Bratislava, Slovakia, Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - A Slovakian television station has been fined two-million koruna ($88,400), for making fun of a Vatican document on Christian driving, Agence France Presse reports.
Slovakia’s broadcasting council said that a program on the commercial station Joj abused viewers’ religious sensibilities and was not objective.
The program targeted the 2007 document issued by the Pontifical Council for Migrants “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road,” widely characterized by media reports as teaching the “Ten Commandments” of driving.
The program said that priests were “not the best experts” to give instructions on driving because the Vatican had "only two kilometers of highway and the last traffic accident was more than half a year ago."
Around two-thirds of Slovakians describe themselves as Catholic.
Eldoret, Kenya, Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - Bishop Cornelius Kipng’eno Arap Korir of the West Kenyan diocese of Eldoret has asked the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need for assistance in responding to the Kenyan humanitarian crisis provoked by violence in the aftermath of contested elections.
The city of Eldoret was the epicenter of the violence and riots that broke out after the December 27 presidential elections. Over 100,000 people have fled, walking dozens of miles to escape. Many have sought refuge in churches, including a church that attackers burned to the ground, killing dozens.
Church resources are taxed to their limits and cannot cope with the refugees. “People are spending the night out in the cold, some children have even died of exhaustion,” Bishop Korir lamented.
Bishop Korir told the aid agency that most of the bodies of the estimated one hundred people estimated killed during riots in the diocese had not yet been buried. He said people were afraid to recover the bodies of the dead for fear their own lives would be endangered. The bishop called the situation “a matter of urgency.”
The bishop urged the Kenyan government to provide passable transport routes into and out of the city and to ensure safe passage for relief vehicles. He said that in addition to food, medicine, and emergency shelter, traumatized victims urgently needed social workers and psychologists.
Bishop Korir condemned the violence, calling for the immediate end to hostilities and the creation of conditions that would provide peace, reconciliation and normality to the troubled land. He asked political leaders “to search for a permanent solution to the crisis afflicting the Kenyan nation.”
Richmond, Va., Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia is taking out a $2 million line of credit to finance legal action against 11 churches that left the denomination a year ago, the Washington Times reports.
At issue in Virginia is $30 to $40 million in real estate and assets. The lawsuit joins others in at least 12 states filed against churches that have left the Episcopal Church over disputes about biblical authority and the 2003 election of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who openly lives in a homosexual relationship.
The Anglican District of Virginia represents the 11 churches in the state that have left the Episcopal denomination. Vice Chairman Jim Oakes said the district spent $1 million on legal fees last year and plans to spend another $1 million this year. Its members have pledged $3 million.
"If people in the pews knew how much money was being spent on this stuff, there'd be pressure to put an end to this," Oakes said. "We just hate spending this money on lawyers.”
The Episcopal diocese has already spent $1 million on the lawsuits. Diocese spokesman Patrick Getlein said the diocese borrowed the money from restricted endowment funds, and is now paying only the $80,000 interest on the loan.
"Church pledges to the diocesan budget will not be used to fund litigation," he said in an e-mail. He said the diocese plans to sell surplus property, “unimproved, unconsecrated land,” to pay back the interest. He also voiced appreciation for those who have made unsolicited contributions to help defray the cost of litigation.
The national Episcopal Church is a partner to the diocese in the lawsuit. It has not revealed the source of all its legal funds, though last year two letters were sent from five retired bishops demanding the information.
“We are concerned that there could be a violation of federal pension fund laws," retired Bishop William Wantland of Eau Claire, Wis., told Living Church, an Episcopal magazine. "If they are using endowment funds, some of those are restricted."
The Diocese of Virginia is also missing $180,000 in pledges to its $4.79 million 2008 budget. Getlein said churches typically do not contribute specific amounts until they receive their Christmas contributions.
Manila, Philippines, Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - Filipinos celebrated the Feast of the Black Nazarene on Wednesday, centering their veneration around a black statue of Jesus, that many believe has miraculous capabilities.
2.2 million devotees seeking blessings and atonement from sins packed the streets around Quiapo church, which hosts the life-sized wooden statue. Two died and dozens were injured in the press of the crowd, Inquirer.net reports
Spanish missionaries brought the statue to the nation from Mexico in 1606. Their ship caught fire, and though flames darkened the statue it survived the blaze.
