Archive of February 26, 2007

Film on 'Jesus family burial site' is just PR, says archeology expert

, Feb 26, 2007 (CNA) - An Israeli archeologist says a new documentary film, which claims that a burial cave uncovered 27 years ago in Talpiot, Jerusalem, is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family, is just hype.

Professor Amos Kloner, the internationally renowned archeologist who revealed the findings of the dig 10 years ago, criticized the filmmakers' marketing strategy and said it is not based on proof, reported the Jerusalem Post.

Kloner said a similar film was released 11 years ago, and the new film, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, is simply a renewed effort to create controversy in order to make a profit.

Kloner found 10 ossuaries in a cave in 1980 but only released his findings 10 years ago. Nine of the tombs remain. Six bear inscriptions identifying them as those of Jesus, his mother Mary, a second Mary, and relatives Matthew, Josa and Judah.

The names inscribed on the coffins were very common in the Second Temple era and are not sufficient proof that the cave was the burial site of Jesus' family, Kloner reportedly said. He added that "Jesus son of Joseph" inscriptions had been found on several other ossuaries over the years.

"There is no likelihood that Jesus and his relatives had a family tomb," Kloner told the Jerusalem Post. "They were a Galilee family with no ties in Jerusalem. The Talpiot tomb belonged to a middle-class family from the 1st century CE [AD]."

The film took three years to make and it is expected to premiere at a New York press conference today. The filmmaker is Israeli-born, Canadian-based filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici. Award-winning director James Cameron is the project’s executive producer.

The Israel Antiquities Authority has loaned out two of the ossuaries, the ones the filmmakers claim belonged to Jesus and Mary Magdalene, for display at Monday's press conference. Kloner reportedly said the IAA was "very foolish" to agree to the loan.

“This has been a three-year journey that seems more incredible than fiction," said Jacobovici in a press release. "The idea of possibly finding the tomb of Jesus and several members of his family, with compelling scientific evidence, is beyond anything I could have imagined."

"It doesn't get bigger than this," said Cameron in the press statement. "We've done our homework; we've made the case; and now it's time for the debate to begin."

The film will be broadcast on the international Discovery Channel on March 4, as well as on Britain's Channel 4, Canada’s VisionTV and Israel’s Channel 8.

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Right to life must be defended as fundamental, Pope says over weekend

Vatican City, Feb 26, 2007 (CNA) - Receiving delegates of the 13th general assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, and an international congress entitled "Christian conscience in support of the right to life," on Saturday morning, Pope Benedict XVI firmly defended the right to life and urged participants to reawaken the natural conscience found in each human heart.

The right to life, the Holy Father said, "must be supported by everyone because it is fundamental with respect to other human rights."  Pope Benedict quoted “Evangelium vitae,” an Encyclical of his predecessor, John Paul II, saying that all human beings can, "by the light of reason, come to recognize in the natural law written in the heart, the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and the political community itself are founded."

Christians, Benedict XVI went on, must react to the continual attacks against the right to life, safe in the knowledge that their "motivations have deep roots in natural law and can, therefore, be shared by all people of sound conscience."

Yet, he said, despite efforts to make "the contents of these motivations more widely known in the Christian community and in civil society, attacks against the right to life in the world have increased." In this context he referred to "pressures for the legalization of abortion in Latin American countries and in developing nations, also through the use of the liberalization of new forms of chemical abortion under the pretext of reproductive health," and to an "increase in population control policies."

The Pope also highlighted developed nations' growing interest in biotechnological research and "the obsessive search for the 'perfect child'."

There is, he said, "a new wave of eugenic discrimination," which "gains consensus in the name of the supposed good of the individual while, especially in the economically developed world, laws are being promoted for the legalization of euthanasia. All this is happening as pressure increases for the legalization of forms of cohabitation alternative to marriage and closed to natural procreation."

For this reason, the Pope went on, it is necessary for Christian consciences to be "illuminated in order to recognize the true value of actions," and so as to be able "to distinguish good from evil, even where the social environment, cultural pluralism and the overlay of interests do not help to this end."

There is a need to reeducate people "in the desire to know the real truth, and in the defense of their own freedom of choice, against the inclination of the masses and the flattery of propaganda."

The Pope emphasized the need "to open minds and hearts" during the various stages of life, to ensure that people "accept the fundamental duties upon which the existence of individuals and of the community depends. Only in this way will it be possible to ensure that the young understand the values of life, ... of marriage and of the family," and "appreciate the sanctity of love, the joy and responsibility of parenthood, and of collaborating with God in the giving of life." When "continuous and qualified formation" is lacking, it "becomes more difficult to pronounce upon the problems associated with biomedicine in the fields of sexuality, nascent life, procreation, and upon the way to treat and cure patients and the weaker groups of society."

