Istanbul, Turkey, Dec 1, 2006 (CNA) - On the third day of his pastoral visit to Turkey, Pope Benedict XVI visited the historic Cathedral-turned-museum Hagia Sofia, one of the most important symbols of the country, as well as the Blue Mosque, the central Mosque of Istanbul. The Pope became only the second Pope to ever enter a Muslim house of prayer.
The Holy Father spent thirty minutes visiting Hagia Sofia, a basilica which served as the Cathedral Church of Constantinople until its conversion to a mosque in 1453. In 1935 the secular Turkish republic converted it to a national museum.
The historic building which, now offers examples of Christian and Islamic art was visited by both Pope Paul VI and John Paul II on their visits to the country.
The Holy Father listened with interest as he was led through the museum by its director.
Afterwards, the Pontiff also visited the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. The mosque, more commonly known as the Blue Mosque due to the color which once dominated its interior, was built opposite Hagia Sofia.
Pope John Paul II is the only other Pontiff to have entered a mosque, when he did so in Damascus in 2001.
Pope Benedict respected Muslim custom by removing his shoes prior to entering the house of prayer and was guided through the historic mosque by the Grand Mufti, who at one point asked Benedict to join in a moment of meditation. The Holy Father remained silent for a moment with his hands folded one over the other. Benedict reportedly told the Grand Mufti, “this visit will help us together to find the ways, the paths to peace for the good of mankind.”
Istanbul, Turkey, Dec 1, 2006 (CNA) -
On the last day of his Apostolic voyage to Turkey, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass for the country’s Catholic community, affirming that the Church does not wish to impose its faith on anyone but, “merely asks to live in freedom,” in order to reveal Christ Jesus.
The Holy Father reminded the numerous Catholics gathered in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit that the Church, “has been charged to proclaim (Christ’s) Gospel to the ends of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19), transmitting to the men and women of our time the Good News which not only illuminates but overturns their lives, even to the point of conquering death itself. This Good News is not just a word, but a person, Christ himself, risen and alive!”
“The Church’s mission,” he added, “is not to preserve power, or to gain wealth; her mission is to offer Christ, to give a share in Christ’s own life, man’s most precious good, which God himself gives us in his Son.”
To this end, the Pope said, “the Church wishes to impose nothing on anyone…she merely asks to live in freedom, in order to reveal the One whom she cannot hide, Christ Jesus, who loved us to the end on the Cross and who has given us his Spirit, the living presence of God among us and deep within us.”
Present at the Mass were representatives of the numerous Catholic rites and communities which exist in Turkey. Also present were Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Mesrob II, and Syro-Orthodox Metropolitan Filuksinos Yusuf Cetin, as well as representatives from the Protestant Churches.
Pope Benedict also recalled during the Mass, which was celebrated in several languages, including Latin, Turkish, French, German, Syriac, Arabic and Spanish, the words of Pope John Paul II when he celebrated Mass at the cathedral in 1979.
Pope John Paul, “expressed his hope that the dawn of the new millennium would ‘rise upon a Church that has found again her full unity, in order to bear witness better, amid the exacerbated tensions of this world, to God’s transcendent love, manifested in his Son Jesus Christ,’” Pope Benedict said. “This hope has not yet been realized, but the Pope still longs to see it fulfilled, and it impels us, as disciples of Christ advancing with our hesitations and limitations along the path to unity, to act ceaselessly ‘for the good of all,’ putting ecumenism at the forefront of our ecclesial concerns, and not committing our respective Churches and communities to decisions which could contradict or harm it. Thus we will truly live by the Spirit of Jesus, at the service of the common good.”
“To manifest the Spirit, to live by the Spirit, is not to live for oneself alone, but to let oneself be conformed to Christ Jesus by becoming, like him, the servant of his brothers and sisters,” Benedict said.
