Archive of September 13, 2006

Pope emphasizes the “transforming” power of beautiful liturgy

Regensburg, Germany, Sep 13, 2006 (CNA) - Speaking of the tremendous value of the organ as a liturgical instrument, the Pope reminded a group of his native Bavarians today that music and song are “themselves part of the liturgical action,” which makes us more capable, “of transforming the world.”

On what has been called his “private” day, Pope Benedict XVI remained in the town of Regensburg to take part in a brief ceremony to bless the refurbished organ of the historic Alte Kapelle.  Earlier in the day, the 79 year old Pope had celebrated a private Mass at the city’s Seminary of St. Wolfgang.

Alte Kapelle, which literally means “Old Chapel,” is also known as The Collegiate Basilica Church of Our Lady and is home to a massive organ now known as the Pope Benedict Organ. The church, built around the year 1000, occupies the entire southern end of the city's old wheat market square and was originally the chapel of the ducal palace.

Arriving at the Minor Basilica, Pope Benedict was greeted by the throngs of admirers and applause which have followed him throughout his five days in Germany.  Seated in the magnificent sanctuary of Alte Kapelle, the Holy Father was officially welcomed with words of appreciation and praise.  The Pope was told that this organ was deemed a gift from heaven and that from this day forth it shall bear his name.  

Benedict, a piano player himself, has been vocal about his deep appreciation for music, particularly sacred liturgical music.  After a brief description of the process of restoration, which took eight years and almost one million dollars to complete, the Holy Father arose and spoke to the importance of music in the liturgies of the Church emphasizing the “king of musical instruments,” the organ.

"Music and song are more than an embellishment of worship," said the Pope, "they are themselves part of the liturgical action."
The organ, "transcending the merely human sphere, as all music of quality does, evokes the divine. ... It is capable of echoing and expressing all the experiences of human life. The manifold possibilities of the organ in some way remind us of the immensity and the magnificence of God."

Pope Benedict continued, offering an analogy between the organ and the Church itself explaining, “Just as in an organ an expert hand must constantly bring disharmony back to consonance, so we in the Church, in the variety of our gifts and charisms, always need to find anew, through our communion in faith, harmony in the praise of God and in fraternal love.”

“The more we allow ourselves, through the liturgy, to be transformed in Christ, the more we will be capable of transforming the world, radiating Christ's goodness, His mercy and His love for others.”

Concluding his speech, the Holy Father proclaimed with a hopeful sentiment, “May all those who enter this splendid Basilica, experiencing the magnificence of its architecture and its liturgy, enriched by solemn song and the harmony of this new organ, be brought to the joy of faith.”

Following his reflection the Holy Father formally blessed the organ.  Moments after the Pope Benedict Organ was sprinkled with holy water, music burst forth from the many precisely crafted pipes above the church’s entrance.

Following the ceremony, Pope Benedict walked to the house of his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, where he had lunch.  The Pope will continue his “private” day with his brother and some close friends, visiting the house he lived in as a professor and praying at the tomb of his mother and father. 

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Pope’s friends say fame has not changed Joseph Ratzinger

Regensburg, Germany, Sep 13, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Bavaria has provided the occasion for many of his close friends to talk about their friendship with the man who they say “is a humble person who has never taken advantage of his powerful position in the Church and has been a friendly and available neighbor, professor, and priest.”

“An official car? For what? That’s why the public bus exists!”  That’s how Father Wilhelm Gegenfurtner, the former vicar general of the Diocese of Ratisbona, remembers the Pope.

Father Gegenfurtner often went on small excursions with the Ratzinger brothers.  Nowadays, every once in a while his phone rings and on the other end someone says, “The Holy Father wishes to speak with you, please.”  

The German priest especially treasures his memories at the cathedral with Father Georg Ratzinger, who directed the choir and the orchestra, and sitting off to the side, always in the same place, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and his sister Maria.

“Many people had a mistaken image of the cardinal, since as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he always had to play a critical role,” said Father Gegenfurtner.  “They did not see him as he really is, an open and friendly person who smiles and is always reaching out to people.”

Maria Baumann, who manages a small museum in Pentling called, “The Pope is one of us,” which includes a collection of many personal items from then Cardinal Ratzinger’s home, said the Pope’s former home is “just as he left it in 2005.  It seems like he just left and that he will be returning at any moment.”  She said the Pope’s brother helped her select the items for the museum.

