Archive of February 11, 2008

Vicar General for the Diocese of Fargo to return to active duty

Fargo, N.D., Feb 11, 2008 (CNA) - Monsignor Brian Donahue has announced that after Easter, he will return to active duty as a military chaplain.  Msgr. Donahue currently serves as one of two Vicars General for the Diocese of Fargo, North Dakota and also as pastor at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church in Wild Rice and St. Maurice Catholic Church in Kindred. 

Born in 1955, Msgr. Donahue attended public and Catholic schools in Fargo, ND, before entering Cardinal Muench Seminary, Fargo, then Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD.  He was ordained to the priesthood in May 1983, entered the Army National Guard on Feb. 2, 1987, and served in active duty during the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.  In 2005, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his service as battalion chaplain in Iraq. 

In 2007, Msgr. Donahue retired from the Army National Guard after 20 years of service, which included serving in active duty during the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom.  He was honored May 4, 2007, for his service during an awards ceremony at St. Benedict’s.  However, even in retirement, he told his parishioners, “my heart…has never left the military.”

When the commander of the Army unit he had served with in Iraq, the 3-133 Field Artillery unit of the Texas Army National Guard, invited Msgr. Donahue, age 52, to serve as their chaplain again when they return to Iraq this fall, his heart told him to say “yes”.  His bishop, Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo, consented to his return to active duty and the process of transferring out of Retired Reserve to the Individual Ready Reserve began.

In his announcement to parishioners, Msgr. Donahue said, “I certainly do not take this move lightly.  From my perspective, I have the best assignment in the Diocese of Fargo.  You are wonderful people.  You accepted me after returning from combat and loved me back into life.  It is a great honor and privilege to be your pastor.  My heart, though, has never left the military.  I cannot tell you the number of times I have watched the news and wept as I hear of another wounded or fallen soldier.”

Msgr. Donahue said his desire to serve soldiers began at a young age. “My heartfelt care for soldiers started at the age of 13 when I so closely tracked my three brothers in Vietnam.  I knew the map of Vietnam by heart and would place pins where my brothers were last known to be located.  I remember feeling, after my brother in the Marines was wounded the second time, that if I ever became a priest I would do my best to be with soldiers during times when they feel most alone.”

Bishop Aquila, in a written statement to priests of the diocese, said, “For his parishioners, his family and for me personally, it will be difficult to see Msgr. Donahue return to active duty.  However, as his bishop, it would be even more difficult to deny his return to the military.  The unit he served with in Iraq specifically requested his return as they will return to Iraq in the fall.  Our soldiers need priests with them, to minister to them and to offer them the sacraments.  As I prayed about releasing Msgr. Donahue, I sensed that this is what God is calling him to do.  I have peace in the decision and I thank Msgr. Donahue for his willingness to answer God’s call.”

In his announcement, Msgr. Donahue said he does not plan to return to the Diocese of Fargo when he completes his mission in Iraq.  “I will petition to remain on active duty and serve soldiers and their families as long as my health allows me to do this.  Bishop Aquila also supports this plan.  I am very happy about this.  I am very, very happy to give my life to American soldiers because they offer their lives for me and for you.”

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Pope Benedict begins his Lenten retreat

Vatican City, Feb 11, 2008 (CNA) - On Monday morning, Pope Benedict began his Lenten retreat along with members of the Roman Curia. The opening reflection for the prelates was on the topic of how God has always reached out to men through personal relationships as opposed to being a God of silence.


The theme for the weeklong retreat, which is being led by the French Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, is “We welcome Christ, Our High Priest.”


Cardinal Vanhoye, who is the former Secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, began his reflection by saying, “It is very interesting how the God of the Bible is not a silent God.”


According to Vatican Radio, the retreat master continued saying, “It’s interesting how God defines himself. He told Moses that he is the God of your fathers; the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. He did not define himself by his omnipotence or his omniscience but by his personal relationships with these common men.”


“This is how God wishes to communicate—through people. First God spoke through the prophets and then through his son, the perfect mediator,” the cardinal offered.



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Vatican’s decline of new Argentinean ambassador leads to changes

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb 11, 2008 (CNA) - The Argentinean press reported last week that the reason for the Vatican declining to give official approval for the country’s newly named Ambassador to the Holy See, Alberto Iribarne, a divorced and remarried Catholic, could lead to the naming of a replacement.