Many devotees believe the statue has miraculous healing power and can wash away sins.
A replica of the statue was carried from the church on a cart in an hours-long procession through the packed streets. Many of the pilgrims pressed forward, trying to touch the replica.
In the crush of the crowd, one woman suffered cardiac arrest and died. A 44 year-old man also died, while about fifty others were injured.
Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, Archbishop of Manila, led a Mass at dawn for the faithful. He urged the poor not to lose hope amid their daily challenges, while calling the celebration a personification of "taking up one's crosses and trials in life in imitation of Christ."
Bethlehem, West Bank, Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - This morning after visiting the Church of the Nativity on a one day visit to Palestine, President Bush thanked the government for the opportunity to visit the birthplace of Christ and reflected on its significance.
Bush began his remarks by thanking the government for their hospitality and emphasizing the significance of the region. “It’s been a moving moment for me and the delegation to be here at the Church of the Nativity. For those of us who practice the Christian faith, there's really no more holy site than the place where our Savior was born.”
He continued by underlining the fascinating history of the church. “Not only was my soul uplifted, my knowledge of history was enriched.
“I want to thank the people of Bethlehem for enduring a presidential trip -- I know it's been inconvenient for you. I very much appreciate your tolerating my entourage,” he said.
“Some day I hope that as a result of a formation of a Palestinian state there won't be walls and checkpoints, that people will be able to move freely in a democratic state. That's the vision, greatly inspired by my belief that there is an Almighty, and a gift of that Almighty to each man, woman and child on the face of the Earth is freedom. And I felt it strongly here today,” President Bush related.
Vatican City, Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe, professor of environmental engineering at Princeton University, has been appointed by Pope Benedict as an ordinary member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
The Pontifical Academy is comprised of scientists from around the globe who have significantly contributed to science. The members serve the Vatican by providing them with objective research while continuing to advance the progress of their particular discipline.
Rodriguez-Iturbe, a native Venezuelan, is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and has worked at Princeton since 1999. He is a leader in hydrology and considered one of the fathers of ecohydrology.
The Holy Father will formally appoint Rodriguez-Iturbe into the academy in October 2008.
Vatican City, Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - At the beginning of every New Year, the Pope meets with government officials from Rome and its surrounding area to exchange greetings and discuss issues affecting the region. This year the focus of the Pontiff’s concern was on the education of youth, poverty and care for the sick.
Referring to the “educational emergency” he had highlighted last June during the ecclesial congress of the diocese of Rome, Benedict XVI noted how “it seems ever more difficult to convincingly present new generations with firm certainties and criteria upon which to build their lives.” Nonetheless, he told his audience, such an emergency “cannot leave the Church or your administrations indifferent.”
“What is clearly at stake in the formation of individuals”, the Pope added, “is the very basis of co-existence and the future of society. For its part, the diocese of Rome is dedicating its special attention to this difficult task” with initiatives that touch “the various educational fields, from families and schools to parishes, associations and movements”. He singled out the Region of Lazio for the support it has given to oratories and children's centers run by parishes and ecclesial communities.
Pope Benedict provided the officials with a path for civil institutions to form people in a way in accord with their dignity. These institutions must “increase their efforts at various levels in order to tackle the educational emergency, drawing constant inspiration from the guide-criterion of the centrality of the human person,” he said.
Above all, the Pope sees the family as standing at the center of this formation. "It is clear that respect and support for the family based on marriage have primary importance", he emphasized.
"Unfortunately, we daily see how unrelenting and threatening are the attacks and misunderstandings suffered by this fundamental human and social institution. It is, then, more necessary than ever that public administrations do not support such negative tendencies but, on the contrary, give the family their convinced and concrete support, in the certainty that in this way they are working for the common good".
The Holy Father identified poverty as "another worsening emergency situation, ... especially on the outskirts of major cities. ... The increased cost of living, and especially the price of accommodation, a persistent lack of work, and often inadequate salaries and pensions, make living conditions truly difficulty for many individuals and families", he observed.
