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Archive of January 23, 2008

Fellow Jesuit provides profile of new superior general

Madrid, Spain, Jan 23, 2008 (CNA) - In an article written for the Spanish daily “La Verdad” in the city of Murcia, Fr. Juan Masia, SJ, who worked in Japan with the newly elected Jesuit superior general, offered a personal profile of Fr. Adolfo Nicolas.

Masia points out in his article that the election of Father Nicolas as superior general of the Jesuits “was foreseen years ago and it is no surprise to many Jesuits.”

“With the news of the election I received flood of emails asking for information about him.  I have been silent for an entire day; I did not want to endanger him with enthusiastic praise that would stir up the anger of those who sit waiting with a shotgun to fire against hope from the tower of fanatics.  But tonight, I have made a decision,” Father Masia said.

Writing from Japan, he stressed that the “news of the election of Father Nicolas, who for years was seen as a future superior general, has given great joy to the Society and was no surprise to those who awaited it and desired it for a long time.  When Father Arrupe wanted to retire for reasons of age, before he became ill, there was already talk of Father Nicolas as a possible successor: open, but balanced; prophetic, but obedient; bold, but discerning.”

“But, as John Paul II continued to live on, many people thought: ‘Father Nicolas’ time has passed’,” he added.

“He speaks Catalan, English, French, Italian, Japanese and German,” said Father Masia, “in these times of turning back the clock in the Vatican, the election of somebody like him to lead the Society is reason for much gratitude.”  “Those who know him closely know the trials he has endured with peace, elegance and faith.  He knows Asia very well and Asia knows him,” Father Masia added.

“Father Nicolas has been the provincial superior of the Jesuits in Japan.  He has emphasized enculturation, the option for the poor, inter-religious dialogue, the protection of life and the environment, the inseparability of faith and the promotion of justice…and he is welcoming to very diverse people.”

Father Masia also revealed that the new superior general “was not rector of the Gregorian, even though Father Kolvenbach wanted him to take the post, because the idea was vetoed by cardinals of a conservative bent.”

“His election undoubtedly was a step which the electors thought and prayed to God about, and they were careful not to campaign for him beforehand,” Father Masia noted.  “It is said that he who enters a the conclave Pope comes out a cardinal, as has occurred with some of the candidates promoted on the internet by people outside the Society, but interested in seeing it reverse course.”

Father Masia also said in his article that “since the Holy See still wants the superior to be elected for life, the Society has elected a 71 year-old, who will not be in office for more than approximately 12 years.” 

“Therefore I congratulate the Church of Vatican II, the Society, future vocations, but I do not congratulate him, although neither do I send him my condolences,” Father Masia wrote in conclusion.

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Free trade with US not a catastrophe, says Archdiocese of Mexico City

Mexico City, Mexico, Jan 23, 2008 (CNA) - An editorial published this week by the Archdiocese of Mexico City's news service argued that the North American Free Trade Agreement is not a surprise, as it has been implemented  during the last 15 years and is being used politically by some sectors.

The article questioned political and social organizations that have protested opening Mexico’s agriculture and livestock markets, asserting that each clause of the treaty “was accepted 15 years ago, including the clause that contemplates the liberalization of tariffs on agricultural products such as corn, beans and sugar, which was just implemented at the beginning of 2008.”

“What matters today,” the editorial continued, “is the demand that the government take effective measures to ensure that Mexican farms recover their capacity for producing the crops that we need.”

Authorities should “make proposals in areas that are of interest to Mexicans: a widening of the treaty with regards to human and employment aspects.”  Some organizations have adapted to the world market, the article stressed, but others remain committed to isolationism and overprotection of the country, “something which is no longer possible.” 

“Today we must seek out boldly and with political skill the widening of the treaty to include the flow of Mexican immigrants who are constantly moving into the United States and Canada,” the editorial stated.

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Young pro-lifers energize movement

Los Angeles, Calif., Jan 23, 2008 (CNA) - A new generation of pro-life activists reflects growing disapproval of abortion, the Los Angeles Times reports.

