Archive of January 16, 2008

Cardinal Ruini calls on faithful to show support for Holy Father this Sunday

, Jan 16, 2008 (CNA) - Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope’s Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, has called on the faithful to gather this Sunday in St. Peter’s Square during the recitation of the Angelus to show their support for Pope Benedict XVI after his visit to La Sapienza University in Rome was cancelled amid protests from students and faculty.

The Pontiff had planned to inaugurate the new academic year at La Sapienza, but threats of violent protests by a group of students and professors led the Vatican to cancel the visit.

During the Wednesday General Audience today, hundreds of students from La Sapienza expressed their solidarity with the Pope.

The intolerance against the Holy Father has cause a wave of protests across Italy.  Cardinal Ruini said in a press release that the issue “has been a painful blow to the entire city of Rome” and he called on the faithful to gather this Sunday at St. Peter’s Square “as a gesture of affection and solidarity” towards the Holy Father.

Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano sent a letter to the Pontiff expressing his “sincere and genuine bitterness” over the matter. He called the protests and “offensive threats” against the Pope “unacceptable” and “incompatible” with free expression.

For his part, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said it was “inadmissible that the Pope could speak at the university, which is a place of dialogue and openness.”  The Italian Federation of Catholic Universities said that what happened at La Sapienza represents “a grave and illegitimate act of intolerance that profoundly tarnishes the conscience of the Italian university.”

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravassi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the protests against the Pope’s presence at the university, which paradoxically was founded by a Pontiff, Pope Boniface VIII, constitute on the one hand a kind of “cultural fundamentalism” that is from the beginning “closed to listening and to coming together,” and on the other hand “a true defeat for the culture, beyond the purely religious aspect.”

The Vatican said that hundreds of ecclesial movements and organizations are sending in expressions of support and solidarity for the Holy Father.

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Hindu, Muslim and Jewish leaders bless Catholic high school students

Reno, Nev., Jan 16, 2008 (CNA) - An interfaith prayer service at a prominent Nevada Catholic high school brought together leaders from different denominations and religions to bless the students. While at the high school’s chapel, Bishop Randolph Calvo of Reno took the opportunity to bless the recently installed Episcopal bishop, Rt. Reverend Dan Thomas Edwards in preparation for his ministry.

Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist leaders gathered at Bishop Manogue High School in south Reno for the blessing ceremony.

“"We commit ourselves to persevere in constant prayer for unity within the human race, and through concrete gestures of reconciliation and dialogue to seek to bring forth peace in our world," they said.

The service was organized by Father Charles T. Durante, pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Community in Carson City.  He began the prayer service by invoking the Holy Spirit, saying "We start our prayer by recognizing that we are in God's presence."

A local rabbi performed a Hebrew recitation, while a Hindu chaplain recited Sanskrit slokas from the Rig-Veda.  There was also a Buddhist text reading, along with a reading from the Letter to the Thessalonians from an Episcopalian minister.  An imam also gave a reflection address quoting the Quran.

Imam Abdul Barghouthi of Northern Nevada Muslim Community, stated, "May God continue today the work of reconciliation begun by many great leaders of faith," while Chaplain Rajan Zed, the Hindu chaplain, said, "Whatever divides us might be overcome through wisdom, love and truth.”

Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist, Mormon and Presbyterian ministers also said prayers and addressed the students.

Father Mark Hanifan, the school’s Catholic chaplain, said to the attendees, "Let us seal our unity in prayer, in love and in the hope of one human race."

Students joined the clergy in singing “This Little Light of Mine.”

Rajan Zed also told CNA that an interfaith blessing of the new Episcopal Bishop of Nevada, the Right Reverend Dan Thomas Edwards, took place in the high school’s chapel.

Bishop Edwards reportedly was seated on a chair below the podium to receive the blessings of Most Rev. Randolph Calvo of the Diocese of Reno, a Jewish rabbi, Buddhist priest, Muslim imam and a Native American faith leader among others.

CNA attempted to contact the Bishop Calvo for comment, but no one was reached before press time.

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Kerala Catholics regain control of newspaper from Muslim businessman

Thiruvananthapuram, India, Jan 16, 2008 (CNA) - The Catholic Church in the southern India state of Kerala has regained ownership of a 120-year-old local newspaper from a Muslim businessman, UCA News reports.

