Vatican City, Nov 7, 2007 (CNA) - During his general audience this morning, the Holy Father spoke to the 40,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square about the necessity of living in personal dialogue with Scripture, a dialogue that “takes place in communion with the living Church.”
Pope Benedict pointed the faithful to the example of St. Jerome as an inspiration to live in closer contact with the Word of God.
St. Jerome, who was born into a Christian family around the year 347, "placed the Bible at the center of his life: he translated it into Latin, commented on it in his writings and, above all, undertook to put it into concrete practice during his long earthly life."
This Father of the Church "received a careful education" in Rome. "Having been baptized," he was attracted to "the ascetic life" departing "for the East where he lived as a hermit in the desert. ... He perfected his knowledge of Greek and began to study Hebrew, transcribing codices and patristic works. Meditation, solitude and contact with the Word of God brought his Christian sensibility to maturity."
When Jerome returned to Rome, Pope Damasus engaged him as secretary and counselor. Following the pontiff's death, Jerome went back to the Holy Land, settling in Bethlehem where he remained until his death in 419 or 420, all the while "continuing his intense activities."
In Bethlehem, St. Jerome "commented on the Word of God, defended the faith and vigorously opposed various heresies. He exhorted monks to perfection, taught classical and Christian culture to young pupils, and showed great pastoral solicitude in welcoming
pilgrims visiting the Holy Land."
"His literary education and his vast learning enabled Jerome to revise and translate many biblical texts" thus achieving "a vital task for the Latin Church and for Western culture."
The saint also "energetically and vigorously refuted heretics who attacked the tradition and faith of the Church. He demonstrated the importance of Christian literature, which by then was worthy to bear the confrontation with classical literature," having become part of "a true Christian culture."
"From Jerome," Pope Benedict taught, "we must learn to love the Word of God in Holy Scripture," because to ignore it "is to ignore Christ." Hence it is important "to live in contact and living dialogue" with Scripture.
"Such dialogue must have two dimensions. On the one hand it must be a truly personal dialogue ... because God has a message for each one of us. We must read Scripture not as words from the past but as the Word of God Who talks to me, and seek to understand what the Lord is telling me."
However, "in order not to fall prey to individualism, we must bear in mind that the Word of God is given to us to build communion, to unite us in that truth, in that path. ... The Word of God, though it is always personal, is always a Word that builds ... the Church. For this reason we must always read it in communion with the living Church. And the privileged place for listening to the Word of God is the liturgy."
"The Word of God transcends time," the Pope concluded. "Human opinions come and go, ... the Word of God is the word of eternal life. It carries eternity within and is valid forever."
Vatican City, Nov 7, 2007 (CNA) - In his address to the Portuguese pilgrims in today's general audience, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his sadness over a recent traffic accident in Portugal which claimed the lives of 13 people and injured 24.
"May the strong arm of the heavenly Father," he said speaking Portuguese, "protect and console everyone. To the families affected by this tragedy and to those working to alleviate its consequences, I give assurances of my particular solidarity and prayers."
The accident, which took place in western Portugal on Monday, involved a head-on collision between a car and a bus of elderly passengers who were returning to Castelo Branco from a visit to the Shrine of Fatima.
Denver, Colo., Nov 7, 2007 (CNA) - Dante Alighieri wrote "The Divine Comedy" in the early decades of the 14th century. Nearly 700 years later, this epic poem remains one of the great achievements of human literature. As art, Dante's use of language is supremely beautiful. But as a deeply Catholic work, it also offers an unforgettable portrait of the afterlife, following the author as he journeys through hell (Inferno), purgatory (Purgatorio) and finally heaven (Paradiso).
Even today, reading your way through the nine circles of hell can be frightening. They're uncomfortably real. The poem's power comes not just from Dante's genius, but from his faith that fueled his skill. Dante created the imaginary specifics of his hell, purgatory and heaven, but there isn't any doubt that he believed — vividly — in the reality of the afterlife. For Dante, a good or a bad life had very different destinations.
Of course, Dante's roadmap of eternity is just one poet's rendering of what the Church actually teaches about the afterlife. Since the time of the Apostles, Christians have always believed that life after physical death is real; so are heaven and hell; and so is the Evil One. The devil, in Christian thought, may not have medieval horns and a tail, but "he" (for the want of a better pronoun) is nonetheless personal, intelligent, the enemy of God and humanity, and very real. The fact that Dante's portrait of Satan seems impossible to the modern mind does not mean that Satan doesn't exist. In fact, if you want an alarmingly reasonable portrait of hell, simply read C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce" or "The Screwtape Letters."
