Archive of January 9, 2008

Bishops of Colombia support end of guerilla’s “media show”

Bogotá, Colombia, Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - The secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Colombia, Bishop Fabian Marulanda, said this week the country’s bishops support the decision by the Colombian government not to authorize any more “international missions” to free those being held by rebel groups, and he called for an end to the “media shows” surrounding the victims of “this atrocious crime.”

Bishop Marulanda told Radio Caracol the government’s effort to reach out to the rebel group FARC, in order to achieve a humanitarian accord, “has had no results.”  However, he said, “the Church will continue to offer help and collaboration in making the release of all the kidnapped a reality.”

He noted that the government’s decision to end “international missions” to the country is almost a direct reference to President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who has offered to mediate between the Colombian government and rebel groups.  Bishop Marulanda said there needs to be more priority placed on the lives and the release of the kidnapped and less on making a show about who is involved.

“The kidnapped are our brothers and sisters,” he continued, “and nobody should think that the efforts for their release are going to stop.”  Neighboring countries can be of great assistance in “demanding and asking for FARC to release the hostages,” the bishop emphasized.

He went one to note that kidnappings are a particularly Colombian problem and that assistance offered to the country should be guided by the policies of the Colombian government. 

Regarding the Church’s efforts to mediate the conflict, Bishop Marulanda said the “only response from the FARC was the one it made public to discredit the proposal.  The FARC has been unwilling to relent in their demand for the withdrawal of Colombian police and military forces” from two important regions in the country where the rebel group operates, the bishop said.

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Abortion clinics in Spain to go on strike

Madrid, Spain, Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - Abortion clinics in Spain have decided to go on strike January 8-12 and suspend services as a protest “in defense of our professionalism and the rights of women.”

The “Association of Accredited Clinics,” an umbrella group for all abortion clinics in Spain, said the protest was being organized in response to the crackdown on illegal abortions in Barcelona in December, which revealed that a number of clinics performing late-term abortions in violation of the law.

The Association said that during the “strike,” the only services that will be offered at clinics will be contraceptives and emergency treatment.  While it has not issued an official press release, a draft copy leaked to the press indicated the Association intends to denounce the crackdown by police as a threat to women’s rights and security.

The Association claims it offers “important public health services” and that it is the target to “a political battle between the government and the opposition which could intensify as the general elections draw near.”

The official press release will likely refer to Spain’s law on abortion, which it describes as “a sexual and reproductive right secured more than 20 years ago and recognized by the international community.”

Some 32 abortion clinics in Spain will be participating in the five-day strike.

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Diocese discourages Catholics from attending services by priest who “resigned”

Phoenix, Ariz., Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - Hundreds disregarded a request from the Diocese of Phoenix to ignore services by former Monsignor Dale Fushek. According to the Arizona Republic, more than 600 people packed three rooms at the Mesa Convention Center last weekend.

Though the diocese has opposed the suspended priest’s non-denominational services since his inaugural service on Thanksgiving, Fushek has filled the center three times with a loyal congregation despite facing misdemeanor sex charges.

The former pastor of St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Mesa and founder of the youth ministry, Life Teen, drew 700 people to his service on December 23 and nearly 500 on Thanksgiving.  Jim Dwyer, the spokesman for the Diocese of Phoenix told the Arizona Republic that “We're actually encouraging Catholics to refrain from attending. We would hope that they don't…”

However, Brad Kuluris, a Catholic and spokesman for Fushek’s ‘Praise and Worship Center’, said “I think people are looking for a style of preaching that's new and invigorating,” Kuluris said. “You’ve seen these mega churches. People are looking for preaching that brings new life to ancient ideas.”

The diocese has placed Fushek on administrative leave, but Fushek claims he resigned from the Church one day prior to Thanksgiving.

“It's not that simple,'' Dwyer said. “This is not a job. It's a vocation. It's a way of life.”

