Havana, Cuba, Jan 15, 2007 (CNA) - Some 300,000 holy cards of the Child Jesus were distributed throughout Cuba as part of the “Missionary Christmas” campaign, helping hundreds of thousands of Catholics to celebrate the Christmas holiday with greater joy.
This was the second year that the campaign has taken place, with the holy cards being distributed in eleven dioceses, according to Father Raul Rodriguez Dago of the Diocese of Santa Clara.
The missionaries who distributed the holy cards, which were provided by Aid to the Church in Need, also gave families a short catechesis on the faith.
“The missions took place during the morning, when the Child Jesus was received by stay-at-home moms involved in their daily activities,” Father Rodriguez explained.
“We thank God for allowing us to have this experience of the Missionary Christmas for the second year in a row,” he continued. “May His blessings reach all those who generously made the pictures and all those missionaries who donated their time, effort and dedication to distribute them to homes.”
Sydney, Australia, Jan 15, 2007 (CNA) - Cardinal George Pell addressed, this Sunday, the international debate that emerged after Saddam Hussein’s hanging regarding whether the former dictator should have been executed or sentenced to life in prison.
The cardinal-archbishop of Sydney said that while Hussein’s execution “was not entirely right and proper,” he said, “our sympathy should be directed first to his many victims. Unlike most of them, he has a marked grave in his home city, even if his coffin arrived on the back of a utility.”
He acknowledged that slightly more Australians (47 per cent) supported life imprisonment for Hussein rather than execution. He also noted the Church’s teaching, which has developed into an explicit opposition to all capital punishment. But he concluded that he could not weep for the death of Hussein; rather, he weeps for the dictator’s victims.
“I do not believe he was the worst tyrant of the second half of the 20th century, with competitors like Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, but he is in the front rank of evildoers,” he said in his regular column in the Sunday Telegraph.
Still, he noted, “One million people died in his war with Iran; he invaded Kuwait; systematically oppressed and killed the Kurds; murdered many of his own Iraqis and even enticed his sons-in-law home with false promises and had them executed within three days.”
The cardinal also argued for the validity and legality of Hussein’s trial.
The Purpose of Punishment
Turning to the penal system in general, the Cardinal noted that, “The punishment of criminals is a vexed issue, and we should strive to avoid two extremes.”
“Generally, public opinion is strong for justice, although some want only vengeance – ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’” Pell noted. “The other extreme rejects this and sees imprisonment primarily as an attempt to rehabilitate the criminal.”
“The traditional Christian teaching is a bit more complicated. Those who believe in God the Creator accept that serious evil disturbs and distorts nature's proper order. Punishment is designed to redress this disorder and when the offender voluntarily accepts his punishment this enhances the return to equilibrium. Punishment should be medicinal, contributing to the personal reform of the offender,” the Cardinal concluded.
London, England, Jan 15, 2007 (CNA) - A Catholic schoolgirl in England has been banned from wearing a crucifix in class, the school said the girl is prohibited from wearing the symbol for health and safety reasons.
Samantha Devine, a 13-year-old student at the nondenominational Robert Napier School in Gillingham, Kent, said she would continue wearing her necklace and silver crucifix, even if it meant being expelled.
According to The Telegraph, Paul Jackson, the deputy head at the secondary school, says that the school has a policy that no jewelry is to be worn by students in grades 7 to 10.
''The only exception to our uniform rule we would consider making is if the jewelry were an essential requirement of a particular religion," he reportedly said.
"I am proud of my religion and it is my right to wear a cross around my neck," Devine said. "I can't understand why the school thinks a tiny crucifix on a thin silver necklace is a health and safety hazard.
"Other religions are allowed to show their beliefs by wearing bracelets or turbans, so why can I not wear a cross to show my devotion to God?
The girl was reportedly told that she could wear a cross as a lapel badge.
Her father dismissed the request from the school as political correctness gone mad, reported Christian Today.
The human rights group Liberty has questioned whether there were any real health and safety implications over pupils wearing items of religious jewelry during standard lessons.
This incident comes not long after British Airways check-in worker Nadia Eweida took the airline to court to win the right to wear her chain and crucifix to work.
British Airways withdrew its controversial ban on workers wearing a visible cross, following widespread condemnation and international criticism.
Madrid, Spain, Jan 15, 2007 (CNA) -
The Catholic bishops of Spain are urging all people of good will to “adopt an attitude of cordial welcome and fraternal relations with immigrant families.”
