Vatican City, Aug 29, 2007 (CNA) - The purpose of all learning and culture is the discernment of the supreme human good, and this supreme good is found in Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI said today under sunny skies in St. Peter’s Square.
To illustrate his point, the Holy Father dedicated the Wednesday Audience to St. Gregory of Nyssa, a 4th century Early Church Father. “Gregory’s outstanding education and intellectual gifts led him first to teaching. He then embraced the ascetic life, and eventually was ordained Bishop of Nyssa”, the Pope recalled.
The Pope also explained how, like the other Cappadocian [modern day Turkey] Fathers of that time, Gregory contributed greatly to defense of the faith in the period following the Council of Nicaea, and played a leading role at the Council of Constantinople, which defined the divinity of the Holy Spirit. His contribution to theology, he said, was “like a work of art”.
In many of his writings, St. Gregory emphasizes that “our creation in the image of God, our royal vocation as stewards of the created order, and our responsibility to cultivate our inner beauty, which is a participation in the uncreated beauty of the Creator,” said the Holy Father.
“For Gregory, the purpose of all learning and culture is the discernment of the supreme human good, the truth that enables us to find authentic and lasting fulfillment. This supreme good is found in Christianity,” the Pope said, because in Christianity it is “possible to imitate the divine nature”.
Pope Benedict described how Gregory, the brother and spiritual heir to St. Basil, showed that the highest purpose of theology is to keep oneself from being preoccupied with vain things, and instead “find the light that helps one discern what is really useful”.
He added: “By purifying our hearts and progressing in holiness, we are drawn to the vision of God and thus to the satisfaction of the deepest longings of every human heart”.
At the end of the audience, the Pope made an appeal on behalf of those “devastated by grave calamities”. He was referring to victims of recent flooding in North Korea, and “disastrous fires” that have spread across parts of Greece, Italy and other parts of Europe.
“In the face of so many dramatic emergencies, that have resulted in many victims and huge material damage, one cannot help but be concerned about the irresponsible behavior of those who put human safety at risk and destroy the environment, a precious patrimony for all of humanity”, he said.
Italy, Spain, Greece and other European countries have suffered from widespread rural fires, caused by a combination of arson attacks, hot temperatures and high winds. Floods in North Korea, meanwhile, have led to the loss of an estimated 600 lives, and tens of thousands of others have been made homeless.
Vatican City, Aug 29, 2007 (CNA) - During today’s general audience, Pope Benedict XVI condemned the "criminal acts" and "irresponsible behavior" of the arsonists, who authorities say are to blame for many of the fires that have devastated Greece and Italy this summer and killed dozens of people.
"One cannot help being worried by the irresponsible behavior of those who put human safety at risk and destroy the environment," Benedict said during his weekly public audience in St. Peter's Square.
"I join those who rightly stigmatize such criminal acts and I invite all to pray for the victims of these tragedies," he said.
Massive wildfires in Greece have killed at least 64 people and independent estimates say around 200,000 hectares (495,000 acres) of forest, olive groves and scrub may have been consumed, according to an AP report. However, firefighters reported that today all of the major blazes were receding due a drop in high winds which have been fanning the damaging wildfires.
The situation has also improved in Italy after hundreds of blazes raged through the south of the country over the summer. Four people were killed last week when a wildfire consumed a hotel near the port city of Messina, Sicily, and two shepherds have been arrested for allegedly setting the blaze.
Italian authorities say arsonists are often linked to organized crime groups seeking to clear land for pasture or illegal construction. Greeks also suspect that their land was set on fire by arsonists in the pay of developers, but the claims have not yet been substantiated.
Lourdes, France, Aug 29, 2007 (CNA) - Amongst Catholics, water from the well known Marian apparition site of Lourdes, France is a common export. Inspectors at Tarbes-Lourdes airport, on the other hand, didn’t see things the same way and prevented pilgrims traveling on the Vatican’s new airline from boarding with the holy water, reported Reuters.
The water, which is said to have miraculous healing powers, came from a sacred grotto where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858. At the grotto, one can see crutches and other signs of illness that belonged to those who have been cured.
One of the passengers, Paola Saluzzi, told Corriere della Sera newspaper she was carrying the holy water in eight small plastic bottles "in the shape of the little Madonna". But it was not allowed on board.
"If they gave preference to the water from Lourdes it would be an (irregularity) that would not guarantee the proper procedure," she acknowledged.
