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Archive of November 12, 2007

Sister Helen Prejean endorses New Jersey's death penalty abolition efforts

Trenton, N.J., Nov 12, 2007 (CNA) - New Jersey legislators are considering abolishing the state's death penalty within the next two months, the Associated Press reports.

The state has not executed anyone in 44 years.  If approved by the legislature and the governor, New Jersey would become the first state to abolish capital punishment since the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976.

Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts, Jr., speaking of the proposal, said "the time has come."

Speaker Roberts met with Sister Helen Prejean, the Catholic sister who is a famous death penalty abolitionist.  Her book "Dead Man Walking" told of her experience as a spiritual adviser to inmates on death row.  The book was made into an Oscar-winning movie.

Sister Prejean praised the legislative efforts.

"This is such a special moment," she said.  "New Jersey is going to be a beacon on the hill."

There are eight men on New Jersey's death row.

A relative of one man's victims called for the legislature to streamline the death penalty and put the question to voters.

Sharon Hazard-Johnson, whose parents were killed in their home in 2001 by Brian Wakefield, said voters would not approve.  "The majority would say that they are for the death penalty when it fits the crime."

Republicans, the minority party in the state, also said they would fight the proposal.

Governor Jon S. Corzine, a Democrat, is a death penalty opponent and has pledged his support for abolition.

The Assembly will vote on December 13 whether to reduce the death penalty to life in prison without parole.  The Senate is expected to vote on the measure before the end of the legislative session on January 8, though the vote has not yet been scheduled.

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Priest removed for "bringing scandal to the Church" in irregular funeral Mass

, Nov 12, 2007 (CNA) - A Baltimore pastor has been removed from ministry for celebrating a funeral Mass with an Episcopal minister, the Baltimore Sun reports.

Father Martin said a funeral Mass on October 15 at Our Lady of Good Counsel parish for local activist Ann Shirley Doda.

Several clergy, including Episcopal minister Reverend Annette Chappell, took part in the Mass.  Reverend Chappell read the Gospel at Mass, a task reserved to Catholic priests and deacons.  Though Reverend Chappell did not take part in the consecration, someone at the service reported that Father Martin gestured to her to receive Holy Communion, which may only be received by Catholics in a state of grace.

Sean Caine, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, said Father Martin had committed many other administrative and liturgical offenses.

"Father Martin's received advice and counsel on numerous occasions from the archdiocese, and he has repeatedly violated church teaching," Caine said. His major offense was not complying with hiring and screening policies, but he also allowed dogs in the sanctuary and did not show up for a baptism, Caine said.

Mrs. Doda's son Victor protested Father Martin's removal.  "I am sickened that they would treat our pastor this way," he said. "It doesn't sound possible that the church would take such a petty thing and ruin a man's career."

Father Martin expressed doubt about the necessity of his punishment.

"I think that canon laws exist to protect the church from extremism. I don't find that this is such an extreme situation," he said.  Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien personally ordered Father Martin to resign from the three churches he pastors and to sign a statement apologizing for "bringing scandal to the Church." 

"I feel terrible that this is happening to him because, in compassion, he permitted me to participate in the service," Reverend Chappell said. She also said she had participated in another Catholic funeral with Father Martin.

Mr. Caine, the archdiocesan spokesman, explained the archbishop's actions. "How can we expect our own people to follow the teachings of the Church if the priests don't?" he said.

Father Martin says he will go on an extended retreat and receive counseling at a monastery in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

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Scottish cardinal reflects on visit to China

, Nov 12, 2007 (CNA) - Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O'Brien, archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, recently reflected on his trip to China in two essays.

The cardinal's trip lasted between October 19 and October 29.  In that time met with bishops, priests, nuns, seminarians, lay Catholics and government officials in Xi'an, Beijing, and Shanghai.  He prayed with local clergy and religious, leading Catholics in prayer at Shanghai's Sheshan Marian Shrine, dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians. 

He also visited the grave of Father Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit missionary to China who died in 1610.

While voicing his belief that spirituality has been part of the nature of the Chinese people, the cardinal also worried China's increasing secularization and prosperity had hampered its spiritual progress.

The cardinal remarked upon the progress of religious liberty, saying "although there are challenges still to be met, religious freedom has grown over the past years."  He also noted as a possible positive development the October 21 closing session of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which for the first time included the word "religion" in an amendment to the party constitution.

