Vatican City, Dec 20, 2007 (CNA) - On Thursday morning, the Holy Father received the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy. This marked the first meeting between Pope Benedict and the French head of state whose discussion topics included the relationship between France and the Vatican and also the future of Europe.
"The cordial discussions provided an opportunity to examine a number of questions of mutual interest concerning the current situation of France. Mention was made of the good relations that exist between the Catholic Church and the French Republic, and of the role of religions, especially the Catholic Church, in the world.”
Their conversation shifted to the “international situation with reference to the future of Europe, the conflicts in the Middle East, the social and political problems of certain African countries, and the drama of hostages.
"At the end of the conversation, best wishes were exchanged for the forthcoming feasts of Christmas and the New Year."
In separate audiences today, the Pontiff also received Cardinal Luigi Poggi, archivist and librarian emeritus of Holy Roman Church; Darko Tanaskovic, ambassador of Serbia; and Mohammad Javad Faridzadeh, ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Vatican City, Dec 20, 2007 (CNA) - Young people from Italian Catholic Action (ACI) were received by Pope Benedict for a traditional exchange of Christmas good wishes. In his address to them, the Pontiff recalled the heroic virtue of Antonia Meo and asked that the group stay committed to the path to Christ.
After greeting Luigi Alici, national president of ACI, and Bishop Domenico Sigalini of Palestrina, Italy, the group's general ecclesiastical assistant, the Pope began his remarks by mentioning the Italian child Antonia Meo, whose heroic virtues were promulgated recently by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
Born in 1930, Antonia, known as Nennolina, died of bone cancer in 1937 shortly before her seventh birthday. The Holy Father recalled how she "showed special faith, hope and charity" and, presenting her as a model for the young people of ACI (of which she was a member), he affirmed that "her existence, so simple and yet so important, shows that sanctity is for all ages: for babies and for young people, for adults and for the elderly."
"She traveled quickly down the 'highway' that leads to Jesus ... Who is, in fact, the true 'path' that leads to the Father, and to His and our definitive home which is heaven,” said the Holy Father.
"Jesus is the way that leads to the true life, the life that never ends. It is often a steep and narrow way but, if one allows oneself to be attracted by Him, it is always stupendous, like a mountain path: the higher one climbs the easier it becomes to gaze down upon new panoramas, ever more beautiful and vast. The journey is tiring but we are not alone. ... What is important is not to lose our way, not to miss the path, otherwise we risk falling into an abyss or getting lost in the woods.
"Dear friends," the Holy Father added, "God made Himself man to show us the way. Indeed, by becoming a child He made Himself the 'way,' also for young people like you: He was like you, He was your age."
Finally, Pope Benedict expressed the hope that Italian Catholic Action as a whole may "walk jointly and briskly along the path of Christ, bearing witness, in the Church and in society, to the fact that this is a beautiful path. It is true that it requires commitment, but it leads to true joy."
Ankara, Turkey, Dec 20, 2007 (CNA) - Father Adriano Franchini was released from a hospital Wednesday after treatment for wounds he suffered when he was attacked after Sunday Mass, the Associated Press reports.
The attack took place in the port city of Izmir. Before the attack, the priest was approached by a young man who said he was seeking information on Christianity. Father Franchini invited the man to Mass, after which the two briefly discussed conversion to Christianity. The man suddenly became furious and stabbed the priest, slightly wounding him in the stomach.
Father Franchini, who heads the Capuchin order in Turkey, declined to answer questions about the discussion he had with his attacker. He said he did not want the attack to be exaggerated.
On Wednesday a prosecutor charged a 19-year-old man with stabbing and wounding with a knife. No trial date was set.
The attack recalls other recent violent incidents against clergy. In February 2006, a 16-year-old boy shot a Catholic priest to death as he prayed inside his church in the Black Sea city of Trabzon. A priest was attacked and threatened in Izmir later that year, and another was stabbed in the Black Sea port of Samsun. In November 2007, an Assyrian cleric was abducted in southeast Turkey and rescued by security forces.
Christians compose less than one percent of Turkey’s 70 million people.
St. George, Utah, Dec 20, 2007 (CNA) - Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City on Wednesday spoke to residents of southern Utah on the topic of immigration, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.
Utah’s Washington County has seen a 160 percent population increase since 1990 to more than 126,000 people. The population of St. George, the county seat, has increased 137 percent to 70,000 people. Latinos are estimated to make up 10 percent of the population, and their numbers are rising.
Recent city elections featured a heated immigration debate fueled by tensions with new Latino residents.
Bishop Wester, who heads the committee on migration for the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, addressed the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce on the need to accommodate new immigrants.
