Vatican City, Dec 14, 2006 (CNA) - This morning, the Holy Father received His Beatitude Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and of all Greece, who is making an historic official visit to the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI recounted the strong relationship between the Roman and Greek worlds since the beginning of Christianity and called for a renewed effort to deepen relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Christians.
The archbishop’s trip, which will run from Thursday to Sunday, is the first official visit ever by a prelate of the Church of Greece to the Vatican.
In his address, the Holy Father recalled how "following the advent of Christianity, Greece and Rome intensified their relations" and how "this gave rise to very different forms of Christian communities and traditions in the regions of the world that today correspond to Eastern Europe and Western Europe. These intense relations helped to create a kind of osmosis in the formation of ecclesial institutions. And this osmosis - in safeguarding the disciplinary, liturgical, theological and spiritual peculiarities of the Roman and Greek traditions - made the Church's evangelizing activity and the inculturation of the Christian faith fruitful."
Pope Benedict highlighted how "our relations continue today, slowly but deeply and with a desire for authenticity." This has made it possible "to discover a new range of spiritual expressions, rich in significance and joint commitment." He also recalled John Paul II's "memorable visit" to Athens in 2001, "a defining point in the progressive intensification of our contacts and collaboration."
Catholics and Orthodox, said Benedict XVI, are called "to make a cultural and, above all, a spiritual contribution. They have the duty to defend the Christian roots of Europe, which have formed the continent down the centuries, and to enable the Christian tradition to continue to manifest itself and work with all its strength in favor of the defense of human dignity, the respect of minorities, avoiding that cultural uniformity which could lead to the loss of the immense riches of civilization. At the same time, it is necessary to work to safeguard human rights, which include the principle of individual freedom, and in particular of religious freedom. These rights must be promoted and defended in the European Union and in each member State.”
"At the same time," he added, "we must increase collaboration among Christians in all European countries in order to face the new risks that challenge the Christian faith: growing secularization, relativism and nihilism, which open the way to forms of behavior and laws that damage the inalienable dignity of man and threaten such fundamental institutions as marriage. It is vital to undertake joint pastoral activity, as a joint testimony to our contemporaries and an expression of our hope."
Prior to his audience with the Pope, the archbishop visited St. Peter's Basilica where he prayed at the tomb of John Paul II.
Archbishop Christodoulos also took part in a press conference upon his arrival in Rome yesterday. The archbishop told reporters that the visit for the discussion of dogmatic issues, but "the reinforcement of ties and cooperation in mutual love between the two Churches and the encouragement of our efforts for peace and the unity among us, because the world is asking from our Christian churches to cooperate for consolidating peace, justice and love among human societies."
"We are certain that our contacts at the Vatican will contribute to the cementing of our common wish for more love and cooperation in sectors that touch on contemporary social needs and problems," he added.
"Throughout humanity today there is talk for the need of cooperation between religions and not only between Christian churches,” said Archbishop Christodoulos. “And this, because we must, in every possible way, safeguard peace in the world which is threatened many times by certain fanatical people who hide behind and act under the guise of religion."
In remarks Wednesday before his departure, Archbishop Christodoulos referred to "the scandal of the division of Christians" and spoke of a continuing, 25-year "dialogue that has as its aim to break the ice between the Churches and collaboration on other levels not related to our doctrines," reported The Associated Press.
Relations between Orthodox and Catholic Churches have improved significantly in recent years.
Vatican City, Dec 14, 2006 (CNA) - Following their private meeting in the Vatican this morning, Pope Benedict XVI and His Beatitude Christodoulos, archbishop of Athens and of all Greece, signed a Joint Declaration in the presence of members of the archbishop's Greek delegation and of Catholic representatives.
The statement begins, "We, Benedict XVI, Pope and Bishop of Rome, and Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and of all Greece, in this sacred place of Rome...wish to live ever more intensely our mission to bear apostolic witness, to transmit the faith, ... and to announce the Good News of the birth of the Lord. ... It is also our joint responsibility to overcome, in love and truth, the multiple difficulties and painful experiences of the past."
"Our meeting in charity makes us more aware of our joint task: together to follow the arduous path of dialogue in truth in order to re-establish full communion of faith. ... Thus we obey a divine mandate ... and continue our commitment, ... following the example of the Apostles and demonstrating mutual love and a spirit of reconciliation."
