Vatican City, Feb 21, 2007 (CNA) -
Over 10,000 people crowded the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall today to meet with Pope Benedict XVI for his weekly general audience. On this, the day when Catholics around the world celebrate Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father dedicated his catechesis to the subject of Lent.
"Today, Ash Wednesday," said the Pope, "we begin the Lenten journey, characterized by listening to the Word of God, by prayer and penance. Forty days during which the liturgy will help us to relive the principal moments of the Mystery of salvation."
For the baptized, Lent is a "new 'catechumenate' in which we return to our Baptism in order to rediscover it and experience it more profoundly. It is an occasion to go back to being Christian via a constant process of interior transformation, and of progress in the knowledge and love of Christ."
"Conversion," the Holy Father explained, is not something that happens once and for all, it is a process, a journey, that cannot be limited to a specific period but must embrace all existence."
"In this light," he went on, "Lent is an appropriate spiritual moment to train ourselves more earnestly to seek God, opening our hearts to Christ. Conversion means seeking God. It is not an effort of self-realization. Self-realization is a contradiction, and it is too little for us. We have a higher destiny. Conversion consists precisely in not thinking that one is the 'creator' of oneself, and thus discovering the truth."
The Holy Father then went on to refer to his Lenten Message for this year, in which he highlights "the immense love that God has for us," and invites Christians to remain "with Mary and John, the disciple Jesus loved, next to Him Who on the Cross gave his life for humanity."
"The Cross is the definitive revelation of love and divine mercy, also for us, men and women of our time too often distracted by worldly and momentary concerns and interests. God is love and His love is the secret of our happiness. To enter into this mystery of love there is no other way than that of losing ourselves, giving ourselves, the way of the Cross."
"For this reason," Benedict XVI concluded, "the liturgy of Lent invites us ... to reject sin and evil, and overcome selfishness and indifference, Prayer, fasting, penance and works of charity towards our brothers and sisters thus become spiritual paths to follow in order to return to God."
Ann Arbor, Mich., Feb 21, 2007 (CNA) - A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati, Ohio, unanimously ruled in favor of three pro-life demonstrators who were detained for three hours by police.
The Court reversed a lower court’s decision and said that the three-hour police detention of law-abiding citizens presented valid constitutional claims under the First and Fourth Amendments.
The case arose out of an incident that occurred on June 10, 2002. The three demonstrators were driving box-body style trucks displaying images of first-term aborted babies in the Dayton, OH, area. After numerous city police arrested the pro-lifers, they were reportedly detained so that the FBI could “gather intelligence” on them.
The Thomas More Law Center, a national, public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., brought the case on behalf of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc., a California-based, pro-life organization, and three of its members.
Robert Muise of the Law Center successfully argued that the lengthy detention violated the demonstrators’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable police searches and seizures. He further succeeded in showing that the police violated the demonstrators’ First Amendment rights by targeting them for disfavored treatment because they were “anti-abortion.”
Ann Arbor, Mich., Feb 21, 2007 (CNA) - The Board of Governors of Ave Maria School of Law has voted to move the law school from its current location in Ann Arbor, Mich., to the town of Ave Maria, Fla. The law school plans to open on a site it will share with Ave Maria University in the fall of 2009.
After almost five years of discussions and research about the feasibility of relocating, the Board of Governors determined that the move would give the Law School its best opportunity to thrive and continue fulfilling its unique mission of educating outstanding lawyers in the context of the Catholic intellectual tradition, a press release said.
The board also noted its first step is to begin the process of securing the acquiescence of the American Bar Association (ABA) for the move.
The Law School has been in Michigan for seven years. It achieved full ABA accreditation by 2005 — in the shortest time possible, said Bernard Dobranski, Ave Maria School of Law president and dean.
"The board believes significant future success will be found in Southwest Florida where the Law School will be co-located with a new and vibrant Catholic university in one of the fastest growing regions in the country,” said Dobranski. “This will allow the Law School the unparalleled opportunity to accelerate its efforts to become a premier educational institution, integrating strong legal fundamentals with a deep understanding of the Catholic faith and intellectual tradition."
