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Archive of January 25, 2008

Wisconsin forces Catholic hospitals to dispense “emergency contraception”

Madison, Wis., Jan 25, 2008 (CNA) - The Wisconsin State Assembly has passed legislation mandating that all Wisconsin hospitals, including religiously-affiliated hospitals, must inform any self-described victim of sexual assault of “emergency contraception” and must provide it upon her request.

Emergency contraception, as defined by the bill, includes both the morning-after pill and the intrauterine device (IUD).  The morning-after pill can alter the lining of the uterus so that a newly conceived embryo cannot implant in the womb, leading to its death.  The IUD always blocks implantation, also causing the death of any newly conceived human being.

“It is a sad day for Wisconsin,” said Peggy Hammil, state director of Pro-life Wisconsin.  “The state Assembly has shamefully ignored the fate of embryonic children by forcing Wisconsin hospitals to dispense a known abortion-causing drug to vulnerable women.  In so doing, they have trampled upon the conscience rights of hospitals and hospital workers in blatant disregard of our federal and state constitutions which guarantee freedom of religious expression and liberty of conscience.”

Pro-life Wisconsin, which represents 30,000 families in the state, commended the 34 Republican legislators and the one Democrat legislator who voted against the bill.

Bishops Robert Morlino and Jerome Listecki have spoken out forcefully against the legislation in the past few months. Efforts to pass the bill included a letter sent by Catholics for a Free Choice which claimed to represent the Catholic position on abortion and contraception.

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Worldwide Divine Mercy Congress to be held on anniversary of John Paul II’s death

Rome, Italy, Jan 25, 2008 (CNA) - On Thursday January 31, at the Holy See’s press office, the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, will announce the details of the first World Apostolic Congress on Divine Mercy, which will coincide with the anniversary of the death of the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II.

The event, which will take place in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican from April 2-6, 2008, will be presented by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, OP, Archbishop of Vienna (Austria) and the President of Congress; Fr Patrice Chocholski, General Coordinator of the Congress and Msgr. Mauro Parmeggiani, Secretary General of the Vicariate of Rome.

Cardinal Schönborn recently pointed out that the opening day of the congress would deliberately coincide with the anniversary of the passing of Pope John Paul II, “because he was a true witness of mercy.”  The Austrian cardinal also recalled the words spoken by the late Pontiff during the consecration of the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki in 2002: “Apart from the mercy of God, there is no other source of hope for humanity.”

Lagiewniki is the small city in Poland where St. Faustina Kowlaska (1905-1938) received the visions that would lead to the devotion of Divine Mercy.

St. Faustina was canonized by John Paul II on April 30, 2000; on that same day he also established the second Sunday of Easter as the Feast of Divine Mercy.

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Churches urge end to Kenyan violence

Nairobi, Kenya, Jan 25, 2008 (CNA) - Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan was scheduled to start a mediation mission in Kenya, even as violence flared once more, Vatican Radio reports.

An organization of African churches has also urged Kenyans to seek peace. 

Despite these efforts at peace, dozens of protestors set fire to a government office building in a fight following an opposition-organized memorial service for victims of the violence that followed the disputed December 27 general election.  Cases of rape and sexual violence against women have doubled in some areas of Kenya, as perpetrators in gangs travel unpunished.

Notre Dame Sister Mary O’Brien, speaking from Nairobi, talked to Vatican Radio about the crisis. 

“Koffi Annan arrived last night and I think many people are hoping that he will make it possible with his team to get some negotiation at the highest level.  One of the most hopeful signs to me is the number of people and organizations who are saying ‘Let us have peace!’”

Sister O’Brien noted that the violence was in part ethnically motivated, but also said that some violent agitators were looking for valuable land to confiscate.

“Many, many people are suffering very much.  Many have lost everything,” she told Vatican Radio.

“Undoubtedly, there has to be a political solution,” Sr. O’Brien said.
 
The Nairobi-based All-African Conference of Churches (AACC) issued a statement expressing “deep and profound sorrow” over the Kenyan violence, urging the country to return to its high stature as a successful African democracy.

“We cannot underplay the standing of the Republic of Kenya in the eyes of the African populations, and the contribution that Kenya has made to peace and stability in many countries in this continent,” the letter said.

