Vatican City, Nov 22, 2006 (CNA) -
Offering the last of his reflections on St. Paul during his weekly General Audiences, Pope Benedict XVI explained the special presence of the Church in the life, thoughts, and heart of the Apostle, and discussed how, for Paul, the greatness and nobility of the Church lies in being, “almost an extension” of Christ’s personal presence in the world.
The Holy Father recalled for the rain-drenched crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square, how St. Paul's, "first contact with the person of Jesus came about through the witness of the Christian community of Jerusalem.”
“This gives us the opportunity to make a first important observation,” the Pope pointed out, “normally we come to Jesus - either to accept Him or refuse Him - through the mediation of the community of believers."
"In a certain way this also happened to St. Paul," said the Pope, although in Paul's case "adherence to the Church was facilitated by a direct intervention of Christ, Who, revealing Himself on the road to Damascus, identified Himself with the Church and made Paul understand that to persecute the Church was to persecute Him ... From this we can understand why the Church was so present in the thoughts, heart and activity of St. Paul."
He "founded many Churches in the various cities he visited as an evangelizer." And "in his Letters, Paul also explains his doctrine on the Church.”
“Particularly well-known,” the Holy Father noted, “is his definition of the Church as the 'body of Christ,' which is not to be found in other first-century Christian writers."
"The deepest roots of this surprising definition of the Church," he said, "are to be found in the Sacrament of the body of Christ.”
“In the Eucharist, Christ gives us His Body and makes us His Body,” the Pope continued. “In this way, Paul brings us to understand that not only does the Church belong to Christ, but that there is also some form of equivalence and identification between the Church and Christ.”
“Thence springs the greatness and nobility of the Church, in other words, of all of us who, as limbs of Christ, are part of the Church, almost an extension of His personal presence in the world," he said.
"Thence also derive Paul's exhortations regarding the various charisms that animate and give structure to the Christian community," the Holy Father affirmed. "However, it is important that all such charisms work together to build the community and do not become a cause of its break-up."
"Of course,” he added, “underscoring the need for unity does not mean that ecclesial life must be rendered uniform and dull.”
Vatican City, Nov 22, 2006 (CNA) - The director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, said it was “very wonderful news” that Pope Benedict XVI “has been able to finish the first part of his great work on Jesus and that in few months we will have it in our hands.”
Father Lombardi’s comments came as news broke that Pope Benedict XVI is ready to publish his first book as Pope, “Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration.”
“I find it extraordinary that despite the commitments and concerns of his pontificate, Benedict XVI has been able to bring to maturation a work of great academci and spiritual effort,” he said.
“The Holy Father says he has dedicated all of his spare time to this project. This is a very significant indication about the importance and urgency of this work for him,” Father Lombardi noted.
The Pope’s book is part of his mission to “strengthen the faith of the brethren,” the Vatican spokesman continued, “and he does so regarding a central point of the faith, that is, Jesus Christ.” He called it a “great work of exegesis and theology, but also a great work of spirituality.”
Father Lombardi recalled his own encounter as a young man with Ratzinger’s first book, “Introduction to Christianity,” saying he was confident this new work would not leave readers disappointed. “We…will be immensely grateful to the Pope for his witness as a thinker, a scholar, and a man of faith regarding the most essential point of the entire Christian faith,” he stated.
Washington D.C., Nov 22, 2006 (CNA) - Seventy-four U.S. congressmen on Monday urged Amnesty International to remain neutral on the issue of abortion, saying that a pro-abortion stance would damage the group’s credibility as a human rights organization.
Amnesty International will consider taking a stance in favor of universal access to abortion in cases of rape, incest or saving a woman's life at its August 2007 meeting.
New Jersey Republican Chris Smith led the congressmen in writing a letter to Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA and was the lead speaker at a press conference Monday.
The letter states, in part, "We believe that the killing of an unborn child by abortion can never be construed to be a human right…Every child -- born or unborn -- deserves protection and to have his or her human rights secured and protected."
Deirdre McQuade, director of planning and information for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, joined Smith at the press conference.
