, Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - Speaking on Saturday for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Benedict XVI warned of consumerism's increasing spread among children.
He began his talk by first reflecting on Mary, whose being conceived without sin the Church was celebrating. “Looking at her we recognize the greatness and beauty of God's project for each human being: to become holy and immaculate in love, in the image of our Creator,” the Pope proclaimed.
"What a great gift it is to have Mary Immaculate for a mother," Benedict XVI rejoiced. "A mother resplendent in beauty and transparent to the love of God."
In contrast to this beauty and purity, the Holy Father turned to the young people of today who are, he said, "growing up in an atmosphere pervaded with messages that propose false models of happiness. These boys and girls risk losing hope because they often seem to be orphaned of that real love which fills life with meaning and joy," Pope Benedict warned.
Adults advancing false models of happiness, he said, were targeting children at ever-younger ages.
"Adolescents, youths and even children are easy victims of the corruption of love, deceived by unscrupulous adults who, lying to themselves and to them, draw them into the dead-end streets of consumerism," he continued.
Pope Benedict lamented that in a consumerist society even human bodies become objects, saying that this objectification is occurring earlier and earlier.
"How sad it is when young people lose the marvel, the enchantment, of the most beautiful feelings, the value of respect for one's body," he said.
"Of all this we are reminded by Mary Immaculate whom we contemplate in all her beauty and sanctity," the Pope concluded.
Vatican City, Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - One of Michelangelo's last architectural designs for the dome of St. Peter's Basilica has been discovered in the basilica’s offices, the Associated Press reports.
The sketch was drawn in blood-red chalk for stonecutters who were building the basilica. Michelangelo created the sketch in 1563, the year before his death.
When the Vatican City newspaper L'Osservatore Romano first publicized the story, it wrote that "the sureness in his stroke, the expert hand used to making decisions in front of unfinished stone, leave little doubt, the sketch is Michelangelo's."
Michelangelo began work on St. Peter's Basilica in 1547.
The sketch is especially rare because the Renaissance artist ordered many of his designs destroyed when he was an old man. The rediscovered sketch survived because a supervisor used the back of it to make notes about problems related to transporting the building's stone through the outskirts of Rome.
The discovery will be presented at a news conference at the Vatican today.
Hollywood, Calif., Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - "The Golden Compass" fantasy movie, which cast a thinly-veiled Catholic Church as its villain, had a debut weaker than expected in United States movie theaters over the weekend, Reuters reports.
The $180 million film, made by New Line Cinema, sold an estimated $26.1 million in tickets as of December 9. Though it is estimated the film will bring in $28 million for its full opening weekend, it falls short of New Line's expectations of a $30-$40 million launch.
Thomas K. Arnold of USA Today fingered the boycott of the film as a possible cause for its poor showing at the box office. "Compass, based on a series of children's books by British author and outspoken atheist Philip Pullman, was slammed by some groups as anti-religious.” He also mentions that the boycott reached down to the grassroots level saying, “[s]ome Catholic schools even sent out fliers or e-mails urging parents not to let their children see the film, which follows a girl on a crusade to help persecuted children."
"Rolf Mittweg of New Line Cinema, which released Compass, concedes that the religion controversy might have had an effect," USA Today reported.
The movie is based on the first book of Philip Pullman's trilogy "His Dark Materials," a series aimed at children. Pullman, a militant atheist, sets his story in an alternate universe controlled by an oppressive religious authority modeled on a very disparaging view of the Catholic Church.
"The Golden Compass" in its film version is being boycotted by the Catholic League mainly for its potential to steer children toward the atheistic trilogy of books that inspired the movie.
A reviewer writing for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops controversially gave the movie a positive review, which was then used in the film's publicity. The advertisers for the movie mentioned that they spoke extensively with the reviewer but then misquoted his review in movie advertising so that the critic seemed even more approving.
Secular reviewers were not too pleased with the movie. Scott Holleran, a movie reviewer for Box Office Mojo, one of the top movie trackers, had this to say about the film:
"With an air of theatricality, fun and fantasy—battling the Vatican-ish Magisterium's minions—The Golden Compass recalls everything from Pirates of the Caribbean and Escape from Witch Mountain to The Lord of the Rings. But it lacks cohesion, as if it's mandated to include each literary invention without regard to intelligibility. The Golden Compass lets the needle spin around and around.”
“When it stops, with something to do with lost kids, particle dust and hints at heroic Lyra's aristocratic origins, it isn't particularly important. One of the dozens of characters asks: "Is that all?" which sums up the feeling one gets after sitting through this busy, noisy extravaganza."