The two leaders say they recognize the steps made in dialogue since the close of the Second Vatican Council and write that they, “hope that bilateral theological dialogue will take advantage of these positive elements in order to formulate propositions acceptable to both sides, in a spirit of reconciliation."
"Together we affirm the need to persevere on the road of constructive theological dialogue,” they continue, “because, despite the difficulties, this is one of the essential ways we have to re-establish the longed-for unity, ... and to reinforce the credibility of the Christian message in a period of enormous social upheaval and of great spiritual searching by many of our contemporaries, who are disquieted by growing globalization which at times even threatens the lives of human beings and their relationship with God and the world."
"We solemnly renew our desire to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, especially to new generations,” the two say in their statement. “This is very important in our societies where many schools of thought distance people from God and contribute nothing to the meaning of life."
"We believe that religions have a role to play to ensure the triumph of peace in the world, and that they must in no way be the focus for intolerance and violence,” the statement continues. “As Christian religious leaders, we exhort all religious leaders to maintain and reinforce inter-religious dialogue, and to work to create a society of peace and fraternity among individuals and peoples. This is one of the missions of religion."
The statement says that while the Pope and the Archbishop recognize the tremendous progress of science, they are concerned by "experiments on human beings which do not respect the dignity or integrity of the person at all stages of existence, from conception to natural death." The statement also calls for "more effective protection" of "the fundamental rights of human beings, founded on the dignity of man created in God's image."
"We trust in a fruitful collaboration," they continue, "to ensure that our contemporaries may rediscover the Christian roots of the European continent." This, they write, "will help them to experience and promote fundamental human and spiritual values for the good of people and of society itself."
At the end of their declaration, the Holy Father and the Archbishop of Athens and of all Greece call upon the Lord "to grant all mankind the gift of peace, in the charity and unity of the human family."
Vatican City, Dec 14, 2006 (CNA) - At the conclusion of the Ecclesia Dei commission this week, which is responsible for maintaining dialogue with the Lefevbrist movement, the former head of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Jorge Medina, said Pope Benedict XVI it was “very probable” that Pope Benedict XVI would issue an indult for the celebration of the Mass of St. Pius V.
The Mass of St. Pius V, which was celebrated universally before Vatican II, can currently be celebrated only with the permission of the local bishop. According to Cardinal Medina, the Pontiff may issue a “Motu Propio”—a document released on the Pope’s own authority—that would authorize the universal use of the missal without the need for diocesan approval.
“The publication of a Motu Propio by the Pope allowing for widespread celebration of the Mass in Latin according to the missal of St. Pius V is very near,” the cardinal said.
“The matter has been calmly studied and it was discussed for more than four hours, resulting in some corrections to the text of the Motu Propio,” he added.
The next step for it to be definitively published will be taken by Cardinal Dario Castrillon, president of the commission “Ecclesia Dei, who will present the text to the Pope for his final approval.
Denver, Colo., Dec 14, 2006 (CNA) - Bishops in six U.S. dioceses are reacting this week to a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, which resulted in nearly 1,300 arrests. Families of many of the arrested workers have sought assistance from their churches to locate arrested loved ones and provide for life needs after losing their primary sources of income.
Immigration officials raided meatpacking plants in six states on Tuesday. The raids netted unauthorized workers from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Peru, Laos, Sudan, Ethiopia and other countries, according to the AP. A large majority of the immigrants hailing from Latin American countries were Catholics.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver responded to the raids, which affected a number of Catholics in his archdiocese, by calling attention to the flaws in the American immigration system, a system he said, “that needs immediate and very serious reform.”
Chaput emphasized that while the Catholic Church supports the law, as well as those officers who have the duty to secure American borders and enforce the law, the U.S. has, “an immigration system that seems disconnected from the human and business realities of the American economy.”
The Denver Archbishop said that in his opinion raids such as the ones conducted Tuesday will not solve the immigration crisis. “In fact,” he added, “such actions often engender more confusion and bitterness, and they don’t strike at the root of the real issue,” which is a flawed immigration system.
Although much was made of the raids’ focus on illegal immigrants using the identities of U.S. citizens to obtain jobs, The Department of Homeland Security has announced that of the 1,282 arrests made at Swift & Co. plants, 1,217 were on immigration charges and only 65 arrests were on criminal charges such as identity theft.
Archbishop Chaput noted that, “while public officials have explained the reason for these raids as criminal identity theft, most of the real criminals – the people who steal and sell the false identities so that undocumented immigrants can find work – were not among those arrested.”
