Sydney, Australia, Jan 17, 2007 (CNA) - Sexuality and marital love are the topics of this month’s issue of the World Youth Day 2008 online newsletter. The eight-page “E-pilgrimage” also includes a prayerful reading of the Song of Songs and a biography of the first married couple to be beatified together.
The newsletter is issued by the organizers of the international gathering, which will be held in Sydney, Australia, next year. The publication is intended to help young people spiritually prepare for the pilgrimage.
In this month’s issue, Bishop Anthony Fisher, Auxiliary of Sydney, addresses the way in which sex is perceived in society as a “recreational activity” and the body is treated like a commodity.
"There are many voices in the modern world that overestimate the importance of sex -- as if no one could be happy who had not had sex in the last few hours -- or trivialize or underestimate its power -- as if it were no more humanly significant than any other bodily function," the bishop writes.
"But deep down most people know the body, sexuality and fertility are precious and important things which can be used to express some of the noblest things about human relationships, or which can be used instead to hurt and exploit," he adds.
Houston, Texas, Jan 17, 2007 (CNA) - A new poll conducted by a leading Christian web site finds that an overwhelming majority of Christians believe that life begins at conception.
ChristiaNet.com recently surveyed 500 members of its web site and asked: "Does life start at conception, first heart beat, second trimester, or birth?"
Of the 500 participants, 440 (88 percent) believe that life begins at conception; nearly 7 percent believe that life begins at birth. Only two respondents selected the option that life begins at the second trimester and 24 respondents believe that life begins at the first heart beat, reported LifeNews.com.
“The Bible is clear about life," said ChristiaNet president Bill Cooper. "But many people, even some Christians, are unclear on this fact because our society accepts abortion procedures. The truth has become skewed in order to ease the social conscience."
Rome, Italy, Jan 17, 2007 (CNA) -
During a visit this week to the nativity scene put up each year by the street cleaners of Rome, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, said neither Europe nor the self-proclaimed “modern” world should fear Christian symbols, especially Nativity scenes.
“Nobody should be afraid of Bethlehem, which is a sign of brotherhood, intimacy and friendship that harms no one,” said Cardinal Bertone. This year, he added, “some people were afraid of Nativity scenes and it seemed they did want them in schools, cities, and public places.”
Nativity scenes, he explained, “are a reminder for believers and non-believers, an invitation to family intimacy and to a positive relationship with God.”
Created in 1972 by a Roman street cleaner, the “Nativity Scene of the Street Cleaners” is the most popular Christmas crèche in Rome. It consists of a very detailed recreation of first-century Palestine, with 95 miniature homes and two hundred figures.
The first Pope to visit the scene was Paul VI in 1974. But it was John Paul II who made it popular throughout Rome with his annual visits to the crèche each year until 2002, when health problems prevented him from leaving the Vatican. Benedict XVI visited the scene in 2005, and this past Christmas he received a group of the street cleaners in private audience. Over the years the mayors of Rome have visited the scene, and one year Mother Teresa of Calcutta made a visit.
Abuja, Nigeria, Jan 17, 2007 (CNA) - A Catholic Bishop in Nigeria is attempting to emphasize the importance of civic duties by has instructing parishioners to show they have registered to vote in the April’s elections or be banned from communion.
According to several news sources, Bishop Francis Okobo, who oversees the diocese of Nsukka in the southeastern state of Enugu, authorized the circulation of a bulletin in Catholic churches on Sunday telling the faithful that they had to make their vote count in this year's elections.
Parishioners were told not to be put off by the outcome of past elections in which the votes of the people did not count because of massive vote rigging.
"Whoever has not collected the voter's card after February 7 has automatically alienated himself or herself from the community, the Church, the nation and will not be allowed to receive the Holy Communion," the bulletin said according to This Day.
Nigerians are due to elect their president, state governors and lawmakers in elections that should mark the first ever handover from one democratic government to another in Africa's most populous nation and biggest oil producer.
"You might have often heard ... that the election has been concluded, that your votes will not count and that you will definitely be wasting your precious time if you go out to vote," the bulletin from the Nsukka diocese was quoted as saying.