He also said Bishop Thomas Olmsted eventually would decide whether to initiate church proceedings against Fushek that could strip him of his priesthood, with the ultimate decision made by the Vatican.

Fushek said on Sunday that he is somewhat surprised by the sustained growth and interest in only the group's third meeting. He hopes that in the future, the “Praise and Worship Center” will provide “a spirit-filled support system for people” in the form of counseling groups and Bible studies. He denies that he is trying to set up a new church.

After the December 30 service, the diocese criticized Fushek for violating the terms of his suspension, which barred him from acting as a priest or engaging in any form of public ministry.

Fushek was suspended when he was accused in a civil suit of sexual abuse involving another priest and a teenaged boy.  The parties reached a $100,000 settlement outside of court.

Later, Fushek was accused of the sexual exploitation of a minor and indecent exposure from relationships with five teenage boys between 1984 and 1993.

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Controversial San Francisco mayor uses historic church on inauguration day

San Francisco, Calif., Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - The mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, has made the news in the past for conducting an extra-marital affair and catering homosexual groups. His support for these groups puts him at odds with the Catholic faith, but according to the California Catholic Daily, he has chosen the historic Mission Dolores Basilica for a family Mass on Tuesday, to celebrate his inauguration to his second term in office.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is divorced, is scheduled to attend Mass with his family.  Following the Mass, Newsom will be sworn into office by his father, a retired judge, at San Francisco City Hall.

Last year Newsom admitted to an affair with the wife of one of his closest aides.  He claimed he had a drinking problem and the affair happened during his divorce from his first wife.  Newsome entered a rehabilitation program, while his aide resigned.

The mayor canceled a 2006 trip to Rome for the installation of former San Francisco Archbishop William Levada as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, saying it was in protest of the Catholic stance against adoptions for homosexual couples.

"The idea, the principle that two loving parents of the same sex can't be great parents and that this church is now going to start attacking gay adoptions in this country and around the world was really disconcerting," Newsom told the San Francisco Sentinel.

In February 2007, Mayor Newsom issued a proclamation congratulating Colt Studios, one of the world’s largest producers of hardcore homosexual pornography.  He declared February 23 Colt Studio Day in San Francisco.

Mayor Newsom also issued a proclamation welcoming the 2007 Folsom Street Fair, whose publicity mocked the Last Supper by replacing Christ and the disciples with leather-clad sadomasochists and placing obscene devices on the table in front of them.  The event describes itself as “the world’s largest leather event” and featured gross, unpunished displays of public indecency.

Some cited these past acts while questioning Mayor Newsom’s choice of such an historic venue.

“Given his record, it is difficult to understand why Newsom would choose a Catholic church – or why any Catholic sanctuary would agree to it,” the California Catholic Daily wrote.

Mission Dolores, whose full Spanish name is Misión San Francisco de Asís, was founded June 29, 1776 by Blessed Junipero Serra, a missionary priest.  According to its website, Mission Dolores “has always had a central place in the religious, civic, and cultural life of San Francisco.”  It is both the oldest original intact Mission in California and the oldest building in San Francisco.

At the swearing in ceremony today, Mayor Newsom continued to endorse homosexuality. In his inaugural address he touted "San Francisco values," like his fight for gay marriage, that he said, while threatening to the values of some, served as inspiration for many others.

"The world didn't become worse when over four thousand lesbian and gay couples were allowed to express their love and responsibility for each other right here in this building," he said. "It became better."

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Papal visit plans consider security threats, ticket scalpers

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - Those planning Pope Benedict XVI’s April visit to New York are considering security concerns, the logistics of stadium seating, and the threat of ticket-scalping at the Papal Mass, the Washington Post reports.


The District of Columbia will be tightly controlled for the first papal visit to the city in 29 years.  Unlike John Paul II’s visit, in which the late Pope stood in a convertible and waved to crowds, Pope Benedict will not proceed through the streets in a public motorcade.  He is scheduled to visit both the White House and Catholic University, but he will only appear in public for a Mass at the Washington Nationals stadium.