Reporter Jose Ignacio Llados of the Buenos Aires daily “La Nacion,” said the lack of approval by the Vatican Secretary of State has irked the government of Cristina Kirchner and has become a new source of tension with the Church, “just when it seemed relations had been focused after the meeting between Kirchner and the executive committee of the Bishops’ Conference, led by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, and the meeting with Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.”
Llados explained that the Argentinean government bears most of the blame for the lack of approval because it ignored the two conditions the Vatican has for the acceptance of an ambassador: that he or she not harbor anti-religious sentiments and that he or she not present canonical irregularities if the person in question is Catholic.  In the case of Iribarne, the “canonical irregularities” do not relate to his being divorced, but rather to his remarriage outside the Church.

Llados said that while the State has the right to name anyone it wants to be ambassador, the receiving State also has the right to accept or decline.  Therefore, the solution is in holding preliminary consultations, which was not done by the Argentinean government.

The Argentinean government compiled a list of divorced ambassadors that represent their countries before the Holy See…but it failed to mention that none of them are Catholic and therefore they are not subject to canon law.

“Nobody questioned the moral integrity of Iribarne,” Llados said.  “It’s not a moral problem, but rather a canonical irregularity of the designated ambassador.”

 The newspaper Clarin reported that Kirchner supporters have confirmed that “there was not even the slightest chance the Vatican would change its position,” as “there is no precedent for granting the placet to a divorced and remarried Catholic, not with this Pope or any of the previous ones.”  “Therefore,” Kirchner supporters said, “if the idea is to progress in relations with the Holy See, insisting on Iribarne carries the risk of further deterioration.”

The newspaper reported as well that “the closest case to Iribarne is that of a Nicaraguan official who was granted the placet after it was shown that is annulment case is currently being processed and on the condition that his wife not accompany him during official diplomatic acts until his case has been settled.  Iribarne has not opened an annulment process nor does he seem willing to keep his current wife in the background.”

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What the Pope really said about Hell

, Feb 11, 2008 (CNA) - At Pope Benedict XVI’s question and answer session with priests from his diocese last Thursday, one cleric told the Pope he was concerned that the catechism of the Italian bishops’ conference never mentions hell or purgatory, and speaks of heaven only once.  “With these essential parts of the creed missing,” the priest asked, “doesn’t it seem to you that the redemption of Christ falls apart?”

In reply, the Pope called heaven, hell, and purgatory “fundamental themes that unfortunately appear rarely in our preaching,” journalist and church expert Sandro Magister reports.

Pope Benedict suggested that Catholics had been excessively affected by Marxist objections that Christians concentrated on heaven so much that they overlooked the importance of the world.  The neglect of speaking heaven, purgatory, and hell, he thought, was possibly due to a desire to show Christians are concerned about earthly things.

The importance of the afterlife, however, should not be neglected.

“Now, although it is right to demonstrate that Christians work on behalf of the world – and we are all clearly called to work so that this world that may truly be a city for God and of God – we must not forget the other dimension. Without keeping this in mind, we do not work well on behalf of the world,” Pope Benedict said.

The Pope said his recent encyclical Spe Salvi in part aimed at emphasizing the importance of salvation.  “When one is not aware of the judgment of God, when one does not recognize the possibility of hell, of the radical and definitive failure of life, then one does not recognize the possibility and necessity for purification.”

He noted that ideologies, such as communism, which prided themselves on worldly action that would correct all injustices, promising “to build the world the way it was supposed to have been,” instead destroyed the world.

Responsibility toward the earth and toward the men living today in fact rested on awareness of God and man’s capacity to sin. “We must speak specifically of sin as the possibility of destroying oneself, and thus also other parts of the earth,” Pope Benedict said.

He said his encyclical tried to demonstrate that “it is precisely the last judgment of God that guarantees justice.”  God’s justice is for all, even for the dead, and only the resurrection of the body can create that justice.

Pope Benedict summarized a modern approach to sin that denies its importance.  “Today we are used to thinking: What is sin? God is great, he understands us, so sin does not count, in the end God will be good toward all.”

