Vatican City, Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - On the occasion of the 45th Social Week, which is being held this week in the Italian cities of Pistoia and Pisa, Pope Benedict sent a message to the head of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco. The Holy Father asserted in his letter that respect for life and the protection of marriage and the family are not just Catholic values, they are human values.
The theme for this year’s Social Week is: “The common good today: a commitment that comes from afar." The Pope affirmed that this theme "still maintains all its importance.”
The pontiff spoke directly to lay men and women about their role in society saying that they must “work for a correct ordering of society ... and to cooperate in the just organization of social life together with all other citizens, each according to their skills and under their own autonomous responsibility."
Countering the assertion by some segments of society that marriage, the family and the right to life are solely religious issues, Pope Benedict XVI reasoned that "[t]hese are not just 'Catholic' values and principles, but shared human values to be protected and safeguarded, like justice, peace and the defense of creation."
He went on to say that "respect for life and the attention that must be given to the needs of the family based on marriage between a man and a woman," are issues that cannot be ignored.
In Italian society, one concrete situation where the family must be protected and promoted is job security. "[W]hen lack of job-security does not allow young people to build their own family, the authentic and complete development of society is seriously compromised," the Pope said.
The Pope invited Italian Catholics to respond to these challenges "not by giving up and withdrawing into themselves but, on the contrary, with renewed dynamism, opening themselves trustingly to new relationships and not neglecting any of the energies capable of contributing to cultural and moral growth."
Alexandria, Va., Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, issued the following statement today following the failure of the U.S. House of Representatives to override President Bush's veto of a compromise bill to strengthen and improve the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), a highly successful program that provides health insurance coverage to poor children. The vote was 273-156, short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.
"It is disappointing that there were not enough House members willing to stand up for children and vote to override this ill-conceived veto of a bill that would have helped so many children without health insurance.”
"Because of President Bush's veto and the 156 House members who voted to uphold it, thousands of poor children living in every state will not receive health insurance coverage that they would have received under this legislation. Their actions put the health of many of our nation's children at risk.”
"The veto may have blocked this bill, but it cannot stop our commitment to the most vulnerable in our society. Catholic Charities USA calls on Congress and the White House to work together to find agreement on a bill that provides this critically needed health coverage to more poor children."
Hollywood, Calif., Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - The Catholic Association has launched the Bella for Life project to use the new movie's pro-life themes to encourage and expand pro-life activities around the nation.
Bella is a film about a New York City waitress who struggles with an unexpected pregnancy and the friend who helps her through her hardship. The movie won top honors at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival and it will soon be shown in 26 U.S. cities one week from today.
Michael Hernon, president of The Catholic Association, believed the movie provides a pro-life role model. "The main actor in Bella reaches out to a woman in a troubled pregnancy and becomes a "lifeguard". This is the subtle but very powerful message of life, hope and the power we all have to change people's lives. Bella for Life will be trying to build a new army of lifeguards for our world," he said.
US Representative Christopher Smith and his wife have endorsed the movie in a letter. "Bella is a movie we have seen, enjoyed, enthusiastically support, and welcome in the ongoing struggle to change hearts and minds on abortion. ...It is a message of hope, love, and life that can save lives. In fact, it already has," they wrote.
Bella for Life will use its website www.bellaforlife.org and other media to connect people to their local pregnancy center. Mr. Hernon encouraged parishes and Catholic groups to use the movie as an opportunity to spread the gospel of life.
The movie will have a limited release beginning Friday, October 26. The movie will be more broadly available only if attendance is high at its initial screenings. Locations for initial screenings are reported on the movie’s website at http://www.bellathemovie.com
Vatican City, Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - Officials at St. Peter’s Basilica said this week the tomb of John Paul II, located in the catacombs of the church, receives an uninterrupted number of visitors, fluctuating between seven and twenty thousand per day.
Officials said the constant flow of pilgrims to the tomb of Pope Wojtyla requires special management by basilica officials. The usual flow is around seven to ten thousand visitors per day, but on days in which there are public events in St. Peter’s Square or at the Paul VI Hall the number swells to twenty thousand.