The Archdiocese of Washington is planning the April 17 Mass, which will begin at 10 a.m.  Local seminarians will be altar servers and laypeople will be chosen to read the scriptures, while Washington-area parish choirs will provide music.


Organizers at Nationals Park initially planned to place the altar for the Mass at second base, mirroring plans for the Pope’s New York stop at Yankee Stadium.  Realizing the potential for 4,000 more seats, they moved the altar to deep center field.  45,000 seats are now available.


Pope Benedict will ride into and around the stadium in the popemobile, the vehicle specially designed for his public appearances.


Though ticket distribution plans for the Papal Mass have not been completed, major Catholic events in the past have distributed tickets through parishes and Catholic organizations. 


Non-Catholics can attend the Mass, the archdiocese confirmed.


However, the archdiocese is concerned that the free tickets for the Mass will be scalped on internet sites like eBay.  Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, said that the Mass "is for the faithful who want to be with the Holy Father."


"It shouldn't be an opportunity for people to make money," she said.


The Pope will visit the White House on April 16, his birthday.  He will then meet with U.S. bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  After celebrating Mass at Nationals Stadium the following day, he will address educators at Catholic University and meet with non-Christian religious leaders at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.


He will leave Washington, D.C. for New York City on April 18, where he will address the United Nations and celebrate Mass at Yankee Stadium.

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Catholic hospital sued for refusing breast implants to “transgendered”

Daly City, Calif., Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - A Catholic-run hospital faces a lawsuit for refusing breast augmentation surgery to a transgendered person, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

Charlene Hastings, a 57-year-old San Franciscan, inquired about the surgery at Seton Medical Center.  According to Hastings, a surgical coordinator refused to allow the surgery.  "She was saying, 'It's not God's will,' " Hastings said. "I couldn't believe it. It's a blatant case of discrimination."

Hastings, who said he was raised Catholic, filed the lawsuit in San Francisco Court on December 21.

Hastings has already had major sex-change surgery to make his body resemble a woman’s.  He chose a plastic surgeon with privileges at Seton to perform the augmentation surgery.  According to Hastings, the surgeon, Dr. Leonard Gray, told him that Seton no longer allowed such operations to be performed on transgendered patients.

Seton Medical Center was previously owned by a large hospital conglomerate, Catholic Healthcare West, during which time it apparently allowed the surgery to transgender people.  The Daughters of Charity Health System took ownership of the hospital in 2002, and halted the surgeries in 2006 after learning they were taking place.

Kristina Wertz, legal director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco, claimed Seton and other area hospitals put up “significant barriers” to care.  Wertz believed the hospital’s policy violates the Unruh Act, a state law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.  “There's simply no religious exemption in the Unruh Act," Wertz said. "We're talking about a type of care that's OK for one class but not another.”

Elizabeth Nikels, vice president of communications for Daughters of Charity, told the Mercury News that the surgical coordinator was following hospital policy in refusing Hastings' surgery.

"Seton Medical Center provides medically necessary services to all individuals," Nikels said in a prepared statement. "However, the hospital does not perform surgical procedures contrary to Catholic teaching; for example, abortion, direct euthanasia, transgender surgery or any of its related components."

When contacted by Catholic News Agency for further comment, Nikels said she could not speak about ongoing litigation.

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Pakistan’s Catholics join Muslims in remembering Benazir Bhutto

Lahore, Pakistan, Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - Catholics in Pakistan joined their countrymen in grieving for Benazir Bhutto with a special Mass in Lahore on Sunday.

UCA News reports that more than 300 people including nuns, human rights activists, and leaders from Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) were in attendance.

Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, who also heads the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, concelebrated the memorial Mass with Father Andrew Nisari, vicar general of the archdiocese.