The letter exhorted the conflicting parties to accept international help and arbitration, saying, “We urge Kenya to acknowledge, accept and embrace the goodwill overtures of their fellow Africans. We urge the Kenyan church in particular to stand firm for the appropriateness and value of such accompaniment by their fellow Africans.”

The failure to establish a peaceful government in Kenya, the AACC wrote, affects all of Africa:

“If Kenyans see this crisis as simply just one of their problems that they will in time resolve, let it be said that the rest of the continent is desperate, for if it happens thus to Kenya, how about the rest of us, what hope do we have?”

The AACC, praising Kenya’s past commitment to democracy and the rule of law, urged the opposition to trust the courts in arbitrating the conflict.

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Vietnamese Catholics continue pressuring government over stolen property

Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan 25, 2008 (CNA) - The Vietnamese government continues to face petitions from Catholics over properties confiscated by the government after 1954, the Associated Press reports. 

 

However, improved church-state relations have meant the Vietnamese government has not cracked down as harshly as it has in the past.

 

Catholics have focused their prayers and pleas on the old Vatican embassy, a 2.5-acre lot in central Hanoi worth millions. 

 

"It is a tragedy for us that our holy land was taken away," said Father Nguyen Khac Que, a priest of the Hanoi diocese who helped organize the prayer vigils.

 

Church officials say they have documentation showing the property belongs to the diocese.  Government officials claim a former priest voluntarily turned the land over to them in 1960.

"This whole matter of returning land is very complicated," Duong Ngoc Tan, of Vietnam's national Committee for Religious Affairs, told the Associated Press.

Only five years ago, the public prayer vigil of the protesters would probably have led to jail time.

 

"There is now a sufficient feeling of comfort on both sides that the church feels it can air its grievances publicly and the state feels it can tolerate them," said Peter Hansen of the Catholic Theological College in Melbourne, Australia, speaking to the Associated Press.

 

Despite city officals’ requests to stop the protests, church leaders plan their biggest vigil yet for this Friday.  Because public protests are generally forbidden, leaders are careful to refer to the gatherings as vigils, rather than demonstrations.

 

Pham Vu Thuc, a lay Catholic in Vietnam, said globalization had caused the Vietnamese government to become more attentive to global standards of religious freedom.

 

"Things have changed a lot since we've become more connected with the outside world," she told the Associated Press. "We have the Internet, we've joined the World Trade Organization. Now Vietnam has to follow the rules of the international community."

 

According to Independent Catholic News, thousands of California Catholics have been holding prayer vigils in solidarity with their fellow Vietnamese Catholics.   Two thousand attended a candlelight vigil and Mass at St. Maria Goretti parish in San Jose, California, praying for the Vietnamese Catholics’ effort.

 

There are six million Catholics in Vietnam, a predominantly Buddhist country.

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Pope points to importance of thanking God for greater unity between Christians

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2008 (CNA) - Benedict XVI welcomed members of the World Council of Churches and a delegation of Catholics at the Vatican today, thanking them for their work towards achieving Christian unity.  

Speaking in English to the group, the Holy Father pointed out that the relationship between the World Council of Churches and the Catholic Church stretches back to “the time of Vatican Council II.”

“The Joint Working Group,” the Pope said, “has worked assiduously to strengthen the 'dialogue of life' which my predecessor, Pope John Paul II, called the 'dialogue of charity'. This co-operation has given vivid expression to the communion already existing between Christians and has advanced the cause of ecumenical dialogue and understanding.”

The 100th celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity", he added, "offers us an opportunity to thank Almighty God for the fruits of the ecumenical movement”.

"On this day, then, we think back with gratitude to the work of so many individuals who, over the years, have sought to spread the practice of spiritual ecumenism through common prayer, conversion of heart and growth in communion. We also give thanks for the ecumenical dialogues which have borne abundant fruit in the past century," the Pope said.

The Holy Father also highlighted the value of praying for unity, saying that prayer “is itself 'an effective means of obtaining the grace of unity', since it is a participation in the prayer of Jesus Himself. When Christians pray together, 'the goal of unity seems closer'".

