Vatican City, Sep 13, 2007 (CNA) - This morning in Castelgandolfo the Holy Father received the Letters of Credence of Jozef Dravecky, the new ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the Holy See. He encouraged the new diplomat to push for greater protection of the family in his country and the spread of the Christian culture that Slovakia is rooted in.
In his remarks, the Pope recalled how next year marks the 15th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Slovak Republic and the Holy See. The Pontiff’s remarks to the ambassador essentially consisted of comprehensive guidelines for helping revitalize Slovak culture.
Benedict began by thanking Mr. Dravecky for his reassurance that Slovakia is committed to fulfilling the two unresolved points of the "Basic Agreement" between the two States, regarding "conscientious objection and the financing of Church activities." The Holy Father also noted that he was pleased that the points concerning Catholic education and spiritual ministry to Catholics serving in the armed forces, have already been ratified.
On the subject of education, Benedict XVI reiterated the importance of States guaranteeing "the Church the freedom to establish and administer Catholic schools... Indeed, a solid education that nourishes all the dimensions of the human person, including the religious and spiritual, is in the interest of both Church and State. In this way, young people can acquire habits that will enable them to embrace their civic duties as they enter adulthood."
Pope Benedict was also sure to address the growing concern over a rise in the rate of divorce and out of wedlock births in Slovakia. "The family is the nucleus in which a person first learns human love and cultivates the virtues of responsibility, generosity and fraternal concern. Strong families are built on the foundation of strong marriages. Strong societies are built on the foundation of strong families.”
"Far from remaining indifferent to marriage," he added, "the State must acknowledge, respect and support this venerable institution as the stable union between a man and a woman who willingly embrace a life-long commitment of love and fidelity."
"The rich cultural and spiritual heritage of Slovakia holds great potential for revitalizing the soul of the European continent," said the Pope noting how the ambassador had "drawn attention to the heroic sacrifices made by countless men and women in your nation's history who, in times of persecution, labored at great cost to preserve the right to life, religious liberty, and the freedom to place oneself at the charitable service of one's neighbor."
Benedict XVI concluded by expressing the hope that "the celebrations marking the 1150th anniversary of Sts. Cyril and Methodius will renew Slovakia's vigor to bear witness to these timeless values. In this way, she will inspire other member States of the European Union to strive for unity while recognizing diversity, to respect national sovereignty while engaging in joint activity, and to seek economic progress while upholding social justic
Washington D.C., Sep 13, 2007 (CNA) - President Bush has withheld funding from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for the sixth straight year because it continues to engage in programs of forced abortion and sterilization. Over the last six years the president has refrained from giving the UNFPA $200 million under the Kemp-Kasten Amendment.
The research behind the president’s decision comes from work done by the Population Research Institute (PRI) between 1998 and 2001.
PRI found violations in several countries. Chinese family planning officials told investigators that there was "no distinction" between the work that they were doing in a given area of China and the UNFPA's work there.
They also discovered that the UNFPA itself spoke of coercive sterilizations in Peru in an internal report published in 2000, calling them "family planning decisions made external to the person." (The UNFPA later denied that this report existed.)
In 2000, the UNFPA smuggled abortion devices into Pakistan under the guise of reproductive health kits labeled "for safe delivery." Refugee women were pressured into accepting abortions.
Reacting to the findings, President Bush in 2001 decided to slash $34 million from the UNFPA budget, money that would have contributed directly to their forced family-planning accounts.
London, England, Sep 13, 2007 (CNA) - The bishops of England and Wales are asking for an exemption from new equality laws that could force them to ordain transsexuals as priests or allow them to become nuns.
The bishops said proposals to ban “indirect discrimination” against people who have had gender reassignment operations would take away their right to check baptismal and confirmation certificates which would show if candidates for the priesthood, religious life or marriage had a hidden past, reports the London Times.
“Many Christians believe, on strongly held religious grounds, that gender is given before birth and cannot be changed,” Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff reportedly said.
