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Archive of January 18, 2007

Vatican meeting on China is a go

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2007 (CNA) - Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J., Director of the Holy See Press Office, confirmed this morning that a rumored Vatican meeting on the situation of the Catholic Church in China will occur this coming Friday, January 19th and Saturday, January 20th.   

The meeting, according to Lombardi will be run by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State of the Holy See.

Yesterday the French I-Media news agency reported that the meeting is to focus on China's strained relations with the Holy See after Beijing consecrated several bishops last year without papal approval, a move seen as "unlawful" by Pope Benedict.

A spokesman for Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen also told I-Media last week that the Catholic leader planned to attend the meeting.

China's state-sanctioned church, which does not answer to the pope, has about four million worshippers, official figures show. The Vatican estimates the country's underground Catholic Church has around 10 million followers.

In 1951 Beijing cut diplomatic ties with the Vatican and the Vatican has since diplomatically recognized Taiwan, the highly contentious island regarded by China as part of its territory.

China had previously insisted that in order for Catholicism to be legalized in the country, the Vatican must sever ties with Taiwan and not interfere in its internal affairs.

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Report reveals persecution of Christians in Burma by military regime

London, England, Jan 18, 2007 (CNA) - On January 23rd a report entitled, “Carrying the Cross: The military regime’s campaign of restriction, discrimination and persecution against Christians in Burma” will be published during a meeting of the United Kingdom’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Burma.

According to the website AsianTribune.com, the report is expected to identify a range of tactics used by the military regime to suppress Christianity and cites a document, allegedly from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which has been widely circulated in Rangoon with the headline "Programme to destroy the Christian religion in Burma.” It begins: "There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practiced."  

The report will be presented by CSW’s Advocacy Officer for South Asia and author of the report, Benedict Rogers, and a delegation of Chin and Kachin activists from Burma will present evidence of human rights violations.

The report claims that Burma’s regime is "shaped by a fascist mentality with echoes of Hitler and the Nazis," found in the junta’s hostility towards ethnic and religious minorities. Citizens who do not conform to the regime’s version of Burman Buddhist nationalism – which, the report argues, is a "perverted and distorted form of Buddhism" – face "potentially serious consequences." The regime’s tactics range "from churches in Rangoon finding it difficult to obtain permission to renovate their buildings, to pastors in Chin State being killed," the report claims.

The report quotes a plea from six Christian organizations in 2006 that wrote a letter to the junta’s Senior General Than Shwe saying: "We simply cannot let things go on without doing anything. This is because Christian associations have been suffering, and we are feeling the pain deep in our hearts."

According to Rogers, “It is time that the United Nations Security Council pass a resolution on Burma calling for an end to the grotesque human rights violations perpetrated by the regime. We urge the United Nations to investigate the violations of religious freedom in Burma and to put pressure on the regime to change. Burma’s people, of all religions and ethnicities, have suffered in silence for too long.”

John Bercow, the Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy in Burma, stated,  “As this report makes clear, all the people of Burma are suffering at the hands of this brutal regime, whatever their religion or ethnicity. But there can be no doubt that Christians are singled out for an extra dose of discrimination and barbaric abuse. CSW has made a unique and vital contribution to the campaign for freedom in Burma by publishing this evidence. The United Nations and the international community must now act to bring an end to the sadistic behavior of these dictators.”

“Carrying the Cross” has received praise from several leading public figures, with a foreword written by Baroness Cox, a member of the House of Lords who has visited Burma’s border areas many times, and preface by the former Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Rev. John Perry.

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Religious persecution growing worldwide, watchdogs say

Washington D.C., Jan 18, 2007 (CNA) - Religious rights group have underlined that religious persecution is on the rise worldwide and especially in Islamic countries.

On Religious Freedom Day, Jan. 16, the Institute on Religion and Democracy issued a statement, indicating that "millions are discriminated against, beaten and tortured, imprisoned, and killed because they follow Jesus Christ or are members of other minority religions.”

Last week, President George Bush declared Jan. 16 to be Religious Freedom Day, reported CNSNews. He urged Americans to "continue to promote the importance of religious freedom at home and abroad." The date was chosen to commemorate the day in 1786 when Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom became law.

According to a recent report by Release International, an estimated 250 million Christians will be persecuted in 2007. The U.K.-based group said most persecution takes place in parts of the world under Islam, Communism, Hinduism and Buddhism, but that "persecution is growing fastest of all in the Islamic world."