The Richardi family has also experienced the humility and openness of the Pope.  Their friendship with him began at the end of the 1960’s.  At that time Mr. Richardi was a professor at the same university where Ratzinger taught.  “Here in Pentling he has always been sort of a member of the family,” said Margarete Richardi.  It was Joseph Ratzinger who presided at the marriage of their two daughters and baptized their grandchildren.  He also recently celebrated Mass for their 40th wedding anniversary.

The Richardis also told of how the whole family has adopted the Pope.  Margarete recalled an instance when her grandson Sebastian, then two, said suddenly, “Cardinal, come here, I want to show you something.”  A few minutes later she saw the two kneeling down on the floor and playing dominos together.  

Memories of a sister

Others have fond memories of the Pope’s sister, Maria. Wolfgang Beinert, who was Professor Ratzinger’s assistant and later his successor in the theology department at Ratisbona, remembers her as faithfully fulfilling the promise she made to her parents to watch over and care for her two brothers.  Consequently she always took care of then Cardinal Ratzinger’s office and managed his home.

“Maria Ratzinger,” Beinert recalled, “was a very intelligent woman and wise counselor to her brothers.”  She shares Joseph’s great love for animals, especially cats.

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Pope’s brother gives clues as to Benedict's "private" day schedule

Regensburg, Germany, Sep 13, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI explicitly asked to reserve a private day during his visit to Bavaria.  While a rough schedule has been outlined, his exact schedule is unknown to the press.  What is known is that he will spend the day with his brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, and he will visit the tomb of his parents.  Msgr. Ratzinger dropped a few clues about what the Pope’s activities would be during an interview with the German television network ZDF.

“I hope he can have lunch with me, take a short walk and perhaps take a nap.  And I hope the rest of day can take place without much interference or hassles.  Of course, as we make our way by car to Pentling, first to the tomb of our parents and later to the Church of Zeigetsdorf, there will be a lot of people present, especially old acquaintances who will be happy to meet him again.  So it will not be completely private, but I do hope there will be a certain amount of privacy,” Ratzinger said.

While he said it is true that “the ministry leaves its mark on the person,” Monsignor Ratzinger said his brother has not changed much.  “I cannot say he has changed a great deal.  He strives not to get excited.  In some sense, the way I see it, it is important to maintain interior control and peace in order to correctly carry forward one’s mission and adequately reach out to people,” he said.
Monsignor Ratzinger says it is a heavy cross for the Pope not to be able to carry out his intellectual work and book writing as he used to.

Asked about how his own life has changed since his brother Joseph was elected Pope, Ratzinger said, “To me it has changed very little.  It’s mainly the Italian tourists who see me and get very excited, as if they weren’t meeting the Pope’s brother but rather the Holy Father himself.  But regarding everything else, I think my relationships with my colleagues, friends, and others have not changed at all.”

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Pope Benedict trashes jihad, reformation, and liberal Theology

Regensburg, Germany, Sep 13, 2006 (CNA) - At the heart of Pope Benedict XVI’s address yesterday, on the world’s need for a renewed dialogue between faith and reason (see CNA article here) was an attack on the "theology" of jihad as well as a look at the destructive role that liberal theology and the theology of Reformation have had on Christian thought.

The Pope reflected on a late 14th century dialogue carried on between Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and “an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.”  Benedict specifically focused on the distinction between Mohammed’s teaching on jihad (holy war) and Christianity’s view that spreading the faith through violence is something intrinsically unreasonable.

The emperor, Benedict said, emphasized the distinction between the Prophet’s early teaching in surah 2, 256, which reads: "There is no compulsion in religion," and his later writing in the Quran.  

Catholic theology holds that, “violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul,” the Pope said.  Quoting the emperor, he noted, "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death.”

“For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality,” the Pope said.

However, the Pope asked, “Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?”  

The basis for the discussion of faith and reason requires that one understands (based upon John’s prologue) that, “God acts with ‘logos’,” which means, the Pope noted, “both reason and word – a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason.”

Benedict insisted that throughout the time of the law and prophets and the history of the early Church, and despite bitter conflicts, the best of Greek thought enriched the Church’s understanding of God’s revelation.  As such, he said, “the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language (cf. Lateran Council IV).”

“God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf.”

The work of the Hellenistic philosophers, in other words, helped the Gospel writers and the early Church understand the idea of God as reason itself and thus as utterly reasonable.

Over time, however, “the thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity – a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age,” the Pope noted.

