, Nov 27, 2007 (CNA) - The path to peace in the Middle East could take a fortuitous turn today as leaders from 40 different organizations and nations meet in Annapolis, Maryland to forge a way forward. Pope Benedict XVI has added his support to bring “a just and definitive solution” to the conflict and is sending a delegation to the summit.
Holy See Press Office director, Fr. Federico Lombardi announced today that the delegation from the Holy See is made up of Msgr. Pietro Parolin, under-secretary for Relations with States, and Msgr. Francesco Coppola, nunciature counselor.
The Pope has also been pushing for peace on the spiritual front. This past Sunday, he encouraged the faithful to join the Day of Prayer called by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to ask for peace in the Holy Land and for "the gifts of wisdom and courage for all participants in this important meeting."
In Annapolis, the Holy Father said on Sunday, "Israelis and Palestinians, with the help of the international community, aim to re-launch the negotiating process in order to find a just and definitive solution to the conflict which, for the last 60 years, has bloodied the Holy Land and brought so many tears and so much suffering to the two peoples."
Both Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas have expressed their hope that the conference will bring a positive outcome.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he thinks the likelihood of a good outcome is better than before: "This time it's different because we are going to have lots of participants in what I hope will launch a serious process of negotiations between us and the Palestinians," Olmert said at the White House on Monday.
According to CNS News, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas also has hope for the summit. He said that the conference is an "historic initiative," and that the Palestinians had "a great deal of hope" that the one-day meeting would produce "expanded negotiations, overall permanent status issues that would lead to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people."
Khartoum, Sudan, Nov 27, 2007 (CNA) - A teacher from England was thrown into a Sudanese jail on Monday after being arrested for insulting the Prophet Muhammed when she named a classroom teddy bear after a student named Muhammed, CNN/Time reports.
Gillian Gibbons, 54, had only recently arrived in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to teach at Unity High School, an exclusive British-run school organized on Christian principles. Assigned to teach six and seven-year-olds, she asked them as a classroom project to dress up and name a teddy bear and keep a diary of his outings.
Debating what to name the bear, the children considered the names Hassan and Abdullah but overwhelmingly voted for Muhammed, the first name of the most popular boy in the class.
The naming of the bear didn’t raise much concern at first, but last week, parents from another class raised concerns with the school. On Sunday Sudanese police came to the school, where Miss Gibbons lives, and jailed her on blasphemy charges. The Sharia law was introduced to Sudan in 1991.
Robert Boulos, the school's director, said the incident had been blown out of all proportion but added the school would remain closed until January when the controversy will have hopefully subsided.
"This was a completely innocent mistake," he said. "Miss Gibbons would have never wanted to insult Islam."
He described the school staff's reaction to the police raid: "We tried to reason with them but we felt they were coming under strong pressure from Islamic courts," said Boulos. "There were men with big beards asking where she was and saying they wanted to kill her."
An angry crowd also had gathered at the Khartoum police station when she arrived there. Miss Gibbons remains in police custody.
Boulos said no parents or teachers initially complained. Miss Gibbons' colleagues feared a disgruntled staff member may have used the issue to cause trouble.
Most parents arriving at the school gates were supportive of the British teacher. One mother, whose seven-year-old son was in Gibbons' class, said her family had not been offended by the name. "Our Prophet Muhammad tells us to be forgiving," she said. "So she should be released. She didn't mean any of this at all."
If found guilty of blasphemy, Miss Gibbons faces either a public lashing or six months in jail.
Mannar, Sri Lanka, Nov 27, 2007 (CNA) - Members of the Tamil Tigers shelled a Catholic school on Monday, seriously injuring seven people including five children.
The sound of the shelling reverberated across the area, and many parents and children suffered minor injuries while running for safety. Parents fear the attack has caused trauma and fear psychological problems among their children.
Heavy artillery and mortars were used in the attack. More than 10 artillery shells exploded inside the school premises, defense sources said.
Sri Lankan security forces retaliated by attacking several identified Tamil Tigers artillery launching pads. Security sources said this counterattack saved over a hundred lives and the school itself.
The attacks were believed to be related to the "Tiger Day" commemorations of November 27.
Sacramento, Calif., Nov 27, 2007 (CNA) - During the first week of November, members of the Sierra Club traversed one end of California to the other for a series of conferences called “Sex and the Environment.” Accompanying them at most of their stops were representatives of Planned Parenthood.
