Archive of October 6, 2006

Pope renews commitment to visit Austria next year

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed his commitment to visit Austria. During his meeting with the pontiff yesterday, President Heinz Fischer of Austria once again extended the invitation to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Mariazell, located in the Austrian Alps, next year.

No official date has been announced by the Vatican, but many are expecting the trip to take place October 7-9th of next year.

The shrine is the most important pilgrimage site in Austria and the most popular Marian shrine in Central Europe.  It serves as the official shrine of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia in the Czech Republic. The feast of Our Lady of Mariazell is celebrated on Sept. 13.

Mariazell has been an important pilgrimage site in Europe for more than 800 years ago.

According to tradition, in 1157 a Benedictine monk, named Magnus, was walking through the forest looking for a place to build a monastery. When he encountered huge boulder, too massive to walk around, he knelt in prayer for a while and asked the Virgin Mary to guide him to an appropriate place for his monastery.

Suddenly, the rock split in two, allowing him to pass through. Magnus took a small wooden statue of the Virgin Mary he had in his bag and placed it on a branch near the rock. Soon after, he and some local people built a small chapel to house the statue and his monastic cell.

Word of the miraculous statue of the Virgin quickly spread across the countryside, and the church was expanded to accommodate the growing crowds. In 1200, the chapel was enlarged to a church.

The chapel was continuously expanded until Ferdinand III built the present-day basilica in 1643. By 1699, Mariazell was receiving almost 400,000 pilgrims per year.

In 1907, the statue of Our Lady of Mariazell received an official coronation and the church was designated a Minor Basilica. Pope John Paul II made an official visit to the shrine in 1983.

During their meeting, the Austrian president and the Pope also discussed the activities of the Catholic Church in Austria, the good bilateral relations between the Holy See and Austria, and their agreement on the cultural and spiritual identity of Europe. They also discussed the promotion of dialogue between cultures and religions, in particular between Christianity and Islam, refuting any sort of terrorism.

Fischer later met with the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

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Pope Benedict announces next Assembly of Synod of Bishops in 2008 about the Word of God in the Church

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI has called the 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, dedicated to the theme, “The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church,” to be held at the Vatican, October 5th – 26th, 2008.

The announcement was made through a communiqué of the press office of the Holy See, this morning.  

This newly announced Assembly of the Synod will be convened three years after the last one, which occurred October 2nd- 23d, 2005 on the subject of the Eucharist.

The Synod is group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world and who, according to cannon law, “meet at declared times to foster a closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops, to offer the Pope with their counsel in safeguarding and increasing faith and morals and in preserving and strengthening ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions concerning the Church's activity in the world.”

In a Synod the gathered bishops exchange ideas and share particular experiences with the common objective of seeking pastoral solutions that have universal validity and applications.

The Synod of Bishops became a permanent institution created by Pope Paul VI in 1965 “in response to the desire of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council to keep alive the spirit of collegiality engendered by the conciliar experience.”  However, although it is a permanent institution, the Synod meets and operates only at the invitation of the Pope.

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Christian-Muslim dialogue impossible if persecution of non-Muslims continues

Front Royal, Va., Oct 6, 2006 (CNA) - The starting point for any inter-faith dialogue must be a discussion of the willingness of Islamic governments to stop the persecution of non- Muslims, says Christian Freedom International president Jim Jacobson.

“As long as almost any criticism of Islam is met with violence, a serious dialogue between Christians and Muslims is impossible,” he says in a recent press release.

According to the press release, violence continues throughout the Muslim world in response to Pope Benedict’s recent remarks about Islam. Some Christian churches in Iraq have posted letters stating their disagreement with the Pope in an attempt to avoid attack.

Jacobson recognizes that the history of the Church is not perfect but says the Church has come to realize that violence has no place in promoting the Gospel message. However, the problem of Islamic violence, persecution and discrimination against non-Muslims continues today, he observes.

“The bias against Christians is pervasive across the Muslim world,” says Jacobson. “Of course, some countries are freer and more tolerant than others. Nevertheless, it is virtually impossible to find a Muslim-majority nation in which Christians are not oppressed, while it is similarly hard to locate a Christian-majority state in which Muslims are victimized.

“Freedom of conscience is a prerequisite for religious faith, and it must be protected for everyone,” says Jacobson.

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Pro-family legal groups applauding California court’s decision in favor of same-sex marriage ban

San Francisco, Calif., Oct 6, 2006 (CNA) - Several pro-family legal centers are celebrating a ruling yesterday by the California Court of Appeals, which reversed a lower court’s 2005 decision redefining marriage to include same-sex couples.