This “program of dehellenization” has gone through three stages, Benedict said, all of which he discussed in-depth.

The Pope said the first emergence of “dehellenization” came with the rise of the Protestant reformation in the sixteenth century.  Benedict pointed out that the Reformers attempted to remove the sense of faith as a “living historical Word,” based on their theory that the existent faith system was totally conditioned by an alien system of philosophy.  They attempted to remove the place of “logos” from Christian thought and thus arose the principle of “sola scriptura,” which, “sought faith in its pure, primordial form.”

The second wave of the “dehellenization” movement came with the “liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”  Benedict noted Adolf von Harnack as a outstanding representative of this stage of the movement.  “Harnack’s central idea was to return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization.”

The result of Harnack’s thought was the creation of an idea of Jesus as one who, “put an end to worship in favor of morality.”

The Pope noted that the fundamental goal of scholars such as Harnack was “to bring Christianity back into harmony with modern reason, liberating it, that is to say, from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ’s divinity and the triune God.”

“In the end (Christ) was presented as the father of a humanitarian moral message.”

Through such study, and exclusive use of historical-critical exegesis, theology was allowed back into the university, as “something essentially historical and therefore strictly scientific.”

The Pope noted, however, that behind the same thinking lays the “modern self-limitation of reason” a concept of reason which combines a Platonic view of the intrinsic rationality of “the mathematical structure of matter” and the exploitability of nature which allows ultimate certainty only by way of the verification or falsification of experimentation.

The result of such a concept of reason is that “only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific.”  And secondly, “by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question.”  

“From this standpoint,” he said, “any attempt to maintain theology’s claim to be ‘scientific’ would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self.”

An even more tragic result, the Pope continued, is that by the shutting out of the questions raised by religion and ethics, questions of the origin and destiny of mankind, due to their lack of “scientific” grounding, “it is man himself who ends up being reduced.”

“The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective ‘conscience’ becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical.”

“In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter.”

The Pope then briefly mentioned a third stage of “dehellenization,” which is now in progress.  In light of the growing experience of “cultural pluralism,” many try to say, “that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary enculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures.”  In other words, because the Church was influenced by the Hellenistic culture in its formative years, people of every culture have the right to, in a sense, re-enculturate the message of Jesus into their own particular world view.

While “there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures,” the Pope admitted, “the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.”

See the full text of the Holy Father’s address here:

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Majority of Americans see God as an angry judge, says new survey

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2006 (CNA) - A recent survey reveals that 9 out of 10 Americans say they believe in God but they hold four very different views and understandings of God.

The national survey of more than 1,700 Americans, said to be the most comprehensive national religion survey to date, was conducted by Gallup and analyzed by sociologists at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

The largest percentage of survey respondents (31.4 percent) believes in the Authoritarian God, who is angry at humanity's sins and engaged in everyone's life and worldly affairs.

Twenty-four percent of respondents said they believe God is a Distant God—a cosmic force that launched the universe and then left it on its own.

Twenty-three percent of respondents believe in the Benevolent God, which sets absolute standards for mankind but is seen as primarily a loving, forgiving Creator.

Sixteen percent believe in a Critical God, who keeps a judgmental eye on humanity, but does not intervene in events.

Most of people with the Authoritarian God view (43.5 percent) live in the South, while the Benevolent view is most common (28.8 percent) in the Midwest, the Critical God is most prevalent (21.2 percent) in the East and the Distant God is favored the most (30.3 percent) in the West, reported

The survey showed a fairly equal number of social conservatives and liberals believe in a God. And while about one-third of Americans say they belong to denominations that theologians consider evangelical, only 14 percent of those surveyed described themselves as evangelicals.

Furthermore, more than 80 percent of those who favor the Authoritarian God say same-sex marriage is wrong; 74.5 percent believe the federal government should advocate Christian values; and only 12.1 percent want to abolish the death penalty.

During Mass in Munich Monday, Pope Benedict clearly outlined the Catholic view of a loving God, who chooses to be close to his people through Jesus Christ.

“God is not far from us, he is not somewhere out in the universe, somewhere that none of us can go,” the Pope said during his homily. “He has pitched his tent among us: in Jesus he became one of us, flesh and blood just like us. This is his ‘tent.’”

The encounter with God, the Pope said, happens in baptism and in the Eucharist. The love of Jesus, which is both divine and human, “is the bath into which he plunges us at Baptism — the bath with which he washes us, cleansing us so that we can be fit for God and capable of living in his company,” the Pope said.