 

Pew Research Center polls for a decade have consistently shown that 18 to 29-year-olds are more likely than the general population to favor strict limits on abortion.  A Pew survey during the Summer of 2007 found that 22 percent of young adults support a total ban on abortion, compared with 15 percent of their parents’ generation.

 

A 2003 Gallup survey of teens found that 72 percent called abortion morally wrong, and 32 percent believed it should be illegal in all circumstances.  Only 17 percent of adults surveyed that year supported a total ban.

 

Though a majority of Americans favor legalized abortion in at least some circumstances, and 600,000 women under age 25 abort their children each year, young people are forging ahead for the pro-life cause.

 

"You look at pictures of marches [over the years] and the crowds just keep getting younger and younger and younger," said Derrick Jones, an advisor to National Teens for Life.

 

A Colorado teenager has led the drive to define a fertilized egg as a person under the state’s constitution.  A 17-year-old California girl last week filed a federal lawsuit to defend her right to start a pro-life club at her high school.  A Virginia teen recently took similar action, after which her school dropped its objections.

 

A sense that millions of their peers are missing motivates many young activists. 

Claire Levis, a 17-year-old Pennsylvanian with the group Generation Life, said, "I feel like we're all survivors of abortion."

 

"Abortion feels more personal for us," said Kristan Hawkins, who supervises 400 college clubs through the group Students for Life of America.

 

In a speech last week, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America Nancy Keenan spoke of the pro-abortion movement’s failures.  "Our reluctance to address the moral complexity of this debate is no longer serving our cause -- or our country -- well," she said.  Referring to her own movement’s leaders as the “menopausal militia,” she suggested her allies concentrate on less controversial issues such as the rising cost of birth control on college campuses.

 

Abortion-rights supporters also engage in outreach to youth, using Facebook, MySpace, text-messaging, and YouTube videos.

 

But far more viewers have visited YouTube’s pro-life videos, which include a UCLA sophomore’s undercover footage of an abortion clinic clerk suggesting a teen lie about her age on a form so that her much-older boyfriend would not be charged with statutory rape.

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Abortion pill usage rises despite abortion rate drop

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2008 (CNA) - Though recent reports indicate a drop in the abortion rate, the use of the abortion pill RU-486 is on the rise, the Washington Post reports.

The French drug mifepristone, RU-486, has been in the American market since 2000.  RU-486-induced abortions have been rising by 22 percent a year and now account for 14 percent of the total.  They account for one in five abortions performed by the ninth week of pregnancy.

The pill has helped slow the decline of abortion providers as more physicians who did not perform abortions now prescribe the pill.

One doctor in Albuquerque, New Mexico said she does not use the pill at one of her offices, while at another she provides the pill along with surgical abortions.  At a third clinic, she provides only the pill.

"My office is in a politically charged part of the community, so I try to be as diplomatic as possible," she said, speaking anonymously. "But at my other office, we can do an abortion where no one has to know -- not even the support staff."

The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization which was associated with Planned Parenthood until June 2007, estimates that 150,000 of the 1.2 million abortions in the U.S. in 2006 were done with medication.

"Mifepristone is clearly starting to become an important part of the abortion provision in the United States," said Lawrence Finer, who studies the drug at Guttmacher. "I think we'll continue to see increases."

Finer said that in some European countries, RU-486 is involved in more than 60 percent of abortions.

"The impact and the promise is huge," said Beth Jordan, medical director of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. "It's going a long way towards normalizing abortion."

Pro-life representatives were disturbed by the news.

"This troubles me," said Randall K. O'Bannon of the National Right to Life Committee. "It obviously shows that the marketing efforts have been effective in getting doctors to introduce this into their practices."

O’Bannon has questioned the safety of the drug, citing cases of women who died from bacterial infections after using RU-486. "The idea that doctors are beginning to offer something that has a record of causing some serious problems is very troubling," he said.

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McCain courts Catholic vote in Florida, no shift on embryonic stem cell research

CNA STAFF, Jan 23, 2008 (CNA) - John McCain has set his sights on Florida as the state’s primary draws closer. In a conversation with Catholics in Florida and CNA this afternoon, McCain maintained his support for embryonic stem cell research while emphasizing his hope that it will become an academic issue given the latest scientific advances.

