Archive of September 25, 2006

Benedict tells Muslim leaders dialogue not an option, but a necessity

Castelgandolfo, Italy, Sep 25, 2006 (CNA) - Meeting with a group of Muslim clerics as well as several ambassadors from mostly Islamic countries today, Pope Benedict XVI reiterated his desire to continue down the road of sincere dialogue in order to foster peace in the world.

The Pontiff, who invited the Muslim representatives to his residence at Castelgandolfo to reaffirm his respect and esteem for their religion and people, told the leaders that the dialogue between Christians and Muslims, “cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends.”

Benedict clearly indicated his desire to forge ahead with interfaith talks, barely mentioning the comments which have caused an uproar in the Muslim world. “The circumstances which have given rise to our gathering are well known,” Benedict commented, reminding them that he has already offered his regrets that offence had been taken and his assurances that the views of emperor Manuel II in no way reflect his own.

He then went on to quote the Second Vatican Council document “Nostra Aetate,” which he called the “Magna Carta” for the Church’s position on Muslim-Christian dialogue, saying “The Church looks upon Muslims with respect. They worship the one God living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to humanity and to whose decrees, even the hidden ones, they seek to submit themselves whole-heartedly, just as Abraham, to whom the Islamic faith readily relates itself, submitted to God (NA, 3).”

Assuring them that the Vatican II statement was the “perspective” from which he viewed the dialogue, the Pope noted his efforts at continuing the dialogue from the beginning of his Pontificate.

Benedict specifically pointed out his comments at a meeting he had with some Muslim Leaders in Cologne at the very beginning of his Pontificate, last August.  

“Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends,” the Pope said at that time.

Benedict also mentioned two themes central to his Papacy – relativism and the place of reason as a transcendent and universal quality.

“In a world marked by relativism and too often excluding the transcendence and universality of reason, we are in great need of an authentic dialogue between religions and between cultures, capable of assisting us, in a spirit of fruitful co-operation, to overcome all the tensions together.”

Benedict said that he hopes the work of Christian-Muslim dialogue, advanced by his predecessor John Paul II, will not only continue, but also develop further “in a spirit of sincere and respectful dialogue, based on ever more authentic reciprocal knowledge which, with joy, recognizes the religious values that we have in common and, with loyalty, respects the differences.”

“Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue is a necessity for building together this world of peace and fraternity ardently desired by all people of good will,” he said.

Pope Benedict clarified that while religious and political leaders should help Christians and Muslims work together, that all should remain faithful to the teachings of their own religious traditions.

Though subtle, the Holy Father also noted some areas which concern many Christians in their dealings with the Muslim world.  He noted that it was a requirement of Christian and Muslim leaders to, “guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence.”  He also recalled the words of Pope John Paul II regarding the need for “reciprocity” between the cultures.  

Speaking to Islamic young people at Casablanca, John Paul said “Respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all spheres, especially in that which concerns basic freedoms, more particularly religious freedom (no. 5).”

Benedict said the dialogue would promote, “the defense and promotion of the dignity of the human person and of the rights ensuing from that dignity.”

The Holy Father ended his address with a prayer for guidance from God in path to “authentic mutual understanding.”

According to the Vatican, participants in the meeting included heads of mission from Kuwait, Jordan, Pakistan, Qatar, Ivory Coast, Indonesia, Turkey, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, Senegal, Algeria, Morocco, Albania, the Arab League, Syria, Tunisia, Libya, Iran and Azerbaijan. Also present were 14 members of the Islamic Council of Italy and representatives from the Italian Islamic Cultural Center and the Office of the World Muslim League.

Initial indications are that the meeting was well received by Muslim leaders.  

Iraqi ambassador, Albert Edward Ismail Yelda, told the press that he is ready to move on. "I pray to almighty God the crisis will be behind us," he told reporters. "We need to sit together -- Muslims, Christians, Jews and the rest of the world, the rest of religions, in order to find common ground for peaceful coexistence."

