Vatican City, Dec 12, 2006 (CNA) -
Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the World Day of Peace was made public today by the Vatican. In his message, which is written in advance of the January 1st Day of Peace, the Holy Father calls for an increased respect for human dignity and rights, based on a renewed understanding of natural law, to combat the growing threats of terrorism and violence.
"As one created in the image of God,” the Pope says, “each individual human being has the dignity of a person; he or she is not just something, but someone, capable of self-knowledge, self-possession, free self-giving and entering into communion with others."
All people, regardless of their respective cultures, have a “call to carry out faithfully the universal divine plan inscribed in the nature of human beings,” the Pope states in his extensive message.
“Recognition and respect for natural law represents the foundation for a dialogue between the followers of the different religions and between believers and non-believers,” he continues. “As a great point of convergence, this is also a fundamental presupposition for authentic peace."
The Holy Father affirms that each human being reflects the image of God in their nature and as such the dignity of each person should be respected. “The Church,” he says, “champions the fundamental rights of each person,” placing particular emphasis on respecting the life and religious freedom of everyone.
Life and religious liberty
“The right to life and to the free expression of personal faith in God is not subject to the power of man,” he states.
The Holy Father notes several ways that the right to life is attacked. Along with the scourge of armed conflicts, terrorism, and various forms of violence, he said, “there are the silent deaths caused by hunger, abortion, experimentation on human embryos, and euthanasia,” which must be seen as an “attack on peace.”
“Abortion and embryonic experimentation constitute a direct denial of that attitude of acceptance of others which is indispensable for establishing lasting relationships of peace,” he emphasizes.
Pope Benedict also points out the oppression of religious freedom which still exists in the world, decrying the persecution of Christians in “some states as” well as the recent reports of “tragic cases of ferocious violence,” against Christians.
In addition to criticizing, “regimes that impose a single religion upon everyone,” the Pope also mentions the power of “secular regimes,” which “often lead not so much to violent persecution as to systematic cultural denigration of religious beliefs.”
Another threat to peace can be found in the inequalities which still exist in the world, even in the fundamental areas of food, water, shelter, and health, the Pope adds, remarking also on the continued inequality between men and women in the exercise of basic human rights. “There can be no illusion of a secure peace until these forms of discrimination are also overcome, since they injure the personal dignity impressed by the Creator upon every human being,” he said.
War and international law
Despite cultural and religious differences, the Holy Father states, there is one point, “which must be clearly reaffirmed: war in God's name is never acceptable!”
Benedict encourages adherence to international humanitarian law, established through the recognition of the existence of “inalienable human rights connected to our common human nature,” and criticizes recent situations, such as the one in Lebanon, in which the “duty to protect and help innocent victims and to avoid involving the civilian population was largely ignored.”
“The new shape of conflicts, especially since the terrorist threat unleashed completely new forms of violence, demand that the international community reaffirm international humanitarian law, and apply it to all present-day situations of armed conflict, including those not currently provided for by international law,” the Pope says.
“Increasingly,” Benedict recognizes, “wars are not declared, especially when they are initiated by terrorist groups determined to attain their ends by any means available. In the face of the disturbing events of recent years, States cannot fail to recognize the need to establish clearer rules to counter effectively the dramatic decline that we are witnessing."
He also criticizes the desire of some nations to develop nuclear weapons, encouraging all nations to sign international non-proliferation accords and to commit themselves to seeking the reduction and definitive dismantling, of currently existing weapons, adding, “the fate of the whole human family is at stake!”
In addition to an increased respect for humanity, the Pontiff also emphasizes the need for an increased respect for nature.
“Humanity, if it truly desires peace, must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature, and human ecology,” the Pope adds. “Experience shows that disregard for the environment always harms human coexistence, and vice versa.”
“The destruction of the environment, its improper or selfish use, and the violent hoarding of the earth's resources cause grievances, conflicts and wars, precisely because they are the consequences of an inhumane concept of development,” he confirms.
