Archive of December 7, 2007

Sunday--A day to look beyond the distractions

Canberra, Australia, Dec 7, 2007 (CNA) - In this deeply restless culture, the Church needs not just to refresh the observance of Sunday but to shape a new spirituality of the Lord’s Day, Archbishop Mark Coleridge says in his pastoral letter to mark the beginning of Advent.

"A new spirituality of the Lord’s Day will have to be consciously counter-cultural," he says. "It will involve saying 'no' to some things in order to say 'yes' to something greater and deeper.  It will require a certain discipline in order to find rest for our souls.  It will also require a new kind of creativity and imagination."

A new way of living the Lord’s Day, based upon a new spirituality of Sunday, would mean saying "yes" to Sunday Mass, he said.

"Without the Eucharist, Sunday cannot be the Lord’s Day.  It may also mean saying 'yes' to other forms of prayer – family prayer of some kind (perhaps associated with a meal), the Morning or Evening Prayer of the Church or even the Rosary prayed in an especially festive way. 

"The meal table has always been important for Christians because of its Eucharistic overtones, so a special Sunday meal could bring joy to the Lord’s Day.  Sunday is also a time to gather with family and friends, even to go with them on an outing to some place where the beauty of nature can soothe the soul or on a pilgrimage to some holy place where the heart can open to God. 

"The Lord’s Day is also a good time to invite the lonely and the poor to the table to share the joy of the Sabbath.  It may even be a good time for some restful silence – not the cold, empty silence of absence and alienation but the warm, joyous silence filled with the loving presence of God and others.   These are the sort of things which cost little but which can bring rest to the soul.

"Yet for that to happen, there will need to be a special discipline of the Lord’s Day, a kind of holy restraint. 

"This may mean looking beyond potential distractions like shopping and work, or events which can interfere with the celebration of the Lord’s Day, or even television, computers, radio and newspapers which can fill us with a burble which makes soul-rest all but impossible.

"A discipline such as this will bring not emptiness and boredom, but a time and space in which we can calm and focus our souls and therefore find rest."

The original story can be found at the Archdiocese of Canberra & Goulburn.

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Church in Asia seeing growth despite fundamentalist violence and religious repression

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2007 (CNA) - The Special Council for Asia has completed its discussions on the life of the Church in Asia. The picture painted by the talks is one of hope even the council noted that four priests were killed in Asia in 2006.

The 11th Meeting of the Special Council for Asia was held in Rome on November 20, under the presidency of Archbishop Nicola Eterovic, secretary general of the Synod of bishops, according to a press release made public today.

The outcome of the debate was the creation of “a broad overview of ecclesial life in Asia, and of the living conditions in civil society, which in many ways are favorable to Church activity.”

However, the participants also expressed concern for the “wars, the arms race, ethnic strife, violence, terrorism, repression and the various limits placed on freedom of conscience," that are taking place in various parts of Asia.

Of particular worry to the bishops is the persecution of minorities, “among them Christian minorities who are often forced to abandon their countries of origin, suffering violence also at the hands of fundamentalist groups.”

The lack of religious liberty is also an obstacle in some places and comes in the form of “limits to communication among bishops and between them and the Holy Father, ... the impossibility of creating episcopal conferences, difficulties in obtaining visas for pastoral card workers, limits on the building of places of workshop[s], and impediments to [religious] presence in public life."

Despite the repression of the Church, the bishops also noted a number of positive aspects such as "the fraternal welcome shown to Christians who have fled in fear of their lives; the increase in the number of Catholics in regions where they have, up to now, been scarce; the faithfulness even unto the giving of life, as in the case of the four priests killed in Asia in 2006, ... and an increase in vocations to the priesthood and to consecrated life”. This increase has created a situation where “Asians themselves have become missionaries to other particular Churches in Asia and on other continents."