Ave Maria School of Law currently has 380 enrolled students, 18 fulltime faculty members, including Judge Robert Bork, former Circuit Court Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In its seven-year existence, Ave Maria has enrolled students from 49 states and abroad, and from more than 200 colleges and universities.
However, reaction to the decision is not positive all the way around. The Alumni Association Board of Directors issued a statement condemning the decision and saying that the move “at this time is not in the best interests of the Law School or its community.”
”The Alumni Association Board of Directors believes our alma mater's early success counsels against a decision to close the school in Michigan,” says the statement. “We have difficulty believing that Ave Maria School of Law's amazing success is sufficiently likely to recur after ‘relocation.’”
Alumni Association Board President Alex Vernon told the Naples News that the released statement does not reflect the opinion of everyone on the board. Vernon said he believes the decision to relocate is in the best long-term interest of the school.
Ave Maria School of Law was founded in 1999 through the vision and generous financial backing of Thomas S. Monaghan, Ave Maria School of Law chairman of the board, and founder of Domino's Pizza.
Santiago, Chile, Feb 21, 2007 (CNA) - Bishop Cristián Contreras Villarroel the Auxilary Bishop of Santiago has firmly condemned a recent article in the Chilean newspaper “Las Ultimas Noticias,” in which a journalist falsely entered the confessional, on a number of occasions. The Bishop said the reporter’s actions, which copied a recent Italian news stunt, desecrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation and are an affront to religious sensitivities.
The journalistic stunt attempted to replicate a story published by the Italian newspaper ‘L' Espresso,’ and sought to manipulate the Sacrament in order to "to reveal" what Chilean Catholic priests teach in the confessionals on topics such as euthanasia, abortion, cohabitation, and in-vitro fertilization. A reporter for ‘Las Ultimas Noticias’ went to several churches in Chile and gave false “confessions” to various priests, a sacrilegious act given the sacred nature of confession.
Bishop Contreras explained that in their article titled, "The unbelievable advice of priests in the confessional," “Las Ultimas Noticias” intended to show that "the clerical attitude can be very different from the ‘hard’ official teachings of the Church.”
According to the bishop, the newspaper pulled confessional answers of the priests out of context to, “sound provocative and suggest an opinion of dissidence." In a letter addressed to the editor of “Las Ultimas Noticias,” the bishop recalled the sacred nature of the Sacraments and decried the, "the object depravity of an act that pretends to lay bare the conscience in the sanctuary and to celebrate a sacrament, when in fact it is only a publicity stunt.”
"Journalistic investigation has its ethics, and does not need to base itself on lies and deceit,” the bishop wrote.
“Besides, all of the experiments of this type have, in the end, served to corroborate that the teachings exposed 'in the intimacy of the confessional' are consistent, an overwhelming majority of the time, with the official teaching of the Magisterium," said the bishop.
"The Liturgy of the Church and its Canon Law protect and require the effective guardianship of the sacred nature of the sacraments, and particularly that of confession. The seal, or secrecy, regarding confessional matters is inviolable, absolute, and perpetual. If the confessor reveals a sin confessed by the sinner, he is to be excommunicated. There are not only a few confessors who have witnessed with their blood, as martyrs, the inviolability of this sacred seal," indicated Bishop Contreras.
San Antonio, Texas, Feb 21, 2007 (CNA) -
Christians are called to seek reconciliation with God in spiritual preparation for Easter, says Archbishop José Gomez in his second pastoral letter.
The Archbishop of San Antonio issued his letter, titled The Tender Mercy of Our God, on Ash Wednesday.
“Only the sincere and mutual search for forgiveness and reconciliation can bring us the peace and satisfaction we seek in our world today,” reads the letter, which is rooted strongly in Scripture and Church teaching and aims to provide the reader a clearer understanding of sin and forgiveness.
“Our Father loves us in ways that we could never imagine possible. No matter how far you have wandered astray by sin, the Father is ready to forgive you—if you will only turn to him in repentance,” he continues.
“Reconciliation is the heart of the Gospel. It is the meaning and purpose of Christ’s work, the work he continues today through the ministry of his Church,” he says. “This is the good news of the Gospel. The Gospel is a message of reconciliation—that by Christ’s passion and resurrection God has forgiven all our trespasses and set us free from sin and death.”