Speaking to Reuters, Mario Scialoja, an adviser to the Italian section of the World Muslim League, said that the Holy Father offered a, “very good and warm speech.”

"He recalled the differences but expressed his willingness to continue in a cordial and fruitful dialogue, said Scialoja, who added that he "had not been expecting another apology."

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Benedict: the logic of Christianity is the giving of one's self in loving service

Vatican City, Sep 25, 2006 (CNA) - Drawing from Sunday’s Gospel reading, Pope Benedict XVI explained the "logic of Christianity," during his weekly Angelus address at Castelgandolfo.  The Holy Father told the hundreds of gathered pilgrims that “the logic of love..the logic of Christianity” is the giving of self.

The Holy Father quoted today's Gospel reading in which Jesus announces to His disciples, for the second time, His passion, death and resurrection. The evangelist Mark, said the Pope, "highlights the strong contrast between Jesus' mentality and that of the twelve Apostles, who not only do not understand the Master's words and refuse the idea that He may die, but discuss among themselves which of them is 'the greatest.'”
"Jesus patiently explains His logic to them," the Holy Father added, "the logic of love that is service even unto the giving of self. ... This is the logic of Christianity, which responds to the truth of man created in God' image, and at the same time contrasts man's egoism, a consequence of original sin. All human beings are attracted by love - which in the final analysis is God Himself - but often mistake the concrete ways to express that love. And thus from a tendency that in its origins is positive, though polluted by sin, evil intentions and actions can arise."
Pope Benedict went on to recall the words of the Letter of James: "For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy. ... And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."
The Holy Father concluded his remarks calling to mind the ultimate self-sacrifice made by many Christians: "these words make us think of the witness of so many Christians who ... dedicate their lives to the service of others for the sake of the Lord Jesus, working as servants of love and ... 'artisans' of peace. Sometimes, he said, some of them are asked for the supreme witness of blood, calling to mind the murder of Italian religious sister, Leonella Sgorbati.  Sr. Leonella, he said, offered “the most authentic Christian witness” dying in love as she spoke the word, “forgive” with her last breath.

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Pope praises Italian nun in Somalia for pardoning her killers

Castelgandolfo, Italy, Sep 25, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI praised the Christian witness of an Italian nun for pardoning her killers as she lay dying from an attack in Somalia.

Sr. Leonella Sgorbati, an Italian missionary who worked in a pediatrics hospital in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, was shot by two gunmen on Sept. 17. Her bodyguard also was killed.

Benedict was speaking to pilgrims Sunday during a general audience at Castel Gandolfo about how disciples must live in witness to Christ.

"Some are asked to give the supreme testimony of blood, just as … Sr. Leonella Sgorbati, who fell victim to violence," the pontiff said.

"This sister, who for many years served the poor and the children in Somalia, died pronouncing the word 'forgive,'" the Pope said. "This is the most authentic Christian testimony, a peaceful sign of contradiction which shows the victory of love over hatred and evil."

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Bishop Aquila says death sentence in North Dakota continues cycle of violence

, Sep 25, 2006 (CNA) - The death sentence imposed upon Alfonso Rodriguez, Jr., Sept. 22 “obscures for all of society the truth of the inherent dignity of human life,” said Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo.

“Responding to this senseless act of violence with another act of violence through imposition of the death penalty does not erase the hurt caused by the first act,” the bishop wrote in a statement over the weekend.

“Rather, it reinforces the false perspective of revenge as justice. In doing so, it diminishes respect for all human life, both the lives of the guilty and the innocent,” he continued.

Rodriguez was convicted of killing University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin, 22, of Pequot Lakes, Minn.

Although North Dakota does not have the death penalty, it is available in the federal system in which Rodriguez’s case was held.

Some legislators believe the case may revive the death penalty debate in the state, insisting that it could provide a necessary deterrent for future violent crimes of this sort. Lawmakers have not debated a death penalty bill since 1995, when the North Dakota Senate defeated the idea.