Such conferences were held between Nov. 6 and Nov. 9 in Oakland, Santa Cruz, Fresno, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, mostly on university campuses. The “tour,” says the Sierra Club’s website, was “co-sponsored by International Health Programs of the Public Health Institute, Campus Progress, Global Exchange, as well as Planned Parenthood affiliates and a number of University of California Women's Centers and student groups.”
The 115-year-old Sierra Club, based in San Francisco and founded by California environmentalist John Muir in 1892 to “explore, enjoy and protect the planet,” now declares on its web site: “Sierra Club is a pro-choice organization.”
The November tour was part of the Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program, which states as its mission: “to protect the global environment and preserve natural resources for future generations by advancing global reproductive health and sustainable development initiatives.”
The term “reproductive health” has long been understood as a code word for “abortion,” especially in Third World countries where the outright use of the word “abortion” would be politically unwise.
In a question-and-answer section on the Sierra Club’s web site discussing the Population and Environment Program, the group says it has endorsed a 1970 resolution drafted by the group Zero Population Growth. Among the provisions of the resolution: “families should not have more than two natural children,” “state and federal laws should be changed to encourage small families and to discourage large families,” “policies, and attitudes that foster population growth or big families, or that restrict abortion and contraception, or that attempt to constrict the roles of men and women, should be abandoned.”
The Nov. 20 alternative weekly Sacramento News & Review reported on one of the Sierra Club/Planned Parenthood “Sex and the Environment” conferences. The conference covered by the weekly was held at the University of California, Davis, and featured a speaker from each organization. Speaking for the Sierra Club was Cassie Gardner. “Gardner’s job was created to address the connection Sierra Club sees between sex and the environment: If you educate women about their reproductive rights, many will choose to have smaller families, which will slow population growth and subsequently slow resource depletion,” the News & Review reported.
But apparently not all students at the conference bought the Sierra Club line, according to the newspaper. “At the close of Gardner’s lecture, an ethical debate erupted,” said the News & Review. “The gender-studies students asked: Is it fair to advocate a curb on population growth in developing countries when the United States uses 25 percent of the world’s resources for 5 percent of the world’s population?”
The original story can be found at California Catholic Daily.
Vatican City, Nov 27, 2007 (CNA) - Contrary to earlier indications, Pope Benedict XVI will not be meeting with the Dalai Lama in December, Reuters reports.
An anonymous Vatican official told reporters in late October that the Pope would meet with the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism on December 13.
The report of a meeting caused the Chinese government to strongly protest, saying it would "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people." It urged the Pope to take action showing he "is sincere in improving relations."
Beijing considers the Dalai Lama a "splittist" who is working for an independent Tibet. Chinese officials have accused him of organizing anti-government activities in Tibet.
In New Delhi, a representative of the Dalai Lama said: "His Holiness's objective is to promote inter-religious harmony and he will not create any inconveniences for anybody."
The Dalai Lama met Pope Benedict last year in a low profile meeting that was reportedly strictly religious in nature.
Father Bernardo Cervellera, head of AsiaNews, a news agency that specializes in China, said he was disappointed that the encounter would not take place.
"It was clear from the start that Beijing was not happy about this meeting," he told Reuters.
Pope Benedict has made the improvement of ties with Beijing a major goal of his papacy, issuing his 55-page papal letter to the Church in China this past June.
Catholics in China are split between an underground church that is loyal only to the Pope and a state-recognized church whose leadership is cooperative with the Beijing government.
Past diplomatic setbacks included the appointment of bishops to the state-recognized church without papal approval. In May 2006 Pope Benedict also accused China of "grave violations of religious freedom."
Relations have improved recently. Two months ago the Vatican approved the installation of a bishop for the Diocese of Beijing in the state-approved church and three more episcopal appointments are slated for the coming months.
La Paz, Bolivia, Nov 27, 2007 (CNA) - The bishops of Bolivia have issued an urgent call for peace in response to violent protests in the city of Santa Cruz against the approval of a new constitution. The riots have left four people dead and at least 130 injured.
“In response to the latest events in Sucre, which have profoundly wounded fraternal harmony in our country, with our hearts filled with sorrow over the unjust deaths and the suffering of so many brothers and sisters, we make this passionate call for respect for life, for an end to all confrontations and for peace,” the bishops said in statement.
The document was presented this Sunday during a press conference attended by the vice president of the Bishops’ Conference of Bolivia, Archbishop Edmundo Abastoflor, and Conference secretary, Archbishop Jesus Juarez, and other church officials. “This should be a time of dialogue and rationality, not of confrontations. We should sit down as brothers and sisters and plan our future together!” the bishops said.