Speaking from his personal experience, the archbishop writes of the importance of confession as a personal encounter with God and an opportunity to experience God’s mercy.
The archbishop lamented the fact that the sacrament has been on the decline in the “emerging culture of revenge” in the United States. He attributed this to the lost sense of the sacred in the world.
“Increasingly, we live in a highly secularized environment in which there is no room for God or for considerations of what might lie beyond this material world,” he posits. “In such an environment, traditional beliefs — in the reality of sin, in God-given laws and moral norms, in each soul’s accountability before God — have come to be seen as outdated and even wrong and hurtful to the individual.”
“My brothers and sisters, it is time for all of us to rediscover this living sign of the Lord’s forgiveness and our reconciliation with God,” he urges. “Like the Eucharist, this sacrament has the power to heal and change us. It has the power to heal and change our world.”
Archbishop Gomez also points to the community as a place where people find “a true culture of peace and reconciliation.” The city’s deep Catholic roots, he says, “promote a belief in the dignity of the human person.”
The letter also coincides with the closing of the Jubilee Year, declared by Pope Benedict XVI in celebration of the 275th anniversary of the founding of San Fernando Cathedral. The city of San Antonio shares the same anniversary.
There will be a special Mass at San Fernando Cathedral on March 4th at 5 p.m. to mark the end of the Jubilee Year.
The archbishop also addresses priests, urging them to make the sacrament more widely available. “We need a new preaching and a new catechesis to bring people back to this fountain of the Lord’s grace and healing. This will call for even more creativity and self-sacrifice from you,” he acknowledges.
“Your dialogues with penitents are sacred conversations that must always be marked by deep respect and sensitivity, as you guide them to full honesty in the disclosure of their sins, and to complete openness to God’s healing grace,” he tells his priests.
Vatican City, Feb 21, 2007 (CNA) - Made public today was a Letter from Benedict XVI to Stanislaw Wielgus, Archbishop Emeritus of Warsaw, Poland. The Holy Father lauded the archbishop’s virtues, encouraged him in his suffering, and expressed his hope that Wielgus might somehow return to the service of the Church.
In the text, which is dated February 12th, the Holy Father thanks Archbishop Wielgus "for the trust with which you opened your soul before me, showing the anguished suffering of you heart throughout your life as a priest and bishop, until the moment of your resignation from the office of archbishop of Warsaw.”
"In recent times I have participated in your sufferings and wish to assure you of my spiritual closeness and fraternal understanding,” the Pope writes.
"As for the past, I am fully aware of the exceptional circumstances in which you had to undertake your service, when the communist regime in Poland used all possible means to suffocate the freedom of citizens, and particularly of the clergy.”
The archbishop resigned soon after being appointed as the new Archbishop of Warsaw. At the time, Wielgus admitted to submitting to intense pressure from the Communist secret police and providing them with information.
However, according to “The Universe,” lawyers for the archbishop are now claiming that records indicating that Wielgus collaborated with the former communist regime were falsified.
“There was neither secret not conscious collaboration,” said Marek Malecki, a lawyer acting for Archbishop Wielgus.
Waldemar Gontarski, another lawyer, told the Zycie Warszawy daily Feb. 13th that the national appeal the archbishop delivered Jan. 5th was not his own and that "not just his signature, but the whole file covering his alleged cooperation with the secret services has been falsified."
In his January 5th appeal to Catholics, Archbishop Wielgus said he had met with secret police agents on numerous occasions in the 1960s and 1970s and signed a collaboration pledge during a "moment of weakness."
Malecki told the Polish Catholic news agency KAI that passages had been added to Archbishop Wielgus' statement without his knowledge, including the words: "I harmed the church by the fact of my entanglement. I harmed it again when, in recent days, facing a heated media campaign, I denied the fact of my cooperation."
“In my view, the archbishop acted in the interests of the church,” Gontarski said.
Pope Benedict noted the ways in which Wielgus has served the Church. "As rector of the University of Lublin and as bishop of Plock you gave proof of your great piety, and of your profound love for Jesus Christ and for the Church.”
