Vatican City, Dec 18, 2006 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI greeted the thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square Sunday morning, praying the Angelus with them and inviting them to remember the deep hope and joy which comes to the world through Christ – even in the midst of suffering and trial.
“On this third Sunday of Advent," said the Pope, "the liturgy invites us to the joy of the spirit...The joy that the liturgy reawakens in the hearts of Christians is not reserved just for them, it is a prophetic announcement addressed to all humanity, especially to the poor, in this case to those poorest in joy!”
Our thoughts go, the Holy Father continued, "to our brothers and sisters who, especially in the Middle East, in some parts of Africa and in other parts of the world, experience the drama of war. What joy can they have? How will their Christmas be? We think of the many sick and lonely people, who suffer spiritual as well as physical torment because they often feel abandoned. How can we share our joy with them without showing a lack of respect for their suffering?
"But we also think," he added, "of those people, especially the young, who have lost all feeling of real joy, and seek it in vain where it cannot be found: in the constant pursuit of self-affirmation and success, ... in consumerism, in moments of inebriation, in the artificial paradise of drugs and all forms of alienation. We cannot but compare today's liturgy, and its invitation to be joyful, with these dramatic truths."
“Yet the Word of the Lord," the Pope concluded, "is addressed precisely to those undergoing moments of trial, to those 'wounded by life and orphaned of joy.' The invitation to joy is not an alienating message, or a sterile palliative, rather it is the prophecy of salvation, an appeal to redemption that begins with inner renewal.”
Vatican City, Dec 18, 2006 (CNA) - Speaking to the United Nations International Commission on Migration today, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland, insisted on the necessity to maintain a strong immigration policy that is based upon ethics and human rights.
In his speech, Archbishop Tomasi affirmed that, “The lesson of history is that migrants enrich cultures and societies and that trans-national families and communities create bridges of understanding and productive inter-action. It shows that the most important resource of all is the human person.”
While the international community reevaluates immigration policies, Tomasi said, it’s important to keep in mind several keys for success. For instance he said, immigration policies will only be successful, “if the concern for security does not turn into just a restrictive logic in order to hinder migrants from entering a country, but becomes an orderly, rationalized and coordinated relationship between available human resources and the need for manpower in receiving societies.”
In addition, the archbishop said, success relies on whether or not, “the migrants themselves, their human dignity and rights, are placed at the center of current debates and formulations of policies, not just as functional instruments of specific economic and demographic planning, but as protagonists in a common project.”
Tomasi, said the Holy See recognizes the economic aspects which lead to a sometimes “unruly” immigration situation, but continues to maintain that, “a sustainable ethical policy enhances and does not limit reaching economic goals, development and the possibility of living together.”
“A solid, human rights-based ethical approach gives a steady orientation and a sense of coherence to both policy and strategy. A fair ethical dimension provides a balanced foundation to the action of the State, of the migrants, and to their respective interests, and it cannot be left out of the current migration discussions,” Archbishop Tomasi said.
For instance, he pointed out, “national legislation cannot aim at regulating only the flows of services and jobs without taking into account the person that provides those services. For this reason, family reunification must be a primary consideration: the family plays a fundamental role in the integration process, in giving stability to the presence of the immigrants in the new social environment, and even in the dynamics of temporary migrations.”
While many of the proceedings at the U.N. offices in Geneva occur in French, Archbishop Tomasi offered his speech in English.
CNA STAFF, Dec 18, 2006 (CNA) - In January 2007 the Catholic News Agency and its sister site, ACI Prensa, will complete a redesign of their websites. As the project enters its final phase, CNA will offer only limited news services until the new year.
The new CNA website will provide improved navigation and a more user-friendly format for readers of what has become one of the world’s fastest growing Catholic websites in English.
The redesign is being executed according to Web 2.0 standards and thanks to an agreement with internet consultants at Omniture, www.catholicnewsagency.com will have real-time monitoring of its visitors’ preferences, thus allowing CNA to offer better media coverage and resources according to the needs and interests of its visitors. The new design will also include more capabilities for interactive services.
Beginning today, Monday, December 18th the number of news stories and access to information will be limited. However, CNA will continue to cover the most important stories involving the Catholic Church.
Vatican City, Dec 18, 2006 (CNA) - Receiving a delegation from the Jewish organization B’nai B’rith International, Pope Benedict XVI said today that Christians and Jews, along with Muslims, are called to work together for peace and healing in the world.
The Pontiff recalled that, “much has been achieved in the past four decades of Jewish-Catholic relations, and we must be grateful to God for the remarkable transformation that has taken place on the basis of our common spiritual patrimony.”
“It is this rich heritage of faith,” the Pope said, “which enables our communities not only to enter into dialogue, but also to be partners in working together for the good of the human family.”
“Our troubled world needs the witness of people of good will inspired by the truth, revealed on the first page of the Scriptures, that all men and women are created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-27), and thus possess an inalienable dignity and worth,” he continued.
“Jews and Christians are called to work together for the healing of the world by promoting the spiritual and moral values grounded in our faith convictions. If we give a clear example of fruitful cooperation, our voice in responding to the needs of the human family will be all the more convincing.”
Turning to the continued troubles in the Holy Land, the Pope insisted, “peace can only come about if it is the concern of Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, expressed in genuine interreligious dialogue and concrete gestures of reconciliation.”