London, England, Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - A new poll conducted by a theological think-tank illustrates Britons' ignorance about the details of Christ's conception, birth, and infancy.
27 percent of Britons aged 18 and older were unable to identify Bethlehem as Jesus' birthplace. One in ten thought the answer was Nazareth, and a similar number said Jerusalem.
Similarly, 27 percent of respondents did not know the angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. Some believed she was instead informed by the shepherds.
Among other confusions, most people believed the Holy Family fled to Nazareth, rather than Egypt in their escape from King Herod. Just over half did not know that John the Baptist was Jesus' cousin.
Young people were the least knowledgeable, with only seven percent of 18 to 24 year-olds able to answer all four questions correctly. People aged 55 to 64 were best equipped to answer, with 18 percent correctly answering all questions.
Churchgoers knew the stories best, with 36 percent answering all questions correctly, while only five percent of self-described atheists answered right.
Paul Woolley, the director of Theos, the theological think-tank which commissioned the survey, insisted the survey showed the Christmas story was still "very much" in the "cultural bloodstream" of the nation.
But he conceded the survey revealed that their knowledge and understanding of the details was "a little more shaky."
Woolley suggested the ignorance among young people resulted from a decline in telling Bible stories in school and the decreasing popularity of nativity plays.
The findings followed research by the Sunday Telegraph last weekend showing that only one school in every five was planning to stage a traditional Nativity play this year.
"No one seriously thinks that being a Christian or a member of the established Church is the same thing as being British today," Woolley continued.
"But, at the same time, if we are serious about social cohesion we can't afford to ignore the stories that have bound us together as a culture for a thousand years.
"Any attempts to down-play the Christmas story in order to help social cohesion are likely to be counterproductive," Woolley said.
, Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - The Vatican’s publisher Libreria Editrice Vaticana is reporting that over one million copies the new encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, have been sold since it was released on November 30.
The Holy Father’s second encyclical is devoted to the topic of Christian hope, “in a world dominated by disbelief and distrust present in questions related to the transcendent,” the Vatican publisher indicated.
“Man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope,” as “the God in whom Christians believe presents himself as the true hope of the contemporary world because He opens for him the hope of salvation,” the publisher stated.
Caracas, Venezuela, Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - In a letter to his fellow Venezuelan bishops, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas revealed that he was “violently verbally and physically assaulted” last Friday near the city’s Cathedral by a group of Chavez sympathizers.
The cardinal disclosed that during the afternoon on that day, “when I left my residence in my car with my driver, I was violently verbally and physically assaulted, although I was not hit. Only my car was damaged,” he said.
The cardinal said there were 15 people involved in the assault, all belonging to a group that is know for its support of Hugo Chavez. He said there was no police protection and that he has left messages about the incident with government officials, but has not yet received a reply.
“Thank God this time I came out alright,” the cardinal stated.
Washington D.C., Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - A poll by the firm Harris Online has revealed that the vast majority of Americans believe in God, miracles and the devil.
According to the study, 82% of American adults believe in God, 79% believe in miracles, 70% in heaven and 60% in the devil and in hell. Likewise, 70% consider themselves to be religious.
Paris, France, Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - France recently held its 30 hour-long national Telethon to raise funds to help the sick, and the bishops of that country are requesting that the funds not be used to finance research that involves the destruction of human embryos.
The Bishops’ Conference of France has published on its website the speech given by Archbishop Andre Vignt Trois of Paris during the bishops’’ recent assembly, in which he said, “Above all, we are thinking of the young infirm and their families, of their hopes of recovery and their value. We admire the generosity that drives those who join in the Telethon and we have no intention of discrediting this fruitful generosity (…) But generosity does not justify everything. We hope that everyone will reflect,” he said.
Likewise, the Archdiocese of Paris drafted a document explaining why the Church takes a position on this issue. “The embryo will soon be the subject of debates in anticipation of research with embryonic stem cells (which implies the destruction of the embryo) and the authorization of therapeutic cloning for creating embryos for research. If on the one hand we must foster research with all of the strength possible, on the other hand any deviation must be avoided. The Catholic Church calls for care to be taken. Research must be respectful of human life and be at the service of mankind, and not the other way around,” the statement indicated.
, Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - The Holy See and Israel are “very close to a historic conclusion” to the Fundamental Accord signed in 1993 and after many starts and stops, nearing the end of negotiations, according to statements by Israel’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Oded Ben Hur, during a debate in Rome.
Ambassador Ben Hur also said that “approximately 85% of the text was approved by delegates from both parties.” The agreement deals with economic issues, as well as with the legal and financial status of Church properties in the Holy Land and the Church’s activities in the region.
