, Dec 14, 2007 (CNA) - Say ‘yes’ to the divine call, was Pope Benedict’s message to a crowd of Roman university students who met with him yesterday evening in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The students listened to the Holy Father as he spoke about two important topics: their own spiritual formation and the importance of God for having hope in the modern world.
Among the young people gathered in the basilica were 150 university students from the diocese of Rome who have decided to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation on the eve of Pentecost this coming year. Addressing them and the other young people present, the Pope invited them "to turn their gaze to the Virgin Mary. From her 'yes' you should learn to pronounce your own 'yes' to the divine call,” he taught them.
Encouraging them to be generous in their ‘yes’ to God, Benedict explained that “[t]he Holy Spirit enters our lives in the extent to which we open our hearts with our 'yes.' The fuller that 'yes' is, the fuller is the gift of His presence."
Pope Benedict then moved on to reflect on having hope in today’s world. He invited the young people to reflect upon and consider, individually and as a group, the section in “Spe Salvi” dedicated to hope in the modern age.
Drawing from his encyclical, the Pope recalled that “[i]n the seventeenth century, Europe went through an epoch-making change. Since then a mentality has become ever more widespread according to which human progress is the work of science and technology, while faith concerns only the salvation of the soul.”
"The two great concepts of modernity - reason and freedom - have been, so to say, 'disengaged' from God," the Holy Father added. They have "become autonomous and work together in the construction of the 'kingdom of man,' which in practice contrasts with the Kingdom of God.
This ‘kingdom of man’ has led to “the spread of materialist ideas, nourished by the hope that, by changing economic and political structures, it will finally be possible to achieve a just society in which peace, freedom and equality reign,” the Pope observed.
"This process," Benedict concluded, "which is not without its merits and its historical causes, contains, however, a basic error: man is not just the result of certain economic and social conditions; technological progress does not correspond to the moral development of mankind. In fact without ethical principles science and technology can be used - as has happened and unfortunately still does happen - not for the good but to the detriment of individuals and humanity."
Vatican City, Dec 14, 2007 (CNA) - This morning as he received a group from the northern Italian region of Trentino, which is in Rome to deliver the Christmas tree for St. Peter’s Square this year, the Holy Father insisted that “Christmas is a Christian feast”.
To emphasize the Christian nature of Christmas, the Pope reflected on the Christian meaning of the traditions that surround the holiday as he spoke to the delegation.
"This ancient fir," said the Pope, "cut down without harming the life of the forest, ... will remain standing by the nativity scene until the end of the Christmas festivities. ... It is an important symbol of Christ's Nativity because with its evergreen leaves it recalls the life that does not die. The fir is also a symbol of the popular religiosity in your valleys, which finds particular expression in processions."
"The tree and the nativity scene are elements of that typical Christmas atmosphere which is part of the spiritual heritage of our communities; an atmosphere suffused with religiosity and family intimacy which we must conserve even in our modern societies where the race to consumerism and the search for material goods sometimes seem to prevail.”
"Christmas is a Christian feast," added Benedict XVI in conclusion, "and its symbols, especially the nativity scene and the tree hung with gifts, are important references to the great mystery of the Incarnation and the Birth of Jesus, which are constantly evoked by the liturgy of Advent and Christmas."
Vatican City, Dec 14, 2007 (CNA) - The document entitled “A Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization" which is bound to cause much discussion amongst Catholics, was published today at the Vatican. The note emphasizes the need for Catholics to share their faith in Christ and to be “instruments of His presence and activity in the world.”
The document comes as a response “to a certain confusion about whether Catholics should give testimony about their faith in Christ. “The congregation," said Cardinal William Joseph Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "decided to address some specific points which seem to undermine the fulfillment of Christ's missionary mandate.”
The new document states that there is “growing confusion” regarding the Church’s mission to evangelize. “Some think 'that any attempt to convince others on religious matters is a limitation of their freedom,' suggesting that it is enough to invite people 'to act according to their consciences,' or to 'become more human or more faithful to their own religion,' or 'to build communities which strive for justice, freedom, peace and solidarity,' without aiming at their conversion to Christ and to the Catholic faith.”
However, the document observes that this way of thinking contains the false idea that man can be free apart from the truth. It states that, "while some forms of agnosticism and relativism deny the human capacity for truth, in fact, human freedom cannot be separated from its reference to truth."