The bishop, however, argued that the death penalty continues, rather than thwarts, the cycle of violence in society.  He also noted that the prison systems are secure and make the death penalty unnecessary.

“Violence only promotes violence and is not the way of Jesus Christ,” he said “Furthermore, society today is capable of protecting itself by sentences of life imprisonment without parole, allowing the person who has committed such a violent crime time for conversion and repentance for his action.”

The bishop also cited Pope Benedict XVI, who recently said: “Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.”
The bishop said he grieves for the family and friends of Rodriguez’s victim, Dru Sjodin, and for the family and friends of Rodriguez.

“We as a society, as Christians, as Americans, can serve victims of violence better by seeking ways to combat violence against life at its very source – by teaching and living the truth that all life is gift, all life is precious, and all life is to be protected,” he said. 

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Holy See grieves executions of three Indonesian men

Vatican City, Sep 25, 2006 (CNA) - The Vatican expressed great regret and sorrow over the executions of three Catholic Indonesian men last week. Fabianus Tibo, 60, Dominggus da Silva, 42, and Marinus Riwu, 48, were convicted of leading a violent attack on Muslims, which killed around 200 people in 2000, and then sentenced to death. They were executed firing squad on Thursday.

The Vatican’s Secretary of State, on behalf of Pope Benedict XVI, had intervened on several occasions and asked for clemency for the three men.

The Holy See acknowledged that in addition to the Aug. 12 telegram, which was made public, two letters were sent directly to the Indonesian president, Dec. 5, 2004 and March 7, 2006. Two other interventions were directed to the Indonesian Embassy at the Holy See on Dec. 13, 2005 and Feb. 14, 2006.

Employing a humanitarian stance and inspired by the teachings of the Catholic Church on the death penalty, the Holy See sought to contribute to the process of reconciliation in Indonesia and to positive relations between the diverse religions, says a statement issued by the Vatican.

Thousands of Catholics attended funerals for the three men, who were buried Sunday.  Soldiers and police guarded churches and mosques in Poso and along roads leading to the remote area of Beteleme, where two of the three militants were buried, reported Antara, the state news agency.

Many still hold that the three were falsely convicted and were “scapegoats” for the deaths of Muslims in a series of attacks and reprisals between Catholic and Muslims in the country.  No Muslims have been sentenced to death for the attacks which left thousands of Catholics and hundreds of Muslims dead in 2000.

However, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told The Associated Press that the executions “had nothing to do with the questions of tolerance between Islam and other religions."

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Baby born pre-maturely to cancer-stricken mother loses battle for life

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sep 25, 2006 (CNA) - The Argentinean newspaper Cristo Hoy reported last week that a two month-old baby who was born pre-maturely at 27 weeks lost his battle for life and has died.  The baby’s mother, Laura Figueroa, had refused treatments for cancer in order to give her baby a chance to live.  She died from complications related to her illness on August 9.

Laura Figueroa was 39 and was diagnosed with breast cancer soon after conceiving her ninth child.  Doctors advised she begin chemotherapy even though that meant significant risk to her unborn child, but she decided to postpone treatment until after the child’s birth.

“Cristo Hoy” dedicated the editorial of its latest edition to the moving story of Laura and her son Pedro.

“Thank You, Maria Laura, thank you, little Pedro, because you did not come down from the cross.  Your deaths dignified all of our lives,” the editorial said.  “We have been created for the heroism of giving our lives for God and for our brothers and sisters.  What does the cross say to us each time we look upon it? That Christ gave his life, and yet if we allow ourselves to get carried away by the logic of this world we are instead saying to ourselves: care for your life, use your life, enjoy life,” the editors said.

Several months ago, Laura explained that she made the decision to try to save the life of her child to be a witness to help those who defend life from the moment of conception.

