Archive of November 21, 2007

Following Christ requires humility first, teaches Pope Benedict

Vatican City, Nov 21, 2007 (CNA) - Imitate Aphraates “the Sage”, who believed that “Christian life is focused on the imitation of Christ" and grounded in humility, Pope Benedict XVI told the crowd of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his general audience.

Aphraates, known as "the Sage," an important Christian figure from 4th century Syria came from a Christian community that was “essentially part of the Semitic world from which the Bible itself emerged," the Pope explained.

This early form of Christianity was one where “theological formulations that had not yet come into contact with different cultural trends but lived off its own forms of thought. In these churches, “…asceticism, under various forms of hermitic life, ... played an important role."

The Holy Father also pointed out the strong influence of Judaism saying,  "Aphraates was from an ecclesial community located on the frontier between Judaism and Christianity" that was "strongly linked to the Mother Church of Jerusalem and ... sought to remain faithful to the Judeo-Christian tradition of which it felt itself to be a product."

“The Sage” founded his life on the belief that, "Christian life is focused on the imitation of Christ," Pope Benedict told his listeners. He also considered "humility to be one of the most appropriate virtues for the disciple of Christ" because "man's nature is humble and it is God who exalts it with His own glory. ... By remaining humble, even in their earthly surroundings, Christians may establish a relationship with the Lord."

The Holy Father noted the significance of the fact that "Aphraates defined himself as a 'disciple of Sacred Scripture,' ... which he considered to be his only source of inspiration." In his works "he often presents the salvation achieved by Christ as healing and, hence, Christ Himself as doctor. Sin on the other hand is seen as a wound which only penance can heal."

“His vision of human beings and their corporeal reality”, said the Pope, "is very positive: the human body ... is called to beauty, to joy and to light." And it is faith that "enables sincere charity, expressed in love for God and for others."

Another key concept in Aphraates' thought is that of fasting, which the Syrian "Sage" understood "in its widest sense: ... abstention from food as a practice necessary in order to be charitable, ... abstention from vain or abhorrent words, abstention from anger and from the ownership of goods."

Benedict XVI concluded by turning to Aphraates' teaching on prayer. “Christ,” he taught, “is the master of prayer”…and "[p]rayer is achieved when Christ dwells in the heart of Christians, inviting them to a coherent commitment of charity towards their fellows."

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Thanksgiving: acknowledging our dependence on God

Denver, Colo., Nov 21, 2007 (CNA) - The Roman statesman Cicero once said that, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”  Gratitude expresses our dependence on others.  By its nature, it leads to humility and wisdom, because a grateful heart understands than none of us is really independent.  We have obligations to each other.  We also have needs from each other.  We’re designed to depend on each other as a family; and to depend as a family on God.

Probably no other holiday speaks to the soul of the American experience like Thanksgiving.  The origin of Thanksgiving is thoroughly religious.  It’s also very specifically Christian.  The Protestant Christians who began this tradition nearly 400 years ago practiced their gratitude in the midst of scarcity, disease, high mortality and a harsh new land.  Precisely because of their suffering, they understood their own limitations; their radical dependence on God.  For the people who started it, Thanksgiving was never about holiday sales, self-satisfied comfort or an annual nod to the generic Life Force.  It was a personal conversation with God.  At its heart, Thanksgiving has always been about acknowledging our dependence on God, and offering Him our love and gratitude.  Obviously, people of any religious faith and no religious faith can have grateful hearts and can take part deeply in the joy of Thanksgiving.  But scrubbing God out of the Thanksgiving experience — turning it into yet another secular excuse for consuming more products — leaves two basic questions unanswered:  Who exactly are we thanking, and why are we thanking Him?

This year as we gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving dinner, we’d do well to ask ourselves those two questions.  Many families in our own country and vast numbers of people around the world lack the food, medical care, clothing, conveniences and material resources most Americans take for granted.  We don’t “deserve” our blessings any more than the Third World “deserves” its poverty.  We Americans work very hard for our standard of living — but others around the world work just as hard, or even harder, to barely survive.  God has blessed the United States with freedoms, opportunities and abundance unknown to most other peoples in history.  Those blessings bring along with them responsibilities of charity and justice to others who have less.  This is why every Thanksgiving is a call to Christians to recover who we really are: children of God with family duties to each other.  Gratitude leads to humility; to seeing our true place in creation.  And humility is the beginning of sanity — the clarity of mind to see what’s right, what’s wrong, what needs to be done, and the willingness to do it.

