Vatican City, Aug 30, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI traveled from his summer residence at Castelgandolfo, back to the Vatican to conduct his weekly General Audience with the faithful gathered in the Paul VI auditorium today. The Holy Father reflected with the crowd, on the mercy of God as evidenced by the life of St. Mathew the Apostle.
Christ, the Pope said, excludes no one from his call to friendship, and the story of the Apostle Matthew reminds Christians of this truth very clearly.
The Holy Father laid out the great disdain with which tax-collectors, such as Matthew, were seen in the Jerusalem of Jesus’s time. Tax-collectors, he said, “were considered public sinners.”
While the job itself was looked down upon, Matthew was also seen as “collaborating with a greedy and much hated foreign power.” The Pope pointed out that the disdain for tax collectors is found throughout the Gospels, with the profession often mentioned in the same breath as prostitutes and other sinners.
“We can hear an echo of the scandal caused by the Lord’s decision to associate with such men in his declaration that he came "not to call the just but sinners" (Mt 2:17), the Pope said. However, “the Good News of the Gospel consists precisely in this: the offering of the grace of God to sinners!”
“The Gospels,” he said, “propose a truth and a paradox: he who is apparently farther from sanctity can become a model of acceptance of the mercy of God and offers a vision to see into the marvelous effect on his own existence.”
Additionally, the Pope continued, “Matthew’s ready response to the Lord’s call also shows that following Christ means leaving behind, sometimes at great cost, everything that is incompatible with true discipleship and embarking upon a new life.”
“When he received the call of Jesus Matthew responded instantly, ‘And he got up and followed him,’” (Mt 9,9) the Pope noted. Matthew’s response is the fulfillment of the words Jesus spoke to ‘the rich young man’: “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Mt 19,21). “And that is just what Mathew did,” Benedict said, “he got up and followed him! In this ‘getting up' it is right to read to the separation from one situation of sin and at the same time the knowing adhesion to a new existence, righteousness, in the company of Jesus.”
“Through his example and the words of his Gospel, St. Matthew constantly invites us to respond with joy to the ‘good news’ of God’s saving mercy,” the Pope said.
Prior to returning to Castelgandolfo the pontiff greeted the crowding their various languages and bestowed upon them his Apostolic Blessing.
Denver, Colo., Aug 30, 2006 (CNA) -
As classes begin this month, a national student outreach organization says American colleges and universities are not allocating enough resources to help students make the adjustment to college life and to become moral and ethical leaders in society upon graduation.
As a result, Catholics must be proactive in providing young people with the right resources, support and formation on campuses, says the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). The group, founded in 1998, currently offers Bible studies, leadership training, and mentoring on 29 secular and Catholic campuses in 15 states.
In a press release issued yesterday, FOCUS says college students today face a number of challenges, such as dealing with relationships, promiscuous sex, binge drinking, drug use, credit card debt, depression, and gambling. New students, especially, who are away from their parents for the first time in many cases are particularly vulnerable.
Studies seem to back up their claims. 56.5% of students told a recent Zogby International poll that they consider themselves, “sexually active.” And, according to the Alan Guttmacher institute, one in every five of the approximately 1,370,000 abortions occurring in the U.S. each year is performed on a college student.
Meanwhile the media is ripe with stories detailing the increase of depression and alcoholism problems on campuses. Some studies indicate that up to half of U.S. college students engage in the practice of binge drinking. The American College Health Association conducted a 2004 study in which 40 percent of college men and 50 percent of college women surveyed said they had experienced depression so severe at some point in time that they could “barely function;” 14.9 percent said they had been “medically diagnosed with clinical depression.” 60 percent of students surveyed reported “feeling things were hopeless” one or more times during the previous school year.
But while awareness of the issues themselves are finally gaining national attention, little is being done to address the roots of the problems, FOCUS says. “Where morals, ethics and leadership were once a focus of university education, students are now often left to find their own way amidst growing social pressures,” the press release reads.
“The emptiness many students feel is enormous and they are looking for something to fill it. They are looking for a happiness that only Jesus can give them, but they are looking in the wrong places,” Bridget Gill, a three year missionary for FOCUS, told CNA.
Gill said that during her time as a missionary at the University of Colorado there were even two deaths resulting directly from alcohol poisoning. She says that a few of the students who used to “party” with those who died began to question what their lives had become. They found their way into FOCUS Bible studies and the results, she said, have been life changing.
“They are not only encountering a community of people who support them, but they are gaining the necessary skills to cope with their daily problems and just to live more fulfilled lives. In addition to equipping them with “vision for life” (the organization’s motto) FOCUS has also helped to reconnect them to the Church. Even when they leave campus they’ll know they have a home in the universal Church.”
Such “vision for life” is exactly what FOCUS hopes to provide for students engaged in some of the most formative years of their lives.
Chris Kuetemeyer, Mission Development Director for FOCUS, told CNA that the organization conducted a study of college seniors involved in their program last year, “to determine if, with Christ’s help, we were delivering on our goals.” He said that, while some students join their program to continue the formation already provided by their parents and parishes, a majority grow by leaps and bounds through the program, responding overwhelmingly to the question as to whether FOCUS has, “prepared me to face the moral and ethical challenges I may face after graduation.”