The Asian Church is also able to contribute to the cause of inter-religious dialogue. This discussion makes a “notable contribution to tolerance and civil harmony, to reinforcing the State of law and the process of the democratization of society." The Church also exercises an important influence "through her social activities in schools and hospitals, and in favor of human promotion," the communiqué said.

A final area of promise is how the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in Asia" is "producing abundant fruits above all through programs of diocesan activities and bishops' pastoral letters," while the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Sacramentum caritatis" is being "effectively disseminated, ... and translated into local languages such as Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Thai."

The next meeting of the Special Council for Asia of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops will be held on December 11 and 12, 2008. Its theme will be: 'The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.'

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Pope prepares for Christmas by participating in first Advent meditation

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2007 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI attended the first Advent sermon today, which was given by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., preacher of the Pontifical Household.

According to the Holy See’s Press Office, the first meditation took place at the Redemptoris  Mater Chapel at the Vatican.

The theme of the meditations this year is taken from a verse in the Letter to the Hebrews: “He has spoken to us through his Son,” the Press Office reported.

Cardinals, archbishops, bishops and prelates of the Roman Curia, as well as the superior generals of the religious orders that are part of the Pontifical Chapel have been invited to the meditations.

The remaining sermons will be preached on December 14 and December 21.

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New ethical stem cell production technique confirmed

Cambridge, Mass., Dec 7, 2007 (CNA) - Researchers said on Thursday that they had proven in principle a new type of stem cell could be used as therapy after they used the cells to treat mice with sickle cell anemia, Reuters reports.

A team at the Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts used stem cells created from skin cells to treat mice engineered to have sickle cell anemia, a blood disease caused by a defect in a single gene.

The pioneering technique avoids using embryonic stem cells, which are produced by cloning an adult cell and then destroying the resulting embryo.

"This is the first evaluation of these cells for therapy," said Dr. Jacob Hanna, who worked on the study. "The field has been working for years on strategies to generate customized stem cells," he added in a telephone interview.

The new technique, developed by US and Japanese researchers, reprograms skin cells to behave like embryonic stem cells.  Four genes, what one researcher calls the “magic four factor,” are inserted into the skin cells to trigger the change.  The new stem cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells for short.

Rudolf Jaenisch, a member of the Whitehead Institute, noted in a statement the technique’s potential: "This demonstrates that iPS cells have the same potential for therapy as embryonic stem cells, without the ethical and practical issues raised in creating embryonic stem cells."

The technique is in need of further study to resolve potential problems.  One difficulty is that the “magic four factor” genes are delivered using retroviruses.

"Once they enter the genome, there is the danger that they can silence some genes that are important or they can activate some dangerous genes that shouldn't be activated," Hanna said.

In addition, one of the four genes used is known to cause cancer, though the gene is removed after the cells are reprogrammed.

Hanna and other researchers said experimentation on human embryonic stem cells should continue.  "They are the gold standard for what is normal and how a stem cell should behave," Hanna said.

However, this method is opposed by the Catholic Church and pro-lifers because it relies on the destruction of a human embryo.

Stem cell researchers hope to treat many diseases like diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and spinal cord injuries.  Stem cell therapies created from a patient’s own cells would use genetically identical cells, thus avoiding immune system problems.

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Catholic school board okays Pullman books

Ontario, Canada, Dec 7, 2007 (CNA) - A Catholic school board in Ontario is under fire for approving Philip Pullman’s "His Dark Materials" trilogy for its school libraries.

Though other Catholic school boards have pulled the atheistic fantasy trilogy from their libraries’ shelves, the Waterloo Catholic District School Board told the press the books would remain in circulation.

"The book is very definitely anti-authoritarian but in terms of how it's presented, it's a fantasy world with a fictionalized church that in no way resembles the one in which we live, even though [Pullman] borrows a couple of terms," said Jonathan Wright, religion and family life consultant for the board, speaking to the local newspaper The Record.