Vatican City, Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - During a forty-minute meeting on Thursday morning at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI met with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to discuss issues related to human life and the family, which are currently at the center of political debate in Chile.
According to the Holy See’s Press Office, "The cordial discussions provided an opportunity for an exchange of information and ideas on the sociopolitical situation of the country and its role in Latin America.” "Themes of common interest were considered, such as human life and the family, education, human rights, justice and peace and other important questions on the international agenda,” the Press Office reported.
"Attention also turned to the positive contribution made by the Catholic Church to Chilean society, especially in the social and educational fields," officials said.
The audience took place at the Pope’s private library and at its conclusion members of Bachelet’s entourage exchanged greetings with the Holy Father. Officials accompanying the Chilean president included Senator Eduardo Frei, Supreme Court Justice Enrique Tapia and Representative Patricia Walker.
President Bachelet gave the Pope a sculpture representing the feast of Cuasimodo, one of the most popular religious events in Chile, as well as a book on forty Chilean churches. The Pope gave Bachelet the Pontifical medal of gold.
After meeting with the Holy Father, Bachelet met with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Valletta, Malta, Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - Rebecca Gomperts, the Dutch foundress and director of the organization Women on Waves, visited Malta this week to promote abortion. The mostly Catholic population denounced her presence, and the public events she was supposed to lead ended up taking place behind closed doors.
Women on Waves operates the so-called “Abortion Ship,” which takes women from countries where abortion is illegal into international waters to perform the procedure. According to Lifesitenews.com, Gomperts visited the Maltese capital “to deliver a lecture titled, ‘The Right to a Dignified Motherhood: The Crucial Abortion Issue.’ A Maltese correspondent with LifeSiteNews.com said that the visit was met with ‘an overwhelming opposing reception’.”
As the strongly pro-life Maltese protesters, organized by the Gift of Life Foundation, stood in a silent candle-light vigil outside, Gomperts spoke to invitation-only media at the Castille Hotel in Valetta last Wednesday. She told the media that her particular aim was promoting the RU-486 “abortion tablets” that she claimed are safer than giving birth.
“Many women do not know of the existence of medical [chemical] abortion and that's one of my goals in Malta, to make them aware that if they can obtain the medicine they can do it safely themselves in the first nine weeks,” she said. Gomperts claimed that “a small number” of Maltese women had contacted her privately to arrange abortions on her ship.
Gomperts, who has two children, dismissed the existence of post-abortion syndrome, and told the press that being a mother has only strengthened her support for abortion. Employing a long used abortion slogan familiar to pro-life advocates around the world, she said, “Every child has a right to be a wanted child.”
Asked if she had ever had an abortion herself, the 41 year-old Dr. Gomperts’ hesitation surprised Times of Maltese reporter Ariadne Massa who called the response “unexpectedly punctuated by moments of silence”.
“I don't think that... erm... The erm... The reason why I hesitate to answer this question is because by making it... erm... I think I am a woman like all the others,” she said. “Like I said, 46 million women have an abortion each year, so I don't think that my personal experience in that matter makes a difference.”
Gomperts’ visit was organized by Dr. Emmy Bezzina, Malta’s most prominent abortion activist whose fringe political party, the Alpha Liberal Party, promotes abortion and divorce, positions strongly opposed by a majority of Maltese who remain strongly faithful to their Catholic religious heritage in the face of secularizing pressure.
Vatican City, Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - In a letter Pope Benedict XVI wrote to Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco on the occasion of the 45th Social Week of Italian Catholics, the pontiff declared that the Church has a role to play in the political realm.
At the end of his letter, which deals with the need for people to work for the common good, the Holy Father turned his attention to "a specific area" which "stimulates Catholics to question themselves: that of the relationship between religion and politics.”
Many Western governments operate on the principle of the separation of Church and State and the Pope explained that Jesus offers a way to live that respects both entities. “The absolute novelty brought by Jesus is that He opened to way to a freer and more human world, with full respect for the distinction and autonomy that exists between what is of Caesar and what is of God," Benedict XVI said.