Cardinal O'Brien also spoke of the reception of Pope Benedict XVI's June 30 letter to Catholics in mainland China.  "Many have accepted this letter joyfully, others have been hurt by certain phrases, but there is a desire which I have clearly seen that this letter be used as a major step on the way forward to building up the unity of the Catholic Church in China and its challenging work of evangelization, while recognizing the legitimate role of the civil authorities."

The underground Church, which is not recognized by the Chinese government, was also a topic of the cardinal's essays.  Referring to Catholics oppressed for refusing to co-operate with the state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, Cardinal O’Brien expressed his "firm conviction" that the worldwide Church "has a great lesson to absorb from the experience of those suffering and faithful people."

But he also hoped the division between the two groups would be overcome.  "I can only say that we all look forward to the day when all bishops will be in full communion with the Holy Father in their own Episcopal conference," Cardinal O'Brien wrote.

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Indonesia: Advancing democracy and social harmony

Vatican City, Nov 12, 2007 (CNA) - Upon receiving the new ambassador of Indonesia to the Holy See, Suprapto Martosemoto, the Holy Father praised Indonesia for its “commitment to pursue policies aimed at advancing the noble goals of democracy and social harmony enshrined in the Constitution."

Addressing the diplomat in English, the Pope began his talk by praising Indonesia for its “determination, which calls for sacrifice ... and the cooperation of all political and social groups, is indispensable for overcoming the forces of polarization and conflict, carrying forward the renewal of economic life and consolidating a just democratic order in full respect for the rights of every individual and community.”

Noting that one of the current “most serious threats to the ideal of national unity” in the country is “the phenomenon of international terrorism”, the Pontiff praised the Indonesian government’s position which condemns “terrorist violence, under whatever pretext it occurs,” pointing out that “this happens in particular when the holy name of God is invoked as a justification for such acts.”

The Holy Father continued, “The Church, ... in fidelity to the teaching of her Master, unequivocally condemns the manipulation of religion for political ends, while urging the application of international humanitarian law in every aspect of the fight against terrorism.”

He proceeded: “Indonesia, as a multi-religious country with the largest Muslim population of any nation in the world, plays an important and positive role in promoting inter-religious cooperation, both within its borders and in the international community. Dialogue, respect for the convictions of others, and collaboration in the service of peace are the surest means of securing social concord."

The Holy Father also emphasized the situation of Catholics Indonesians who, though a small minority, “desire to participate fully in the life of the nation” and “through their network of educational and health care institutions, they seek to offer a significant service to their brothers and sisters, regardless of religion, and to instill the ethical values fundamental for authentic civic progress and peaceful coexistence.”

"While their right to the free exercise of their religion in complete equality with their fellow citizens is guaranteed by the national Constitution," he added, "the protection of this fundamental human right calls for constant vigilance on the part of all.”

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U.S. Bishops endorse diplomacy as only solution to Iran nuclear quest

Washington D.C., Nov 12, 2007 (CNA) - While labeling as unacceptable allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons in the absence of an immediate threat, the United States Catholic Bishops have recommended a diplomatic solution to United States-Iranian confrontation.

Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Florida conveyed these opinions in a letter to United States Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.  Writing on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he responded to escalating rhetoric and speculations of a pre-emptive attack on Iranian facilities to disrupt Iran's nuclear program.

Bishop Wenski wrote:  “From a moral perspective, in the absence of an immediate threat…military action would constitute an act of preventative war.” He noted that the Catholic Church teaches that “engaging in a preventative war without clear proof that an attack is imminent cannot fail to raise serious moral and juridical questions.”

In the bishops' judgment, Iran does not constitute an immediate threat.

The bishops advised that all non-military options be exhausted, recommending diplomacy, economic incentives, increased international involvement, and economic sanctions be used to pressure Iran.

The full text of the bishops' letter is available at http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/international/2007-11%20Iran%20Letter.pdf

 

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Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to U.S. will include New York and D.C.

, Nov 12, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., has announced that Pope Benedict will be making his first visit to the United States April 15-20. The plans for the five day voyage will include an address at the United Nations in New York and a stop in Washington D.C. 

The Pope’s itinerary will begin with an April 16 meeting with President George W. Bush at the White House, followed by a gathering with the U.S. bishops at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

On Thursday, April 17, the American public will have its first chance to see Benedict XVI at a Mass to be held at the new Washington Nationals stadium. Later in the day the Pope will also take place in an inter-religious event at the John Paul II Cultural Center.

The New York leg of the papal visit will begin with a historic address to the UN on Friday. 
 
