Rome, Italy, Dec 15, 2006 (CNA) - Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the official preacher of the Papal household, began his Advent retreat for the Holy Father and members of the Curia today in the Vatican’s Redemptoris Mater Chapel. Continuing on his earlier Lenten reflections on the beatitudes, Fr. Cantalamessa reflected on the beatitude, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” In the course of his reflection, the preacher said that the Church should atone for sins perpetrated by those who are supposed to be acting in the name of Christ.
Cantalamessa said that the beatitude of those who mourn “contains a most formidable message, the revelation that while in this lifetime pleasure and pain are inseparable, in the Kingdom of God those who have mourned with just reason will know the comforting love of our Lord.”
Cantalamessa reportedly said the Church had, “wept and sighed” over the "abominations committed by its own ministers and pastors" and declared that the church "paid a high price for this."
"The moment has come, after the emergency, to do the most important thing of all: to cry before God,” over the scandal against "the smallest of its brothers," he said, urging the Church and its pastors to a more faithful representation of Christ, the Lord who transcends, and encouraging all the faithful to a greater penitence for sins committed in His name.
He said the Church should call a "a day of fasting and penitence, at the local and national level, where the problem was worst, to publicly express sorrow before God and solidarity with the victims."
Such a day would, he said, help "reconciliation of souls" so the Church could get back on the path of doing its work "with a renewed heart."
Fr. Cantalamessa also said a great cause of suffering in the Church stems from an improper understanding of Christ. He quoted the Holy Father’s upcoming book on Jesus, saying that “the systematic refusal of the Christ of faith in the name of historic objectivity is the source of pain and sorrow for many Christians today.”
He said, as Pope Benedict points out in his book, this rejection of the Jesus of faith reduces Christ to a subjective thing, “a photographic representation of the author and their ideals.” This tendency, he said, to reinvent Christ according to the dominant ideology of the time has always existed, however in the current era, which is obsessed with material pleasures has reduced Christ to a moral and sentimental figure.
Vatican City, Dec 15, 2006 (CNA) - During a meeting held with the university students of Rome Thursday afternoon, Pope Benedict XVI recalled that Christmas is, above all else, the celebration of the greatest gift God has given to mankind, the gift of Himself.
The students met with the Holy Father following their traditional Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar General for the Diocese of Rome.
"Christmas gifts remind us of the most perfect gift that the Son of God gave us of himself in the Incarnation,” Pope Benedict told the youth. “Christmas is the day in which God has given himself to human persons and this gift is made perfect, so to speak, in the Eucharist."
"The Eucharistic mystery," he continued "constitutes the privileged point of convergence between the various spheres of Christian existence, including that of intellectual pursuit. (...) The Eucharist nourishes a fruitful unity between contemplation and action in us so that we are regularly sustained with faith."
Making reference to the immanent arrival of Christmas, the Pope indicated that "in the grotto of Bethlehem we adore the same Lord who wanted to make himself our spiritual nourishment in the Eucharistic sacrament, in order to transform the world from within beginning from the human heart."
The Virgin Mary was the "first to contemplate the incarnate Word, Divine Wisdom, made human. In the Christ Child (...) she recognized God's human face in such a way that the mysterious Wisdom of the Son was impressed on the Mother's mind and heart," the Pope said.
"This is why," he concluded, "Mary was transformed in the "Seat of Wisdom" and is particularly venerated with this title by the Roman academic community. There is a special icon dedicated to the "Sedes Sapientiae" that, starting from Rome, has already visited various countries, making a pilgrimage through the universities. It is present here today in order to be given to the delegation from Bulgaria and Albania."
Washington D.C., Dec 15, 2006 (CNA) - The U.S. bishops stand in solidarity with the universal Church in condemning “revisionist history” that seeks to minimize the horror of the Holocaust, said Cardinal William Keeler in a statement entitled, “We Must Remember the Shoah.”
Cardinal Keeler issued the statement against the background of a December 11-12 conference in Iran at which speakers sought to diminish the scope of the Holocaust.
The cardinal cited a Dec. 12 statement issued by the Holy See alluding to the teaching of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI: “The Shoah (the Holocaust) was an enormous tragedy, before which one cannot remain indifferent…the memory of those terrible facts must remain a warning for consciences with the aim of eliminating conflicts, respecting the legitimate rights of all peoples and calling for peace in truth and justice.”