Rather than the Church being completely separated from the political realm, Pope Benedict XVI said, "[t]he Church, then, if on the one hand she recognizes she is not a political player, on the other she cannot but concern herself with the good of the entire civil community, in which she lives and operates." "To that community she offers her particular contribution, forming the political and business classes to a genuine spirit of truth and honesty, with the aim of searching for the common good and not for individual profit."
Washington D.C., Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, commented on a recent Supreme Court decision that halted the execution of a Virginia inmate. The injunction was made so the court could consider whether lethal injections constitute an unconstitutional "cruel and unusual" punishment.
"At issue is not the constitutionality of the death penalty itself, but rather the specific way in which the lethal injections work, and the question of whether the person being executed might experience excruciating pain and yet not be able to express that because of the paralyzing effects of the drug," said Father Pavone.
He continued: "It brings to mind the 'Fetal Pain Awareness Act,' a bill which gives that same consideration to unborn children being ripped apart by abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and beyond. Credible studies have raised the possibility that these children feel pain in the process of being aborted. Like the death row inmate, however, they can't express that pain."
Father Pavone called for the same humanitarian concern shown to the convict to be extended to the unborn children painfully executed in abortions.
, Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - A school board in Portland, Maine has approved a proposal to provide middle-schoolers at one city school with contraceptive pills and patches, FoxNews.com reports.
The proposal, passed by a 5-2 vote, would supply contraceptives to students in grades six through eight who have parental permission to be treated at the middle school health center.
Diane Miller, who said she has worked as a school nurse in another district for eight years, called the proposal "tragic" and asked "What would God have us do?"
Miller said the plan gives children an adult responsibility they are not ready for, and puts them at risk from sexually transmitted disease and emotional problems. "I just don't know how we can even look at this and consider it," she said.
Another speaker, a former middle school teacher, voiced concerns about the rights of parents and the cancer risk young girls face from early use of contraceptives. "You all are going to be responsible for the devastating effects on young women when this goes through," he said.
Supporters of the measure cited concerns about children whose parents are irresponsible or uninvolved.
The school's health center has provided condoms to students since 2002. Birth control prescriptions will be given to students after a physical examination by a physician or a nurse practitioner. Students must have written permission to be treated at the center, but state law requires such treatment to be confidential. Five of the 134 students who used the center in the last school year reported having sexual intercourse.
Sacramento, Calif., Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - According to a study published last month in the Californian Journal of Health Promotion, there were 1.1 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among young Californians in 2005, the California Catholic reports.
The figure is ten times higher than previously believed. If the study is accurate, diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HPV, and HIV now infect almost one out of four Californians in the 15-24 age group.
The authors believe that their figures are underestimated because of incomplete screening of sexually active young people and failures in follow-up testing.
The California Department of Education reports that 96 percent of California school districts provide comprehensive sexual health education. All California schools have been required to teach HIV/AIDS prevention since 1992.
According to Chris Weinkopf, editorial-page editor of the Los Angeles Daily News, state law prohibits 'abstinence-only' education in public schools. California has also refused to accept millions of dollars in federal funding for abstinence education.
Linda Klepacki, sexual health analyst for Focus on the Family Action, thought the dramatic increase was unsurprising. "California has insisted on teaching contraceptive-based sex education in their schools all along. They expect teens to be sexually active. They don’t raise the health standard to abstinence… It's clear California supports sexually active teens, and STI rates will naturally explode with these policies," she wrote in an on-line press release.
Plan B, the so-called "morning-after pill," could be another factor contributing to the increase in STIs. Sexually transmitted infections soared in the British Isles when Plan B was made available without prescription in 2000. California was one of the first states to permit the sale of Plan B over-the-counter without an age limit.
Along with the increase in sexually transmitted infections, there has also been a striking increase in the suicide rates among young people. UCLA psychiatrist Dr. Miriam Grossman has argued that promiscuity is the root cause of much depression. She believes the promiscuity-depression-suicide link is being ignored by doctors who fail to caution students about the dangers of the "hook-up" culture.