Benedict XVI called on scientists, doctors, legislators and politicians to contribute, "by teaching and by example," to "reawakening the clear and eloquent voice of conscience in many people's hearts."

"When the value of human life is at stake, this harmony between magisterial function and lay commitment becomes uniquely important. Life is the primary good we have received from God, the foundation of all the others. Guaranteeing the right to life - for everyone and in the same way for everyone - is a duty upon which the future of humanity depends."

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Church has right to ensure "competence" of religion teachers

Madrid, Spain, Feb 26, 2007 (CNA) - Spain’s Constitutional Court has refused to hear a case alleging that the 1979 accord between that country and the Holy See is unconstitutional.  In so doing, the court confirms the right of the Church to require a certain standard of competence for religion teachers in the country’s schools.

The high court’s ruling was in reference to a case filed by Maria del Carmen Galayo, a religion teacher from the Canary islands whose contract was rescinded when diocesan officials learned she was living with another man after separating from her husband.

The court said religions confessions have the right to “determine the competency of persons charged with imparting the teachings of their respective creeds.” This refers not only to their competency as teachers but also that the Church can also determine who is fit and who is not based on one’s personal testimony of life.  “Personal testimony,” the court said, is a “defining component” of religious belief and a “determining” factor in deciding the qualification of teachers.

The accord between Spain and the Holy See establishes that the Church has the authority to determine the contents of the religion classes and propose appropriate textbooks and teaching material.  Although the Church is responsible for hiring religion teachers, the schools that employ them pay their salaries.

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Vatican cardinal says Church enlightens consciences amidst moral indifference

Vatican City, Feb 26, 2007 (CNA) - Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán,  The President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, reinforced last week that amidst “the moral indifference that is so widespread in our days,” the Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops, “as willed by God, enlightens consciences as a living teaching of the Church.”

In his inaugural speech to the international congress, “The Christian Conscience in Support of the Right to Life,” held in Rome, the Mexican cardinal noted, “In today’s world it is easy to fall into relativism, and only a conscience enlightened by the truth is in accord with human dignity.”

“Conscience is not something, but rather somebody, that pursues the truth in accord with the order of law established by the Creator,” the Cardinal said, underscoring that the Church serves the individual conscience “because she helps to prevent the conscience from following any old moral wind.”

“In today’s world, there is a tendency to canonize relativistic subjectivism, which corresponds to the superior aspirations of the theological-spiritual nature.  Identifying the conscience with a superficial knowledge does not liberate, but rather enslaves it,” he said.

“Christian truth surpasses all cultures but it does not exclude any,” the Cardinal continued.  “In reality, Christianity is neither a European nor a Semitic culture, but rather something that has come from both.”

“Through participation in divine sonship, Christianity transcends the categories of time and space.  Thus, the role of the Church’s Magisterium is to permanently enlighten life.  The Christian conscience materializes in the distinct components of the People of God,” the Cardinal said in conclusion.

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Outgoing Cuban archbishop calls for reconciliation

Havana, Cuba, Feb 26, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop Pedro Meurice Estiu, who has retired as Archbishop of Santiago in Cuba, called on Catholics in that country to work for reconciliation during a farewell Mass on February 18th.

In his farewell remarks, Archbishop Meurice pointed to the need to “renew our pastoral practices.”

“Even in our formation,” the archbishop said, “we need to change many things around from how they are right now.  That is, first we must work for reconciliation.”

“I hope to see the dawn of a splendid day, a day of sunshine in which all Cubans can think the way they think; believe or not believe in God; be where they are, whether in Cuba or outside of Cuba; with everyone suffering for Cuba and hoping for Cuba, the day will come in which so much pain and so much suffering, so much work, so much sweat, will not be in vain.  It will all bear fruit, and abundantly.  And we will all be able to celebrate joy, peace and unity,” the archbishop said.

Likewise, the retiring Cuban prelate noted, “There is no Christianity, there is no Catholic Church, without true worship of God in Spirit and in Truth, without worship there is no Catholic Church…If there is no prayer, there is no faith, if there is no worship of the true God, there is no growth in the faith,” he went on.  “We are disciples of a one who was crucified.  If the cross is not in our midst, if we do not live the cross, then we are simply not Christians,” he added.

Archbishop Meurice thanked God for his 75 years of life and for his “40 years as archbishop,” and he also thanked his family and friends, especially “Archbishop Enrique Perez Serantes, who anointed me priest.”

In a “final request” to the faithful, the archbishop said, “Cuba will not change if we do not pray to God with insistence and renewed constancy.  We must pray, pray, pray…in order to get that grace from God, through the intercession of our Mother, Our Lady of Charity,” he said in conclusion.