Obed Ben Hur also revealed that the negotiating committee will meet in Israel on December 13.
Lourdes, France, Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - Presiding at celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the Marian apparitions of Lourdes, the president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, Cardinal Paul Joseph Cordes, lamented that modernity has destroyed the reality of bad morality and the awareness of sin, with myths packaged as psycho-pathological considerations and biological explanations.
Speaking about the value of reconciliation, the cardinal explained, “The insatiable aspiration of humanity for peace and reconciliation is often frustrated in Darfur, Kosovo, Iraq, as well as in the home, in sports and among neighbors. Aggressiveness persists, despite all calls to reconciliation,” he said.
“Those who deliberately reach out to their brothers and sisters, who live in a correct way and who foster forgiveness, are undoubtedly working for peace,” but “the root of the discord between men is discord with God. Only when man gives himself to God is peace born in the world. Only the man who has made peace with God can make peace reign around him,” he said.
Cardinal Cordes emphasized, therefore, the importance of the sacrament of Reconciliation. “My aversion, my hatred, should be acknowledged and confessed. Reconciliation with God is not fictitious; it’s not a simulation or a trivialization of evil. It allows man to have an idea of the importance of the forgiveness of God,” he said.
Denver, Colo., Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - Two churches in Colorado are mourning the deaths of five of their members since gunmen opened fire yesterday at a missionary training center in Arvada and New Life Church, 80 miles south, in Colorado Springs.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver responded to the tragedy by asking God to "penetrate and redeem even this tragedy with the peace of Christmas and Christ's promise of eternal life.”
The shootings left a total of five dead, including the Arvada gunman, and six injured. Police are looking into the case to see if the incidents are related.
According to CNN, the first shooting took place at 12:30 a.m. MST at the “Youth with a Mission” training center in Arvada, a northern suburb of Denver. A man with a beard, dark jacket, glasses and skullcap entered the center and opened fire after a staff member appeared to talk to him about housing for the night.
The gunman killed two staff members and injured two more. Tiffany Johnson, 26, and Philip Crouse, 24 died shortly after the incident. Dan Griebenow was in critical condition with a bullet in his neck and Charlie Blanch suffered a shot to his legs.
After hearing of the attack that occurred just an hour’s drive north, New Life Church in Colorado Springs, added additional security members to ensure the protection of its members. However, shortly after 1 p.m., a gunman dressed in black, shot worshippers in the parking lot of the church killing one and injuring four before a security guard shot and killed the gunman. Lt. Skip Arms told CNN that she “saved this tragedy from becoming a lot worse than it is.”
The security guards work at the church on a volunteer basis and some of them are armed. The church’s staff ensured that only those licensed to carry weapons are armed.
Those killed were identified as Stephanie Works, 18, and Rachael Works, 16. Their father, David Works, 51, was listed in fair condition on Monday.
"Our concern is for our family that lost two teenage daughters. Our hearts are grieving this morning for them," said Senior Pastor Brady Boyd in a news conference this morning. "Our prayers are with them."
The family had been involved in the parish for a year and a half.
Pastor Boyd also told reporters that the gunman did not have ties to the church and that it was simply a random attack with the “intention of hurting people.”
“Our hearts go out to the family of this young man,” Pastor Boyd said. “We are praying for him and his family.”
In a statement released Monday, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver also offered his prayers for the community:
“The violence over the weekend against young missionaries in Arvada and against worshippers at New Life Church in Colorado Springs would be heart-rending in any season, but it is especially bitter during this time of preparation for Christmas, the birthday of the Prince of Peace.”
“Along with the whole Catholic community in Colorado, I pray that God will heal the suffering inflicted by these terrible events, and sustain the hope and faith of the people at New Life Church, Youth with a Mission and Faith Bible Chapel. For those struggling personally with this sorrow, may God penetrate and redeem even this tragedy with the peace of Christmas and Christ's promise of eternal life.”
Fresno, Calif., Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - Churches in California and Canada have decided to split from the Anglican Communion due to disagreement over how the church should minister to homosexuals and doctrinal matters.
The Diocese of San Joaquin and churches in British Columbia will instead align with the Argentinean Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.
The Episcopal Church is the U.S. province of the Anglican Communion which serves 77 million members world-wide.
The AP reports that Saturday, the Diocese of San Joaquin voted to split from the Episcopal Church because of their disagreements over the Bible and homosexuality.
The homosexual issue is not a key issue. It is a concern, but it is not the central concern,” said Reverend Van McCalister a spokesman for the diocese.