Christ our peace
"Finally,” he concludes, “I wish to make an urgent appeal to the People of God: let every Christian be committed to tireless peace-making and strenuous defense of the dignity of the human person and his inalienable rights. ... In Christ we can find the ultimate reason for becoming staunch champions of human dignity and courageous builders of peace."
Click here for the full text of Pope Benedict's message.
Washington D.C., Dec 12, 2006 (CNA) - Several legislators gathered with civil and religious rights groups last week on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to kick off a national “Nativity Project” and affirm the right of Christians to speak of Jesus’ birth during the celebration of Christmas.
Senator Sam Brownback, along with U.S. Representatives Walter Jones and Trent Franks, joined with leaders of the Christian Defense Coalition and D.C.-based Faith and Action to lend their support for the public display of nativity scenes to remind the country that, “the birth of Jesus…is the reason for the season,” according to the Cybercast News Service.
Kansas’s Sen. Brownback told the group, who had erected a temporary nativity scene on the Capitol grounds that, "it's okay to talk about the birth of Jesus at Christmas."
“We need to have these expressions of religion,” Brownback said, “It's important for America."
Rep. Jones added that the country "is about freedom of religion no matter what your religion is," and he encouraged Jews, Muslims, and Americans of other faiths to express their beliefs as well.
The “Nativity Project” was initiated to urge Christians to apply for permits to display nativity scenes on public property in their towns Dec. 19-22.
Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said his group had obtained a permit from U.S. Capitol Police to display their nativity - which included three wise men, a shepherd, Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus - during the news conference as a way to show supporters that it can be done.
Mahoney told CNS News that his group was "getting calls from all across America" from people interested in setting up their own nativity scenes on public land.
Sen. Brownback also used the occasion to urge his peers to pass the Public Expressions of Religion Act. The act would eliminate legal fees associated with Establishment Clause challenges to public expressions of religion. The House has already passed a version of the bill, which Brownback authored.
Konigstein, Germany, Dec 12, 2006 (CNA) - A translation of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s, “Introduction to Christianity,” has been made available in Russian for the first time.
The book, written in 1968 by the man who is now Pope Benedict XVI, includes a foreword by Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church’s foreign department. The publication was co-financed by the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Peter Humeniuk, an expert in Catholic-Orthodox relations, who heads ACN’s section for relations with the Russian Orthodox Church, said this week that the translation’s publication will provide an excellent step forward in ecumenical relations. “It is of utmost importance that this reference work by one of the world’s most important theologians is now accessible to Russian readers, especially in academies and seminaries,” he said.
“It is a step towards a better understanding for the common roots of our Churches,” Humeniuk added. “This is also clear from the letter the Pope has sent to Metropolitan Kirill in order to thank him for his foreword.”
Rome, Italy, Dec 12, 2006 (CNA) - One side of a Roman tomb, long revered as that of St. Paul, has been freed from a 19th-century block of concrete and, thanks to a transparent floor, will soon be visible to the public.
Offering a press conference at the Vatican yesterday the Archpriest of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archeologist, Giorgio Filippi, and basilica official, Pier Carlo Visconti, revealed the results of an ongoing archeological undertaking at the famous basilica.
Filippi said that archeological investigations which have taken place over the last four years uncovered the apse of the original basilica built by the Emperor Constantine in the early part of the fourth century. “On the floor of this building, under the papal altar,” he said, “we found that great sarcophagus of which all trace had been lost, considered since the time of Theodosius to be the tomb of St. Paul.”
Prior to the discovery, Filippi noted, "although it is an incontrovertible historical fact that the basilica of St. Paul was built over the tomb of the Apostle, the location of the original tomb remained an open question.”
According to the archeologist, records of the Benedictine Monastery which is tasked with caring for the basilica, speak of “a great marble sarcophagus found during reconstruction work on the basilica following the great fire of 1823, in the area of the Confession, under the two stones with the inscription PAULO APOSTOLO MART[YRI]. However, there is no trace of it in the excavation documents, unlike the other sarcophagi unearthed on that occasion.”
Cardinal Montezemolo told the Italian news service ANSA that the next stage in the work will be to open the tomb, if the Vatican approves. However, he added, “future research will not have to prove that this is Paul's burial place, because there has been agreement on this for 2,000 years."