Cardinal Edward Egan of New York expressed the delight of Catholics in New York upon learning that Pope Benedict will be coming to visit. “When our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, told me last July that he would be visiting…I was delighted with the news and shared it with the People of God of the Archdiocese of New York…The response of all was both rejoicing and thanksgiving to the Lord for the great grace of the presence of the successor of St. Peter in our midst.”   

One group that is close to the heart of Pope Benedict is young people. The Holy Father has made sure that time is set aside for them by scheduling a meeting with them at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers on Saturday. 

The Holy Father will conclude his visit with two very significant stops. In what is sure to be a moving moment, he will pay his respects at Ground Zero and then say farewell to the American Church with a Mass celebrated in Yankee Stadium.

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“Evangelization depends on an encounter with Christ,” says Pope

Vatican City, Nov 12, 2007 (CNA) - In the Holy Father’s address to the prelates from the Portuguese Episcopal Conference who have just completed their "ad limina" visit, the Pope invited them to turn to God in thanksgiving "for the great mercy He showed towards the pilgrim Church in Portugal during the Holy Year, and over subsequent years which were impregnated with that same jubilee spirit."

The Pope emphasized the need to incorporate the “faithful into community life.”  He mentioned the necessity of changing the “manner of organization of the Portuguese ecclesial community and the mentality of its members," to ensure "that the Church marches to the rhythm of Vatican Council II and that the functions of clergy and laity remain clearly established," at the same time bearing in mind the fact that "we are all one since we were baptized and integrated into the family of the children of God, and we are all responsible for the growth of the Church."

"Ecclesiology of communion in accordance with the Council," the Pope continued, "is the right path that must be followed," though "without losing sight of possible obstacles such as horizontalism, ... democratization in the attribution of sacramental ministries, parity between conferred orders and new services, and discussion over which of the members of the community is first (a useless discussion because the Lord Jesus has already decided who is last)."

The Holy Father pointed out that, despite the fact that it is sometimes necessary to discuss the attribution of responsibility, we must remain focused on the “true mission of the Church” which must "speak principally not of herself but of God.”

"The evangelization of individuals and of communities depends on ... the encounter with Jesus Christ," said Benedict XVI, recalling how "Christian initiation normally takes place via the Church."

"Faced with the large number of non-practicing Christians in your dioceses," said the Pope, "it might be worthwhile to verify 'the effectiveness of current approaches to Christian initiation, so that the faithful can be helped both to mature through the formation received in our communities and to give their lives an authentically Eucharistic direction, so that they can offer a reason for the hope within them in a way suited to our times'."

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Church in Peru joins in celebration of beatification of Argentinean Indian

Lima, Peru, Nov 12, 2007 (CNA) - The Church in Peru celebrated the beatification Sunday of Ceferino Namuncura with a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne of Lima at the Salesian Basilica of Mary Help of Christians.

The Mass was attended by a host of bishops, priests, and representatives in Peru from the Argentinean government.

The beatification of the Mapuche Indian who became a Salesian brother was the first to ever be celebrated in Argentina.  The ceremony took place in the city of Chimpay, where Cerefino was born, and was celebrated by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. 

The Superior General of the Salesians, Father Pascual Chavez, called the beatification “an invitation to believe in young people, and also in those who have barely been evangelized, and to discover the fecundity of the Gospel that destroys nothing of that which is truly human.”

Ceferino Namuncura was born on August 26, 1886 in Chimpay and was baptized at the age of 2.  At the age of 11 he asked his father to take him to Buenos Aires to study with the Salesians in order to help his people.  His motto was, “I want to study to be useful to my people.”

He traveled to Rome in hopes of becoming a priest.  On May 11, 1905, at the age of 19, he died in the Eternal City from an unknown illness.  He was declared venerable by Pope Paul VI on June 22, 1972.  His cause was opened in 1957 and a miracle in 2000 paved the way for his beatification.

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Christians in North Korea suffer intense persecution, says missionary priest

Rome, Italy, Nov 12, 2007 (CNA) - “The Christians of North Korea are enduring a strong persecution,” said Father Vito del Prete, general secretary of the Pontifical Missionary Union.  He explained that “those who can, flee to China” and that “the entire population suffers from hunger, poor sanitation and is subject to the oppression of a totalitarian regime which denies fundamental human rights.”

Father Del Prete said Korean Christians “have an important role to fulfill.”  They are “a strong religious minority” called to “evangelize the socio-political and economic structures and as Church to be an effective sign of communion.”

