Rome, Italy, May 24, 2007 (CNA) - Amidst the current passionate debate over the role of the Church in public life in Italy, the Italian Bishops conference is holding their general assembly. This comes as the head of the conference, Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, takes the helm as Pope Benedict’s new appointee. Bagnasco has also been in the news because he received death threats for defending marriage and denouncing the immorality of practicing homosexuality.
The Holy Father gave his support to the bishops and the laity who recently asserted the right of the Church to speak in the public square. This action has produced in the Pope the, "conviction that in Italy the faith is alive and profoundly rooted, and that the Church is an organization of the people, a capillary network close to individuals and families. ... The Catholic faith and the presence of the Church remain the great unifying factor of this beloved nation and a precious reservoir of moral energies for the future."
A recent demonstration in support of the family organized in Rome "at the initiative of the Catholic lay faithful but attended by many non-Catholics," said the Holy Father, "certainly contributed to making everyone more aware of the significance and role of the family in society, ... in the face of a culture that deludes itself and favors happiness by a unilateral insistence on individual freedom."
Benedict was also eager to address the needs of the society that we live in. Apart from these "positive elements," Benedict XVI also noted "the difficulties and snares" which, he said, "can grow with the passage of time and of the generations." In this context, he warned against "a culture marked by moral relativism, poor in certainties and rich in demands, at times unjustified demands. We also feel the need to reinforce Christian formation through a more profound catechesis, and to this end the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church can be of great service.
According to Benedict, we must be constantly committed to, “place God always at the center of the lives of our communities, giving primacy to prayer, to personal friendship with Jesus and, hence, to the call to sanctity. In particular, great concern must be shown for vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life."
The Holy Father also offered words of wisdom for engaging a society that includes many faiths and beliefs. “Esteem and respect towards other religions and cultures, with the seeds of truth and goodness they contain, ... are especially necessary in our own times," said the Holy Father. "However, there must be no reduction in our awareness of the originality, fullness and unity of the revelation of the true God Who in Christ was definitively given us, nor can the Church's missionary vocation be diminished or weakened."
The Pope did not fail to encourage the bishops to continue their involvement in the public square for the good of all. "While fully and cordially respecting the distinction between Church and politics, between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God, we cannot but concern ourselves with what is good for mankind," and specifically with "the common good of Italy."
The Holy Father concluded by exhorting the Church in Italy to continue her mission of bringing the Gospel and material help to those in need. Also of indispensable importance is the mission of forming the youth in the faith, since they are the future of the Church, he noted.
Aparecida, Brazil, May 24, 2007 (CNA) - The bishops participating in the 5th General Conference of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference are set to vote today on the first draft of a final document.
After spending the week working in sixteen different subcommittees, the drafting committee assembled the submissions of each group and began work on the final document. Some groups worked late into the night on Wednesday.
Archbishop Joao Tempesta of Belem do Para said, “The texts were compared, reviewed and complemented in each of the subcommittees.”
Father David Gutierrez, communications director for CELAM, said after the vote that the bishops would have a chance “to read the document over the weekend and make the suggestions they consider necessary in order to have a final document by May 31st.”
CELAM officials told CNA the final document would include an introduction, which would be drafted at the conclusion of the meeting, a first chapter analyzing the social and pastoral reality of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, a second chapter on the theology of discipleship—the central theme of the conference, a third chapter on the mission of the different vocations within the Church, a fourth chapter on the call to communion within the Church, a fifth chapter on the formation of Catholics in the faith, and a sixth chapter on the mission of Catholics in society and culture.
Next week the bishops will make proposals for the “Great Continental Mission,” a massive effort to evangelize America that has yet to be further defined.
Vatican City, May 24, 2007 (CNA) - Today the Holy Father appointed Carl Anderson, the head of the Knights of Columbus, and his wife Dorian to the Pontifical Council for the Family.
Benedict XVI also selected the prelates Marc Ouellet P.S.S., archbishop of Quebec, Canada; William Joseph Levada (former bishop of San Francisco) the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, military ordinary for the United States of America, as members of the Congregation for Catholic Education.
Phoenix, Ariz., May 24, 2007 (CNA) - Mark Hart has received thousands of questions about faith and the Bible from teens. He responds by making the Bible fun and relevant and drawing youth back to the Catholic faith and church practice.
The 33-year-old executive vice president of Life Teen helps teens develop individual relationships with God through Bible studies, online questions and answers, retreats and live podcasts of the scriptures.
Life Teen is an international Mesa, Arizona based program that seeks to make the scriptures relevant to Catholic teens. Hart points to the lack of relevance of the Bible and the faith as a reason teens have left the church.