“Today more than ever, there are people who are against life, who today want to legalize abortion, which I consider to be an abominable crime.  Therefore I ask that this testimony serve to encourage those who defend unborn life.  I would like all women who are expecting a child to remember that now situation, no matter how hard, justifies taking the life of the baby they carry in their womb.  Not even in cases of rape or risk of their own life,” she said. 

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Pope calls on bishops to evangelize with their own testimony of life

Vatican City, Sep 25, 2006 (CNA) - On Saturday Pope Benedict XVI met with bishops attending an annual meeting hosted by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and exhorted them to safeguard and transmit the faith of Christ with the testimony of their own lives.

After greeting the Prefect of the dicastery, Cardinal Ivan Dias, the Pontiff dwelt upon the efforts that have to be made to ensure that the announcement of the Gospel reaches everyone, and upon the need to evangelize cultures and "encourage sincere and open dialogue with one and all, so that together we can build a more fraternal and united humanity.”
"Only when driven by the love of Christ," he added, "is it possible to bring to completion this apostolic labor, which demands the intrepid courage of those who, for the Lord's sake, do not fear even persecution and death."  In this sense, he recalled the "heroic witnesses to the Gospel" of previous centuries, as well as the recent sacrifice of "Sr. Leonella Sgorbati, missionary sister of the Consolata, barbarously murdered in Mogadishu, Somalia," on September 17.

Benedict XVI told the bishops that in order to be good pastors, they need to set an example in all fields of life. It is likewise vital, he said, "that you give primary importance in your episcopal ministry to prayer and to the incessant striving for sanctity. It is also important that you concern yourselves with the serious formation of seminarians and with the permanent 'aggiornamento' of priests and catechists."
"Maintaining the unity of the faith in the diversity of its cultural expressions is another precious service required of you,” he went on.  “This means that you must remain united to your flock, following the example of Christ the Good Shepherd, and that the flock must always remain united to you. As sentinels of the People of God, avoid divisions with firmness and courage, especially when they are due to ethnic or socio-cultural reasons. They damage the unity of the faith and undermine the announcement and witness of the Gospel of Christ," the Pope said.

After expressing his joy at "the continual flowering of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life," in many of their churches, the Pope called on the prelates to ensure that seminaries have "a sufficient number of formators, chosen and trained with care, who must first and foremost be examples and models for the seminarians.”  “It is upon the training of future priests and of all other pastoral care workers, especially catechists,” the Pontiff noted, “that the future of your communities and of the Universal Church depends."

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Former Spanish President says double standard exits between Islam and the West

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2006 (CNA) - The former president of Spain, José María Aznar, noted that the controversy over the words of Pope Benedict XVI at Ratisbona make clear a double standard in relations between Islam and the West.  Speaking at a Washington think tank, Aznar asked why no Muslims have apologized for the 800 year Moorish invasion of his country.

Speaking at a weekend conference at the Hudson Institute, Aznar asked, “What is the reason ... we, the West, always should be apologiz(ing) and they never should ... apologize? It's absurd!  They occupied Spain for eight centuries!”

Aznar also said that the Western world is in serious trouble when it comes to relations with the Islamic world, and not just because of radical Islamic terrorists.  The former president said that poor leadership in the West has led to a sense that Western values are indefensible. “I can put on the table the names of various Western leaders who don’t believe in the West,” he said.

Aznar said dialogue is impossible unless the West knows itself and called “stupidity” the “Alliance of Civilizations” promoted by the current government of Spain.  

“Dialogue, he said is indispensable…but an ‘alliance of civilizations’ is another thing.”  

“How (does he) mean (to create) the Alliance of Civilizations,” Aznar asked.  Does he mean that “the European Union or the United States should be in alliance, for example, with the (Iranian) ayatollah’s regime?”  How is an alliance possible, he asked, “when we defend the rights of men and women and the Muslim world defends the contrary,” he asked.

A radical Islam, he continued, which “is set on a world agenda,” and which has no desire to dialogue cannot be dialogued with.