The government plans to change the law so that such records are altered when a person has such an operation. The bishops are asking that the Catholic Church be exempt from such a law. However, the government’s track record on giving the Church exemptions has not been good. Earlier this year, the government refused to give the Church an exemption from its new adoption law which make it illegal to prevent homosexuals from adopting children. (CNA coverage here)
Denver, Colo., Sep 13, 2007 (CNA) - One of the fastest growing college movements in the Catholic Church is continuing its expansion through an outreach to athletes.
The Fellowship of Catholic University Students - known as FOCUS – will launch Varsity Catholic this fall. Varsity Catholic will begin at the University of Nebraska, working in conjunction with St. Thomas Newman Center, and will serve both Catholic and non-Catholic student-athletes.
“Leaders need to be developed, and most coaches realize this,” said Thomas Wurtz, who is currently in his seventh year with FOCUS. Wurtz will direct Varsity Catholic.
“Varsity Catholic hopes to aid athletic programs in cultivating their athletes’ character, and aiding in their work of developing leaders both on and off the field,” he said.
“Athletes have always been faced with big pressure situations, which can be a heavy burden, especially for a young college-age athlete,” Wurtz said. “These days, big time college programs also bring the heavy burden of fame and status.”
Varsity Catholic hopes to help athletes succeed not only in their sport but also in their day-to-day life.
“Athletics has traditionally been a means of building character and virtue among the youth. More and more athletes have ridden on their superb talent, and character has slipped down on the list of characteristics that once was at the top,” Wurtz said. “Varsity Catholic’s goal is to show that character counts.”
Madrid, Spain, Sep 13, 2007 (CNA) - In an interview with the Spanish daily “La Razon,” Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, author of the book “Come Be My Light” and postulator of Mother Teresa’s cause of canonization, said the revered nun “lived a trial of faith, not a crisis of faith,” and that she overcame it showing that the love “is in the will and not in feelings.”
“Come Be My Light” is a collection of letters Mother Teresa written about various aspects of her life, some revealing that she suffered spiritual darkness for decades. Father Kolodiejchuk expressed regret that Time Magazine twisted the meaning of the book, whose title comes from “the words Jesus spoke to Mother Teresa in 1947. Time Magazine, even with the cover photo (of a Mother Teresa who appears depressed), has greatly manipulated world opinion. The book is about a trial of faith that Mother endured for 50 years, which is very different from a crisis of faith. This is not something new in the saints. This phenomenon of the dark night is well know in spiritual theology,” he said.
A Modern Trial
Father Kolodiejchuk recalled that Mother Teresa “always said the greatest poverty was to feel unloved, unwanted, alone, rejected…She felt that in her soul. Therefore her dark night could be called a ‘dark night of love.’ That was specifically hers.”
Her trial “is very ‘modern’,” he continued. “The saints of previous centuries loved the dark night as a questioning of their own salvation, as a trial of faith. Mother lived interior poverty, the ‘spiritual bareness.’ Jesus lived that [same] poverty and Mother was a pure instrument in his hands so that by living that darkness she might be a light for others.”
“She had no feelings,” Father Kolodiejchuk noted. “Thus she teaches us that we should not base our faith and love for God and others on what we feel. Today it’s popular to say: I don’t love anymore because I don’t feel anything. Love is in the will, not in the feelings,” he explained.
Father Kolodiejchuk explained that the dark night “is a moment in the spiritual life in which the person is purified before experiencing an intimate and transforming union with Christ. In fact, what we understand as the dark night was experienced by Blessed Mother Teresa when she was still in Loreto, the religious congregation where she began her surrender to God. The years of 1946-47 were a time of joyful and sweet intimate union with Jesus. ‘Jesus gave himself to me,’ Mother says in one of her letters. Mother’s union with Jesus was sort of ‘violent,’ deeply felt and experienced. Later, after beginning her work with the poor and founding the congregation, this new and prolonged darkness came upon her (it lasted 50 years, the rest of her life) which was no longer a preparation for another spiritual stage. She speaks about this darkness in the letters to her confessors and spiritual directors.”