When he was asked how he reconciled his otherwise solid pro-life voting record with his support for experimentation on “surplus” embryos, Sen. McCain called his decision to back the research “a very agonizing and tough decision”. He continued, saying, “All I can say to you is that I went back and forth, back and forth on it and I came in on one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever had, in favor of that research. And one reason being very frankly is those embryos will be either discarded or kept in permanent frozen status.” The senator, while standing firm on his decision added, “I understand how divisive this is among the pro-life community.”

Referring to the recent break through in stem cell research which allows scientists to use skin cells to create stem cells, McCain said that, “I believe that skin stem cell research has every potential very soon of making that discussion academic…. Sam Brownback and others are very encouraged at this latest advance….”

On the issue of appointments to the Supreme Court, McCain mentioned that Sam Brownback would play an advisory role in helping decide who he should nominate for the Supreme Court. As models of who he would select, John McCain pointed to Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia. Pro-life advocates see the choice of Supreme Court Justices as key to overturning the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, which legalized abortion.

In another nod to pro-lifers, the senator from Arizona thanked pro-lifers for their dedication to the “rights of the born and unborn,” noting that January 22 was the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade.

National security was also an issue raised by Floridian Catholics who spoke with John McCain.

Lawrence Alvarado, a former member of the U.S. military, asked Sen. McCain how he would use the ‘national security triad’—the diplomatic corps, U.S. foreign aid and development and the military—to enhance national security.

McCain responded by pointing to U.S. aid for Africa and the Cold War. “We won the Cold war in intelligence and in ideology. We won the Cold War in winning the ideological struggle with the then Soviet Union.” McCain then said that he would apply the same three-fold strategy to combating Islamic extremism.  “We’re going to win this struggle against radical Islamic extremism, the greatest evil we’ve ever faced, through diplomacy, intelligence and ideology.”

On immigration, McCain re-emphasized the need to secure the border first and then focus on dealing with illegal immigrants in a humane and compassionate fashion. The senator noted that “there are people who have committed crimes in this country that have to be rounded up and deported immediately.” He concluded by saying that being “the kind of nation that we are, that we can work this out, secure our borders and ensure our nation’s security, and at the same time address this issue in a humane and compassionate fashion.” 

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Chess champion Bobby Fisher requested Catholic burial in Iceland

Washington D.C., Jan 23, 2008 (CNA) - Legendary chess player Bobby Fischer, who made history by dethroning the Soviet chess king Boris Spassky in 1972, asked to be buried as a Catholic, according to officials of the Catholic Church in Iceland, where he had been living since 1992.

The famous and eccentric chess player, who died last Thursday at the age of 64, was buried Tuesday in Iceland during a private Catholic ceremony.

The French news agency AFP reported that Fischer, who was born into a Jewish family in New York, expressly asked to be buried according to the Catholic rite.  Father Jakob Rolland of the Diocese of Reykiavik, the capital of Iceland, presided at the funeral.

The former champion “had expressed his desire to have a catholic burial and we honored that” with a ceremony that took place in Laugardaela, a small city 50 kilometers south of the capital,” Father Rolland said.

Only five people attended the ceremony, including his Japanese friend Miyoko Watai, who traveled from Japan to attend to the funeral.  Father Rolland said she organized the funeral together with a group of Fischer’s friends in Iceland.

“I don’t know if he converted to the Catholic faith, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t,” said Father Rolland, in reference to the reserved manner in which Fischer discussed his private life and his personal decisions.

By becoming a citizen of Iceland, Fischer escaped serving a prison sentence in the United States for money he earned during a tournament in 1992 in the former Yugoslavia—at that time under a UN embargo—where he again faced and defeated Russian champion Spassky.

 

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Pope breaks away from teachings on St. Augustine to focus on Christian unity

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2008 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI interrupted his catechesis on the Church Fathers this morning to address the theme of Christian Unity at the weekly general audience.