The appeals court justices ruled that California's ban on gay marriage does not violate the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians nor is it discriminatory because the state's domestic partner law gives registered same-sex couples the same rights as married spouses in California.

The court also decided that it is not within its jurisdiction to create or to recognize new rights. The court agreed with the state's attorney general that it is up to the Legislature, and not the courts, to change the traditional definition of marriage.

“The respondents in these appeals are asking this court to recognize a new right,” the 128-page court opinion reads. “Courts simply do not have the authority to create new rights, especially when doing so involves changing the definition of so fundamental an institution as marriage....  Judges are not free to rewrite statutes to say what they would like, or what they believe to be better social policy.”

"The time may come when California chooses to expand the definition of marriage to encompass same-sex unions. That change must come from democratic processes, however, not by judicial fiat," the opinion reads.

“The court today recognized that political special interests shouldn’t trump what’s in the best interest of families and children,” said Glen Lavy, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. The organization, along with Liberty Counsel and attorneys Matt Staver and Robert Tyler, has been working to defend marriage in courts throughout the country.

“Who’s more important: our children or special interest groups?  This court rightly put people before politics,” Lavy said.

"The entire legal team always saw this as an issue about the democratic process,” reads a Pro-Family Law Center statement. “California, nor any other state, should be controlled by radical activists, such as Mayor [Gavin] Newsom [of San Francisco], who happen to be in political positions of power.

“The people ought to be able to decide what is right and wrong for society when it comes to the fundamental institutions of family and marriage,” the statement concludes.

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Lawyers to take case of Catholics' executions to international court

Jakarta, Indonesia, Oct 6, 2006 (CNA) - Lawyers and priests from an Indonesian Church-based group say the recent executions of three Catholic men were illegal and unconstitutional, and they intend to bring the case before the International Criminal Court, reported UCA News.

"The executions of Fabianus Tibo, Marinus Riwu, and Dominggus da Silva on Sept. 22 in Palu were a legal and human tragedy,” says a statement issued by the group Advocacy Service for Justice and Peace in Indonesia (Padma).

In their statement, the group claims the three men did not perpetrate the crime for which they were convicted. An Indonesian court fount the three men guilty of leading the Poso riots in May 2000, which killed 224 people, and burned about 5,000 buildings, including homes. The statement notes that there was no legal action resulting from the naming of 16 other people believed to be the masterminds of the 2000 Poso riots.

The statement was presented at a Sept. 29 press conference in Jakarta and was signed by four people, including Divine Word Father Nobert Bethan, director of Padma. Robert Tibo, whose father was executed, also attended the press conference.

According to Padma, which had provided legal and spiritual assistance for the three men, the current Indonesian government perpetrated crimes against humanity by carrying out the executions.

Beyond the facts of the case, the executions were illegal and unconstitutional because they occurred when the three men were exercising their constitutional right to a second appeal for clemency as guaranteed by the law, the statement says.

It also says the way in which the executions were carried out violated the 1964 presidential decree on the procedure for the death penalty.

For example, District Attorney Muhammad Basri Akib refused to officially give or even show Padma the warrant for the executions and refused all “last requests” of the three men.

The three men’s final requests included an open message to the Indonesian president through a press conference. They requested a public execution, carried out in the presence of the head of the National Ombudsman Commission, several priests, and their lawyer.

The three men also requested that their bodies be brought to St. Mary Church and for Bishop Joseph Suwatan of Manado to celebrate the requiem Mass. The three men had rejected the state’s post-execution arrangements.

"Refusing all their last wishes is against the 1964 presidential decree on the procedure of death penalty execution," the statement says.

Another violation occurred through the failure by authorities to give the bodies of the three men to their families after execution. Da Silva was buried without Catholic funeral rites in Palu public cemetery, and the bodies of Tibo and Riwu were sent to Beteleme village.

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L'Osservatore Romano to celebrate its 145th anniversary with an historical exposition

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2006 (CNA) - The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano is celebrating its 145th anniversary with an expo in Rome that will feature rare and historical editions of the paper.

According to the Archivist and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican daily was founded in 1861, in order to respond to the wave of anti-clericalism that had swept through the various kingdoms that would make up present-day Italy.

In addition to confronting the attacks of 19th century liberalism, the newspaper also defended the papacy and Catholics against powerful regimes such as Fascism, led by Benito Mussolini, who sought to bring Catholic Action into the ranks of the Fascist youth organizations.