Author Pullman has been clear about the aim of his books.  He is reported to have said "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief," and "my books are about killing God"

Peter Vere, the co-author of a book about Pullman’s work titled “Pied Piper of Atheism”, explained further.  "The context of this trilogy is about overthrowing, not just any authority, but the Authority," Vere said.  "Pullman identifies the Authority in his third book by using most of God's names from the Old Testament."

The same school board was approached earlier this year by the group Defend Traditional Marriage and Family, which was concerned about a teacher resource book and various objectionable books, videos, and pamphlets promoting homosexuality.  One student in the district was inspired by one book to declare herself homosexual and to found a gay “pride” club.

Catholic lawyer and REAL Women Canada Vice President Gwen Landolt expressed frustration with the Waterloo Catholic District School Board.  Landolt told that the board "no longer represents Catholics or the Catholic Church and is operating as a secular humanist school board."

She urged Catholic authorities to correct school officials. "It's painful that the Catholic Church itself has not addressed the problem of this wayward board,” she said.

Wright said the Catholic board has, at least since 2000, received no complaints about the books.  The first book of the trilogy, The Golden Compass, has been adapted for a new movie.

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Pope gets "mystic white" Popemobile

, Dec 7, 2007 (CNA) - The automaker Daimler on Wednesday released the latest Popemobile, a custom Mercedes-Benz G500 painted in “Vatican mystic white.”

The new model, unlike Pope John Paul II’s vehicle, does not come with bulletproof glass. Following the 1981 assassination attempt on his life the bulletproof enclosure was added. Pope Benedict seems unfazed by the crazed man who jumped into the Popemobile earlier this year.

According to Daimler, Pope Benedict XVI will use the open-top Mercedes-Benz for his Wednesday public audiences.  Outfitted with a folding windscreen and handrails, its cabin is white and accessible by steps lined in red at the rear.

In the past, other automakers including Ford have provided the Vatican with special vehicles.  Daimler says the Pope has several Mercedes-Benz cars at his disposal.  

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Prime minister of Poland visits Vatican

Vatican City, Dec 7, 2007 (CNA) - The newly elected prime minister of Poland was received by the Pope at the Vatican today. The discussions between the two leaders focused on emphasizing moral and religious values in Poland.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, discussed the state of affairs in Poland “with particular reference to Christian moral and religious values which are part of the heritage of the Polish people."

"Mention was also made of the traditionally good relations between Poland and the Holy See, which were given particular impetus during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II", the Holy See's Press Office stated.

"Finally," the release said, "attention turned to questions regarding Europe and the international role of Poland."

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Catholic university board cuts archbishop's position

Minneapolis, Minn., Dec 7, 2007 (CNA) - The board of trustees at the University of St. Thomas has severed a key legal link with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to the Star Tribune.

In October, the trustees of the University of St. Thomas voted to eliminate the archbishop’s automatic position on the board.  For the first time since Archbishop John Ireland founded the university in 1885, a sitting archbishop will not chair the board.

Only the school’s Catholic Studies department and law school are said to have maintained a strong Catholic identity.  Two archdiocesan seminaries, St. Paul Seminary and St. John Vianney College Seminary, are affiliated with the University of St. Thomas and could be affected by changes at the school.

Some suspect that the impending retirement of Archbishop Harry Flynn was a major factor in the vote.  Archbishop Flynn is believed to have done little to resist secularizing trends at the school, but his successor, Archbishop John Nienstedt, has a reputation for standing up to secularization.

"I found this action very, very disturbing -- it was clearly directed at Archbishop Nienstedt," said Tom Mooney of St. Paul, a St. Thomas alumnus and donor. Many St. Thomas alumni are concerned about the "erosion" of the institution's Catholic identity, he said.

"The archbishop is the chief teacher of the faith in the diocese. He ought to be part of the academic community, and respected and regarded as such," said Father Paul LaFontaine, a parish priest.