“Mother lived her religious consecration as a union of love, as spousal surrender to Jesus, a union in which she shared everything with her beloved, with Jesus, the love of a spouse and a redeeming love: a love that is especially identified with the suffering of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and the abandonment of the Father which Christ experienced on the cross,” Father Kolodiejchuk stated. “In 1942, Mother vowed to never deny Jesus anything. It was soon afterwards when she heard Jesus say to her: ‘Come, be my light.’ At first Mother brought the ‘light’ even to places that were physically dark: many poor people did not have windows. She accepted her interior darkness in order to bring light to others. The Jesuit priest Father Neuner (one of her confessors) explained in 1962 that this dark night was the ‘spiritual side of her apostolic work’,” Father Kolodiejchuk said.
“In the book, through letters and writings collected for the process, you see her great story of love with Jesus, her falling in love from the beginning to the end, her ‘martyrdom of love,’ the immense care that nothing of her intimacy with Jesus would be made known [to others]: ‘Jesus is the only protagonist’,” Father Kolodiejchuk said.
Asked about her eventual canonization, Father Kolodiejchuk said it would be “the heroic proclamation of holiness, of heroic love. Mother Teresa wanted to ‘love Jesus like he had never been loved.’ There is still no miracle, a cure that doctors clearly see as unexplained by science. Since her beatification more than 1,800 people have reported receiving special favors. We still have to wait,” he said.
Sydney, Australia, Sep 13, 2007 (CNA) - The president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Philip Wilson, says its not too late for Amnesty International to reverse its new policy promoting access to abortion.
Archbishop Wilson said Amnesty’s shift away from a neutral stance on abortion is deeply regrettable.
“Catholic people have had a long association with Amnesty International, going right back to its inception and the two bodies have been closely aligned in their commitment to social justice,” he said.
But Amnesty’s new position on access to abortion is “at odds with the Catholic understanding of the dignity of the human person and sexuality,” he said.
“In adopting this position, Amnesty has moved to a concept of human rights founded not upon the good of the human person, but simply upon the autonomy of the individual.
He noted that some Catholic school groups have withdrawn from membership of Amnesty as a result.
Archbishop Wilson said he had written two letters on behalf Australia’s Catholic bishops during the past year, urging Amnesty International to abandon the policy change.
“It is not too late for Amnesty International to take stock of the damage being caused by this change of policy and to return to its former neutral stance on abortion,” he said. “I would urge them to do so.”
Manila, Philippines, Sep 13, 2007 (CNA) - The archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, and Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the Philippines, said this week that the sentencing to life in prison of former president Joseph Estrada for corruption is a warning for other public officials.
The sentence should be “a constant reminder to the people elected or appointed to serve. The moral in this is ‘BE MORAL’,” Cardinal Rosales said in a statement
He urged Filipinos to respect the rule of law and said the appeals process should take place in the courts, “instead of settling the score in the streets or elsewhere.” Archbishop Lagdameo said the bishops considered the verdict “a call to repentance and a call for change or conversion affecting not only the person of President Estrada but also many others in our government.”
Estrada was sentenced to 40 years in prison for two counts of corruption. He was also ordered to repay $86 million to the State.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sep 13, 2007 (CNA) - The Family Ministry of the Archdiocese of Parana (Argentina) has issued a statement underscoring that “abortion is never the solution for affirming or recovering the dignity of women.”
The statement was issued in response to the case of a 19 year-old handicapped girl who has been authorized by the courts to undergo an abortion because she conceived through rape. The statement emphasized that in this case, “the aberrant fact that has harmed the dignity of women is the rape” which “we strongly and firmly condemn.”
“Abortion is always a crime against an innocent person,” the statement indicated. As Blessed Mother Teresa said, “abortion is just as dangerous a threat as war, as innocent victims are turned against who have no voice to defend themselves.”
The statement also pointed out that the reasons used to justify abortion are not sufficient for nullifying a fundamental fact: the life of someone, of an unborn person, with all of her dignity, richness and respect is at risk.
“Only God is Lord of life and death. Nobody can arbitrarily decide who should be born and who should die,” the statement stressed. “To lay claim to this is the greatest act of discrimination that there can be.” The statement also affirmed that when there is a pregnancy, “the question ceases to be a private one and affects society itself. Children are not things, the exclusive property of those who engendered them. They are a gift to all of society.”