Americans are a generous people.  It’s one of our enduring strengths as a nation.  But we can lose that generosity if we forget who we are, why we’re here, what we owe to others, and Who made us.  May God — who after all is the One we’re thanking — bless each of us and our families this Thanksgiving, and turn our hearts in gratitude to the needs of others.

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Pope appeals for peaceful solution to crisis in Somalia

Vatican City, Nov 21, 2007 (CNA) - "Distressing news is reaching us concerning the precarious humanitarian situation in Somalia,” Pope Benedict said today following his general audience in St. Peter’s Square.

The Holy Father expressed his concern that “especially in Mogadishu, ever more profoundly afflicted by social insecurity and poverty,” the situation is continuing to worsen. 

“I am following the development of events with concern and appeal to all those with political responsibility, at both local and international level, to find peaceful solutions and bring relief to that dear people,” he said.

The pontiff continued, “I also encourage the efforts of those who, though facing insecurity and discomfort, remain in the region to bring aid and comfort to the inhabitants."

Increasing hostility between the Somalian government and insurgents has been rising in Mogadishu since late 2006 when Ethiopian troops arrived. Their goal was to help the Transitional Federal Government drive out the Union of Islamic Courts, which had taken control of the south area of the country but fighting continues to escalate.

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Morning-after pill is not medicine and does not cure illness, says Chilean cardinal

Santiago, Chile, Nov 21, 2007 (CNA) - The former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, said this week the morning-after pill “is not medicine because it does not cure any illness,” since “pregnancy is not a disease.”

In a recent seminar on public policy and the defense of life in Chile, the cardinal criticized the decision of that government to punish pharmacies that refuse to sell the pill.  “To force a company to sell a product is a highly undemocratic act, especially when we are not talking about medicine,” as “the pill is not medicine, because it does not cure any illness,” he said.

Cardinal Medina said he has sent scientific documentation to Chilean President Michelle Bachelet on two occasions showing that the pill has an abortifacient mechanism which can prevent the implantation of an embryo in the uterus.  “I am certain that she received one of the letters, and I suppose she received the second one as well.  In any case, I never received an answer,” he stated.

Cardinal Medina expressed his regret that Bachelet has not kept her promise that her administration would not support any proposal to liberalize abortion, and called the president inconsistent for “telling Cardinal Errazuriz the government would not pass new laws on abortion” on the one hand, and ‘ordering the distribution of the morning-after pill without any legal mandate’ on the other.”

He also questioned the sex-ed programs promoted the government and said they only “teach girls how to avoid getting pregnant, but that everything else is okay.”  For this reason, he said, true education in sexuality does exist in the country.

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Three new Chinese bishops to be ordained with papal approval

, Nov 21, 2007 (CNA) - China is preparing to ordain three priests for the state-recognized church but with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI.

The new bishops are for the dioceses of Guangzhou, Ningxia and Yichang.

The Church in China is divided among open members of government-approved churches and "underground" Catholics who reject Chinese government administration.

Father Francis Lu Shouwang, 41, is scheduled to be ordained Bishop of Yichang, a city in east-central China.  Bishop-elect Lu told UCA News that he now has a clearer vision of his responsibility and mission to serve the diocese with all his energy, with the cooperation of his priests. 

Currently Yichang diocese has about 30,000 Catholics served by 20 young priests, one elderly priest, and 12 nuns.

Father Joseph Li Jing, 40, will be ordained coadjutor bishop by Bishop John Liu Jingshan of Ningxia.

"I hope he could lead the diocese to better development and unite the priests, but we could never sever our ties with the pope," Bishop Liu said. He noted that the two co-ordaining bishops have not been confirmed yet, but said they "must be bishops recognized by the pope."  The 95 year-old Bishop Liu said that Ningxia, in central-north China, is a small diocese of 10,000 Catholics and 11 priests.

A third bishop-elect, Father Joseph Gan Junqiu, may be ordained in early December as bishop of Guangzhou, a city in southern China.

Six elderly bishops from the "open" church in China have died this year, while four bishops from the underground church have died.

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Archbishop at UN calls for "steady commitment" to disaster relief

, Nov 21, 2007 (CNA) - In a Monday speech to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the head of the Holy See's mission to the United Nations, addressed the General Assembly on the topic of responding to disasters. Notable among his proposals were enrolling the help of faith-based organizations and his mention of the need for long-term aid.