Filippi, said that while he has "no doubt" the tomb was St Paul's, he was somewhat cautious on what archaeologists might find inside the tomb, saying "it could contain anything".
According to Filippi, the tomb might even be a cenotaph (empty tomb), erected in the name of the saint and "assuming the same value of the tomb itself" - while not actually containing Paul's body, ANSA reported.
"It has a hole on top through which pieces of cloth could be pushed, touching the relic and becoming holy in their turn," Filippi said.
In his talk, Cardinal Montezemolo layed out a plan to completely reorganize the basilica, part of which involves the creation of walking route for pilgrims and visitors including, among other things, a new museum area centered on the monastery’s cloister.
The cardinal also spoke extensively of the work taking place around the tomb of St. Paul and mentioned a new transparent floor which will make it possible to see the remains of the basilica's Constantinian apse and the tomb.
Montezemolo said that, if tests are approved, they will probably also examine the stone the sarcophagus is made of.
St Paul's Outside the Walls, which is about three kilometers outside the ancient walls of Rome is the city’s largest church after St Peter's.
Paris, France, Dec 12, 2006 (CNA) - Some residents of a small town in Brittany have filed a lawsuit, claiming that the 29-foot statue of Pope John Paul II in the central town square violates the country’s 1905 law on the separation of church and state.
Controversial Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli presented the statue, which shows the late Pope standing in prayer beneath an arch topped by a cross, to the town of Ploermel.
Opponents to the statue claim that local authorities have wrongly poured 130,000 euros worth of public funds into the statue and its inauguration ceremony, reported the BBC.
The mayor's office insists the statue was a gift to the town from the artist and that no public funds have been used.
Speaking at its inauguration on Sunday, Ploermel's Mayor Paul Anselin defended the monument, saying that it remembers "a giant of the 20th century who participated in the fall of the Iron Curtain."
The artist was at the unveiling, attended by 1,000 people and a small group of protesters demonstrated at the unveiling, while a meeting of the statue's opponents took place in a nearby town.
The group - which organized a protest by 500 people against the monument last month - said it would continue its battle in the courts.
Among the sculptor's better-known works is a giant statue of Peter The Great and another of Diana, Princess of Wales, both in Moscow.
Tulsa, Okla., Dec 12, 2006 (CNA) - Officials of the diocese of Tulsa say they may set up a memorial garden for the unborn on a half-acre lot the diocese purchased a few months ago, across the street from the Reproductive Services of Tulsa.
Another option is putting up a building that would offer adoption services. "Anything we do will be prayerful and peaceful," John Johnson, chancellor of the diocese, told The Tulsa World. A final decision on the use of the land has not been made.
Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, who said a rosary for life on the property Saturday, said it was important to note that the land will be used for spiritual purposes.
"This is not a political thing," he told The Tulsa World. "Our message is that life is sacred from the moment of conception, and that we have to be consistent. We cannot simply stand by and allow abortions and say nothing.
"For us, to say nothing would be terribly wrong…We always deal in the present. We don't judge people. We take them as they are," he said.
The diocese has a ministry to help women, Catholic and non-Catholic, dealing with emotional wounds after an abortion, he underlined.
He said groups have been praying regularly for years near the clinic, sometimes in the street, or standing on the curb, or staying in their cars, without blocking anyone or confronting them.
Tim Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities, told The Tulsa World that the new project across the street will continue to be non-confrontational.
"Our hope is to collaborate on an ecumenical basis with others who are supporting life, to come up with a plan to make a more prayerful atmosphere here," he said.
"This gives us a place where we can hold prayer, and support of life,” he said, “and a place to offer support for people that might otherwise choose abortion."
Reproductive Services executive administrator Linda Meek, who has been at the clinic for 16 years, said she has no problem with the diocese buying the land as long as they remain peaceful.
Meek said abortions have decreased in recent years.
Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 12, 2006 (CNA) - In an attempt to quell rumors which have been circulating through Mexico over the past few days, the Archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera, stated this week that he has no news from the Holy See regarding a possible visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the country.