On December 30 M.A. Pharis, a Muslim, returned his stake in the company that publishes the daily Deepika to the Church.  The newspaper is the oldest daily in the Malayalam language.

Charlie Paul, a Catholic lawyer and Deepika reader, reacted to the news, saying "I'm happy the title [of the company] has been returned to the Church." He said that the newspaper has contributed "immensely" to the growth of the Church in Kerala, but "we realized it only when we lost the title," he told UCA News. "Catholics are emotionally attached to Deepika. I hope the present management would run the newspaper without selfish interests," he added.

The newspaper was founded by the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate in 1887.  In 1989, ownership shifted to Rashtra Deepika Limited, a newly-founded public company.  After a financial crisis, the company’s chairman Bishop Matthew Arackal of Kanjirappally invited Pharis to invest in the company and take over as the chairman.

Father Jose Panthaplamthottiyil, a 56-year-old CMI priest who is the new chief editor of the Rashtra Deepika group of publications, said the Church paid $4.05 million, or 160 million rupees, to Pharis to buy out his shares in the company.

The paper, which has a circulation of 300,000, used to be known for its anti-communist stand.  Under Pharis’ chairmanship the paper began to promote Kerala’s communist government, which has clashed with the Church over several issues. Once the Church realized that the paper was promoting the Communist government it took steps to re-acquire Deepika.

Antony Kuriakose, a bank employee, said the paper "was associated with the cultural history of Kerala and Christian idealism." He said "over a period, the newspaper changed color and policies and lost its consistency." He believed it would be difficult for the newspaper to regain its old readership.

Father Panthaplamthottiyil said the newspaper’s publishing company is planning a series of expansions.  He said he would make Deepika the “moral voice” of Kerala, where 19 percent of its 31.8 million people are Christian.

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Bishop of Belleville purchased vestments with mission money

Belleville, Ill., Jan 16, 2008 (CNA) - Priests of the Diocese of Belleville are seeking an explanation from their bishop after he reportedly bought liturgical vestments with donations marked for a Vatican world outreach fund, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

An employee at House of Hansen, a tailor of clerical vestments in Braxton’s hometown of Chicago, said Bishop Braxton ordered five sets of vestments, a miter, and a tunic last year.  At least some of the vestments were worn by the bishop, two deacons and two priests, all of whom were ordained in May. 

Questions about the funding for the vestments date back to a diocesan financial council meeting in November, when Bishop Edward Braxton was asked how he paid for the new vestments.  The St. Louis Post-Dispatch sources, who requested anonymity because of council members’ oath of secrecy, claimed Bishop Braxton said the $8,000 expenditure came from a fund for international mission work.

The mission fund is supported by collections taken up on World Mission Sunday, the second-to-last Sunday of October.  It is supervised by the Propagation of the Faith offices on diocesan and national levels and has an international office at the Vatican.

Church statutes strictly regulate church finances, ordering that "offerings given by the faithful for a specified purpose may be used only for that purpose."

The topic of the vestment funding was raised again at a Monday meeting in the diocese.

"We attempted to discuss it," said one member of the diocese's Presbyteral Council. "But no progress was made. The bishop did not want to talk about it."

The conflict accompanies another controversy about the continued employment of the diocese’s chief financial officer, William Knapp, whose five-year contract ending in June will not be renewed by Bishop Braxton. 

Knapp is a popular figure among many diocesan priests.  At an East St. Louis Deanery meeting, several priests supported Knapp’s continued employment so that he can complete work on securing financial transparency for the diocese.

“We believe that his departure at this time will only cause more suspicion among the laity and presbyterate concerning the finances of the diocese," the priests reportedly said.

Last month, the Belleville diocesan finance council wrote a letter to Braxton expressing concern about the expenditure.  The letter was copied to the papal nuncio in Washington.

The Diocese of Belleville serves about 104,000 Catholics.