Lastly, the Pope highlighted needs of the sick. “We are well aware”, he said, “of the serious difficulties the Region of Lazio has to face in the field of healthcare, but we must also note how the situation of Catholic healthcare structures is also often a dramatic one.”
Referring to attempts aimed at removing the Catholic institutions’ tax exempt status, The Holy Father said, “I must ask, then, that in the distribution of resources [Catholic structures] not be penalized, not for any interest of the Church, but in order to avoid prejudicing a service so indispensable to our people”.
Baghdad, Iraq, Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - New fears of an organized campaign to flush Christianity out of Iraq have been sparked by the recent attacks on churches in leading Iraqi cities.
Concerns about a new "religious-cleansing" drive were raised by sources close to the Church reeling from Sunday's (January 6) coordinated bomb-blasts on at least six church buildings in Mosul and Baghdad.
Iraqi Church sources, who requested anonymity out of concern for their safety, told the Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), that while only one person was injured by the bomb attacks, the were clearly not intended to kill or cause damage. However, the assaults were still "very worrying".
ACN’s sources see Iraq becoming increasingly divided along sectarian lines, with Sunni and Shia Muslim extremists trying to expel Christians from their respective spheres of control.
Speaking from one of the cities that were targeted, a leading Iraqi bishop told ACN of the people's shock, especially coming after at least two months of relative calm.
"People had become so optimistic but now they have realized that things are not so clear,” the bishop said.
Asked about the reaction of the people, the bishop related, "The people were shocked of course. They were very calm and took it very well." He continued, saying, "It seems that the people changed their minds and decided not to kill anybody. Thank God for that."
The bishop said that the bombings would discourage Christians from returning to Baghdad and Mosul and encourage yet more emigration of the remaining Christians, which he said was continuing even before the attacks.
He spoke of how in the wake of the attacks, he and other leading clergy had visited Christians to boost morale.
"The best thing we can do is to be with the people," he said. "I have been with many families in the last few days - just to try and encourage them."
He called on Christians in the West to pray for the Church in Iraq. "We need the consolation of your prayers," he said. "Through your prayers, we can draw strength from one another."
Marie-Ange Siebrecht, head of ACN Projects in Iraq, said: "In most of the news on Iraq, we never hear about the Christians. Iraqi Christians belong to Iraq. They are part of the community, living side-by-side with people of a different faith.
"It would be a disaster if the Christians were forced to be segregated and cut off from those with whom they have made their home for so long."
There are no accurate figures for Iraq's Christian population but the best estimates claim that more than half of the 1.2 million Christians in the country in early 2003 have now fled and that the vast majority in Baghdad have now escaped.
The Christians' declining numbers as well as a continuing break-down of law and order in key parts of the country, were two key reasons given by the Church sources to explain the targeting of Christians who, they said, had few guards and other security measures in place.
, Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - The Colombian government has announced the capture of a key leader of the National Liberation Army (ELN), Carlos Marin Guarin, the man behind the 1989 murder of Bishop Emilio Jaramillo Monsalve of Arauca.
Marin, who at that time was commander of a division of ELN forces, ordered the killing of Bishop Jaramillo Monsalve for his public comments against the actions of the ELN in that region.
The murder sent shockwaves throughout Colombia, not only because he was a bishop, but also because he was tortured first and then killed by ELN soldiers, who kidnapped the bishop while he was making pastoral visits with a group of priests.
General Mario Montoya of the Colombian military announced the Marin was captured in Bogota while participating in meetings to plan further ELN attacks.
Marin is also believed to have been involved in an attack on a military base in Venezuela on February 25, 1995, in the city of Cararabo, in which eight soldiers of the Venezuelan military were killed and another twelve were wounded.
Since 2006 Marin has commanded three of the seven ELN divisions.
Vatican City, Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - The Apostolic Nuncio to Iraq, Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt, met this week with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri el Maliki, who extended an invitation to Pope Benedict XVI to visit the country.
According to Catholic media in Germany, the invitation was made during the course of a visit the Nuncio made to the Prime Minister in the wake of attacks on seven churches and convents in Baghdad and Mosul.
“The atmosphere felt in Iraq right now is very tense and violent,” said the reports, “as there were recently attacks against Catholic churches and the killing of US soldiers continues to increase.” “According to statistics of the World Organization of Health, as of June 2006 some 151,000 people have died in the Iraqi conflict.”