"When, one month ago, you presented your resignation in the awareness that the situation that had arisen made it impossible for you to begin your episcopal service with the indispensable degree of authority, I clearly saw in this act a profound sensitivity for the good of the Church of Warsaw and of Poland, as well as your own humility and detachment from office.”
"I would like, first of all, to encourage you to maintain faith and serenity of heart. I express the desire that you may resume your activity at the service of Christ, in whatever way proves possible, so that your vast and profound knowledge and priestly piety may be used for the good of the beloved Church in Poland.”
"The episcopal mission, today as in the past, is marked by suffering. May Our Lord never cease to support you with His grace. Help will also come from the friendship of brother bishops and of the people who have known and respected you."
Turin, Italy, Feb 21, 2007 (CNA) - A 13-year-old girl is in the psychiatric unit of an Italian hospital after a forced abortion. The girl threatened suicide after her parents and an Italian court submitted her to an abortion, against her will.
According to "La Stampa" young Valentina suffered a mental breakdown after Judge Giuseppe Cocilovo of the Court of Minors ruled that she must undergo the procedure to kill her child.
Valentina had become pregnant by her 15-year-old boyfriend and her parents demanded she have an abortion on the grounds that she was “ruining her life” by becoming a mother. Valentina's mother said she did not have the money to support the child.
Under Italian law, the parents or guardians of a minor may force a child to undergo an abortion.
Since the abortion, Valentina has been confined to the psychiatric unit of Regina Margherita children's hospital in Turin for wanting to commit suicide.
“You have made me kill, and now I kill myself,” Valentina reportedly cried. "I am not crazy; I am only evil like a dog” for what her parents and the court have obliged her to do, she said.
Rome, Italy, Feb 21, 2007 (CNA) - Police in the central region of Vietnam have detained Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, a prominent defender of religious freedom and human rights, for committing “acts of instigation” and for not showing “repentance since his release” from prison.
According to the Vietnam News Agency, police “investigated illegal acts by Ly,” while the Free News Agency said that as part of the operation six computers and various documents of the priest were confiscated.
Father Nguyen Van Ly, 59, was imprisoned between 1983 and 1992 and was arrested again in 2001. At that time he was sentenced to 15 years for “undermining national unity.” Two years ago he was released. However, according to the official government news agency, “He has not shown repentance since his release and he has refused to comply with the probationary conditions of his sentence.”
Before his detention in 2001, Father Nguyen Van Ly had begun a campaign to achieve religious freedom in the country. That, and his criticism of the violation of human rights, has earned him constant pressure from the Communist government.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb 21, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop Domingo Castagna of Corrientes attacked abortion and the death penalty this week, noting that there are certain rights that must always be protected, such as “human life, the supreme gift, which when it exists, can never be taken by invoking another right.”
“When conflicts occur - sometimes artificially initiated - the solution cannot be the suppression of that fundamental right (to life). Unfortunately, more and more politicians and judges do not understand this,” the archbishop stated during his weekly radio broadcast.
He pointed out that for God “the value each person is of such importance that, even if a person commits a crime, he still retains his fundamental rights, because the guarantor of those rights will always be the one who granted them.”
“Every person, no matter how serious a criminal he is, is made in the image of God and should tend towards the perfection of the One whose image they reflect - even though it appears unattainable.
Archbishop Castagna ended his comments by saying, “Man is worthy of love not because he personally deserves it but because of the dignity that has been conferred on him freely by his Creator.”
Madrid, Spain, Feb 21, 2007 (CNA) - In a letter marking the beginning of Lent, Bishop Julian Lopez Martin of Leon has denounced efforts to change the essence of the family, society, education, culture and communication through a “radical laicism” that marginalizes Christianity.
In his letter, the bishop calls on Catholics to reflect during this season on “the grave deterioration of moral values in Spain and to intensify one’s own conversion.”
He expressed sadness over the “700 abortions” that take place in his diocese each year and over those who celebrate “the inappropriately termed ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex as a social achievement.”