"The Catholic Secretariat of Nsukka wishes to inform you that (this is) calculated political propaganda aimed at creating despondency in you so that they will steal away an unmerited victory. You are reminded and requested to quickly get yourselves registered, if you have not done that, because it is your civic responsibility and a sacred duty."
The news comes as others in Nigeria, such as students, face severe sanctions if they do not revalidate their voters' cards. Governor Sam Egwu of Ebonyi State, has said students of voting age could have their education terminated and civil servants who fail to register will not be paid a salary in January.
Diocese spokesman Father Obiora Ike told BBC News that Bishop Okobo is a firm believer that civic duties and faith go hand-in-hand. "It is not enough to go to church and ignore your civic duties. Both go together and the church will be failing in her duties if she failed to emphasize that," he said. "We believe that a good Christian must also be a good citizen.”
He said the bishop's directive became necessary due to "a noticeable lack of interest in politics" among members of the parishioners.
"The bishop is not only a firm believer in good Christian values, but he's also a firm believer in good citizenship and a good citizen must honor his or her civic obligations," Fr Obiora told the BBC.
"What we are doing is using religion as a tool for social mobilization. We are trying to make our parishioners realize that they cannot hold a government they did not vote in to account.”
"So, we are enlightening our congregation to register so that they can vote. We believe that people who are aware make good choices."
Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2007 (CNA) - A national pro-life leader has announced that he has thrown his support behind Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
In a letter to his own supporters, Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said he intends to serve on the Advisory Committee of Brownback’s potential campaign for president.
Senator Brownback has not officially announced his candidacy, but has formed an exploratory committee.
The priest said he is making this endorsement in his personal capacity, and not in the name of any of the organizations he leads.
He said Brownback has his “unequivocal support.” He described the senator as “a hero for the unborn and one of the strongest and most consistent supporters of pro-life policies” since Brownback was elected to Congress in 1994.
In a letter to “fellow conservatives”, Brownback described himself as “the only tried-and-true social conservative seeking the Republican Party's nomination.”
“Social issues first and foremost … drive my passion,” he said, referring to marriage, family, and pro-life issues.
Denver, Colo., Jan 17, 2007 (CNA) - Denver Archbishop, Charles Chaput, said this week that the newly inaugurated Democratic Governor of Colorado, who represented himself as a pro-life Catholic during elections, now faces the most difficult part of governorship, governing. Governor Bill Ritter has faced criticism after he announced in his inaugural address that he would return tax-payer funding to Planned Parenthood.
Governor Ritter is attempting to reverse a ban enacted by former governor Bill Owens, who, after an independent audit, learned that state funds were indirectly subsidizing abortions. The Colorado State Constitution states that no state money shall subsidize abortions.
Chaput said in his weekly article that while the newly-elected Governor Ritter “packed a great deal of good will, good sense and hope into his first ‘state of the state’ message to Colorado legislators on Jan. 11” he now has to back up his words with actions.
“In the long run, all of us — homemakers, shopkeepers, clergy, athletes and public officials — are judged by what we do, not by what we say. How our words translate into action shapes what we accomplish and what we become.”
Archbishop Chaput quoted the new governor’s statement that he would judge each piece of legislation by considering, “How does this [bill] create a better future for our children and our children’s children?”
“In that light,” the archbishop continued, “Mr. Ritter’s stated commitment to ‘restore eligibility requirements for state funding for pregnancy prevention and family planning programs’ is seriously flawed public policy.”
“It’s hard to have a future ‘for our children and our children’s children’ without children, and in practice, Planned Parenthood specializes in the business of preventing them,” Chaput said.
“Even more troubling,” he continued, “is Planned Parenthood’s long involvement in abortion ‘rights’ and the lethal services associated with them. Helping women kill their unborn children abuses the real well-being of women. It also violates the dignity of unborn children in a brutally intimate and permanent way.”
Chaput noted a local news report which stated that the governor “would take steps to allow organizations such as Planned Parenthood to get state funding again if they can prove state money isn’t used to fund abortions [emphasis added].” Even if that is the case, the archbishop said, “it’s very hard to reconcile anyone who is ‘pro-life’ with any support for Planned Parenthood and its destructive record.”
