Warsaw, Poland, May 25, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI arrived today in Poland for a four-day visit, in the homeland of his predecessor John Paul II. "I have come to follow in the footsteps of John Paul II, along the path of his life," Benedict said in Polish to cheers from the crowd of airport staff and dignitaries who were on hand to greet him.
"This is not just a sentimental journey, but a journey of faith,” he continued. Paying homage to the spiritual heritage of this country, "I want to drink at the abundant spring of your faith, which has flowed incessantly for more than a millennium," he added.
Referring to Poland as "the country of my beloved predecessor,” as gusts of wind bore the sound of tolling church bells while Benedict shook hands warmly with state and church dignitaries, including Polish President Lech Kaczynski, Cardinal Primate Jozef Glemp and Archbishop of Krakow Stanislaw Dziwisz.
"I am happy to be here, among you, on the soil of the Polish republic," he said. "I so wanted to visit the country of my beloved predecessor, the servant of God John Paul II, and to be here, among his country people."
President Kaczynski addressed words of reconciliation saying that "rovidence has deemed that a German has succeeded a Pole on the throne of Saint Peter," he said. "Our two peoples, who are very close, have often been separated by history. Today we feel that true reconciliation can only be achieved on a spiritual dimension."
After the official welcome, Benedict set off in a motorcade, bound for St. John's Cathedral in the center of Warsaw, to meet with members of the clergy. Thousands of Poles lined the streets of the capital to welcome the pope. Some cried, in Polish, "Long live the Pope," others held aloft the yellow and white flag of the Vatican, letting it flutter in the brisk spring breeze.
The papal motorcade drove past the monument to the victims of the Warsaw ghetto, where Poland's Nazi occupiers isolated the capital's thriving pre-war Jewish community.
The pope also passed in front of a monument to Poles deported and killed in the former Soviet Union, and one to the tragic 1944 Warsaw uprising against the Germans.
The first day of the papal visit was to be devoted mainly to meetings with Polish officials and members of the clergy. Tomorrow, Benedict XVI will lead a huge open-air mass in Warsaw's central Pilsudski Square, which is expected to draw around one million faithful.
In his speech at the airport, Benedict spoke in Italian about the rest of his itinerary after Warsaw, which will take him south to key sites in the life and papacy of John Paul II, culminating Sunday at the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
"I hope to meet there survivors, the victims of Nazi terror, from the many nations which suffered this tragic oppression," Benedict said. "We will pray together that the wounds of the past century are healed by the medicine of God, who calls on us to forgive each other and offers us the mystery of the Divine Mercy."
On the flight to Poland, Benedict had told reporters that he was going to Auschwitz "first and foremost as a Catholic," not as a German. "It is very important to understand that we are Catholics and Catholicism embraces all nationalities," he said.
Warsaw, Poland, May 25, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict met this evening with representatives of seven churches of the polish ecumenical council at the Holy Trinity Church in Warsaw.
Pope Benedict addressed of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities affiliated to the Polish Council for Ecumenism. “What unites us here today is our desire to meet one another, and to give glory and honour to our Lord Jesus Christ in our common prayer” Pope Benedict first declared.
Echoing to the words of Saint John "May they become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (Jn 17:23).he gave thanks for the gift of this encounter of common prayer.
“I see it as a stage in the implementation of the firm purpose that I made at the beginning of my Pontificate, to consider a priority in my ministry the restoration of full visible unity among Christians, “he continued.
Pope Benedict then recalled the work of his predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II, when he visited this Church of the Most Holy Trinity in 1991.
The pontiff went on to to recall some ecumenical events which have taken place such as the signing at Augsburg of the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification"; the meeting on the occasion of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 and the ecumenical memorial of twentieth-century witnesses of faith; the resumption of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue at world level, the funeral of Pope John Paul II with the participation of almost all Churches and Ecclesial Communities.
Pope Benedict wished to stress his concern for the charitable service of the Churches. “As a community, the Church must practice love. We cannot forget the essential idea that from the outset constituted the very firm foundation for the disciples’ unity,” he declared.
He called on the Churches to accept contemporary charitable challenges.
“It seems that, despite all the differences that need to be overcome in the sphere of interdenominational dialogue, it is legitimate to attribute charitable engagement to the ecumenical community of Christ’s disciples in search of full unity. “
Subsequently, he pointed out to his concerns on married life and family life.
“To all of you I express the wish that in this delicate area reciprocal trust and co-operation between the Churches may grow, fully respecting the rights and responsibility of the spouses for the faith formation of their own family and the education of their children.”