He noted at the outset his sincere condolences to the people and the government of Bangladesh in the wake of the recent cyclone that killed thousands and displaced millions.

The relief workers who risked their lives in responding to such disaster areas merited special assistance, he said.

"It is for the safety of these humanitarian workers and for the welfare of the suffering people they assist that we must work for a truly effective, coordinated, and humane disaster response system," he stated.

Disaster relief does not include only natural disasters, the archbishop said, but also includes the man-made disasters of armed conflicts.

"Armed conflicts have devastated societies in many places, taken lives, ruined economies, set back development and frustrated efforts to restore peace," the archbishop said.  He insisted that all parties involved in armed conflicts must fully comply with the rules and principles of international law in the protection of humanitarian personnel.  He repeated the obligation of all parties in a conflict to allow aid workers full access to those in need of assistance and to guarantee civilians and all victims of armed conflicts safe and unhampered access to humanitarian aid.

He saw the United Nations' position as key in guaranteeing international law and humanitarian response in disasters.  The United Nations, he thought, could enhance collaboration among humanitarian organizations to more effectively respond to crises.

Archbishop Migliore noted UN member states' increased focus on disaster prevention and risk reduction. The best way to respond to disasters is through knowledgeable and effective local agents to respond to emergency situations and reduce their long-term costs and consequences, he explained. In particular he endorsed local civic and faith-based organizations as highly effective in disaster response, and called on all governments to engage, support, and protect such groups.

While grateful for the outpourings of goodwill and international solidarity that news coverage of disasters provides, Archbishop Migliore insisted that long-term recovery requires the continued interest and support of the international community.  Disaster relief is very problematic when international attention weakens, and resources are directed to other priorities.

He said this weakened attention was very costly, "especially in post-conflict situations in which the probability of a relapse to violence is very high, or in places where a truly catastrophic natural disaster wiped out the economic base of entire communities."  

"A steady commitment is necessary if sustainable and long-term recovery system of peoples and regions affected is to be achieved," he declared.

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India: 190 attacks on Christians so far in 2007

, Nov 21, 2007 (CNA) - The All India Catholic Union published a report recently denouncing the 190 attacks that have taken place against Christians in India during 2007. 

In a document published on November 17, the AICU pointed out that these attacks include homicides, armed assaults, sexual harassment and lynchings.  According to Missionary Service News (OMPRESS), the president of the AICU, John Dayal, said the data has been gathered by various Christian groups in India.  He said cases of violence for other reasons besides faith were not taken into consideration.
“The cases that were presented and certified fall into the category of persecution,” Dayal said.  “We have not taken into consideration the situation of social marginalization of our many brethren in the faith in many Indian States, because it would be impossible to count them”.

The president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, Sajan K George, said the number of attacks is greatest in the states of Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

“Many of these attacks have occurred inside homes in the places of worship of Christians, as people were worshipping within the privacy of their homes and churches”.  “Often the Administration and Police have refused to either file or pursue the matter with seriousness. Unfortunately in our 60th year of Indian Independence, the government as yet has done little to bring these hate crimes under control,” George said.

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Controversy over sale of Catholic high school in California

Los Angeles, Calif., Nov 21, 2007 (CNA) - The pending closure of a Catholic high school in Los Angeles has driven parents to fundraising activity and has raised allegations that the school is only being sold to cover lawsuit settlements in child abuse cases, the California Catholic reports.

Last Saturday about 200 parents, students, and alumni of the 53-year-old Daniel Murphy High School marched from Pershing Square to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.  They carried signs reading “Don’t Make the Children Pay” and “No More Victims.”

In October the Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced it would close the school, citing "severe financial challenges" and a decline in the student population.

Though the archdiocese said “efforts to increase student enrollment over the past ten years” had failed, a parent's letter to Pope Benedict XVI, received by the California Catholic Daily, claimed that the archdiocese has in the past capped freshman enrollment.  The letter claimed that “there has been no official Archdiocese involvement with enrollment at Daniel Murphy,” and said parents did not know about the school's financial trouble or its subsidies from the archdiocese until the announcement that the school would close.

Parents have committed to higher tuition and more fundraising if the school stays open.  They have agreed to pay an additional $1,000 to the school's $5,100 annual tuition, which will bring in an extra $240,000 per year in funding.  They have also agreed to two mandatory raffles they hope would bring in $80,000 a year.  The money would replace the archdiocesan subsidy to the school of $180,000 per year.