The archbishop said that the new governor has the right “to be taken at his word” but also has the responsibility to show citizens what he actually means by his words.
However, Chaput added, even if Ritter intends to demand that Planned Parenthood prove state funds will not fund abortions, a segregation of funds merely eliminates the state’s “material support” for the killing of babies.
“We urge the governor to reconsider pursuing this bad policy, and failing that, at a minimum, to be rigorous in the controls he places on state funding for family-planning services. No unborn child should be forced to die as a result of this flawed policy — precisely for the sake of the future ‘of our children and our children’s children,’” the archbishop concluded.
Washington D.C., Jan 17, 2007 (CNA) - A prominent Catholic convert from Islam told a group this week not to shy away from sharing Jesus with their Muslim neighbors, assuring them that most Muslims respect a clear and well-argued defense of faith and despise weakness and a lack of firmness in apologetics.
During a speech for a seminar called, “What Every Catholic Should Know About Islam,” in Virginia, Daniel Ali, an Iraqi who converted from Islam in 1998, told the more than 400 people in attendance, “The first line of defense is to know your faith.” The baptized should be willing to stand up when their beliefs are being attacked, he said.
When Christians encounter Muslims, “They cannot be silent about Jesus in order to get along with those who profess the Islamic faith. They do not like people who are weak. They have more respect for those who defend their convictions,” Ali said.
He noted that it is very common for Americans “to defend what they believe, but when it’s the Christian faith, people are afraid to speak of it.”
Ali also underscored that there are two kinds of jihad. The “great jihad” is the daily struggle of individuals to live their faith, and the “minor jihad” is the struggle against the enemies of Allah.
Christians and other non-Muslims should be more concerned about the second jihad, Ali added. “It is very sad that tragedy makes us pay attention to the most challenging moment of our time,” he stated, in reference to the 9-11 attacks. “When the Muslims talk about taking over the West, they are not kidding. I know their minds, I think that they really believe what they are saying,” he asserted.
Ali is co-author with Robert Spencer of the book “Inside Islam: A Guide For Catholics,” which describes how Muslims consider Jesus to be a prophet but they deny his death on the cross and condemn belief in his divine nature.
Madrid, Spain, Jan 17, 2007 (CNA) - The Institute for Family Policy (IFP) in Spain is demanding that country’s government come up with an effective pro-family policy, as Spain now ranks as the European country with the lowest birth rate and the least assistance for families.
In order to illustrate the seriousness of the situation in Spain, IFP president Eduardo Hertfelder highlighted the success of France, which thanks to policies implemented in 1985 to promote family and childbirths, has achieved “a level of generational replacement” and now sits “at the top of the birth rates in Europe.”
“It’s the logical result,” he said, “that one gets when, first of all, there is the political will to help the family, and second, the means are put in place through different organizations and budget allocations.” Hertfelder praised France for its Ministry of the Family, which is been implementing norms and laws in support of the family during the last 20 years.
According to Hertfelder, France differs dramatically with Spain, which “not only continues, together with Italy, to be the country with the lowest birth rate, but also provides the least amount of assistance to the family of all the countries of the EU.” Comparing the family policies of both countries to those of France “is like comparing night and day,” he stressed.
“Thus, a family with three children in France will receive $491 a month, regardless of income, and yet in Spain that family will receive only $93, and only if they are a low-income family. A couple in Spain would need to have 16 kids and be in a low-income bracket in order to receive the same assistance a couple with three children is eligible for in France regardless of their income,” Hertfelder said.
Therefore, the IFP is demanding “an immediate adjustment by the government” in its family policies and that the Spanish government “learn how to imitate the family policies our European neighbors that have been successful.”
Caracas, Venezuela, Jan 17, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop Roberto Luckert of Coro and vice president of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference expressed his concern this week over the growing sense of fear that has gripped the country due to the actions of President Hugo Chavez’s government.
In statements to Union Radio, the archbishop defended the right of bishops to express their opinions when they feel it is necessary.