In his communication with teens, Hart emphasizes seven core values of a personal relationship between a teenager and God: love, joy, evangelization, primary vocation, affirmation, authenticity and Eucharistic spirituality.
The Phoenix native picked up his moniker, the Bible Geek, a few years ago by accident. He was leading a Bible study and had to leave town. Before he did, he e-mailed a dozen teens in the study explaining how the scripture they were studying pertained to their lives.
"I didn't want the e-mail to be about me so I signed it 'Bible Geek,' and it became a huge hit instantly," Hart told The Arizona Republic.
Life Teen was launched more than 20 years ago. Today, it is in 1,200 parishes and 20 countries. Hart and Life Teen will be spotlighted Sunday on American Bible Society Presents at 11:30 a.m. on Ion television, Channel 51.
Denver, Colo., May 24, 2007 (CNA) - True happiness and fulfillment can only be found in following God’s will, high school valedictorian Michelle Bauman told her peers at Bishop Machebeuf High School.
The Catholic teen graduated at the top of her class and was selected as one of the 0.5% top high school students in the United States. Bauman writes an occasional youth column for the Catholic News Agency.
Bauman told her peers that she was not able to share with them the keys to success, but could offer the keys to happiness. “Happiness is very different from success,” she said.
She quoted her junior religion teacher, Mr. Lenzini, who repeatedly said: happy = holy = human.
“We will only be truly happy when we are following God's call to live holy lives and being the people that God created us to be. That is the only source of real happiness and fulfillment in life. Success may come as well. Or it may not. But if we have our priorities straight, we won't care, because we will be happy even without worldly success,” she said in her speech.
She offered the examples of Mother Teresa, for whom the world’s understanding of success was not the goal. Mother Teresa explained Christian life as, “God has not called me to be successful; He has called me to be faithful.” Bauman aslo referrenced Albert Einstein, who said, “Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value.”
“[Mother Teresa] didn't care how the world viewed her. She was so focused on serving God and helping others that everything else became insignificant in comparison,” Bauman said.
“So the best advice that I can give to my fellow classmates is to shoot for the stars, follow your dreams, pave your own path - but always remember that true happiness and fulfillment can only be found in following God's will,” she concluded.
Madrid, Spain, May 24, 2007 (CNA) - The president of the International Federation of Catholic Doctors Association, Jose Maria Simon, told Europa Press this week, “Euthanasia is an evil that has an effective vaccination which is palliative care.”
Simon’s comments came in response to the president of the International Society of Bioethics, Marcelo Palacios, who expressed his support for euthanasia, understood as helping a terminally ill patient to die who is not expected to survive more than six months.
“A terminally ill person is one thing, a person at his end who feels his life has no meaning is another,” Palacios explained.
Simon warned that by “popularizing” euthanasia “the sense of security in health care facilities will disappear and families will never know if a loved one was taken by illness or by the system.” “When a person dies at a health care facility the assumption is he or she died of natural causes. Police never have to investigate,” Simon said.
He warned that by legalizing euthanasia, with the way society current is ordered, the sick will be killed with impunity. “Euthanasia screams out to politicians to reduce health care expenses,” Simon stated. “Why spend money on someone who is going to die or ought to die,” he asked.
Euthanasia, he added, “suffocates” confidence in justice and in the authorities. “There won’t be enough police to assure that it is not administered for any reason whatsoever.”
Bogotá, Colombia, May 24, 2007 (CNA) - The Colombian daily, “El Tiempo,” published a column by a priest who said he has seen Madonna’s DVD of her latest concert tour and defends her “crucifixion” and nudity and calls the show a model of evangelization.
In a column entitled, “Madonna: A Suggestive Presentation of Jesus,” Father Carlos Novoa, SJ, ex-dean of the Department of Theology at the Javeriana University, said he was impressed by the “deep spirituality” of some of Madonna’s choreography and claimed her parody of the crucifixion “is not a mockery of the cross, but rather the complete opposite: An exaltation of the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus” and a “creative and moving” work of art.
Father Novoa said the DVD recording of Madonna’s “The Confessions Tour” was something worth viewing for its “high aesthetic quality.” The song “Live to Tell,” in which Madonna is “crucified,” “is one of the best sermons I have witnessed in my life,” and he challenged Catholics to follow the example of the singer.
“In this postmodern, skeptic world in which so many people abhor or are simply uninterested in the faith, will ministers of the Church and Catholics in general have this audacity and this creativity to communicate a Jesus who truly shakes people up on the inside?” Novoa wondered.
The Jesuit priest also defended “masculine and feminine nudity,” expressed not through “cheap pornography” but through “erotic beauty.” He compared Madonna’s choreography and nudity with the works of Michelangelo, “who filled the walls of the Sistine Chapel, the sacrosanct place where the Holy Father is elected, with frescoes of nude men and women.”