In the search for truth, one cannot do it on his own, the note explains. He needs "help from others and trust in knowledge that one receives from others. Thus, teaching and entering into dialogue to lead someone in freedom to know and to love Christ is not inappropriate encroachment on human freedom, 'but rather a legitimate endeavor and a service capable of making human relationships more fruitful'."
Evangelization: Faith in Action
During the presentation, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Angelo Amato said that we cannot just teach the basics of the doctrine, but must actively live out the Faith. “Evangelization means not just teaching doctrine but announcing the Lord Jesus though word and deed, in other words, becoming instruments of His presence and activity in the world."
He continued, the "primary task of the Church is to lead mankind to friendship with Jesus Christ, in freedom and respect for the conscience of others. ... respect for different sensibilities and particular traditions cannot preclude the need for freedom or for truth, which are the indispensable prerequisites for any form of dialogue."
In reference to other cultures, the note highlights "Through evangelization, cultures are positively affected by the truth of the Gospel. Likewise, through evangelization, members of the Catholic Church open themselves to receiving the gifts of other traditions and cultures."
Cardinal Fracncis Arinze, prefect of the Disciple of the Sacraments, made a number of observations concerning the regions of sub-Saharan Africa where "African traditional religion has been the dominant religious and cultural context for centuries. It is also from that context that most converts to Christianity in these countries in the past two hundred years have come."
"The sharing of our Catholic faith with others who do not yet know Christ should be regarded as a work of love," he continued, "provided that it is done with full respect for their human dignity and freedom. Indeed if a Christian did not try to spread the Gospel by sharing the excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ with others, we could suspect that Christian either of lack of total conviction on the faith, or of selfishness and laziness in not wanting to share the full and abundant means of salvation with his fellow human beings."
Cardinal Dias, prefect of the Evangelization of the Peoples commented on the note from an "Asian theological perspective." Evangelization "in a context of religious pluralism is nothing new for the Church," but it does present "a particular challenge in modern times because we are living in an age in which people from different religions meet and interact more than in any other period in human history."
On a continent with diverse religious traditions, the cardinal noted "Christians must seek to discover therein the action of the Holy Spirit - in other words the 'seeds of truth' as Vatican Council II chose to call them - and lead them, with no pretensions to superiority, to full knowledge of the truth in Jesus Christ."
Finally, focusing on inter-religious dialogue, Cardinal Dias expressed that "other religions represent a positive challenge for the Church; they stimulate her both to discover and recognize the signs of Christ's presence in the action of the Spirit, and to develop her own identity and bear witness to the integrity of revelation, of which she is the depositary for the good of everyone."
The document can be found here.
London, England, Dec 14, 2007 (CNA) - Senior British Cabinet ministers who were initially told they must support an immoral bill regulating in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or leave the government, will now be permitted to vote against the bill.
Among the items that ministers object to in the “Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill,” are the removal of the requirement that fertility clinics consider the need for a father before providing IVF treatment and the recognition of same-sex couples as legal parents.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, archbishop of Westminster, called the act “profoundly wrong,” and the Anglican archbishop of York, Most Rev. John Sentamu has also attacked the bill.
Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary and member of Opus Dei, and Des Browne, the Defense Secretary, were uneasy about the bill, according to The Telegraph.
Ministers of parliament are usually given a “free vote” on issues of conscience, but leaders initially ruled that out because the vote concerns a government bill and a defeat would reflect poorly on the leadership of the governing Labor Party.
Though allowed a free vote, cabinet members opposing the bill are more likely to abstain rather than vote against it. The free vote does allow amendments to be proposed, including ones that could scuttle the bill. One expected amendment would reduce the time limit on legal abortion from 24 to 20 weeks.
64 ministers of parliament who can vote on the bill are Catholic.
, Dec 14, 2007 (CNA) - Christmas cards by the sackful come pouring into my house and the office from family and friends, members of the diocese and representatives of Church and state. And of course they are also going out by the sackful!
We all experience something similar at this time of year. We receive and we send cards. It is a lovely time to be greeting one another. The birthday of Christ is a birthday for us all, and we exchange birthday presents.
The shepherds took their lambs and Magi their princely gifts. The best we have to offer the Lord is the love in our hearts, love in exchange for love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son.”
So many of our cards illustrate the Christmas scene: Mary and Joseph, the child in the manger, the ox and the ass (St. Francis's addition to the biblical scene), the shepherds and the magi - the work of great artists, and of little children. How many tellings of the story!
Yet at the center there is always this baby, and to think that God entered human history in this way, as a child in the manger! The fact is that God loves us beyond our wildest expectations, and enters our life in the humblest of circumstances, and does so that we might share His life who shares our human condition.
This is the substance of our Christian hope; the hope of which Pope Benedict has written so eloquently in his second letter to the whole Church since becoming Pope. The title - Spe Salvi - expresses in Latin St. Paul's assertion that we are saved by hope.
The Holy Father offers a consoling image of the life that awaits us with God, and urges us not to be afraid of death. “The way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us for ever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love. Indeed, that stain of sin has already been burned away through Christ's Passion. We experience the overwhelming power of His love over all the evil in the world and in ourselves. The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy” (Spe Salvi, 47).
And that salvation and joy is, as the angels sang at that first Christmas, intended for all people. No one is excluded from this joy, said St. Gregory the Great.
And so it is that I wish all of you the joy of Christmas, in the knowledge of God's love for you revealed in the child of Bethlehem.
Yours devotedly in Christ
Archbishop of Glasgow
Washington D.C., Dec 14, 2007 (CNA) - The National Review Board (NRB) on Thursday made public its five-year report on the American church’s handling of clergy sexual abuse of minors. The board found that the bishops’ overall approach has been “strong”, but that there still remains much work to be done.
The report, addressed to U.S. Catholics, describes itself as “a record of accomplishments, unfinished work, and challenges that lie ahead.”
The National Review Board is a lay body that was established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in response to the sexual abuse crisis among clergy.
The report found praiseworthy the USCCB audit process that examines dioceses and eparchies to ensure that they are following the standards of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which the bishops created in 2002. “Those audits provide substantial evidence of the bishops’ efforts to protect children and respond to the abuses of the past and present,” the report said.
As of 2006, 98 percent of the dioceses and eparchies are participating in the audits. According to the report, those audited are in “full compliance” with auditing standards.
Judge Michael R. Merz, National Review Board chair, commented on the report.
“Church efforts for prevention, healing, and vigilance will be demanded for the rest of our days,” Judge Merz said. “The price of this crime is steep both in the pain felt by victims and the shadow cast on the reputation of innocent Catholic priests. Most priests never have abused a child or even someone’s trust in them, but they bear shame by association. It’s not right, but that’s the fact.”
“Bishops have taken a strong approach to dealing with this crisis,” Judge Merz said. “Sexual abuse of children is not a problem in the church alone, but bishops as moral leaders must stand in the forefront of protecting children. The NRB is proud to collaborate with the bishops in the protection of children and young people.”
The report cited six “extremely complex issues” that needed to be addressed.
Citing discussions with victims, the report stressed the need for greater understanding of victimization and its consequences. Parishioners do not know how to respond to victims and their families. Parishes themselves even become secondary victims of sexual abuse, since their members feel outraged or betrayed over sexual abuse accusations.
Priests “feel alienated from both the bishops and the laity” because of the scandal, and lack appropriate protection and processes for restoration if they are accused and later found innocent.
According to the report, greater speed is needed in determining both the credibility of allegations and the consequent responses. The appropriate role for the Church in the supervision of offenders is still undetermined.
The NRB said church members needed to be kept better informed on the positive responses the bishops had made, and more active observers of anti-abuse programs were needed. The NRB also said its work was strengthened by “vigilant parents and parishioners” who investigate the quality of parish and diocesan programs.
To this end, the report reminded Catholics that their help was necessary: “The obligation to provide safe environments that prevent damage to children, young people, families, parishes, dioceses, and the Church rests with all Catholics.”
La Paz, Bolivia, Dec 14, 2007 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Cardinal Julio Terrazas Sandoval, has called for peace in order to achieve consensus among Bolivians and to avoid nourishing “the hunger for war.”
After returning from a trip to the United States and Europe, the cardinal pointed out that “what the country needs and what we all need is clarity in what is proposed, in what is done, in the perspectives that one side and the other wish to offer to the country.”
Clarity demands an atmosphere of peace, the cardinal said, because otherwise it becomes impossible for people to come together and “we will only continue to nourish the hunger for war.”
The cardinal’s statements came as leaders in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz approved a measure dealing with autonomy that had been proposed by President Evo Morales and passed by the Constitutional Assembly. Cardinal Terrazas emphasized the need to leave aside the nonsense in order “for all Bolivians to work together.”
“No to war, no to moving conflicts from one state to another,” he said. “Peace is not achieved by brining arms from one state to another. No to hurling insults at each other, our task is to bring everyone together,” he stressed.
Paris, France, Dec 14, 2007 (CNA) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy will go to the Vatican next week for talks with Pope Benedict XVI, the Associated Press reports.
David Martinon, Sarkozy's spokesman, described the Vatican as "extremely active and influential" in diplomacy.
"It's a partner that counts, and it's a heavyweight ally on a great number of subjects," such as on Lebanon and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Martinon said.
Sarkozy will meet with the Pope on the morning of December 20. The visit will be head of state’s first since he took office.
That afternoon he will also meet with the Italian premier and the Spanish prime minister to discuss a union of Mediterranean countries.
, Dec 14, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop Celestino Migliore, apostolic nuncio in the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations, on Thursday addressed that body on the importance of defending the rights of children worldwide.
Praising the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child, he said the document reaffirms the family as the basic unit of society and the best environment in which children can develop. He said it is “in everyone’s interest to motivate parents to take personal responsibility in the education of their children and strengthen the family.”
Archbishop Migliore noted that the Catholic Church is a major world educator, running more than 250,000 schools across the globe with more than 3.5 million teachers educating 42 million students. Many of these schools are in impoverished areas where children would otherwise be left behind, such as remote villages, deprived inner cities, conflict zones, refugee camps, and even garbage dumps.
The archbishop also reiterated the commitment of the Church to protect children and their families from the impact of HIV/AIDS. He noted the thousands of institutions involved in caring for and educating orphans, awareness campaigns, and the distribution of anti-retroviral drugs, basic health care, and nutrition. Other programs are dedicated to fighting the social stigma against disease victims, preventing mother-to-child virus transmission, and helping disease victims to become involved in the fight against the epidemic.
At the same time, Archbishop Migliore said the fight against disease should also focus on more common killers such as malaria and tuberculosis.
Archbishop Migliore expressed hope that the policies renewed or implemented in the upcoming plenary U.N. session would not be “mere declarations of good intentions or objectives for which to aspire” but rather, steadfast commitments to make a world truly fit for children.
Caracas, Venezuela, Dec 14, 2007 (CNA) - The rector of the Venezuelan College at the Vatican, Father Pedro Freites, said the situation of violence, the violation of human rights and the verbal attacks on the Church by officials of the Hugo Chavez are being closely followed by the Vatican Secretariat of State, which is aware of the repercussions the situation could have for peace in Venezuela.
“The Vatican Secretariat of State here is very aware of the serious danger of this kind of attitude for the peace and stability of a country,” Father Freites told Union Radio. He stressed that a “profound and sad concern” exists over the continual threats, “the excesses, the violation of human rights, the subjugation of the population, and most especially we are saddened by the coarse, aggressive and offensive language.”
Father Freites noted that the threats and attacks against Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas have awakened the solidarity of Pope Benedict XVI, who sent a letter to the cardinal this week expressing his spiritual closeness to the besieged prelate.
He also criticized the Chavez government for being incapable of solving the most pressing and urgent issues facing Venezuelans and instead focusing on the irresponsible distribution of the resources of Venezuelans “in the name of a revolutionary political project.”
Father Freites stressed that the government has the task of “administering justice and not fostering impunity.” Nevertheless, the December 2 referendum showed that Venezuela “wants peace and wants democracy, the Constitution and human rights to be respected.”
“At the international level we look like fools because we are living in a country in which poverty is growing while the regime goes all over the world living like Pharaohs and giving the impression that we are rich and powerful. Meanwhile, you can’t eat oil because there’s no milk and there’s no chicken,” the priest said.
“The Church cannot remain silent in the face of such injustice,” he added. “What we ask of the government is respect and justice for all Venezuelans. We want peace, but not that which is based on injustice and deception,” Father Freites said.
Beirut, Lebanon, Dec 14, 2007 (CNA) - In pouring rain, hundreds of Lebanese mourned the passing of Major General Francois El Hajj as his casket proceeded into the Maronite Catholic Basilica in Beirut.
General Hajj, who was killed along with his driver in an explosion on December 12, is the first military leader to be assassinated in Lebanon’s escalating political violence.
Lebanon has been shaken by a string of assassinations since 2005, but Hajj’s murder has prompted fears that even the military is not immune to the political violence. Many Lebanese see the military as the last institution keeping the country from tearing itself apart.
The funeral Mass, celebrated by Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, was attended by pro-government and opposition politicians — Christian and Muslim — including a delegation from Hezbollah, which leads the opposition, according to the Associated Press.
Pope Benedict XVI sent his condolences in a telegram sent by Cardinal Secretary of State Tarciso Bertone to Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir.
In the telegram, the Pope expresses his "profound communion in the trials that are once again afflicting Lebanon in these difficult and delicate times for the country," and entrusts the souls of the deceased to divine mercy. He also gives assurances of his prayers for the families of the dead and injured, and for all those affected by "this act of unjustifiable violence."
Benedict XVI concludes by appealing to the Lord "to grant all the leaders of public life, and the Lebanese people, the interior strength and courage to discover, beyond particular interests, the road to unity and reconciliation so that the country may develop in peace and security."
CNA STAFF, Dec 14, 2007 (CNA) - “A man of integrity and a lifelong pro-life advocate” is how the former governor of Oklahoma, Frank Keating, describes presidential contender John McCain. In a conference call that took place this afternoon with Catholic leaders from around the country, McCain explained to CNA where he stands on issues of concern to Catholics.
Pro-life issues were front and center as Fr. Frank Pavone, the president of Priests for Life, began the discussion by thanking Sen. McCain for his “clear and convincing pro-life voting record.”
Fr. Pavone took issue with politicians who regard their beliefs on abortion as personal beliefs without public ramifications and asked Sen. McCain what approach he will take to speaking about abortion. Even more specifically, Fr. Pavone wanted to know if Sen. McCain would raise the issue of abortion as a matter of social justice rather than a matter of private beliefs.
McCain replied, “Father I always quote that we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with the inalienable rights, among them are life, and that applies to the born as well as the unborn… and I believe it is a human right, as you said. And that’s why I’ve struggled for human rights all over the world…”
When asked how often he would raise the issue of protecting the unborn from abortion as a human rights issue, the senator said, “…of course I would speak out for them because I think that one of the enduring legacies and obligations of the United States of America is to continue to be a beacon of hope and freedom and that means advocacy for human rights.”
John McCain also mentioned who he would look to for advice on pro-life issues. “I would surround myself with people, in particular with Sam Brownback and Frank Keating, people who will provide me with the moral and spiritual guidance on this issue and other issues….”
One pro-life issue that Sen. McCain is at odds with Catholic teaching about is his position on embryonic stem cell research. John Jakubczyk, a pro-life leader from Arizona, asked the presidential candidate if the latest breakthrough in stem cell research would mean that he might change his stance from being in favor of embryonic research to being against it.
McCain responded that he is excited by and very interested in the latest research breakthroughs, but that “I’m not there yet on changing that position for a couple reasons: one, I don’t think it’s totally been proven yet and second of all, there’s always the flip-flop aspect of this issue”.
Sen. McCain also sees his policy on immigration as an issue of human rights and security. Acknowledging that his efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform had failed, the presidential candidate said that he will focus on securing America’s border first, before pursuing more comprehensive reforms.
The Arizona senator does not want to stop at securing the borders. Pairing himself with Sen. Brownback, he said, “Sam and I and others, understand that we have to secure the borders”.
At the same time, McCain sees the treatment that some illegal immigrants have received from as inhumane. “I don’t think that it’s the proudest chapter in American history, what we’re going through right now.”
“We’ve got to raise the level of dialogue,” he continued. “We’ve got to understand that these are God’s children. And we need to address the issue with compassion and love,” said McCain.
When asked about the issue of reuniting families separated by deportation, the presidential aspirant said that he favors efforts to promote reunification.
McCain was also queried about how things are going on the campaign trail.
“In New Hampshire we’re a solid second and moving up while Romney moves down,” the senator related.
He also mentioned that in South Carolina he has a “very strong political base”.
“But I also have to give you some straight talk,” McCain said. “In Iowa we’re having significant challenges and part of that has to do with my opposition to subsidies for ethanol, my opposition to subsidies for cotton in Arizona and my belief that subsidies distort markets and I’m all in favor of ethanol. I think it’s fine. I just don’t think it needs to be subsidized.”
“The immigration [issue] has hurt me a bit, or more than a bit, some, in South Carolina,” he said.
Ending his summary, Sen. McCain noted that “some 70% of voters have not made up their minds yet,” and that the presidential campaign is “incredibly volatile”. McCain sees the road to the White House as an uphill battle but is counting on his work ethic. “I promise you I can out-campaign all of them,” he declared.