Vatican City, Jun 11, 2007 (CNA) - This morning Pope Benedict received the faculty and students of the Eleventh Vatican Observatory Summer School in an audience. He exhorted the amateur astronomers to form their faith and their reason so that they can rise to the contemplation of the truth.
The Vatican Observatory was founded in 1891 at the papal summer residence—Castel Gandolfo—and is one of the oldest astronomical institutions in the world.
The Holy Father provided a vision for the scientists-in-training saying, “Since its establishment, the Vatican Observatory has sought to demonstrate the Church’s desire to embrace, encourage and promote scientific study, on the basis of her conviction that "faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth" (Fides et Ratio).
This summer’s program, which is devoted to the study of the study of Extra-solar Planets, will be taught by the Jesuit Fathers and Brothers who staff the Observatory.
The Pope reminded the students that they should get more out of their studies than scientific knowledge. “In addition to your demanding research, however, you will have a precious opportunity to learn together with students from twenty-two different countries. The wide variety of your backgrounds and cultural traditions can be a source of great enrichment to you all.”
“In the days to come, may you find spiritual consolation in the study of the stars that "shine to delight their Creator (Bar 3:34)." Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God’s blessings of wisdom, joy and peace.”
In other Vatican news, the Holy Father will convene the Congress for the Diocese of Rome this afternoon. The congress will focus on the theme: Jesus is the Lord. Educating in Faith, Discipleship, and Witness.
Chicago, Ill., Jun 11, 2007 (CNA) - Dr. Norman Finkelstein, a professor at DePaul University, a Catholic school in Chicago, has been denied tenure even though he meets all of the professional standards for the position.
Finkelstein has raised a considerable amount of controversy with his claims that Jews have used the Holocaust for financial gain and the oppression of the Palestinians.
Dr. Finkelstein’s application for tenure has caused charges of anti-Semitism, personal vendettas, and outside interference in the hiring process to surface. Ironically, his family was imprisoned by the Nazis with only his parents surviving the Holocaust. Finkelstein was informed Friday that he had been denied tenure by the university.
The professor’s position on being denied tenure is that he, “met the publishing standards and the teaching standards required for tenure” and that DePaul’s decision was based on “transparently political grounds” and an “egregious violation” of academic freedom.”
The Catholic university’s staff was divided on whether to offer tenure to Finkelstein. The political science department where he teaches voted to award him tenure but, the University Board on Promotion and Tenure rejected his bid.
DePaul’s president, the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, upheld that decision. In a letter to Dr. Finkelstein, Father Holtschneider wrote that Dr. Finkelstein is an excellent teacher and a nationally recognized public intellectual but does not “honor the obligation” to “respect and defend the free inquiry of associates.”
Professor Finkelstein’s work has drawn the ire of many for his accusations that Jews have been exploiting the Holocaust for monetary gain. He has also criticized Israel for oppressing the Palestinians. One of his most persistent critics has been Alan Dershowitz, the attorney and Harvard law professor whose fervent defense of Israel has led to frequent and often venomous conflicts with Dr. Finkelstein.
Dershowitz went so far as to lobby the university to deny Finkelstein’s tenure application. Many faculty members at DePaul and elsewhere decried what they called Mr. Dershowitz’s heavy-handed tactics.
Sounding resigned, Mr. Finkelstein said of DePaul, “Rationally, it has to deny me tenure.”
“Any time I wrote or spoke would evoke another hysterical response and would be costly for them,” he said, referring to the college’s fund-raising efforts.
In a statement Father Holtschneider said the outside attention paid to Mr. Finkelstein’s bid for tenure “was unwelcome and inappropriate and had no impact on either the process or the outcome of this case.” He added: “Some will consider this decision in the context of academic freedom. In fact academic freedom is alive and well at DePaul.”
It is no surprise that Mr. Dershowitz was delighted. “It was plainly the right decision,” he said.
Mr. Finkelstein said he plans to leave Chicago for New York. “Teaching is in my bones. I love to teach,” he said, but he added that as a result of this “blacklisting, I will be barred from ever entering a college classroom again.”
Nonetheless, any temptation to “indulge in a bout of self-pity,” he said, was halted by thinking of his parents, who survived the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi death camps while the rest of his relatives were exterminated. “They survived,” he said. “I’ll survive.”
Rome, Italy, Jun 11, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, president of Italy’s episcopal conference, received a second envelope on Saturday containing three bullets and a death threat. The first envelope arrived at the archbishop’s office April 27.
The archbishop has been leading a campaign against proposed Italian legislation that would give many legal rights to unmarried and same-sex couples.
Genoa police chief Salvatore Presenti said the incident did not require an increase in the archbishop's protection, reported ANSA. Archbishop Bagnasco was given bodyguards several weeks ago after graffiti threatening him was scrawled on buildings.