“All believers are challenged to show that it is not hatred and violence, but understanding and peaceful cooperation which open the door to that future of justice and peace which is God’s promise and gift,” he concluded.
Vatican City, Dec 18, 2006 (CNA) - Following the praying of the Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI recalled the especially difficult circumstances which face the many refugees fleeing Iraq.
The Pope that during this Advent season he had been thinking about "the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Syria forced to leave their country because of the dramatic situation there.”
The Holy Father noted the work already being done by the Catholic aid organization, Caritas, but added, “Nonetheless, I appeal to the sensibility of individuals, international organizations and governments, to make further efforts to meet these people's most urgent needs.”
“I raise my prayers to the Lord, that He may bring comfort to these brothers and sisters, and move many hearts to generosity," the Pope said.
Pope Benedict’s comments came just after he delivered the customary Papal blessing upon the figures of the Child Jesus, brought to St. Peter's Square by children of Rome in the company of their parents and teachers. The children traditionally bring the figures for blessing before placing them in nativity scenes in their own homes and parishes.
After thanking the Roman Oratory Center for having organized this year’s blessing, the Holy Father wished the children happiness for the upcoming Christmas season and told the them, "Pray to Jesus before the nativity scene, and ask Him also for the Pope's intentions."
Newark, N.J., Dec 18, 2006 (CNA) - The State Legislature of New Jersey struck twice last week, passing a bill that offers funding for embryonic stem cell research and another that makes New Jersey the third state to allow homosexual civil unions. The Catholic Conference of New Jersey spoke to CNA regarding both pieces of legislation.
In a strong 53-24 vote, 4 Republicans joined all 49 New Jersey Democrats to pass a general assembly bill that approves 270 million dollars in funding for embryonic stem cell research itself, as well as for facilities in which embryonic stem cell research will be conducted.
The New Jersey Catholic Conference responded last week by reiterating its strong support for adult (non-embryonic) stem cell research, but strong opposition to embryonic stem cell research.
The NJCC, which provides a political voice for all Catholics in New Jersey, noted that research done using adult stem cells has already helped thousands of patients and holds tremendous promise for the future, while embryonic stem cell research has not yielded any results and requires the destruction of a human life in the process.
The conference has consistently opposed human embryonic stem cell research legislation on the basis that the creation and destruction of human embryonic stem cells violate the sanctity of human life.
Patrick Brannigan, Executive Director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference emphasized to CNA that the Church has an intense desire to find cures and offer hope for those with disabilities and diseases, but that it will not condone the killing of other human lives in an attempt to reach a possible cure. “If someone reads the New Testament,” Brannigan pointed out, “some of the most moving passages are those wherein Jesus heals the blind, the deaf, the leper, where He brings people back to life. Anyone who tries to be a follower of Jesus must also try to be a healer. So, in this whole issue we can acknowledge people’s desire to heal those who are sick. But the Catholic Church believes in a consistent ethic of life which holds that life begins at conception and ends in natural death.”
Brannigan noted the NJCC’s work with New Jersey Assemblymen Neil Cohen and Louis Greenwald in an effort to encourage umbilical cord and placental blood donation. According to the NJCC, fifteen New Jersey Catholic Hospitals, hundreds of Catholic parishes, the Catholic Health Association and all of New Jersey’s Catholic Bishops have endorsed this initiative and are working with the two public umbilical blood banks in New Jersey to actively support adult stem cell research.
On the same day, lawmakers in the state approved by a 56-19 vote in the Assembly and a 23-12 vote in the Senate, a bill that allows homosexual couples in New Jersey to enter into “civil unions,” which would provide similar benefits as those afforded to married couples.
The bill was drafted in response to a landmark New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in October that required the state to extend the rights and benefits of marriage to gay couples within 180 days. The court, in its 4-3 ruling, left it up to the legislature to decide whether to call such unions "marriages" or something else.
Brannigan told CNA he wasn’t surprised by the fact the legislature did what the court mandated that they do and said the Catholic Conference was only half successful in achieving its goals, the protection of “marriage.”
“The word marriage really was the point of most dialogue, discussion, and debate,” Brannigan said. “What we’ve maintained all along was that our concern was the preservation of the definition of marriage as a union only between one man and one woman and that this was a natural institution, founded in natural law, that precedes the laws of man. We see marriage as the foundation of family and family as the foundation of society.”
The NJCC head said, that the Church gave testimony at the legislative hearings, “not to oppose the awarding of benefits to anybody, but to defend the definition of marriage.”
While, the legislature did not apply the word “marriage” to homosexual unions, they also did not pass an amendment that would have defined marriage as a union of husband and wife.
According the Associated Press, gay rights groups have argued that not calling such unions "marriage" creates a different, and inferior, institution. And Brannigan noted that the same-sex alliance of New Jersey has pledged to continue pushing for the word marriage.
He said the New Jersey Catholic Conference will continue to fight for the protection of marriage through positive means.
“I think at this point in time what is most important is for the Church to continue to clearly teach, to its own parishioners and to others, what it always has taught which is that marriage is one man and one woman, it’s a sacramental institution and we must work to support marriage and help people as they enter into marriage to prepare them and to help them, so we can raise up, in the eyes of all, the important role of marriage in our society,” Brannigan said.