“Here in the United States, we have a wide range of resources to use in fostering Holocaust education, not only in Catholic schools but in private and public schools as well,” said Cardinal Keeler, who is the episcopal moderator for Catholic-Jewish Relations for the U.S. bishops.
He noted that in preparing those resources, the U.S. bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs cited two major reasons why studying the significance of the holocaust should be central to the curriculum of Catholic education.
“First, the Holocaust was not a random act of mass murder but ‘a war against the Jews as the People of God, the First Witness to God’s revelation and the eternal bearers of that witness through all the centuries,’” he stated. “Second, future generations need to be ever vigilant so that ‘the spoiled seeds of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism (will) never again be allowed to take root in the human heart.’”
Rome, Italy, Dec 15, 2006 (CNA) - Sources close to the Vatican have told Catholic News Agency that the Motu Propio by which Pope Benedict XVI would allow for the universal use of the Missal of St. Pius V may be published after Christmas, while the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist could come in mid-January 2007.
Sources confirmed the recent statements to reporters by Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, who told them after participating in a meeting of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, where the text of the Motu Propio was reviewed, that the document would come soon.
The declaration would allow the Mass of St. Pius V—often called the Tridentine Mass—to be celebrated freely and do away with the current requirement to have the explicit permission of the local bishop. The Motu Propio does not address the canonical status of the Society of St. Pius X, the schismatic organization founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
The Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, according to the same sources, has already been finished by Pope Benedict XVI and is being translated into the different languages in which it will be presented.
The document, which sources say will be issued after January 15, reaffirms the Church’s commitment to a celibate priesthood, encourages the use of Latin in liturgical celebrations, and even requests that seminarians learn the language as part of their formation.
It will also promote the recovery of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphonic music as a replacement to modern music, which would result in a gradual elimination of musical instruments that are “inappropriate” for the solemnity and reverence of the Eucharistic celebration.
Geneva, Ill., Dec 15, 2006 (CNA) - It’s a lot of talk but no action when it comes to the international community's reaction to the devastating situation in Darfur, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations offices in Geneva, said this week.
“The crisis under discussion has provoked debates and international complaints, but insufficient effective actions,” the archbishop told the 4th Special Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Dec. 12.
“The victims are not just statistics; they are real people. Indeed the priority is action to end the killings and the abuses over political arrangements and commercial interests,” he said.
He said the Vatican has been following the situation in Darfur for the last three years “with grave concern” and he urged that active cooperation be put in place among the UN, the African Union, and the Sudanese government in order to end the violence in Darfur, to improve relations among the countries of the region and to enable the people to rebuild their lives.
“The situation on the ground, as a variety of official and private first-hand witnesses indicates, shows a horrific violation of human rights: killing of children, sexual abuse and rape of girls and women, forced uprooting of population, burning of villages, attacks on Internally Displaced People camps, targeting of unarmed civilians,” said the archbishop.
He added that the disruption of agriculture greatly limits the production of food and, “as the danger of regional destabilization increases, traumatized refugees find it harder to start life again.”
“The Darfur conflict is a major humanitarian challenge of huge proportions, but also an opportunity to address in a new collaborative way endemic problems so as to create a future of hope for Sudan and for the entire African continent,” he said.
Sydney, Australia, Dec 15, 2006 (CNA) - The Supreme Court of Victoria in Australia upheld the appeal of two Australian pastors who could have faced jail time for publicly comparing Christianity with Islam.
The court ruled in favor of Daniel Scot and Danny Nalliah, who were previously found to have “vilified Islam” with their public comments by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
In 2004, the tribunal ruled that the pastors were in violation of Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. It deemed the pastors’ beliefs “offensive” and “unreasonable” interpretations of Christian and Islamic teachings. It also ordered the pastors to apologize for their sermon. The pastors could have faced jail time if they refused to comply.
The Supreme Court ruled that their comments were not incendiary, but rather thoughtful Christian reflections on Islam and on the dialogue between Christians and Muslims. The high court vacated the original ruling and ordered the case sent back to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for another hearing with a different judge.
"The pastors were victims of a short-sighted law that pretended to promote tolerance but in fact tolerated absolutely nothing," said Becket Fund founder and president Kevin Hasson. "Hopefully this ruling will help the Australian courts realize they cannot and should not try to control religious discussion in their country."
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty worked with a team of Australian lawyers to present arguments to the Supreme Court defending the pastors’ religious liberty rights under international law.
