñaki Lete, both confirmed to Alba that the abortion statistics published annually by the Ministry of Health do not represent the actual number of abortions taking place in Spain, as “only a portion of these procedures are registered” by public facilities out of fear of the fiscal consequences.

The president of the Spanish Society for Contraception, Ezequiel Perez Campos, also confirmed the report in Alba, saying it was consistent with the information provided by women who frequent abortion facilities.

Sagrario Mateu, who heads up the Ministry of Health’s division on women and children, said the official statistics are actually double what regional communities report, because such communities are responsible for collecting the data and “it is not so easy for us to demand the statistics.”  He added that in many public hospitals, abortions are often classified as other procedures.

Ana Pastor, who was Health Minister under the previous Popular Party government, said that hiding the true scope of abortion takes place both in private and public centers and that true number of abortions is distorted not only in order to avoid paying taxes but also out of shame and embarrassment.

Alba reported that health officials in Madrid confirmed that concealing abortion rates at public hospitals was widespread, as hospital personnel often strive to keep the information from doctors who object to the practice “in order to avoid problems.”

The Association of Abortion Victims in Spain has called on the government to investigate the claims, saying there is sufficient evidence that the number of women obtaining abortions may actually be double or triple the official statistics.

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Cubans turn out in huge numbers for Good Friday Way of the Cross and procession

Havana, Cuba, Apr 18, 2006 (CNA) - Huge numbers of Cubans turned out for Good Friday celebrations last week, including the Way of the Cross and processions, in the historic district of Havana, as well as in numerous other Cuban cities.  

During the commemorations in Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino, recalled that “we celebrate the One who came to do battle for love, for good and for justice,” and he emphasized that “all the crosses of our life find an answer in the Cross of Jesus.”

Large images of Our Lady of Sorrows and the Crucified Christ were carried through the streets, while hundreds of pilgrims followed in procession singing and praying.

The procession included the praying of the Way of Cross, with onlookers following from balconies above the streets. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Cardinal Ortega delivered a moving homily.

After being outlawed for almost forty years, the Cuban government finally re-authorized Holy Week processions after the 1998 visit by Pope John Paul II.

As of press time, exact figures of procession participants were not available.

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Baptism of adults increasing steadily in France

Paris, France, Apr 18, 2006 (CNA) - The number of adults receiving the sacraments of Christian initiation is increasing steadily in a country strongly affected by secularism. This year, 2.650 adults were baptized on the Easter vigil. This figure shows a steady increase from last year, when 2409 adults were baptized, according to figures from the national service of Catechumens of the French Bishops Conference (CEF).

The number of catechumens, refering to the adults currently  preparing the sacraments of Christian initiation, grew as well, amounting to 9.564 in 2005 ( 9.364 in 2004) . This time of preparation lasts two years.

Among these adults entering the Catholic Church, 48% proceed from other Christian denominations, 5% from Islam, 3% from oriental religions and 22% were atheists. Adults receiving this sacrament of baptism, also receive the sacrament of Confirmation and participate for the first time in the Eucharist during the Easter vigil,  steps that are taken progressively by children.

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