Pope Benedict closed his address by counseling that the fruits of dialogue cannot be overlooked, noting that "the reception of those fruits is itself an important step in the process of promoting Christian unity….”

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The Church law “makes us free to follow Jesus”, explains Benedict XVI

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2008 (CNA) - Around noon today, Pope Benedict spoke to the participants of a conference being held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the promulgation of the Code of Canon Law, telling them that they must show people that the Church’s law “makes us free to follow Jesus.”

“The 'ius ecclesiae' (law of the Church)”, the Pope said, is not just a collection of norms produced by the ecclesial Legislator for the people who form the Church of Christ. Rather, the law is “founded on the Sacraments and which, consequently, derive from what Christ Himself instituted".

The Pope quoted a phrase used by Blessed Antonio Rosmini to the effect that "the human person is the essence of law". This, he went on, is something "we must also emphasize for Canon Law: the essence of Canon Law is the Christian individual in the Church".

"Moreover", he added, Canon Law "must be clearly and unambiguously formulated in such a way as to remain in harmony with the other laws of the Church. Hence it is necessary to abrogate norms that have become outdated, modify those in need of correction, interpret (in the light of the living Magisterium of the Church) those that are unclear and, finally, fill any 'lacunae legis' (gaps in the law)".

The Pope reminded the members of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts of their duty to ensure "that the activities of those structures within the Church called to dictate norms for the faithful may always reflect ... the union and communion that are characteristic of the Church".

"The Law of the Church is, first of all, 'lex libertatis': the law that makes us free to follow Jesus", the Holy Father emphasized. "Hence it is important we know how to show the People of God, the new generations and all those called to follow Canon Law, the real bond [that law] has with the life of the Church".

This must be done in order "to defend the delicate interests of the things of God and to protect the rights of the weakest, ... but also in order to defend that delicate 'good' which each of the faithful has gratuitously received (the gift of faith, of the grace of God), which in the Church cannot remain without adequate legal protection", Benedict XVI concluded. 

 

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Catholic prayer vigil turns into clash with Vietnamese police

Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan 25, 2008 (CNA) - Thousands of Catholics gathered in the streets of Hanoi to show their opposition to the government’s refusal to hand over buildings that originally belonged to the Catholic Church of Vietnam.  In protests today, some 2,000 Catholics marched from St. Joseph’s Cathedral to the building that was once the Vatican embassy.

The building, which is now a youth sports center, is one of many church properties taken over by the Communist government in 1954.  Church officials say they have documents showing the 2.5-acre property belongs to the diocese.

The morning “protest” was followed by a Mass for the birthday of Cardinal Paul Joseph Pham Dinh Tung, the former archbishop of Hanoi.  Following the celebration, a second peaceful demonstration began which became violent.

Fr. An Dang told CNA that some H’mong Catholic women climbed over the gate to bring flowers to a statue of the Virgin Mary.  When they were discovered by security personnel, the women were kicked and attacked with batons.  When nearby protestors saw this brutality, they broke through the gate and confronted the security officers.

As the conflict ensued, a few protestors were able to put up a large white cross in front of the former embassy.

Fr. Dang also reports that the protest today is the strongest challenge to the communist government not only due to its magnitude but also because it occurred just a few days after local authorities accused the archbishop of "using freedom of religion to provoke protests against the government." The government also claimed that the protests “damaged relations between Vietnam and the Vatican," and threatened that a crackdown was likely.

A local source reported that police forces are hunting down those who were actively involved in today's protest.

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Jesuits are not in opposition to the Vatican, new Superior General says

, Jan 25, 2008 (CNA) - At his first official meeting with the press, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas S.J., the new Superior General of the Society of Jesus, strongly denied any contradiction between the Jesuits and the Vatican.

During the meeting held at the General Curia of the Jesuits in Rome, Fr. Nicolas read a prepared statement and took no questions from the some 50 journalists present at the press conference.

Fr. Nicolas’ statement included some brief stories and anecdotes illustrating his long pastoral experience in Asia. "I am in Asia and Asia is in me, and that is good for the Church," he said.

The new head of the Jesuits also said that the General Congregation is the supreme authority of the Society of Jesus, therefore "I am expecting some general guidelines (from the Congregation) to start my mission as Superior General."