McCalister says that some in the diocese have been disgruntled for decades over the authority of scripture and the relationship to the historical church. ”Some folks have been concerned since 1955 when Bishop Pike said he no longer believed in the doctrine of the trinity, no longer believed in the resurrection, or the virgin birth, and the church was unwilling to discipline him,” said McCalister.
On Saturday, clergy and lay members from the diocese voted 173-22 to remove all references to the national church from the diocese’s constitution.
"We have leadership in the Episcopal Church that has drastically and radically changed directions," McCalister said. "They have pulled the rug out from under us. They've started teaching something very different, something very new and novel, and it's impossible for us to follow a leadership that has so drastically reinvented itself."
Those who accept homosexuality say they are guided by biblical teachings of tolerance. Those in disagreement say these relationships violate the Bible.
The diocese has decided to place itself under the authority Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone as will two churches in British Columbia.
According to Reuters, Bishop Donald Harvey said last week he would come out of retirement to lead the conservative Canadian Anglicans and said as many as 20 congregations could split from the Canadian Anglican Church, joining the 12 that have already placed themselves under the authority of several African archbishops.
Though theological debates began decades ago, Anglicans have been moving toward a worldwide schism since 2003, when the Episcopal Church consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
, Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - A high ranking official in the Russian Orthodox Church described a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI this last Friday as "very positive," and said Catholics and Orthodox must work together to promote Christian values while continuing to work towards unity.
Metropolitan Kirill, the top prelate in charge of foreign relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, held a private discussion with the Pope this past Friday at the Vatican.
While no official comments were made by the Vatican on the talks, Kirill told “L'Osservatore Romano” that, the visit left him "with great sentiments of hope."
Relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and Catholic Church have been strained because of accusations against Catholics of proselytizing and disagreements over the ownership of church property seized during the Communist regime.
The Vatican has rejected the claim that it’s trying to steal from the Orthodox fold, saying it only ministers to the country's Catholics, who number about 600,000 in a country of 142 million.
These tensions were the cause of great sorrow for Pope John Paul II, who failed in his attempts to achieve a reunification of the two churches in time for the Jubilee Year 2000.
Pope Benedict XVI has also made Orthodox-Catholic unity a priority of his pontificate.
Kirill provided an optimistic assessment of relations between the two Churches.
"Very positive," Kirill told the newspaper, "Just as the meeting with the pope for me was very positive and very beautiful.”
"We await and we hope for a positive development of our relations so that, finally, Russian Catholics live in peace with Russian Orthodox," he said.
St. Paul, Minn., Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop Harry Flynn has responded to a column written by Katherine Kersten originally printed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and then reported on by CNA. In her story she accused the University of St. Thomas of taking steps to distance itself from its Catholic identity. The following letter of clarification is from the archbishop:
Katherine Kersten's column of Dec. 4 ("Battle for soul of St. Thomas takes a turn for the worse") was an inaccurate and slanted portrayal of the current and future Catholicity of the University of St. Thomas.
I simply wish to make two points about the statement she quoted as being from our "Archdiocesan spokesman":
First, the statement we e-mailed and faxed to her was headlined as being a "Statement of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis." It came from me, not from our "spokesman."
Second, and more important, Kersten used only the first sentence of my statement in her column. The other two sentences were ignored. They read as follows: "The Saint Thomas board will always include bishops or priests. Any rumors or speculation about the 'de-Catholicization of the University of Saint Thomas are ill founded, inaccurate and ludicrous.'"
The editing of my statement leaves open to question her motivation in writing this one-sided and inaccurate column.
Hollywood, Calif., Dec 10, 2007 (CNA) - Eduardo Verastegui, star of the movie "Bella", related at a fundraiser last Thursday the touching story of how he saved a baby from abortion while researching his role in the romantic drama about a woman with a crisis pregnancy.
He told the story as he held the little baby, “Eduardito,” at a pregnancy center banquet in Los Angeles.
"I decided to go to an abortion center to see if I could learn more about what women think and feel when faced with a crisis pregnancy,” Verastegui said. While there, he met a couple seeking an abortion. Speaking with them for 45 minutes, he offered them help, encouragement, and his phone number.
"Several months later," Eduardo continued, "I received a phone call from the man I met with the pregnant lady in front of the abortion center. He said, 'Hello Eduardo - this is Javier, and I have great news. My boy was born yesterday! I want to thank you and ask your permission - I would like to name him, Eduardo.'"
"I just put the phone down - I couldn't even talk," Eduardo said. "It's the most emotional thing I've ever done in my life. It changed my life. It was beautiful. I went to the hospital to meet them and see the baby. A few weeks later, I was holding little Eduardito in my hands. It was beautiful!"
"By the grace of God, I was able to save this baby," Verastegui said.