Brothers and Sisters, placing all our trust in Christ, who makes his name known to us, let us walk every day towards the fullness of fraternal reconciliation.
Warsaw, Poland, May 25, 2006 (CNA) - This afternoon at Saint John’s Cathedral in Warsaw, Pope Benedict met with close to 1,000 representatives of the Polish clergy and emphasized that the task of strengthening the faith of Polish Catholics rested largely on their shoulders.
He first greeted Cardinal Józef Glemp, Archbishop of Warsaw and Primate of Poland,
Then, remembering the troubled history of the country in the past century, the pope paid tribute to the often-heroic endurance of Polish priests and Poles in calling to mind "heroic witnesses to the faith, who gave their lives to God and to their fellow human beings, both canonized saints and ordinary people who persevered in rectitude, authenticity and goodness, never giving way to despair."
Now speaking directly to the priests he said they “ have been chosen from among the people, appointed to act in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. Believe in the power of your priesthood! Immerse yourselves in his love, and give him your love!”
“The faithful, he said, want and need priests who are experts in the spiritual life and witnesses to eternal truths. Addressing the challenges of today’s world, and "the temptations of relativism or the permissive society, there is absolutely no need for the priest to know all the latest, changing currents of thought," he said.
The pope also said the temptation to hide one's faith, which was understandable under communism, is not an acceptable attitude for priests in the new Poland. Instead, he said, they must cultivate a true spiritual brotherhood among priests, supporting one another and sharing each other's burdens.
"Christ needs priests who are mature, virile, capable of cultivating an authentic spiritual paternity," he said. "Gazing upon Christ," the pope told them, "live a modest life in solidarity with the faithful to whom you have been sent."
The Pope called for the unity in the country beyond the divisions created by communism.
Reflecting upon Pope John Paul II’s exhortation to do penance for infidelities of the past, “We must therefore learn to live Christian penance with sincerity. By practicing it, we confess individual sins in union with others, before them and before God."
"Yet we must guard against the arrogant claim of setting ourselves up to judge earlier generations, who lived in different times and different circumstances," the Pontiff warned.
Pope Benedict wished to praise the vitality of The Church in Poland, which "has already given many priests and religious sisters who serve not only the Polish diaspora but also, and sometimes in extremely difficult circumstances, the missions in Africa, Asia, Latin America and other regions. Do not forget these missionaries, my dear priests. The gift of many vocations, with which God has blessed your Church, must be received in a truly Catholic perspective."
“Stand firm in your faith! Gazing upon Christ, live a modest life, in solidarity with the faithful to whom you have been sent,” Pope Benedict concluded.
Denver, Colo., May 25, 2006 (CNA) - Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput announced yesterday a mediation program to help individuals who have brought claims against the Archdiocese of Denver to heal and be compensated for their injuries.
“We deeply regret the suffering of any victim of childhood sexual abuse," Archbishop Charles Chaput said Wednesday at a news conference at the downtown Denver offices of the Judicial Arbiter Group, headed by former Boulder District Court Judge Richard Dana.
"We offer this mediation because we assume the integrity of all of the persons bringing these lawsuits against the archdiocese," Chaput said.
He appointed Judge Richard Dana to convene a panel of highly qualified professionals in order to carry out this task. “Beginning immediately, this panel will meet and make decisions on how best to compensate any current plaintiff who wants to take part in this process” archbishop Chaput said.
Any person who has a current lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Denver, as of May 20, 2006, claiming sexual abuse by a priest of the Archdiocese of Denver in the past, is eligible for this mediation.
In a statement released yesterday by Archbishop Chaput, he proposed this mediation as a number of people brought lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Denver.
The lawsuits describe past incidents of sexual abuse, which according to the plaintiffs, occurred between 27 and 50 years ago. Each of the lawsuits names one of two former priests of the archdiocese. One of the accused former priests left Colorado 33 years ago, and died 11 years ago. The other is accused of incidents more than 25 years ago, and he left active ministry more than a decade ago.
“The fact that the claims are decades old does not lessen how seriously we take these and any other allegations of abuse. We work hard to prevent this kind of tragedy in our Church environments. We've had a process in place for 15 years to stop this type of wrongdoing, and we strongly believe our efforts are working,” the statement continues.
Archbishop Chaput expressed his deep regret of the suffering of any victim of childhood sexual abuse. “We sincerely want to help any victim of clergy sexual abuse heal.”
“With the support of senior lay and clergy leadership of the archdiocese, I am offering this blue ribbon panel process to reach out and compensate the individuals who have sued the archdiocese.”