Addressing the parties involved in the confrontations, the bishops said, “This is not the path toward building a future for Bolivia. Wounds and blood sow hatred and will continue to divide us. We must put down the weapons of violence and be reconciled with each other.”
They also called on politicians and civil leaders to guide their followers and “devote themselves to the service of peace and good for the country.”
“To people of peace who have been disturbed and discouraged by the latest events,” the bishops continued, “we exhort them to remain firm in their position as peacemakers” and to strive to build up the country through dialogue, respect for life and the dignity of all persons, the search for the common good and through care for the marginalized and those who are last in our society.”
The bishops said they pray that God would “enlighten the hearts and minds of all Bolivians,” that they would spare “no effort in overcoming this time of sorrow and division.”
, Nov 27, 2007 (CNA) - Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, Archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, said this week the Pauline Year, which will be celebrated June 28, 2008 through June 20, 2009, will allow for “a greater understanding of St. Paul, who is one of the greatest presenters and commentators of the doctrine of redemption.”
The cardinal made his comments on Vatican Radio after presenting the initiative to the Pope and cardinals last Sunday at the New Synod Hall at the Vatican. “The Pope has said,” Cardinal Montezemolo continued, that the purpose of the Pauline Year “is to make St. Paul known,” as he is “not sufficiently known in all of his teachings, including by Catholics.”
“Therefore, on the occasion of the two thousandth anniversary of his birth, we will take advantage of this year to dedicate it with particular attention to his person, his actions, his travels and the immense treasure of doctrine that is contained in his letters and epistles,” he added.
The cardinal explained that “a sort of center for all of the activities of this Pauline Year” has been set up at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, and he revealed that an ecumenical chapel will be prepared “for our separated brethren, so that they can celebrate their liturgies and prayers near the tomb of St. Paul.”
He added that a number of sites in Rome would be chosen as special places dedicated to St. Paul and would permit people to make a Pauline pilgrimage around the city.
Cardinal Montezemolo invited Catholics to embrace the Pauline Year with generous hearts. “It’s an idea I have discussed with the Holy Father for more than two years,” he said.
More information on the Pauline Year can be found at www.annopaolino.org (Note: An English version is not yet available but is being created)
Nairobi, Kenya, Nov 27, 2007 (CNA) - After a long-time battle with kidney problems, Archbishop Nicodemus Kirima of Nyeri, Kenya, died today in a Nairobi hospital at the age of 71.
According to CISA, Kirima had been hospitalized since November 4th when he slipped into a coma while receiving dialysis. The prelate had been in and out of the hospital since last year when his kidney’s failed during a trip to the United States.
The archbishop was born in 1936 in Kenya and ordained in 1962. He was appointed bishop in 1988 and was named archbishop in 1990.
Madrid, Spain, Nov 27, 2007 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Valencia, Cardinal Agustin Garcia-Gasco, warned this week that “Europe and Spain have no future if the men and women of our society close our hearts to the love of God.”
The cardinal made his comments during a dinner honoring him and the two other newly elevated Spanish cardinals hosted by the Spanish ambassador to the Holy See. “If we do not heed his Word and put it into practice, we will lose the hope and the excitement for building a future of liberty and justice for all,” Cardinal Garcia-Gasco said.
“Faced with those who seek to build a society without God, far from his company, we must trust in the Lord,” as “the men and women of our time, families and all of society need the saving message of Jesus Christ more than ever,” the cardinal continued.
He noted later on that “the message of salvation is the best guarantor of our freedom,” since “peace, unity, justice and freedom, progress and the civilization of love are fruits of closeness to God.” “The Gospel of Christ is the great bulwark for defending the dignity of the human person, in the face of the violence and injustice of the world,” he stressed.
“Let us give thanks to the Holy Father Benedict XVI for the affection he has shown us,” Cardinal Garcia-Gasco said. “The history of Spain will always be linked to the name, the person and the magisterium of the Holy Father Benedict XVI,” he said in conclusion.
Mexico City, Mexico, Nov 27, 2007 (CNA) - Auxiliary Bishop Antonio Ortega of Mexico City has called for forgiveness and reconciliation after the re-opening of the Cathedral, which was temporarily closed after being attacked by sympathizers of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) on November 18.
Amidst an increase in security measures, which include bag searches, Bishop Ortega noted that mercy and forgiveness are the basis of the Christian faith. Later, during a press conference in which he was asked if the protestors were forgiven, the bishop responded that the mission of the Church is “to forgive.”
“We realize that we are all brothers and sisters and that together we must build a cleaner, more beautiful city,” he said.