Kuetemeyer also said that 84% of the seniors responded that their participation in FOCUS “deepened their understanding of Christ’s desire for their chastity, sobriety, and personal excellence.” 81% said they believe FOCUS, “helped me make better decisions regarding my personal relationships with others.”
“Universities house America’s most vital natural resource—our children, who are tomorrow’s leaders,” Curtis A. Martin, president of FOCUS, said. “In the past generation, universities have become very challenging, at times even corrosive, places. God has been removed from the classrooms and the campus. We know that our sons and daughters will make better decisions if the light of Christ helps to inform their choices.”
For more information on FOCUS see their website at www.focusonline.org.
Vatican City, Aug 30, 2006 (CNA) - Holy See has indicated the twenty nine people who will form the Pope’s official entourage on his upcoming trip to Germany. Among those traveling with the Holy Father are his personal secretary, Monsignor Georg Ganswein and his personal physician, as well as technical staff, and security personnel.
The retinue also includes various bishops and three cardinals of the Roman Curia, the most notable of which will be Cardinal Angelo Sodano. The trip will be Sodano’s last in his official capacity as the Holy See’s Secretary of State. Sodano is set to retire on September 15th.
The Holy Father’s voyage to his homeland of Bavaria will take place from September 9th-14th.
Denver, Colo., Aug 30, 2006 (CNA) -
The United States risks losing the “war on terror” by not recognizing that the “war” is really about ideas and beliefs, and not about technology, said the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Denver.
“The United States isn’t fighting ‘terror,’” said Francis Maier in a recent interview with the Denver Catholic Register on Christian-Muslim relations and lessons learned since 9/11. “It’s fighting a particularly bloody, bigoted strain in the body of Islam,” he said. “Americans risk losing the ‘war on terror’ by fighting ideas and beliefs with technology.”
The country’s leadership, he continued, “is hobbled by the secularist delusion that religion is unimportant in driving human actions.”
Maier said the primary issues that divide Muslims and Christians “would be the same, with or without 9/11, because they’re fundamentally theological, not economic, or political.”
It’s a mistake, he said, to try to understand 9/11 through a purely secular lens.
He also criticized Americans for buying into the arguments put forth in recent decades by some academics, politicians and the mass media that religion should be a private matter.
“This has never made sense, and Islam clearly didn’t get that memo,” Maier stated. “Muslims correctly see their faith as the source of their community and culture.”
While Americans “should resist the way some Muslims carry their beliefs into the public square,” he said, Americans must also insist on mutual respect among religious believers and non-believers.
Maier said reconciliation for the 9/11 attacks between Christians and Muslims is possible but it requires honesty and repentance from both Muslims and Christians.
“Christians seem readier for that task than many Muslims, which is curious,” he remarked. “Over the 1,400 years of our shared history, Islam has much more frequently been on the offensive than Christianity.”
Discussions on Christian-Muslim relations in these times is important because Christians throughout the Muslim world continue to endure discrimination, violence and persecution.
“We have a duty to our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ to speak out on their behalf and to defend their right to believe in, live and freely preach the Gospel,” Maier said.
The paper’s interview of Maier comes in anticipation of his lecture on the theme “Christian-Muslim relations in the wake of 9/11” The free talk is to take place Sept. 13th at 7 p.m. John Paul II Center in Denver.
Konigstein, Germany, Aug 30, 2006 (CNA) - Sister Elisa Monachesi, Provincial Superior of the Schoenstatt Sisters in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, said that the Church in Argentina is being forced out of the public’s discussion on moral issues. She told Aid to the Church in Need that the fact, “has clearly been proven during the ongoing discussion about the legalization of abortion and about the sterilization of poor women.”
“One sees that nowadays there are very few truly practicing Catholics in the country,” Sister Monachesi said.
Pointing to Argentina’s major social problems, Sister Elisa explained: “The unemployment rate is already enormously high. And the government as well as the trade unions are still pressuring the companies to the point that even more jobs will get lost. In the process the middle-class is slowly disappearing. Also, there is a lot of violence and numerous organised gangs are active. Immigrants from countries such as Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru are particularly likely to fall prey to bonded labour, if not mere slavery.”
The gap in consciousness for these issues must be filled by the Church, she said. The Church “has the task to build up a moral conscience,” but “in this regard, still much educational work has to be done.”
Washington D.C., Aug 30, 2006 (CNA) - African Catholics, including priests and religious ministering in the United States will gather will U.S. Church officials and a Tanzanian bishop for the first-ever African National Eucharistic Congress, which will be held Sept. 2-3 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and The Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C.
African pastoral leaders planned the event, which is open to all people, in collaboration with the U.S. bishops’ Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, Migration and Refugee Services.
The congress seeks to offer African Catholics in the U.S. an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the Eucharist in their faith life and to deepen their faith through Mass and Eucharistic adoration.
