Vatican City, Sep 27, 2006 (CNA) -
Speaking to some 30,000 faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square this morning, Pope Benedict continued his study on the twelve Apostles, speaking of the Apostle Thomas. The Holy Father said that, like Thomas, all Christians should persevere in adhering to the path of the Lord despite the difficulties that will arise.
The Pontiff said "The case of the Apostle Thomas is important for us for at least three reasons: first, because it comforts our insecurities; second, because it shows us that each doubt can achieve an enlightened result beyond any incertitude; and, finally, because the words said to him by Jesus remind us of the true meaning of mature faith and encourage us to follow, despite the difficulties, our path in adhering to Him."
Benedict said the first point the Gospels make about the St. Thomas is “his determination in following the Master." The Pope spoke of the fear the Apostles felt as Jesus made his way to Jerusalem the Apostle's exhortation to his companions to accompany Jesus to Jerusalem, even knowing the dangers involved. This determination "reveals total availability in adhering to Jesus, to the point of identifying one's fate with His...Christian life is defined as a life with Jesus Christ, a life to be lived with Him."
Thomas also intervenes in the Last Supper when he asks Christ, “how do we know the way (Jn 14:5)?” Jesus responds, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life". The Holy Father said, "Every time we hear or read these words, we feel that our thoughts side with Thomas and imagine that the Lord speaks to us as He did to him.”
“At the same time,” the Pope continued, “the question also confers us the right, so to speak, to ask Jesus for explanations. This way we express the shallowness of our ability to understand, at the same time we set ourselves in an attitude of trust, like those who await the light and strength from the one able to give this to us".
The day after Easter, is the first time Thomas displays a moment of doubt, the Pope continued. In the well known scene, the Apostle says he is unable to recognize the Risen Jesus until he places his hand in the wound in His side. "In the end, these words demonstrate the conviction that by now Christ is recognized not as much by His face but by His wounds. Thomas believes that the qualifying signs of Jesus are above all, now, the wounds, which reveal to what point He loved us. As to this, the Apostle is correct."
St. Louis, Mo., Sep 27, 2006 (CNA) - A proposed ballot measure that would constitutionally protect human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research in Missouri is facing opposition from pro-life groups and individuals including a young priest who opposes the practices even in the face of claims that his paralyzing injury could be healed through the research.
Fr. Michael Esswein of the Diocese of St. Louis who has lived with a spinal cord injury for the last 14 years is one of those people whom embryonic stem-cell researchers say will be eventually helped by the controversial technique. To date, very little progress has been made with this method toward any cures.
But, even if progress was made, Fr. Esswein says the destruction of human life wouldn’t be worth it to him. "I wouldn’t want to benefit from that kind of [embryonic stem-cell] research," the priest told the newspaper. Fr. Esswein said he is open to receiving therapies or a cure from alternative sources that don’t involve the destruction of human life, reported the diocesan newspaper, the St. Louis Review.
The Catholic Church has rejected embryonic stem-cell research because it involves the intentional creation and destruction of human life to obtain the needed cells. The Church supports an alternative and harmless method of research using adult stem cells.
Fr. Esswein, associate pastor at St. Peter Parish in Kirkwood, has delivered homilies to his parishioners against embryonic stem-cell research and pointing out the successes of adult stem-cell research. He delivered a similar homily at St. Clare of Assisi in Ellisville, the Review said.
The priest was in a car accident with his family 14 years ago when he suffered the spinal cord injury and a broken neck. He was diagnosed with quadriplegia. He has some use of his arms and hands, and he can use a manual wheelchair. His fingers and the back of his arms are paralyzed.
Father Esswein also said he has mentioned the false promises for cures made by proponents of the Missouri ballot initiative.
"There really isn’t a cure right around the corner," he told the newspaper. "We just seem to ignore the advances in adult stem-cell research — and in particular, the possibilities with (umbilical) cord blood cells. There’s an ample supply of that every day when children are born."
The priest, ordained in 1998, said he believes all citizens should vote on the Nov. 7 ballot initiative.
"We’re talking about an amendment to the Constitution," he stated. "It’s pretty final."
Chicago, Ill., Sep 27, 2006 (CNA) - Almost two months after radical surgery for bladder and ureter cancer, Cardinal Francis George says he’s well on his way to recovery, thanks to the power of prayer.
The 69-year-old cardinal-archbishop of Chicago shared with the Sun-Times how his battle with cancer has impacted his faith.
The cardinal assured the paper that he is in good health, despite having lost 10 pounds. He is feeling much better and does not experience any pain.
“My biggest problem is from time to time overcoming weakness,” he told the newspaper, adding that this is usual in times of convalescence.
The cardinal said it was a humbling experience to have so many people praying for him. “To have so many people who believe in God remembering you before the Lord, people that you've met maybe once or twice, who you barely met when they saw you, or not at all -- it tells you a little bit about that network of love that unites a bishop and his people that you can lose track of, because normally you're dealing with complaints and you're bound up with all kinds of administrative details,” he was quoted as saying. “And that has changed my sense of priorities.”