But the new airline had foreseen just such a situation and placed a small complimentary bottle of holy water on the seat of each pilgrim to drink on board, Saluzzi said.
The Vatican's chartered Boeing 737 aims to serve 150,000 pilgrims a year. Beyond Lourdes, destinations will range from the shrine of Fatima in Portugal to Mount Sinai in Egypt, where Moses is said to have received the 10 Commandments from God.
Managua, Nicaragua, Aug 29, 2007 (CNA) - The government of Sweden has announced it will suspend economic aid to Nicaragua over that country’s laws defending the unborn from abortion under any circumstances, including so-called “therapeutic” abortions.
In a press release, the Swedish embassy in Managua said Sweden would reduce the number of countries it is economically assisting from 70 to 33, with most of the nations being in Africa and Eastern Europe. “As a consequence of this concentration in our assistance, the government of Sweden has made the decision to gradually pull out of some countries in Latin America, among them Nicaragua. This process of pulling out will take two to four years,” the statement said.
Sources said however that Swedish leaders “were very concerned about the issue of therapeutic abortion.” “What’s happening is that they are very involved in health issues. The announcement is to see if the discussion on therapeutic abortion can be reopened,” they added.
The former president of Nicaragua’s Central Bank, Mario Arana, said the cutbacks are “very unfortunate, because this kind of aid is the most flexible and is the best for the country,” which is able to decide for itself how to invest the money.
On the other hand, economist Nestor Avendaño said the Swedish government’s decision was “very strange since Nicaragua has maintained a very responsible economic policy, even in this last year in which it has been negotiating an economic agreement with the International Monetary Fund.”
In 2006 Nicaragua received $21 million in aid from Sweden.
Washington D.C., Aug 29, 2007 (CNA) - Michael Vick’s recent statement that he has “found Jesus” is drawing quite differing reactions. On the one hand, some people doubt his sincerity, while others are asserting that he needs to be reached out to.
In his statement after pleading guilty to charges that he ran an illegal dog-fighting ring, Vick told reporters: "I'm upset with myself and, you know, through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God."
Catholic League President Bill Donohue says that he sees these public testimonials as opportunity.
"I think people need to reach out to Vick," Donohue told Cybercast News. "I think what he did was disgusting, but if somebody says he wants to reach out to Jesus and reach out to God, it's time to call him on it."
He also cautioned against what he calls a "piling on" of critics condemning Vick in disproportion to his crimes.
"Some people want to destroy him, to squeeze every ounce of blood out of this guy," said Donohue. "When people do reach out as Vick is doing and he's asking for forgiveness, you have to take him at his word until such time as he proves disingenuous."
During his college football career, Vick was known to pound on his shoulder pads and point skyward after he scored a touchdown, a signal to thank God for the score. Vick also has a history of professing his Christian faith to reporters. Cybercast News Service discovered at least seven such quotes in various media.
Tim Wildmon, president of the conservative American Family Association, is skeptical.
"It gets personal in trying to understand someone's faith at times so they may say the right things, but you don't really know what they mean by it," he told Cybercast News Service. “You wonder, what's the motivation for making a public statement? Is it sincere, or are they doing it to gain something from it?"
Washington D.C., Aug 29, 2007 (CNA) - The U.S. bishops are calling on Catholics to recommit this Labor Day to defending the lives, dignity, and rights of workers, especially the most vulnerable.
The bishops issued their call in their annual Labor Day statement, issued yesterday by Bishop Nicholas Di Marzio, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Domestic Policy Committee.
The bishop called for a renewed and civil immigration debate. “At its core immigration is about workers who come to our land to try to secure better lives for themselves and their families by their labor,” he wrote.
He said the immigration debate in recent months has polarized Americans and paralyzed Congress. “We have to find a way to re-start the discussion, to re-engage the hard issues, to search for practical and realistic solutions,” he urged.
“The immigration status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable,” he stated. “The ‘system’ is broken. We need far-reaching and comprehensive reform.”
He said fundamental moral principles, such as the right to work, decent wages, and safe working conditions, should guide immigration reform.
Bishop DiMarzio stressed the need for immigration policy to be consistent across the nation and urged against local or state proposals. “Immigration policy should not depend on where in the United States you work or live,” he said.
