Harare, Zimbabwe, Apr 2, 2007 (CNA) - The Catholic bishops of Zimbabwe issued a pastoral letter on Palm Sunday, calling for a new constitution that will help the southern African country emerge from its current crisis.
The letter, entitled “God Listens to the Cry of the Oppressed,” was read in all parishes yesterday.
“The crisis of our country,” the bishops wrote, “is essentially a crisis of government skills, a leadership crisis as well as a moral and spiritual crisis.”
The bishops concluded their letter, asking all believers to observe the Day of Prayer and Fasting for Zimbabwe on April 14. Every Friday thereafter, a moment of prayer will be held in all parishes.
According to press reports, Zimbabwe is experiencing its worst humanitarian crisis since independence. Some blame the crisis on the current autocratic regime of President Robert Mugabe. Media reports indicate that members of opposition groups have been arrested during peaceful demonstrations and tortured.
The leader of the opposition, Morgan Tsvangirai, was arrested again recently, shortly before he was to appear at a press conference set up to denounce the repression in the country, reported Fides.
Washington D.C., Apr 2, 2007 (CNA) - The United States is deeply troubled by an eight-year prison sentence that was handed to a Vietnamese Catholic priest last week, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Friday.
“This is something that is certainly not a positive development,” McCormack told The Associated Press. "Absolutely. It's a negative development."
Fr. Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, 60, was sentenced Friday by Vietnamese provincial court Judge Bui Quoc Hiep for committing "very serious crimes that harmed national security," in his quest for Democracy in Vietnam, reported the Associated Press.
These crimes include planning to boycott upcoming legislative elections, disseminating anti-government documents and communicating with pro-democracy activists overseas. Authorities claimed the priest was also plotting to merge his Vietnam Progression Party with overseas democracy activists and to overthrow the current communist government.
The court also sentenced four co-defendants who were accused of being Fr. Ly's accomplices. The defendants were not represented by a lawyer. Fr. Ly was not in the courtroom when the sentences were read.
McCormack said Fr. Ly’s sentencing follows reports of other episodes of harassment, detention and arrest "of individuals peacefully exercising a legitimate right to peaceful speech."
Fr. Ly is well known to Vietnamese authorities as a dissident. He was previously jailed twice for pro-democracy activities and spent more than a decade in prison for his political activism. He was sentenced in 2001 for 15 years, but was released in 2005 after Western governments and international human rights groups protested.
McCormack said U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have brought up Fr. Ly's case with Vietnamese officials, among them Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem.
McCormack told the AP that the U.S. will be “watching the situation very closely.”
Mumbai, India, Apr 2, 2007 (CNA) - Christian leaders in India are protesting the decision of the National Commission for Minorities, after it intentionally left out the minority Christian community from a national survey of educational status. The survey includes three other minority groups in India — Sikhs, Buddhists, and Parsis.
The Global Council of Indian Christians has called it a “deliberate sleight to the just cause of Christian minorities in India.”
“If ever proof was needed of anti-Christian bias of government institutions in India, one need look no further than this,” said council president Sajan George.
The Christian Dalits of India have been asking for a government study on their status for years, said George, but none has been done.
“But other minority communities such as Parsis and Sikhs who are among the elites in business and employment in the country, are being studied for their educational status,” he said.
Christians are among the poorest in India. The 2004-05 figures released Friday by the Employment and Unemployment Situation among Major Religious Groups in India indicate that unemployment is highest among Christians, in both rural and urban areas of the country, compared with Hindus and Muslims.
The unemployment rate among the Christians was 4.4 per cent, despite having the highest literacy rate. Urban Christian women had the highest unemployment rate at 14 per cent.
The Global Council of Indian Christians is demanding that the National Commission for Minorities look into the just demands and the status of the Dalit Christians. The council says if the government fails to address the injustice and violence experienced by Christians in India, its moral right to continue in power is seriously compromised.
“The only way to redeem itself is to take immediate action to correct the constitutional improprieties that are permitted to continue,” George said. “Anything less will only add to the already long list of injustice meted out to Christians in India, and will serve to reinforce the image of India as an anachronism in the 21st century, where the government is driven by medieval belief systems and elemental biases rather than justice, constitutional rights, and the values of good governance.”