“The best alliance for us,” he concluded, “is the Atlantic alliance.” And only after strengthening their resolve can the west enter into productive dialogue.

In the opinion of the former president, their centuries under Muslim rule have left Spaniards with a more real sense of the threat of radical Islam, though, he noted, it may be ignored by the current political leadership.  “Spain, for a different reason, is the country that feels most closely the Islamist threat,” he said.  The decisions of the current Goverment on dealing with Islam are “another question,” Aznar said, drawing laughter.

Aznar explained necessity of recreating western values in contradistinction to radical Islam. Speaking of freedom, equality, and democracy, Aznar called Western values, “the best in the world.”

Only after reinforcing Western values of freedom, can you attack terrorism, Aznar said.  “The battle of values is the most important battle at the moment.”

“We also have to combat relativism and defend family values,” and that this “is a very important battle. And I am here to defend these values,” he concluded.

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International conference on Catholic television to be held in Madrid

Madrid, Spain, Sep 25, 2006 (CNA) - Msgr. Enrique Planas of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications announced this week final preparations are being made for the International Conference on Catholic Television, which will be held October 10-12 in Madrid.

The event is being organized in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Madrid and the Garcia Moronte Foundation.  Msgr. Planas said more than 250 participants from around the world are expected to attend and will discuss ways to more effective present the Church’s message to the world.

Juan Pedro Ortuño, coordinator of the organizing committee, said the Conference would highlight contributions to Catholic television from the Church in Latin America. He also said that those unable to attend would be able to follow the event over the internet.

Jose Maria Gil Tamayo of the event’s international committee explained the Conference would focus on two important aspects, identity and solidarity, which will help define what it means to be Catholic and operate a Catholic television network.

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Christians in India protest government plan to amend anti-conversion law

Mumbai, India, Sep 25, 2006 (CNA) - Church leaders and others in Gujarat have protested the western Indian state government's move to amend and pass a law that regulates religious conversions, UCAN reports.

Archbishop Fernandes of Gandhinagar and Bishop Thomas Macwan of Ahmedabad submitted a memorandum to the state governor Sept. 20 to express the community's fear that the law would be misused; they urged him not to sign the amendment.

Archbishop Fernandes called the enactment of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act of 2003 and its amendment “frivolous exercises.”  Though the legislature passed the law and the governor signed it, the law was not published in the official gazette, which means it is not yet in effect.

The law requires citizens to request permission from a district magistrate to convert from one religion to another.

It also imposes three years' imprisonment and a fine of up to 100,000 rupees (US$2,100) for anyone found guilty of converting someone else "by use of force or any fraudulent means," terms which are to be judged by the government’s courts.  If the converted person is a minor, woman, or member of a dalit (low caste) or tribal community, the jail term can be up to four years.

The state's pro-Hindu government introduced a bill Sept. 19 to amend the law in order to clear certain confusions regarding forced conversion and who should apply for permission to convert from one religion to another.

The amendment says "to convert means to make one person renounce one religion and adopt another; but does not include one who renounces one denomination and adopts another denomination of the same religion."

The amendment allows people to change from one sect to another under the same religion without permission. This would mean a Protestant can freely change to Catholicism or a Shia Muslim become a Sunni Muslim.

However, the amendment also categorizes Buddhists and Jains with Hindus, so changing from one of these religions to another is not considered conversion.

Samson Christian, joint secretary of the ecumenical All India Christian Council, says the law contradicts the country's constitution that allows people to choose their religion.

The archbishop said the governor has asked the Church leaders to submit a detailed report on how the amendment would violate human rights and hinder religious liberty. "We will submit a report within 10 days," he added.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (world Hindu Council), however, welcomed the amendment as a good means to keep tabs on Christian evangelization efforts in tribal areas.

The law will spoil the Vatican plans "to capture the vulnerable Hindus," added Jaydeep Patel, the group’s general secretary.

The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party) rules Gujarat. Many view it as the political arm of groups that want to make India a Hindu theocratic state.

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