He said the recent landmark agreement between immigrant farm workers in Florida and major corporations is a sign of hope. That agreement led businesses to promise a “penny a pound” more for Florida tomatoes and a new code of conduct in the fields.
Sydney, Australia, Aug 29, 2007 (CNA) - The dispute continues over whether the World Youth Day closing Mass with Pope Benedict XVI will be held at Randwick racecourse.
The international Catholic youth event is expected to draw 500,000 youth and the racecourse is the only venue capable of accommodating such large numbers.
However, angry horse trainers say they’re staying put and the closing events for WYD should be held elsewhere.
The trainers argue that the event would cause great business losses in terms of lost training time and alternative accommodations for their horses.
A few months ago, they proposed that the Catholic Church provide them with compensation for the 10 weeks leading up to the event that WYD organizers said they would need to prepeare the racecourse for the Pope’s visit.
But trainers were angered when, instead of offering compensation, the local Church announced that the racecourse would be out of action for only three days. Training would be allowed to proceed while the preparations are underway. Trainers say this scenario puts their horses and business at risk, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.
A meeting of racing industry representatives passed a resolution yesterday accusing the Church of acting in bad faith and restated their request that the papal Mass be held elsewhere.
Furthermore, said the president of the Randwick Trainers Association, Anthony Cummings, the outbreak of an exotic equine influenza strain had only hardened trainers' resolve to resist any eviction.
According to the Herald, trainers have given WYD organizers a Friday deadline to provide a plan for alternative accommodation for up to 700 horses and guarantees for next year's event.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church said it was a matter for the local government to resolve as owner of the racetrack. Minister for Transport John Watkins told the Herald the government could not comment while negotiations are in process.
, Aug 29, 2007 (CNA) - Taliban militants have agreed to free 19 South Koreans on the condition that South Korea pull out its 200 troops by the year's end, end all missionary work in Afghanistan and stop its citizens from traveling there.
A Taliban representative, an official from the South Korean government and mediators met and issued a statement, saying that they had come to an agreement and the hostages would be released as soon as possible.
The rebels kidnapped 23 Christian charity workers from Ghazni province on July 19. They subsequently killed two male hostages, and freed two women.
The BBC reported that no exact release date has been given. But the Taliban have said they will start working immediately to free them.
There has been no mention of money being paid, but it is thought that a ransom may have been part of the deal.
The Christian church that the hostages belong to, near Seoul, said all the families were "rejoicing".
Caracas, Venezuela, Aug 29, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop Baltazar Porras Cardozo warned Venezuelans this week that the constitutional reforms proposed by President Hugo Chavez are leading the country towards a dictatorship similar to the Castro regime in Cuba or the Pinochet regime in Chile.
The archbishop recalled that democracy is based on the balance of powers and that many of the reforms proposed by Chavez are inspired by Communism. What is even more dangerous, he said, is that the proposals would make Chavez another Pinochet or Castro, “who are not the models of democratic virtues.”
Speaking to the Venezuelan daily “La Verdad,” Archbishop Porras said the Bishops’ Conference of Venezuela is studying the proposals made by Chavez and would soon meet to formulate a response.
He pointed out that in July the bishops warned that the government’s disregard for those who disagree “casts serious doubt on the democratic nature of the constitutional reform.” The hurried pace of the government’s effort to implement the reforms and submit them to a single yes or no vote “signals a lack of real participation,” he noted.
Archbishop Porras said he has yet to see an openness on the part of the government to all the people of Venezuela, rather than “to just those who say Amen to everything it does.” He called the proposed reforms “profound changes in Venezuelan society itself.”
The archbishop also called on the government to “solve the problems at home” first before “sending Venezuelan money abroad.”
In response to the Chavez’s statement that the purpose of his reforms is to bring “greater happiness to Venezuelans,” Archbishop Porras noted that happiness “is not imposed or voted in by the majority.” Unity in society is achieved only through dialogue and work, he said, “not through the imposition of an ideological system.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug 29, 2007 (CNA) - Caritas Argentina has noted that the national Day of Solidarity which was celebrated on August 26, also coincided with the birthday of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and was a reminder of her commitment to be in tune “with the pain and suffering of those most excluded” and her example of “service and love.”
Bishop Fernando Maria Bargallo, president of Caritas Argentina, noted that “solidarity is such a part of the Argentinean people that it makes us proud to see it spontaneously manifested in response to so many emergencies and adversities.”