The archbishop also questioned the timing of the raids, which came barely two weeks before Christmas and on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, one of the most important religious feasts of the Americas, and in Mexico particularly.
Bishop William Dendinger, Bishop of Grand Island, Nebraska, which was also affected by the raids, raised similar questions about the timing of the event. The bishop told CNA that while he could only conjecture as to reason for the timing, he would be surprised if the ICE did not know of the Marian Feast.
“There are enough Hispanic people working in ICE, due to the language requirement, that I would be surprised if that wasn’t known, but they may have said, ‘well this is our schedule, its already set,’” the bishop offered.
Dendinger told CNA that his diocese is in a mode of assessment right now, trying to determine how many individuals and families have been affected, what the status of arrested individuals is, and what the next steps will be.
“Its been difficult to get any information at this point as to how many, what will happen, what are their options. Maybe there will be a press release, but right now they just came in and took them away on busses…And (the families) don’t know what is going to happen next, especially if they are undocumented,” Bishop Dendinger said.
The Prelate said one of the key issues the Church is focusing on is dealing with family separation. “One of the spouses may be taken away and we’re not sure what they have done to deal with the children of those spouses who have been taken away, whether they will give them some sort of reprieve to help their children or whether they will just be taken away and deported.”
The bishop said the diocese is working to support families left behind and to offer shelter for those who are now afraid to go to their homes, for fear that they will be arrested.
Dendinger also said the diocese is attempting to arrange transportation for individuals who were taken to Iowa for processing, then released as they await trial.
One of the keys, Bishop Dendinger reemphasized, is just getting information to those affected, and deciding how the Church can help.
In the mean time, Archbishop Chaput added, Catholics should continue to pray, “that God will grant our law enforcement authorities prudence, justice and restraint in carrying out their duties, and that members of Congress will act rapidly and with courage in fixing an immigration system that has clearly failed. Above all, we need to pray for the children and spouses of those persons who were arrested and face deportation at this sacred time of year.”
In addition to the Archdiocese of Denver and Diocese of Grand Island, the Archdiocese of Dubuque, and Dioceses of Salt Lake City, Winona, and Amarillo have been affected and are taking action to assist the affected parishioners.
, Dec 14, 2006 (CNA) - Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations delivered a speech yesterday stating the Holy See’s overall approval for a new U.N. Comprehensive and Integral International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities, but stated, for the record, the Vatican’s refusal to sign the Convention due to its inclusion of a provision that would support the abortion of babies with disabilities.
The archbishop stated that the Holy See, who has been a part of negotiations regarding the convention, is very concerned with the protection of the rights, dignity, and worth of persons with disabilities. “The Holy See has consistently called for disabled individuals to be completely and compassionately integrated into society, convinced that they possess full and inalienable human rights,” he said.
“While there are many helpful articles in the Convention, including those that address education and the very important role of the home and the family, surely the living heart of this document lies in its reaffirmation of the right to life,” Migliore continued. “For far too long, and by far too many, the lives of people with disabilities have been undervalued or thought to be of a diminished dignity and worth.”
“My delegation worked assiduously to make the text a basis upon which to reverse that assumption and to ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights by people with disabilities.”
The Archbishop then offered for the record, a few positions of the Holy See on the Convention. As stated by Migliore, the most important of his points was in regard to rights for reproductive and sexual health services for those with disabilities. “The Holy See,” he said, “understands access to reproductive health as being a holistic concept that does not consider abortion or access to abortion as a dimension of those terms.”
“However, even with this understanding, we opposed the inclusion of such a phrase in this article, because in some countries reproductive health services include abortion, thus denying the inherent right to life of every human being, affirmed by article 10 of the Convention.”
“It is surely tragic,” the archbishop continued, “that, wherever fetal defect is a precondition for offering or employing abortion, the same Convention created to protect persons with disabilities from all discrimination in the exercise of their rights, may be used to deny the very basic right to life of disabled unborn persons.”
“For this reason,” he said, “and despite the many helpful articles this Convention contains, the Holy See is unable to sign it.”
Beirut, Lebanon, Dec 14, 2006 (CNA) - Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir has had several meetings with political meetings recently, urging them to resolve the current political crisis in Lebanon through dialogue and peaceful means. He has also urged all Lebanese to stand united, in order to end the prevailing political crisis and to restore security, stability, peace, and independence in Lebanon.