Vatican City, Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - Upon hearing about the recent spate of bombings against Christians in Iraq, Pope Benedict XVI has sent a telegram to the Catholic Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly expressing his deep concern and spiritual closeness to all of those who were attacked.
The telegram, which was signed by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, conveyed the Pope’s “fraternal assurances of prayer as you seek to offer hope and strength to your people.”
Benedict also asked Cardinal Delly to “convey his heartfelt solidarity to the superiors of the religious communities affected by these attacks, and to renew his sentiments of sincere solidarity with all members of the Christian communities in Iraq, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.”
The message also called upon the terrorists to “renounce the ways of violence,” especially since “such attacks are also directed against the whole people of Iraq”.
The telegram closes by offering prayers for “a return to the peaceful coexistence of the diverse groups that make up the population of this beloved country,” and the Holy Father commending “all the people of Iraq to the heavenly protection of our almighty and merciful Father.”
Eldoret, Kenya, Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - Following a meeting of the entire Kenya Episcopal Conference, John Cardinal Njue, the archbishop of Nairobi, and the 22 other bishops of Kenya, are urging peace and justice as a solution for the crisis caused by the recent violence.
“We wish to express our support of the ongoing mediation efforts of President Kufuor of Ghana and pray for the success of these meetings," the church leaders wrote in their letter, written to all Kenyans.
"We add our voice to the call of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to our leaders to seek dialogue and specifically pray and hope that both President Mwai Kibaki and Hon Raila Odinga will open and take seriously the results and resolutions they will reach during the mediation. We believe that these talks will help the truth to come out about the contested election results because it is on this truth on which justice shall be built,” the prelates wrote.
“While these talks are going on, we single out the issue of Land as one of the underlying problematic issues that has to be addressed in the long run,” the bishops said.
In the most recent development, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has agreed to take over talks to end the deadly turmoil linked to Kenya's presidential election, after days of international pressure resulted in nothing more than a fresh round of accusations from both sides, the AP reports.
With over 500 people dead from post-election violence, the bishops are calling on all Christians and Kenyans of good will to “continue praying for Peace and pleading for God’s mercy on us all, and on our country. We ask you to observe a National prayer day on 20th January 2008, and will send you a prayer that we should use during this time. We continue to be very close to all those afflicted, both in the loss of life and property and are praying for you all.
“We also urge all Kenyans to try and give material assistance to all these suffering brother and sisters. We are confident that Jesus the Prince of peace will bless our country with lasting Peace!”
Madrid, Spain, Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - Spain’s Ministry of Health, together with the Spanish division of Microsoft, has created a robot called “Robin” to provide “information” about sexual relations, sexually transmitted diseases and other issues. Young people will be able to use the Microsoft Messenger program to communicate with “Robin,” who will be available 24/7 to answer any questions about sex and alcohol.
During a presentation of the program, Bernat Soria, Spain’s Minister of Health, said the purpose of the robot, who interacts with users as a normal contact on their list, is “to provide to our young people rigorous and accessible information” about sex.
“Robin’s” answers will be programmed by officials of the Ministry of Health, and according to Rosa Garcia, president of Microsoft in Spain, the hope is to reach to 1.7 million Spanish youth between the ages of 12 and 17 who use Messenger each day.
Pro-family groups are worried about the answers “Robin” will give users, as the Ministry of Health has said the robot will use “the same language as young people and help them overcome their embarrassment or timidity in discussing issues such as sexual relations.” In this way “Robin” would take the place of parents and teachers in matters related to sexuality.
“Robin” will be programmed to respond to the 300 different questions posed in “natural terms,” and it will ask for clarifications in response to questions posed using vulgar language.
The responses may include Pictures and other material in addition to text.
The Ministry of Health announced that Microsoft Spain will log the questions young people ask that do not generate a response in order to create new answers.
Taipei, Taiwan, Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - President Chen Shui-Ban has written to the Vatican requesting the Holy See’s assistance in securing Taiwan’s position in international relations, Radio Taiwan International reports.
