Vatican City, Jan 22, 2007 (CNA) - On Sunday Pope Benedict XVI commented on the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which is taking place Janurary 18-25. The Holy Father told the pilgrims gathered below his window that, by way of their prayers, all Christians can take part in the task of ecumenism.
The Pope recalled that the theme for this year’s Week of Prayer - "He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak" - is "taken from the Gospel of St. Mark and refers to the people's amazement at Jesus' healing of the deaf man."
The original idea for the theme, he continued, came from the faithful in Umlazi, South Africa, “a poor city where AIDS has assumed the proportions of a pandemic and where human hopes are very few.”
In Umlazi, the Pontiff said, “the Risen Christ brings hope to everyone, especially to Christians. Heirs to the divisions of the past, (the people of Umlazi) now wish to launch this appeal: Christ can do anything, He ‘even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’ In other words, He is capable of infusing Christians with the ardent desire to listen to others, to communicate with others and, with Him, to talk the language of mutual love."
"Ecumenism is a profound experience of dialogue, an act of listening and talking to one another, ... a task that everyone can undertake, especially as regards 'spiritual ecumenism' based on the prayer and experiences that Christians are currently able to share," he said
The Pope expressed the hope that "the desire for unity, translated into prayer and fraternal collaboration to alleviate man's suffering, may become ever more widespread." He also thanked all the people who, "all over the world, pray and work for unity with conviction and constancy.”
Vatican City, Jan 22, 2007 (CNA) - Today in the Vatican, the Holy Father received the Letters of Credence of Antun Sbutega, the first ambassador of Montenegro to the Holy See. The smallest and youngest republic of the former Yugoslavia recently voted to open diplomatic channels with the Holy See.
In his address, Benedict XVI sent his greetings, via the ambassador, to all of Montenegrin society which, "in its ethnic plurality, has wished to establish a direct and cordial dialogue with the Holy See.”
“Over the centuries," the Pope said, "the peoples of the current Crna Gora have always maintained dynamic and cordial relationships with neighboring peoples, making interesting contributions to the life of European nations."
The Balkans have historically been marked by war and religious-ethnic conflicts. The tiny country which is now Montenegro is nearly 3/4ths Orthodox Christian. The Catholic population of the country is very small.
The Pontiff recalled the 1886 decision of Prince Nicholas of Montenegro, who signed a convention that aimed to meet the spiritual needs of Catholics in that country. "When the evangelical message of salvation reached the lands of Montenegro," said the Holy Father, "by embracing the eastern and western traditions together," the country "came to be characterized as a privileged place for the ecumenical encounter that everyone longs for.”
“The meeting between Christians and Muslims also took on compelling forms in Montenegro,” the Pope said.
"It is necessary," he added, "to continue this journey, on which the Church hopes that everyone will make a joint commitment to unite forces in the service of the inborn nobility of human beings. The Church, in fact, sees this as a significant part of her mission... while maintaining respect for the traditions that give a land its identity."
After voicing his conviction that, in Europe, Montenegro "will not fail to give its active support in the civil, political, social, cultural and religious spheres," the Pope identified one of the country's priorities as "reinforcing the state of law in the various sectors of public life" in order to promote "an increase in citizens' trust in society," both "as individuals and as a community."
Turning to consider the position of Catholics in the country, Benedict XVI noted that "the full recognition, dating to more than a century ago, of the life and goals of the Catholic community in the context of Montenegrin society has turned out to be useful to the sovereignty of the State and ... to the specific mission of the Church."
He also recalled "the respectful attitude of the Orthodox Church of the time, which did not oppose the agreement with the Apostolic See," but considered it "a useful instrument for meeting people's spiritual needs."
The Pope concluded his address by reiterating his great esteem for Montenegro and expressing hopes in the continuance of "fraternal dialogue with the Orthodox, so present and active in the country," and of "millennia of mutual respect."