Thinking about the devil and damnation should play a secondary role in any Christian life. Our focus should be on God's light, not on the shadows outside it. But we'd do well to remember that while our time in this world is brief, our lives do have eternal consequences. Our choices and actions here matter. They fashion us into the kind of persons able to be happy with God forever, or unable to bear his presence. In Catholic thought, heaven and hell are not necessarily "places" any more than eternity is an endless amount of "time." These concepts help us to imagine what lies outside our experience, but they're human words with human meanings. All we really know about heaven and hell – and it's more than enough – is that heaven will be our conscious, unending, joyful union with God and all others who love him; and that hell will be the terrible pain of rejecting God, forever, because we cannot bear his love.
And one of the most beautiful or frightening qualities of our eternity will be the knowledge that we freely cooperated in creating it for ourselves.
As the Church year closes and we look toward a new beginning in Advent, Catholics traditionally set aside November to pray for the dead and to reflect on the direction of our own lives. All of us will face the "Four Last Things" — death, judgment, hell or heaven — because all of us will die, and so too will every person we love. Most of us will face them sooner than we'd like. But thinking about our mortality is not "morbid." It's thoroughly realistic and Christian, because our final home is not in this world.
The irony of Dante's "The Divine Comedy" is that we often remember it most vividly for its portrait of eternal loss, when in fact it is the tribute paid by one of humanity's greatest creative minds to God's glory, beauty, justice, mercy and, above all, love. That fatherly love, God's love, is meant eternally for each of us. Reflecting on our death and judgment this November, and allowing God to lead us to repentance and the sacrament of reconciliation — this is the only roadmap to eternity that matters, and the one that most surely leads home to heaven.
Dubuque, Iowa, Nov 7, 2007 (CNA) - After having weighed all possibilities, Sam Brownback has decided to give his endorsement to Senator John McCain, the Associated Press reports. The backing could give McCain support amongst religious conservatives, especially in the critical state of Iowa.
Republican officials say Brownback will announce his support for McCain on Wednesday in Dubuque, Iowa, and then travel with the candidate to campaign in two other cities in the state. Following the Iowa stops, the Detroit News reports that McCain and Brownback will travel back to Michigan where they will hold an afternoon press conference.
The impact of Brownback’s support is unclear, but one possible gain for McCain is the grassroots network of conservative Christian support the Kansas senator had built in Iowa.
Brownback built this group by emphasizing his rock-solid opposition to abortion, gay marriage and other issues important to the party's right flank, but was unable to convince voters to back him.
A former campaign worker for Brownback, Jerry Zandstra, switched his support to John McCain last week saying that he is “the only pro-life candidate in the race with the ability to defeat (Democratic) Sen. Hillary Clinton.”
Zandstra said he will spend the next several weeks trying to “convince other pro-life leaders and Brownback supporters that John McCain is the best candidate for conservatives to support.”
Commenting on the pending announcement of Brownback’s support for McCain, Zandstra told the Detroit News, "I'm just really excited… American voters absolutely love the resurrection story, and this is the resurrection of John McCain. The old man is back."
McCain has had trouble gaining the conservative vote ever since he called Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell ''agents of intolerance'' during his bid for the White House in 2000. In 2004 he met with Falwell to reconcile but conservatives have been slow to forgive his misstep.
Brownback also held talks with Rudy Giuliani two weeks ago and emerged from the meeting with favorable words about the former mayor and his beliefs. His words caused a backlash from Brownback supporters because of Giuliani’s well known views in favor of abortion and homosexuality.
Nevertheless, the outcome of Brownback’s McCain endorsement remains to be seen as the political picture undergoes more definition in the coming months.
Front Royal, Va., Nov 7, 2007 (CNA) - The president of Human Life International has decried a New Jersey law effectively forbidding conscientious objections from pharmacists who are asked to fill prescriptions for abortion-causing contraception.
“When a state rejects the protection of individual consciences, that state loses its soul," said Reverend Thomas J. Euteneur, president of Human Life International.
The New Jersey law was sponsored by state Senator Joseph Vitale and signed into law by Governor Jon Corzine.
“In a free society, the rights of conscience are recognized. When the state abrogates those rights forcing citizens to violate their consciences as a condition for employment, then that state is no longer a free society,” said Father Euteneuer.
“This is not yet another action by government in America leading to tyranny, it is tyranny. Governor Corzine and Senator Vitale are no longer acting as American statesmen but as representatives of the Culture of Death, joining officials in eleven other states with this evil law.”
“This new precedent is a call for all Americans, especially Catholics and others who live by firm moral and religious principles, to take a hard look at what is happening in our country as the national elections approach," he said. “The day has come when the corner pharmacist, whom we trust and expect to be moral, can lose his or her job and even go to jail for refusing to dispense a pill that can kill a baby.”
CNA STAFF, Nov 7, 2007 (CNA) - Last week CNA published a report from the Italian daily “La Gazzetta dello Sport” stating that Bibles will not be allowed into the Olympic Village at the upcoming Olympic Games. Since then, CNA has learned that a contradictory set of policies has been put in place regarding the possession of the Bible at the international sporting event.