"It seems whatever side you're on, pro or con [in the immigration debate]," the bishop said, "we need to bring a sense that we are all children of God." Though recognizing that the ballooning population can strain hospitality, he urged residents to treat all people with dignity. He noted the right of countries to secure their borders, but added that everyone belongs to a larger worldwide community.
Manny Aguilar, a Latino activist in St. George, praised Bishop Wester for emphasizing equality. "Diversity works," Aguilar said. "Equality - no one better, no one less."
London, England, Dec 20, 2007 (CNA) - Churches in Britain are canceling midnight Mass out of fear of drunk driving, street violence, and the disruption of services by drunken revelers, the Guardian Unlimited reports.
The Tablet, a Catholic magazine, said that some priests had been advised by the police not to hold Mass late at night, while others feared dangerous nighttime inner city streets or the interruption of Mass by drunks leaving closing pubs.
Father Dennis Connor told the Tablet: "In this area there has been a lot of trouble with gun crime. People won't come out any later than that. Older people are really scared of meeting teenagers and people coming out of the pubs."
Father James O'Keefe told how drinkers forced him to move Midnight Mass to 8 pm: “A lot of people, having been disgorged from the pub, were attracted to the light and music and used to disrupt proceedings."
Some Church of England parishes have also moved services to an earlier time on Christmas Eve.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Dec 20, 2007 (CNA) - A Catholic bishop’s hunger strike protesting a controversial river diversion faced a further setback when the Brazilian Supreme Court overruled a lower court decision halting the project, the Agency France-Presse reports.
The lower court had halted the project on the ground that an environmental impact study had not been carried out. The $3 billion hydroelectric project involves the construction of 450 miles of canals and lakes to irrigate the dry region.
Bishop Flavio Luiz Cappio, of the town of Sobradinho, has been on a hunger strike for 23 days to protest the dam. His spokesman, Father Rubens Siquiera, told AFP that "as the court's decision was read out, Bishop Cappio fainted." Father Siquiera said the bishop “was greatly discouraged” when he returned to consciousness and would issue a reaction later.
The Vatican and the Brazilian Catholic Church have urged the 61-year-old Bishop Cappio to end his hunger strike. The bishop has lost 18 pounds and is beginning to suffer renal failure.
Bishop Cappio has rejected as “insufficient” government proposals to help the affected inhabitants of the region.
Jerusalem, Israel, Dec 20, 2007 (CNA) - In a pre-Christmas address on Wednesday, a high-ranking Catholic cleric in the Holy Land criticized Israel’s official identity as a Jewish state for discriminating against non-Jews, the Associated Press reports.
Archbishop Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, delivered his address in Arabic and English. He said other religions are naturally discriminated against in any state of one religion. He said Israel should abandon its Jewish character in favor of a "political, normal state for Christians, Muslims and Jews."
"This land cannot be exclusive for anyone," he said.
The archbishop also criticized Israel’s visa restrictions as unfair to Christian clergy.
A spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry, Arye Mekel, responded to the patriarch, saying Israel provides religious freedom to people of all faiths.
"We reject his claim that other religions are not enjoying equal rights in Israel," Mekel said.
Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, saying that would mean Palestinian refugees would not have the right to return to the homes that they lost after Israel’s creation in 1948.
Israel opposes any return of Palestinian refugees, fearing their numbers would overtake the Jewish majority.
Archbishop Sabbah has been the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem since 1987, and is the first Palestinian to hold the office. There are an estimated 170,000 Christians in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 20, 2007 (CNA) - Bishop Luis Armando Collazuol of Concordia and advisor to Catholic Action Argentina, said this week, “If on becoming man God wanted to have a family, how great and how holy is the family in the eyes of God.”
In a recent message to “the great family of Catholic Action Argentina,” the bishop pointed out that “as happens every year, Christmas again presents to us the image of a family, a very special Family,” and he stressed that “at Bethlehem we learn that life is better in the family.”
“The stable of Bethlehem speaks to us of the generous, faithful and permanent love of spouses,” of the “Mercy of God who blesses the family,” of “the ineffable experience of loving and being loved,” and “of the natural place that children have in the communion of love of the parents.”
Likewise, Bishop Collazuol recalled, “God loves our families, despite so many wounds and divisions,” and therefore we must thank Jesus because, “by choosing to live amidst us in a family, He elevates it to the dignity of a Domestic Church.” “The family, [the] patrimony of humanity, constitutes one of the most important treasures” of Argentina, and therefore it must be cared for and be encouraged to grow in “faith, fidelity, love and service, in order to pass it on as a precious inheritance to the children,” the bishop said.
