Beirut, Lebanon, Aug 16, 2006 (CNA) - Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, patriarch of the Maronite Church, is very concerned about the “progressive devastation” in Lebanon and “the growing outward migration of Christians, who are not returning.”
“We held out in the Arab world for 2,000 years, but now things are going downhill at a rapid pace,” he told Spiegel Online. “The current crisis is dramatically amplifying this tendency.”
He speculated that if Hezbollah should ever take power in Lebanon, “Christians will leave the country in droves.”
The cardinal said it was unfortunate that some Christians “make arrangements with Hezbollah - if only for tactical reasons.” His statement was in response to an observation made by Spiegel that Christian General Michel Aoun, who could possibly be Lebanon's next president, has forged an alliance with Hezbollah.
The cardinal expressed his support for Prime Minister Siniora's peace plan, which calls for the disarmament of all Shiite militias.
“As soon as a cease-fire with Israel takes effect, as soon as the two sides exchange prisoners and the Shebaa Farms are returned to Lebanon, Hezbollah will no longer have the right to maintain an army,” he said. “Hezbollah has become a state within a state, with help from Iran. That's not something we can continue to accept after the war.”
The cardinal said Lebanon wants “orderly relations” with Syria. “We refuse to tolerate proxy wars on Lebanese territory. … That means Damascus must accept the demarcation of the Syrian-Lebanese border and release our prisoners.”
The cardinal warned that Lebanon’s greatest threat currently is Iran, which continues to ship weapons into the country.
A native of the Palestinian territories, the cardinal also told Spiegel that Lebanon wishes for the Palestinians “to have their own state on their home territory, just like we Lebanese have our own state. … But the struggle for Palestine cannot be fought from Lebanon, the smallest and weakest state in the Arab world.”
The cardinal said he only expects peace with Israel once “all other Arab states have signed a peace treaty with Israel, too.”
Beirut, Lebanon, Aug 16, 2006 (CNA) - Christians and Muslims in Lebanon are ready to work together to rebuild their war-torn country, said Cardinal Roger Etchegaray just before his departure from the country’s capital.
The former president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace had been sent by Pope Benedict XVI as the official Vatican envoy to express the pontiff’s spiritual closeness and to pray for peace with the local people.
In addition to the spiritual nature of his visit the cardinal also met with the Lebanese president and other political leaders, as well as with the Shiite Council during his stay.
Yesterday, he celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary at Our Lady of Lebanon Sanctuary in Harissa. Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, the patriarch of the Maronite Church, concelebrated the liturgy.
Etchegaray also met with the bishops of the Eastern rite churches and visited a refugee camp for those displaced by the war. The cardinal’s visit ended today.
“Based on my discussions with religious and political authorities, I can witness that Christians and Muslims are ready to put everything aside to work to rebuild their wounded country,” he said.
The cardinal expressed the hope that the ceasefire will be long lasting. “This ceasefire must allow for the deployment of all peace forces.”
He thanked international governments who worked to come up with a resolution for the ceasefire, in which these governments resolutely agreed to participate.
But, he said, the journey toward peace “is also a spiritual journey.”
“No efforts will last if they are not accompanied by a sense of peace in people’s hearts and souls,” he stated. “This is why we prayed at Our Lady of Harissa and the Lebanese people understood this well, having come out in such large numbers despite the difficulties. Only our submission to God will lead us to break the logic of evil … and blind and suicidal violence.”
“Peace is the pure breath of a family that truthfully believes that all of its members are brothers because they are equally loved by God,” he said.
The cardinal was moved by the plight of the people who were displaced by the war. “I think a lot about the displaced people from South Lebanon who are seeking, sometimes through tears, to find their homes and their land.”
“I ask all government and non-government institutions not to tarry, but to intensify their humanitarian aid efforts,” he urged.
He assured the Lebanese people that the Pope remains attentive to their suffering and to their spiritual and material needs.
Castelgandolfo, Italy, Aug 16, 2006 (CNA) - The faithful need not lose their serenity and peace amid the noise and occurrences of daily life as this world is not their “final homeland,” said Pope Benedict XVI today during his usual Wednesday general audience.
“There are people today who live like they are never going to die or as if everything ends with death; some behave as if man is the only maker of one’s destiny, as if God doesn’t exist, sometimes even denying that there is any room for God in our world,” he said.