Cardinal Tauran noted that “when Fascist authoritarianism became totalitarian, L’Osservatore Romano was the only newspaper that continued operating freely,” and therefore it achieved record sales in Rome, because it was the only voice that spoke free of Fascism.  The Vatican daily was responsible for condemning all of the totalitarian ideologies of the time, including Fascism, Nazism, and Communism, the cardinal added.  The condemnations were made known through documents drafted by Pope Pius IX, whose Secretary of State was Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII.

The Vatican daily also played a key role in post-war Europe.  According to Tauran, the Italian elections of 1948 proved to be the decisive factor in aligning Italy with the democratically ruled Western countries rather than with the block of totalitarian regimes led by the Soviet Union.  The influence of Pope Pius XII and the Catholic bishops tipped the vote in favor of the Christian Democratic Party, thus preventing a win by the Soviet-backed Popular Front Party.

The expo on the Vatican daily will be opened by Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarciso Bertone, and will feature the paper’s first front page from July 1, 1861, as well as the special edition of October 16, 1978, announcing the election of John Paul II, and the edition of April 2, 2004, on the occasion of his death.

The expo will remain on display until November 10.

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Catholic lawyers say new sex-ed law is no solution to problems facing young people

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct 6, 2006 (CNA) - In response to the possible passage of a law that requires sex-ed to be taught in all schools in Argentina, the Corporation of Catholic Lawyers is warning that the secularized version of the program “will not solve any of the problems that young people and children are facing today” and that it “will only serve to aggravate” the situation.

The group explained that today’s world is characterized “by a growing increase in moral and judicial amnesia, especially among the younger generations,” and the new law proposed by Congress “is in direct conflict with the fundamental principle of subsidiarity in the field of education.”

“The law contains absurd provisions such as the obligation to impart sex-ed to three and four year-olds, with no regard to parents who are opposed,” the legal association said.

Pro-life groups also objected that the new norm does not protect “the right of parents to intervene in matters related to the education of their children.”  They also warned that linking sexual education with sexual health leads to a distorted vision of the human person, of sexuality and the family, as the euphemism of “reproductive health” is being used to promote contraception, sterilization and abortion.

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Catholic clergy asked to leave Belarus

Oslo, Norway, Oct 6, 2006 (CNA) - Catholics in the former Soviet republic of Belarus are praying and scratching their heads at the expulsion of 12 Roman Catholic Polish religious, 7 priests and 5 nuns, from service in their country.

According to Forum 18 News Service, Fr Yan Kuchynski, the Dean of Grodno's Catholic Cathedral, said “no reason whatsoever” has been given for the refusal of Belarusian authorities to renew the visas of the 12 religious, all of whom have been serving Belarusian Catholics for almost 10 years.

The priests and nuns have been ordered to leave Belarus by 2007.

Although Belarus has no official religion, the Belarus Orthodox Church is the only recognized religion in the country.  Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has continued to consolidate power since his election in July of 1994 and many international bodies are keeping an eye on Lukashenko’s policies which have clamped down on freedom of speech and the press, peaceful assembly, and religion.

It was only one week ago that a Catholic priest, Fr. Antoni Kochko, was tried in Minsk for saying Mass without the required state permission.  Fr. Kochko was acquitted, but according to “The Universe,” many fear that the recent increase in restrictions on Catholics point to the possibility that Lukashenko could be reneging on an agreement made in 2005 with the former Archbishop of Minsk Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek to ease restrictions on the nation’s Catholics.

The Grodno Diocese is the smallest Catholic diocese in Belarus but has the largest number of parishes.  2005 government figures reported 170 Catholic parishes, staffed by 168 priests – 72 of whom were foreign citizens.  Although 80% of the national population belongs to the Belarus Orthodox Church, in the Grodno Diocese, which borders Poland to the west, the number of Catholics an Orthodox is nearly equal.

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World Congress of Prayer for Life opens in Fatima

Fatima, Portugal, Oct 6, 2006 (CNA) - On October 4 the World Congress of Prayer for Life opened in Fatima, under the theme "Mary, We Entrust To You The Cause of Life," bringing together hundreds of participants from more than 30 countries.

According to the Portuguese news agency Ecclesia, the organizers of event said they were pleased with the turnout, which "surpassed all expectations," and that they have received messages of solidarity from people around the world.  The congress will continue through October 8.

They also underscored that the gathering, "although not political in nature, will contribute to the discussion on a proposal to carry out a referendum on abortion, scheduled to take place in the coming days" in Portugal.

Participants at the Congress include the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Msgr. Karl Josef Romer, the Most Reverend Serafim Ferreira e Silva, Bishop Emeritus of Leiria-Fatima, the president of the Portuguese Federation for Life, Isilda Pegado, the vice-postulator of the cause of canonization of the three shepherd children of Fatima, Father Luis Condor, and others. 

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