San Francisco, Calif., Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - Video of San Francisco's Archbishop George Niederauer giving Holy Communion to two transvestites from the homosexual group "Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence" provoked controversy and an apology from the archbishop. The archbishop asked forgiveness for giving Holy Communion to group members and rebuked the group for the disrespect its mock religious dress shows for religious sisters. The San Francisco Chronicle reports some reactions from the city’s Catholics.
"It's been all the news in Catholic circles," said Bill May, chairman of the San Francisco-based Catholics for the Common Good. "Catholics are hurt, frustrated and a bit angry because nobody is standing up and saying this is not right. This is a desecration of the Eucharist. They were there to make a statement and embarrass the archbishop and, in doing so, they desecrated what is most sacred and dear to every Catholic in the world."
Fr. Jim Bretzke S.J., professor of moral theology at the University of San Francisco, claimed certain principles should be at work in the distribution of Holy Communion. "The general sacramental principle is that you don't deny the sacrament to someone who requests it," he said. "The second principle is that you cannot give communion to someone who has been excommunicated."
He said such people are designated "manifest public sinners" in canon law. "This is someone who violates in a serious way one of the Ten Commandments or one of the important laws of the Church," Father Bretzke explained. He continued: "the sisters do not meet the criteria the church has for denying Communion. Over-accessorizing and poor taste in makeup is not an excommunicable offense."
In fact, manifest public sinners are not necessarily excommunicated. A 2004 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith examined the matter. In the document, called "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion," then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, explained that the minister of Holy Communion must refuse the sacrament to someone obstinately persisting in "manifest grave sin" even if he or she has not been excommunicated.
Mexico City, Mexico, Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop Robles Ortega of Monterrey, who will receive the red hat from Pope Benedict XVI on November 24, recounted to reporters this week the reaction of his elderly parents to the news that he will soon be a cardinal.
The 58 year-old archbishop is from Mascota, Mexico, and is the third of sixteen children, of whom fifteen are still living. His father is now 90 and his mother 80.
“I should acknowledge that my parents have always lived in an atmosphere of faith, they taught us to live that way, to live under the providence of God, under his loving gaze, and therefore my parents interpret everything that happens in life as a grace which they already know neither I deserve it nor do they,” he explained.
“They taught us to see life in this way. We don’t deserve anything, God is good, he is our Father and as such He shows us the way,” the cardinal-elect said.
He said that when he told his parents the news, they were very moved, “because they know that this is a very special grace, but they also know it is a responsibility, and as believers and persons of faith, they immediately take refuge in the strength of prayer.”
“They told me: ‘Take courage, just as the Lord has helped you before, He will continue to help you with this responsibility and we will continue to pray for you together with your siblings as we have always done,” Archbishop Ortega said.
Madrid, Spain, Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, said this week he hopes the beatification of 498 Spanish martyrs on October 28 will bring “a triple fruit of holiness, mission and reconciliation” to the Church in Spain.
During a Mass celebrated in honor of the upcoming beatification, the cardinal underscored that of the total number of future blessed, three were from Madrid, 232 studied in Madrid and 176 were martyred there. “They were not responsible for what happened in Spain at that time,” the cardinal said. They gave their lives to God in the “most sublime” way and they witnessed to their executioners. The Church, he pointed out, “has rewarded our martyrs who gave their lives for Christ, for the Church and for their brethren.”
During the homily, Cardinal Rouco also mentioned the need for Christians to be missionaries, as that is “a direct, complete and authentic way” of being a witness of Christ.
Lastly, he invited the faithful to see the martyrs as “intercessors” in the reconciliation process in Spain.
The martyrs did not die for social, political or human interests, “they died for Christ, but they were not belligerent,” the cardinal said. “They only brought words of forgiveness, true reconciliation and peace.”