“The great successes of technology and science, which have notably improved the human condition, however, leave us without answers to the deepest problems of the human spirit,” he continued.
“Only an opening to the mystery of God, who is love, can fill our heart’s thirst for truth and for happiness; only the possibility of eternity can give authentic value to historical events and above all to the mystery of human fragility, of suffering and of death.”
Reflecting on the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, which was celebrated yesterday, he said Christians understand that “this world is not our final homeland” by contemplating Mary in heavenly glory.
“If we live constantly turned toward heaven, we will one day be sharing in this same glory,” he said. “This is why, despite the thousands of difficulties of daily life, we do not have to lose serenity and peace.”
People are so caught up in daily occurrences that they often forget the spiritual reality of the Assumption, which offers hope and “constitutes an important truth of the faith,” he said.
After greeting the faithful assembled in seven languages, the Pope recalled Br. Roger Schutz, the founder of Taizé, who was assassinated on this day last year while he was in prayer in the community chapel in France.
“[Br. Roger’s] witness of Christian faith and ecumenical dialogue was a precious teaching for entire generations of young people,” he said. “We ask the Lord that the sacrifice of his life contribute to consolidating the commitment to peace and solidarity among those who have the future of humanity at heart.”
Denver, Colo., Aug 16, 2006 (CNA) -
Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput spoke out this week against the promulgation of lies regarding the history of Christian-Muslim relations. In his weekly Denver Catholic Register column, Chaput said that recent fallacious statements by a Denver-area Islamic leader, who reportedly claimed that Muslims have never tried to force conversions to their faith, do nothing to advance the causes of peace or interreligious understanding.
Chaput said that the Muslim-Christian conflict has existed for centuries and is based upon “deep religious differences.” During centuries of fighting, both Christians and Muslims have acted in a sinful manner towards one another, he said, but it’s necessary to be honest about the sins both sides have committed in the past in order to bring about peace in the future.
The archbishop said he felt compelled to address the issue after reading a recent news story which contained claims that, “it was European Christians, never Muslims, who tried to root out those who didn’t agree with them,” a statement which Chaput says is just plain false.
Chaput said that while Christians have certainly committed sins against Muslims in the past, to claim that Muslims have not committed their own sins and acted in violent, militant manners is a lie.
The archbishop pointed out the “armed military expansion” of Islam which has occurred since the religion’s creation. On the other hand, he said, Christians struggled with the place of military force in its worldview for the first 300 years and had no “theology of Crusade” until the 11th Century. “In fact,” Chaput said, “the Christian Byzantine Empire had already been resisting Muslim expansion in the East for 400 years before Pope Urban II called the First Crusade – as a defensive response to generations of armed jihad.”
Chaput also pointed to the forced conversion of the once Christian Middle East. “Surviving Christian communities have endured centuries of marginalization, discrimination, violence, slavery and outright persecution – not always and not everywhere; but as a constant, recurring and central theme of Muslim domination,” he said.
“That same Christian suffering continues down to the present,” Chaput said.
In addition to mentioning the persecution of Christians in the Muslim Ottoman Empire of the early 1900’s, in Turkey, and in Egypt, Archbishop Chaput pointed to more recent reports of harassment and violence throughout the world, “from Bangladesh, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan and Iraq, to Nigeria, Indonesia and even Muslim-dominated areas of the heavily Catholic Philippines.”
“In Saudi Arabia,” the archbishop continued, “all public expressions of Christian faith are forbidden. The on-going Christian flight from Lebanon has helped to transform it, in just half a century, from a majority Christian Arab nation to a majority Muslim population.”
Denying such facts, the archbishop said, does not foster respect among peoples. Chaput said that thanks to the tremendous freedoms of the United States, its citizens have the opportunity to overcome the difficult history between Christians and Muslims. “But,” he said, “respect can’t emerge from falsehood.”
“Especially in an era of religiously inspired terrorism and war in the Middle East,” the archbishop continued, “peace is not served by ignoring, subverting or rewriting history, but rather by facing it humbly as it really happened and healing its wounds.”
“(Peace and respect) requires honesty and repentance from both Christians and Muslims.”
Lima, Peru, Aug 16, 2006 (CNA) - During a gathering organized by the Conference of Religious Men and Women of Peru--the local branch of the Latin American Confederation of Religious Men and Women--several speakers participating in a Theological seminar launched an attack against the new movements and charisms in the Church.
