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Archive of January 10, 2007

Social concern can never be separated from announcing the Gospel, Pope says

Vatican City, Jan 10, 2007 (CNA) - Returning to a catechesis on the Apostles and early Saints of the Church, Pope Benedict focused his Wednesday General Audience on the figure of St. Stephen.  The Holy Father told some 7,000 pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, that Stephen, who was a Deacon and the first Martyr of the Church, demonstrates that Christians should always act in a socially charitable way, while never shying away from preaching the Gospel.  
 
"St. Stephen," said the Pope, "is the most representative figure of a group of seven companions," who concerned themselves with charitably serving the needs of members of the Christian community, whether of Jewish or of Greek origin.
 
"Tradition sees in this group the origins of the future ministry of deacons," upon whom the Apostles "laid their hands," a gesture that in the Old Testament "has above all the significance of transmitting an important task," said the Pope.
 
"That this was an important action, to be undertaken following due discernment, becomes clear from a reading of the First Letter of Paul to Timothy: 'Do not be hasty in laying on of hands, nor participate in another man's sins'."
 
"Apart from his charitable service," the Pope continued, "Stephen also carried out evangelizing activity among his countrymen, the so-called 'Hellenists'." To them "he reread the Old Testament in the light of the announcement, death and resurrection of Jesus." This rereading "provoked the reaction of the Jews who perceived his words as blasphemy."
 
Stephen "shows that the mystery of the cross lies at the center of the history of salvation," and that "the cult of the temple is finished" because the Risen Christ "is the new and true 'temple.' It was precisely this 'no' to the temple" that led to his death sentence and martyrdom. After his stoning, the group of Jewish and Hellenic Christians fled Jerusalem "and became itinerant missionaries. ... Persecution and consequent dispersion became mission."
 
The Holy Father explained how the story of St. Stephen reminds us that "social commitment to charity can never be disassociated from the courageous announcement of the faith." With charity, the first martyr "announced the crucified Christ, even to the point of accepting martyrdom."
 
"The cross remains central in the life of the Church as well as in our private lives. In the history of the Church, passion and persecution will never be lacking," said Pope Benedict, but, "in the famous phrase of Tertullian, 'we multiply every time we are cut down by you.' The blood of Christians is a seed."
 
"In our own lives too, the cross, which will never be lacking, becomes a blessing," he concluded. "And accepting the cross, knowing that is it is and becomes a blessing, we learn the joy of being Christian, even in moments of difficulty."

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20,000 young Catholics expected to descend on Washington for Pro-Life Rally

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2007 (CNA) - More than 20,000 Catholic teens and young adults from across the country will fill Washington, D.C.’s largest sports arena for the annual Rally for Life and Youth Mass, marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in the United States.

Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington will be joined by dozens of bishops and hundreds of priests for the event.

The rally will be held Jan. 22 at the Verizon Center just north of the White House and National Mall.  The young people will be offered the sacrament of confession all morning. The rally will begin at 8:45 and feature Christian recording artists and composers such as Steve Angrisano, Janelle and the ONE80 Band, and the “Who Do You Say I Am?” Band.

The youth mass will begin at 10 AM. Archbishop Wuerl will be principal celebrant. Fr. Bill Byrne, Catholic chaplain for the University of Maryland, will give the homily.

Following the Mass, many of the bishops and youth will participate in the National Rally and March for Life, starting at noon on the National Mall. Archbishop Wuerl also will participate in the annual Vigil Mass for Life, Jan. 21, at 8 p.m., at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The Archdiocese of Washington held its first rally and Mass for Life over 12 years ago, adding locations around the city as demand grew.

In 2004, the event was moved to the Verizon Center, the city’s largest venue. Still, hundreds of youth had to be turned away when the center reached capacity last year.

To accommodate the growing crowds, a second, smaller rally and Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, will be held at DAR Constitution Hall. The times are the same. 

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Spiritual renewal underway in Holland…but outside the public sphere

Amsterdam, Netherlands, Jan 10, 2007 (CNA) - Religion, especially Christianity, appears to be making a comeback in the ultra secular Holland, although those who are returning to the faith are seeking refuge from public life rather than engaging it.