McQuade reiterated objections to the proposal that Bishop William Skylstad, president of the USCCB, made in a Sept. 15 letter to AI.
“Amnesty has traditionally served as a courageous voice for the voiceless and ignored populations,” McQuade said. “It should not now undermine its own mission by, in essence, siding against millions of voiceless human beings. The right to life itself is fundamental. It is the precondition of all other human rights, and its integrity depends on being acknowledged for every member of the human family regardless of race, age, gender, condition, or stage of development.”
McQuade noted that USCCB has worked with AI on efforts to end the death penalty in the United States, in anti-apartheid advocacy in South Africa and in opposition to government-sanctioned death squads in Central America.
“If Amnesty International were to assert abortion as a human right, it would inevitably create a rift with its Catholic members and alienate many other persons and organizations for whom the right to life is foundational in the struggle for justice,” McQuade said.
"We believe that the killing of an unborn child by abortion can never be construed to be a human right," the letter states. "Every child -- born or unborn -- deserves protection and to have his or her human rights secured and protected."
In a release issued at the same news conference, AI pledged to continue debating the issue until it comes to a vote at its international council meeting in Mexico next year, reported the Cybercast News Service.
"Amnesty International's policy debate is a response to the compelling circumstances of women on whose behalf we work," the statement said, "and it is a continuation of other policy decisions on reproductive rights. Specifically, the organization has long opposed forced contraception, forced sterilization and forced abortion."
The group said it is considering adopting a position on abortion because "tens of thousands of women die annually from unsafe abortions, and many more suffer severe consequences that erode their health and quality of life."
"As a human rights organization, AI cannot remain silent in the face of such suffering and injustice," the statement noted.
Vatican City, Nov 22, 2006 (CNA) - Speaking at the conclusion of his weekly General Audience this morning, Pope Benedict XVI strongly criticized the recent assassination of Lebanese Catholic politician Pierre Gemayel, and offered spiritual support for Gemayel’s family and the Lebanese people.
"I firmly condemn this brutal attack," the Pontiff said, "and give assurances of my prayers and my spiritual closeness to the family in mourning, and to the beloved Lebanese people.”
“In the face of the dark forces that seek to destroy the country,” the Pope continued, “I invite all Lebanese not to allow themselves to be overcome by hatred, but to reinforce national unity, justice and reconciliation, and to work together to build a future of peace. Finally, I invite leaders of the nations that have the fate of this region at heart to contribute to finding a global negotiated solution to the various situations of injustice that have existed for too many years."
Gemayel, who was serving as the Lebanese Industry Minister, was shot dead on Tuesday near Beirut. The Industry Minister was part of a prominent Maronite Catholic political family. Both his father, Amin Gemayel, and uncle, Bachir Gemayel, were elected to the Lebanese Presidency, though his uncle was assassinated prior to taking office in 1982.
Gemayel, 34, was known as an outspoken critic of growing Syrian influences on his country. The assassination has rallied the country’s anti-Syrian coalition to demonstrate against the pro-Damascus opposition, led by Hezbollah. Thousands are expected at his funeral tomorrow, which will be held at St. George Cathedral in the Lebanese capital. The funeral Mass will be celebrated by Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir.
The assassination threatens to shake country into further turmoil. The once peaceful country, where Christians and Muslims seemed to have worked out a system of successful coexistence, continues to fight off the growing influence of extreme Muslim factions, promoted by Syria.
Agence France-Presse reported that Lebanon called for a three-day period of national mourning. Independence Day celebrations Nov. 23 were also called off.
According to a Reuters report, at least three gunmen rammed their car into Gemayel's vehicle, then leapt out and riddled it with bullets. They fired at Gemayel with silencer-equipped automatic weapons at point-blank range in the Christian Sin el-Fil neighborhood, witnesses told reporters. Gemayel was rushed to a hospital, where he later died of his wounds.
“This [assassination] is turning modern Lebanese politics into a graveyard,” Chibli Mallat, a visiting professor at Princeton University and a Lebanese lawyer and activist, told the New York Times. “It’s a tragic family history.”