Genoa police cabinet chief Sebastiano Salvo told The Associated Press that no one has claimed responsibility for the threats yet.
Denver, Colo., Jun 11, 2007 (CNA) - Calling the U.S. immigration situation a “pressing humanitarian issue”, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver said lawmakers must work to offer a realistic solution to assist the 12 million undocumented workers already residing in the country.
Archbishop Chaput is calling on Catholics to urge their senators to continue pursuing comprehensive immigration reform, begun with immigration bill, S. 1348.
The archbishop issued the call after the Senate pulled the bill from the floor. The action, says the archbishop, once again delays the possibility of providing a solution to the country’s “flawed immigration system.”
“Though S. 1348 is not the end-all solution to our immigration problems, it provides an important first step for each side to work together in resolving the issues,” he said.
Dallas, Texas, Jun 11, 2007 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI welcomed President George Bush June 9 for his first visit with the new pontiff at the Vatican. As is customary, the Pope was presented with a gift. Bush chose to give the Pope a hand-carved walking stick from Dallas resident Roosevelt Wilkerson, a ninth-grade dropout who was homeless until a few years ago.
The five-foot-sticks are unique in that they are inscribed with the Ten Commandments.
While his walking sticks have been shipped to people all over the U.S., he was not expecting one to arrive in the hands of the Pope. Bush, who owns two of the sticks, gave one to the Pope.
"I'm just dumbfounded. It's a big honor for me," Wilkerson told The Dallas Morning News. "God does things in mysterious ways."
Reporters covering the meeting heard Bush describe the stick as "a piece of art by a former homeless man from Texas ... Dallas."
"The Ten Commandments?" the Pope asked.
"The Ten Commandments, yes, sir," the president replied.
Wilkerson, 62, has been carving all his life but only began inscribing the Ten Commandments on the ash and cedar walking sticks about 15 years ago.
He collects wood for his sticks from the Trinity River banks in southern Dallas. He shears off the bark with a paring knife, and then sands the wood to a smooth surface. Next, he painstakingly carves the letters of the Ten Commandments, in block style, using a six-inch carving tool that resembles a screwdriver.
The first five Commandments are carved lengthwise around the top of the stick. The second five are carved on the bottom half. He paints the letters red, black or green, but the stick remains a natural off-white color.
"God gave me this gift," said Wilkerson, who attends St. Paul United Methodist Church in Dallas.
"I'm in my own little world," he said of the time spent carving in his one-room apartment. "I'm just meditating. I'm kind of a hermit."
He can make about two walking sticks a day and derives his only income from the sale of his sticks.
New Haven, Conn., Jun 11, 2007 (CNA) - The Knights of Columbus has set a new record for charitable giving and volunteer service in 2006.
The Knights' annual survey shows that charitable contributions totaled $143,816,004 for 2006, exceeding the previous year by more than $4 million. Of the total amount, $35,133,393 was donated by the Supreme Council, and $108,682,611 by the local councils and other groups within the lay fraternity.
The survey also shows that the Knights offered a total of 68,270,432 hours in volunteer service in 2006, up more than four million hours from 2005. Among the volunteer activities, the Knights visited the sick and bereaved (six million visits). As well, 393,807 Knights donated blood to blood banks.
Other volunteer efforts were linked to the Knights’ continued commitment to the states affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. The Knights have donated more than $10 million to the relief efforts in the region.
Over the last 10 years, the Knights of Columbus has donated nearly $1.25 billion to charity, and provided in excess of 593 million hours of volunteer service.
The Knights of Columbus is the world's largest lay Catholic organization, with 1.7 million members on four continents.
Madrid, Spain, Jun 11, 2007 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Toledo issued a clarification last week regarding a letter sent by a local pastor to his parishioners, in which he seemed to suggest that parents who do not conscientiously object to the government-sponsored “Education for Citizenship” course could not present their children to receive First Communion.
The new government sponsored class is intended to teach school children to accept homosexuality as normal and promote abortion. The class also denies parents their right to educate their children on moral and religious values. One example of the material created for the course is a cartoon called, “Ali Baba and the 40 Gays.”
In the statement of clarification, the pastor of the parish in question explained that he had not meant to exclude anyone from the reception of the sacraments and that First Communion “is not subject to exercise of conscientious objection on the part of parents” regarding the “Education for Citizenship” course.
The Archdiocese of Toledo said the clarification represents “the actual meaning of his letter, and that it was not meant to exclude anyone—who fulfills the due conditions—from receiving the sacraments.” “This is the true thinking and meaning” of the letter, the statement indicated.
Lastly, the statement notes that the bishops of Toledo emphasized in their last pastoral letter that conscientious objection to the course “is a right of parents that cannot be impeded or imposed.”
Havana, Cuba, Jun 11, 2007 (CNA) - The president of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, said this week international solidarity with Cuba should be directed toward supporting peaceful changes on the island.
