Vatican City, Nov 28, 2007 (CNA) - The “most famous poet of the patristic age," St. Ephrem the Syrian, was the topic of the Pope’s general audience held in Paul VI Hall today. Wishing to show that the Christian faith is not European in origin, Benedict XVI pointed to St. Ephrem’s origins in modern day Turkey.
The Pope remarked how "it is widely believed today that Christianity is a European religion which subsequently exported that continent's culture to other countries. But the truth is much more complex."
Picking up on a theme from his audience last week, Pope Benedict reminded people that, "The roots of the Christian religion are in the Old Testament, hence in Jerusalem and the Semitic world. And Christianity constantly draws nourishment from these Old Testament roots.”
During the first centuries of Christianity, it spread both “westwards - to the Greco-Latin world where it later inspired European culture - and eastwards to Persia and India, where it contributed to the formation of a specific culture, in Semitic languages and with its own identity," the pontiff noted.
Benedict XVI indicated that "in order demonstrate the one Christian faith's multiplicity of cultural form ever since its inception" he had chosen to focus his audience on St. Ephrem, a theologian and a poet who was born in Nisibis (present-day Turkey) around the year 306 and died in Edessa (present-day Armenia) in 373.
In addition to his origins in the East, the Holy Father also spoke of Ephrem’s gift for poetry, which "enabled him to deepen his theological reflections through the use of paradox and images."
Pope Benedict XVI cited several examples of St. Ephrem’s poetry including his famous saying: "Nothing in the Creation is isolated and the world is - alongside Scared Scripture - a Bible of God. Using his freedom wrongly, man overturns the order of the universe."
Another of the saint’s teachings that the Pope dwelt on was on the topic of the dignity of women. St. Ephrem taught that "Jesus' presence in Mary's womb greatly raised the dignity of women ... about whom he always speaks with sensitivity and respect,” Benedict said.
Honored in Christian tradition with the title of "harp of the Holy Spirit," Ephrem remained a deacon of the Church throughout his life. "This was a decisive and emblematic choice," said the Holy Father. "He was a deacon, in other words a servant in liturgical ministry and, more radically, in the love of Christ ... as well as in charity towards his brethren who, with great skill, he introduced to a knowledge of the divine Revelation."
Vatican City, Nov 28, 2007 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI issued a call today at the end of his general audience exhorting everyone to increase their efforts to combat the spread of AIDS.
Speaking to a crowd of 8,000 people in Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father said that “everything possible” must be done to halt the spread of AIDS. He explained that he was making this statement as World AIDS Day approaches on December 1.
The pontiff also expressed his solidarity with the disease’s victims saying, “I remain spiritually close to everyone suffering from this terrible sickness, and to their families, especially those who have lost a loved one. To everyone I give assurances of my prayers.”
Calling for an increase in efforts by “all people of good will” to fight HIV, Pope Benedict also said that “the disdain which is often directed towards people who are affected by it” must be combated. Care for the sick, especially those who are still children must be a priority as well.
Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2007 (CNA) - Bishop of Lourdes Jacques Perrier announced on Tuesday the opening of a year-long celebration for the 150th Jubilee anniversary of the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin to St. Bernadette Soubirous.
He made the announcement in Washington, the see of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“I invite the people of the United States to visit Lourdes during the Jubilee year or to honor the anniversary at home in their parishes with prayer, with service to the sick and disabled or by pilgrimage to local Grotto replicas throughout the country,” Bishop Perrier said.
The Jubilee Year will formally open on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, at a Mass in Lourdes honoring the feast day. The series of celebrations, pilgrimages, and missions will highlight the message of Lourdes in light of the "new evangelization."
Lourdes pilgrims will be invited to follow the "Jubilee Path" by visiting the baptismal font where St. Bernadette was baptized, the abandoned jail where she and her impoverished family lived throughout the apparitions, the grotto where she saw the Blessed Virgin eighteen times, and the chapel where Bernadette made her First Communion.
Six million pilgrims, including more than 500,000 American Catholics, are estimated to visit the sanctuaries at Lourdes, France every year.
On the occasion of the Jubilee Year, parishes, schools, hospitals and grotto replicas linked to the pilgrimage site or Our Lady of Lourdes or her title of the Immaculate Conception are being invited to reunite themselves to Lourdes' original message of conversion and penance.
Atlanta, Ga., Nov 28, 2007 (CNA) - An Operation Rescue truck bearing signs with photographs of aborted babies was impounded and its driver arrested in an Atlanta suburb over the Thanksgiving Weekend.