New Dehli, India, Apr 2, 2007 (CNA) - The first edition of L'Osservatore Romano in a non-European language was launched today at an official function in Thiruvananthapuram, India.
The Italian-language Vatican journal, which is published daily, is the Catholic Church's official press organ. Started in 1861, L’Osservatore covers the activities of the Pope, offers reviews of Papal Encyclicals and carries general news about the Catholic Church worldwide.
It is now available in a weekly edition in Malayalam, the language spoken in the southern Indian region of Kerala. Major Archbishop of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, Cardinal Mar Varkey Vithayathil, launched the new edition.
The publication also exists in English, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese.
Baghdad, Iraq, Apr 2, 2007 (CNA) - Speaking recently to the Religious Information Service of Italy (SIR), Bishop Shlemon Warduni, Auxiliary Chaldean Bishop of Baghdad (Babylon), expressed his continued concern over the current security situation in Iraq and its possible implications for Holy Week liturgies. Bishop Warduni said, however, that the Easter season will offer newfound hope for Christians in the war-torn region.
“We foresaw an intense liturgical program for the next Easter, but we don’t know whether we shall be able to celebrate it,” the bishop said. “Here, death is just behind the corner.”
He also expressed “sadness for the exodus of Christians from the country.”
“We feel bitter,” Bishop Warduni told SIR, “we are living in a situation which seems to have no end, in which the victims are the ill, the old, and the children, lots of whom lost their parents because of the unspeakable violence caused by car bombs, kamikazes and criminals.”
Yet, he offered, “Easter will strengthen our certain hopes for a fair future, a future of tolerance and reconciliation.”
The bishop noted that the Chaldean Patriarchate will celebrate the Easter Vigil early on the afternoon of Holy Saturday, due to the fact that “going out at night is too dangerous.”
“We hope faith will give our Christians the necessary courage to overcome difficulties and participate in rites. For everyone,” he concluded, “the Holy Week is time to fast. Our fasting is the suffering in which we are living. It is meant for Iraq as well as for the whole world.”
Vatican City, Apr 2, 2007 (CNA) - On Sunday morning in St. Peter's Square, the Holy Father presided at a solemn liturgical celebration for Palm Sunday and the Passion of the Lord, which marks the beginning of Holy Week. The Holy Father blessed the palms and the olives and, following a procession from the obelisk in the square to the altar, celebrated the Eucharist.
The Eucharistic liturgy was attended by 50,000 pilgrims, the majority of them young people from Rome and other dioceses currently celebrating 22nd World Youth Day, which has as its theme this year: "Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another."
In his homily, Benedict XVI affirmed that in the procession of Palm Sunday we, like the disciples who accompanied the Lord, acclaim Him, “for all the prodigies (mighty deeds) we have seen. Yes, we too have seen and still see the prodigies (mighty deeds) of Christ: how He brings men and women to renounce the comfort of their lives and to put themselves entirely at the service of those who suffer; how He gives men and women the courage to oppose violence and lies, so as to make room in the world for truth; how, in secret, He induces men and women to do good to others, to create reconciliation where there was hatred, to create peace where there was enmity.”
The Palm Sunday procession, he continued, "is also a procession of Christ the King. ... To recognize Him as King means to accept Him as the One Who shows us the way, the One we trust and follow. It means accepting His Word day after day as a valid criterion for our lives. It means seeing in Him the authority to which we submit. We submit to Him because His authority is the authority of truth.”
The procession “is also an expression of our 'yes' to Jesus and of our readiness to follow Him wherever He may take us,” said the Holy Father but, he added, “what does ‘following Christ’ actually mean? ... It is,” he explained, “a fundamental decision to take no account of utility and profit, career and success, as the ultimate aim of our lives, but to recognize truth and love as authentic criteria. It is a choice between living only for ourselves, and giving ourselves for something greater. In following Him, we enter the service of truth and love. In losing ourselves we find ourselves again.”
The psalm of today's Mass, said the Pope, explains “what it means to ascend with Christ. ‘Who shall ascend the Hill of the Lord?’ the psalm asks, and indicates two essential conditions. Those who ascend and truly want to reach the heights, the real summit, must be people who ... look around them to seek God, to discover His Face.”