"Governments in even moderate Muslim countries often fail to safeguard the rights of their Christian minorities," Release International said. "Abuses suffered by Christians include kidnapping, forced conversion, imprisonment, church destruction, torture, rape and execution."

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was established under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. The independent panel compiles a list of countries that violate religious freedom. Those designated as "Countries of Particular Concern" are eligible for U.S. government sanctions or other action.

Currently, the list includes Saudi Arabia, China, Iran, Burma, North Korea, Sudan, Eritrea and Uzbekistan.

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Vatican reaches out to travelers, plans for mobile chapels on European highways

Vatican City, Jan 18, 2007 (CNA) - The Catholic Church intends to reach out to those who make their living by traveling the roads and highways and to provide them with pastoral support.

The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples recently published the final document of the second International Meeting on the Pastoral Care of the Road. The meeting was held at the Vatican on Dec. 1-2, 2006.
 
The document urges Church leaders to make suggestions for “sustainable mobility”, which respects life, human persons and their dignity, and it proposes that spiritual “places and occasions of meeting” be created along the highways for these traveling professionals.

Such meetings, the document suggests, should "be held in places considered by the people involved as 'their own,' like big parking areas and highway stops," so as to create "moments of a more intense spiritual life, with the possibility of growing in the faith."

According to ANSA, Msgr. Agostino Marchetto, head of the department, said "human mobility" is one of the characteristics of the modern age and so the Catholic Church must make sure it is present there.

During the conference, some Church officials had proposed that roadside chapels or spiritual centers be created; others promoted the idea of a mobile chapel that would move from one motorway service to another.
 

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Indian Catholic denied marriage on conversion allegations

Mumbai, India, Jan 18, 2007 (CNA) - Local officials had refused, on four separate occasions, to register the marriage of a Catholic day laborer and a tribal woman in central India, alleging that the groom wanted to convert his bride to Christianity.

According to the groom, Peter Abraham, Dharam Sena (the religious army) had even threatened to kill him if he went ahead with the marriage.

However, Suraj Jaiswal, a member of Congress in the state's opposition party, read about the couple’s struggle. He dismissed the conversion charges against Abraham as "rubbish" and took their case to the governor of Madhya Pradesh state, Balram Jhakhar, on Jan. 8.

Jaiswal told UCA News that the governor intervened, directing the state chief secretary to arrange for the couple to have their marriage registered. The couple finally registered their marriage in a civil court in Jabalpur, 815 kilometers south of New Delhi, on Jan. 11.

Abraham, 38, dropped out of school in the fifth grade, pedals a tricycle taxi for a living. On an average day he earns about 100 rupees (US$2.20). The bride, Meena Singh Gond, 36, cannot walk unaided, the legacy of polio.

She told UCA News that she has "great faith in God" and expressed her confidence that "everything would turn out in our favor." Gond said she was "happy and relieved" after the marriage and that she wants to join her husband's religion.

Gond's brother Ajeet Singh told UCA News the family has no objection if she wants to embrace Catholicism. He says Abraham has given his sister "a life, which nobody could even think of."

Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur told UCA News the difficulties faced by this couple are not uncommon and similar incidents have taken place in various parts of the diocese. He regrets that the civil administration often fails to protect Christians and other minority groups in Madhya Pradesh.

According to UCA News, Several anti-Christian incidents have been reported in the state since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party) came to power on Dec. 8, 2003. Christian leaders say the administration tacitly supports fanatic Hindu activities.

Tribal people have their own religious traditions, but Hindu fanatics claim that these are part of Hinduism and all tribal people are or once were Hindus.

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School allows girl to wear ‘hidden’ crucifix

Birmingham, Ala., Jan 18, 2007 (CNA) - Administrators at Robert Napier School, who told a 13-year-old student last week she could not wear her necklace and crucifix for health and safety reasons, have changed their mind and said she could wear it as long as it remains hidden.

They also agreed to review the school policy on jewelry at the Jan.24th meeting of school governors.

These recent decisions were made after the parents of the Catholic girl, Samantha Devine, met with head teacher Fiona Miller on Monday.

According to Kent News, the girl’s mother, Rosemary Devine, said: “The school originally told us Sam was not allowed to wear the cross because it was a health and safety issue, but they have changed their mind and allowed her to wear it if it is kept hidden."

“I don’t want the school to completely change its rules, just amend them so everyone can wear a discreet religious symbol,” she said.