“This government’s plan is to instill fear in the people, and that is what they are doing; through power they are instilling fear in the Venezuelan people. The spouses of political prisoners are trying to get signatures for an amnesty law and they are telling us that nobody wants to sign because they are afraid, that if they sign they will lose their jobs, and that is part of the plan. Just as Fidel imposed his rule through an iron fist, here too we are being cowed with terror and fear,” he said.
Archbishop Luckert called on the opposition to bring this subject out into the open with the people. “It seems that they want to corner us, just as they cornered the media, university professors, unions, businessmen. The idea is to shut us up and instill fear in us, and that would make us be quiet and would be the most disturbing and shameful thing that could happen in the country, that out of silence and cowardice we shut up,” he added.
The archbishop also explained that the Church defends freedom of expression and that the bishops have the obligation to “denounce what is coming to this country. What they want to do is make us a carbon copy of way things are done in Cuba.”
Konigstein, Germany, Jan 17, 2007 (CNA) - When a group of UK seminarians set out on a fund-raising mission for the suffering Church in Cuba, few could have expected the success they achieved. By the time they had completed their mammoth task, the group of six, along with the seminary’s vice rector, had each cycled 270 kilometres (~168 miles) and together they had collected nearly 23,500 Euro (~$30,332 USD).
The record-breaking formula of pedal power, determination, and fund-raising genius pulled off by St Mary’s College, Oscott, near Birmingham, was inspired by the plight of 77 students at the Seminary of SS Charles and Ambrose, in the Cuban capital of Havana.
The seminary, which rests in the heart of a country where the Church is still suffering persecution, is housed in a decrepit building. The Cuban seminarians are nearly entirely dependent on outside help for everything from the food on the refectory tables to the furniture in their rooms and the stipends granted to their lecturers.
The Havana Seminary receives an annual grant from Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Catholic charity for suffering Christians. ACN has made Cuba a priority for aid in Latin America, especially as tension mounts with President Castro’s failing health.
Last month, Xavier Legorreta, who heads up ACN’s projects department covering Cuba, visited Oscott to pick up the check and thank the English seminarians on behalf of their Cuban confreres.
“I was very astonished by the seminarians’ success, Legorreta told ACN News, “it came as big, big surprise. It just shows how really important things can be achieved by such simple and very practical initiatives.”
Vatican City, Jan 17, 2007 (CNA) - With the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity beginning on Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI took a break from his series of catecheses on the Apostles and early Saints of the Church to speak on the theme of unity. The Holy Father said, before the 6,000 plus pilgrims gathered in the Paul VI Auditorium, that Christians should not be discouraged by the long and difficult road to unity, because the journey is supported by Christ.
"Unity," said the Pope, "is a gift from God and the fruit of the action of His Spirit. For this reason it is important to pray. The closer we draw to Christ, converting ourselves to His love, the closer we also draw to one another."
The Holy Father recalled the theme of this year's Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, taken from the Gospel of St. Mark: "He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak." This phrase, he explained "by highlighting two aspects of the mission of each Christian community - announcing the Gospel and giving witness of charity - also underlines how important it is to translate Christ's message into real initiatives of solidarity. This advances the journey towards unity because ... all relief Christians together bring to their fellows, however small, also contributes to making their communion more visible."
"The road to unity remains long and difficult, but we must not be discouraged, and continue our journey, relying on the sure support of Christ" said the Pope. He also noted how he’s had the opportunity to see firsthand, over years of meetings with representatives from other Churches and ecclesial communities, "and in a particularly moving way, during my recent visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in Istanbul, how deeply felt the desire for unity is.”
“That experience and others like it, have brought hope to my heart," the Pope said of his recent meeting with the head of the Eastern Orthodox Communion.
The Pope mentioned the fact that today, in some countries, is the Day for Dialogue between Jews and Christians, and he recalled some high points in the "mutual friendship" between the two communities, such as the Second Vatican Council and John Paul II's visit to the synagogue of Rome in April 1986.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will come to an end on January 25 with the celebration of Vespers presided by the Holy Father in the basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, in the presence of representatives from other Churches and Christian communities.