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Christians do not despair in difficulty but help those in need, says the Pope

Vatican City, Jan 16, 2008 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI today continued his catechesis on St. Augustine, the fifth century saint whose writings express a passion and deep love for God that have led countless people reject despair and turn to help those in need.
The Holy Father, who is himself partial to St Augustine, recalled the period in history just prior to St Augustine's death when North Africa was beset by division and threatened by Vandals.
After designating his successor as bishop of Hippo, St. Augustine wanted to dedicate the last four years of his life to a more intense study of Scripture.
In fact, Pope Benedict said, "The years that followed were four years of extraordinary intellectual activity." Not only did the aged Augustine finish some important works, but he devoted himself to reconciling divided Christians and to bringing peace to the African provinces racked by division and threatened by Vandals.
Pope Benedict recalled how St. Augustine entertained public debates with heretics, but always looked to dialogue and prayer to bring about unity.
"Even when he was old and tired, Augustine remained all of his life in the breach, seeking solace for himself and others through prayer and meditation on God's providence."
Recalling the words of St. Augustine, the pope said, "even if the world itself is old, Christ is perpetually young.  Don't refuse being made young again by being united to Christ. He says to us: Don't be afraid your youth will be renewed as that of an eagle."
Pope Benedict recalled St. Augustine’s words to his flock, "Christians must not become disheartened in difficult situations, but must themselves help others who are in need.”
And so, the great doctor suggests, in response to a bishop who asked him whether if under the invasion of the barbarians a bishop or priest or any man of the Church could flee to save his own life, Christian charity demands that man of the church, indeed all Christians, must attend to the needs of others as a father would attend to those of his own children.
"How many priests over the course of the centuries have accepted this message in deed and in fact?" Pope Benedict said.
Augustine's, who welcomed bishops and priests into his own home during the siege of Hippo in 431, devoted his last days to prayer and penance.
Pope Benedict concluded, "When I read the words of St. Augustine, he does not seem a man who has been dead more or less 1000 years, but he seems a contemporary, a friend who speaks to me, speak to us of his fresh and actual faith.
In St. Augustine, who speaks to us in his writings, we see the real faith that comes from Christ, the Eternal Word Incarnate, son of God and son of man, who is always the same, yesterday, today and forever."

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Benedict XVI prays for “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity”

Vatican City, Jan 16, 2008 (CNA) - At the conclusion of the General Audience today, Pope Benedict XVI recalled that January 18 begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the theme of which this year is St. Paul’s invitation to the Thessalonians: Pray without ceasing.”

The Week, said the Holy Father, "has special significance because a hundred years have passed since its inception.”

He continued, “It is necessary to pray without ceasing, insistently asking God for the great gift of unity among all the Lord's disciples. May the endless strength of the Holy Spirit move us to a sincere commitment to seek unity, so that all together we may profess that Jesus is the one Savior of the world.”

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The Pope's speech that a minority of students rejected

, Jan 16, 2008 (CNA) - The disclosure of the Pope's speech that he intended to give at La Sapienza, brings with it an ironic twist. The students who were protesting his presence claimed that he had nothing to say to a secular institution, and yet, his speech was on that very topic.

The Holy Father's visit to Rome’s oldest university, which was founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII, was suspended after a group of professors and students threatened to disrupt the event with their protests.

"What has a Pope to do or say at a University? Certainly not to impose the faith on others in an authoritarian way, which can only be given to others in freedom," the Pope writes in his speech meant to be delivered at La Sapienza. Instead of speaking to the students and faculty, the address had to be published in the daily edition of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

In his speech, Benedict XVI points out that "La Sapienza was once the Pope's university but today it is a secular university with the autonomy that has been part of the nature of any university, committed only to the authority of truth."

"In its freedom from political or ecclesiastic authorities the university finds its particular role, [a role which is] even for modern society, which has a need for such an institution," the Pontiff wrote.

The Holy Father also argues that it is possible to prove religious truths.

"Many things said by theologians in our [Church] history or even practiced by Church authorities, have been proven false by history. Nevertheless, it is true that the history of the saints, the history of Humanism grown on the foundations of the Christian faith, demonstrates that at its essential core is the truth of the faith, thus giving it a role in public reason."

The Holy Father also warns about the growing danger of utilitarianism in Western civilization: "man, precisely because of the greatness of his knowledge and power, may surrender in the face of the question about truth. And that means at the same time that reason, in the end, caves in front of the pressure of interests and the lure of utility, make of it the last decisive criteria."

Benedict XVI concludes his speech by highlighting that because of his role as Shepherd of the Church, "it is my duty to keep alive the sensibility for the truth, which means to always invite reason to go in search of the truth, the good, God."