Gemayel was elected to parliament in 2000 and again in 2005. He was a member of the Christian Phalange (or Kataeb) Party, founded by his grandfather.
Gemayel is the third prominent Lebanese anti-Syrian figure to be assassinated since Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri's killing in February 2005.
Saad al-Hariri, the son of the assassinated former prime minister, blamed Syria for the killing, though Damascus has denied it.
Rome, Italy, Nov 22, 2006 (CNA) - Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care, announced on Tuesday his dicastery has finished a study on the use of condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS.
During press conference the Mexican cardinal said the study, which was requested by Pope Benedict XVI, is now in the hands of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “Our dicastery does not deal with doctrinal matters, only those that are pastoral,” he said. Therefore the study has been passed on to the CDF for a final decision.
Cardinal Barragan said the study looks at the scientific, theological and moral aspects of the issue.
In an interview with the Italian daily “La Repubblica” in April of this year, the cardinal indicated that such a study was underway.
Moscow, Russia, Nov 22, 2006 (CNA) - Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, head of the Diocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, says he is certain that problems in the Orthodox-Catholic relationship will be overcome, reported Interfax.
"Respect for the minor flock of Russian Catholics that you displayed during our recent private conversation strengthens my confidence that the misunderstandings and problems existing in our relations will be resolved … and that we are looking forward to fruitful collaboration for our common well being," Archbishop Kondrusiewicz said in a letter to Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad.
He said he is convinced of the need to further develop and strengthen relations between Catholics and Orthodox Christians, whom he described as "brothers in Christ, who are the closest possible in their faith, sacraments, liturgy, and apostolic continuity and whose love is meant to be a true sign for the entire world.”
The archbishop also said he values Metropolitan Kirill's contribution to the development of inter-religious dialogue.
, Nov 22, 2006 (CNA) - Celebrating a Mass in memory of Fr. Werenfried van Straaten, the Dutch Norbertine priest who founded international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in 1947, Cardinal Keith O’Brien reflected on the work done by the organization and recalled his recent trip to the Darfur region of Sudan.
During the Mass O’Brien, who serves as Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, gave a personal account of his experiences in poverty-stricken countries with a history of persecution against Christians, including Sudan.
He described visiting Darfur in January and being led by a group of Christians to their small hut-like chapel. “They asked me if I would celebrate Mass for them and I readily agreed,” the cardinal said. “I asked them when they were last able to have Mass in the chapel and they said three or four years ago.”
Clad in vestments representative of his travels, including a stole from China, a pectoral cross from Latin America and a chasuble from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cardinal O’Brien came close to tears as he described the scenes of suffering he had witnessed, “I ask you to love the Church – not just the Church in Scotland but the Church throughout the world.”
The Cardinal said that in his many travels, clergy and laity alike described being ‘touched’ by the work of ACN. The Catholic organization is dedicated to helping suffering Christians through the construction of churches, subsistence help for priests and religious, training for seminarians, religious literature, and help for refugees.
At the end of the Mass, parishioners of St Bride’s in Cambuslang presented a check for more than €13,500 Euros (approx $17,500 USD) for the charity’s work in Vietnam. Cardinal O’Brien told the congregation, “You are so generous to ACN. No matter how much you give, no matter how many prayers you say, no matter how much effort you make, God will never be outdone in His generosity to each and every one of you.”
Mexico City, Mexico, Nov 22, 2006 (CNA) - Archbishop Jose Luis Chavez Botello of Oaxaca has renewed his call for a solution to the crisis that has gripped the region in recent months.
In a statement, the archbishop stressed the need to uncover “as much as possible, the truth of the facts,” because “we are frequently given partial information” that favors one side or another. “This is not the way to move forward in the truth or to solve the conflict. Here the media has a fundamental responsibility,” he said.
Archbishop Chavez stressed that in order to understand Oaxaca’s diverse ethnic and cultural makeup, “our foundations and identity must be strengthened so that diversity becomes a source of harmony and enrichment rather than something considered as a danger or a pretext for confrontation.”