Hollywood, Calif., Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - Today marks the release of Promenade Picture’s first venture into the faith and family arena with the movie, the Ten Commandments. Hollywood legend Frank Yablans’ latest venture was not intended to cause controversy, but their ads have been receiving attention due to a refusal to include the phrase, “chosen by God” in advertisements and promotions aired by Disney.
The script reads:
Narrator: One of the greatest stories of all time is now an animated movie event for the entire family ... "The Ten Commandments."
God: Moses, give them my message and they will follow you out of Egypt.
Narrator: An ordinary man, an extraordinary calling.
Moses: Let my people go!
Narrator: With Ben Kingsley, Christian Slater, Alfred Molina and Elliott Gould. ... chosen by God.
Moses: On to the promised land!
Narrator: 'The Ten Commandments,' Rated G. Now in theaters. Check your local listings.
An email sent by a Radio Disney Network sales associate read, "Our BS&P [Broadcast Standards and Procedures] said both scripts need to include the studio mention and omit the following line: CHOSEN BY GOD.... Please let me know if you have any questions."
Radio Disney reported that it requested the deletion of the phrase “chosen by God” because the original script made it sound as though the actors were chosen by God, not Moses, as was the intended meaning.
"In connection with the Ten Commandments, I did find it offensive," said Cindy Bond, Promenade president and Chief Operating Officer. "God in our movie is the main character. You rip the whole guts out of the piece."
Promenade complied with Disney’s request due to the fact that Disney has the ability to reach the film’s youthful target audience.
To walk away from a place that has our exact core audience ... I ordered the spot to be re-cut and re-edited," Bond said. "If you get them into the theater, they'll hear plenty about God."
"The goal of the movie and the goal of the whole series is to interest people in the greatest stories ever told and what we feel were the greatest superheroes that ever existed," Bond said.
Promenade’s founder, Frank Yablans, decided to make his latest film because so many Americans are ignorant of the biblical Decalogue. When they conducted research for promoting the film, it was discovered that more Americans can name ingredients to the Big Mac than the 10 Commandments.
Rick Schirmer of Promenade told CNA that, “Frank is doing this film because, as he said, ‘he owes God one.’” While the fledgling film company was approached by several major studios with offers to help produce the movie series, Promenade turned them all down so that they could maintain creative control and ensure faithfulness to the biblical stories.
Vatican City, Oct 19, 2007 (CNA) - The Vatican witnessed an unprecedented event today as the Pope received the first delegation to ever come from the Mennonite World Conference. Benedict XVI welcomed the group which split from the Catholic Church in the 16th century and noted that they are to be commended for their longstanding witness to peace.
"The Mennonites are part of the Anabaptist tradition of the Reformation," explains a communique issued by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. "To use a modern term, the Mennonites could be described today as pacifists.”
“For their views on Baptism which, they feel, should be administered only to people capable of making autonomous decisions, they were subject ... to persecution in both Protestant and Catholic countries." In 1986 and 2002, the leaders of the Mennonite World Conference accepted John Paul II's invitation to participate in the meetings for peace in Assisi.
"In the ecumenical spirit of recent times, we have begun to have contacts with each other after centuries of isolation," the Pope told the Mennonite leaders in his English-language talk. "Since it is Christ Himself who calls us to seek Christian unity, it is entirely right and fitting that Mennonites and Catholics have entered into dialogue in order to understand the reasons for the conflict that arose between us in the sixteenth century. To understand is to take the first step towards healing."
"Mennonites are well known for their strong Christian witness to peace in the name of the Gospel, and here, despite centuries of division, the dialogue report 'Called Together to be Peacemakers' has shown that we hold many convictions in common. We both emphasize that our work for peace is rooted in Jesus Christ," said the Pope.
Catholics and Mennonites "both understand that 'reconciliation, non violence, and active peacemaking belong to the heart of the Gospel.' Our continuing search for the unity of the Lord's disciples is of the utmost importance. Our witness will remain impaired as long as the world sees our divisions,” Benedict remarked.
The Pope concluded his address by expressing the hope that the visit "will be another step towards mutual understanding and reconciliation."