"Together with the Virgin," he concluded, "let us pray to Christ her Son: Send forth, O Lord, Your Holy Spirit upon the whole Church, that He may dwell in each of her members and make them heralds of Your Gospel!"
The Cathedral of the Holy Spirit was inaugurated in 1846. Under the altar are relics of several saints, among them St. Linus, St. Peter’s immediate successor who served as Pope and died as a martyr in 69 AD. In 1884, Pope Leo XIII also donated to the cathedral a relic of St. John Chrysostom, who served the Church of Constantinople.
Prior to the Mass the Holy Father paused in the church’s courtyard to bless a new statue of Blessed Pope John XXIII, which is to be place in a local church. He also released three white doves.
In the courtyard also stands a statue of Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922), erected by the Turks in memory of that Pope's commitment in favor of the Turkish victims of World War One. An inscription on the statue reads: "To the great pontiff of the world tragedy, Benedict XV, benefactor of peoples without distinction of nationality or religion, in recognition."
Two of the current Holy Father’s immediate predecessors have visited the Holy Spirit Cathedral. In 1967, Pope Paul VI visited the cathedral in the company of Patriarch Athenagoras, a gesture repeated by John Paul II, accompanied by Patriarch Dimitros I, in 1979.
Following Mass, the Pope expressed his appreciation for "the understanding and patience," and for "the truly warm welcome I have been shown, also because I know that my presence over these days has created no small disturbance in the daily lives of people in this city."
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Pope went by car to the airport of Istanbul where he bid farewell to the ecumenical patriarch, the Armenian apostolic patriarch and the Syro-Orthodox metropolitan. Before boarding the plane bound for Rome, he met briefly with the governor of the local region and the mayor of Istanbul.
Istanbul, Turkey, Dec 1, 2006 (CNA) - After a day which began with the solemn celebration of the Feast of St. Andrew with the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch and continued with the signing of a joint Catholic-Orthodox statement, a visitation to the Museum of Hagia Sofia, as well as to Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, Pope Benedict XVI traveled to the city’s Armenian apostolic patriarchate, where he participated in a prayer service with His Beatitude Mesrob II, patriarch of Turkey’s Armenian Apostolic Christians.
After a brief greeting the two prelates entered the Armenian Cathedral of the Mother of God. Following the celebration of the Word, both Patriarch Mesrob and Pope Benedict offered brief remarks.
The Holy Father first offered his greeting through Mesrob to Catholicos Karekin II, the spiritual leader of the world’s approximately seven million Armenian Apostolic Christians.
“I give thanks to God for the Christian faith and witness of the Armenian people, transmitted from one generation to the next, often in very tragic circumstances such as those experienced in the last century,” when Armenia was subject to Soviet rule, the Pope said.
"Our meeting," he added, "is more than a simple gesture of ecumenical courtesy and friendship. It is a sign of our shared hope in God's promises and our desire to see fulfilled the prayer that Jesus offered for His disciples on the eve of His suffering and death: 'that they may all be one.'”
“The tragic divisions which, over time, have arisen among Christ's followers openly contradict the Lord's will, give scandal to the world and damage that most holy cause, the preaching of the Gospel to every creature. Precisely by the witness of their faith and love, Christians are called to offer a radiant sign of hope and consolation to this world, so marked by conflicts and tensions,” Pope Benedict affirmed.
"We must continue therefore to do everything possible to heal the wounds of separation and to hasten the work of rebuilding Christian unity," said the Holy Father. "In this respect I can only offer heartfelt thanks to the Lord for the deeper fraternal relationship that has developed between the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Catholic Church."
In closing, the Pope quoted the words of one of the great Doctors of the Armenian Church, Nerses of Lambron, who lived in the thirteenth century, "'Now, since we all need peace with God, let its foundation be harmony among the brethren.' ... These words of Nerses have lost nothing of their power. Together let us continue to pray for the unity of all Christians."
The Armenian Apostolic Church broke with the Catholic Church in 554 over a dispute regarding the relation of Christ’s human and divine natures. The Armenian Apostolic liturgy is much like the Latin Rite, though with certain aspects more closely associated with Eastern Rites.
Following the ceremony, a stone tablet in the form of an Armenian cross was unveiled, bearing inscriptions in Latin and Armenian recalling the visits to the cathedral by Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Vatican City, Dec 1, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI has sent a message to Cardinal Francis Arinze ahead of the Congregation for Divine Worship’s study day on the Sunday Mass. The Holy Father told those involved in the study group that Sundays remain the central focus of the Church’s liturgical year and that there is a need to, “reiterate the sacred nature of the Lord’s day and the need to participate in Sunday Mass.
Cardinal Arinze, who serves as Prefect for the congregation called the study day under the theme: “Sunday Mass for the sanctification of Christian people."
The Pope’s letter, which is dated November 27 but was made public today, recalls how the study day falls on the anniversary of the promulgation of the Constitution "Sacrosanctum Concilium," and is the third of its kind following one dedicated to the Roman Martyrology and another to sacred music.
"Sundays," writes the Pope, "remain the fundamental seedbed and the primordial nucleus of the liturgical year... a fragment of time pervaded by eternity, because its dawn saw the Risen Christ enter victoriously into eternal life."
"For the first Christians, participation in Sunday celebrations was the natural expression of their belonging to Christ, of their communion with His mystical Body, in joyous expectation of His glorious return."
“Today," the Holy Father continued, "it is more than ever necessary to reiterate the sacred nature of the Lord's day and the need to participate in Sunday Mass. The cultural context in which we live, often marked by religious indifference and secularism that obscure the horizon of transcendence, must not cause us to forget that the People of God who came into being with the events of Easter must return [to those events] as an inexhaustible spring, in order to better understand ... their own identity and the reasons for their existence."
"Sunday was not chosen by the Christian community," he wrote, "rather by the Apostles, indeed by Christ Himself Who on that day, "the first day of the week," arose and appeared before the disciples. ... Each Sunday celebration of the Eucharist enacts the sanctification of Christian people, until that Sunday without end, the day of the definitive encounter of God with His creatures."
Benedict XVI closed his message by expressing the hope that the study day "may help to recover the Christian meaning of Sunday in ... the life of all believers."
Istanbul, Turkey, Dec 1, 2006 (CNA) - The spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference of Turkey, Msgr. Georges Marovitch, said Turks have been surprised by the Holy Father’s visit to their country.
In comments to the SIR news agency, Msgr. Marovitch said on the streets of Istanbul he is hearing encouraging comments such as, “They should let him (the Pope) come every year,” and “He is not an enemy of Islam, he’s welcome here.”
The bishops’ spokesman added that people seem to be “happy that the Pope is in their country.” “Many Muslim friends have confirmed this. They have not stood in the way of such a beloved Pontiff, who has every desire to identify with the Turkish reality. His meetings with the Prime Minister Erdogan, with President Sezer and with the Minister of Religious Affairs, Bardakoglu, marked a crucial point in his trip, relaxing the tensions of past days.”
Not even the threats of Al Qaeda “have dampened the optimism of the Pope,” Msgr. Marovitch stated, adding that “after his first encounter with Bartholomew I, he looked happy and satisfied. The climate is relaxed and we can hope it remains so even after his departure, especially regarding our minority Christian and Catholic communities, that will be encouraged and reaffirmed to continue ahead after this visit.”
Beijing, China, Dec 1, 2006 (CNA) - Chinese government officials went ahead with their decision to appoint a new bishop for the government-controlled Catholic Church, without approval of the Vatican yesterday. Bishop Joseph Zhao Fengchang of Yanggu illicitly ordained Fr. Wang Renlei, 36, as Coadjutor Bishop of Xuzhou, at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral.
Four other bishops, some of them Vatican-approved, were also present. About 1,000 people attended the event.