Oaxaca, he continued, needs leadership that is able to give voice to all sectors of society and is at the same time “capable of really listening to the needs of the people and meeting them.”
While he acknowledged that the region needs fresh leadership, he also criticized certain groups that “only offer protests and complaints and don’t have any constructive proposals.”
Archbishop Chavez also decried the lack of attention given to “fundamental values” such as life, truth, justice, the common good and unity. When these values and principles are ignored, he said, laws are changed out of self-interest and social mores begin to deteriorate.
He stressed that the Church in the region would continue to work for the good of society “through prayer, solidarity and responsible collaboration,” and that despite the attacks against her, the Church “will continue to work for peace and justice without taking sides in the conflict.”
Alexandria, Va., Nov 22, 2006 (CNA) - A new survey of Catholic Charities agencies across the country shows requests for help, especially among the working class, are increasing sharply. There are more requests than funds to provide assistance, putting continued strain on social services during the Christmas season.
The survey, drawn from 88 Catholic Charities agencies across the country, indicates a growing number of working poor are going to Catholic Charities agencies in search of assistance. Four out of five Catholic Charities agencies reported more requests for help from this group. In addition, 68 percent of these agencies reported more families, rather than individuals, coming for assistance.
"As the cost of living increases, particularly housing expenses, poor and working poor families are increasingly unable to fully provide for their basic needs," explained Ken Sawa, CEO and executive vice president for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of San Bernardino.
"Many families in our diocese are walking a tightrope, hoping to have enough just to make it through the day and keep from falling into poverty," said Rachel Hrbolich, associate director of social services for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio.
"People are no longer simply delinquent with a bill or in need of food. They are delinquent with several bills, need food, clothing and medication, and are in danger of foreclosure/eviction or are homeless."
Agencies reported by a 3-to-1 margin (76 percent), that local agencies believe that it will be harder to meet the needs of those they serve this holiday season because the need is greater.
Santiago, Chile, Nov 22, 2006 (CNA) - A group of renowned Chilean scholars have offered a series of reflections about the main themes of Pope Benedict XVI’s controversial lecture last September in Regensburg, Germany.
The Catholic Pontifical University of Chile and the magazine “Humanitas” held a forum this week to discuss the meaning and impact of the Pope’s remarks.
Pedro Morande Court, a consulter of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the Pope’s speech was a reflection on Western culture. “His essential affirmation, summarized by the statement of a 14th century Byzantine emperor—‘to not act according to reason, to not with logos, is contrary to the nature of God’—supports the argument that ‘the spread of the faith through violence is irrational,” Morande said.
“Some have read that through the prism of Christian-Muslim relations, but its import reaches all aspects of the relation between faith and reason, including dialogue with modern Western thought,” he stressed.
When the social and human sciences exclude “the problem of God” and refer to it as a problem that lies outside the realm of science, Morande continued, the result is a “reductionist position regarding reason,” which leaves no room for dialogue between the world’s cultures and religions.
The natural sciences, he said, should leave to philosophy and theology those questions about which they can only assume. “The Pope seems to want to convey that Christianity is reasonable because of the realism with which it sees man and the world from the basis of the revelation of a Christ-Logos who assumes human nature,” he observed.
Juan de Dios Vial Larraín, another prominent Chilean scholar, addressed the relation between faith and reason in Benedict XVI’s remarks. He said the healthy encounter between the Catholic faith and Greek thought, which helped shape much of Christian Philosophy and Theology, has been repeatedly diminished over the last centuries. The rupture of that connection marks “the dehellenization of Christianity.”
“The rupture of the faith has occurred within Christian culture,” Vial noted, placing God definitively beyond the reach of man. “It is true that the differences between God and man are infinitely greater than the similarities, but God does not become more divine just because we push Him away.”
“In his lecture the Pope calls for a ‘widening of reason’ that will allow it to overcome the limits that have been imposed on it and open a more lively, more up-to-date and more mature discussion about the reason of faith,” he added.