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US bishops call for just immigration reform bill

Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2006 (CNA) - President George W. Bush and Congress must “work together to produce a fair and just comprehensive immigration reform bill,” said Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration.
In a statement released yesterday, Bishop Barnes said, “Just legislation should include a viable path to citizenship for undocumented persons residing in our nation; a temporary worker program which protects the rights of both U.S. and foreign-born laborers; reforms in the family-based immigration system by reducing backlogs and shortening times for family reunification; and restoration of due process protection for immigrants.” The bishop issued the letter on behalf of the U.S. bishops.

While the bishops support immigration enforcement, it “should not undermine the fairness of our laws and should ensure that the human dignity of the person is protected,” wrote Barnes. “We will oppose enforcement initiatives which do not meet this test.”

The bishops believe “immigration is a moral issue because it impacts the human dignity and human rights of the person.” It is therefore, “an issue which should supersede political concerns,” the bishops stated, urging legislators to move beyond partisan politics and work toward a solution.

The bishops said they favored the immigration legislation that was passed in May over the legislation that was passed in December 2005, which was “overly punitive.”

The May bill is “a more comprehensive piece of legislation, which, while imperfect, contains the structure and many of the elements necessary to address our immigration crisis,” said Bishop Barnes.

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Catholics urged not to participate in CROP Walk

Lansing, Mich., Sep 13, 2006 (CNA) - The Diocese of Lansing is encouraging Catholics not to participate in the 30-year annual Church World Service CROP Walk, which raises funds to alleviate hunger and poverty worldwide.

In a statement last week, diocese officials said some of the organization’s partner agencies "endorse and/or provide services which are contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church."

Although the issue was not specifically mentioned in the statement, Catholic CROP supporters said the objections are based on the charge that part of the CROP proceeds is used for abortion-related funding, reported the Flint Journal Sept. 11.

The statement urges Catholics to join other efforts to help the needy instead.

Rev. John McCullough, executive director and chief executive officer of Church World Service, denied in a March letter that the agency provides “funding or support for abortions anywhere in the world.”

However, in a news release issued last week, Church World Service acknowledged that a part of the overall CWS budget goes to contraceptives.

The Catholic Church does not accept the use of contraception, types of which do have abortifacient properties.

A delegation of five Catholic CROP Walk supporters met with diocesan officials in June to try to clarify the diocese’s position on the issue.

Mary Anne Perrone, a member of St. Mary’s Church in Ann Arbor, was among the delegates. She said the diocese's position "seemed to galvanize our group.” Ann Arbor area collected $60,547, with St. Mary parishioners being the highest contributors.

Sr. Ann Marie Petri, pastoral administrator at St. Joseph Parish, said parishioners will continue to participate in the effort but designate its contributions to Catholic Relief Services.

Michigan has been in the lead of fundraising efforts for CROP for the last 20 years; in 2005, donations exceeded $2.7 million. There was participation in 149 communities and by more than 19,000 individuals. One-quarter of the money raised locally stays in the community.

Church World Service describes itself as a “relief, development, and refugee assistance ministry of 35 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations in the United States.”

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Bishop says freedom of worship, but no freedom of religion in Cuba

Madrid, Spain, Sep 13, 2006 (CNA) - Bishop Jose Siro Gonzalez of Pinar del Rio Cuba told a Spanish newspaper this week that freedom of worship, but not freedom of religion, exits in Cuba and that in 50 years the Church has lost 500 priests.

In an interview with “La Voz de Galicia,” the bishop revealed that the Church in Cuba does not have access “to any publicity system, no newspapers, television, nothing.”  “We lost everything in 1961,” he recalled, when the government took away “our education, our care for the sick, in sum, everything except our seminary.”

Church-State relations “have always been distant,” and although government leaders claim they “are very positive,” in reality “this is not the case.”  

“Fidel Castro has always known he is not going to bring in the Church, in past times he has not done it and even less so now,” said Bishop Gonzalez.

He also explained that “the Cuban state is very jealous about aid,” and when a natural disaster occurs, “the State says no” to the Church, arguing that providing aid is its function.  “The State is very jealous of the Church,” he added, and therefore charity work has to be one-on-one and carried out very carefully.

Nevertheless, Bishop Gonzalez said, “The Church has achieved enormous prestige among the people, because it has been the one to care for the poor, to obtain medicine, to care for children with Down’s syndrome.  The people see it as very straightforward charity,” he said.