The parents claim archdiocesan officials rebuffed their fundraising plans at a meeting last month, and that the archdiocese has forbidden school supporters from meeting on school grounds and forbidden faculty and staff to assist them.

They say the archdiocese is set on selling the school's 2.7-acre site, which they claim could bring in $25 to $40 million.

Proceeds of the sale could help pay off the archdiocese's $373 million portion of a $660 million settlement with victims of molestation by priests.

The archdiocese has said it will not change its decision to close the school, but in a statement it said that they “will continue to work with parents and students to help make the transition to new schools as easy and as affordable as possible."

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Filipino bishop resigns before retirement age

Manila, Philippines, Nov 21, 2007 (CNA) - A second bishop in the Philippines has resigned this year before the retirement age of 75.

Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Bishop Nestor Carino of Legazpi on November 7.

The apostolic nuncio to the Philippines, Archbishop Edward Joseph Adams, said the resignation of Bishop Carino, 69, was made under the canon law that states that a bishop who becomes unsuited for official duties due to illness or other grave reason is "earnestly requested" to tender his resignation to the Pope.

In July, the Pope also accepted the resignation of Bishop Jesus Cabrera of Alaminos under the same section of canon law. Bishop Cabrera is 66.

Auxiliary Bishop Lucilo Quiambao of Legazpi, a former secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, will serve as apostolic administrator of the diocese of Legazpi, which contains more than one million Catholics.  

There are four Philippine bishops older than 75 whose resignations have not yet been accepted by the Pope.  There are now 98 active bishops among approximately 130 members of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines.  Seven bishops have been appointed this year.

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Indian adoption rights expanded to non-Hindu parents

New Dehli, India, Nov 21, 2007 (CNA) - Indian law has now been changed to allow non-Hindus to adopt children, the Times of India reports.

Under the previous law, only Hindu couples who adopted children could claim to be parents.  Non-Hindus were classified as guardians.  Adopted children of non-Hindus lacked rights to inherit property, and administrative difficulties burdened their parents in areas like school admissions.

It is not clear whether the law applies to Muslims, who are governed by their own community's laws. 

The new law also makes adoption by inter-faith couples easier, while cutting red tape in adoption procedures and recognizing more adoption agencies.

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Stem cell breakthrough praised by bishops

Washington D.C., Nov 21, 2007 (CNA) - Prelates across the United States are lauding the Japanese research team of Dr. Shinya Yamanaka and the University of Wisconsin-Madison team of Dr. James Thomson for their efforts in advancing stem-cell research.

In a press release yesterday, Philadelphia Cardinal, Justin Rigali commended the scientific advances:

“Studies published this week in the journals Cell and Science offer new hope for advancing stem cell research and therapies while fully respecting the dignity of human life.

“Scientists in Japan and Wisconsin used four genes to ‘reprogram’ ordinary adult human cells, creating ‘induced pluripotent stem cells’ (iPS cells).  James Thomson, head of the Wisconsin team and the founder of human embryonic stem cell research, says these cells ‘meet the defining criteria’ for pluripotent human embryonic stem cells, ‘with the significant exception that the iPS cells are not derived from embryos.’

“Thus the goal sought for years through failed attempts at human cloning – the production of ‘pluripotent’ stem cells that are an exact genetic match to a patient – has been brought within reach by an ethical procedure. This technology avoids the many ethical landmines associated with embryonic stem cell research: it does not clone or destroy human embryos, does not harm or exploit women for their eggs, and does not blur the line between human beings and other species through desperate efforts to make human embryos using animal eggs.  Ian Wilmut, head of the team that cloned ‘Dolly’ the sheep, now says he is abandoning efforts at human ‘therapeutic cloning’ to pursue this adult cell reprogramming avenue instead, because it is technically superior as well as ‘easier to accept socially.’

“I am grateful today for scientists who took up the challenge of finding morally acceptable ways to pursue stem cell research, and for government leaders who have encouraged and funded such avenues.  This advance reminds us once again that medical progress and respect for human life are not in conflict; they can and should support and enrich one another for the good of all.”

In a press release, Madison, Wisconsin Bishop Robert C. Morlino also offered his praise to the research team.

