Vatican City, Dec 24, 2007 (CNA) - After years of rumors and speculation about his religious beliefs, former British prime minister Tony Blair was officially received into the Catholic Church on Friday.
Blair was received into full communion by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, during Mass in the chapel at the Archbishop’s house in Westminster. He had been receiving doctrinal and spiritual preparation from the cardinal’s private secretary, Monsignor Mark O’Toole.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor commented: “I am very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church. For a long time he has been a regular worshipper at Mass with his family and in recent months he has been following a program of formation to prepare for his reception into full communion.
“My prayers are with him, his wife and family at this joyful moment in their journey of faith together.”
According to the New York Times, aides say that Blair, who stepped down as prime minister six months ago, delayed his formal conversion until after leaving office to avoid politicizing his religious beliefs. His conversion in office would also have generated controversy because the prime minister’s duties include a role in the appointment of Anglican bishops.
Tony Blair’s wife, Cherie, and their four children are Catholics. Blair had made a practice of attending Mass with them, saying he did so to keep his family together on Sundays.
In 1996, the year before Blair became prime minister, Cardinal Basil Hume wrote to him asking him to stop receiving Holy Communion at a Catholic church near his home. Blair obeyed, but according to aides he wrote back to the cardinal, saying, “I wonder what Jesus would have made of it.”
Some Catholics in Britain have raised questions about Blair’s conversion, citing among other concerns the Blair government’s stands in favor of lax anti-abortion laws, embryonic stem cell research, adoptions by homosexuals, and same-sex civil unions.
John Smeaton, director of Britain’s Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said in an interview published earlier this month in the journal The Spectator that Blair needed to clearly articulate a change of mind. “We need to hear a full repudiation from him.
Without one, having Blair as a Catholic is like having a vegetarian in a meat-eating club. It simply does not make sense,” Smeaton said.
Some indications of a change of heart have leaked through the virtual privacy fence Tony Blair has set up around his faith. Fr. Tim Russ, the pastor of the parish Blair frequented when he was prime minister, revealed to The Guardian that Blair confided his doubts about his administration’s stance on embryonic research several years ago. As the debate on embryo experimentation was going on in Parliament, Blair told Fr. Russ, "We are acting beyond our competence." The pastor took this to mean that Blair thought “matters of life were not within men's competence to decide.”
Former Conservative minister Ann Widdecombe, who converted to Catholicism in 1993, also commented on Blair’s pro-abortion voting record saying, 'The crucial thing to remember is at the point you are received [into the Catholic church] you have to say individually and out loud: "I believe everything the church teaches to be revealed truth."
'That means if you previously had any problems with church teaching - as Tony Blair obviously did over abortion - you would have to say you changed your mind,' she told Sky News .
Meanwhile, Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, commented on Blair’s conversion to the Catholic faith. This is "good news that we welcome with respect," he said. "Catholics are glad to welcome into their community those who, through a serious and reflective journey, convert to Catholicism."
Archbishop Rowan Williams, the leader of the Anglican Communion, to which Blair had belonged, wished the convert every good in his spiritual journey.
Tony Blair is presently an envoy to the Middle East.
Denver, Colo., Dec 24, 2007 (CNA) - The year 2007 was one full of blessings for CNA. As we look back, CNA has reached a number of milestones. Some of these accomplishments include, our email list growing by 20%, being recognized by Google News as a source of quality Catholic news and being referenced on the floor of the U.S. Congress.
Looking toward 2008, we are planning to make it an even better year. Our goal is to provide you with the most faithful, relevant and in-depth coverage of the Catholic Church possible. Here’s a look at what you can expect to see in 2008:
- A redesigned website
- New 24/7 coverage
- New features and columns
- An increase in the quality and number of resources
In order to implement all of these changes, CNA will only have limited coverage between December 24, 2007 and January 7, 2008.
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May Christ bless you and your families as we celebrate the birth of the Messiah!
See you on January 7, 2008!
The CNA team
Beijing, China, Dec 24, 2007 (CNA) - On Friday the state-recognized Catholic Patriotic Association ordained a bishop with the approval of the Vatican, the Agence France-Presse reports.
Father Joseph Li Jing, 40, was ordained bishop of the northern China diocese of Ningxia, a Muslim-dominated region. The ordination took place at Yinchuan Cathedral before 2,000 congregants.
Though the Holy See had given approval for Bishop Li’s ordination three years ago, the state church only approved his election last month. Bishop Li is the third Vatican-approved bishop to be ordained this month by the government-recognized church.
The Church in China is split between the government-recognized Catholic Patriotic Association and the “underground” Church. While the official church has close to five million followers, perhaps as many as 10 million are “underground” Catholics and face police and government harassment.
London, England, Dec 24, 2007 (CNA) - In the United Kingdom, new research has found that services offered by the Church of England are no longer the country’s most popular form of worship. The Press Association reports that Catholic churchgoers outnumber Anglicans for the first time since the Reformation.
A study conducted by Christian Research bases their findings on estimates for church attendance in 2006: 861,800 Catholics attended Mass every Sunday compared with 852,500 Anglicans worshipping weekly.