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Cardinal Shönborn: European crisis result of inability to recognize the truth

Salzburg, Austria, Jan 16, 2008 (CNA) - The archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said this week that the “intellectual crisis of Europe” is the result of an “incapability of recognizing the truth.”

According to the Archdiocese of Vienna’s website, during a January 12 speech on the missionary life of the Church at the Pastoral Assembly of Austria, the cardinal underscored the need to recognize and proclaim the truth, since it is there that love is found.  Likewise, he noted that missionary opportunities can be found in daily life, as the Holy Father mentioned during his visit to Austria.

At that time, Cardinal Schönborn recalled, the Holy Father stated that “where there is no truth, the human being cannot distinguish between good and evil.”  He also explained that “truth properly understood is humble and is directed to the interior and does not seek external power.”

Cardinal Schönborn later noted that Benedict XVI stressed on his trip to Austria that possessing the truth revealed by God should not lead to pride or to scorn for other religions, but rather should “move us in response to what has been freely given us, so that we too give it to others.”

Christians should confidently and boldly approach others to spread to the faith, since otherwise “many opportunities for mission work are lost.”

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Schedule for the Pauline year to be released next Monday

Vatican City, Jan 16, 2008 (CNA) - On Monday January 21, the Holy See’s press office will release the schedule of activities for the Pauline year, convened by Pope Benedict XVI to mark the 2000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul and which will run June 28, 2008 through June 29, 2009.

At 11:30am, Rome time, the schedule will be presented at the John Paul II hall in the press office by Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and Father Johnannes Paul Abrahamovicz, prior of the Abbey of St. Paul Outside the Walls. 

During the press conference particular mention will be made of the activities that will take place at the Pauline basilica, one of the four most important basilicas in Rome, as well as where the remains of the Apostle to the Gentiles are buried.

Pope Benedict XVI has convened the Pauline year in order to awaken in the church the evangelical zeal that motivated St. Paul to turn away from persecuting Christians and become one of the most important preachers of Christ in the early church.


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Laity in Madrid call on government to respect freedom of religion and of expression

Madrid, Spain, Jan 16, 2008 (CNA) - In the wake of the pro-family demonstration of December 30 organized by lay diocesan movements in the Spanish capital, the Council of Laity of Madrid has called on Spanish government officials to respect the rights of religious freedom and freedom of expression.

In a press release issued this Monday, the Council expressed “its concern over the reactions and statements” of some Socialist politicians with regards to the march that brought out more than two million Spaniards in defense of marriage and the family.

The Council stressed that the “organizers of the event were lay movements, made up of people who live and work in the world and who, although following different charisms and spiritualities, see themselves as the People of God and as citizens.”

“We felt the need to gather together on the feast of the Holy Family to proclaim the values incarnated by families formed by a man and woman”, the press release said. The lay group went on to say that they believe that parents should be “open to life and educators in civic values as well as in love that is freely given, in forgiveness and sacrifice”.

“Our celebration was intended to make it clear to Spanish society that for us the family does matter,’ the statement indicated. “We only ask our leaders to listen and to allow us to continue exercising our faith in freedom,” it continued.

“We lay Catholics are committed to the Truth that sets us authentically free and from there we consider ourselves citizens who wish to contribute to the common good. We only ask for respect on the part of those who have other ideas and freedom to peacefully proclaim them, as happened at the event on December 30,” the Council said.

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Young evangelizers to take to the streets in Spanish diocese

Madrid, Spain, Jan 16, 2008 (CNA) - The Diocese of Cartagena (Spain) is preparing more than 150 young Catholics to take to the streets to share the Gospel with their contemporaries.

Organized by the Diocesan Youth Ministry Office, the initiative is quite unusual for a region that is not used to the public expression of faith, and some media outlets have tagged the young evangelizers as “the Catholic brigades” or “Mormon-like groups.”

Bishop Juan Antonio Reig Pla came up with the idea as part of a campaign entitled “Mission Youth,” which aims to motivate young Catholics to embrace the task of every baptized person to proclaim the Gospel.

Contrary to some media reports that claimed the young people would be promoting “sexual abstinence and the rejection of condom use,” Diocesan youth director Manuel Roberto Burgos said, “Sexual morality is not the central aim of the initiative.”

“Those who volunteer for the program will be trained in seven meetings to equip them with arguments if they are challenged by other young people, but above all so that they can evangelize in places of leisure, schools and institutes,” he explained.