Turning to address young people, the Pope highlighted the importance, above all today, of “not letting oneself be buffeted from place to place in life; of not being satisfied with what others think and say and do. Study God and seek God. Do not let the question about God dissolve in our hearts - the desire for that which is greater, the desire to know Him and His Face.”
“The other very real condition for the ascent is this: those who have ‘clean hearts and pure hands’ can stand in the holy place. Pure hands are hands that are not used for acts of violence. They are hands that have not been dirtied with corruption and bribes.” As for clean hearts: “A heart is clean that does not pretend and is not stained with lies and hypocrisy, a heart that remains transparent like spring water because it knows no duplicity. A heart is clean that is not led astray with the exhilaration of pleasure, a heart whose love is true and not just the passion of a moment.”
Benedict XVI concluded by recalling that “with the cross Jesus opened wide the door to God, the door between God and mankind. Now that door is open. But from the other side the Lord knocks with His cross, he knocks at the doors of the world, at the doors of our hearts, which are so often ... closed to God. And He speaks to us more or less like this: if the proofs that, in His creation, God gives you of His existence do not convince you to open yourself to Him, if the words of Scripture and the message of the Church leave you indifferent, then look at me, your Lord and your God. This is the appeal that, at this moment, we let penetrate our hearts.”
Rome, Italy, Apr 2, 2007 (CNA) - As anticipated, the Diocese of Rome officially concluded its investigation into the life, virtues and fame of sanctity of Servant of God John Paul II with a ceremony at midday today, in the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The conclusion of the diocesan investigation is the first step in the process of beatification of the late pontiff who died on April 2, 2005.
Announcing the end of the diocesan phase, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, His Holiness' Vicar General for the diocese of Rome, reflected upon the tremendous spiritual qualities of John Paul II. “At the beginning, at the center and at the peak of such a portrait,” said the Cardinal, “we cannot but put Karol Wojtyla's personal relationship with God; a relationship that was already strong, intimate and profound in his boyhood, and that never ceased to develop and grow stronger, producing fruits in all dimensions of his life.
“Here, we are in the presence of the Mystery,” he added. “In the first place, the mystery of the preferential love with which God the Father loved this Polish boy, united him to Himself and then maintained this union; not saving him from the trials of life - on the contrary, associating him ever and anew to the cross of His Son - but also giving him the courage to love the cross, and the spiritual intelligence to see, through the cross, the face of the Father.”
“In the certainty of being loved by God and in the joy of returning this love, Karol
Wojtyla found the meaning, unity and aim of his own life. All those who knew him, from near or only from afar, were struck by the richness of his humanity, by his complete fulfillment as a man. But even more illuminating and important is the fact that such fullness of humanity coincided, in the end, with his relationship with God, in other words with his sanctity.”
The opening session of the diocesan investigation took place in the same basilica on June 28, 2005, less than three months after John Paul II's death, thanks to the fact that Benedict XVI waived the normal waiting period of five years after the death of a Servant of God.
The diocesan investigation over, the acts and documents will now pass to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, where all the material will be studied.
Vatican City, Apr 2, 2007 (CNA) - Meeting with a group of artisans Saturday, in the Vatican’s Paul VI Auditorium, Pope Benedict XVI recalled that work is a gift from God for man, but that man has a primacy over the work of his hands.
At midday the Holy the Holy Father received some 7,000 leaders and members of "Confartigianato," the Italian Confederation of Artisans, which was founded in 1946.
The Pope began his address to them by recalling that the confederation was established "on the principle of free and open membership for all geographical, sectorial and cultural components in the world of craftsmen and small industry ... and has undoubtedly made a contribution to the construction of the modern Italian State.”
“If, until a few decades ago, the artisan brought to mind something old and picturesque,” the Holy Father said, “today it rather means autonomy, creativity and personalization in the production of goods and services.”
After highlighting how work "pertains to the original condition of man," the Holy Father said: "The Church, faithful to the Word of God, does not cease to recall the principle that 'work is for man and not man for work.' She ceaselessly proclaims the primacy of man over the work of his hands, and recalls that the finality of all things - capital, science, technology, public resources and even private property - must be the true progress of the human person and the common good."