A related objective is to gather African Catholic newcomers to experience mutual support and renewal of their life and African values and cultures.
Sr. Joanna Okereke, coordinator of U.S. bishops’ ethnic ministries, says more than 500 people have registered as of Tuesday. The Nigerian-born sister also noted that more than 1,000 African nuns and 900 African priests are now ministering throughout the U.S.
Bishop Joseph Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago and Episcopal liaison for African and Caribbean communities, will give the keynote address Sept. 2nd, on the theme, “Eucharist: Source of Unity, Solidarity and Reconciliation.”
Bishop Augustine Shao of Zanzibar, Tanzania, will preside and preach at a 3 p.m. Mass on Saturday. The mass will be followed by a procession of nations, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and a cultural celebration featuring a banquet with an assortment of African foods. Participants are invited to wear their native African dress.
Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington will preside at a closing Mass, Sunday in the Crypt Church of the Basilica at 9:30 a.m.
Workshops will be offered on topics, such as Mary, Woman of the Eucharist; Eucharist and African Culture; Youth and the Eucharist; and Enculturation of the Eucharist.
Special activities will also be provided for children, age 5 to 12.
The 7th national convention of the African Conference of Catholic Clergy and Religious in the United States precedes the convention this week.
Santiago, Chile, Aug 30, 2006 (CNA) - One of the thieves who stole a ring that was donated by Pope John Paul II to a museum in the Chilean city Coquimbo has turned himself in to a priest admitting that he melted the ring down and sold it for $112.
Last Thursday, two burglars broke into the Museum of the Cross of the Third Millennium and made off with the papal ring and two gold pectoral crosses that were donated by the Apostolic Nuncio to Chile, Archbishop Aldo Cavalli.
Local media confirmed that one of the burglars went to Father Fernando Candia and told him that the “fisherman’s ring” was melted down and sold for $112. Father Candia said the man returned the other two objects intact.
After the robbery, museum officials removed from display a gold ring and a silver pectoral cross that were donated in 2002 by now Pope Benedict XVI.
Officials have also taken steps to install more security cameras and increase the number of security guards on duty at the museum.
Bogotá, Colombia, Aug 30, 2006 (CNA) - The pro-life organization Red Futuro Colombia (RFC) has denounced various institutions and the media in that country for pressuring an 11 year-old girl into having an abortion and depriving her of alternative choices.
“We reiterate our rejection of this atrocious act of which the child was a victim, as well as the actions of third parties that used these circumstances to present abortion as the only solution to the sad and painful reality of rape, a reprehensible act that affects many women,” the group said in a statement.
The girl, who was raped by her stepfather, was administered an abortion last Thursday, becoming the first person to receive a legal abortion in Colombia, after the country’s high court partially legalized the procedure last May over the objections of the Church, which called for the protection of both the girl and her baby.
RFC also said that although the first abortion in the country has taken place, the ruling by the court has left many unresolved questions.
“Which abortion procedures pose the least risk to the life and health of pregnant women? How should informed consent be obtained from both adult and underage women? What are the requirements for allowing doctors and health care professionals to exercise their right to conscientious objection? What are the mechanisms for allowing movements that defend human life to present alternatives to abortion in concrete cases?” the group asked.
In its statement RFC reiterated its own commitment to “promoting alternatives of solidarity that seek the protection of life and the dignity of every human being at all times.”
Lima, Peru, Aug 30, 2006 (CNA) - Bishops from Bolivia, Chile and Peru meeting in Lima this week issued a call on the new governments of their respective countries to defend life and do more to alleviate poverty.
Leaders from the bishops’ conferences of the South American countries met as part of the preparations for the Fifth General Conferenceoh of the Latin American Bishops’ Council, which will take place next year in Aparecida, Brazil.
In a statement the bishops expressed their hope that the new governments would intensify their commitment to “the option for the poor, the defense of life, and human dignity” by strengthening democratic principles. The bishops also renewed their “commitment to accompany our people in their joys, hopes, happiness, and sorrows.”
They also underscored the importance of education and the “great urgency to ensure quality education for all, without exception, especially for the poorest. Amidst a healthy and necessary pluralism, we call on all those who offer this service for the public good to make their best efforts in this sense,” they added.
The bishops also reiterated their commitment to cultivating mutual understanding and cooperation between the people of their countries, as well as to improving campus ministry, migrant ministry, and prison outreach.
In conclusion they expressed their hopes that the Fifth General Conference would be an opportunity to “contribute to the revitalizing of our missionary work so that our peoples may have life in Him.”
Berlin, Germany, Aug 30, 2006 (CNA) - The president of the German parliament, Christian Democrat Norbert Lammert, has invited Pope Benedict XVI to issue a statement next year commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, which established the European Economic Community, the precursor of the European Union.
Lammert invited the Pontiff to address the spiritual principles of the process of political union in Europe. He said he is waiting to receive word if the Pope will accept the invitation.
Germany is set to assume the presidency of the EU in 2007, coinciding with the anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome in 1957 by Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Belgium and Luxemburg.