In addition, Bishop Collazuol urged that we “keep before our eyes the beauty of the family as shown by the Holy Family in Bethlehem, in the temple of Jerusalem, in the trial of the exile in Egypt, in the daily life of Nazareth.”
Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 20, 2007 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera, denounced the excess of reporters who “destroy the dignity, the good name of people” with no regard for whether they are innocent or not. “They don’t kill man’s body, but they are a snake that destroys the reputation of others.”
In a Mass celebrated at a female prison facility, the cardinal referenced reporters who don’t seek the truth but rather seek to profit by creating scandals like “true prostitutes of the media” for whom “there is no other justice than that which they dictate.”
“With their sentence they judge, they condemn,” the cardinal said.
At the conclusion of his visit, Cardinal Rivera told reporters that his comments about them should not be generalized, “in the same way that when a priest is accused of illicit activities it shouldn’t be said that all are like that.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 20, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop Hector Aguer of La Plata, Argentina, said this week that an “authentic spirituality of hope” which “helps us prepare for a Merry Christmas” must be recovered. This is “the contribution that we as Christians must make to our contemporaries.”
During his weekly program, “Keys to a Better World,” the archbishop spoke about Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, “Spe Salvi,” and he pointed out that “we all have the right to hope for many things” that “we need and that complement our lives and help us to aspire to happiness,” but “hope is the foundation of them all.”
“Hope allows us to trust in the future” but “not in a merely intra-historic future,” but “in a transcendent and eternal future, because the goal, the object of Christian hope is precisely eternal life,” Archbishop Aguer said.
That eternal life is “the total and perfect possession of unending life” and “that great hope to which the life of every human being and the course of all of human history is directed, is the foundation of all the legitimate human hopes,” he said.
Archbishop Aguer stressed that while life can bring frustration and tragedy, even in midst of the worst of circumstances, that hope remains firm because it is founded on the love of God.
The archbishop explained the shortcomings of modern culture saying that it “has eclipsed that great hope and has sought to replace the Kingdom of God with the kingdom of man”, but at the same time, modern culture is in a state of confusion. This confusion, the archbishop said, arises because “man has so much strength to transform the world but at the same time has such interior emptiness”. Even in this situation, “what remains is the reserve of that great hope,” he added.
Madrid, Spain, Dec 20, 2007 (CNA) - In the wake of investigations that have uncovered illegal abortions and morbid practices at several clinics in Madrid and Barcelona, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) has decided to consider restrictions on abortion.
After the comments by some PSOE leaders, who called those in favor of limits on abortion “followers of the Inquisition,” Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has asked the Socialist party to “reflect” on the current laws on abortion in order to determine if “any modifications are necessary, which would imply the establishing of limits both for the conditions as well as the state of development in which abortion would be legal.”
Zapatero’s proposal came as news broke of a police operation in Barcelona targeting abortion clinics and resulting in the arrests of six people from the facility operated by Dr. Carlos Morin—currently in prison. Those arrested include two anathesiologists, three gynecologists and two psychiatrists who falsified medical records to justify abortions.
The scandal of the discovery of the remains of mutilated babies in the dumpsters of clinics in Madrid and Barcelona has forced the Executive Committee of the PSOE to reconsider its initial position of excluding from its election campaign new regulations on abortion. Socialist party officials said the cases in Barcelona and Madrid have led the party to open an internal debate over how to establish greater legal protection for women and further clarify the reasons for allowing abortions.
Madrid, Spain, Dec 20, 2007 (CNA) - The Foundation Vida in Spain said this week that the arrests of more health care workers involved in illegal abortions in Barcelona should awaken Spanish society to the cruelty of abortion and that “the defense of life has nothing to do with the right or left, believers or atheists, but rather is a question of mere humanity towards the most defenseless.”
“The detention of three gynecologists, two anathesiologists and two psychiatrists at clinics under investigation for practicing abortions in Barcelona, is one more step to prove that the responsibility for the illegal abortions carried out is not limited to the owners and managers of those abortions clinics,” said Fundacion Vida’s director, Manuel Cruz. “For some time it was believed there were doctors killing fetuses for reasons beyond the three permitted by Spanish law, but now there have been detentions and imprisonments,” said Fundacion Vida’s director, Manuel Cruz.
According to Cruz, the abuse by these clinics “should make society aware that abortion itself is inhumane. These illegal acts lead us to believe that when a society allows the killing of a defenseless fetus in the womb of her mother, society has become inhumane. Its not a question of whether or not to allow abortion beyond the reasons permitted by an unjust law, but rather that any method of intervention” to carry out an abortion is “improper for a civilized society.”