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jan 22, 2007 (CNA) - An investigation by the group Pro-Life in Argentina has revealed that the Catholic Church and the unborn are the two groups that are the most discriminated against in that country.
In the case of the Church, the report cites various cases, such as the attacks against the Cathedral of Buenos Aires, vandalism at the Cathedral of Corrientes, church burnings in Misiones, the removal of the images of Our Lady from courtrooms, the attack on a church in Santa Fe, and the constant ridicule of the Church in media, which is subject to government oversight.
With regard to the unborn, the report focuses on the deaths of babies authorized by provincial courts in Mendoza and Buenos Aires and requested by the grandmothers, who said their pregnant daughters were battling handicaps and were unable to carry the children to term.
Lastly, the report by Pro-Life warns that the government agency tasked with investigating cases of discrimination has done nothing to help in either case and that it is unaware if any effort has been made to stop discrimination on the bases of religious hatred or abortion fanaticism.
Quito, Ecuador, Jan 22, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop Antonio Arregui Yarza of Guayaquil has called on Rafael Correa, the new President of Ecuador, to act with restraint in the first weeks of his administration and that, in response to recent events, the best path towards a solution to the country’s problems is dialogue and not confrontation.
Speaking on Radio Catolica Nacional, the archbishop also addressed the issue of the appointment of security officials by Congress and the administration. He said the process should take place with the utmost transparency and should be “faithful to the procedures outlined in the Constitution.”
“Nobody can overlook that, neither the Congress nor the president nor any other authority, in order to guarantee the rule of law and to prevent the whims of some from being imposed on others,” he said.
Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correo, professes to be a “practicing Catholic,” and as a young man he cooperated in the Church’s social work and even considered a vocation to the priesthood. However, his formation was influenced by the Marxist strand of liberation theology, which was very popular in Ecuador during the 1980’s.
Santiago, Chile, Jan 22, 2007 (CNA) - A politician who claims to be Catholic, whether of the left or of the right, cannot support abortion, warned Archbishop Alejandro Goic, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Chile, after the Chilean parliament took up a measure last Friday that would legalize “therapeutic” abortion under any circumstances.
On Thursday of last week, the president of the Chilean House of Representatives, Antonio Leal, sent a bill to reestablish therapeutic abortion to the floor put forth by lawmakers from the ruling party, although Representative Francisco Chahuan of Parliamentarians for Life said the bill could be declared unconstitutional for constituting an attack on human life.
In an interview with the Chilean paper “La Segunda,” Archbishop Goic warned, “Obviously we are going to speak very clearly about this issue,” and he noted that if the bill is put to a vote, “a Catholic lawmaker, whether of the right or the left, cannot support a law allowing abortion, because that would be schizophrenia.”
“With all of the advances in medicine, no one in the world talks today about therapeutic abortion,” the archbishop stressed. “Some people here who think there are no advances are actually behind the times. Why can’t they be sincere and tell us that what they want is abortion and that this is merely the first step?” he asked.
Archbishop Goic also mentioned the right of the Church to speak the truth regarding public matters, such as during the recent debate about the morning-after pill, in which the bishops collided with the government.
“I will die trying to say what I have to say and do what I have to do, whether or not the government likes it. A pastor’s job is not to please the government. Saying what he said and doing what he did led Jesus to the cross - they killed him. They are not going to kill us physically. But before we were called Communists, now retrogrades, and conservatives, for defending the same principle; the right to life,” Archbishop Goic explained.
“There are some who want to reduce the Church to the private sphere, without any incidence into daily life. And that is serious. The Church has the right to give her opinion about the great issues facing society,” he said in conclusion.
Kochi, India, Jan 22, 2007 (CNA) - Catholic lay people must be encouraged to speak about Christ and to offer living witness of the faith in the family and in the workplace, said Archbishop Oswald Gracias of Mumbai.
“The laity are called to take up leadership in the Church to defend Christian identity in society, to announce the Good News of the Gospel to the poor and work for development in keeping with the Social Doctrine of the Church,” he stated according to a Fides report.