Speaking to the thousands of pilgrims who gathered in the Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father said that during this week of prayer, Christ's faithful throughout the whole world, in all Churches and ecclesial communities, ask for the grace of unity, and commit themselves to work tirelessly so that the whole world welcomes Christ as the true Shepherd and one Lord.
 
"When Christians from various communities come together to pray in common,” the Pope said, “they acknowledge that unity cannot be achieved by human strength alone. Only by relying on God's grace can they live according to Jesus' prayer that "they may all be one." (Jn 17:20-21)
 
Benedict highlighted the special significance of this week of prayer for Christian Unity, which began one hundred years ago.
 
"This week, Christians throughout the whole world we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Week of Prayer for Christian unity, initiated by Father Paul Wattson, founder of the Society of the Atonement. The theme chosen for this year is St. Paul's exhortation to the Thessalonians to "pray unceasingly" (1 Thess. 5:17) According to the Second Vatican Council, prayer and holiness of life are the "soul of the whole ecumenical movement (Unitatis Redintegratio 8).”
 
The Holy Father called on Christians everywhere to give thanks for ecumenical achievements and to persevere on the path that leads to unity.
 
"I therefore invite all Christians to render fitting thanks to Almighty God for the progress achieved thus far along the path of ecumenism, and to persevere as they strive toward unity so that "the world may believe" (Jn. 17:21) that Jesus is the only Son sent by the Father."
 
The pope greeted the faithful in many languages, including English.
I extend a cordial welcome to the English speaking pilgrims present at today's audience, including students and staff from St. Mary's High School in Sydney and members of the delegation of leaders from the Los Angeles Council of Religious Leaders. May God bestow abundant blessings upon all of you!
 
The week of prayer for Christian Unity concludes on Friday, January 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Pope Benedict will end the week with Solemn Vespers at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

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Denver archbishop warns legislation endangers Catholic Charities

Denver, Colo., Jan 23, 2008 (CNA) - A proposed Colorado law restricting religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws could threaten the Catholic character of charitable organizations that receive government funds. The Colorado Catholic Conference has heard from numerous sources pointing to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as being connected to the legislation.

The bill is so restrictive that it would forbid preferring Catholics for appointment to key leadership positions in Catholic non-profit organizations.  The local archbishop has even advised the public that he will have to end Catholic Charities’ involvement with government programs if the bill passes.

The summary of Colorado legislature’s House Bill 1080(HB 1080) says that the bill “limits the applicability of the exception from compliance with employment nondiscrimination laws for religious corporations, associations, educational institutions, or societies when employing persons to provide services that are funded with government funds.”

The bill itself is short, taking up only twenty three lines.  It amends the present blanket religious exemption by requiring every religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society that “accepts government funds to provide services” to comply with anti-discrimination laws.  As listed in the Colorado Revised Statutes, characteristics protected by the anti-discrimination regulations include “disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, age, national origin, or ancestry.”

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, criticized HB 1080 in a January 23rd column titled “How to write a really bad bill.”  He said the proposed law would attack the religious identity of non-profits and compromise Catholic organizations that co-operate with government agencies in providing necessary social services. 

Because of the disproportionately large involvement of Catholic non-profits in the community, Archbishop Chaput said, “Catholics will bear a disproportionate part of the damage.”  Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver, the archbishop notes, is the largest non-governmental human services provider in the Rocky Mountain West.

HB 1080, the archbishop believes, would hinder Catholic non-profits from hiring or firing employees based on the religious beliefs of the Catholic Church.  Though recognizing that many non-Catholics work at Catholic Charities, Archbishop Chaput said the bill would remove the ability of the non-profit to maintain a Catholic leadership.

“…the key leadership positions in Catholic Charities obviously do require a practicing and faithful Catholic, and for very good reasons.   Catholic Charities is exactly what the name implies:  a service to the public offered by the Catholic community as part of the religious mission of the Catholic Church,” the archbishop wrote.

The need to preserve Catholic Charities’ Christian identity was so important that the archbishop warned that the non-profit’s cooperation with the government would cease if regulations impeded its Catholic mission.  Speaking of Catholic Charities, he wrote, “When it can no longer have the freedom it needs to be ‘Catholic,’ it will end its services.  This is not idle talk.  I am very serious.”