Benedict XVI then went on to quote the words used by Servant of God John Paul II in his address to artisans during the Jubilee Year 2000: "You can restore strength and concrete form to those values that have always characterized your activities: the striving for quality, the spirit of initiative, the promotion of artistic qualities, liberty and cooperation, the equitable relationship between technology and the environment, the bond with the family and good neighborly relations."
The Holy Father called on his audience to continue to protect "the artisanal culture of production, which can create great opportunities for economic progress and encounter between men and peoples. As Christians, may it be your commitment to live and bear witness to the 'Gospel of work,' aware that the Lord calls all the baptized to sanctity through their daily occupation.
"On this subject," the Pope added, "St. Josemaria Escriva, a Saint of our own times, noted: 'Since Christ took it into His hands, work has become for us a redeemed and redemptive reality. Not only is the background of man's life, it is a means and path of holiness. It is something to be sanctified and something which sanctifies'."
The Holy Father concluded by assuring the members of Confartigianato that "in the school of the Family of Nazareth you will more easily learn how to unite a coherent life of faith with the efforts and difficulties of work, with personal profit and with a commitment to solidarity towards those in need."
Prague, Czech Republic, Apr 2, 2007 (CNA) - The Czech government and the Catholic Church have reached an agreement on joint administration of the Cathedral of St. Vito in Prague, which was expropriated by the Communist regime in 1954.
The agreement, which was made public by Jiri Weigl, Chancellor of the Castle of Prague, where the Czech government is headquartered, puts an end to a complicated dispute over “this symbol of Czech Catholicism,” expropriated by the Communist regime and which the courts refused to return to the Church.
Weigl said that a definitive ruling by an appeals court in favor of the Church, which said the State was obliged to return the building last June, was recently overturned by the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the Cathedral will be handed over by the State on April 16, and as of April 5 visitors will no longer be charged to enter.
“This will allow the State and the Church to jointly administer the symbolic church of gothic architecture,” the Chancellor said.
The construction of the Cathedral of St. Vito began in 1344 and was finished in 1929.
Doha, Qatar, Apr 2, 2007 (CNA) - After fourteen centuries without a place of worship, the Catholic Church in Qatar, a majority Muslim country, will soon have its first parish in the capital of Doha, which will be dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary.
Catholics in Qatar, many of whom are migrants who have come to the country seeking work, have been pooling their donations for the church’s construction.
Bishop Paul Hinder, Apostolic Vicar of Arabia and ordinary for the faithful in Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, is looking after the development of the project.
“It’s true that it is not easy to be bishop here. But at least it is good to see that the Church’s life is full of vitality,” he said. The religious freedom of Catholics should be respected, he noted, which would bring them much benefits. “It is obvious that the more spiritually satisfied they are the more they can help the country develop,” the bishop stressed.
Bishop Hinder also explained that many immigrant Christians he serves practice their faith more during their time in the region than they do in their own countries. Most immigrants are from the Philippines, Lebanon and India, he said.
“We must accept that they are expatriated in every sense of the word. We are a purely pilgrim church,” Bishop Hinder said, adding that the challenge for the Church there is that “we are a multicultural, multilingual and multiracial church composed of faithful from more or less the whole world.”
Rome, Italy, Apr 2, 2007 (CNA) - “What is good for the family is good for the country.” With these words, Giovanni Giacobbe, presented plans for a protest at St. John Lateran’s Square on May 12 against a proposed law that would legalize homosexual unions in Italy.
Giacobbe explained during a press conference that the protest would not be “against the government, but rather in favor of greater attention to family policies and against the public recognition of non-marital unions.”
During the conference he presented a statement entitled, “More Family,” drafted by movements and associations from the Catholic world, emphasizing that the idea is “to create a plaza full of Italians, lay people and Catholics,” including leaders of civil society.
The statement expressed a rejection of any attempt to force substitutions for the traditional family, which is based on marriage and open to new life. The statement also rejected any effort that would undermine the family on a cultural, legal, or societal level. Giacobbe said the statement was “a great yes to the family and to the efforts in favor of the family.”
Sao Paulo, Brazil, Apr 2, 2007 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI will attend a meeting with representatives of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities of different denominations during his visit to Brazil in May, an official has revealed.