The cardinal said he had felt a few times during the medical intervention the closeness of the Lord and the angels as people prayed and even close to death. “At those moments, that presence becomes more palpable and that veil between this world and the next becomes very thin,” he said. He said he faced the possibility of death with serenity and openness to the will of God.
The cardinal described his experience of others praying for him as “a comforting feeling.” He said he felt connected to those people who prayed for him.
“I could feel that their concern for me was very much a part of my life, and they were bringing me before the Lord,” he said. “I was never alone.”
Washington D.C., Sep 27, 2006 (CNA) - The passage of the Public Expression of Religion Act in the House yesterday makes one step closer toward ensuring fewer attacks on religious freedoms in the United States, religious-rights groups say. The bill will now go to the Senate for a vote.
“The bill would require that parties in establishment-clause cases take responsibility for their own legal fees, thus making it more difficult for the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and others to collect large sums of money in attorney’s fees when they win,” said Catholic League president Bill Donohue. “If the bill were to become law, it would go a long way towards ending the intimidation tactics of these bullies.”
Donohue also contrasted this effort to gain more religious rights for Christians and Jews with the success that accused Muslim terrorists have had in obtaining religious rights at Guantanamo.
“It is more than ironic — it is perverse — to note that while Christians and Jews are battling for their religious rights, accused Muslim thugs in the Guantanamo Bay detention camps are having no problem getting their religious rights honored during Ramadan,” Donohue said in a statement.
He cited a Los Angeles Times’ article which reports that the detainees at Guantanamo, which include 14 suspected Al Qaeda leaders among the more than 400 prisoners, are having their religious rights assured.
Detention center staff is reportedly working “around the clock” to provide “Ramadan-specific” meals.
“So while these Muslims are getting their nuts and honey, Christians and Jews are scratching for their religious crumbs,” said Donohue.
One U.S. Army official reportedly said the deference given to the detainees “under the guise of religion was unbelievable.”
“If this bill is voted on by the Senate and signed into law, citizens will have the confidence to pursue lawsuits in cases where their religious liberties have been violated,” said the CWA’s Lanier Swann.
“Americans who wish to contest violations such as the refusal to allow the display of the Ten Commandments, the denial for the Boy Scouts of America to meet on public property, the omission of the words ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance or the ban on student prayer at football games will have one less hindrance to protecting their rights,” she noted.
The measure was introduced by Rep. John Hostettler (R-Indiana).
San Salvador, El Salvador, Sep 27, 2006 (CNA) - Father Ricardo Antonio Romero, 39, was brutally assassinated Monday in the region of Sonsonate in western El Salvador.
According to local police, Father Romero, who was the former pastor of the Cathedral of Sonsonate, was walking down a street in the town of Acajutla in broad daylight when he was encircled by a group of unknown men who beat him to death with rocks and wooden clubs.
While the motive behind the killing is still unknown, local officials said the methods used were typical of the gangs that operate in the region and that are responsible for at least one murder per day.
Police said Father Romero’s murder took place around 1:30pm.
Father Romero was pastor of Santa Catalina Masahuat, located in an indigenous community in Sonsonate. Employees at the parish said they were shocked over the news.
“We don’t really know anything, only that they killed Father, and we waiting for his remains to be brought here for the prayer vigil,” one of the employees told Reuters.
The Office for Human Rights of the Archdiocese of El Salvador expressed shock at the news of the murder and said it would begin an investigation into the motive behind the brutal killing.
El Salvador is currently suffering a wave a violence that claims more than 10 lives each day in the country.
Front Royal, Va., Sep 27, 2006 (CNA) - In the aftermath of the executions of three Catholic men, Christian Freedom International said the Indonesian government must protect Christians.
The U.S.-based human rights group says the allegedly unfair trial of the three Catholic men and their execution Sept. 22 is the tip of the iceberg regarding injustices toward Christians in the Asian country.
Government authorities throughout Indonesia have often tolerated abuse against Christians, conducted by private citizens. The human-rights group cites a State Department report, which says that while Indonesia promotes religious freedom in theory, the government has failed to punish those who perpetrate abuse against religious groups.
“Mobs have regularly destroyed churches and other Christian facilities around Indonesia, with no one ever punished,” said Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom Insternational. “Out of fear of retaliation local officials often refuse to allow congregations to rebuild.”
Last fall, Christian Freedom International reported that an Islamist group, whose name translates into the Anti-Apostasy Alliance Movement, had used intimidation to close at least 35 churches on the island of Java, on which Jakarta is located. Christians remain equally vulnerable elsewhere.
The government bans proselytizing and recently adopted new rules making it virtually impossible to open a church in a non-Christian neighborhood. The human-rights group also claims that Christians are less likely to receive government benefits and jobs, and more likely to face extortion and intimidation because the police and judiciary often do not protect non-Muslims.
The government of Indonesia executed three Christians on September 22, 2006, for their alleged role in fighting on the island of Sulawesi six years ago. Crowds rioted over the weekend on several islands in protest.
Several rights groups hold that the conviction of the men was influenced by pressure from Islamic radicals. Isabelle Cartron of Amnesty International reports: “The men’s lawyers received death threats, including a bomb planted at one lawyer’s house, and demonstrators armed with stones outside the courthouse demanded that the three be sentenced to death.”
And Christian Freedom International says the conviction of the men is not the only case where Islamic extremists have threatened the courts. A year ago three Sunday School teachers were convicted of the “Christianization” of Muslim children who had attended classes with the permission of their parents. The women’s trial was highlighted by mob calls for their deaths.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sep 27, 2006 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro, Cardinal Eusebio Scheid, has refused to sign a court order obtained by the lawyers of a pro-abortion candidate for the Senate that requires him to silence the priests in his archdiocese on matters related to human life.
Several days ago various groups distributed pamphlets at parishes throughout the archdiocese alerting voters of the pro-abortion stance of Senate candidate Jandira Feghali, who has drafted a measure that would completely legalize abortion in Brazil.
Feghali’s lawyers asked a court to order a search for the pamphlets at the archdiocesan chancery, but no pamphlets were found there.
Later, Cardinal Scheid received an order from the court to ask all pastors and priests “to abstain from any kind of commentary or political-ideological references under threat of disobedience.”
The cardinal refused to sign the order and said “in due time” he would give “an official response.”
“We preach respect for the life and dignity of the person from conception to natural death,” the cardinal said, “but we never speak in the name of any candidate or political party.”
He also strongly rejected claims that the archdiocese was responsible for the distribution of the pamphlets.
Rome, Italy, Sep 27, 2006 (CNA) - The President of the Pontifical Council for Health Care, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, has reiterated the Church’s teaching that euthanasia is a form of murder.
Speaking to the Italian daily “La Repubblica,” the Mexican cardinal emphasized, “This is one of the teachings of the Church in the field of medicine and serious illness, a truth that the believer must never forget.” “Man can never take the place of God,” he said, “as those who promote euthanasia pretend to do.”
At the same time, however, the cardinal noted that it is not moral to prolong a sick person’s agony with medical treatment that serves no purpose. “Palliative care for the alleviating of useless suffering” should always be preferred, he added.
A video sent to the Italian president showing a handicapped man who cannot breathe on his own has sparked an intense debate on euthanasia in Italy, where the practice is currently illegal.
Vatican City, Sep 27, 2006 (CNA) - At the conclusion of his General Audience in St. Peter’s Square today, Pope Benedict XVI took a moment to comment on the World Tourism Day, which is celebrated today.
The Pope said, in his special remarks to Italian speaking pilgrims, that World Tourism Day is “a very important social phenomenon in today's world,” and that, “tourism would promote dialogue and mutual respect between cultures, more all the time, thus becoming a door open to peace and harmonious co-existence."
Yesterday the Vatican released a letter, written by former Sectrary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, saying that, "tourism is an undisputed source of well-being because it helps to drive the economies of nations.”
The Cardinal continues, noting that "in the reciprocal welcome between visitor and host one can realize that exchange of the goods of the earth and of culture which renders human life more fraternal and united."
Sodano also notes the insistence of the World Tourism Organization, that “tourism is above all an affair of human beings.”
“The enrichment that it can produce must not, therefore, be simply economic or material," rather it must "promote an authentic human and social development thanks to the growing opportunity that it offers for a sharing of goods, for rich cultural exchanges, for contemplating natural or artistic beauty, for a comparison between different mentalities, traditions and religions," the cardinal said.
However, he said, “In order for this to be possible, it is necessary that all individuals and groups active in the tourism sector ‘encourage the formation of specific competencies and then offer dynamic guarantees for the welcoming of tourists.’”
Lima, Peru, Sep 27, 2006 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, reminded Peruvians this week that Sunday Mass is the center of each week and encouraged families to attend.
“The Mass is the center of the week, of the Peruvian family, and around which all of our desires and hopes revolve. Perhaps many have lost this sense, and few appreciate it as the great and only remedy for all of our wrongs, as the way to seek out again the love of God so that humanity can leave behind the darkness in which it finds itself,” the cardinal said.
He also called on Peruvians to reject selfishness, reminding them that “the problem of today’s world is that we are deaf and we don’t want to listen to Jesus.”
Cardinal Cipriani also referenced the upcoming October celebrations of Our Lord of the Miracles, calling them “the best time for conversion, for removing the chaos from our hearts that leads to envy, anger and laziness, so that the Lord might help us to be converted and discover the beauty of a life lived for love.”