The archbishop also said he has heard from Catholics who find HB 1080 “offensive, implicitly bigoted, and designed to bully religious groups out of the public square.”  He also voiced concern about the origins of the legislation, saying that the Colorado Catholic Conference has repeatedly heard that the Anti-Defamation League has been a leading advocate for the bill.  Though hoping that allegation was not accurate, Archbishop Chaput encouraged the Anti-Defamation League to distance itself from the bill if it was involved.

The ADL was most recently on the Catholic radar for their fierce opposition to Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ,” which they claimed would fuel anti-Semitism.

Urging citizens to write their legislators, Archbishop Chaput summarized his concerns, saying, “Catholic organizations like Catholic Charities are glad to partner with the government and eager to work cooperatively with anyone of good will.  But not at the cost of their religious identity.”

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Cardinal Rivera announces severe penalties for abusive priests

Mexico City, Mexico, Jan 23, 2008 (CNA) - Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City announced this week that the Church supports a policy in which “ecclesial ministers who commit sexual crimes are severely punished by Church and civil law.”

In a message to the Symposium on Punishable Crimes Committed by the Clergy, organized by the Pontifical University of Mexico, the cardinal pointed out that “it is very appropriate that this matter, which is especially delicate because of the repercussions it carries, not only in relation to internal Church discipline but also because of the consequences that these actions garner from civil authorities, be a matter of calm, dispassionate and highly academic study.”

“It is necessary in these matters that there be precise knowledge of the crimes that are punishable, of the competence of Church authorities and the consequences that these punishable acts can have in relation to the entire people of God,” he added.

Cardinal Rivera stressed that those involved in sexual crimes “must be punished with greater severity, since those who commit these types of acts affect not only the victim, but also his or her family and the Church [and] cannot go unpunished.”

For his part, the rector of the Pontifical University of Mexico, Alfonso Vargas Alonso, pointed out that the university “opens its doors to researchers, canonists, teachers, lawyers and the public interested in the issue so that they can hear this series of conferences that aim to delve deeper into the current problem that is very much felt in our society.”

Seeking out the truth is part of the nature of the Pontifical University, Alonso stressed.  “Our university, in communion with our bishops, since it belongs to the Bishops’ Conference of Mexico, being faithful to the magisterium of the Church, has entered the field of scientific research and offers in this symposium the clear and serene reflection of experts who have researched the issue.”

The Dean of the School of Canon Law, Mario Medina Balam, said the faculty is not interested in scandal.  “The faculty exists and develops its mission in the Church; therefore it is not outside the life of the Church. The Church, as an institution, is one more component of Mexican society, and her members are also citizens of this country,” he explained.

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Pope gives advice on the ‘educational emergency’

Vatican City, Jan 23, 2008 (CNA) - A letter from the Pope to Catholic administrators, teachers, parents and students was made public today regarding the vital importance of education and its balance of freedom and discipline. The letter comes after some Italian politicians tried to make political capital out of earlier remarks by the Pontiff about an ‘educational emergency’.

In his January 21 letter, Benedict XVI notes that education today “seems to be becoming ever more difficult. ... Hence there is talk of an ‘educational emergency’, confirmed by the failures which too often crown our efforts to form well-rounded individuals, capable of collaborating with others and of giving meaning to their lives.”

The Pontiff points out that educators may feel the “temptation to give up” on education, and even run the risk “of not understanding what their role is,” and he identifies “a mentality and a form of culture that leads people to doubt the value of the human person, the meaning of truth and of good and, in the final analysis, the goodness of life itself.”

These difficulties “are not insurmountable,” Pope Benedict stressed.  “Do not be afraid! ... Even the greatest values of the past cannot simply be inherited, we must make them our own and renew them through often-difficult personal choices.”

“However, when the foundations are shaken and essential certainties disappear, the need for those values returns to make itself imposingly felt. Thus we see today an increasing demand for real education.”  It is demanded “by society as a whole ...and by the young people themselves who do not want to be left to face the challenges of life alone.”