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Chavez is "greatest preacher" of secular State of Venezuela, says prominent priest

Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 26, 2007 (CNA) - The rector of the Andres Bello Catholic University in Venezuela, Father Luis Ugalde, said last week, “the greatest preacher in this secular State is its president.”  The rector criticized Hugo Chavez for misusing Christianity and the figure of Jesus Christ in an effort to “legitimize himself.”

In an interview with the Spanish daily “ABC,” Father Ugalde explained that Chavez “always poses everything in terms of good guys and bad guys, either you are with me or you are with Bush.  He uses Christianity (along with Socialism) to promote such human values, as solidarity, compassion, justice, and to legitimize himself by way of the beliefs of a people rooted in their Catholic faith.”

Referring to the “21st century Socialism” which Chavez frequently references, the Spanish Jesuit priest emphasized, “We are in a new stage, and we need new words, like Socialism or Christianity.  But what he is seeking is to make the process irreversible: control of the military, politics, law enforcement and the media…and allow private enterprises to exist as long as they keep quiet.”  

“Chavez thinks that production for profit, and not for service, is exploitative capitalism; he thinks that the vaccine against selfishness in production is Socialism.  But, at this point, he should already know that everybody works for profit, and that in the area of values there is no vaccine,” he said.

Father Ugalde also addressed the issue of education in Venezuela, noting that the government’s real intention seems to be the adopting of a “Cuban-style education, in which the State alone has the role of educating.”

“That does not mean that all of members of the government are in agreement, because they have their children in private schools, and many send their kids to religious schools.  Because, as soon as they begin to analyze the matter, they realize that the Cuban model—although they adhere to it sentimentally—does not bear much fruit,” he added.

Father Ugalde also denounced Chavez for his “furious reaction” to an education law passed by the National Assembly which was “quite reasonable, and which did not discuss the role of the State but rather the idea of providing formation for teachers for ‘indoctrination.’”

“Education,” he continued, “has not improved over the last eight years.”  State-run schools have been a failure, and thus passing a law that requires everyone to send their children to a bad, state-run school is not attractive even for those who are most poor.”

“Today nobody is willing to give their life here” to follow in the footsteps of Cuba, Father Ugalde stressed.  “People point to the Revolution because there is much money there. That is the tragedy of the Government, besieged by inefficiency and by corruption,” he said.  State-run schools are more for the creation of a “militant working class in 21st century Socialism” than for providing authentic education.

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French Monks to return to Algeria a decade after slaying

Algiers, Algeria, Feb 26, 2007 (CNA) - A group of Trappist monks have plans to return to Algeria, following an 11-year absence, to establish a new community. The monks left the country for Morocco in 1996, after the murder of seven French Trappists during Alegeria’s bloody civil war.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon shared the news with reporters during a visit to the monks’ graves at Our Lady of Atlas monastery. The now-abandoned monastery is located near Medea, 70 km south of Algiers.

The Cardinal called for prayers for this new effort, especially since previous attempts at establishing a new community had failed.

Cardinal Barbarin was on a tour of the country with Azzedine Gaci, President of the Rhone-Alpes Regional Muslim Council, in an effort to promote inter-religious understanding. Both men led prayers in the monastery’s courtyard, calling for brotherhood and dialogue.

In the 1990s, the Trappists at Our Lady of Atlas monastery — the only monastery in Algeria — had decided to stay on despite threats against them by militants. Seven were eventually abducted in March 1996 and killed two months later by the Guerrillas of the Armed Islamic Group, after France refused to negotiate the release of Algerian-Islamist detainees.

The monks had worked among the people in the poor district. They had provided free medical care, a service that is deeply missed by the locals.

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NJ parishes stress marriage in Sunday prayers

Newark, N.J., Feb 26, 2007 (CNA) - Catholic parishes throughout New Jersey prayed for the preservation of the sacred institution of marriage during all Sunday liturgies. The state’s seven Catholic bishops urged parishes to focus their “Prayers of the Faithful” on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in light of their state’s recent legalization of same-sex civil unions.

New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine signed the civil unions bill into law in mid-December but it only took effect last week, on February 19th. The law was passed after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must be given equal rights as heterosexual couples. The court gave lawmakers 180 days to legislate the change.

Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the state Catholic Conference, told the Associated Press that the prayer yesterday was intended to remind Catholics that same-sex marriage is not in line with Church teaching.

"God our almighty Father has given married love, its faithfulness and its fruitfulness, a special significance in the history of salvation," the prayer began.

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Catholic communities growing outside traditional strongholds

Washington D.C., Feb 26, 2007 (CNA) - According to a new study, the Catholic Church in the United States is growing in unusual ways. The Church is undergoing an expansion in areas that have traditionally been hostile to it — such as the Bible Belt — and experiencing a decline in areas that have been traditionally identified as strongly Catholic, such as the Northeast.