Attendees placed garlands, bouquets, and candles by the large portraits of Bhutto at the altar and in front of the cathedral.  They displayed banners reading: "We salute Benazir Bhutto for struggling for the restoration of minorities' rights and prosperity for the poor," "She was a hope for minorities" and "We demand immediate arrest of the killers of Bhutto."

Jehangir Badar, PPP general secretary, said in a speech: "We vow, in this holy assembly, to continue the mission of our courageous leader, who respected the Christian community and considered them equal citizens." He reiterated his party's demand for a United Nations commission to investigate the murder.

Similar gatherings took place in other churches where Catholic and Protestant leaders prayed together alongside Muslims.

Conflicting accounts of Bhutto’s assassination, which reportedly involved both a gun attack and an explosive device, have confused the country and increased tensions.  Pakistan’s Interior Ministry first reported that the former prime minister had died from a bullet or shrapnel wound, but later claimed she died from a skull fracture caused by the explosion. This claim was also later withdrawn.

The Catholic Women Organization (CWO), which operates under the auspices of the Pakistan bishops’ conference, echoed critics of the government reports.  It called for “a credible and neutral investigation” of the attack.  CWO national coordinator Firdous Margaret said a proper investigation was “a must” to ensure stability in the country.

“We also demand that the government should not make statements in speculation about the culprits before the investigation is completed,” she said. “Let the crime be dealt with as a crime.”

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Marriage Amendments proposed for ballot in six states

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - A variety of grassroots organizations, churches, and individuals are working on state constitutional amendments for 2008 that affirm that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.

The issue could be on the 2008 ballot in Florida, California, Arizona, and Indiana.  Iowa and Pennsylvania could vote on similar amendments in following elections.

Nathan Dunn, vice president of the Florida Family Policy Council, explained the reasons for pushing for a constitutional amendment versus a state law.  “Despite the fact that we have a law on the books saying marriage is between a man and a woman," he said, "that law could be vulnerable to any activist judge coming along with his own agenda wanting to change that very vital institution.”

The Arizona proposal follows a marriage amendment initiative that failed in 2006, with 49 percent of the vote.  Mona Passignano, state issues analyst for  Focus on the Family Action, said the first amendment was too complex and that simpler language would win more support. 

“The polling numbers coming out of Arizona are very good on the simpler language,” she said.

Twenty-seven U.S. states have added marriage amendments to their respective constitutions.

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St. Augustine honored by Pope Benedict as “a man of passion and faith”

Vatican City, Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - “One of the most important exponents of Christianity" in his time, is how Pope Benedict XVI described St. Augustine today at the Wednesday general audience.

This bishop of Hippo, the Pontiff said, was "a man of passion and of faith, of exalted intelligence and of tireless pastoral activity".

While the Holy Father acknowledged that the African saint has a large quantity of other works, he dedicated today’s audience to reflecting on the biography of Augustine. In the coming weeks, the Pope explained that he will focus on the saint’s numerous works.

It could be affirmed, said the Holy Father, that "all the threads of Latin Christian literature lead to Hippo" and that "many of the subsequent developments in Christianity, and in Western culture itself, lead out from this city of Roman Africa where St. Augustine was bishop from 395 to 430".

The author of the "Confessions", that "extraordinary spiritual autobiography ... with its great concern for the mystery of the self, for the mystery of God hidden in the self", was born in Tagaste in the year 354, the son of Patricius and of St. Monica. His mother educated him in the Christian faith, which the saint would later abandon despite his persistent interest in the figure of Christ.

Augustine studied rhetoric and grammar, a subject he went on to teach. While in Carthage, he read Cicero's "Hortensius" because although he had abandoned the practices of the Church he still always sought the truth. The book "awoke in him the love of wisdom", but "being convinced that without Jesus it is not possible to discover the truth", and as "Hortensius" contained no mention of Christ, he began to read Sacred Scripture.