Tensions between the Vatican and the Chinese government had been improving of late, as the Holy See made efforts to reunite the official Chinese Church with the “underground” Church in China and the worldwide Catholic Church. The Vatican’s authority over the appointment of bishops, however, remains a sticking point for the jealous communist regime in Beijing. Two other bishops had already been selected by the government-run Chinese church and ordained earlier this year without Vatican approval.
According to a report by UCA News, a government official said the government-run Chinese church did not contact the Vatican about the ordination since a proper channel for doing so does not exist. However, the church asked the Chinese government to pass the message to the Vatican about Fr. Wang’s consecration as bishop.
In the Roman Catholic Church, appointments to the episcopate are issued from the Pope himself, usually through a process which involves several Vatican offices.
According to a report in the New York Times, Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong issued a statement, accusing Chinese authorities of having threatened and kidnapped mainland clergy who are loyal to Rome, to make them participate in the ceremony.
The Chinese official denied the claim that some bishops were forced to attend the ordination. He told UCA News that the newly consecrated bishop had invited the other bishops who attended the ceremony.
According to the New York Times, Cardinal Zen made a series of thinly veiled comments suggesting that the ordination was the work of China’s religious affairs officials, who administer the government-approved churches. He appealed in his statement for China’s leaders to intervene.
Cardinal Zen also confirmed for the Times rumors of the existence of a secret delegation from the Vatican to Beijing after the ordinations last spring. The cardinal said the Chinese government had invited the delegation and had promised that it would not conduct any more ordinations without the Vatican’s approval.
Yesterday’s unapproved ordination will likely impact diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican and may offset plans to move the papal nunciature from Taipei to Beijing.
Valencia, Fla., Dec 1, 2006 (CNA) - The vice postulator of the causes of Franciscan saints in Valencia, Spain, Father Benjamin Agullo, said this week the martyrdom of Brother Pascual Nadal, a Franciscan missionary who interrogated by Mao Tse Tung and beheaded during the Chinese civil war of 1935, is under consideration as a cause for canonization.
According to the AVAN news agency, Father Agullo said the investigation is taking place despite “the great difficulties we are encountering in collecting new oral and written testimonies in China” due to government opposition. He added that while it has been many years since the events took place, Brother Pascual continues to be revered in the region where he worked.
Brother Pascual Nadal Oltra was born in Pego, Spain in 1884. He entered the Franciscan order at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Gilet. After caring for his mother who had leprosy, Brother Pascual asked his superiors for permission to go to China to work at a home for lepers at Mosimien, where he arrived in 1930.
In May of 1935, his local superior allowed him to leave the leper home before the arrival of Communist soldiers loyal to Mao Tse Tung, who were fleeing from the nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-Shek. Nevertheless, Brother Pascual and six other Franciscan religious decided to stay.
“If the Communists are my brothers, why should I flee from them? I love them also and, if they kill me, they will be doing me the greatest of services. I will be a martyr and will fly to heaven!” Brother Pascual said.
The Franciscans were brought before Mao Tse Tung, who interrogated them and freed everyone except Brother Pascual and Italian-born Brother Epifanio Pegoraro. On December 4, 1935, the two were decapitated by their Communist guards.
Wilmington, Del., Dec 1, 2006 (CNA) - Bishop Michael Saltarelli of Wilmington has dedicated the 2006 Season of Advent in the diocese to victims of clergy sexual abuse and their families.
The bishop has asked that parishes in the diocese keep the healing of victims and their loved ones in their prayers and Masses during Advent. He has also asked each pastor to celebrate a special Advent prayer service, Mass or Holy Hour for the healing of victims and others effected by clergy sexual abuse.
Additionally, parishes are asked to include petitions in the Prayer of the Faithful for this intention at every Sunday and weekday Mass during Advent, which begins on Dec.3.