During the celebration of Sunday Mass, the Cathedral was guarded by 46 officers and four patrol cars. According to reports, two people carrying signs were prevented from entering the church, as well as one person who was carrying equipment designed to measure the decibel levels of the Cathedral bells. The traditional ringing of the bells was the excuse used by political activists to protest inside the Cathedral the previous Sunday.
For his part, the president of the Catholic Lawyers of Mexico, Armando Martinez Gomez, acknowledged the willingness of the Mexico City government to collaborate in providing security for the Cathedral. He also called on PRD sympathizers “to honor the words of their leaders,” who committed to stopping the protests at the Cathedral.
London, England, Nov 27, 2007 (CNA) - Over 50 young Catholics considering a career in public life gathered at Notre Dame University campus in London last Saturday to hear from Catholics working in public life about how they live out their faith in public service to others. The second “Faith in your Future” conference, organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, brought together eminent speakers from the world of healthcare, politics, media and social care.
Baroness Patricia Scotland QC spoke of how her parents had taught her that ‘God has given each of us a talent and that it was our job to find out what that talent was, to own it and to use it for the benefit of others. She had at one time considered a vocation to the religious life, but for various reasons, entered the legal profession instead. Stressing that a career in public life was a calling, she added that it would not be an easy one, but that there would be real opportunities to make a difference in the world.
Dr. Martin Lupton, a gynecologist, who is also Chair of the Ethics Committee of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that in his job, in any one day, many of the important life issues such of birth, life and death could all be lived out.
He gave a powerful testimony of how an encounter with a nun who was nursing a terminally ill man living in abject poverty was a life changing experience. It was this image of the Church, not the powerful institution, but rather on its knees ministering to the most vulnerable in the world, which led him back to work in medicine. ‘The Church as a servant - that makes sense to me’, he said.
He was proud of the fact that as a Catholic he belonged to a Church which was one of the largest providers of healthcare in the world and concluded by affirming all the young people present in their life choices: ‘the Church has to have faith in each one of you, as you are its hands, its eyes and body in the world today - without you it will have no future’.
In a question and answer session which followed; the participants were able to ask the panel members about how they balanced their public roles with their faith. Mark Hoban, MP for Fareham, said that every Catholic in public life was there to serve all of God’s people. He said that as a Catholic working in politics, ‘you look at different cases and different circumstances…balancing it against your own faith and your own conscience’. ‘My faith has changed what I do in Westminster and in my constituency’.
At the closing Mass, principal celebrant and homilist, Fr Paul Embery gave a fitting conclusion to an inspirational day: ‘Those in public life may find, like Thomas More, that at times there are difficult choices to be made, even major clashes of loyalty to be negotiated. But this is nothing new. More followed in the footsteps of the likes of Thomas a Beckett and we follow in the footsteps of both…We should not be afraid of this – there is a dialogue to be had’.
The Conference was organized principally for some of the many young graduates who have expressed interest in participating in the Catholic Parliamentary Internship scheme which has been run by the Bishops’ Conference since 2003. This scheme places young catholic graduates with Christian MPs for a year.
More information about the internship program can be found at: www.catholicchurch.org.uk/internships
Barcelona, Spain, Nov 27, 2007 (CNA) - After months of investigation and numerous lawsuits, Spanish police have detained abortion doctor Carlos Morin, who owns and operates a chain of clinics under suspicion of performing abortions up to the eighth month of pregnancy.
In 2006, Danish public television broadcast a report that revealed that the Ginemedex clinic in Barcelona—which belongs to the Barnamedic Group, owned by Morin—performs illegal abortions. The Danish report was followed up by a story in the UK’s Daily Telegraph.
Spanish police began rounding up clinic directors and workers accused of carrying out illegal abortions. At least four people have been detained, including a direct collaborator of Morin and two women arrested at the Ginemedex Clinic and the Emece Center.
Police investigations began after the organization E-Cristians filed a complaint more than a year ago, asking officials to look into illegal practices at numerous clinics.
Pro-life leaders celebrate
The civil rights website HazteOir.org praised the police for the new investigation and asked for a copy of the complaint Morin has filed against the website, which he says should pay him $148,000 in damages for news stories it published about his clinic.
Ignacio Arsuaga, president of HazteOir.org, noted that abortion after the third month is a crime under Spanish law and that health care officials are failing to both provide alternatives to abortion and to carry out adequate inspection of clinics, “thus favoring absolute impunity for those who only see the elimination of the unborn as a business.”