“The suffering of others moves us because, thanks be to God, our hearts still beat with feelings,” he added.
However, he noted, “the enormous poverty and marginalization that so many still suffer should make us strengthen and sustain this solidarity that defines us a people.” “We need to transform solidarity into a fundamental social virtue, as defined by John Paul II,” the archbishop said.
He concluded his comments by encouraging Argentineans to express their solidarity with those affected by the August 15 earthquake in Peru.
Mexico City, Mexico, Aug 29, 2007 (CNA) - Armageddon Films has released a new film by producer and director Paco del Toro, entitled “Saint Death,” which focuses on the bizarre devotion that has become popular among some in Mexico.
The 100 minute-long film looks into what’s behind the devotion to “Saint Death,” who grants apparent “miracles” but afterwards “requires payment” for the favors granted. The main characters in the film pray to “Saint Death” for good health, fortune and love, but at a high price.
Rubi, played by Karla Alvarez, is a worried mother whose daughter has only a few days left in her battle against cancer. She desperately turns to anything for help, including to Saint Death. Her husband Pablo, played by Harry Geithner, begins to argue with her over the altar she has set up in their home. The paranormal phenomenon that they experience in their home leads to a loss of peace and sense that something is not right. Their daughter Perlita, played by Ana Sofia Camacho, is caught up in the promises her mother made to Saint Death in return for her cure.
Meanwhile, Gustave, played by Julio Casado, is experiencing unemployment and is drowning in debts. Completely in love with Cecilia, played by Wendy Braga, a woman who only cares about luxuries and comfort, Gustavo ends up trying to meet her every whim. His luck suddenly changes when his friend Mauro, played by Mario Zaragoza, encourages him to have a devotion to Saint Death. Gustavo will get everything that he wants, in return for practicing his devotion for the rest of his life.
The devotion to Saint Death, who is depicted as a skeleton dressed in a tunic and holding a sickle, has become popular among many Mexicans. It is believed that the devotion began in Veracruz in the early 19th century. The devotion is also present in other countries of Latin America, including Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina.
In Mexico the devotion has some two million followers who “pray” to Saint Death for revenge or to escape punishment for crimes.
“The devotion to Saint Death,” says director Paco del Toro, “has spread greatly throughout Latin America. Its incredible that people adore a skeleton and even call it a ‘saint,’ when God refers to death in Scripture as ‘an enemy that will be destroyed at the end’.”
“I think it is all a consequence of the need of the human being to fill the spiritual emptiness of his heart and of the mixture of beliefs and doctrines that circulate in society today,” Toro added.
“Unfortunately for those who pray to ‘Saint Death,’ the devil, who is the one who performs all these miracles and favors, never gives you anything for free, he always demands payment, if not in this life, in the next,” he said.
“Saint Death” hits theaters in September.
Los Angeles, Calif., Aug 29, 2007 (CNA) - While universities are known to be places where bright minds expand the frontiers of knowledge, in a new documentary, Ben Stein has found that scientists in these institutions are being stifled and prohibited from straying from ideas that don’t agree with the Big Bang Theory.
According to Motive Entertainment, Ben Stein, famous for his role as the monotone teacher from the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and the TV show, “The Wonder Years”, “is on a journey to answer one of the biggest questions ever asked: Were we designed or are we simply the end result of an ancient mud puddle struck by lightning?”
Throughout his journey, Stein discovers scientists who “have had their reputations destroyed and their careers ruined by a scientific establishment that allows absolutely no dissent from Charles Darwin’s theory of random mutation and natural selection.” The movie reveals how educators “are being ridiculed, denied tenure and even fired in some cases for the fact that they believe there is evidence of “design” in nature, challenging the idea that life is a result of random chance.”
“The incredible thing about ‘Expelled’ is that we don’t resort to manipulating our interviews for the purpose of achieving the ‘shock effect,’ something that has become common in documentary film these days,” said Walt Ruloff, co-founder of Premise Media and co-Executive Producer.
“People will be stunned to actually find out what elitist scientists proclaim, which is that a large majority of Americans are simpletons who believe in a fairy tale. Premise Media took on this difficult mission because we believe the greatest asset of humanity is our freedom to explore and discover truth.”
“Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” is scheduled for release in February 2008. For more information on Ben Stein’s journey visit www.expelledthemovie.com.