The archbishop, who is the president of the Conference of Indian Catholic Bishops of Latin Rite, said it is important to help lay Catholics realize that they have great relevance in the pastoral activity of the Church and its mission to carry Christian values to the fields of politics, media, social action and education in India.
In particular, the archbishop underlined, lay people are called to play a major role is the campaign to abolish unjust “anti-conversion” laws in India.
The prelate was speaking at a meeting of the Indian Bishops Conference. His comments were in reaction to a reported fear and a deliberate attempt among clergy to exclude lay people from pastoral work.
The archbishop called for more collaboration between clergy and lay people, noting that lay Catholics are present in many areas where clergy and religious are denied access. He said the laity have a great potential for evangelizing; he also stressed the special contribution offered by Catholic women.
It is “misconception to think that the laity are a passive flock,” he said.
, Jan 22, 2007 (CNA) - Twenty-one New York parishes and missions will be closed or merged as part of a major diocesan reorganization plan. The Archdiocese of New York made the announcement at a press conference on Friday.
According to a diocesan press release, these decisions are the culmination of a three-year planning process, established by Cardinal Edward Egan. The process was designed to identify the needs of the faithful throughout the archdiocese and to determine how those needs could best be met.
“We sought an in-depth understanding of what our people needed,” Cardinal Egan reportedly said at the news conference at Cathedral Girls High School in Manhattan. “We listened, listened, listened. We learned much. I might add, we learned well.”
According to the New York Times, the cardinal said new parishes would be opened to accommodate growth in the northern part of the archdiocese and in Staten Island.
The closures will be implemented on a parish by parish basis, with a date to be established based on each parish's particular pastoral needs.
“We’re not saying, ‘We’re closing you down tomorrow,’ ” said Bishop Dennis Sullivan, the vicar general, who oversaw the reorganization process since early 2005. “We would be very remiss to do that, and we won’t do that.”
Cardinal Edward Egan had decided that the reorganization was necessary soon after he became archbishop in 2000 due to demographic changes and a shortage of priests. But the plan was postponed due to the clergy sex-abuse scandal.
A preliminary list of 31 parishes and 14 schools was released in March 2006. The list of schools was cut back to nine after the archdiocese heard appeals from school officials and parents. Some parishes on the original list were also spared after hearings with parishioners.
The pastors of the affected parishes were notified during a meeting on Wednesday with Bishop Dennis Sullivan, the vicar general, who has been overseeing the reorganization since 2005.
Nine parishes and six missions originally recommended to be closed or merged with other parishes will retain their current status. These include Saint Rita of Cascia Parish in the Bronx, Guardian Angel Parish in Manhattan, Saint Benedict the Moor Mission in Manhattan and Blessed Sacrament Mission in Orange County.
Others will not close but instead merge with neighboring parishes Saint Paul Parish in Staten Island will merge with Assumption Parish. Nativity Parish in Manhattan will merge with Saint Teresa's Parish. And Manhattan’s Saint Vincent de Paul Parish will with Saint Columba Parish.
In all, 10 parishes will be closed, and 11 parishes will merge with other parishes. For those parishes that merge, the existing church building will continue to be used for Mass, or a chapel will be established. In addition, three missions will be closed and reunited with their sponsoring parishes.
Several parishes will remain under study, including Saint Mary's and Saint Francis of Assisi, both in Newburgh, Our Lady of Esperanza in Manhattan, and Assumption in Tuckahoe.
As for what will become of the soon-to-be-empty church properties, officials said their goal was to convert them to other uses in the archdiocese. If that was not possible, they said their preference was to lease them.
The planning for the establishment of new parishes and the construction of new church buildings in areas of demographic growth is ongoing.
Vatican City, Jan 22, 2007 (CNA) - Meeting with the new Romanian ambassador to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI expressed concern on Saturday about damage being done to St. Joseph Catholic Cathedral in Bucharest due to the nearby construction of a corporate high-rise. He also urged respect for religious liberty, especially for Eastern Rite Catholics, who had suffered during the previous communist rule, reported The Associated Press.