In a message issued on the occasion of the World Day of Migrants, Jan. 14th, bishops are calling on parishes to "welcome immigrant families, help their progressive integration in parish life and grow in mutual knowledge and participation with local families."
They also underlined the Church’s efforts with regard to immigrants of all faiths to make them feel at home with the same rights and duties as Spanish-born individuals.
Catholic schools and other ecclesial institutions must help these immigrants feel they are members of the family of God, the bishops said.
Society must see "immigrants and their families not as a danger or a burden but as an enriching presence to be warmly welcomed and cared for as brothers and helped towards peaceful and enriching integration," they added.
The bishops noted that many new immigrants are exploited. They called on public officials to "adopt just and adequate measures to defend and guarantee the dignity and rights of immigrants and their families".
The bishops concluded their message by thanking immigrants for their valuable contribution to society and to the Church.
Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2007 (CNA) - Following the United States House of Representatives’ decision to pass H.R. 3, a bill that would remove current limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, Richard Doerflinger, Deputy Director of the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops voiced criticism and argued that Congress should back the type of ethical stem cell research that is supported by most Americans.
"Today the House voted to force all taxpayers to fund stem cell research requiring the destruction of human embryos,” Doerflinger began. While President Bush has pledged to veto the “misguided and unethical” legislation, as he has in the past, the USCCB official noted, "Congress should now turn its attention to stem cell research that poses no moral problem.”
Doerflinger noted the success already achieved by other, ethical types of stem cell research. “Unlike embryonic stem cell research,” he noted, “research using stem cells from adult tissue, umbilical cord blood, amniotic fluid and other sources is showing enormous promise and is likely to produce new treatments for patients now living.”
"Most Americans support stem cell research,” he added, “and most greatly prefer that this research advance without harming or destroying human life at any stage. The truly statesmanlike approach to this issue would be to take up this challenge, supporting medical progress that all Americans can live with."
Santiago, Chile, Jan 15, 2007 (CNA) - Preaching recently at a Mass in his native Chile, Father Luis Brevis praised the work Catholic organization, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), has done in the African nation of Angola. Celebrating Mass to mark the 25th anniversary of his priesthood, Fr. Brevis said that ACN can assist those who are in pain because they know who to unite pain to the Cross of Christ
The Missionary priest is director of an orphanage in the South West of Angola. The orphanage is home to 20 young people between 14 and 20 years. Fr. Brevis noted that the Archdiocese of Lubango, where he serves, has about 3 million inhabitants, 1.6 million of them Catholics.
“After almost 40 years of civil war several generations of Angolans have not had education at all. Recently in 2001 peace came, but not prosperity; the most difficult is not the war itself but to try to escape from it,” he said.
According to the priest, Angola’s lack of education, proper hygiene, and natural resources along with rampant corruption, leaves many of its citizens in inhumane conditions. Fr. Brevis said the help he receives from abroad is fundamental for his pastoral work. “In Angola I have experienced the service and help that ACN gives to the Church in Need. I, therefore, have to say thank you.”
Those who have, “passed through the probe of pain can help those who pass through it now because they know the pain united with the Cross,” he said. “That is what ACN does: It puts the faith in the power of the Lord and in His name it redeems humanity.”
Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2007 (CNA) -
The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for a “substantive, civil and non-partisan” national debate on the nature of U.S. involvement in Iraq and alternative choices about how to move forward in the Middle Eastern country.
In a statement issued Jan. 12 from Jerusalem, Bishop William Skylstad said the dialogue is “urgent at this moment of national discussion and decision.” The bishop is currently in the Holy Land for a meeting with representatives of bishops’ conferences from North America and Europe.
“At this critical juncture as our nation seeks a new way forward in Iraq, our leaders have a moral obligation to examine where things genuinely stand in pursuing justice and peace in Iraq, to assess what is actually achievable there, and to evaluate the moral and human consequences of alternative courses of action and whether they truly contribute to a responsible transition,” Bishop Skylstad said.
He said new proposals for how to move forward must be judged by a key moral question: “How can the U.S. bring about a responsible transition in Iraq?”
“Each course of action, including current policies, ought to be evaluated in light of our nation’s moral responsibility to help Iraqis to live with security and dignity in the aftermath of U.S. military action,” Bishop Skylstad said.
“Our nation’s military forces should remain in Iraq only as long as their presence actually contributes to a responsible transition. Our nation should seek effective ways to end their deployment at the earliest opportunity consistent with this goal,” he said.
Determining when a responsible transition can be met will include reaching certain benchmarks, such as minimally acceptable levels of security; economic reconstruction to create employment for Iraqis; stronger political structures and greater respect for religious freedom and basic human rights, the bishop continued.