"There has never been and there is not opposition between the Pope and the Society of Jesus, between the Jesuits and the Vatican," Fr. Nicolas said in his statement.

"It is not true that there is a theological distance between the new General of the Jesuits and Pope Ratzinger," he added.

"I am an unknown and therefore newspapers are not finding anything about me, so they search and sometimes they invent," he also said.

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Suspect arrested in robbery of revered Argentinean bishop's incorrupt heart

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jan 25, 2008 (CNA) - Police in the Argentinean city of Catamarca detained a suspect Wednesday who they believed may have stolen the incorrupt heart of Friar Mamerto Esquiu from an urn kept at the Convent of St. Francis in that city.

The suspect, 50 year-old Jeremias Cacini, was detained by police after he was identified by a volunteer at the convent, where the relic is venerated.

The volunteer said she saw Cacini running from the convent at around 6:30pm on Tuesday, minutes before it was discovered that the relic was missing.

Governor Eduardo Brizuela del Moral met with security and police officials to follow up on the case and to beef up security at the convent.

The administrator of the Church of St. Francis, Friar Jorge Martinez, said he did not believe the relic was stolen for money but rather that it was simply “the work of a fanatic.”

Friar Mamerto Esquiu was a zealous missionary who became a bishop in 1880. As a priest he gave renowned sermons in support of the Argentinean Constitution of 1853 calling for unity among all Argentineans.  After the proclamation of his heroic virtues, a recent miracle attributed to his intercession could pave the way for his beatification.

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Cardinal Schönborn recalls days as student of the Pope

, Jan 25, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Cristoph Schönborn, gave a DVD to Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday containing a summary by Austrian National Radio of his visit to Austria last September and recalling the years the cardinal spent as a student of then Professor Ratzinger.

“Listening to Benedict XVI is always a great opportunity, because he always gives us hope,” the cardinal said.  “Everybody in Austria was amazed at how the Pope faced any issue, how he teaches with his testimony, with clarity and humility, arguing for the beauty of the faith,” the cardinal added.

“I was a student of the university professor Joseph Ratzinger, and I remember that he was not afraid to address any question, any issue, not even during the difficult years,” Cardinal Schönborn recalled.  “When I think of my professor, who is now Pope, I wonder what was so fascinating about him to us students.  Why did people come from all over the world to study with him?  Joseph Ratzinger always had this unique way of diving deep into things without leaving out the existential aspect,” he said.

“The students were fascinated with this calm and rigorous man, always capable of indicating the path from doctrine to experience,” the cardinal said in conclusion.

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Sunday Mass not enough to be a good Christian, says Argentinean bishop

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jan 25, 2008 (CNA) - Bishop Ruben Oscar Frassia of Avellaneda Lanus, Argentina said this week that mere attendance at Sunday Mass is not enough to be a good Christian in today’s world.

Reflecting on a passage from last Sunday’s gospel, “A people in darkness have seen a great light,” Bishop Frassia said, “It is important that we all discover that we are called to the light, to the truth and to what is good.”  “We must heed that call, because whoever listens well will respond well.  Whoever covers his ears, especially his heart, will not listen.  And because he will not listen well, he will not respond well,” the bishop said.

“We must be converted,” he went on, “but we all should be converted—the priest, the bishop, the religious, the laity, because we are all journeying.”

“Therefore,” the bishop continued, “it is important we realize that we must cultivate and develop a personal and profound spiritual life.  But if we do not do so, just going to Sunday Mass will not fix it or be enough.”

“The encounter at Sunday Mass, which it is important that we participate in, must give us the strength for the entire week, for every day of our lives.  It’s not supposed to be, ‘I came, now I’m gone,’ or I went to Mass and ‘that’s it,’ ‘see you next week’.  It is the constant and permanent presence of the Lord in our lives,” he added.

“God demands our response,” the bishop said.  “And if someone is afraid, insecure and thinks he will not be able to respond, I would say, Don’t waste any time! Look at the Lord who gives his grace, who gives his love so that one can respond and knows how to.”  Those who refuse to respond should be honest and admit that they are lacking in love and convictions and are incapable of responding.  “This is the truth,” he stressed.

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