In reply to this way of thinking, he answered:  “It's a nice hope. But there is justice, and there is real blame. Those who have destroyed man and the earth cannot sit immediately at the table of God, together with their victims.”

Pope Benedict speculated that the condemned might not be numerous, describing how thoroughly they would have to have destroyed themselves:

“Perhaps there are not so many who have destroyed themselves so completely, who are irreparable forever, who no longer have any element upon which the love of God can rest, who no longer have the slightest capacity to love within themselves. This would be hell.”

Purgatory offers hope to men with a “final willingness” to live according to God, the Pope said.  “We need to be prepared, to be purified. This is our hope: even with so much filth in our soul, in the end the Lord gives us the possibility, He washes us finally with his goodness that comes from his cross. He thus makes us capable of living for Him forever.”

The blessed life in heaven, which the Pope called “justice finally realized,” was not a distraction from worldly action, but the measure of its success.  “When men live according to these criteria, a little bit of heaven appears in the world.”

The hope of heaven, Pope Benedict said, is the hope of our restoration in Christ.

“This aspect of renewal, of the restoration of our being after so many mistakes, after so many sins, is the great promise, the great gift that the Church offers…  Souls that are wounded and sick, as is the experience of all, need not only advice, but also a true renewal, which can come only from the power of God, from the power of crucified Love.”

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The family is key to the economy, says Spanish cardinal

Madrid, Spain, Feb 11, 2008 (CNA) - In his weekly pastoral letter, the Archbishop of Valencia, Cardinal Agustin Garcia-Gasco, again defended the family and said Catholics should vote in the upcoming elections for those who defend it and strengthen it.

The cardinal’s letter, entitled “Family and the Economy,” emphasized that thinking in terms of the family “helps to envision a more just and more humane world economy,” because “the being and mission of the family helps to achieve more justice between nations.”

“Faced with the upcoming elections,” Cardinal Garcia-Gasco stressed, “Christians should study the different electoral proposals to discern which ones respect the purpose of the family and, on the contrary, which ones foster directly or indirectly unstable relations.”

He warned that “some reduce the family to a mere ‘unstable couple’,” adding that the Church “proclaims that the family is the basic cell of society and therefore deserves special and specific protection that must not be confused with other human relations.”

Christians “must be committed to making sure the social value that a stable, permanent family is for its members and for society is recognized,” he continued.

“When the family answers to its true identity,” the cardinal said, “it promotes an authentic experience of peace” as “it is not based on egoism or hedonism, but its commitment extends out so that all members can have what they need to live decently.”

Cardinal Garcia-Gasco pointed out that in Spain today, “many married and engaged couples experience tremendous difficulties which they must face in order to have decent housing and to provide basic sustenance for the family.”

“There is a direct relationship between shared values and the proper functioning of the economy,” he stressed.  The “key” for ensuring the economy favors the common good is “the creation of a climate of mutual trust, respect for one’s word, keeping one’s commitments, stability in the law for the proper exercise of civil freedoms and basic rights.”

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Dissident talks about political transition in Cuba

Havana, Cuba, Feb 11, 2008 (CNA) - In response to statement by popular singer Silvio Rodriguez that political transition is taking place in Cuba, the president of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, said changes on the island can only be considered to be taking place when there is true respect for human rights.

“Cubans have learned through various media, but not through state-run sources, of the statements by singer and former congressman Silvio Rodriguez in which he speaks of transition as a fact,” Paya said in a statement.

He praised Rodriguez, who is an admirer of the Castro regime, for expressing his desire to see Cubans be allowed to stay in hotels and to enter and leave the country without having to request permission, but he stressed that many Cubans are serving unjust prison sentences and in inhumane conditions, only for demanding respect for basic rights.”

“We have the obligation to express solidarity with these Cubans and demand these peaceful political prisoners be released.  That would be justice and moral consistency,” Paya said.

He added that while there may be different opinions about Cuba’s past, about the current situation and about the future, “What we must all agree upon is that we all have rights.”

Paya emphasized that this was precisely the motive behind a proposal the CLM put before Cuba’s National Assembly in December of 2007, calling for free exit and entry in Cuba “without permission or restrictions” to be “recognized as a right and not a concession.”  The proposed law “eliminates all discrimination against Cubans in their own country” and guarantees the right “to make use of hotels and tourist facilities, to live in any part of Cuba, to not be deported or declared illegal for moving from one province to another, to do business and own companies in Cuba, something that is a privilege of foreigners right now,” as well as freedom of information and access to the media.