The outgoing Archbishop Flynn was elected as an individual to a five-year term as chairman.  But the university will no longer be required by its bylaws to include the head of the archdiocese in any official role at the university.

University spokesman Doug Hennes said that a secular organization that reviews governing boards recommended the by-laws change in 2002.  He said the trustees were concerned the archbishop would be to busy to perform his duties as chairman.

When asked if trustees had asked Archbishop Nienstedt if he would be too busy, Hennes referred the question to the archdiocese.  Archdiocesan spokesman Dennis McGrath said he did not know.

McGrath did say in a statement that St. Thomas "always has been and always will be a Catholic university."

Katherine Kersten, writing in the Star Tribune, urged the preservation of Catholic identity at the university for the sake of students.  “We need a few places where they can be called to pursue something higher: a transcendent vision of faith and morality,” she wrote.

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Lawmakers in Mexico City approve law allowing for suspension of extraordinary treatment

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 7, 2007 (CNA) - The legislative assembly of Mexico City has approved a law allowing terminally ill patients to reject treatments that would not be life-saving and would only prolong suffering.

The spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, Father Hugo Valdemar, explained that the Church has never supported prolonged suffering and therefore the new law would not be against Church teaching.  However, he asked that the new norm not be manipulated for promoting euthanasia in the future.

He also criticized lawmakers who during debate on the law claimed that Pope John Paul II decided not to suffering during his final illness.  “That is simply stupid, and it is a very delicate issue.  The Pope remained conscious up to the moment of death,” Father Valdemar said.

The new law would allow for living wills in which a person could specify that he or she would not want extraordinary means to be used to keep them alive or to receive treatment that would only prolong suffering and offer no chance for improvement.

The living will would have to be confirmed by a public notary, a judge and two witnesses, who cannot be immediate family members or minors.

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Social justice and not tubal ligations solution to poverty, says Argentinean bishop

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 7, 2007 (CNA) - Bishop Juan Ruben Martinez of Posadas in Argentina said this week, “Poverty is not solved by tubal ligations or other instruments against human ecology, but rather with greater equality and social justice.”

The bishop made his statements in response to a question during the recent jubilee pilgrimage to Loreto, when he was asked what to do to make poor Native Americans in Argentina “have fewer children.”

In seeking out equality, Bishop Martinez continued, “the common good and hope come into play,” and he emphasized the importance that is given to the poor in the final document of the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference, which was held in Aparecida, Brazil. 

“Solidarity,” he said, springs forth from our faith in Christ and should be expressed in concrete choices and gestures, especially “in the defense of life and of the rights of the most vulnerable and excluded.”  The Church’s charitable work with the poor is a decisive mark of the Christian life, he added. 

“Selfishness and the lack of the sense of the common good are at the root of our ills.  On this Sunday of Advent the Word of God exhorts us to be ready, because the Lord will come at the hour least expected.  Evidently our society needs to be converted to the common good and to justice.  Christian hope impels us to feel responsible for turning back the scourge of exclusion,” the bishop stated.

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Cuba: victims of Tropical Storm Noel getting help from the Church

Havana, Cuba, Dec 7, 2007 (CNA) - The Church in Cuba has mobilized to offer food and clothing to the thousands of people affected by Tropical Storm Noel, which pounded the eastern section of the island last month.

The magazine “Palabra Nueva” reported that thousands of boxes of supplies, collected in response to a letter sent by Cardinal Jaime Ortega to all the faithful, have been sent to the region.

The Diocese of Pinar del Rio, which is habitually hit by such storms, has joined in the relief effort.

The Diocese of Bayamo-Manzanillo said volunteers and members of the Christian communities are collaborating in providing aid to more than 410 families in the province of Granma.

Officials have carried out a census to see which families have the greatest need.  Relief efforts have been focused on families with small children, the elderly, and those with physical and mental handicaps, the chronically ill and those confined to their homes. 