The bishop also said he was troubled that Spain might lose any ground that has been gained since the movement for consensus and reconciliation that began in 1978, as there is increasing mistrust and rejection of the Catholic faith and legislators are enacting laws that are “seriously damaging the foundation of the family and respect for human life.”
Likewise, Bishop Lopez Martin lamented the increase in failed marriages, domestic violence, assaults, attacks against personal property and the environment, and juvenile delinquency.
Together with “the concern for climate change,” the bishop called for an effort to stem the deterioration of moral and spiritual values, and he invited the faithful to live according to their religious convictions, “laying claim to the right and the freedom to give a reason for our faith and our hope, without privileges or discrimination, with transparency and without hiding.”
In conclusion, Bishop Lopez Martin stressed that Lent is “a privileged time for intensifying one’s own conversion” and a time “for breaking with the sin that abides in our hearts, of leaving behind all that which separates us from our personal happiness.”
Madrid, Spain, Feb 21, 2007 (CNA) - In his pastoral letter, “Lent in Times of Trial,” Archbishop Fernando Sebastian of Pamplona has demanded that priests definitively cease from abusing the practice of general absolution “in which the confession of sins and the direct and personal reception of absolution are suppressed.”
After stressing that the abuse of communal absolutions constitutes “grave disobedience, deceives the faithful and wounds ecclesial communion,” the bishop stressed that Lent is an invitation to repentance of our sins and to obtaining God’s forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Likewise, Archbishop Sebastian recalled, "Nobody, no priest, no group, has the right to modify the norms of the Church regarding how this sacrament should be celebrated,” and he lamented that “the confusion and abuses surrounding this sacrament are causing much harm.”
The norms of the Church, he went on, “require the personal confession of sins to a confessor authorized by the Church and the manifestation of true repentance with a sincere purpose of amendment which prepares us to personally receive from the confessor absolution for our sins by the minister of the Church and in the name of God himself.”
“This way of celebrating the sacrament cannot be modified or substituted by other so-called communitarian forms in which the confession of sins and the direct and personal reception of absolution in the name of God with the formula provided for by the Church are suppressed,” he stated.
The archbishop warned that nobody “has the right to modify the manner of celebrating the sacraments to their own liking without risking their profanation and the loss of their sanctifying force. Whoever acts thus commits serious disobedience, deceives the faithful and wounds ecclesial communion.”
Archbishop Sebastian urged the faithful to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation according to the norms of the Church. “Without this practice there can be no spiritual growth in Christians nor will we ever be able to promote spiritually vibrant parish communities,” he said.
Vatican City, Feb 21, 2007 (CNA) - Made public today was a message from the Pope to Fr. Guido Innocenzo Gargano, superior of the Roman monastery of San Gregorio al Celio and to all members of the Camaldolese Order, for the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the birth St. Peter Damian, whose feast is Wednesday.
In his Message, dated February 20, the Holy Father writes that this anniversary "is an appropriate occasion to give more profound consideration to the aspects characterizing the saint's multifaceted personality as scholar, hermit, man of the Church and, above all, enamoured of Christ."
"St. Peter Damian," he continues, "was first and foremost a hermit, indeed the last theoretician of hermitic life in the Latin Church," who lived "at the very moment when the schism between East and West came about."
After highlighting how for St. Peter Damian "the hermit's life was a powerful call for all Christians to the primacy of Christ," Pope Benedict recalls that this Italian saint "was ready to travel from his hermitage and go anywhere his presence was necessary to mediate between contending parties, whether they were ecclesiastics, monks or simple faithful."
“After each ecclesiastical mission he returned to the peace of his hermitage of Fonte Avellana and, free of all ambition, even definitively renounced the dignity of the cardinalate so as not to be drawn away from his hermit's solitude, the cell of his hidden life in Christ."
The Holy Father also recalls that St. Peter Damian was "the soul of the 'Gregorian reform' which marked the passage from the first millennium to the second and of which Pope St. Gregory VII was the heart and the driving force."
"With the pen and the word" the saint addressed "his hermit confreres, demanding the courage of a radical commitment to the Lord, as near as possible to martyrdom." He called on "Popes, bishops and high-ranking prelates to show evangelical detachment from honors and privileges in carrying out their ecclesial functions," and he reminded "priests of the exalted ideal of their mission, to be exercised with purity of private life and true individual poverty."