The Ministry for the Family pleaded to “allow this innocent child to live,” and offered “assistance to help the family during the pregnancy, birth and childhood of this person who is already alive among us. As the Church, we want to accompany those who are in such difficult situations as this one.”
Mexico City, Mexico, Sep 13, 2007 (CNA) - On Sunday, in the city of Coahuila, Mexico, 25 tons of ammonium nitrate that were being transported exploded, leaving 28 dead and 250 wounded. Bishop Raul Vera Lopez of Saltillo has responded by calling on the Mexican government to guarantee “the persons responsible for the deaths, mutilations, physical harm and property damage will be punished.”
While visiting victims of the blast in a local hospital, Bishop Vera said the government should also bear some responsibility for the accident because it did not provide the minimum conditions for the safe transport of the explosives.
Mexican officials said the drivers of the truck remain at large. According to local media reports, Orica SA, the company that owned the materials, says it is not responsible for the incident. The company says it has put into place “technical, administrative and human resources” to help officials in their investigation.
Bogotá, Colombia, Sep 13, 2007 (CNA) - In response to “overblown” media coverage of cases of sexual abuse by the clergy, Archbishop Victor Manuel Lopez Forero of Bucaramanga (Colombia) said this week such episodes are “the exception” and he chided the media for defaming the Church with the support of discredited individuals.
In an article published by the Colombian daily “El Frente,” Archbishop Lopez criticized the media for giving a voice to “morally bankrupt” people “unqualified to speak about this issue.”
“An atheist or resentful layman, a priest motivated by feelings of hatred and vengeance or a priest who has resigned his ministry over serious failings in the area of celibacy and chastity, or a seminarian who for similar reasons has been excluded from the Seminary, are the least qualified to speak about priestly fidelity. Neither can we consider as sound doctrine the whimsical opinion of an article or television show that is seeking celebrity and sells itself by denigrating others, especially the clergy and the Church,” the archbishop said.
“Priests are not hermits,” he continued, “but men who inevitably live in the world that is increasingly eroticized, in which the notions and values of sex have been turned on their head, and whose effects are just beginning to be seen. That is not to say that therefore priests are asking for the faults to be overlooked. But they do expect the facts to be judged with a bit more logic and common sense,” Archbishop Lopez stated. He also chided public officials and members of the media who suggest exaggerated and inhumane punishments for cases of sexual abuse, including “castration and public humiliation.”
He noted that the Church experiences great pain over cases of clergy abuse. However, he noted the tendency in some members of the media to take pleasure in the suffering of others. “To those to whom the Church is simply an object of their aversion, and sometimes their hatred, we simply say that we will not respond in kind: because we are Christians and Christians forgive and do not repay evil with evil.”
The archbishop stressed that the bishops continue to have great confidence in the vast majority of priests, who are “mature and virtuous men.” He noted that the Church reserves strict punishment, including removal from the clerical state, for those who are guilty of “shameful acts,” but that such sanctions cannot be applied without taking into account natural and canonical law, which “establishes appropriate procedures for these cases.”
“For every priest who fails there are many, many more who wake up each morning with the intention of offering their entire lives in service to the Church as witnesses of Jesus,” Archbishop Lopez said.
Kinyamasika, Uganda, Sep 13, 2007 (CNA) - St. Paul's Seminary in Kinyamasika, Uganda, is in need of expansion to accommodate a boom in priestly vocations.
At the moment, there are 152 theology students preparing for ordination, and the numbers are growing every year, Fr. Aquirinus Francis Kibira told Aid to the Church in Need.
Despite the growing number of vocations, Fr. Kibira said, there is still a shortage of priests in wide areas of Uganda. The parishes are very big and contain on average 40 to 50 smaller chapel-based communities, which themselves are made up of several villages. As a result, lay catechists play an important role.
Fr. Kibira said the seminarians are taught how to evangelize traditional African values. "It is important to proclaim the Gospel in such a way that it speaks to Africans, in a way that they understand. We strive to root the African cultures in the Gospel," he explained.
Africa has many positive values, such as respect for the elderly, hospitality and a strong sense of community. He encourages seminarians to reinforce these values in their pastoral work and to find ways of "preaching the Gospel of Christ to the African culture, so that Christ is made fully at home in Africa also".