Father Novoa said renowned artists and art critics consider Madonna to be “one of the best choreographers of our times.” “In her excellent stage presentations, she sometimes makes use of both male and female nudes, which scandalizes some, as in the case of Michelangelo,” he claimed.
Novoa acknowledged that some of Madonna’s antics are “ridiculous,” but, he claimed, “they said the same thing about Beethoven when he debuted some of his best compositions and about Picasso, one of the great guides posts of modern-day art, when he presented his master works in 1907: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.
, May 24, 2007 (CNA) - A New York philanthropist is giving the Archdiocese of New York its largest donation ever — $22.5 million — earmarked for scholarships to Catholic elementary schools.
Robert Wilson, a former Wall Street investor, told The Associated Press that he is an atheist, but he has no problem donating money to a fund linked to Catholic schools.
“Let's face it, without the Roman Catholic Church, there would be no Western civilization,” Wilson said. “Shunning religious organizations would be abhorrent. Keep in mind, I'm helping to pay tuition, the money isn't going directly to the schools.”
The 80-year-old said he hopes his gift will inspire others to give. An anonymous donor has given an additional $4.5 million to the archdiocese after learning that Wilson's gift would be announced, reported church officials.
The money will be used to fund the Cardinal's Scholarship Program, which was started in 2005 to give disadvantaged students attending the archdiocese's inner-city schools, in Manhattan, Staten Island and the Bronx, partial or full tuition grants.
The goal of the campaign is to raise $158 million by 2010 in order to fund 11,700 scholarships. The total amount raised to date is $97 million, including Wilson's gift.
In recent years, the archdiocese has faced declining donations, church attendance and parish memberships, forcing the closure of some schools and churches. In 2006, the archdiocese closed eight metropolitan-area schools.
About 44,000 of the archdiocese's 107,000 students are currently enrolled in inner-city schools. Of that inner-city student population, more than half live below the poverty line.
Rome, Italy, May 24, 2007 (CNA) - The Father General of the Society of Jesus, Father Peter Hans-Kolvenbach, said this week no religious congregation or institution has a guaranteed future and that each one “could disappear” if the work entrusted to it by the Lord has been fulfilled, as the history of the Church has shown.
“I am convinced that religious life should always be in crisis, if we really want to be constantly attentive to the Spirit, who never rests. It’s not enough to follow the constitutions, the rules, in order to have a certain future,” the Jesuit superior said in an interview with the magazine “Jesus” and quoted by the Spanish daily “La Razon.”
In this sense, he said, there must be discernment of what the Lord is asking of each congregation in the different circumstances of life and history, since for example, “He may ask of a certain group of consecrated a specific task during a determined period of time,” and when that is finished, “that institute may disappear. This is not something new in the history of the Church.”
Father Kolvenbach recalled that throughout history, the Holy Spirit has raised up in the Church new charisms to bring her out of periods of crisis. When the Church “ran the risk of erring with the Empire,” he explained, “the Holy Spirit inspired hermits to renew in her the value of spirituality and of prayer.”
He pointed to the examples of St. Francis of Assisi, who was called when the Church was suffering the temptation to riches and power, and St. Ignatius of Loyola, who responded to the Lord to bring the Church to the missions beyond the “known geographical and cultural confines.”
The Church will never lack “the gift of consecrated life,” he went on. “The number of vocations may worry us, but I agree with St. Ignatius: focus more on the quality than the quantity,” he said.
Father Kolvenbach stressed that God “has never left the heart of man,” and although “there are times in which we think we can live” as if He did not exist, when there is an insuperable difficulty, an ethical crisis, there is a return to spirituality.” Our forefathers said desperation leads to prayer,” he added.
Father Kolvenbach will leave the post of Father General in 2008 during the Society’s 35th General Congregation, after having led the Jesuits for 24 years.
La Paz, Bolivia, May 24, 2007 (CNA) - The Bishops’ Conference of Bolivia issued a statement this week saying, “The Church cannot cease from speaking about social problems” or “renounce human promotion because it is an essential part of her mission.”
One of the essential characteristics of democratic life is freedom of expression, practiced with responsibility, at the right time, and for the common good,” said Bishop Jesús Juárez Párraga, secretary general of the conference. The bishops will continue to exercise their right to speak out on social issues, as it is the task of the hierarchy to “teach and interpret authentically the moral principals that must be followed in temporal affairs.”
“The Church cannot cease to speak out on social problems,” the bishops said, after Bolivian president Evo Morales said the Church should choose between “prayer and politics.”
According to the statement by the bishops, the political community and the Catholic Church “are independent and autonomous although both are at the service of the personal and social vocation of man.”