Bob Roethlisberger, the driver of the vehicle called the "Truth Truck," was arrested by officers of the Gwinnett County Police Department on charges of disorderly conduct. Officers told him the signage was "vulgar and obscene." They ransacked the back of the truck without a warrant and ordered Roethlisberger to change or remove the signs. When he refused, Roethlisberger was arrested and incarcerated for three days before being released on a $1,000 bond.
The "Truth Truck" was released from impound on Monday with damage to it estimated to be in the thousands of dollars. Both the signs and the mounting hardware were damaged when police ripped the signs off the truck.
"It is obvious that these police officers, under the direction of Major Thomas Bardugon, engaged in a serious incident of unconstitutional content-based discrimination and illegal destruction of property," said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman.
"Bob fully cooperated with officers, but refused to compromise on his message, which is unequivocally protected by the First Amendment. The officers misused their authority to punish Bob for expressing a viewpoint that ran counter to theirs. The arrest was nothing less than an egregious abuse of power," he continued.
When asked if he would drop charges against Roethlisberger, Major Bardugon refused and threatened to arrest Newman if he drove the "Truth Truck" through Bardugon's jurisdiction.
The "Truth Truck," part of a fleet of vehicles managed by Operation Rescue, was in Georgia to help draw Georgians' attention to the brutal reality of abortion. A Human Life Amendment is scheduled to be considered by the state legislature in January.
Newman said Operation Rescue intended to vigorously fight the charges and to seek restitution for the property damage.
"We cannot allow the illegal use of police authority to bully us into silence, when such silence could cost innocent human lives," he said.
London, England, Nov 28, 2007 (CNA) - British churches have expressed concern that legislation punishing hate crimes based on sexual orientation could be used to silence Christian disapproval of certain sexual behaviors.
Both the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and the Church of England have issued a memorandum concerning an amendment to the Public Order Act of 1986 that would make incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation an offense punishable by law.
"Christians engaged in teaching or preaching and those seeking to act in accord with Christian convictions in their daily lives need to be assured that the expression of strong opinions on marriage or sexuality will not be illegal," the memorandum says.
The churches pressed for maximum clarity about what the law permits and forbids. They feared the law would restrict opinions and forbid criticisms about sexual behavior and lifestyles.Both churches affirmed the importance of protecting those vulnerable to attack on grounds of their sexual or gender identity. However, they pointed out that the present law already restricts “words, behaviour and display of written material which are intended to cause harassment, alarm or distress, or which occur in the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress."
The churches suggested legal safeguards to protect expressions of opinion directed against conduct, rather than opinions directed against persons themselves.
London, England, Nov 28, 2007 (CNA) - A Catholic hospital favored by British celebrities has barred its doctors from making abortion referrals or providing contraceptives, the Daily Telegraph reports.
The board of the private St. John and St. Elizabeth Hospital voted to implement a new code of ethics advocated by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster.
In a letter to the hospital earlier this year, the cardinal said: "There must be clarity that the hospital, being a Catholic hospital with a distinct vision of what is truly in the interests of human persons, cannot offer its patients, non-Catholic or Catholic, the whole range of services routinely accepted by many in modern secular society as being in a patient's best interest."
An inquiry the cardinal set up in 2005 found that the hospital had been flouting existing guidelines. Prominent Catholics complained the hospital's permitting National Health Service physicians to operate on its premises would further undermine Church teaching.
Hospital insiders claim staff who opposed the code may resign. The hospital could face financial troubles if it must abandon plans to lease part of its site to National Health Service physicians, who are obligated by contract to offer contraceptive services.
The new code could cause other controversies, since the hospital is a favorite with celebrity mothers. Actresses Cate Blanchett and Emma Thompson and the model Kate Moss have all had babies at the hospital, which has been described in magazines as the "poshest place to push."
Montevideo, Uruguay, Nov 28, 2007 (CNA) - President Tabare Vazquez of Uruguay has reiterated his stance against legal abortion and said he would veto a new law legalizing the practice in the country.
Three weeks after the Senate approved a measure legalizing abortion, Vasquez said, “The Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health has very positive elements that should be salvaged, but there are others that I do not agree with from a philosophical and biological perspective and therefore they will be vetoed.”
According to president’s official website, Vasquez made his statements during a speech entitled “People to People,” which he intended to inform Uruguayans about the achievements and plans of his administration.
The new norm, which needs to be passed still by the House of Representatives, allows abortion during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy in cases of economic or family hardship, because of one’s age or health, or in cases of fetal deformation or to save the life of the mother.
Analysts expect the House to pass the measure, and therefore only a presidential veto would prevent it from becoming law.
The latest polls show that public opinion is very divided on the issue of abortion.
Washington D.C., Nov 28, 2007 (CNA) - A self-described sexual health children's book is so graphic in its contents that material from it has been banned from a state prison and several web sites.
The book, titled It's Perfectly Normal, has been targeted by the American Life League (ALL) as completely inappropriate, especially since its instruction is aimed at children ages ten and up.
Endorsed by Planned Parenthood, it contains written descriptions and cartoon depictions of sex acts, including two pictures of teenagers engaged in masturbation. The text is dismissive of religious disapproval of masturbation and also discusses deviant sex acts.
Free copies of the book are distributed to children at an annual party sponsored by Planned Parenthood.
"How can anyone claim that this book is appropriate for 10 year-olds?" asked Jim Sedlak, vice-president for American Life League.
A few months ago a Washington State prison rejected a fund-raising letter that included censored images from the book for being "sexually explicit" and "obscene."
Book author Robie Harris was interviewed on the Planned Parenthood web site in response to earlier ALL reaction to her book. In the interview she said "My response is that there is no response. I could spend all of my time responding to things that are said about my work that are not true. Or I can spend my time making sure that my books are up-to-date and the information is current, and I can continue speaking at schools ... and creating new books for kids."
Last week the American Life League examined It's Perfectly Normal in a video report posted to several streaming-video sites. Even though it reproduced the book's most explicit content only in censored form, the ALL video was removed from vidilife.com, sharkle.com, and hi5.com for "inappropriate content," and flagged on another site to restrict viewers under 18.
"What an irony that censored content from a book intended for 10-year-old children is rejected by a prison, removed from video-streaming sites, and flagged for viewers over the age of 18," said Sedlak. "We actually have no objection to the actions of the online sites and the prison. We agree that this is not appropriate content.”
"We are calling for libraries, schools and parents all across the country to take similar action," Sedlak continued. "Planned Parenthood should be denied access to our children at all times. The material it promotes is totally inappropriate and could be harmful."
Caracas, Venezuela, Nov 28, 2007 (CNA) - The auxiliary bishops and clergy of the Archdiocese of Caracas have expressed their solidarity with Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino in response to the repeated insults and attacks leveled against him by President Hugo Chavez, saying the Venezuelan leader must “change his attitude” and behavior that are “offending Catholics and the entire nation.”
In a statement issued on Monday, the bishops and clergy expressed their support for the cardinal, who has been in Rome this month for the Consistory of Cardinals, and their concern over the level of violence and lack of harmony in the country at a time in which there should be “a climate of reflection” in preparation for the December 2 referendum on constitutional reform.
The statement noted that the Venezuelan bishops have expressed their thoughtful opinions and have fulfilled their duty to call on all citizens to “participate and contribute” with their own points of view. “Expression of a reasoned opinion is not a crime, but rather a pastoral duty for any Bishop of the Catholic Church, when what is at risk is the common good.”
The attacks against the Archbishop of Caracas, “who has never offended or showed disrespect to the President or to any member of the national government,” the statement continues, “are not only a disgrace to the presidency but also offend Catholics and all Venezuelans who are respectful of man’s dignity and his inherent rights.”
While they expressed their willingness to forgive, the bishops and priests said they felt it their duty “to exhort and demand a change of attitude.”
San Diego, Calif., Nov 28, 2007 (CNA) - San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders will preside over a ceremony today as the Blickenstaff family makes a $1.5 million gift to Blessed Sacrament Parish School. The family has created the Brian’s Scholars Foundation in honor of Dr. Brian Bennett, former principal of Blessed Sacrament Parish School and a well-known Catholic education advocate.
The foundation will offer scholarships to help make Catholic education a reality for 75 to 100 students each year. The gift comes in two parts – a founding grant of $750,000 and an additional $750,000 over the next five years to make scholarships immediately available to students.
“We are awestruck by this incredible gift from the Blickenstaff family,” said Theodora Furtado, principal of the Mid City School celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. “Their generosity honors Brian’s legacy by helping families in our inner city give their children a Catholic education.”
The Brian’s Scholars Foundation pays tribute to Dr. Bennett, a well-known education advocate, who is credited with boosting enrollment at Blessed Sacrament Parish School during his tenure as principal from 1979 to 1997.
In May 2006, Dr. Bennett was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Dr. Bennett and Kim D. Blickenstaff, co-founder and former chairman and CEO of Biosite Incorporated, are working closely with the school through an extensive outreach program to raise funds totaling $3 million to support the Brian’s Scholars Foundation. Rita and Kim Blickenstaff’s three grown children – David, Paul and Katie – graduated from Blessed Sacrament Parish School, and Rita Blickenstaff has taught there since 1994.
“Every family should have the right to choose the education that is best for their children, and thanks to the Blickenstaff family this dream is becoming a reality,” said Dr. Bennett, who attended Catholic schools all his life. “The Blickenstaff family understands the importance of a values-centered education in the Catholic tradition of service to families and children. I hope that their amazing and unselfish commitment will be a source of inspiration for others.”
For 60 years, Blessed Sacrament Parish School has served the East San Diego, City Heights, Rolando, College Area neighborhoods and beyond. Its more than 2,000 graduates include champion golfer Phil Mickelson and member of the basketball Hall of Fame, Bill Walton, along with teachers, firefighters, nurses, physicians and researchers – people who make a difference every day.
Blessed Sacrament Parish School is a Catholic family of parents, educators, clergy, and parishioners united to educate our children while promoting a Catholic values-centered education, spiritual growth, academic excellence and physical development and supporting the learning styles of each student. The school also celebrates diversity and shares talents in support of one another, their parish and community. Blessed Sacrament Parish School has nearly 300 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, along with its pre-kindergarten and preschool programs. The school is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and the Western Catholic Education Association.
For more information, please visit www.bsps-sd.org.
Vatican City, Nov 28, 2007 (CNA) - Today, Pope Benedict XVI’s message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees which will be celebrated on January 13, was made public. In it he raised the plight of young migrants who are torn between two cultures in the lands they immigrate to.
The theme of the 94th celebration, “invites us this year to reflect in particular on young migrants” stated the Holy Father. “The vast globalization process underway around the world brings a need for mobility, which also induces many young people to emigrate and live far from their families and their countries. The result is that many times the young people endowed with the best intellectual resources leave their countries of origin, while in the countries that receive the migrants, laws are in force that make their actual insertion difficult.”
"For the young migrants,” he continued, “the problems of the so-called 'difficulty of dual belonging' seem to be felt in a particular way: on the one hand, they feel a strong need not to lose their culture of origin, while on the other, the understandable desire emerges in them to be inserted organically into the society that receives them, but without this implying a complete assimilation and the resulting loss of their ancestral traditions.”
Cardinal Martino, president of the Pontifical Council affirmed this during the presentation saying, “Young migrants often find themselves alone, in a no- man's-land halfway between two cultures.” This causes them “to live in a situation of great uncertainty that prevents them from conceiving a feasible project for their future and increases the factors that lead to marginalization, opening the doors to criminality, prostitution, alcohol, drugs and larceny.”
The cardinal continued, “The crisis of values of our own day leads to the spiritual death of many young immigrants. Most of them are also relatively distant from religious concerns, and often recognize that they have received no ... education in this field.”
The Pope’s message continued, emphasizing the need to focus on the “sector of forced migrants, refugees and the victims of human trafficking. “[I]t is impossible to remain silent before the distressing images of the great refugee camps present in different parts of the world. ... These children and adolescents have only had as their life experience the permanent, compulsory 'camps' where they are segregated, far from inhabited towns, with no possibility normally to attend school."
How can these young migrants be helped? The Holy Father answered that “it is necessary to aim first of all at support for the family and schools. But how complex the situations are, and how numerous the difficulties these young people encounter in their family and school contexts! In families, the traditional roles that existed in the countries of origin have broken down, and a clash is often seen between parents still tied to their culture and children quickly acculturated in the new social contexts.
"Likewise, the difficulty should not be underestimated which the young people find in getting inserted into the educational course of study in force in the country where they are hosted. Therefore, the scholastic system itself should take their conditions into consideration and provide specific formative paths of integration for the immigrant boys and girls that are suited to their needs. The commitment will also be important to create a climate of mutual respect and dialogue among all the students in the classrooms based on the universal principles and values that are common to all cultures."
The Holy Father also focused on the need for pastoral care for students who are studying abroad noting that they may “often feel alone under the pressure of their studies and sometimes they are also constricted by economic difficulties.