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Our Sunday Visitor hires new editor

Huntington, N.Y., Dec 7, 2007 (CNA) - Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly has hired John Norton as its new editor.  As a former correspondent to the publication, Norton has also served as a reporter for Catholic News Service and a news anchor for Vatican Radio.

“John brings to the position a knowledge of the international Church, solid reporting instincts and an ambitious desire to elevate OSV as a premier source for information and analysis on Catholic issues,” said Greg Erlandson, president of Our Sunday Visitor Publishing in a news release. “We are excited about having him as a member of our publishing team, and we look forward to the contribution he will make to Catholic journalism.”

Norton spoke of his new leadership position, “I’m excited to be joining the editorial team of a newsweekly that has played such an important role in the history of the Church in the United States.”

“The next chapter in that history is successfully engaging, informing and inspiring U.S. Catholics in the age of new media,” he continued.  “Our Sunday Visitor is uniquely placed to face today’s challenges because of the diversity of its publishing ventures, the talent it has gathered under one roof, and its strong corporate sense of urgency for continual improvement.”

Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly is the flagship publication of Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. Founded in 1912 and published in Huntington, Ind., it is the most widely read national Catholic newspaper in the United States.

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Catholic leaders respond to Mitt Romney’s speech on Mormonism

CNA STAFF, Dec 7, 2007 (CNA) - Mitt Romney’s speech on his Mormon faith was meant to clear the air about its impact on his potential leadership as president of the United States. In an effort to determine if that was the case, CNA contacted some influential Catholic leaders to hear their assessment of Romney’s speech.

"There was a lot to like in Governor Romney's speech, particularly his clear understanding that the alternative to today's vibrantly religious public square is not a naked public square but state-enforced secularism -- the establishment of secularism, if you will,” Catholic author and scholar George Weigel told CNA.

One portion of the presidential candidate’s speech that resounded with Catholic intellectual and author George Weigel was Romney’s attack on secularism.

Speaking about those who advocate for the separation of church and state “way beyond its original meaning,” Romney claimed that “they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism.”

Another highlight for Weigel was “the governor's understanding that the 'no establishment' provision of the Constitution was meant to serve the end of free exercise of religion.”

Weigel summarized his thoughts to the speech saying, “[t]here were a number of clumsy formulations in the speech, but given the complexities of the subject and the demands of politics, it was an impressive and heartening performance."

Catholic League president, Bill Donahue, took a different view of Romney’s explanation of the interplay between faith and politics. “The timing is suspect, as soon as his [poll] numbers started going south and Huckabee’s started going north, he decided to make the speech,” Mr. Donahue told CNA.

“He’s just trying to get back in the news, and it worked, for a day,” said Donahue.  

When asked if he thought Romney’s speech added anything substantial to the discussion about the role of faith in politics, Donahue said, “it’s apple pie, it doesn’t add anything new [to the discussion] that everyone doesn’t already know.”

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver took a different view of the Republican candidate’s speech on his faith. In an email to the Denver Post he wrote that, "[i]n some ways, it's the speech John Kennedy should have given in Houston, but didn't.”

"Romney, unlike Kennedy in Houston, does not separate his faith from informing his citizenship, and by extension, his vision of public service," he wrote. "Romney, offered a more reasonable and fruitful explanation of how faith actually works in public service, regardless of one's political party,” the archbishop explained.

Archbishop Chaput also added further comment on the role on the role of religion in politics saying, "Religious officials shouldn't and can't determine public policy. No sensible person would disagree with that. But that's very different from claiming — as some people now do — that religious believers, communities and leaders should be silent in public debate or stay out of public issues."

While none of the Catholic leaders offered their endorsement of Romney, both Donahue and Chaput mentioned that they see his Mormon faith as a non-issue.

Their comments on his Mormon faith are well summarized by Archbishop Chaput: "Catholics, like most other people, want to elect someone who has the skills, the moral character and the real commitment to the common good that will enable him or her to lead.”

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