Judicial Arbiters Group, Inc. or JAG, is one of the nation's oldest private judicial groups. Founded in Colorado in 1984 by former Chief District Judge Richard W. Dana and 20th Judicial District Administrator Jerry D. Lockwood. JAG has helped to mediate disputes of 10 of thousands of litigants nationwide and in 2005 alone the arbiter group mediated 1800 new cases.
Vatican City, May 25, 2006 (CNA) - Referring to Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming gathering with the different ecclesial movements and associations on Pentecost Sunday, Cardinal James Frances Stafford, the former president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, said the movements “have satisfied the spiritual hunger of hundreds of thousands of laity.”
During an interview with Vatican Radio about the significance of the new ecclesial movements, Cardinal Stafford, who is currently head of the Apostolic Penitentiary, explained that the Church today “is facing the challenge of the laity’s search for greater comprehension of their role as Christians, both in the area of marriage and the family and in the area of work, politics and civic duties. In the lay movements and associations many have found a marvelous font for deepening their role as Christians,” he said.
Likewise, Cardinal Stafford pointed out, “In parishes the new movements and associations are sharpening consciences regarding the importance of a better grounded catechesis and of the documents of Vatican II. It is there also that they strengthen their role as laity in the Church and the world.”
Rome, Italy, May 25, 2006 (CNA) - In response to a recent anti-conversion law passed in India, the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization, said this week, “Opposition to authentic conversion constitutes an undue interference in the affairs of God.”
According to the FIDES news agency, Cardinal Dias made his comments in the wake of criticism by several government officials, the media and some intellectuals in India, of Pope Benedict XVI’s discourse to the new Indian ambassador to the Holy See. In his remarks the Holy Father denounced the “disturbing signs of religious intolerance in some regions” of the country. He particularly noted the efforts in some Indian states to pass laws that would prohibit conversion from Hinduism to any other religion, but not conversions from other religions to Hinduism.
Cardinal Dias emphasized the need to respect the freedom of religion of every person and said that any law that opposes authentic conversion constitutes “an undue interference in the affairs of God.”
The government of New Delhi summoned the Apostolic Nuncio in India, Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, and rejected the criticism saying, “India is a secular and democratic country” in which the faithful of different religious enjoy equal rights and where the freedom to profess, practice and spread one’s religion exists.
, May 25, 2006 (CNA) - Policymakers in Scotland must gather their courage to publicly discourage early sexual activity and promote abstinence, said Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow after new government statistics revealed that the number of abortions in the country have reached an all-time high. There were 12,603 abortions in Scotland in 2005.
The new data demonstrates that “the current approach of ever greater availability of contraception, ever more explicit sex education and ever easier access to abortion is a recipe for disaster,” said the archbishop.
"It must be time for a radical reappraisal of policy. In both the developed and developing world there is evidence that public encouragement of chastity, before marriage and fidelity within it, is effective in cutting the rate of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions,” he said.
The archbishop agreed that young people “need to be well informed about sex.” But, he said, “they need to be aware of the consequences no less than the mechanics.
“The 12,603 abortions carried out in 2005 are a sad indictment of the failing policies which we must have the courage to reverse,” he concluded.
Rome, Italy, May 25, 2006 (CNA) - The Bishops’ Conference of Italy has joined the Spanish bishops in condemning a resolution of the EU Parliament on homophobia en Europe. The bishops of Spain issued a statement condemning the resolution during their gathering in Madrid on May 11.
During the opening address at the Italian bishops’ meeting in Rome May 15-19, Conference president Cardinal Camillo Ruini stated, “The European Parliament continues to issue statements that do not respect the principle of subsidiarity, the culture and traditions proper to the different member states, and that seriously contrast with fundamental anthropological truths.”
“We can mention as an example the case of the January 18 resolution on homophobia in Europe, which rightly calls for the elimination of discrimination, mistreatment and violence against persons with homosexual tendencies, but which also calls for putting the rights of same-sex unions on the same level as those of legitimate families, asking that member states modify their national laws,” Cardinal Ruini said.
“The Bishops’ Conferences of Poland and Spain have already spoken out against this resolution,” he continued. “We unite our voices to theirs.”
Washington D.C., May 25, 2006 (CNA) - The Internet is “a critical medium for religious speech” and there should be legislation in place to prevent Internet-access providers from interfering with Web content, said Bishop Gerald Kicanas in a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Unless there are in place protections against Internet-access providers’ control over content, noncommercial religious speech on the Internet is threatened,” said the bishop in his May 23 letter. Bishop Kicanas serves as the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Communications Committee.
Bishop Kicanas urged that such protections, termed “net neutrality requirements,” be included in the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act. As approved by the House Subcommittee, the bill lacks net neutrality protections.