In a letter to countries and organizations that are concerned about the situation in Cuba, the dissident leader and promoter of the Varela Project said the defense of human rights is linked to the promotion of laws that require demand the respect for them. “Cubans certainly desire change and peaceful change and a new life with freedom and peace,” he said.
“For years we have worked for this and we are not going to abandon this path now, as today more than ever that path is the one that can save Cuba from much suffering.”
Referring to political prisoners in Cuba, Paya said their situation is increasingly worse due to the inhumane conditions to which they are subjected, the places in which they are confined, and the constant stress they endure.
He praised the good will that exists outside Cuba for supporting political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, but he said the best way to help them is by not abandoning the cause for which they were imprisoned, “which is to achieve peaceful changes towards democracy and the promotion and defense of human rights.”
Paya said that while some might consider his message to be harsh, he was not trying to criticize, but rather make an urgent call. “We are not going to influence public opinion, we are not going to convince people about the injustice of this incarceration if the world does not know and understand what these fighters did before they were imprisoned,” Paya said in his letter, recalling that the effort to free Nelson Mandela was successful because it was linked to the publicizing of his struggle against Apartheid.
“The time has come for us to say it in plain language,” Paya continued. “We all know that the majority of the 75 prisoners and others who remain in prison were incarcerated for promoting the Varela Project.”
Paya said he was not trying to take advantage of the plight of the political prisoners to gain media attention, emphasizing that he would not “be silent about the cause that they and we are defending,” which is that of human rights and democracy.
More information on the Varela Project can be found at:
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jun 11, 2007 (CNA) - A group of professionals and volunteers in Argentina have banded together to develop a special project to help rescue kids who live on the street and are subject to exploitation.
The director of the TIAS project, Daniel Sarradell, said the initiative aims to help children escape from street life before it is too late. These kids, he said, generally between the ages of 8 and 10, “begin to ‘take a liking’ to the street. In ten years, people will no longer feel sorry for them, nobody will give them a penny” and since “they have no skills or education” they are not going to be able “to integrate themselves into society.”
Sarradell noted that international conventions prohibit child labor and that TIAS aims to help children “live the life of a child and not that of an adult.”
Madrid, Spain, Jun 11, 2007 (CNA) - The Institute for Family Policy warned this week that Spain is immersed in a “demographic winter” that is without precedent. Future projections show that the populace will age at an increasing pace without adequate replacement levels and make Spain the country with the lowest ratio of retired to active workers in all of Europe.
According to the institute, by the middle of this century, “for every three people who are active, two will be in retirement.” At this pace, Spain will surpass the rest of the European countries where the ratio of retired to active is two to one.
The president of the institute, Eduardo Hertfelder, explained that current indicators point to “serious structural problems:” while the number of persons above 65 is 7.3 million, young people under the age of 14 only number 6.2 million, that is, a difference of one 1.1 million people.
Hertfelder said this was a “consequence of a social situation in which the family is not protected or supported beyond a few limited and inadequate measures, mostly consisting of financial aid.” He noted the direct connection between the lack of help for the family and the low birth rate and aging population.
“If this is worrisome, future projections are even more so,” as “the few births that are occurring do not compensate for the continual and intense increase of the adult population, especially among the elderly.”
While Spain is atop of the list of countries with the greatest increase in its elderly population—an increase of 72 percent in the last 23 years—it is at the bottom when it comes to birth rates (1.35 children per woman), Hertfelder pointed out.
According to the institute’s projections, by the year 2032, “there will be one person over 85 for every child under 5,” and by 2050, “for every three persons over 85 there will be only two children under 5.”
“This data should lead society, political parties and the government to take urgent measures to prevent this from occurring,” he warned.
Washington D.C., Jun 11, 2007 (CNA) - Heavy television watching parallels a decline in moral values and a sense of personal responsibility, a new study by the Culture and Media Institute of the Media Research Center has found.
According to a report on LifeSiteNews.com, in a new Special Report entitled “The Media Assault on American Values,” released by the CMI June 6, a clear correlation was shown to exist between an increase in the number of hours a viewer spent watching TV and a decline in the strength of personal moral values.
On the issue of abortion, 44 percent of light TV viewers (those who watch one hour or less per night, accounting for 22.5 percentage of the population) said abortion is wrong, compared to 27 percent of heavy TV viewers (those who watch four hours or more per night, accounting for 25 percent of the population).
While 39 percent of light TV viewers said sex outside of marriage was always wrong, only 26 percent of heavy viewers considered sex outside of marriage to be always wrong. 64 percent of light viewers opposed same-sex marriage, compared to 57 percent of heavy TV viewers.
While only 28 percent of heavy viewers are frequent church goers, 47 percent of light viewers go to church regularly. More than half (51 percent) of heavy viewers said they rarely or never attended church, while only 29 percent of light viewers said they went to church “rarely or never”.
The complete report can be found at: