Vatican City, Dec 19, 2007 (CNA) - As Christmas draws nearer, Pope Benedict departed from his tradition of reflecting on an Early Church Father on Wednesdays so that he could point to the impact of Jesus’ birth upon the world.
That God’s son became a man means that mankind is able to become truly human, that this message of salvation must be shared and that peace will come to the world, Benedict XVI explained.
Christmas and Justice
"If, on the one hand, Christmas is a commemoration of the incredible prodigy of the birth of the only-begotten Son of God from the Virgin Mary in the grotto of Bethlehem," said the Pope, "on the other, it also exhorts us to wait, vigilant and prayerful, for our own Redeemer, Who on the last day 'will come to judge the living and the dead'."
Looking at the state of the world today, the Pope departed from his prepared remarks and said, "Perhaps today, we faithful truly believe in the Judge; we all expect justice. We see so many injustices in the world, ... and we expect justice. ... We hope that whoever comes can bring justice. In this context we pray to Jesus Christ to come as a Judge. ... The Lord knows how to come into the world and create justice."
"Hoping for justice in the Christian sense means ... that we too begin to live under the eyes of the Judge, ... creating justice in our own lives,” the Pontiff said.
If we live our lives in a just way, “we can open the world to the coming of the Son and prepare our hearts to welcome the Lord Who comes," remarked Pope Benedict.
Modern Man and Jesus’ Birth
Returning to his prepared text, Benedict XVI focused on the fact that Jesus’ birth is a matter of history: "He Who was generated by the Father in eternity became a man in history thanks to the Virgin Mother. The true Son of God is also a true Son of man.”
“Today, in our secularized world,” the Pope lamented, “these concepts do not seem to count for very much. People prefer to ignore them or to consider them superfluous to life, advancing the pretext that they are so far distant as to be practically untranslatable into convincing and significant words.”
There is also a “view of tolerance and pluralism” in today’s world that says that believing the Truth exists is an “attack on tolerance and the freedom of man,” Benedict said. If, however, truth is cancelled, is man not a being deprived of meaning? Do we not force ourselves and the world into a meaningless relativism?"
This view of reality makes it all the more important “for us to reinforce the mystery of salvation which the celebration of Christ's Nativity brings,” insisted the Holy Father. “In Bethlehem the Light that illuminates our lives was revealed to the world; we were shown the Way that leads us to the fullness of our humanity,” he explained.
Pope Benedict also questioned why any other reason for celebrating Christmas is found to be meaningful: “If we do not recognize that God was made man, what sense does it make to celebrate Christmas?”
Indeed, “We Christians must reaffirm with profound and heartfelt conviction the truth of Christ's nativity, in order to bear witness before everyone of the unique gift which brings wealth not just to us, but to everyone,” the Pontiff said.
The natural consequence of hearing this ‘good news’ is to share it with others, to evangelize, explained the Pope. He also recommended the document on evangelization issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last week for the faithful's reflection.
"In these days leading up to Christmas," said Pope Benedict, "the Church prays more intensely for the realization of hopes of peace and salvation, of which the world today still has such urgent need. Let us ask God for violence to be defeated with the strength of love, for contrasts to give way to reconciliation, for the desire to dominate to be transformed into a desire for forgiveness, justice and peace. May the wishes for goodness and love that we exchange over these days reach all areas of our daily lives."
"May the message of solidarity and acceptance which arises from Christmas," the Pope concluded, "contribute to creating a more profound awareness of old and new forms of poverty, and of the common good in which everyone is called to participate."
, Dec 19, 2007 (CNA) - The Vatican on Tuesday praised the recent United Nations vote calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi discussed the vote on Vatican Radio, saying "It shows that despite persistence of violence in the world, an awareness of the value of life ... is growing in the human family." He continued, "This vote is interpreted as a sign of hope and a step forward on the road to peace."
Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the papal nuncio leading the Holy See’s delegation to the United Nations, noted the leadership of Italy in passing the initiative. "Italy played an important role ... because it was able to involve the whole world, not just Europe," Archbishop Migliore said.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi called it a “historic day” and said that by its actions Italy had contributed to the worldwide spread of peace and justice.
Hollywood, Calif., Dec 19, 2007 (CNA) - An HBO documentary airing this week explores an intense and controversial Catholic youth minister whose impassioned testimonials include drill instructor-like hectoring and simulated crucifixions.
Justin Fatica, a muscular 29-year-old resident of Syracuse, New York, heads the Hard as Nails Ministry he founded in 2002.
His program is now being revealed to the nation in the HBO documentary "Hard as Nails." In the documentary, Fatica is shown being beaten with a steel folding chair as he says "He [Jesus] loves you" to a young man in front of an audience of teenagers. Elsewhere, again before an audience, he loudly berates a young woman: “If you sin, you better have the courage to bash Jesus’ face in!”
Members of Fatica's movement are blindfolded and must carry a large wooden cross while facing insults and mockery from others, apparently in imitation of Christ.
Fatica believes the techniques are a good way to depict to troubled young people both the sufferings of Christ as the expression of God's love and the effects of sin in their lives.
But his ministry has faced criticism. The Diocese of Burlington, Vermont asked Fatica's organization not to return "for a while" after a presentation at a school took place amid communication and preparation problems. According to the New York Times, the school said it did not have enough guidance counselors to respond to the effects of his visit.
In an interview posted on the Hard as Nails Ministry’s website, Fatica explains why his tactics are so harsh:
"Well considering how extreme the culture is, what we are doing is matching that intensity with a message of hope. The culture of young people today is extreme. We live in a real difficult world full of challenges and the youth need to know that they have a God that loves them always, no matter what!"
Fatica compares his personality to that of a coach or a football player whose intensity is a response to their violent environment. "These kids are struggling. Rape, gangs, drugs, violence, abuse, the list goes on. I believe that they need to understand that they can make a difference in the world. We can help them understand by showing them that God has a plan for them – to love."
He explained his violent use of the steel chair by comparing the practice to the corporal mortifications practiced by many Christians, such as St. Francis of Assisi. He confessed he had gone "a little overboard" when in front of an audience he told the young woman that a sinner should have the courage "to bash Jesus' face in."
"I sometimes get too in your face and that is one time I did so. I apologize to that girl if I hurt her. The point I was trying to make was 'Don't sin because it hurts all of us!'" Fatica said.
At the same time, Fatica said the HBO documentary had misrepresented some of his practices. Speaking of the times when he was repeatedly struck by a steel chair, he said, "they filmed me at over 20 events all over the world and I only did that at two events. The two events that I did this at were both in the movie."
Fatica also claims the documentary overstates the Vermont diocese's treatment of his ministry. "Of course HBO blew this situation out of proportion to create dramatic effect, and in doing so they have tried to make it seem as though the Catholic Church is against us." According to Fatica, many bishops and priests support Hard as Nails Ministry.
He hopes the “Hard as Nails” documentary will encourage young people who are hurting because there are not enough adults living the message "Love all people no matter what! Love until it hurts. Love until death. Love until you have nothing left."
Editor’s Note: Potential viewers should be warned that the HBO documentary contains obscenities and a frank discussion of sexual topics.
Vatican City, Dec 19, 2007 (CNA) - The Director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, said Monday the dialogue with the Muslim world desired by Pope Benedict XVI “worries only those who do not want it.”
Father Lombardi was asked about the comments broadcast on the internet by Egyptian Ayman al Zawahiri, considered the number two leader in Al Qaeda. In an extensive interview, Zawahiri criticized the historic visit of King Abdullah to the Vatican, saying he “has offended Islam and Muslims.”
The Vatican spokesman said the Pope’s dialogue “with important Muslim leaders, such as the King of Saudi Arabia or the 138 Islamic leaders with whom he has exchanged letters, are a significant matter for the entire Muslim world.”
“The fact of the growing importance in the Muslim world of these voices that want to dialogue and strive for peace obviously concern those who do not want dialogue,” Father Lombardi added.
“This is a sign that those who desire dialogue and seek peace are having a greater influence and that is positive,” he said.
On November 6, Benedict XVI met with King Abdullah in the Saudi King’s first visit to the Vatican. A few days later, the Vatican published a letter from the Pope in response to a letter from a group of 138 Muslim leaders in which he urged there be dialogue based on the dignity of the human person and freedom of religion.
Harare, Zimbabwe, Dec 19, 2007 (CNA) - Zimbabwe’s Catholic bishops have asked their government to ensure free and fair elections, SW Radio Africa reports.
The country’s Catholic Bishops Conference issued a pastoral letter recently voicing concern over past elections, which at times were accompanied by violence and intimidation. The letter urged the Zimbabwean government to “establish a credible electoral process, whose outcome will be free and fair and with local and international recognition.”
The letter, titled “Only when power stands under God's blessing can it be trusted,” said that Christian teachings and values should influence public life. It encouraged Christians to become more involved in political life by running for office, working within political parties, and communicating with elected officials. The bishops also emphasized the importance of principled involvement, saying, “Voting should be guided more by one's moral convictions than by one's attachment to a political party or interest group.”
The prelates also noted that the same concerns they raised in a 2004 letter were still present. Urging political parties to avoid provocative campaigns, the bishops declared their support for the freedom of political parties, voter registration, and voter education.
Several signs have raised doubts that a free and fair election will take place. The current president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, secured the sole nomination of his political party last week. In addition, the war veterans have thrown their support behind the Mugabe dictatorship, which, some observers believe, means he will use violence if he faces political defeat. The political opposition has already reported widespread acts of violence in parts of the country.
Washington D.C., Dec 19, 2007 (CNA) - A new study reports that students become less likely to attend religious services while in college than they were in high school, although many of them still grapple with spiritual and ethical issues, USA Today reports.
Alexander and Helen Astin, retired UCLA professors, conducted the multi-year study of the college experience’s influence on spiritual development. Surveying more than 14,000 college students on 136 campuses at the start of their freshman year in 2004 and again at the end of their junior year in 2007, the study indicates that students become more interested in exploring the meaning and purpose of life as they progress through college.
However, students’ religious observance declines. Among incoming freshmen, 43.7 percent said they frequently attend religious services. By the end of their junior year, only 25.4 percent did. Though 20.2 percent of new freshmen said they did not attend services, 37.5 percent of juniors did.
The Astins argue that college education has been neglecting the “inner” development of students, in aspects such as their emotional maturity, self-understanding, and spirituality. "Colleges are considered sort of bastions of secularism," Alexander Astin says. The findings suggest that "we have every reason to believe that the colleges are actually fostering some of these changes."
The study for the first time documented significant growth in students’ expressed desire to help others. 74.3 percent of juniors highly valued “helping others in difficulty,” an increase of more than 12 percent over the freshman number. 66.6 percent of juniors highly valued “reducing suffering and pain in the world,” another 12 percent increase over the percentage of freshmen. Another 63.8 percent of juniors said they supported “improving the human condition,” compared with 53.4 percent of freshmen.
But the percent change in students committed to “improving my understanding of other countries and cultures” was relatively unchanged: 52 percent of freshmen valued that commitment, while only 54.4 percent of juniors voiced support.
The Astins hope to explore in their next study how colleges can best encourage such growth. Their study found that classroom discussion of religious or spiritual matters was rare, with 60 percent of students reporting their professors never encouraged such discussion.
"These are qualities that colleges can and should care about," Alexander Astin said.
, Dec 19, 2007 (CNA) - “If peace is the fruit of justice, it is even more so of forgiveness, which truly seals the reconciliation between those who are divided and allows them to walk together,” Pope Benedict XVI told a meeting of young people organized by the Taize community in the city of Geneva.
In a message to the young people who will meet in Geneva December 28 through January 1, the Holy Father underscored that by “accepting God’s forgiveness given to us in the sacrament of Reconciliation, you also can be artisans of forgiveness to others and build a reconciled world.”
This meeting of young people is an opportunity to open “new paths of hope, holding fast to the Word of God and to the intimacy of life in Christ,” the Pope said in his message sent through the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
“Only Christ offers us the key to true hope,” the message continued, “a hope that surpasses the little hope we may have, because He guides us towards the future and towards eternal happiness, toward which we walk each day, personally and as the Church.”
More than 40,000 young people from Europe and around the world are expected to attend the gathering in Geneva organized by the Taize Community.
Vatican City, Dec 19, 2007 (CNA) - The Nativity scene traditionally built each Christmas in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome will have a novel twist this year. Rather than placing the birth of Jesus Christ in a stable, the display will show Jesus being born in St. Joseph’s house.
Set designers are foregoing the usual manger scene in favor of the minimal description of St. Matthew, which does not depict the improvised birth scene in a cave as described in other Gospels.
Vatican workmen are constructing a scene centered on a room in St. Joseph’s house where Mary will be shown with the newborn infant Jesus. To the left of the room will be the workshop of St. Joseph, while to the right there will be a busy inn, displaying material values in contrast to spiritual ones.
The Nativity scene has been on display at St. Peter’s since 1982, when Pope John Paul II revived the custom of building a four-meter-high house with life-size figures. Some of the statues representing the Holy Family and the wise men date back to a Nativity scene created for Pope Gregory XVI in 1842. The statues will not be altered for the new setting.
The Vatican gave no reason for the change in the backdrop for the traditional Nativity Scene.
Manila, Philippines, Dec 19, 2007 (CNA) - The Catholic bishops of the Philippines have decried the widespread “immoral and grossly exploitative” practice of soliciting donations of vital human organs which offends the dignity of the person as a means of making money, reports Fides.
The Bishops' Conference says that organ trafficking is spreading, with kidneys becoming the organ of choice for the profiteers. The bishops also warn that the practice is “steadily thriving in rural and urban poor communities".
According to the Filipino prelates, the organ trafficking is “in the hands of organised crime which does not hesitate to abduct and kill street children, homeless people, ordinary people for the trafficking of vital organs.”
The Bishops' Commission on Social Action, Justice and Peace raised the alarm. “Organ trade is without regard for charity and altruism, without regard for compassion, and certainly without regard for love; only for self-preservation and deception, fuelled by greed and destitution,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said in a statement.
The Commission said the number of organ transplant operations in the country had grown from 200 to 400 a day. “Wealthy and middle-class patients from Europe and the United States with end-stage renal diseases flock to the Philippines to avail of the cheap transplant procedures,” the statement said. The Commission said for $50,000 foreigners may undergo organ transplants in any premier hospital in Metro Manila.
The Bishops condemned the traffickers who prey on poor and impoverished people who have weak bargaining power and are unaware of the risks involved. After selling their kidneys, most of them remained desperately poor. Treating the body “as an ‘object’ is to violate the dignity of the human person” the Bishops said, reaffirming the dignity of every human person.
The Bishops called for more stringent laws to address the illegal organ trade and punish person convicted of recruitment, hiring, adoption, transport and abduction of persons for the purpose of removal or sale of organs.
Vatican City, Dec 19, 2007 (CNA) - The daily edition of the official Vatican newspaper has come out with a harsh criticism of the movie "The Golden Compass, describing it as a hopeless story based on the ideology of the 70's.
In a long editorial article, Andrea Monda, a well known literary and movie critic who writes for several Italian newspapers, says "the Golden Compass of Chris Weisz, is as much of an anti-Christmas film as it can be."
The news that during its opening weekend, the Golden Compass made far less than what New Line expected, “can be consoling,” wrote Monda. In fact, the movie critic thinks that the sales were so bad that it will probably block immediate production of the second book of Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials'.
After describing the quest of the movie’s heroine, Lyra, to liberate other children imprisoned by the "Magisterium," L'Osservatore Romano writes: "outside the metaphor of Pullman, it would be necessary to close Christian schools, [cease] the teaching of religion at school, not to speak of the violence that Baptism is to children."
"This is, in short, the 'meaning' of this first episode: a Gnostic fantasy saga bathed in a 70's sauce, in which happiness rest in independence, not in relationships."
No Similarity to Tolkien or Lewis
The L'Osservatore article also highlights that "in the name of his 'militant' atheism, Pullman has many times criticized and condemned the 'religious' fantasies of C. S. Lewis and J.R. R. Tolkien, and therefore it is surprising that those in charge of New Line have freely launched the film with the slogan "from the same producers of the Lord of the Rings": between the world of the Golden Compass, which is almost completely covered in ice and the Middle Earth of the Hobbits there is a insurmountable abyss."
The column's author recalls that also in Narnia the world lives under a permanent winter, "but all the creatures of the universe live in the hope of the return of Christmas."
"Instead, hope in Pullman's world simply does not exist; especially since there is no salvation but only personal capacity, individualism, aimed at controlling situations and dominating events."
"In a scene somehow dark and frightening … we see Lyra, the main character of the entire saga, repeating to herself as a commandment: 'dominate fear, I must dominate fear'", the critic writes.
"There is no salvation –he adds- because there is no Savior: each one is left alone with his or her own capacities and a goal to be reached, which for Pullman is to live free and independent, discovering the truth that the Authority hides from the people, it is a mere personal conquest, not a 'team effort,' much less a gift."
L'Osservatore's article says that it is not surprising then that Pullman, "in a long interview posted few years ago on the Guardian Online said that 'I am with Satan, certainly not with God,' or that he unleashed time and again against Narnia and its creator, Lewis, [who he claims is] guilty of trying to 'indoctrinate' his readers."
Cold and Hopeless
"Watching the film based on the first book, the viewer, if honest and mildly gifted with a critical mind, will have no particular emotions, but a great coldness, which is not a consequence only of the polar landscape. Pullman's world in fact is a world where there is no natural sun shining but everything seems to be mechanized, deprived of true life".
L'Osservatore's column also notes that "for Pullman the machine is central, it has triumphed: there are planes and vessels all highly mechanized, the bears are armored; and one of those, Iorek, will become Lyra's ally.” Yet, he too is devoid of emotion, he doesn’t say “'I have a covenant with you,' but 'I have a contract’ with you and when Lyra discovers the identity of her father, she doesn’t experience any other emotions than bringing him the object of power, because the main objective is to achieve the task: no filial love, just an ideological solidarity."
"All this coldness seems to confirm the theory, certainly not to the liking of Pullman, that when the human being leaves God out of his horizon, everything becomes reduced, sad, cold and inhuman."
In short, for L'Osservatore Romano, The Golden Compass "is a film that leaves you cold, because it makes present the coldness and hopelessness of rebellion, loneliness and individualism."
Valencia, Fla., Dec 19, 2007 (CNA) - The Association for the Defense of Life in Valencia has denounced the decision by the government to suspend the funding it is has provided for years to centers that help pregnant women and are managed by the Spanish Federation of Pro-life Associations.
“The assistance has been provided continuously on an annual basis and it has benefited each year more than four thousand pregnant women with economic difficulties,” the Association said.
It stressed that the government’s decision leaves many women on their own who have no other alternative to abortion other than the assistance provided by pro-life centers. The Federation is considering appealing the decision.
“Pro-Life will not cease denouncing the practice of abortion that deprives the right to life of the most unprotect human beings and that condemns women to face situations that jeopardize their well being for life. If what the government is seeking is to silence those who defend the life and dignity of women, it is wrong. We will continue giving everything that we have to save the lives of so many innocents and the health and well being of their mothers,” the association said.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 19, 2007 (CNA) - In a decision applauded by pro-life groups, the new governor of the Argentinean province of La Pampa, Mario Jorge, has vetoed a controversial law on non-punishable abortions that was passed by the provincial legislative body last month.
The controversial law approved by the legislature on November 29 was voted by Jorge, who called it “unconstitutional.”
Governor Jorge, who took office last week, signed the veto this past Monday, arguing that the law would allow “interpretations and applications that openly conflict with the restrictive spirit” of the country’s legislation. He said the actions by lawmakers took the law beyond what is contemplated in Argentinean law.
Jorge’s veto was in contrast to the support of the law by the former governor, Carlos Verna.
The law was sponsored by Socialist lawmaker Adrian Peppino and established a protocol for “regulating the procedures” that should be followed by doctors in public hospitals in cases of non-punishable abortions, which in practice would have opened the door to abortion on demand in the province.