However his encounter with the Bible left him disappointed, not only because of the poor Latin style of the translations, but also because "the content matter itself did not satisfy him. In the biblical accounts of wars and other human vicissitudes, he did not find that exalted philosophy," or "that splendor of the search for truth which characterizes it", said the Pope.

Yet Augustine did not want to live without God and continued to seek "a religion that responded to his desire to find truth ... and to draw close to Jesus". For this reason he was attracted by Manichaeism, the followers of which claimed that theirs was a "completely rational religion". Their dualist morality attracted the future bishop of Hippo who was convinced he had found the right fusion between "rationality, search for truth, and love for Jesus Christ"; yet Manichaeism proved incapable of resolving the saint's doubts.

When Augustine moved to Milan he began to frequent the sermons of Ambrose, as a way of improving his own rhetoric. The bishop of Milan taught "a typological interpretation of the Old Testament, as the road that leads to Jesus Christ". Thus it was that Augustine "discovered the key to understanding the beauty, and even the philosophical profundity, of the Old Testament, and he came to understand all the unity of the mystery of Christ in history, and the synthesis between philosophy, rationality and faith in the Logos, in Christ the eternal Word made flesh".

Augustine converted to Christianity on 15 August 386, "the end of a long and painful interior journey", and was baptized on 24 April 387. Ordained a priest in 391 following his return to Africa, he became a bishop four years later. "In his tireless pastoral commitment", said the Pope, "he was an exemplary bishop, ... he supported the poor, ... concerned himself with the formation of the clergy and the organization of monasteries and convents", and in a very short space of time became "one of the most important exponents of Christianity of that time".

"The bishop of Hippo", the Holy Father went on, "exercised a huge influence in his guidance of the Catholic Church in Roman Africa" and stood up against "tenacious and disruptive religious movements and heresies such as Manichaeism, Donatism and Pelagianism".

Pope Benedict recalled how "Augustine entrusted himself to God every day, until the end of his life", and how shortly before his death "he asked for the penitential psalms to be written in large letters and hung on the wall so he could see and read them from his bed". The bishop died on 28 August 430.

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Catholics for a Free Choice attempts to confuse voters, says Catholic Association

Washington D.C., Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - A new ad campaign from the group, Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), has drawn criticism from the Catholic Association for confusing the Catholic position on abortion and attempting to sway voters in the presidential primary elections. 

Michael Hernon, president of the Catholic Association stated that “Catholics for a Free Choice will stop at nothing to advance abortion rights. Their latest campaign puts a new spin on their dizzying logic that promoting abortion is somehow ‘Catholic’. Catholics stand for life and will not be confused by the latest attempt of this abortion front group.”

The campaign entitled “Prevention Not Prohibition”, focuses on how policy makers can assist in the prevention of abortion through contraception, healthcare for all, sexual education and access to childcare, according to a CFFC press release.

It is the belief of the CFFC that, “Despite the protestations of a few conservative bishops, there is strong support among Catholics for policies that would reduce the need for abortion.  The presidential election is a perfect place for serious candidates to take a stand and state that they too support providing women with real choices when it comes to dealing with an unplanned pregnancy.”

According to the Catholic Association, “the new campaign tries to confuse voters into believing that CFFC wants to ‘reduce the need for abortion’. They are trying to sway Catholics to vote for candidates who support abortion on demand but support other policies that may reduce the need for abortion. Catholics and people of good conscience can not tolerate or cooperate with the evil of abortion. Other policy initiatives do not mitigate a candidate's support for abortion on demand.”

The US Bishops’ Conference has called CFFC "practically speaking, an arm of the abortion lobby in the United States and throughout the world," funded by wealthy private foundations that seek to "promote abortion as a method of population control."

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Impressive support for Cardinal Garcia-Gasco in wake of attacks by Socialists

Madrid, Spain, Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Valencia has announced that since the enormous protest in support of the family on December 30 in Madrid, Cardinal Agustin Garcia-Gasco, one of the leaders of the event that brought together some 2 million people, has received a constant stream of support.