Thus, the young evangelists will go to public places where other young people gather to offer their Christian witness and to engage in dialogue aimed at addressing the fundamental questions about life and God.

The initiative will be officially launched on February 10 with a meeting of the volunteers outside the diocesan Cathedral and a commissioning ceremony.  It will end on May 13 with a celebration and an evaluation of the fruits of the mission.

“We know there are some who will make fun of the young volunteers, but the young people are aware of this,” Burgos said.

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Long-serving German bishops’ conference head resigns

Berlin, Germany, Jan 16, 2008 (CNA) - Cardinal Karl Lehmann, head of Germany’s Catholic Bishops Conference, has announced his resignation as chairman of the conference for reasons of health, the Associated Press reports.

The 71 year-old Bishop of Mainz was elected head of the bishops’ conference in 1987, and had been re-elected for a six-year term in 2005.

"The recent appointments of new bishops has shown that it's time for a changing of the guard, it's time that a new generation takes over," Cardinal Lehmann wrote.

Observers consider Cardinal Lehmann, a close associate of his fellow German Pope Benedict XVI, to be a relatively liberal theologian. 

Bishop of Aachen Heinrich Mussinghoff, deputy chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, thanked the cardinal for his “unflagging service,” calling him "an excellent and reliable representative of the Church and its message."

Hans Joachim Meyer, of the Central Committee of German Catholics, said of Lehmann on Tuesday: "He has set standards through his actions, which will not be forgotten."

Cardinal Lehmann has been chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference longer than any other bishop.

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U.S. birth rate spikes in 2006 creating “boomlet”

Atlanta, Ga., Jan 16, 2008 (CNA) - Recent studies show that more babies were born in the United States in 2006 than in any year since 1961. Figures for 2006 indicate that 4.3 million children were born to mothers, creating a baby boomlet, the Associated Press reports.

Experts attribute the rise in births to a larger population and in particular, a growing number of Hispanics. The burgeoning Hispanic population doesn’t completely explain the upward swing because women from all races are having more children.

An Associated Press review of birth numbers reaching back to 1909 found the total number of U.S. births in 2006 was the highest since 1961, near the end of the baby boom. When the global picture is brought into focus, the United States has a higher fertility rate than every country in continental Europe, as well as Australia, Canada and Japan.

Some factors cited by fertility experts to explain the difference between the U.S. and other industrialized nations are: a decline in contraceptive use, a drop in access to abortion, poor education and poverty, but also better economic opportunities for American mothers returning to work.

Cultural reasons contribute to the U.S. difference as well. Hispanics as a group have higher fertility rates—about 40 percent higher than the U.S. overall. Regions of America also differ in their acceptance of children. New England’s low fertility rates are similar to those of Northern Europe.  However, in the Midwest, the South, and some mountain states potential parents look at children more favorably than people in many other Westernized countries.

"Americans like children. We are the only people who respond to prosperity by saying, `Let's have another kid,'" said Nan Marie Astone an associate professor of population, family and reproductive health at Johns Hopkins University.

Ron Lesthaeghe, a Belgian demographer who is visiting professor at the University of Michigan, said the greater influence of religion, especially Evangelical Protestantism and Mormonism, also likely increased the fertility rate in some regions.

American women are also more likely to have babies out of wedlock than women in other countries, and more American couples tend not to abort an unwanted child.

Some researchers credit the high fertility rate among immigrants to their optimism about their future in the U.S., and also to the attitudes towards childbirth in their homelands.   Fertility rates average 2.7 children per woman in Central America and 2.4 in South America.

However, the birth rate among immigrants can be even higher than in their native lands.  Mexican-born women who live in the U.S., for example, have a fertility rate of 3.2 children, while the overall rate in Mexico is 2.4. 

The overall spike in births could be the start of a trend, but demographers say it is too soon to know. This society-wide phenomenon caused the total number of births in 2006 to leap by 3%, the largest single-year increase since 1989, according to the CDC's preliminary data.

Instead of a smaller number of mothers having large families, Astone says that the recent upswing is due to many women having two children.  In addition, the same report shows that the birthrate increased for women at all age levels and across racial lines. Whites, blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska Natives all showed increased fertility, while Asians remained at their previous levels.

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