Making a slight change to its total ban on religious items, the Chinese Olympic Committee has decided, "devotional objects” will be allowed in compliance with Chinese "freedom of religion" laws, but “religious objects meant to propagate a cult” will not be permitted.
“La Gazzetta dello Sport” cites the Chief of Security Fu Qiang who said that he can't specify what objects are included under the item "propaganda" but can assure that personal religious items are permitted.
However, on the official website of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, a page titled "Entry and Exit: Entry" credited to the Beijing Tourism Administration reads:
"Any printed material, film, tapes that are 'detrimental to China's politics, economy, culture and ethics' are also forbidden to bring into China."
This is immediately followed by a caution about Bibles:
"Note: Each traveler is recommended to take no more than one Bible into China."
Chinese officials did not address the redefinition of the Bible as "propaganda" once the number of copies exceeds one.
The Cardinal Kung Foundation explains Chinese policy towards religion on its website: "The Chinese government views religion as a threat to its power. As a result, it restricts religious activities to government-sanctioned organizations and registered places of worship. It also seeks to stamp out those religious activities that are not government-sanctioned."
The Foundation labels as false the Chinese government's promise of freedom of religion, saying "China continues to commit serious violations of religious freedom and belief. The Chinese government severely and systematically persecutes members of China's spiritual communities, including Roman Catholics, Protestants, Evangelical Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims, and members of the Falun Gong movement."
The Cardinal Kung Foundation also protests that Olympic prestige is diminished by the Chinese government's injustices, writing that "the noble name of "Olympic" is being severely tarnished by its association with the evil spirit of religious persecutions and human rights violations in China. This is about the time for the Olympic Committee to consider canceling the games in China in order to preserve their good name and spirit."
Currently in China five Catholic bishops and fifteen priests are in prison for opposing the state-sponsored Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church.
To read the original story on the Olympic Village ban on Bibles click here.
To visit the policy on Bibles on the official website for the 2008 Beijing Olympics click here.
Montevideo, Uruguay, Nov 7, 2007 (CNA) - The Uruguayan Senate on Tuesday approved a measure to expand access to abortion by a vote of 18-13.
President Tavare Vazquez has repeatedly promised to veto the bill. If the bill is ratified, it will become the first national legislation in Latin America, outside of Cuba, to codify into law a right to abortion.
The legislation was voted down three weeks ago in a tie 15-15 vote, when the alternates of two absent senators either voted against it or abstained.
The law would establish a right to legal abortion during the first three months of pregnancy for virtually any reason. In the remaining two trimesters, it will permit abortion in cases of fetal deformity or threats to the mother's life.
Archbishop of Montevideo Nicolás Cotugno denounced the maneuvering of the country's pro-abortion groups, noting their political manipulation of procedure. According to ACI Prensa, he lamented that a law of such importance could be determined by the licentiousness of just a few senators.
An opinion poll last year showed a majority of Uruguayans favored decriminalizing abortion. Uruguay is the most liberal of Latin American countries, with lax divorce laws, low Mass attendance, and a high proportion of people who profess no religion.
President Vazquez, an obstetrician, has maintained his opposition to the law despite his socialist coalition's support for the measure.
Seoul, South Korea, Nov 7, 2007 (CNA) - In what the Archbishop of Seoul called "a sign of the times," the Catholic University of Korea has opened an institute dedicated to bioethics—the study of moral issues related to technology and medicine.
Called the Highly Specialized Institute for Bioethics in Asia, it is named after the Archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Nicholas Cheong. The institute has been approved by the Ministry for Education and the Development of Human Resources, and students have registered for the 2007-2008 school year, according to Fides. It is the first Asian institute of its type.
Scientists, doctors, theologians, and anthropologists will staff the institute. They will work out of two departments: Bioethics and Culture of Life. Courses are open to students, doctors, journalists, politicians, members of civic organizations, and other interested persons.
The first Dean of the School, Reverend Remigio Lee Dong-ik, stated: "Bioethics starts from a correct understanding of the human person, which has as its basis God's love for humanity. I expect our schools will help diffuse bioethics in a Christian spirit.”
Washington D.C., Nov 7, 2007 (CNA) - Executives of the internet company Yahoo! faced harsh criticism in the U.S. House of Representatives for cooperating with the Chinese government's suppression of political dissent and pro-democracy activists.