During his Sunday homily in Bkirki, the seat of the Maronite patriarchate northeast of Beirut, the patriarch warned that the prevailing Lebanese political deadlock and the exchange of sharp speeches by rival political leaders could ignite war, The Daily Star reported.
"War starts with a word ... listening to the current speeches, which are loaded with insults, one can say that a war is on the verge of igniting," he told the congregation.
"We ask God to lighten the minds of those (political leaders) in charge to have mercy on the people," he added.
He said “no one cares about the Lebanese people," who are mostly unable to meet their daily needs since the country's economic and social activity “is completely paralyzed."
A day earlier, the patriarch met with Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun. After the meeting, Aoun said he hoped all Lebanese parties would accept the Maronite Church's "declaration of principles" issued last week.
The Maronite Council of Bishops issued a conciliatory statement on Wednesday suggesting ways to end the political deadlock, which include the implementation of "a code of honor" for all parties, the creation of an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a new electoral law and the formation of a "reconciliation" government that would hold early presidential elections.
Meeting with Hezbollah
On Friday, a Hezbollah delegation, led by parliamentary bloc MP Mohammed Raad, met with Patriarch Sfeir, who called for resolving Lebanon's political crisis through dialogue. Raad seemed to say that Hezbollah agrees and does not see the solution to lie “in the streets”.
The meeting in Bkirki followed announcements by Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah that they are both willing to negotiate, despite trading sharp words and accusations.
They also both welcomed the Maronite bishops’ proposal to form a new government and to hold early presidential elections.
Raad said the meeting with Patriarch Sfeir was aimed at passing on "our political reading of the current crisis and of the position adopted by the Lebanese opposition which is seeking the salvation of Lebanon and the Lebanese through the formation of a national unity government that will guarantee both partnership and equilibrium in political decisions and crucial issues," reported Naharnet.
London, England, Dec 14, 2006 (CNA) - Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham has said that no particular or separate policy is needed in Catholic schools to protect homosexual students from bullying because all students — regardless of their sexual inclinations — share the same inherent dignity.
“A robust policy on bullying of all kinds was the best way forward,” he reportedly told the Commons education committee on Monday.
The head of the Catholic Education Service, Archbishop Nichols was responding on Monday to concerns raised by MP Stephen Williams. Williams, who is homosexual, is among a group of ministers pushing for the development of separate school policies to address homosexual bullying concerns.
However, Archbishop Nichols suggested such policies would demand artificial neutrality towards homosexuality that would not accurately reflect Church teaching, reported LifeSiteNews.com.
“I do not believe citizenship education should, or could, claim to be a morally neutral area in which a whole set of other moral values is subversively introduced," he said.
The archbishop emphasized that the Church does not condemn individuals for homosexual orientation, but that it prohibits homosexual behavior.
"The Catholic Church would stand very firmly for the equal dignity and rights of a person no matter what their sexual orientation,” he stated firmly.
The archbishop underlined that Catholic schools have a better-than-average record in dealing with bullying among their students.
Vatican City, Dec 14, 2006 (CNA) - Standing alongside the larger-than-life Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square this year is the tallest Christmas tree ever to grace the Vatican display.
At 33 meters (109 feet) high and three meters wide in circumference, it is the largest Christmas tree placed in the Vatican’s central square since Pope John Paul began the tradition in 1982.
The fir tree from the mountains of Sila National Park in Calabria, southern Italy, arrived at the Vatican early Dec. 13, about one week after its expected arrival. Thick fog encountered on the way was the last of a series of delivery problems.
The tree, which comes from a different region in Italy or European country every year, was a gift from the Calabrian regional government this year.
Transporting the Calabrian nine-ton fir had its challenges. First, workers had problems cutting down the tree because of heavy winds. The tree then had to be carried down the steep mountain valley with a powerful Forest Rangers helicopter, before being loaded onto a long haul truck and carried by road to Rome.
The tree took up most of the width of the Salerno-Reggio Calabria motorway, where it was escorted by the forestry commission, the civil protection unit, and motorway staff, reported AKI. What is usually an eight-hour car ride to Rome took 53 hours.
The tree will be decorated in the coming days, and lit on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve.
The massive tree in the square is not the only gift from Calabria. Another 29 pines of varying dimensions have been placed around the Vatican, including one in the Pope’s private apartment.