In an interview highlighting the 475th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Cardinal Rivera explained that, "Up to now there has been no notification; your servant and many Mexicans desire His Holiness to visit Mexico. He desires to visit as well, but up to now I do not have any news."
Speaking at the Basilica of Guadalupe, the Archbishop acknowledged that many bishops as well as the Mexican Government have invited the Pope to visit, but up to now there has not been any confirmation from the Holy See.
Nevertheless, another opportunity has opened for Benedict XVI to travel to Mexico in 2009, added the Cardinal, as the World Meeting of Families will be held in Mexico.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 12, 2006 (CNA) - Bishop Baldomero Carlos Martin of San Justo is calling on Catholics to bear witness to hope in an age marked by relativism that blocks “the splendor of Truth.”
In his Advent message, Bishop Martin urged the faithful “not to be afraid” of being men and women of hope in this time of “profound challenges and trials,” especially as “the meaning of life is obscured by a relativism that does not let us see the splendor of Truth and the crisis of civilization and pretensions cultural change remind us ‘that we are not only in an era of change but also a change of eras that is seriously compromising the identity of our nation.’”
Catholics must recall in this season that “Christ has triumphed over sin and death and that in Him we find the source and strength to encourage one another and not be discouraged by the realities around us,” the bishop said.
“Hope helps us discern and recognize the seeds of the Kingdom of God that are always present in the midst of the darkness. A Light has already shown in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it,” Bishop Martini underscored.
“May the challenges of today lead us to mature in an authentic spirit of hope and make us strong and generous, firm and creative in finding paths of solidarity and brotherhood, thus putting a human face on communion,” he added.
Santiago, Chile, Dec 12, 2006 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Javier Errázuriz and the President of the Chilean Episcopal Conference (CECH), Bishop Alejandro Goic, have sent a plea requesting that both supporters and critics of former president August Pinochet face his death with calm and respect.
Since the announcement of the former ruler’s death, several demonstrations have occurred along with many large disturbances in Santiago and Valparaiso. Several arrests have been made related to the demonstrations, according to official reports.
During the funeral Mass, celebrated at the Military School of Santiago, Cardinal Errázuriz asked for calm in the country and prayed "to the merciful Lord, the source of all goodness, that He may also forgive him and take into account all the good he did.”
He added, “we know that the higher the authority, the brighter the achievements and mistakes will shine."
Bishop Goic invited all Chileans to avoid provocations and to accept Pinochet’s death with a peaceful attitude, putting aside judgments of his character, and respecting the death of the person.
Whether in support of or opposition to Pinochet, Bishop Goic said, "the country needs to meditate this event with peace and respect. We have to be calm and have good judgment."
“Personally, I have my own opinion on the lack of respect of human dignity during his government, but the proper attitude now is to live these hours with dignity," he added.
Pinochet, who came to power after a military coup in 1973, has been accused of widespread human rights violations, both in Chile and abroad.
Asunción, Paraguay, Dec 12, 2006 (CNA) - Bishop Candido Cardenas of Benjamin Aceval said last week violence is not a legitimate means for bringing about change or for gaining respect for human rights.
Bishop Cardenas made his comments following violent demonstrations last week in protest to a court’s decision. The Paraguayan court sentenced the owners of the Ycua Bolaños Supermarket to five years in prison for negligent homicide after a 2004 fire at the store that left 400 shoppers dead after they were trapped inside and unable to open the doors.
“We say to those who use violence to bring about change, that violence is not the just and humane path which will lead to change, to transformation. If we do not have justice and respect for each person in our minds and in our hearts, it is very difficult to make a lasting change,” the bishop said.
The Church, he continued, has always believed that change comes through peaceful persuasion, because violence begets more violence. “The Church has never employed violence as a means of establishing human rights and respect for the dignity of the person,” he stressed.
Bishop Cardenas underscored that the Church would always denounce attacks on life and on the dignity of the person, since “nobody has the right to destroy or mutilate life.”
“The person cannot be destroyed for any reason, be it economic, political, social or religious. The human person reflects the presence of God,” he said.