The Spanish cardinal became the target of one the most aggressive attacks by Socialists for his remarks denouncing the government’s anti-life and anti-family policies.

During his speech at the protest, Cardinal Garcia-Gasco said secularism “builds nothing and only leads to despair; [it brings] abortion, express divorce, and ideologies that aim to manipulate the education of young people”.

“This is not the way you respect the 1978 Constitution,” he went on, warning that Spain could be facing “the dissolution of democracy. Spanish government officials, including President Jose Luis Zapatero, reacted strongly to the cardinals remarks.

The president of the Federation of Catholic Associations of Parents of Students in Valencia, Nicolas Sanchez, said the cardinal gave a “correct analysis that we completely support,” and he underscored that the current laws “that promote abortion, express divorce or the manipulation of education do not help strengthen democracy, they do the complete opposite.”

The Association of Catholic Lawyers in Valencia also expressed its “total support” and “complete agreement” with the cardinal’s statements.  “It is urgent we become aware of what is at stake when unjust laws contrary to the common good of society are passed,” said Guzman Guia, president of the Association.

The president of the Tyrius Association of Homemakers, Asuncion Frances, expressed her support for the cardinal, “because the family is the basis of everything,” she said.

She said Cardinal Garcia-Gasco’s comments made “all families feel welcomed and understood in our concerns.”

Union Leader Fermin Palacios said the cardinal’s remarks were warranted “because in Spain laws that attack fundamental rights, such as life, freedom of education and others, are being promoted.”

The Director of the Institute of Life Sciences at San Vicente Catholic University, Justo Aznar, praised the “magnificent example of pacifism” displayed by the families at the December 30 event, which he said was the purest expression of democracy.

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Spanish Socialist leader asks Pope to give explanation of the family

Madrid, Spain, Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - A heated debate is taking place in Spain over the meaning of the family. In the wake of a massive pro-family march on December 30 in Madrid, the secretary of the Socialist Party (PSOE), Jose Blanco, has raised the debate’s temperature by asking Pope Benedict XVI to explain to him “just what exactly is the Christian family” and by recommending that “some members” of the Catholic Church “re-read the gospel.”

“As a Christian, I would like the Pope to explain to me just exactly what is the Christian family; maybe by traditional family he means that the woman just stays at home and does housework,” he told Antena 3 TV.

Blanco also called on “some members” of the Church hierarchy to “re-read the gospel,” since in his judgment one cannot “nourish inequality and injustice in the morning, and resolve them by the praying the rosary in the afternoon.”

Some Spanish bishops need to “evolve” in the same way that “Spanish and world society has evolved” in the recognition of rights for greater equality.

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Cardinal Saraiva announces canonization of Ecuadoran woman in 2008

Vatican City, Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - The prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, announced this week that among the first causes of canonization to be proclaimed this year will be Blessed Narcisa de Jesus, a laywoman who died in 1869 and will become the third Ecuadorian saint.


In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Saraiva explained that there are currently “more than 2,200” causes currently under consideration by the Congregation. 


The first four to be concluded are those of “Gaetano Errico of Naples, Italy, and founder of a congregation; Berandra Bütler ,a Swiss foundress of a religious order; Alfonsa de la Inmaculada, an Indian religious from Kerala; and Narcisa de Jesus Martillo, a laywoman from Ecuador.”


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Cardinal Ortega: Church in Cuba “is alive and united with her people”

Havana, Cuba, Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - In an extensive interview with the magazine “Espacio Laical,” published by the Archdiocese of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega said the Church in Cuba is “alive and united with her people.”

Speaking with reporter Lenier Gonzalez Mederos on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of John Paul II’s visit to Cuba, the cardinal noted that during the first few years after the Castro revolution, the Church experienced a drop in the number of priests and personnel and a lack of resources to carry out her mission. The focus was mainly on internal Church affairs, the sacraments and the spiritual, moral and material support of the Catholic communities, he explained.