Caracas, Venezuela, Dec 14, 2006 (CNA) - Leaders of the Protestant community “Christian Center of Salvation” have called for a new law that would declare President Hugo Chavez to be the “elder bishop” of Venezuelan Protestants, require their beliefs to be taught in schools and demand economic benefits for their leaders.
According to the Venezuelan daily “El Mundo,” the proposed law on “Ecclesiastical Evangelical Power” in Venezuela was given to government officials by the leaders of the Christian Center of Salvation, Esmelin Lugo and Renato Ramirez.
The Center claims to represent more than 17,000 Evangelical churches in Venezuela and says the government should “immediately cease” supposed political privileges granted to other religions in Venezuela.
The measure calls for the mandatory teaching of Protestant beliefs in all grades and says President Hugo Chavez should be declared “Elder Bishop” by the Evangelical Protestant Church.
The two Protestant leaders said the State and the government should provide financial support for Evangelical churches and should create a pension and retirement fund for pastors, ministers, and Evangelical bishops who have completed 32 years of service or more.
Venezuelan Congressman Edgar Zambrano warned the proposal would constitute an attack “not only on the Catholic Church but also on the Venezuelan people, who are mostly “Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman.”
96% of Venezuela’s nearly 26,000,000 citizens are Roman Catholics; 2% are Protestant.
“There is no doubt President Chavez is behind this proposal that would simply grant him just another coronation, as if he were some kind of high priest,” Congressman Zambrano said.
Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2006 (CNA) - After being detained for more than 32 days, four Catholics of the underground Church in China in the province of Xinjang were recently released by the government.
According to the China Aid Association, which works for freedom of religion in China, the four Catholics were freed after having been tortured by their guards and cellmates.
On the same day that they were released, the Office of Religious Affairs closed down a domestic church in Anhui, after threatening to impose “grave consequences” on hundreds of underground Catholics who meet there.
Vatican City, Dec 14, 2006 (CNA) - This morning in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received the Letters of Credence of six new ambassadors to the Holy See. They are: Lars Moller of Denmark, Maratbek Salievic Bakiev of Kyrgyzstan, Carlos Dos Santos of Mozambique, Princess Elizabeth Bagaya of Uganda, Makram Obeid of Syria, and Makase Nyaphisi of Lesotho.
"The year just ending, witnessed numerous conflicts on many continents," said the Pope in the French-language talk he addressed to the ambassadors. "As diplomats, you are doubtless concerned by the situations and outbreaks of tension that affect local populations, and cause many innocent victims."
The Holy Father assured his listeners that "the Holy See shares your disquiet for situations that put the survival of many peoples at risk, and cause the poorest to bear the burden of suffering and the lack of the most basic amenities." In order to face up to such circumstances, he continued, the leaders of civil society "must pay greater attention to their people, seeking more effective solutions in order to resolve situations of distress and poverty and to share goods as equally as possible, both within each country and across the international community.”
"Indeed," the Pope added, "the leaders of society have a duty to ensure that deep dissatisfaction with the political, economic and social spheres in a country or region is neither created nor maintained. Because this could lead people to think that society and it decision-making classes ignore them, and that they have no right to enjoy the fruits of national production.”
"Such injustices can only lead to disorder and engender a kind of escalation of violence. The search for peace, justice and understanding among everyone must be a primary objective and calls for leaders of nations to pay heed to real-life situations, committing themselves to suppressing everything that opposes equality and solidarity, especially corruption and the hoarding of resources."
"I know that a certain amount of courage is needed in order to remain firm in the face of difficulties when the aim is the good of individuals and of the national community," the Holy Father concluded. "Nonetheless, in public life, courage is an indispensable virtue in order to avoid being swayed by partisan ideologies, by pressure groups or by thirst for power. ... As the Church's social doctrine recalls, the good of individuals and of peoples must always be the priority criterion in decisions regarding social life."
Following the papal address, delivered to the ambassadors as a group, each of the diplomats was given the text of a discourse concerning the situation in his or her own country. To the Mozambican ambassador, Benedict XVI highlights the need for national reconciliation; to the ambassadors of Uganda and Lesotho, he recalls the Catholic Church's efforts in the fight against AIDS; and in the text given to the Syrian diplomat, the Pope expresses his hope in a development of relations between Syria and the Holy See to facilitate the question of Church property taken over by the State. He praises the respect for the family and the tolerance among various ethnic communities in Kyrgyzstan, and commends Denmark's efforts in seeking to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.