That is the conclusion of an analysis entitled, “The Post-Secular Future of Holland,” by Dutch journalist Joshua Livestro.

After commenting on the increase in the number of people that pray at their places of work and companies that allow for public prayer, Livestro cites the book by Adjiedj Bakas and Minne Buwalda, in which the authors assert that “God is back in Holland,” and they cite as proof the return of crucifixes and religious symbols to the classrooms of Catholic schools.

But not all the news is good.  Livestro explains that the Christian confessions have been losing members.  The outlook is not good for “Protestant churches,” as their membership has declined from 23% of the populace in 1950 to 6% today,” and according to government statistics, the numbers are expected to drop to 2%.  The number of Catholics has gone from “42% in 1958 to 17% today, and it is expected to drop to 10% in 2020.”

Religious practice among young people is on the rise, however, and Livestro notes that despite the process of secularization, young people continue attending church.

Another phenomenon that seems to confirm the tendency towards a “post-secular society” is the trend among many new churches to convert “cultural centers, sporting venues, school auditoriums, parking lots and even night clubs” into places of worship.  “The idea seems to be to make the place look as little as possible like traditional places of worship in order to attract more believers,” Livestro states.

Similar to the first Christian communities, believers are also meeting more frequently in private homes, where they “share in meals and adoration.”

In Livestro’s opinion, “For better or for worse, Dutch Christianity is an underground phenomenon.”  “Dutch Christians have withdrawn from the public sphere, whether voluntarily—as in the case of home-churches or the movement of young churches—or because they lack confidence to speak publicly about their faith to an unbelieving audience,” he added.

While Christians have gradually disappeared from public life, he continued, “Muslims are becoming more and more prominent” and now make up “6% of the Dutch population.”  As an example Livestro cites the new mosque being built in Amsterdam.

Muslims are mostly interested in keeping their fellow believers from leaving Islam, Livestro asserts, adding that it is “very unlikely that Dutch Islam would become a serious competitor of Christianity, which has little to fear from a rival that rejects proselytism and must still come to grips with the purifying fire of religious liberalism.”

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Russian Catholic bishops respect Wielgus’s decision to resign

Moscow, Russia, Jan 10, 2007 (CNA) - The Roman Catholic bishops’ conference of Russia urged the Church and its members to respect the decision made by Stanislaw Wojciech Wielgus to resign from his recent nomination as Archbishop of Warsaw.

The cleric resigned following accusations of collaborating with government authorities during the Communist regime.

The bishops’ conference told Interfax it will refrain from making “hasty conclusions” about his resignation.

"The Church should not become like a crowd shouting 'crucify him'," said Fr. Igor Kovalevsky, general secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Russia, in an interview with Interfax.

"Despite reasons of some priests to collaborate with special services, their dignity cannot be humiliated. In particular, hasty conclusions and accusations should not be made," he continued.

Fr. Kovalevsky admitted that the collaboration of priests with government authorities "has often been disastrous to the Church and worshipers.” However, each case should be considered individually, he insisted.

The priest recalled that the Catholic Church "was oppressed and sometimes persecuted" in some countries in Soviet times. The Church managed to maintain independence in Poland, but the state frequently exerted great pressure on priests as well, he said.

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New Spanish-language media campaign highlights importance of family

Washington D.C., Jan 10, 2007 (CNA) - The Catholic Communication Campaign of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched a Spanish-language public service campaign that highlights the importance of family and community. The campaign’s theme is La Familia Unida Esperanza en la Vida. (A United Family Has More Hope for Life.)

The series includes eight public service announcements. All were initially produced for radio; while three were also produced for television. The radio spots began in October and were distributed to more than 400 Spanish-language radio stations. The television spots will begin this month.

Ramón Rodríguez, director of development for the Catholic Communication Campaign, said the series reflects real-life situations about issues that have particular interest to the Hispanic community, including guiding young people toward a healthy future, outreach to the elderly, dealing with substance and domestic abuse.

To order copies of the TV and radio spots, contact Accent Media at 703-356-9427.

The Catholic Communication Campaign develops media programming, public service announcements, and other resources to promote Gospel values. This year marks the campaign’s ninth year of radio productions and eight years of television production.