In a hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, legislators and corporate executives discussed the case of Chinese journalist Shi Tao, who was arrested by Chinese police after Yahoo! turned over personally identifying information on him. Tao was sentenced to 10 years in prison for "divulging state secrets abroad." The "state secret" China accused Shi Tao of violating was the journalist's distribution of a directive calling for censorship of news on the fifteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Representative Chris Smith(R-NJ) lambasted the company's assistance with Tao's arrest. “Everyone involved with China knows that when democracy and human rights activists, religious believers, and members of persecuted nationalities are arrested it is often for “violating state secrets.” It is the modus operandi of dictatorship. In effect, this charge means nothing more than that they told the truth about some misdeed of the Chinese government,” Smith said during the hearing.
The hearing focused upon the testimony of Yahoo! Senior Vice President and General Counsel Michael Callahan, who in a 2006 hearing had provided incomplete information about his employer's involvement in the arrest of Tao and other pro-democracy activists. Callahan initially testified his company had no information about the nature of the Chinese government's investigation into Tao.
The Dui Hua Foundation, a leading human rights organization in China, later provided evidence that Yahoo! had been informed that the investigation sought evidence from the internet company of Tao's “illegal provision of state secrets to foreign entities.”
When pressed by Representative Smith to settle in court with the arrested activists' families, Callahan responded “We absolutely will consider that.”
Rep. Smith is co-sponsoring a bill called the Global Online Freedom Act of 2007, which seeks to prohibit U.S. internet companies from cooperating with repressive regimes' suppression of pro-democracy dissent.
Madrid, Spain, Nov 7, 2007 (CNA) - On Sunday a man dressed as a clown interrupted Mass at the Church of Corpus Christi in Granada, Spain and destroyed the parish’s baptismal font.
Father Lauro, who was celebrating Mass at the time, said, “This young man is not the only one who comes around here. There are many who, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, enter the church daily. This kid has been showing up for the past week and he has even received Communion on a few occasions.” Although the police were able to track the man down after he fled from the church, the Augustinian Fathers who operate the parish asked that charges not be pressed, saying, “After all, there are so many on the streets, and we won’t gain anything.” However, he said he hoped police would keep them away from the church.
Isabel Lopez, 80, who was present at the Mass, said the disruption was “like a bomb.” “We were very frightened. We didn’t do anything because we were praying the rosary [before Mass] and we shouldn’t disrespect the Lord, even in those circumstances. So we just kept praying,” she said.
Lopez said every evening two or three people enter the church and disturb people who are praying.
The baptismal font, which dates to the 19th century, was completely destroyed.
, Nov 7, 2007 (CNA) - Just days after the governor of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil said abortion should be legalized in order to diminish the number of poor people in the country, Brazil’s federal government announced another measure for the same purpose: the country will produce generic contraceptive pills in order to offer them at much lower prices.
Officials said two companies would produce the pills which would cost 35 cents less than name-brand versions. A box of 21 pills will sell for eight dollars.
The measure is part of a social engineering plan launched in May by President Luiz Lula da Silva and is aimed at “the poorest” to give them access to drugs for family “planning”.
Rome, Italy, Nov 7, 2007 (CNA) - The Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community presented a proposal this week in Brussels to strengthen marriage and the family in the European Union. The document “Proposal for a Strategy of the European Union for the Support of Couples and Marriage” draws attention to challenges for families in Europe.
The document analyzes the difficulties marriage faces in Europe, such as the “demographic implosion” and the high rate of divorce “which has increased more than 50%.” The bishops hope the plan “strengthens that stable and responsible relationship between a man and a woman, of which marriage is the ideal expression.”
The Commission noted certain aspects of modern society that play a role in the crisis facing the family, such as “the emancipation of women, which is a welcome development,” as well as challenges that demand “a stable relationship that can respond to the multiple challenges of leading a professional career, raising children in a sometimes difficult environment and, perhaps, caring for older members of the family.”
The Commission denounced domestic violence as a cause of family break-ups and said it must be combated in order to prevent “juvenile delinquency.”
It also proposed sales tax breaks for families on “products that are essential for children,” and said that parents should be assisted in regulating the influence of the media on their families.
Caracas, Venezuela, Nov 7, 2007 (CNA) - The vice president of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Roberto Luckert said this week President Hugo Chavez’s attacks on the Church are due to his dislike of opinion polls that show the public does not support his proposed constitutional reforms.
The archbishop said Chavez should “bite his tongue” and stop being “rude” and “degrading.” He recalled that for several years he has criticized Chavez for his “belligerent aggressive attitude” and for “picking a fight with everyone.” “You can’t govern like this,” he said.
Archbishop Luckert said Chavez’s aggressive attitude was because his is bothered by the polls that show little support for his reform. “Nobody likes this reform,” he said, “and even his supporters are afraid to go to vote.”
The archbishop noted that Chavez himself invited Venezuelans to suggest ideas, “and the bishops simply expressed their opinions and judgments about what they consider the consequences of this reform would be.”
Chavez, he explained, wants to center everything on himself and not on the proposal of constitutional reform.