“The Advent season where we remember Our Lord’s Incarnation and anticipate the Second Coming of Christ is a time of hope,” Bishop Saltarelli said. “This season of hope and expectation is an ideal time for us to intensify our prayers together for the healing of victims of clergy sexual abuse and victims of sexual abuse in general.”
"Our efforts to protect God's children must be complemented by these spiritual efforts on behalf of victims and their families," he added.
Sydney, Australia, Dec 1, 2006 (CNA) - Caritas Australia is providing dignity to people affected by HIV/AIDS by providing food, anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) and work opportunities through 15 initiatives in 13 countries.
Caritas Australia is supporting community-based education and action initiatives from Mendi in Papua New Guinea to Mhpunza in Zambia. The aim of these activities is to decrease the stigma attached to HIV, to educate people about the impacts the epidemic is having, and to devise what can be done to support those who are affected.
The Australian Catholic aid organization announced its project just in time to commemorate World AIDS Day, Dec. 1.
The group’s message and “whole-life” approach to AIDS care is: Food + Drugs + Work = Life.
While ARVs can keep people alive, their success depends upon adequate nutrition. Hence, Caritas Australia is providing food. Giving people a dignified life is also dependant upon their ability to support themselves, which is why Caritas Australia’s program offers opportunities to work through training and education.
Several Caritas Australia partners in the developing world are organizing awareness-raising activities in their local communities. In Mendi, for example, there will be a walk to the centre of town to challenge discrimination. In Cambodia, the Rural Development Association is holding a parade with a focus in including children in educational activities.
It is estimated that 40 million people currently live with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The majority of those living with HIV (95 percent) reside in developing countries. Caritas Australia believes that with appropriate nutrition, life-saving ARV therapy, and opportunities for work, they could live a dignified life.
Baghdad, Iraq, Dec 1, 2006 (CNA) - Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad has announced the release of Father Douglas Al Bazi, who was kidnapped recently by Iraqi insurgents, saying, “He has undergone physical and psychological trials but he is alive.”
Bishop Warduni said news of the priest’s release was met “with joy by the entire Iraqi Christian community, especially by the Chaldeans.” He did not say whether any ransom was paid to the priest’s captors.
The bishop said the situation the Christian minority is facing in the country is “critical” and that the “things in Iraq are getting worse every day, although we rejoice at this wonderful news and we continue to pray.”
Father Al Bazi was the fourth Chaldean priest to be kidnapped, and his abduction occured just one month after a Syro-Orthodox priest from Mosul was found murdered after being kidnapped by insurgents.
A total of eight Christian leaders have been kidnapped in Iraq since the US-led invasion began.
Ottawa, Canada, Dec 1, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI appointed a Redemptorist priest, Fr. Gérard Pettipas, as Archbishop of Grouard-McLennan in northern Alberta, yesterday.
Archbishop-elect Pettipas succeeds Archbishop Arthé Guimond who is retiring after serving as archbishop for the last six years, and having reached the retirement age of 75.
Born in Halifax, N.S., in 1950, Archbishop-elect Pettipas studied at the University of Windsor, the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto and at St. Thomas College in West Hartford, Conn., where he obtained a Master’s degree in Religious Studies.
Member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), Archbishop-elect Pettipas has been involved in a number of pastoral ministries across Canada. After his ordination as a priest in 1977, he was associate pastor at St. Teresa Parish in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
He was then vocation director and part of the Redemptorist parish mission team in Ontario. From 1990 to 1992, he was rector and director of Holy Redeemer College Retreat Centre in Windsor, Ontario, after which he worked in youth ministry, from 1992 to 1995. Since 1999, he has served as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Grande Prairie, Alberta.
The Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan borders Canada’s two northernmost territories. It has a population of 44,000 Catholics in 66 parishes and missions served by seven diocesan priests, 19 religious priests, two permanent deacons and 34 religious brothers and sisters.
The date for Archbishop-elect Pettipas’ ordination has not yet been announced.