“In response to years of silence, Fundacion Vida is now calling for transparency, that society understands what abortion is in all of its crudeness and different manifestations, so that each person can decide whether or not it is admissible,” Cruz said.
He called on politicians to unite in reforming the country’s laws on abortion “for humanitarian reasons” and to prevent abortions from having to take place.
San Antonio, Texas, Dec 20, 2007 (CNA) - The Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, has been garnering attention in the media with his surge in political polls. However, a campaign stop this Sunday by Huckabee at a mega-church whose pastor sees Hitler as linked to the Catholic Church, could soon steal the spotlight.
According to Mike Huckabee’s campaign website, the controversial stop at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas will take place this Sunday, December 23. He will speak at the church's two Sunday services at 8:30 and 11:00 a.m.
The Catholic League’s president, Bill Donahue, told CNA that the pastor of the church, Rev. John Hagee, is militantly anti-Catholic.
As the senior pastor of Cornerstone, Rev. Hagee is best known for his “End-Time” writing but also focuses on bringing evangelical Protestants and Jews together.
The Catholic League asserts that John Hagee has another goal as well, “slandering the Catholic Church.”
John Hagee’s Anti-Catholic Record
It’s not hard to find evidence that Rev. Hagee does not think highly of Catholics or the Catholic Church. In a video discussing the biblical book of Revelation, John Hagee suggests the Pope is the anti-Christ, and that the Catholic Church is "The Beast" (17:30 and following) mentioned in the book.
Another cause for concern is the pastor’s latest book “Jerusalem Countdown”, which has recently been revised and updated. “Though most of his rantings in this book are directed at Muslims, he just can't help but take another shot at Catholicism,” says Donahue.
“In one chapter, ‘Centuries of Mistreatment,’ he misrepresents the history of the Catholic Church so badly,” explains Donahue, “that it would be hard for any anti-Catholic bigot to beat.”
Hagee sees anti-Semitism as being born out of the Catholic Church.
“Anti-Semitism in Christianity began with the statements of the early church fathers, including Eusebius, Cyril, Chrysostom, Augustine, Origen, Justin, and Jerome .... This poisonous stream of venom came from the mouths of spiritual leaders to virtually illiterate congregants, sitting benignly in their pews, listening to their pastors. They labeled the Jews as 'the Christ killers, plague carriers, demons, children of the devil, bloodthirsty pagans who look for an innocent child during the Easter week to drink his blood, money hungry Shylocks, who are deceitful as Judas was relentless,'" writes Hagee.
At another point, Rev. Hagee says, "The Roman Catholic Church, which was supposed to carry the light of the gospel, plunged the world into the Dark Ages.... The Crusaders were a motley mob of thieves, rapists, robbers, and murderers whose sins had been forgiven by the pope in advance of the Crusade ....The brutal truth is that the Crusades were military campaigns of the Roman Catholic Church to gain control of Jerusalem from the Muslims and to punish the Jews as the alleged Christ killers on the road to and from Jerusalem."
"The Spanish Inquisition was perhaps the most cynical plot in the black history of Catholicism,” relates Hagee, “[it was] aimed at expropriating the property of wealthy Jews and converts in Spain for the benefit of the royal court and the Roman Catholic Church."
The influential preacher’s historical narrative even goes so far as to depict Adolf Hitler as being taught anti-Semitism by the Catholic Church. "Adolf Hitler attended a Catholic school as a child and heard all the fiery anti-Semitic rantings from Chrysostom to Martin Luther.”
According to Mr. Hagee, the Church even implicitly supported the Nazi dictator. “When Hitler became a global demonic monster, the Catholic Church and Pope Pius XII never, ever slightly criticized him. Pope Pius XII, called by historians 'Hitler's Pope,' joined Hitler in the infamous Concordat of Collaboration, which turned the youth of Germany over to Nazism, and the churches became the stage background for the bloodthirsty cry, 'Pereat Judea'.... In all of his [Hitler's] years of absolute brutality, he was never denounced or even scolded by Pope Pius XII or any Catholic leader in the world. To those Christians who believe that Jewish hearts will be warmed by the sight of the cross, please be informed—to them it's an electric chair," wrote the pastor.
Bill Donahue did not rule out debate with John Hagee and added that “as long as the debate is civil, that is all that matters.” Yet, the Catholic leader does not view Hagee's teaching in that light, but rather as instruction that “clearly distorts Catholic teachings, or misrepresents its [the Church’s] history”.
CNA attempted to reach the Huckabee campaign for comment, but a phone call and an email were not returned before press time.