Romanian church officials and nongovernmental organizations have argued that the new construction, a few meters from the 130-year-old cathedral, will weaken the structure of the important landmark.
Benedict noted that the archbishop of Bucharest has made numerous appeals to government authorities "to preserve the historic patrimony … and the values of faith that it represents."
The Pope balanced his critique by expressing joy over the “progress” in government efforts over the "delicate handling" of the restitution of church property, which was confiscated during former communist times in Romania.
The communist government confiscated about 2,500 churches in Romania in 1948, and Eastern Rite Catholics, who follow Orthodox ritual but are loyal to the Vatican, were banned. The ban was lifted after the 1989 anti-communist revolt, but most of the churches have not been returned.
The Pope also highlighted, for the new ambassador, the Holy See's satisfaction at Romania's recent entry into the European Union. He dwelt on the "long Christian tradition" of the country and voiced the hope that it will make "an original contribution to the European edifice, helping it to be not just an economic force and a market of consumer goods," but also giving it "a new political, cultural and spiritual impulse, capable of building a prosperous future for new generations."
"For many years," Pope Benedict continued, "your country has been making great efforts towards the renewal of society, with the aim of healing the wounds of the past and enabling everyone to enjoy fundamental freedoms and to benefit from social and economic progress. ... It is just as important to ensure that everyone has equal access to independent and transparent justice." In this context, the Pope also called for "renewed attention to the poorest families, to help them educate their children with dignity."
In closing, the Pope sent a special greeting to the Catholic community in Romania, saying: "I know that the Catholic faithful take an active part in the life of the country, especially in the spiritual and social fields, and I heartily encourage them to bear courageous witness to the irreplaceable position of the family in society."
Rome, Italy, Jan 22, 2007 (CNA) - The cause for beatification for Pope John Paul II is advancing well, says the late pontiff’s personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.
The documentation about his life in Poland is completed and the documentation in Rome is almost finished, said the cardinal in an interview broadcast on Italian state radio on Sunday.
"I am happy because the cause (for beatification) is proceeding well," Cardinal said. "The Holy Father Benedict XVI is looking after it."
"I'm not in a hurry .... People are discovering, even those who before watched with curiosity ... the true face of John Paul II and his heritage," Dziwisz said.
Cardinal Dziwisz was named archbishop of Krakow after John Paul died in 2005.
Pope Benedict XVI waived the five-year waiting period after a person's death to begin a case for possible sainthood. Pope John Paul II lifted a similar waiver for Mother Teresa in 2003.
The Sunday Times of London reported that the three miracles required for sainthood have already been reported in the case of John Paul II.
The British newspaper reported that the cardinal overseeing the John Paul’s beatification process said he expected the local dioceses to have checked on the three miracles by April. A formal announcement is expected on April 2, the second anniversary of John Paul's death, he reportedly said.
"In Krakow, the procedures were wrapped up quickly because there were fewer witness, there are more in Rome (with) 27 years of papacy," the cardinal said. "But it seems that this questioning process is nearing completion also in Rome, and then after that it is in the hands of the Holy See."
Recalling John Paul's last days, as the pope drew near death in the Apostolic Palace on St. Peter's Square, the cardinal said that the pontiff could hear the prayers and songs of faithful gathered below outside the apartment studio window. "Up there, you heard everything, ... the words from the square."
Dziwisz said that during his papacy John Paul would go into the chapel near his bedroom to pray. "He always had this habit. Every night before going to bed, he went into the chapel, and after he would go to the window. Always, until the last day, he was trying to raise himself up in bed to see Rome, to bless it. Because it was his city."
One of the miracles John Paul is being credited with is curing a French nun of Parkinson's disease. The late pope also suffered from the disease. The nun was in the advanced stages of Parkinson's when members of her convent prayed to John Paul to ask God for her recovery in May 2005.