, Nov 27, 2007 (CNA) - At a Mass in Rome this past Saturday, Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, delivered a homily in which he analyzed the current trends of globalization, secularization and the dignity of human life in modern culture.
Addressing the attendees of the Second World Congress of the Ecclesial Organizations working for Justice and Peace, Bishop Wenski linked the events depicted in the Book of Maccabees to present-day globalization.
Though echoing Pope John Paul II's advice that globalization itself is "neither all light nor is it all shadow," he said the ancient Greek attempt to forcibly assimilate the Jews was in some ways similar to present-day globalizing trends.
"The Greeks were insisting that the Jews adopt their ways - and their gods. In other words, they held that the God of the Jewish people, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, did not matter," Bishop Wenski said.
He said this organization of life as if God did not matter was one of Pope Benedict XVI's definitions of secularism.
But in Bishop Wenski's view, a world that lives as if God does not matter ends up undermining itself. In the mystery of the Incarnation, God has become man. This means that He is one of us and one with us. Thus, if society ignores God then it also is ignoring man, Wenski said. The bishop cited John Paul II's statement in Ecclesia in America, "Jesus Christ is the human face of God and the divine face of man."
Christians must model a life in which God matters, and because God matters man must matter as well. Both Christian witness and human flourishing, Bishop Wenski said, necessarily requires work for justice and peace.
Bishop Wenski summarized Catholic social teaching in one phrase: "no man is a problem." Thinking of another human being as a problem is an offense against his or her dignity. Looking at people as problems can lead us to look for solutions, even "final solutions," the bishop said, alluding to the genocidal Nazi campaign against Jews.
He denied that there was such a thing as a "problem pregnancy." Instead of a “problem”, he said, there is "only a child who is to be welcome in life and protected by law."
Bishop Wenski discussed other people easily viewed as "problems," saying "The refugee, the migrant is not a problem. He may perhaps be a stranger but a stranger to be embraced as a brother. Even criminals--for all the horror of their crimes--do not lose their God-given dignity as human beings. They too must be treated with respect, even in their punishment. This is why Catholic social teaching condemns torture and works for the abolition of the death penalty."
At the close of his homily the bishop thanked conference attendees for their Christian witness and prayed that the Eucharist sustain everyone working for the progress of people.
Arlington, Va., Nov 27, 2007 (CNA) - A Dominican order of traditional religious sisters is thriving in Nashville, Tennessee and expanding into other cities across the nation.
The Washington Post recently highlighted the order's work on a new Catholic high school opening in Dumfries, a city in northern Virginia. The $60 million Pope John Paul the Great High School will be one of only four new Catholic secondary schools opened last year in the U.S.
The new school will require an extensive bioethics curriculum for all four years, the first Catholic high school to do so. The Dominican sisters themselves are writing the curriculum and will run the school.
At a time when many religious communities are aging due to a lack of new vocations, the Nashville Dominicans are growing.
Though the average age for a religious sister in the United States is about 70, the Nashville Dominicans' median age is 35. The Nashville-based Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia number 226 members, and receive about ten to fifteen new vocations each year.
The sisters maintain a traditional dress, wearing floor-length white habits with a black veil and a rosary.
"They are icons of Catholicity in a diocese that wants Catholicity," said Sister Patricia Wittberg, a sociologist at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Their traditionalism may be part of their appeal.
"This generation is more conventional in their outlook and more traditional in values," said Brother Paul Bednarczyk, executive director of the National Religious Vocations Conference. "Given the relativity of our culture, they really want to know what it means to be Catholic, and symbols -- like habits -- speak to them deeply. They want people to know they have made this radical choice."
Some experts say traditional groups like the Nashville Dominicans have grown because they have maintained a clear mission, like teaching or nursing. Progressive orders have let members pursue a variety of different careers, where they often live and work alone apart from their fellow sisters. The orthodoxy and charisma of Pope John Paul II is also credited for attracting interest in the religious life, while some think the meditative lifestyle of a vowed religious is a more attractive to the frenzy of modern life.
The Nashville Dominicans have maintained their educational mission. They move to new cities in groups so they can follow the same schedule: waking together, praying and chanting three times a day together, meditating together and eating together in silence. Their reputation for being young and upbeat is reflected in their promotional material, which shows them playing soccer and walking on the beach.
"They have always been clear as to what their identity is as a community and how it's expressed. If you diversify your ministry so much, it's hard to say what your community does," said Michael Wick, executive director of the Institute on Religious Life. "And young attracts young. I think other [traditional orders] are learning from them."
The Nashville Dominicans' web site is at http://www.nashvilledominican.org/