“Catholic voices in the bio-medical community have consistently claimed that ethical alternatives could be found to make the destruction of human life through embryonic stem cell research unnecessary. I continue to support the successful work being done by so many researchers using adult stem cells and I thank and congratulate those researchers and scientists who have now found a seemingly ethical way to replicate ‘embryonic’ or pluripotent stem cells without destroying human lives.

“Now that this breakthrough has been made and research with pluripotent stem cells can move forward in a seemingly ethical way, I reiterate my insistence that there is never a reason to sacrifice human lives for the sake of hoped-for but heretofore unrealized scientific advances.

“This breakthrough is certainly among the many gifts of God for which all of us should be grateful this Thanksgiving.”

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Nuncio joins in condemnation of attacks on Cathedral in Mexico City

Mexico City, Mexico, Nov 21, 2007 (CNA) - The Apostolic Nuncio in Mexico, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, has joined in condemning the attack on the Cathedral of Mexico City led by sympathizers of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), saying that all churches and people should be respected.

“All churches must be respected and also people, priests, bishops and the cardinal, and I think it is something fundamental, because we cannot fall into this kind of attitude,” he said during a visit to Nezahualcóyotl, where he reaffirmed that “violence in any circumstance must be condemned.”  Speaking to local reporters, Archbishop Pierre said “many Mexicans” reject these kinds of acts.  Likewise, he called for “tolerance and civil harmony,” since “we do not need this violence because we have to live together and respect each other.”

Act of vandalism

The president of the Bishops’ Conference of Mexico, Bishop Carlos Aguilar Retes, recalled that “acts of vandalism are never the correct way of expressing a difference of ideas or opinions.”

Speaking to Notimex, Bishop Retes pointed out that “the opinion of a bishop on a particular matter and freedom of expression is one thing; hatred against representatives of the Catholic Church is another.”

The acts of vandalism by PRD sympathizers against the clergy, the faithful and the Cathedral, have led the Archdiocese of Mexico City to close the Cathedral until authorities can guarantee security.  Such acts have not taken place since the time of the Cristeros persecution at the beginning of the 20th century.

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African and European bishops denounce “new slaveries” that plague Africa

, Nov 21, 2007 (CNA) - In a press release issued Tuesday, the bishops of Africa and Europe have called for more attention to be paid “to the new forms of slavery that are sometimes worse than the old treatment of slaves.”

After a seminar entitled “I know the suffering of my people: slavery and new slaveries” in Cape Coast, Ghana, the bishops of the Council of Episcopal Conferences of Europe, Africa and Madagascar, said, “The new forms of slavery (human trafficking, forced labor, child soldiers, etc.) are due to the enormous economic differences between rich and poor countries, between the rich and the poor in each society.”

Together with representatives of the Holy See and delegates of Catholic humanitarian agencies, the bishops affirmed that “in order to reduce these differences,” there is a need to “achieve a new international economic order that guarantees a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources,” but above all that “an end be put to the desire to dominate others and to the culture of slavery and servitude.”
According to the SIR news agency, “The seminar touched upon the issue of immigration and the possibility of promoting a culture of life and the family.  They also discussed some issues that impede development in Africa.”

Among the challenges that exist, the bishops pointed to “the unjust system of commerce between Africa and the rest of the world, debt and the need for it to be cancelled by the industrialized world, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced labor, forced prostitution, child soldiers and children on the streets.”

Faced with these challenges, the bishops encouraged a “culture of respect for human rights,” underscoring the roll of the Catholic Church in the “pastoral care of immigrants” and in “their duty to defend the human person.”

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Provincial representatives in Granada organize film festival offensive to Catholics

Madrid, Spain, Nov 21, 2007 (CNA) - The NOS association and local officials in Granada, Spain, have organized a film festival featuring movies that are openly offensive to Catholics.

The fourth edition of the festival “Understanding Each Other,” has as its theme this year “Homosexuality and Christianity.”  The festival begins this week and will continue through December 12. It includes full-length features as well as short films.

Organizers say the purpose of the event is to validate the “double condition” of Christians who are homosexual.  The films featured aim to focus on this “social reality” “in order to fight against the homophobia that still exists in society.”

Among the films to be featured include “Priest,” the story of a young homosexual priest stationed in a small Catholic town; “Normal,” in which a happily-married wife discovers her husband’s homosexuality; and “Sebastine,” a film that presents a homosexual version of the life of Christian martyr St. Sebastian.

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