The Islamic Council of Victoria is expected to challenge the ruling.
Vatican City, Dec 15, 2006 (CNA) -
The president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes is in the Holy Land until December 19 to witness to Pope Benedict XVI’s spiritual closeness to the local Christian communities and to deliver a large financial donation.
Likewise, after the Pope’s recent visit to Bavaria, the faithful of the dioceses of Munich, Ratisbona and Passau have organized a campaign to raise funds for Christians in the Holy Land.
Archbishop Cordes will deliver a donation of $1.3 million in the name of the Pope to Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, director of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.
According to a press release from the Vatican, "The sum will be entirely used in the construction of a pastoral center in Nazareth (...) near the Basilica of the Annunciation, with ample spaces for youth and families. It will be a true center of life and activity for Christians and a point of reference for the pilgrims."
"The Christians of the Holy Land will thus feel the nearness and the support of the entire people of God in maintaining their presence in Jesus' land and in building a community of love regardless of difficulties and adversities."
In Jerusalem, Archbishop Cordes will meet with the Benedictine fathers of the Dormition Abbey, with the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, and with the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Franco. In Bethlehem he will visit the seminary of Bet Jala and on Saturday 16 December the official presentation of the Pope's gift will be made to the Custody of the Holy Land. Afterward, the president of the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum" will visit the German Benedictine fathers of the monastery of Tabga.
"On 18 December, the prelate will meet with the Greek-Melkite archbishop Elias Chacour, to whom he will give 50,000 dollars for the construction of a school in the village of Mughar, money which was collected at the Vatican during the showing of the film 'Nativity'. Christian, Druze, and Muslims, boys and girls will study in the school, which will be erected where Jesus' parents lived."
Ambikapur, India, Dec 15, 2006 (CNA) - An abandoned hut on the outskirts of a central Indian town has become a prayer center at the instruction of a 10-year-old boy who claims to have visions of Jesus.
Rohit Rajan Toppo, a sixth-grader, initiated the center in a village near Ambikapur, Chhattisgarh state, 1,300 kilometers southeast of New Delhi, reported UCA News.
Known as "Nani Ashram," it attracts hundreds of people including Hindus. "People come to pray here every day," says Fr. Suman Xaxa, who heads the team that runs the five-room center.
Its transformation began in November 2005 after Toppo told a neighborhood prayer gathering that they needed to clean up the house and turn it into a prayer center, recalls Sr. Elizabeth Ekka, who has been associated with the center since its inception.
She said that elders showed the boy other nearby houses in better condition, but he would not be swayed. "The Lord wants this house," he said. So villagers repaired and cleaned the abandoned hut. Toppo has lived in one of the rooms with his parents and two younger brothers since February.
The name "Nani Ashram" refers to an elderly St. Anne nun who managed a diocesan farm and stayed there years ago. People fondly called her nani (grandmother).
Toppo told UCA News that when he prays, he sometimes gets a feeling like an electric current passing through his body, and then Jesus appears to him in the form of the Divine Mercy image and gives him messages.
The prayer center is "going to become a big center," said Toppo, who studies in a Hindi-medium school run by Ambikapur diocese.
His mother Sushma told UCA News that her son used to have short periods of severe pain in his legs and body, which started on Dec. 22, 2004. The best hospitals in the region could not diagnose his ailment. "He got completely healed only by prayer," on March 15, 2005, she said.
Toppo's father, Gyan Prakash, said the boy had his first vision of Jesus on March 3, 2005. In that vision, Jesus promised he would bless Toppo's family and also asked the boy to tell his grandfather to stop making thawich, a Hindu medallion. Prakash keeps a record of happenings and messages given to his son.
People come to pray at the center, some for more than a day, and others claim to be healed there. Each visitor is charged 10 rupees (about 22 US cents) as a registration fee and 25 rupees a day for food and accommodation.
Bishop Patras Minj of Ambikapur believes what is happening at Nani Ashram is "genuine," he told UCA News. "Many are coming in groups. It has reawakened people's faith."
Toppo continues to attend school, wearing a crucifix over his shirt. He said people speak about him, but no one ridicules him. "Some boys ask me to pray for them," he told UCA News.
Vatican City, Dec 15, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI met today with His Beatitude Antonios Naguib, the Patriarch of Alexandria for Catholic Copts who is officially visiting the Holy See for the first time since his election in March of this year.