Phoenix, Ariz., Jan 22, 2007 (CNA) - Speaking last Tuesday at the Diocese of Phoenix’s annual Red Mass, which coincides with the opening of the state’s regular legislative session, San Antonio’s Archbishop, Jose Gomez, told lawmakers that they have a special duty to know God’s will and to bring justice to the poor and afflicted.
Archbishop Gomez, whose own state of Texas shares a border with Mexico just as Arizona does, used the opportunity to encourage greater respect for human dignity in light of social Catholic teaching when considering the volatile national immigration debate.
Reflecting on the day’s Mass readings, the archbishop said that “true leaders have to be open to the gifts of the Holy Spirit—especially the gifts of wisdom and good counsel. They have to strive to know and to do God’s Will.’
Archbishop Gomez went on, recalling the context of the Gospel reading from Matthew, in which Jesus identifies himself “with the stranger, the immigrant.”
“Jesus tells us”, the archbishop went on, “that the alien—and in fact every poor, sick, and imprisoned person—is a sacrament of his own presence.”
With this, he challenged the lawmakers to consider the place of Catholic legislators in a highly politicized world. “What does it mean to be a Catholic disciple of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to be an American? What is America’s place in the long history of God’s plan of salvation?” he asked.
The archbishop added that the words of Jesus remind us “why we defend the dignity of the human person as a child of God against every form of injustice and discrimination,” and why “even in a complicated, globalized economy,” Catholics must “work for laws that promote peace, justice, cultural and social reconciliation, and the love of our neighbors.”
The Mexican-born archbishop also reminded attendees in Phoenix’s crowded St. Mary’s Basilica of the deeply Hispanic roots of the Catholic faith in their own region, as well as the fact that “most of us are children of immigrants.”
“What this means,” he stressed, “is that long before the United States of America was even an idea, this land was Catholic.”
He suggested that a “renewed encounter with Hispanic culture” would help Americans “rediscover values our dominant…culture has lost sight of—the importance of faith, family, friendship, community, and the culture of life.”
In this light, Archbishop Gomez expressed his fear that “we’re in danger of trying to deliberately erase our memory of this history,” and that, “in the same way that some people would have us forget our country’s Hispanic heritage, there are powerful forces at work that want us to forget our Catholic and Christian roots, too.”
These same forces, he noted, are those which seek to privatize religion and remove its influence from the public square.
“Those who tell us that the faith is something we should keep to ourselves, that it shouldn’t influence how we vote and behave,” he said, “aren’t promoting tolerance or government neutrality towards religion. They’re promoting hostility towards religion.”
For Archbishop Gomez, the connection between removal of God from the public square and the deeper immigration problem were clear: “History shows us that when God is forgotten, the human person and the common good are forgotten, too.”
Vatican City, Jan 22, 2007 (CNA) - On Saturday, in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received the 50 participants in the plenary session of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America which is presided over by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. The theme of the plenary is: "The Family and Christian Education in Latin America." The Holy Father said in his address that the problems facing the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean must be addressed by a new evangelization of faith, nourished by prayer and the divine Word.
"The Church in Latin America," said the Holy Father, "is facing enormous challenges: cultural changes generated by social communications media that influence the thoughts and habits of millions of people; migration, that has so many repercussions on family life and on religious practice in new environments; the re-emergence of questions regarding how peoples must approach their historical memories and their democratic future; globalization, secularism, growing poverty and environmental degradation, especially in big cities, as well as violence and drug trafficking."
For these reasons, Latin America has urgent need "of a new evangelization that stimulates us to enter more deeply into the values of our faith, that they may become the vital sap that forms the identity of those beloved peoples."
"The men and women of South America have great thirst for God," the Pope affirmed. "When a feeling of being orphaned from God the Father arises in the life of communities, the work of bishops, priests and other pastoral care agents becomes vital. They, like Christ, must bear witness that the Father is always provident Love, revealed in His Son.