WASHINGTON — The Catholic Communication Campaign of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched a Spanish-language public service campaign that highlights the importance of family and community. The campaign’s theme is La Familia Unida Esperanza en la Vida. (A United Family Has More Hope for Life.)

The series includes eight public service announcements. All were initially produced for radio; while three were also produced for television. The radio spots began in October and were distributed to more than 400 Spanish-language radio stations. The television spots will begin this month.

Ramón Rodríguez, director of development for the Catholic Communication Campaign, said the series reflects real-life situations about issues that have particular interest to the Hispanic community, including guiding young people toward a healthy future, outreach to the elderly, dealing with substance and domestic abuse.

To order copies of the TV and radio spots, contact Accent Media at 703-356-9427.

The Catholic Communication Campaign develops media programming, public service announcements, and other resources to promote Gospel values. This year marks the campaign’s ninth year of radio productions and eight years of television production. 

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Spanish Socialists block aid to pregnant women in Spain while promoting abortion in Latin America

Madrid, Spain, Jan 10, 2007 (CNA) - The Spanish weekly “Alba” has revealed that while the Socialist government is denying aid to local entities that provide aid to pregnant women, it is earmarking large sums of money to promote abortion throughout the world, especially in Latin America.

Reporter Luis Losada Pescador explains that years ago, the Spanish Federation of Pro-Life Entities (SFPE), which helps women in crisis pregnancies, reached an agreement with the government to receive $142,000 in economic aid each year to be distributed between 20 different associations.

While it was no where near enough to cover the needs of the SFPE, the money helped offset the rising operating costs of the organization, especially considering that “each day we receive more girls in crisis pregnancies,” explained the president of the federation, Dr. Dolores Voltas.

Nevertheless, starting in 2005, the Socialist governments in the regions of Castilla La Mancha, Andalucia, Extremadura, and Cataluña began issuing negative reports about the organization to the federal government.  According to the federation, the reports were unfounded and sprung from purely ideological reasons.  The complaints directly led to a decrease of $31,000 in annual economic aid.

Last year, the federation was no longer included among the 340 organizations that receive financing from the Ministry of Social Affairs, supposedly due to “internal re-organization.”

According to the federation, “The saddest part is that some communities that issued negative reports claimed they already provided similar services.  That was the case in Cataluña, where officials said they provided such a service through a call center.”

While organizations that help pregnant women in Spain are being denied funding, last November the Socialist government approved a grant of $3.8 million to the United Nations Population Fund, with over $1 million going directly to “reproductive health programs” that provide equipment and funding for abortion services even in countries where abortion is illegal.

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Number of Catholics leaving Church in Austria declines in 2006

, Jan 10, 2007 (CNA) - According to a “new and encouraging” report by the Archdiocese of Vienna, the number of Catholics that leaving the Church sharply declined in 2006, in marked contrast with the high numbers if citizens formally abandoning their Catholic faith in previous years.

According to the Associated Press, 36,645 people formally left the Church in 2006, down from 44,609 in 2005.  In 2004, 45,000 Austrians officially renounced their Catholic faith.

Most of those who left said the main reason for their decision was the sexual scandal that exploded when homosexual and pornographic material was discovered at the St. Poelten Seminary, located 80 kilometers west of Vienna.

Others said leaving the Church was their way of rejecting the obligation to pay the annual tax for the Church, which amounts to around $325.  In order to avoid paying the tax, they must register with the government as having officially renounced the Catholic faith.

The report also indicated that since 1995, some 500,000 Austrians have formally left the Church.  Nevertheless, Msgr. Wilfried Kreuth, who works in the Diocese of St. Poelten, said the decline in the number of those who left the Church in 2006 is “new and encouraging.”  Likewise, some 4,600 people who expressed their desire to leave the Church in recent years returned to the faith last year.

The spokesman for the Archdiocese of Vienna, Erich Leitenberger, said that 4 out of every 10 Austrians attend Mass at least once a month, while 33% attend Mass during Christmas, Holy Week and on other religious feast days.  “Nobody can suppress the three basic questions: ‘Where do I come from? Where am I going? What is the meaning of life?”, said Leitenberger.