Peter Brierley, a former executive director of charity Christian Research who compiled the study, dismissed the idea that Britain is about to become a Catholic country for the first time since the Reformation in the 16th century. Brierley insisted that the Catholic Church will experience a more rapid rate of decline within two years.
Dr Brierley's study, based on figures obtained from half the 38,000 churches in England and Wales, did not, however, take into account the recent wave of Polish immigration which is likely to widen still further the gap between active members of the two denominations.
Some estimates put the number of Poles arriving in Britain at up to 100,000, 85 per cent of whom are Catholic. But he said the failure of the Government to provide accurate data on migration from Eastern Europe since 2005 made it impossible to include them in the study.
Attendance numbers have been stable since 2000 for the Church of England.
Warsaw, Poland, Dec 24, 2007 (CNA) - A Polish church that has been under construction since 1791 and is now intended to celebrate the Polish-born Pope John Paul II is facing further delays in the form of financial difficulties, the Associated Press reports.
“If we fail to raise enough money, we will be forced to suspend the building work,” said Father Janusz Bodzon, vice president of a church foundation overseeing the project.
The Catholic Church in Poland has already spent 50 million zlotys(US$20 million) on the massive basilica project, and construction is about 60 percent completed. However, an additional 50 million zlotys is needed.
The church plans to launch a new fundraising campaign in the spring, primarily aimed at young Poles who have a special affection for the late Pope.
Pope John Paul II consecrated a new cornerstone for the project in 1999. “Let this Temple become a place of particular thanksgiving for the freedom of the fatherland,” he prayed. He also said, “I pray that painful experiences never interrupt this offering; we all have been waiting for 200 years.”
The church was originally approved in 1791 by the Polish parliament as a votive offering of thanks after the proclamation of the nation’s first constitution, but construction ceased the next year. A second attempt at construction began after Polish independence in 1918, but was halted because of economic problems and World War II. After the collapse of communism the Polish government again revived the project in 1989, this time to celebrate national freedom and Pope John Paul II.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Dec 24, 2007 (CNA) - A senior government official in Malaysia has ordered a Catholic newspaper to drop the use of the word “Allah” in its Malay language section if it wants its publishing permit renewed, the Associated Press reports.
The Herald, published by Malaysia’s Catholic Church, has translated the word God as “Allah.” Che Din Yusoff, a senior official at the Internal Security Ministry’s publications control unit, has said this usage is erroneous because “Allah” refers to the Muslim God.
"Christians cannot use the word Allah. It is only applicable to Muslims. Allah is only for the Muslim god. This is a design to confuse the Muslim people," Che Din told the Associated Press.
Che Din said that the newspaper should use the general term for God, the word “Tuhan.”
Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, explained the newspaper’s usage of the controversial word:
"We follow the Bible. The Malay-language Bible uses Allah for God and Tuhan for Lord. In our prayers and in church during Malay mass, we use the word Allah," Father Andrew said. "This is not something new. The word Allah has been used in Malaysia for a long time. There is no confusion," he continued.
Che Din said that since Christians don’t use the word “Allah” in English-language worship, they shouldn’t use it in the Malay language. In addition to “Allah,” Che Din said three other Malay words ought not be used by non-Muslims: "solat" for prayers, "kaabah" for the place of Muslim worship in Mecca and "baitula" the house of Allah.
Publishers in Malaysia are required to obtain annual permits from the government, a policy that has been criticized for infringing on the freedom of the press. Members of minority religions have also complained that they do not enjoy full freedom of religion, despite such guarantees in the nation’s constitution.
The Herald, a 13-year-old weekly, is in talks with the government to renew its permit, which expires December 31. Che Din said the publication’s permit would only be renewed if The Herald stops using the word “Allah” in its pages.
The Herald publishes reports in four languages: English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. It has a circulation of 12,000.
There are more than 800,000 Catholics in Malaysia, whose overall population is 27 million.
Colombo, Sri Lanka, Dec 24, 2007 (CNA) - Archbishop of Colombo Oswald Gomis has challenged Sri Lankan Catholics to promote reconciliation among all the people and races in the island nation, The Sunday Times reports.
Archbishop Gomis noted that Christmas was arriving even amid dark clouds of war. “As we sing and rejoice in some parts of the country there is bitter suffering and agony in others,” he said.
The archbishop noted the sometimes life-threatening disruptions many Sri Lankans face. He said there were thousands homeless, children deprived of education, and people displaced from work. Though these afflictions should not prevent Catholics from celebrating Christmas, the feast must not be “just the celebration of a birth.” Instead, Christmas should be “a renewal of our commitment to Jesus Christ and to His mission on earth.”
The mission of Jesus, Archbishop Gomis said, was reconciliation: “to reconcile God and man and man with man. Jesus showed that all of us, regardless of color, creed, or caste, are brothers and sisters. This means that “love should be the guiding principle of all human beings.”
The archbishop said this love was best embodied in the Crucifixion, where Christ laid down His life not only for His friends but also His enemies. Christians, he said, cannot forget their role to reconcile people where there is strife and dissension.