Bishop Skylstad added that there is a need for “broader regional and international engagement” to increase security, stability and reconstruction in Iraq and for more sustained U.S. leadership to address conflicts in that region, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the crisis in Lebanon.
“The Holy See and our bishops’ conference expressed grave moral concerns about military intervention in Iraq and the unpredictable and uncontrollable negative consequences of invasion and occupation. They also expressed alarm in the deteriorating situation of Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq.”
“As pastors and bishops we are deeply concerned for the lives and dignity of the people of Iraq who suffer so much and for the men and women in the U.S. military who serve bravely, generously and at great risk,” he added.
Vatican City, Jan 15, 2007 (CNA) - Before the thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square to pray the Angelus on the Sunday marking the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Benedict XVI said that migration must not be seen only as a problem, but also as a “resource for the progress of mankind.”
The Holy Father pointed to the Holy Family of Nazareth as example of the migrant family – especially in St. Matthew's account of their flight to escape the persecution of Herod. In their drama, he said, "we contemplate the painful condition of so many migrants, especially refugees, exiles, displaced people, and the persecuted. We particularly recognize the difficulties of migrant families: their discomforts, humiliations, privations and frailties."
The Pope went on to recall how the phenomenon of human mobility "is very extensive and varied," and that according to recent United Nations statistics, "economic migrants number almost 200 million, refugees nine million and international students two million."
To these must be added "internally displaced people and irregular migrants, taking into account the fact that each of them has, in one way or another, a family. It is, therefore, important to protect migrants and their families with specific legislative, juridical and administrative assistance, as well as through a network of services, welcome centers, and social and pastoral care structures."
The Pope expressed the hope that "a harmonious regulation of migratory flows and of human mobility in general" would soon be achieved, "so as to bring benefits to the entire human family, beginning with effective measures to favor legal migration and family reunion."
"Only respect for the human dignity of all migrants, on the one hand, and recognition by the migrants themselves of the values of their host societies, on the other, can make it possible to integrate families into the social, economic and political systems of their countries of destination."
"Migration," Pope Benedict concluded, "must never be seen only as a problem, but also and above all as a great resource for the progress of mankind. And the migrant family is a particularly special resource, so long as it is respected as such; it must not suffer irreparable divisions but remain united, or reunite, and complete its mission as the cradle of life and the primary place for welcoming and educating human beings."
Jerusalem, Israel, Jan 15, 2007 (CNA) - The Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, the Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, Yaacov Edri, have announced that the government will install an emergency exit in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as a security measure to protect the thousands of pilgrims that visit the shrine.
According to the Israeli newspaper “Maariv,” the decision came after Edri visited the church and concluded that in the case of fire or some other type of emergency, exiting the building would be difficult due to the single door that serves as both the entrance and exit.
However, construction of the emergency exit would require Israeli work crews to occupy areas jointly controlled by the Greek Orthodox Church, the Latin Patriarchate, and the Armenian Church. The newspaper says the plan would break the status quo at the holy site.
An attempt to build such an exit took place in 1996, but Israeli authorities and church leaders could not reach an agreement.
Over the weekend, Israel’s Minister for Jerusalem affairs said the new exit “must be opened - even if no agreement is reached.”
“If they cannot reach an agreement between themselves,” he added, “we will make the decision ourselves and begin to work.”
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher – built over the burial place of Jesus - is visited each year by thousands of believers of diverse Christian denominations, with scores of pilgrims infiltrating the site on Good Friday alone.
Washington D.C., Jan 15, 2007 (CNA) - Following a special meeting of the Polish Bishops’ Conference to discuss “the state of the Church in Poland” the bishops released a statement and called for a special day of prayer and repentance on Ash Wednesday, this coming February 21st. The meeting and statement comes in response to recent concern over the collaboration of some Polish clergy with the Communist regime of the late 20th century.
In a communication, which was to be read at every Polish Parish on Sunday, the bishops said they have “painfully followed” the accusations brought against Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus, who resigned as Archbishop of Warsaw after he admitted to collaboration with the Communist secret service (SB) and the People’s Republic of Poland (PRL) intelligence.
The bishops emphasized that despite the archbishop’s admittance of guilt, “It is not up to us to judge a man, a brother, who has served the Church in a faithful and zealous way.”