Last week, Samantha’s form teacher ordered her to remove the cross and necklace for health and safety reasons. She had been warned that if she continued to wear the jewelry she could face suspension or even expulsion from school.

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Messori: Married priests no remedy for “vocations crisis”

Madrid, Spain, Jan 18, 2007 (CNA) - The renowned Italian journalist Vittorio Messori published an article recently in which he blasted one of the most popular myths of the day: that married priests would solve the “crisis of vocations.”

Reprinted by the Spanish daily “La Razon,” Messori’s article notes, “The Protestant, Orthodox and Jewish communities are all undergoing similar ‘crisis of vocations’, if not greater, than that of the Catholic Church, despite the fact that their pastors, priests and rabbis can marry.”

“Marriage, therefore, would not be the remedy for the shortage of priests,” Messori continued.  “Nor would it be the remedy for the sexual disorders in certain religious environments, beginning with pedophilia.  Most of all because pedophilia manifests homosexual impulses (boys are more often victims than girls) and having a wife would therefore not be an adequate solution.  And moreover, as the statistics confirm, because the vast majority of abuse takes place in the home, between parents and children and uncles and nephews, this would not be remedy for such situations.”

Messori underscores in his article that “sexual continence” is not some imposition by the Church, but rather the result of a free choice that has its origins in the early Church and that has been practiced for centuries both in the West and the East.  It is not a dogma, he noted, but rather “an aspect of Tradition that should be treated with the reverence due to that which is considered to be of apostolic times.”

“In the early Church, the vast majority of the clergy was made up of older men who assumed holy orders, left behind their wives, who gave their consent, and entrusted their families to the community.  From that moment they were called to live in perfect continence, no longer living at home but rather in church buildings,” Messori asserted, citing a study by Cardinal Alfons Stickler, the former Vatican librarian and archivist.

Cardinal Stickler’s research proved that priestly celibacy was never considered a novelty and that it has always been an indisputable part of early Church tradition, and it demolishes the theory that “clerical celibacy can only be traced back to 1139, to the Second Lateran Council.”

“And what of the Eastern Churches, where only monks and bishops are obliged to embrace celibacy, while priests and deacons can marry, as long as it is the first and only marriage and takes place before ordination?” Messori asked.  “All of the documents show that for many centuries, the abstinence practiced in the West was discussed in those communities and the exceptions that are cited today are actually based on fraudulent sources.”

Messori explained that “only in 691, at the Council of Trullano, was the practice of today’s Orthodox established.  But there was an explicit capitulation: the Church in the East did not have the hierarchal organization of the West and it lacked means for repressing abuses, which were increasingly more numerous.  And not only that: subject to the Byzantine emperor, the Church in the East gave in to politicians who claimed that a clergy ‘with family’ was more easily controlled.  The attempt was made to salvage the principle, imposing sexual continence at least during the period in which priests were exercising their ministry and saying Mass, while aspiring to chastity for bishops and monks.  No doubt it was a forced situation, not ideal at all, as many complained and as many still complain about in the East.  It’s curious that some today consider that to be desirable for the West also.”

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Ex-Vatican spokesman takes post at university outside Rome

Rome, Italy, Jan 18, 2007 (CNA) - The former Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, has taken a post at the Biomedical University, located on the outskirts of Rome. The university is administered by Opus Dei.

Although Navarro-Valls became popular for his 22 year-long tenure as official spokesman for the Vatican, he had previously enjoyed a long career as a psychiatrist.

Navarro-Valls said the new post would mean a “return to my professional roots,” as he practiced medicine formerly at universities in Granada and Barcelona.

The Biomedical University, created in 1993, is undergoing an expansion and will be moved to a new location south of Rome in a few months.

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Benedict XVI invites Panamanians to remain faithful to the love of Christ

Panama City, Panama, Jan 18, 2007 (CNA) - On the occasion of the recent consecration of Panama to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged the faithful in that country “to always remain faithful to the truth and the love of God, manifested in his Son Jesus Christ.”

In a statement issued by the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Holy Father invited Panama’s bishops, priests, religious and laity to increase their “union with Christ, through daily prayer, the sacraments and responsible testimony of the faith in the ecclesial community and in your own environment, thus contributing to the building of a more just and fraternal society, steeped with authentic Christian values.”

The Pontiff concluded his message invoking the maternal protection of Mary and imparting his Apostolic Blessing to all Panamanians.

On January 11, various church leaders led the “National Consecration of the Republic of Panama to the Sacred Heart of Jesus” at the La Salle School gymnasium in Panama City.

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