The missionary priest also mentioned North Korea’s recent abandonment of its nuclear program saying the decision “has contributed to reviving the peace and reconciliation process,” which is only possible if the two Koreas “leave aside their particular interests and those of their respective populaces, recognizing and respecting the fundamental rights of the human person.”

In this context, he said, Christians “are called to announce the unity of the family of God and work for reconciliation and unity in this population which conflict has divided.”

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Vatican II not open to free interpretations, says Vatican official

Rome, Italy, Nov 12, 2007 (CNA) - The secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrant and Itinerant Ministries, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, said Vatican Council II is a “synthesis between tradition and renewal” and is not open to free interpretations, such as the ones proposed by the Bologna School initiated by Giuseppe Alberigo.

“Vatican II was a great event, a synthesis between tradition and renewal that is not a break with the past in the creation of a new Church,” the archbishop said during a speech on the Catholic Church in the 20th century in the city of Ancona.

He said the members of the School of Bologna have been very successful in “monopolizing and imposing one interpretation” of Vatican II that goes beyond what John XXIII and Paul VI imagined, even so far as to propose “a Copernican revolution, the passing to…another Catholicism.”

Archbishop Marchetto said that Alberigo proposed a sort of democratization of the Church by affirming that “the institutional system’s hegemony over the Christian life…reached an apex with the dogmatic definition of the primacy and magisterial infallibility of the Bishop of Rome.”  “It is rather faith, communion and willingness to serve that make the Church,” the Italian prelate stated, saying he proposes instead “identity in evolution” and “fidelity in renewal.”

Archbishop Marchetto encouraged Catholics to read Pope Benedict XVI’s discourse to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, in which he spoke of the interpretation of the Council as a “break with the past” as a favorite of those in the media.  The correct interpretation of the Council, the Pope said at that time, “has always been visibly and silently” stronger.

The School of Bologna
Giuseppe Alberigo, professor of Church history at the University of Bologna, published a five-volume set between 1995 and 2001 on the History of the Church, including a section on Vatican II.  His theories were in the same vein as those of Father Giuseppe Dossetti (1913-1996), a confidant of Cardinal Giacomo Lercaro, one of the four moderators of the Council.

Both men promoted the idea that Vatican II is “above all a new Pentecost”—open to the most disparate and even arbitrary interpretations—more than just a collection of documents; a “novelty” that is supposedly represented by Pope John XXIII, while according to this interpretation, Pope Paul VI and his successors symbolize the “betrayal” of this spirit.

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Drug companies want to produce RU-486 in Italy and downplay pill’s dangers

Rome, Italy, Nov 12, 2007 (CNA) - In response to the request by some Italian drug companies for permission to manufacture the abortion pill RU-486, the Association Scienza & Vita warned that the “introduction of the abortion pill RU-486 into Italy represents the last stage of the process of the banalization of abortion, which has been occurring for some time in Italian culture.”

“With this drug the choice of abortion has been banalized to the point of being reduced to a ‘pill’ without considering its ethical implications and the psychological relapses it produces.  It is a pill that, as is known, carries with it serious risks for the health of women,” the association said in a press release.

Scienza & Vita also warned that the use of RU-486 causes “a de facto ‘clinical abortion’ that is not foreseen in the current norms, which in addition are unjust.”  “With RU-486, women are again left alone: first they are not helped to overcome the causes that lead them to abort; and second, we ‘wash’ our consciences by proposing to them an ‘easy’ form of abortion.  In the end, let us not forget the use of RU-486 can be fatal for the woman: 10 times more so than in the case of surgical abortion,” the press release pointed out.
 
“This assessment has already led some countries to reconsider its use.  Therefore, it is strange that some in Italy want to make this drug available,” the association said.  “Who should we blame for the next death?  The Italian drug agency?  The minister of health? All of the Pontius Pilates who work in these institutions?” the association asked.

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Actors sought for Way of the Cross at WYD 2008 in Sydney

Sydney, Australia, Nov 12, 2007 (CNA) - WYD officials will be casting actors December 1-3 to participate in the traditional Way of the Cross during the upcoming World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008. 

According to WYD organizers, the Way of the Cross, or Via Crucis, will be held on July 18. They said they are hoping Pope Benedict XVI will participate in the ceremony.

The casting call is for actors with or without previous experience for the roles of Jesus, Mary, Pontius Pilate, Simon the Cyrenean, the twelve apostles, soldiers, Pharisees and crowd members. 

Those interested can send an email to: [email protected]

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