A statement from the Presidential Office on Tuesday said that President Shui-Ban told the Vatican that Taiwan’s exclusion from the United Nations is a breach of basic human rights. Citing China’s refusal to allow Taiwan to participate in international organizations, he called China’s tactics to isolate Taiwan a “violation of international moral standards as espoused by the Pope.”
President Chen Shui-Ban said the country’s exclusion from the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and other organizations are a breach of human rights and a violation of the UN charter.
The president’s letter expressed hope that Taiwan would at last be accepted by the international community with the help of the Holy See and other diplomatic allies of Taiwan.
CNA STAFF, Jan 10, 2008 (CNA) - The internal struggle within Islam over how it interacts with the modern world has spilled out onto the world stage over the last few years with sometimes disastrous consequences. In the midst of this upheaval, George Weigel is offering his thoughts on the roots of this “intra-Islamic civil war” as well as some policy suggestions in his new book “Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism”.
CNA had an opportunity to talk with Weigel about his book and discuss the current dialogue with Islam.
Q. Why did you write Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism?
A. In a sense the book began with my reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg Lecture, which identified two serious and linked problems with global impact: faith detached from reason (as in jihadist terrorism, which is based on the irrational notion that God commands the killing of innocents), and a loss-of-faith in reason (which leaves the western world incapable of defending its commitments to religious freedom, tolerance, and civility in the face of the jihadist challenge).
I was also stuck by the fact that, more than half a decade after 9/11, Americans still couldn't "name" the enemy in this new kind of war in which we found ourselves -- and still wouldn't face the theological roots of Islamist terrorism. So I decided to do something about all of this, adding a number of policy prescriptions that I hope will draw bipartisan support.
Q. Can you summarize the main points in your argument?
A. 1. The great questions of life, including the great political questions, are ultimately theological.
2. The notion of “three Abrahamic faiths” obscures more than it illuminates.
3. Jihadism, while a lethal distortion of Islam, nonetheless appeals to certain tendencies in Islamic self-understanding that can only be successfully overcome by a re-connection in the Muslim mind between faith and moral reason.
4. Genuine interreligious dialogue, acknowledging the theological and anthropological differences between Islam and Christianity, will focus on the development of an Islamic case for religious freedom and the separation of religious and political authority.
5. The struggle against jihadism, which may last for generations, is one of the two great contests for the human future in the 21st century (the other being the management of biotechnology).
Q. Your book paints a rather stark picture of the challenge of jihadism. Is there any good news to report?
A. There's no sense in fooling ourselves about the gravity of this threat. At the same time, we should understand that fighting the war against jihadism successfully -- and this is fundamentally a war of ideas -- can be an occasion of national renewal. Making compelling arguments in favor of the free society will reconnect us with the great ideas on which our liberties rest. Putting faith and reason into conversation will strengthen the unity of our diverse society. Defending religious freedom, and supporting those Muslim reformers who seek to make an Islamic case for tolerance and pluralism, reminds us that American civil society is built on truths about the dignity of human life. Energy policies that defund jihadism by reducing our reliance on petroleum as a transportation fuel can ignite entrepreneurial energies, revitalize the American auto industry, and help the environment. Rational homeland security policies can make us safer and less beholden to political correctness.
Q. What do you make of the recent "Letter of 138," entitled "A Common Word Between Us and You," addressed by Muslim leaders to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders?
A. I hope it creates the occasion for a deepened conversation between Catholicism and Islam, but I'm also afraid that the "138" are trying to change the subject -- a tactic in which they're being aided by some craven Christians.
The Pope has made very clear that the Church is interested primarily in talking about two things: religious freedom, and the separation of political and religious authority in the state. As the Pope said in his Christmas address to the Curia in December 2006, these are achievements of the Enlightenment that the Catholic Church worked hard to assimilate, finally doing so at Vatican II.
Unless Muslims can find Islamic warrants for religious freedom and the civil society, aggressive Islamists and jihadists will remain a danger to the world and to their fellow Muslims. That means talking about the things the Pope put on the agenda, not drifting off into platitudes. In my book, I discuss at some length a process of "retrieval and development: by which ancient religious traditions can "grow" their understanding of their roles in modern society. That's what the Catholic Church did from Leo XIII through John Paul II. And that's what the Islamic world must do today: for its sake, and everyone else's.
George Weigel is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.