The Holy Father asserts in his letter that educators need “to identify certain common requirements for authentic education,” one of which requires, “above all, the nearness and trust that are born of love.”

“It would, then, be a poor education that limited itself to imparting notions and information while ignoring the great question of truth, above all of that truth which can be a guide to life.”

The Pope identifies “the most delicate aspect of education” as that of “finding the right balance between freedom and discipline.” However, “the educational relationship is above all an encounter between two freedoms, and successful education is formation in the correct use of freedom. ...We must, then, accept the risk of freedom, remaining ever attentive to helping it and to correcting mistaken ideas and choices.”

In closing, the Holy Father wrote that hope is the “soul of education,” indicating that “our hope today is threatened from many sides and we too, like the ancient pagans, risk becoming men without ‘hope and without God in the world.’”

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Work of Church in Cuba ignored overseas, says leading dissident

Havana, Cuba, Jan 23, 2008 (CNA) - The president of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, said this week that outside of Cuba, the true work that the Church does for the Cuban people is unknown.

“The Church is playing a key role in the evangelization and in aid to the poor, not only economically but also in a human and moral plane as well. I would like to clarify that, as a Catholic, I can only speak of the Church in third person.  Our local Church has suffered persecutions and de-Christianization in very difficult circumstances, but she has always been faithful to the Gospel, to the Church and to the Cuban people. This is a reality that is often ignored by international public opinion,” Paya told the Italian daily L’Opinione.

On the other hand, in referring to the state of the dissidents and political prisoners, he explained that the Christian Liberation Movement has presented a document to the National Assembly calling for “amnesty for all politicians who are not stained by acts of violence.”  However, he warned that Cuba is facing “a time of tension and very grave danger,” as “a harsh repression against our collaborators is underway.”

“A good portion of the members of the Varela Project are in prison solely because of their demands for greater rights in the country.  Currently, a portion is detained in terrible conditions, in shared prison cells.  With this document that we have sent to the National Assembly, we call for amnesty and freedom of movement for all of them, even for them to be able to leave prison,” he said.

On the other hand, Paya stressed that the future political model of Cuba should be decided by a free people, “without expecting a Chinese model or other systems imposed from above,” although he acknowledged that “today that is not possible.”

“Our proposal seeks national reconciliation, which can only be achieved through the recognition of the dignity of the person.  We are not pseudo human beings, but rather children of God,” he said.  “We want to build a more just society, with greater economic freedoms, without falling into pure commercialism,” he added.

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Cardinal Garcia-Gasco: Catholics must be firm against attacks from secularism

Valencia, Fla., Jan 23, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Valencia, Spain, Cardinal Agustin Garcia-Gasco, has called on the faithful to remain firm in the face of attacks from secularism, following the example of St. Vincent the Martyr, whose testimony “is an eloquent sign for rejecting the idolatry of the State.”

“To be a Christian today, in a society that produces disturbing effects because of its radical opposition to God and to Christian culture, requires an attitude similar (to that of St. Vincent the Martyr), even though they accuse us with all kinds of humiliations, meanness and lies,” the cardinal said during a Mass in honor of the patron of Valencia.

According to the AVAN news agency, Cardinal Garcia-Gasco denounced the moral emptiness upon which society is being built and that legitimizes everything that attacks human dignity, such as “abortion, war, terrorism, infidelity, deception and betrayal.”

He also criticized the “attempt to de-Christianize society” and individualism. This kind of radical secularism turns against man and against society because it proposes “nothing new: it drags along all of the complexes and hatred of which the martyrs of every age were victims,” the cardinal said.

Cardinal Garcia-Gasco went on to denounce efforts to make religion, especially the Catholic faith, incompatible with democracy, “and therefore an aversion to everything that is Christian is fostered.”

The Church does not wish to “impose” the faith, he said. Rather, her mission is “always to invite the use of reason, the search for truth, for the good, for God.”

“It’s time to affirm with simplicity our Christian identity, showing our unequivocal love for freedom, peace, unity, and our closeness to those who suffer,” the cardinal said.

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