St. Peter Damian's was aware "that only through a constant harmonic tension between the two fundamental poles of life - solitude and communion - can effective Christian testimony develop. Is not this," the Pope concludes, "also a valid teaching for our own times."
Rome, Italy, Feb 21, 2007 (CNA) -
Celebrating Ash Wednesday Mass at the ancient Roman Basilica of Santa Sabina this afternoon, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that conversion of the heart lies at the center of Lent. The Holy Father said that during the Season of Lent, which starts today, Christians should focus on continually converting their hearts to God.
The Holy Father began his homily by noting the “richness of the symbols, biblical texts, and liturgy” of Ash Wednesday and recalled that “Ash Wednesday has come to be considered the ‘door’ to Lent.”
“In her Tradition,” the Pope said, “the Church is not limited to the offering of basic liturgical and spiritual themes during the Lenten journey, but also suggests for us ascetic and practical instruments to travel through it fruitfully.”
One instrument the Church calls us to use, the Pope noted, is the Sacrament of Confession. “Do not hesitate to rediscover the friendship of God, lost due to sin; in encountering the Lord,” Pope Benedict continued, “we experience the joy of His forgiveness.”
The Holy Father called the faithful to turn to God, as did the psalmist, saying, “Forgive me Lord, for I have sinned.”
“With this spirit,” he said, “we begin the favorable season of Lent, as Saint Paul recalls in his Second Letter, to let ourselves be reconciled with God in Christ Jesus.”
"Only Christ can transform every situation of sin in a newness of Grace,” the Pope said. “This is the reason why the exhortation that Paul addresses to the Christians of Corinth has such a strong spiritual impact: ‘We beseech you on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God,’ and later, ‘Behold, now is a favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation’ (2 Cor 5:20, 6:2).”
"The call to conversion, to penitence resounds today with all its strength, because its echo accompanies us in each moment of our life," he added.
“The Ash Wednesday liturgy,” he also said, “shows us that the conversion of the heart to God is the fundamental dimension of the Lenten season.”
This fundamental dimension, the Holy Father noted, is suggested in the traditional rite of the imposition of the ashes.
The Pope explained that the rite "reveals a double significance: the first relates to the interior change, to conversion and to penitence, while the second reminds us of the precariousness of the human condition."
The Pontiff explained that the Roman tradition of a penitential procession to begin Lent, presided over by the Pope, who leads the faithful from the Church of Sant’ Anselmo to the Basilica of Sabina, is not only a reminder of Christ’s journey to Jerusalem, but "is intended to assist the faithful to set out on an interior journey, the journey of conversion and reconciliation, in order to arrive at the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem where God dwells.”
The Holy Father emphasized that the faithful have "forty days to delve into this extraordinary spiritual and ascetical experience" and recalled that the works of charity, the prayer, and the penitence, which mark this Lenten season, “are acceptable to Him if they express the determination of the heart to serve Him alone, with simplicity and generosity."
Value of fasting
Benedict XVI then explained that "fasting, to which the Church invites us during this powerful time, was not only born of physical or ascetic motivations, but sprouts from the demand that man has of an interior purification that detoxifies him from the pollution of sin and evil; it educates him in the healthy renunciations that free the faithful from the slavery of themselves; it makes him more attentive and available to hearing God and to the service of his brothers."
"For this reason,” continued the Pope, “fasting and the other Lenten practices are considered by Christian tradition to be spiritual 'weapons' to fight evil, disordered passions, and vices.”
The Holy Father also called to mind his Lenten message, published last week, in which he invited all Catholics “to live these days of special grace as a 'Eucharistic' time."
"The charitable works, prayer, and fasting along with all other sincere efforts of conversion find their ultimate meaning and value in the Eucharist, the source and summit of the life of the Church and of salvation history,” the Pope said.
"We ask Mary to accompany us so that, at the conclusion of Lent, we can contemplate the risen Lord, inwardly renewed and reconciled with God and with our brothers.”