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Evangelical detained for distributing Biblical passages that condemn homosexuality

London, England, Sep 13, 2006 (CNA) - The national director the Evangelical organization Christian Voice, Stephen Green, was detained recently and charged with “threatening, abusive or insulting behavior” after allegedly refusing to stop handing out pamphlets with Biblical passages condemning homosexuality to people arriving at a gay "Mardi Gras" celebration.

The leaflets he was handing out were entitled "Same-sex love, same-sex sex: What does the Bible say?"

Police officials admitted the Evangelical leader had been detained for distributing the pamphlets which they said angered the Minority Support Unit of Wales.

Green said he was “astonished that South Wales Police have a special unit dedicated to silencing those who disagree with homosexuality” and he questioned the ties between the police and homosexual groups.  Green, who has no past history of bad conduct or violent or aggressive behavior, was interrogated extensively by police and finally detained in jail.

Evangelical church leaders have condemned his detention as “an attack on freedom of expression and freedom of religion.”  Green will remain behind bars until a court hearing on September 28.

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Former underground bishop aligns with “open” Church of China

, Sep 13, 2006 (CNA) - Bishop Francis An Shuxin has left the underground Catholic Church in China to join the government-sanctioned church in what he says is an effort to work for unity and reconciliation.

The Vatican-approved auxiliary bishop of Baoding was recently released from more than 10 years of house arrest and is now residing in Anzhuang.

He told UCA News Sept. 6th, that he has now gained the government's recognition of his position as a bishop and is permitted to do pastoral work openly under the government-approved Church.  However, he said he has not joined the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
The 57-year-old prelate said he decided to join the open Church in order to work toward "communion and development" of both Church communities. Bishop An said that in his view the Vatican supports such moves toward reconciliation.

The Vatican has made no official statement on the decision of the bishop but is reportedly in talks with Chinese officials to bring about greater religious freedom in the country.  Currently, only members of the underground Church profess their allegiance to the universal Catholic Church and the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.  Members of the open Church and Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association practice their faith under a government imposed hierarchy, not approved by the Vatican.
The bishop was released from house arrest Aug. 20, a few days after he agreed to the demands of the local government to concelebrate mass with other government-sanctioned clerics. About 700 Catholics attended the mass. Of the seven priests, three were formerly from the underground community.

"If both sides don't achieve reconciliation in the sacraments, our talk about reconciliation is just empty words," Bishop An told UCA News. He said he regretted not realizing the importance of communion earlier.

Leaders of Baoding's open-Church community said they welcomed Bishop An joining them, but that full reconciliation is still a distant dream.

Fr. Joseph Yang Yicun, a concelebrant, told UCA News Aug. 29 that the Mass was offered for unity and solidarity. The congregation warmly welcomed and applauded Bishop An, he noted.

Meanwhile, some open Church priests remain cautious. "Baoding's present situation is complicated," remarked a parish priest, who refused to be named. "Although many people yearn for reconciliation, I have no idea how it would work out."

Many hold that true reconciliation can not be achieved until full communion is allowed by the China.

Baoding has been a stronghold of the underground Church, which has about 80 priests, 100 nuns and about 100,000 Catholics. The open Church community in Baoding has one bishop, 15 priests, about 10 nuns and 10,000 Catholics.

A former underground priest, who joined the open Church in 2005, told UCA News Sept. 6 that Bishop An's decision to join the open Church has not been accepted by the underground community.

"No matter how many people object to us, we insist on following the papal instructions for reconciliation," the priest reportedly said. He said he hopes the underground community will understand the need for reconciliation and work together for better development of the diocese. 

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Kidnapped Iraqi priest freed in Baghdad

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2006 (CNA) - A young Chaldean priest kidnapped last August 15 in Baghdad was released on Monday.  Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Emmanuel Delly confirmed that Father Saad Sirop Hanna “is well, at home and will finally be able to return to his work at the parish in Baghdad.”

Father Hanna was kidnapped in the Iraqi capital after celebrating the feast of the Assumption of Mary.  Both Pope Benedict XVI and Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Emmanuel appealed for his immediate release.

“He has been freed and he is well; that is the only thing that matters now,” the patriarch told the MISNA news agency.

He also expressed his joy at the “good news” and thanked “all those who worked to attain the release of Father Hanna.”

Pope Benedict had issued an appeal for the release of the priest in mid-August.

The reason for the kidnapping and release is not yet clear.

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