"It is necessary to help them find a way to open up to the dynamism of inter-culturality and be enriched in their contact with other students of different cultures and religions. For young Christians, this study and formation experience can be a useful area for the maturation of their faith, a stimulus to be open to the universalism that is a constitutive element of the Catholic Church.”
"Dear young migrants, prepare yourselves to build together your young peers a more just and fraternal society by fulfilling your duties scrupulously and seriously towards your families and the State.” The Pontiff encouraged migrants to “be respectful of the laws and never let yourselves be carried away by hatred and violence. Try instead to be protagonists as of now of a world where understanding and solidarity, justice and peace will reign."
The Pope concluded his message by reminding the migrants that the Church needs them. “You can play a very providential role in the current context of evangelization. Coming from different cultures, but all united by belonging to the one Church of Christ, you can show that the Gospel is alive and suited to every situation; it is an old and ever new message. It is a word of hope and salvation for the people of all races and cultures, of all ages and eras."
Madrid, Spain, Nov 28, 2007 (CNA) - Diverse civil organizations dedicated to promoting the defense of life and the family are praising the actions of officials in Barcelona who detained the owner of a clinic that performed abortions up to the eighth month of pregnancy. The pro-life organizations are calling for the laws on abortion to be reviewed in order to guarantee that excesses are not committed again.
The Spanish Forum on the Family praised the detention of Carlos Morin Gamarra, owner of the abortion clinic Ginemedex, and demanded the law be followed. The Forum’s president, Benigno Blanco, noted that a “scandalous situation” has developed in Spain regarding abortion, as there is “more than sufficient proof” that in many clinics the law is not being followed. He said the scandal has been compounded by news of how human remains after an abortion are being handled in such places as the Clinica Isadora in Madrid.
“Health care officials in Barcelona, who have the duty to inspect and regulate these centers, should put an end to the impunity and adopt precise measures so that the clinics that are licensed to practice abortion are not islands indifferent to current law,” Blanco said.
Other civil rights groups such as the website HazteOir.org have called for the law on abortion to be overturned or at least that guarantees that it is followed be implemented. They denounced government officials for neglecting to properly inspect health care facilities and to ensure that they are following the law.
Victims of abortion
The Association of Victims of Abortion (AVA) also praised the actions by health care officials and noted that according to “statistics from the Ministry of Health, 97% of abortions carried out in Spain are done for reasons of physical or psychological health of the mother.”
AVA said doctors are not following the legal requirement that a woman’s physical or psychological health be examined before she can receive an abortion in any center.
, Nov 28, 2007 (CNA) - Commenting on the loss of values in the world of sports today, the coach of Italy’s soccer team, Roberto Donadoni, said Benedict XVI and John Paul II “are inspirations” in how to live and act”. If they were soccer players, Donadoni said, “I would definitely put them in the middle of the field towards the front,” as in the moral climate of today’s world “we not only need defenders but strikers as well.”
In a recent interview on Vatican Radio, when asked about what positions he would give the pontiffs if they were soccer players on his team, Donadoni said, “In these times we not only need defenders but strikers as well, like those who clearly propose and give something. So, I would definitely put them in the middle of the field towards the front.”
Asked if the popes are “inspiring to the game,” the Italian soccer coach replied, “I would say they are, since they inspirations in how to live and act.” In response to questions about the recent violence at soccer games in Italy, which has left one person dead and scores injured, Donadoni said television and the press have “a great task” in helping to stop it. “If they can operate in a constructive and positive way, they can make an enormous contribution. In my opinion, this does not often happen.”
Donadoni encouraged young people hoping to get in to soccer to “use their heads and not be fooled by bad advice or by groups that do not care about the common good, but only about themselves.”
Vatican City, Nov 28, 2007 (CNA) - This coming Sunday, December 2, Pope Benedict will visit the Roman hospital of St. John the Baptist, which is run by the Knights of Malta and specializes in the treatment and rehabilitation of people suffering from neurological disorders.
The Pope will celebrate Mass for the patients and their families before going on to visit the reanimation unit, one of the few Italian healthcare structures specifically dedicated to providing specialized therapy for patients recovering from comas.
The communications office of the Order of Malta relates that this event has a twofold historical significance: firstly that it is "the first visit by a Pope to this hospital," and secondly because the hospital itself has a long-standing link to the Holy Father, "being built on the site of the ancient 'Castello della Magliana,' used by Pontiffs for centuries as their summer residence."