The findings come from a new study, conducted by Steven Wagner of QEV Analytics in Washington, D.C., and Fr. Rodger Hunter-Hall. The study, titled "The State of the Catholic Church in America, Diocese by Diocese," was conducted for Crisis Magazine.

The study indicates that more missions are opening in regions where the Catholic flock is small — in the south and southwest. Wagner attributed this growth, in large part, to immigration and population trends, reported the Douglas Dispatch.

The two researchers also charted the number of ordinations to the priesthood and the effectiveness of evangelization efforts according to the number of adult converts.

Both the number of new priests and adult converts reflect on the bishop and the spiritual climate in a diocese, the researchers said.

Wagner and Fr. Hunter-Hall compiled a Top-20 list, which was mostly dominated by small dioceses, many of them in the Bible Belt. The sharpest declines were in the Northeast, especially New England.

Small dioceses, they found, consistently attracted more converts and more new priests.

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Think beyond "obvious" Lenten sacrifices, seek silence, Archbishop Chaput says

Denver, Colo., Feb 26, 2007 (CNA) - Speaking to the Catholic News Agency during this, the first week of Lent, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput said today that Catholics can make the most of their time of preparation for Easter, by thinking past the obvious things to “give up,” by offering their time in service, and especially by seeking times of silence.  The archbishop also noted how the interior transformations of Lent can equip Catholics to better live their faiths in the public square.

CNA:  How could Catholics live this Lenten season as a really special time and not just as a "Catholic tradition?"

Archbishop Chaput:  We need to understand that the materialism of modern life, the constant modern emphasis on buying and consuming, is based on the falsehood that we "deserve" convenience and comfort; that our opinions and desires really matter.  Of course, in the most important sense, we do matter.  We're infinitely precious in the eyes of God.  But the world will forget us very quickly when we're gone, and all of us will die sooner than we think.  There are no exceptions.  So the healthiest way for each of us to live Lent is to reflect on our mortality and take a hard, clear look at the behavior and choices that guide our typical day.  If we don't like some of what we see -- and that should include every one of us, if we're honest -- then Lent is the time to begin changing our direction.

CNA:  How can Catholics be "creative" in the way they live their Lent as a time for conversion?

Arch. Chaput:  We need to think past the obvious things to "give up" -- desserts, wine, the movies -- and concentrate on those things we cling to that we don't really need but like to indulge.  It's different for every person: shopping, cards, restaurants, coffee, etc.  But even better is when we select some positive service to perform for another person, or volunteer where our time is needed by our parish or charity.

CNA:  From your pastoral experience, what do you think US Catholics need the most to make of Lent a fruitful time of conversion?

Arch. Chaput:  We need silence, more than anything.  If people can create some time every day -- even just an hour -- when they eliminate all the distracting noise of American life, their spirit will naturally begin to grow.  Daily life in the United States is so filled with appetites and tensions stimulated by the mass media that turning the media off almost automatically results in deeper and clearer thinking.  And that interior quiet can very easily lead us to God,

CNA:  Do you find any relationship between living a good Lent and how Catholics live in the public square?

Arch. Chaput:  If you want to know how hard it can be to live a Christian life, just try overcoming one or two of your own worst faults.  That takes self-knowledge, persistence, honesty, humility, courage -- and this is exactly the task of conversion that all of us are called to every Lent.  All of these virtues also underpin effective public witness.  If you take your faith seriously enough to conform your own life to it, you'll have very little trouble living and witnessing your faith in public life.


Last week Archbishop Chaput released a Lenten message in “The Denver Catholic Register,” in which he challenged the faithful in Denver not to get discouraged by sin and failure in their striving for holiness. “The better we know the stories of the saints,” Chaput said, “the better we understand that most of them were very much like us.”

“They were ordinary people who gradually made a habit of the right choices and good actions. Day by day, they wove extraordinary lives out of ordinary material,” he said. “With God’s help, we can do the same.”

“Lent is not a time to revile ourselves,” he counseled. “After all, what God loves, we hardly have the right to hate. But the fasting, prayer, and mortifications of the season do have a very important purpose: They help us to clear our soul of debris. They cut away the selfishness that obstructs our view of God and blocks His light from us.”

“Lent is an invitation to dethrone the distractions that keep our hearts restless and empty,” he continued. “If we make room for the real King, He’ll do much more than fill the space. He’ll make us what He intended us to be: saints.”

“So let’s live this Lent not as a burden,” the archbishop said, “but as an amnesty, a joy, a way of refocusing ourselves on the one thing that really does matter eternally — friendship with God.” 

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