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Sudanese Bishop credits Catholic charity with strengthening archdiocese

Khartoum, Sudan, Jan 10, 2007 (CNA) - An Auxiliary Bishop for the Sudanese Archdiocese of Khartoum has credited Catholic charity organization Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) for strengthening the local Church through their support.

Bishope Daniel Marok Kur Adwok told ACN’s Christian Klyma recently that, “The position of our archdiocese is strong mainly due to the support we received from Aid to the Church in Need over the past few years.”

“While 25 years ago there was only 1 priest in Khartoum, nowadays we have 121. Our archdiocese has 30 parishes and 123 centres where the Eucharist is being regularly celebrated. Of the archdiocese’s about 18 million inhabitants, more than 900,000 are Catholics,” he added.

With regard to a foreseen transfer of the St Paul seminary to Juba in the south of Sudan, the Bishop said that it was due to be transferred “in 2007 – starting with the Philosophy seminarians.” At the moment, 7 teachers are instructing 73 candidates.

ACN funding has also helped the Khartoum Archdiocese run it’s “Save the Saveables” project, which currently includes 65 schools with some 33,000 pupils and 1,050 teachers. The project tries to give adequate education to schoolchildren who have come to Khartoum fleeing from the south of the country, where since January of 2005 a peace agreement has been mostly adhered to.

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Another Indian state passes anti-conversion bill

New Dehli, India, Jan 10, 2007 (CNA) - Christians are concerned about an anti-conversion bill that was passed in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.

The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill forbids religious conversion by fraudulent means. Anyone found guilty of forcing another person to change religion can be punished with a two-year jail term, a fine of up to 25,000 rupees (US$560) or both, reported UCA News.

The law also stipulates that a person intending to change her or his religion should inform the government 30 days in advance. State Home Secretary Vijay Kumar was quoted in the media as saying that failure to do is punishable by a fine of up to 1,000 rupees.

Anti-conversion laws exist in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. Tamil Nadu passed and repealed such a law in 2004.

The state assembly, governed by the Congress party, passed the bill Dec. 30 during a four-day winter session. However, still requires the state governor's signature before it can be enacted as a law.

Christian leaders in India have steadfastly opposed such legislation, maintaining that the vague terms used in them, such as "force," "inducement" and "fraud," could be applied to Christian services in education, social work and health care. They fear such laws would be used to arrest and harass missioners working in remote villages, reported UCA News.

John Dayal, a lay Christian leader and member of the federal National Integration Council, told UCA News Jan. 8 that the state has barely 10,000 Christians among its 6 million people and wondered why the assembly would actually pass such a bill.

Dayal, who also is president of the All India Catholic Union, said Christian leaders are trying to urge the state and federal governments to withdraw the bill.

Christians made several appeals to Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh while the bill was under discussion, asking him not to proceed with it. They also wrote to Sonia Gandhi, Congress leader and chairperson of the federal alliance, who replied that her government and her party were opposed to such laws, reported Dayal.

Dayal says Singh betrayed the trust of the Christian community by passing the bill quickly within a four-day session, despite earlier assurances that this would not happen.

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Political service still has value despite accusations of corruption, Chilean bishops say

Santiago, Chile, Jan 10, 2007 (CNA) - Despite accusations of corruption that have rocked political life in Chile and several disagreements between the government and the Church over issues related to values, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of Chile emphasized that the bishops value the vocation to public service and political life.

On Monday, political leaders met with Conference president Bishop Alejandro Goic for more than hour.  “Rather than focusing on a few flashpoints of corruption, we must recognize that in Chile there is a healthy political class, and therefore the Church reiterates her respect and appreciation for public servants and the work of politicians at every level,” Bishop Goic said.

However, the bishop emphasized the “need for well-prepared politicians, sound politicians, politicians who dedicate their lives in service to Chile,” and he noted that despite the problems, “our country has a political class that is mostly sound, and that needs to be taken care of.”
 
Bishop Goic gave the political leaders who attended the meeting a copy of the bishops’ document, “Towards the Bicentennial,” in which the Church invites Chileans to reflect on the kind of country they want to have as they celebrate 200 years since its founding.  He also gave them a copy of Pope Benedict’s 2007 “State of the World” address.

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