The seminar entitled, “Religious Life in the Perspective of the Kingdom,” began on August 14th and featured a host of speakers including Dominican priest Father Gustavo Gutierrez, a renowned proponent of Marxist liberation theology, Marianist priest Father Jose Maria Arnaiz of Spain, who has written a book critical of Pope Benedict XVI, and Benedictine priest Father Simon Pedro Arnold, director of the “Institute of Aymaran Studies.”
During his remarks, Father Arnold, a promoter of what he calls the “re-founding of monastic life,” and the “re-founding of the Church,” criticized the new ecclesial movements, as well as Opus Dei, saying the alternative which they propose to the life of the Church is “distorted and erroneous.”
As a response to the crisis in religious life, he proposed “a re-founding of the religious congregations based on a theology of renewed liberation” that incorporates contemporary concerns “such as ecology.”
Marianist priest Father Arnaiz echoed the sentiments of Father Arnold, adding that while he admired the new movements for their “vitality,” he argued the “cultural view” they express “is not the answer to the needs of today.” He claimed that the Church needs a “re-founding of religious life” in order to confront the issues of the contemporary world, and he pointed to Father Pedro Arrupe, who was head of the Jesuit order immediately following Vatican II, as an example of the kind of “re-founders” the Church needs.
Mexico City, Mexico, Aug 16, 2006 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Antequera-Oaxaca in Mexico has issued a statement calling for an end to the violence that has plagued the region during recent months and for a long-term solution to the problem. Violence has erupted in the region following a series of socialist protests, led by teachers, as the federal government continues to work at settling a disputed national election.
The statement, which was signed by Archbishop Jose Luis Chavez Botello, referred to the confrontations between the local government and teachers and indicated, “It is with sadness and sorrow that we see that situation has worsened.”
“There exists now great distrust, resentment, and insurmountable barriers and each side passionately defends its position and only sees the other as an enemy to be overcome,” the statement emphasized. While “there are legitimate and profound causes that should have been resolved years ago,” it continued, there needs to be a “change of conduct” in order to stop the wave of violence and bring about a “dignified, just, and responsible solution.”
The archdiocese called on both sides to, “reject all forms of violence as a way of resolving social conflicts. Violence always begets more violence,” it said, noting that “peace, justice and the common good should always be above political and economic interests.”
The statement indicated that the federal government also has a responsibility to contribute to a solution to the violence, and all Mexicans should “express their energetic rejection of all violence” and should seek out peaceful solutions, because the situation “demands the serene and constructive participation of all.”
Lima, Peru, Aug 16, 2006 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, said this week “the Church does not defend nor authorize the death penalty,” which Peruvian president Alan Garcia has proposed as a way to punish those who rape and murder minors.
In a recent statement the cardinal noted that the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “recourse to this option for resolving a problem in society should be very rare.”
He emphasized that while the “opinion of the people is important,” it is extremely important that “those who govern and legislate be enlightened with greater serenity in order to be able to study these things.”
The cardinal proposed the establishment of a non-political commission to study alternatives to the president’s proposal of reinstating the death penalty.
He said the government should work to prevent sexual crimes against minors through greater moral education, which he called a “great challenge.” He also rejected proposals to impose castration on sex offenders, saying the Church does not approve of corporal mutilation.
Madrid, Spain, Aug 16, 2006 (CNA) - During the celebration of the feast of the Assumption of Mary, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of Spain, Bishop Ricardo Blazquez of Bilbao, said Spain’s hope for lasting peace “would certainly be strengthened if the terrorists (of ETA) recognized the harm they have caused to people, families and the nation.”
The Spanish bishop said that the ceasefire agreed to by the Basque separatists “meant the beginning of a new hope, without eliminating, however, all of the sentiments of precaution and prudence.” He prayed that through the intercession of Mary, the Lord would grant the members of ETA “courage to ask forgiveness of those who have been victims of their actions.”
In San Sebastian, Bishop Juan Maria Uriate said those “responsible for peace” should express a willingness to come together in dialogue and mutual rapprochement in order to keep hopes alive in society for a lasting peaceful solution. He called on all parties to make positive gestures, to put “the good of peace” above their own political interests, and to be flexible in negotiations.
Bishop Uriarte also expressed his hope that the media would treat the issue with greater equanimity rather than fueling confrontations. The media “should broadcast messages that help to keep hope alive,” he said.