“Those protections have particular importance for religious organizations which must rely on the Internet to convey information on matters of faith and on the services they provide to the public,” Bishop Kicanas said.
“The Internet was constructed as a unique medium without the editorial control functions of broadcast television, radio or cable television,” he wrote. “That open environment, however, is threatened by a lack of response by Congress to the recent decision by the FCC to end the decades-old regulatory regime which fostered the unique freedom and openness of the Internet.
“When the FCC classified cable broadband service (and later telephone broadband) as an ‘information’ service, it ended more than 30 years of regulation that prohibited companies, which control the infrastructure connecting people to the Internet, from interfering with the content distributed on the Internet.
“Unless Congress requires telephone and cable companies to act as neutral providers of Internet access … those companies will use their control over Internet access to speed up or slow down connections to websites to benefit themselves financially,” the bishop warned.
At the present time, radio, broadcast television and cable television are largely closed to religious messages, Bishop Kicanas noted.
“Years of deregulation and growing consolidation of the media industry have inevitably led to a hostile environment for noncommercial religious voices in broadcasting,” he observed.
“If the Internet becomes, as it inevitably will without strong protections for net neutrality, a medium where speakers must pay to deliver their messages, religious speech will be effectively barred from the Internet,” he warned.
Washington D.C., May 25, 2006 (CNA) - The latest textbooks of Saudi Arabia's public school curriculum continue to promote intolerance of other religions despite official pronouncements of curriculum reform, says a new study by the Center for Religious Freedom, part of Freedom House, a nonprofit group based in Washington.
A first-grade student is taught: "Every religion other than Islam is false." Fifth graders learn: "It is forbidden for a Muslim to be a loyal friend to someone who does not believe in God and his prophet, or someone who fights the religion of Islam."
"It is not hate speech here and there, it is an ideology that runs throughout," Nina Shea, the center's director and principal author of the report, told journalist Hassan Fattah. Shea said this curriculum leads to an “us versus them” ideology.
The report's authors worked with the Institute for Gulf Affairs, another Washington-based group, to obtain 12 history and religion textbooks from parents of Saudi schoolchildren. The textbooks were used last year in Saudi schools and Saudi-run schools in Washington, London and Paris.
The report says the curriculum includes a systematic theme of "hatred toward 'unbelievers,'" mainly Christians, Jews, Hindus and atheists, but also Shiites and other Muslims who do not ascribe to the country's orthodox Wahhabi teaching of Islam.
Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, responded to the report in a statement, saying that there are “hundreds of books that are being revised to comply with the new requirements and the process remains ongoing."
He said the objective of the Saudi educational system “is to fight intolerance and to prepare Saudi youth with the skills and knowledge to compete in the global economy."
Saudi Arabia's education system was heavily scrutinized after 9/11, and criticized for its extremism. Since then, the government has faced pressure from both inside and outside the country to change its schools.
King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch, has made the reform a priority. Still, Saudi reformers have said curriculum reform is difficult due to the resistance of a minority of religious conservatives.
Rome, Italy, May 25, 2006 (CNA) - Divorce is on the rise in Europe’s three mostly Catholic countries, namely Italy, Portugal and Spain, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Portugal has registered the highest increase in divorce rates in the last decade, according to a new study by the Hertfelder's Institute for Family Policies, a nongovernmental organization based in Madrid.
In Portugal, divorces rose 89 percent from 1995 to 2004, and 62 percent in Italy and 59 percent in Spain for that same period. Germany and Britain have the highest rates of divorce.
The study’s director, Eduardo Hertfelder, says marriage in Europe is in crisis. Southern Europe has lagged behind the north in legislation and programs that assist the family. Women get little support in the workplace, for example, placing stress on marriages.
Some experts say the divorce rate increase is not surprising in these countries given the decline in the practice of Catholicism
The gap has widened between the numbers of Catholics in Southern Europe who declare their faith and those who practice it. A recent survey of Italians, for example, showed nearly 88 percent identify themselves as Catholic but only about 33 percent said they attend weekly mass.
Furthermore, the situation for women has changed in society, said Rossella Palomba of the Institute for Population Research and Social Policies in Rome.
Women have more freedom, demand more from spouses than their grandmothers did, are putting jobs ahead of marital bliss, and realize they can end unhappy unions with less stigma, said Palomba.
The Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family at a congress in Rome earlier this month argued that lack of education left too many Catholics unable to appreciate the meaning of "true, sacramental" marriage. Confusion over alternative lifestyles and same-sex unions has weakened the institution of marriage, the church officials said.