The prelates noted the tremendous persecution that was felt by the Church and by so many Poles during the era of totalitarian Communist rule and called for a greater investigation of the facts surrounding individual cases. “Only a critical and solid analysis of all the available sources can allow us to approach the truth,” they noted. “One-sided reading of documents created by officers of the repression apparatus of a communist state, hostile towards the Church, can seriously harm people, destroy the links of social trust and as a consequence prove to be a posthumous victory of an inhuman system, in which we were fated to live”
“All too easily it is being forgotten that in the times of communist totalitarianism the whole Church in Poland constantly stood against the enslavement of the society and was an oasis of freedom and truth,” the bishop’s statement said.
“We repeat once more: the Church is not afraid of the truth, even if this is a hard, shameful, truth and approaching this truth is sometimes very painful.”
“We are not afraid to confess that the Church is a community of sinners,” the bishops said, “but at the same time she is holy and called to holiness, since Jesus Christ is her Head, living and working in her – a Saint above all saints. It is before Him that we stand, asking the Holy Ghost to deliver us from evil, fear and our small-mindedness.”
With such a background, the bishops called for this coming Ash Wednesday, “to be a day of prayer and repentance of the whole Polish clergy.” The prelates declared that, “in all the churches in our dioceses, services to the Merciful God should be celebrated for a forgiveness of mistakes and weaknesses in proclaiming the whole Gospel.”
“As clergy,” the bishops continued, we are ‘taken from the people,’ we are a part of Polish society, which as a whole needs to turn away from evil and make a full conversion.”
“There is a great task of reconciliation for the Church in Poland, apart from standing in truth before the face of God. We will not change the past, both the glorious, and the one that we are ashamed of,” the statement adds.
The bishops concluded their communiqué by laying out a plan for investigating other potential collaborators while appealing, “to all the people of the Church, the clergy and the laity, to carry on the examination of their consciences concerning their conduct in the time of totalitarianism.”
Warsaw, Poland, Jan 15, 2007 (CNA) - In the wake of the resignation of Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus of Warsaw, the Apostolic Nuncio to Poland, Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk announced a revamping of the procedures for selecting bishops in the country.
In an interview with the Polish Catholic news agency KAI, Archbishop Kowalczyk announced that in the future, to avoid the kind of problem that occurred with Archbishop Wielgus, “the police and Communist secret service records related to the candidates for bishop should be studied before the nominations are determined.”
Archbishop Wielgus stepped down after admitting he collaborated with the Communist secret service, although he emphasized that his actions never affected or jeopardized the integrity of any Catholic, whether of the clergy or the laity.
“I must say that neither while at the Catholic University of Lublin, where Wielgus was rector for ten years, nor while he was in the Diocese of Plock, where he was bishop for eight years, were we ever informed of anything, not even the existence of the slightest suspicions,” the Nuncio said.
Archbishop Kowalczyk underscored that any Catholic who knows of a reason why a particular priest should not be named bishop or receive a promotion in the Church’s hierarchy should notify the Holy See either directly or through the nunciature.
“And the same goes for the roles of ambassador, minister or journalist, because what matters is following your conscience as a Catholic. Everyone had this duty in Poland, but nobody visited us to notify us nor did anyone call us on the phone,” he said.
Polish Bishops launch investigation
In addition, the Bishops Conference of Poland announced over the weekend that "The bishops have confirmed the will to carry out a full verification of the truth about ourselves and about the people of the church," said Archbishop Josef Michalik of Przemysl, head of Poland’s conference of Catholic Bishops.
According to Polish media, the Vatican welcomed a decision by the Church in Poland Church to investigate claims of Communist collaboration on the part of clergy.
Polish Radio reports that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State of the Holy See, praised the efforts of the Polish Catholic hierarchy and said he hopes, "Polish politicians and state officials will do likewise.”
, Jan 15, 2007 (CNA) - The ministries of Health and of Education in Brazil have announced a plan to install condom dispensers in public schools that offer sexual and reproductive education courses.
According to Ricardo Henriques of the Ministry of Education, “the idea of putting condoms in schools” is so that “young people have the right to exercise choice.”
A 2005 school census revealed that 98,000 schools have courses on the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. Of those, 17% of secondary schools and 9% of primary schools distribute the condoms without charge.
In 2006 the Brazilian government distributed more than 253 million condoms free of charge, although its goal is to distribute more than 1 billion per year. Nevertheless, even though she acknowledge such a feat was technically not possible, Mariangela Simao, coordinator of the National Program for Combating AIDS, said, “We would like to distribute 500 million condoms free of charge each year. This would be an ideal amount.”
The Program for Combating AIDS was implemented in Brazil at the behest of the United Nations.