"When faith is not nourished by prayer and the divine Word," he added, "when sacramental life languishes, then sects and new pseudo-religious groups prosper, causing many Catholics to move away from the Church. As these people receive no answers to their deepest aspirations - answers which could be found in a shared life of faith - situations of spiritual emptiness are also created. ... For this reason it is important to foster a sense of belonging to the Church, where Christians can grow and mature in communion with their fellows."
"For the future of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean it is important that Christians adopt and intensify the lifestyle of Jesus' disciples," announcing "Christ and His Gospel in all places. ... In a special way, the widespread phenomena of exploitation and injustice, of corruption and violence, are an urgent call for Christians to live their faith coherently and to strive to receive a sound doctrinal and spiritual formation, thus contributing to the construction of a more just, humane and Christian society."
On this subject, the Pope recalled how Christian families are "the main place for the experience and transmission of faith and virtue. The legacy of the faith is safeguarded in the home," where family members "learn the values" that will help them to live as children of God.
Benedict XVI concluded his address by calling upon the Virgin Mary to guide the participants in the forthcoming fifth General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, that they may find "the most appropriate ways to ensure their peoples have life in Christ, and build, in the so-called 'continent of hope,' a future worthy of all men and women."
Washington D.C., Jan 22, 2007 (CNA) - Thousands upon thousands of Americans – young, old, lay, and religious – packed the streets of Washington, D.C. today, as they took part in the 34th annual March for Life. Pro-life protesters worked their way down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the U.S. Capitol building, to the steps of the Supreme Court where, in 1973, the Court decided that women should have a “right” to abort their children.
Participants from around the country had gathered in Washington over a chilly weekend, to pray, protest, and gain information about the pro-life movement. The weekend’s events, which include an enormous Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and a youth rally which overflowed the city’s Verizon Center, culminated in a rally and march through the heart of American government.
Several politicians, clergymen, and pro-life activists took the stage during the nearly two hour pro-life rally this morning.
March for Life committee chairman Nellie Gray reminded the participants that the theme of this year’s march is “Thou Shall Protect,” declaring that all are called to protect the, “the equal right to life of each innocent human in existence since fertilization …no exception, no compromise.”
For the seventh year in a row, President George W. Bush also spoke at the event. The president joined the crowd by phone from Camp David reminding them that, as the country moves forward, “we've all got to remember that a true culture of life cannot be built by changing laws alone. We've all got to work hard to change hearts."
“We will find areas where we can agree and, at the same time, work to persuade more of our fellow citizens to join this great cause," Bush said.
Prior to touching on several of the victories his administration has achieved on life issues, including bringing an end to the practice of partial birth abortion and vetoing a bill that would have opened the door to widespread embryonic stem cell research, the president recalled the reasons for his firm stance on life issues. "It is important for all Americans to remember that our Declaration of Independence states that every person has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," Bush said. "We believe every human life has value, and we pray for the day when every child is welcome in life and protected into law."
Bush concluded by encouraging the marchers to "go forth with confidence that a cause rooted in human dignity and appealing to the best instincts of our citizens cannot fail."
In addition to the current president, a few 2008 presidential hopefuls were on hand at the rally and march. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, who announced his candidacy on Saturday, spoke of the daughter he and his wife had adopted from China and challenged those present to fight for life with the same heart as his daughter’s Chinese mother did in preserving her from abortion.
Another avidly pro-life legislator, Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), took his opportunity on the podium to point out the lack of respect for human life found in the current House of Representatives.
Smith said he smiled as newly elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called her grand children to the rostrum and spoke of helping children. “And then I thought again of the forgotten girls and boys-at last count more than 49 million of them-brutally killed by what she and others euphemistically call ‘choice,’” Smith added.
“No one is more precious than our children,” the New Jersey Representative said, “but it is equally valid and true that unborn children have inherent worth, value and dignity. They are children too.”
Smith told the crowd to pray for an end to abortion because, he said, “I believe, like you, that it is only by prayer and fasting coupled with hard work that America's dark night of child slaughter will come to an end."