The event was confirmed to local reporters by Bishop Pedro Luiz Stringhini, Auxiliary of Sao Paulo and Coordinator of the Executive Secretariat that is preparing the Pontiff’s visit. The meeting will take place on May 10 at the Monastery of Sao Bento in the city of Sao Paulo, where the Pope will stay during his visit to the country.
According to Bishop Stringhini, the meeting was suggested to the Vatican by the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo and by the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil. The Pope will meet with religious leaders after a scheduled audience with Brazil’s president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
The bishop explained that that the meeting would not be an audience and that there are no plans to discuss common problems facing the different religious nor will any speeches be given. “It will be a chance for the Pope to greet these individuals, a meeting of an almost protocolar nature, in order to show the need for religions to dialogue in the building of peace,” he stressed.
Vatican City, Apr 2, 2007 (CNA) - Presiding at a Mass Monday afternoon in St. Peter’s Basilica to commemorate the second anniversary of the death of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI remarked that “the fragrance of his love has ‘filled the whole house,’ that is, the whole Church.”
Before the thousands of pilgrims gathered - many of them Polish - along with various Cardinals, Bishops, and others, the Holy Father recalled that this second anniversary of Pope John Paul’s death falls in the midst of Holy Week. The Holy Father noted that today’s Gospel speaks of Mary of Bethany’s anointing of the feet of Jesus with aromatic oils (Jn 12:1-9).
The action of Mary, as recounted by John the Evangelist, “speaks of love for Christ, a superabundant love, prodigal, like that ‘costly perfumed oil’ poured upon his feet,” the Pope said.
“For us, reunited in prayer in memory of my venerated predecessor, the gesture of the anointing of Mary of Bethany is rich in echoes and spiritual meaning,” he continued.
This act, Benedict said, “evokes the luminous testimony which John Paul II offered of a love for Christ without reserve or limitation. The ‘fragrance’ of his love has ‘filled the whole house,’ that is, the whole Church.”
And that love, the Pontiff continued, spread throughout the world, reaching “far and wide, because the love of Pope Wojtyla for Christ boiled over, into every region of the world, always more strongly and more intensely. Aren’t the esteem, the respect and the affection that both believers and non-believers showed him at his death a telling testimony of this?”
“The fecundity of this testimony, we know, depends on the Cross,” the Pontiff continued. “In Karol Wojtyla’s life, the word ‘cross’ was not just a word. From his infancy and in his youth he knew sorrow and death. As a priest and as a Bishop, and above all as the Supreme Pontiff, he took very seriously that last call of the Resurrected Christ to Simon Peter, on the bank of Lake Galilee: ‘Follow me.’”
Through “the intensive and fruitful pastoral ministry, and even more the Calvary of the agony and the serene death of our beloved Pope, he taught to the men of our time that Jesus Christ really was his ‘all,’” Benedict added.
“Especially with the slow but relentless progress of the disease, which slowly deprived him of everything, his life became entirely an offering to Christ, the living announcement of His passion, in the faith-filled hope of Resurrection.”
And “from the house of the Father,” Pope Benedict said, “he does not stop following the path of the Church.”
The Papacy of John Paul, Benedict said, “was inspired by ‘prodigality,’ by his generously and unstintingly committing of himself. What moved him but a mystic love of Christ, of He who, on October 16th 1978, had called him, with the words of the ceremonial: "Magister adest et vocat te – The Master is here and is calling you?”
And, the Holy Father continued, “On April 2nd 2005, the Master came back, this time with no intermediaries, to call him and take him home, to the house of the Father. And he, once again, promptly responded with his fearless heart, and sighed: ‘Let me go to the Lord.’”
“…and the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil…” The Pope said, returning to the image offered by today’s Gospel. “The fragrance of the faith, the hope, and the love of the Pope filled his house, filled St. Peter’s Square, filled the Church and spread to the entire world.”
“What happened after his death,” Benedict went on, “for those who believe was the consequence of that ‘scent’ that reached everyone, close and afar, and attracted them to a man that God had progressively conformed to His Christ.”
Due to this, the Holy Father said, “we are able to apply to him the title Servant of God…a title particularly appropriate for him.”
Mentioning the different “drafts of his will,” the Pope recalled that his “beloved” John Paul II “for a long time had been getting ready for this last encounter with Jesus. Like his divine Master, he lived his agony in prayer. He died praying. He really fell asleep in the Lord.”