However, “in 1981 the Church in Cuba began to develop what was called the Cuban Ecclesial Reflection program, which was carried out over five years and ended with the National Cuban Ecclesial Encounter in 1986.”  That event “opened doors” and “breathed a new spirit into the communities,” the cardinal said.  “Our faithful needed to understand this and come out from the fold and the Church needed to recognize that the Church has a mission that is not limited to the confines of the sacristy.”

“The Catholic faithful,” he added, “has progressively understood that the Church has an irreplaceable mission to carry out here, and the State has also progressively accepted and understood the mission of the Church, which is not limited just to worship.”

Pope John Paul’s visit to Cuba was a consequence of the “enthusiastic and coherent attitude of all the bishops of Cuba.  At that time we acted as one, with great determination and enthusiasm to make the Pope’s visit a reality,” Cardinal Ortega said.

The visit required intense coordination with local officials, he went on, and thus it became clear that it was possible to participate in society and live together “without giving rise to conflict.”

“The whole time the Pope was in Cuba, the gestures of the people were very significant.  The reception by the people surpassed our expectations,” the cardinal said.

“One day,” he recounted, “the Pope told me as we were coming back: ‘These people are intelligent. They applaud the concepts and not just the way a speech sounds’.”

Evaluating the current situation in Cuba, Cardinal Ortega pointed out that Cuban culture is essentially Christian but that during the last 50 years there has been an attempt to erase Christianity in the country—“through a very strong Church-State separation.”  Today the new generations of Catholics are called to insert themselves into society, he said, and “this is something the Church should foster.”

Cardinal Ortega acknowledged that the concept of “national reconciliation” is “a term that many times cannot be used in Cuba,” because it is often a politically charged idea that “refers to the possibility of reconciling ideologies.” 

However, “people can be reconciled.  I believe that we can reach that kind of fraternity through personal dialogue.  We’re not talking about dialogue between Church and State leaders, but rather dialogue between the diverse political sectors,” the cardinal stated.

As reconciliation between people spreads, he emphasized, “other situations, including political ones, will improve.”

Finally, Cardinal Ortega stressed that with the historic papal visit, “The Church made our society known to the entire world: The Catholic Church was there, she was alive and she was united with her people,” he said.

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More bomb attacks on Iraqi churches, severe material damage caused

Kirkuk, Iraq, Jan 9, 2008 (CNA) - Continuing a trend of attacks on Christian buildings, two car bombs exploded outside churches on Wednesday in the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk.

The attacks, which took place within two minutes of each other, damaged buildings, cars and surrounding houses but caused no injuries, Agence France Presse reports.

Brigadier General Burhan Habib Tayib, head of city police in Kirkuk, said that the first car bomb exploded outside the Chaldean Christian Cathedral of Kirkuk in the city center around 4:40 pm local time.  The second attack took place outside the Assyrian Christian Maar Afram church less than a mile away.

"A lot of material damage was caused," said Tayib. "Cars and surrounding houses and the glass and walls of the churches all suffered damage."

Similar attacks on churches have also taken place recently.  On Sunday a car bomb attack on a monastery in the northern Iraq city of Mosul wounded four people, while six other attacks on Christian buildings also took place elsewhere in Mosul and Baghdad.

On Tuesday Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told the Vatican's ambassador to Iraq, Monsignor Francis Assisi Chullikatt, that the government was committed to ensuring the safety of Christians.  He also noted that other religious groups, including Muslims, were being targeted for attack.

“Christians and Muslims are united in the face of terrorists and outlaws,” Maliki said.

Pope Benedict XVI on Monday expressed concern for Iraqi Christians in an annual speech to Vatican diplomats.  Iraq “urgently needed” reconciliation, he said.

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