The term Copt refers to any Christian of Egyptian origin, whether they be Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. The Catholic Coptic Church, maintains an eastern liturgy and elects its own patriarch, while maintaining its allegiance to the Holy Father and the universal Catholic Church.
The Church in Alexandria, founded by the Apostle St. Mark, is considered one of the oldest foundations of Christianity in the world
In his French address, the Pope asked the patriarch to give his greetings to all the bishops, priests, and faithful of his patriarchy, as well as to Cardinal Stephanos II Ghattas, Patriarch Emeritus of Alexandria.
"The communion in Christ that unites us and all Catholics around the Successor of Peter is best seen in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy," said the Holy Father.
While recalling that the seat of Alexandria was the "first patriarchy after Rome" during the first five centuries of Christianity, Benedict XVI emphasized that its patriarchal community is the "bearer of a rich spiritual, liturgical, and theological tradition - the Alexandrian tradition -, whose treasures form part of the Church's patrimony".
He assured the patriarch of his prayers and support in the "special duty that the ecumenical Second Vatican Council entrusted to the Eastern Catholic Churches: "to make progress toward the unity of all Christians, above all Eastern Christians".
Due to its location in a primarily Islamic country, the Pope said, the Patriarch of Alexandria for Catholic Copts also has "an important role in interreligious dialogue to develop fraternity and respect among Christians and Muslims".
The Pope also invited His Beatitude to "continue encouraging the theological and spiritual pursuit of his tradition".
"In today's world, your mission is of great importance for the faithful and for all human persons", the Holy Father said, praising the attention the patriarch has given to the "human, spiritual, moral, and intellectual education of youth through a network of quality schools and catechesis that constitute a service to the entire society".
Referring to the formation of priests the Pope underlined that "the vitality of Christian communities in the world today needs pastors (...) who are truly witnesses to the Word of God and guides to help the faithful be always more deeply rooted in the life and the mission of Christ".
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 15, 2006 (CNA) - The executive committee of the Bishops’ Conference of Argentina has issued a strong statement criticizing the government’s recent decision to ratify the U.N.’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), saying it has “compromised the juridical sovereignty of Argentina.”
The bishops point out that the Church’s statements, “far from affecting the legitimate promotion of women, seek to support it and secure it. We are sorry we have not been heeded and that the vote by lawmakers was not preceded by a mature, serene, debate devoid of ideological pressures.”
The CEDAW, the bishops note, does not promote women but rather serves as a cover “for promoting negative changes in the culture of our people.”
“We are referring concretely to the defense of human life from the moment of conception; to the family founded upon matrimony, understood as the stable union between a man and a woman; to maternity , which expresses a unique and irreplaceable vocation for women in society,” the bishops state.
They also warn that the Convention’s recommendations regarding the legalization of abortion and the refusal to grant conscientious objection to health care professionals have become reality in various countries. “This organism also considers motherhood as a cultural stereotype and has even recommended doing away with ‘Mother’s Day’ and with those policies that protect pregnancy and motherhood.”
“We offer this reflection to our people and their leaders with the hope that the cultural identity of Argentina and the moral demands of the values in question are not compromised by the consequences that other countries have experiences,” the bishops said in conclusion.
Havana, Cuba, Dec 15, 2006 (CNA) - The magazine “Vitral,” which is published by the Center for Civic and Religious Formation (CCRF) of the Diocese of Pinar del Rio, distributed an important document entitled, “Ethical Proposal for a Christian-inspired Educational Project for Cuba.”
The 90-page document is the culmination of a year and a half of reflection carried out by a group of educators from the CCRF and says the country needs “an educational system that helps us all to grow as free, responsible just and fraternal persons who seek out the truth, and build up justice and peace.”
Such a task falls to parents, teachers, religious and civil leaders and all people of good will, the document stresses, and it says the proposal is “only the beginning” of a process that will need to be “enriched, modified, corrected, amplified and reviewed by all those who feel called to do so, without any kind of difference or distinction.”
The purpose of education, the document says, is to provide comprehensive formation in order to make men and women into “the principal protagonists of their own history.” All those involved in education must ask themselves before, during and after their work: “What kind of man or woman, what quality of person am I helping to form?”
The Church, as “expert in humanity,” has a role to play in education, the document emphasizes. While the Church does not seek out privilege or the imposition of a sectarian model for education in Cuba, she brings “two thousand years of experience to bear on the task of educating in values and virtues” and has as her only intention that of serving the people to which she is indissolubly united.