In that vein, he called on the Cuban media to fulfill its obligation to spread this initiative, as well as the Declaration of Liberty of Cubans, which unabashedly “proclaims that ‘all Cubans have the right to rights because we are human beings’.”

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De-Christianization of Europe is reversible, says Cardinal Tauran

, Feb 11, 2008 (CNA) - During a speech at the Saint-Louis of France cultural center in Rome, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, said that the de-Christianization of Europe is dramatic and accelerated, but it is not irreversible.

Addressing the participants of the Congress on “The Future of Christianity in the West,” Cardinal Tauran began his reflection by singling out books recently published by diverse European intellectuals who point out deficiencies in the Church and Christianity that, from an historical point of view, seem to make the total de-Christianization of the West inevitable.

Nevertheless, “the Church has been buried many times,” the cardinal said, recalling the example of Frederick Nietzsche, who declared “the end of religion,” and the totalitarian regimes of the last century that said the same.”

He also noted that many sociologists and scholars take pleasure in describing the Christianity of tomorrow as elderly, divided and undermined by the loss of its identity, succumbing to the attacks of new religions or of new forms of unbelief and atheism.

Cardinal Tauran acknowledged the reality of troubling signs in the West: “very few young people in the West have regular contact with the Church, a large number of children grow up without having ever read the Bible, without knowing the Christian rites, without knowing that one can pray to God…”

However, he added, religion is “far from disappearing.” “And Christians have not renounced their task,” because “this apparently dying Christianity displays a surprising vitality and holds many surprises,” he said.

Cardinal Tauran mentioned the Church’s capacity to renew herself, pointing to “that October afternoon in 1978 on which the Archbishop of Krakow, in the heart of Marxists central Europe, was called to the Chair of Peter.”

Just ten years before in Rome, the famous American author Harvey Cox, presented the French edition of his book, “The Secular City,” in which he proclaimed “the liberation of modern man from all the religious archaisms.”  However, years later, Cox himself “would acknowledge that a world without concern for the spiritual is not real,” Cardinal Tauran stated.

“Christianity always has much to say.  Our point of view always sparks interest even when it is not taken as a point of reference,” he continued. 

The dramatic changes in the world today are forcing “believers and non-believers, optimists and pessimists to ask essential questions about what the future holds.”

“The precariousness of the world, the violence of our societies and Islam, today the second largest religion in the world,” have led “many Catholics to make efforts to recover their identity,” the French cardinal stressed.

An increased concern for prayer, theological formation, greater catechesis and a more refined understanding of the Church are all elements that point to a rediscovery of the interior life, he went on.  “How should we look at our future,” he asked.  “With serenity, because it is our future.  True, we are a minority, but we are a functioning minority and Christian values sustain many of the secular ‘convictions’: from the dignity of the human person, to freedom, solidarity and respect for the environment.  All these are values that have their roots in a Christian foundation,” the cardinal said.

In addition, he continued, “Christianity is also creative: new communities, schools of faith, and initiatives of every kind to serve one’s neighbor.  And we should not forget that the Catholic Church is the only institution capable of bringing together so many young people.”

“What should we do? Become more and more a Church that prays, celebrates and serves,” Cardinal Tauran said.  In a multi-religious world, it would be a paradox if we Christians, “who have as ancestors in the faith Augustine, Benedict, Dominic, Teresa of Avila, Frances de Sales, were incapable of entering into a dialogue of love with a personal God.”

“Christianity has a good future in the West and beyond,” he said, “because, as in the past, it will know how to ‘overcome the barbarians,’ to find the path of renewal in faith and tradition, as it always has.” 

“We should not be frightened by modernity! We belong to this world, as Christians, and we want to be recognized as such,” the cardinal stressed.

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Venezuelan bishops to meet in response to crisis gripping the country

Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 11, 2008 (CNA) - The bishops of Venezuela will meet this week to discuss the deteriorating situation in their country, which is enduring a food supply crisis resulting from a court ruling against the state oil company PDVSA.

Besides the food shortage, the bishops will also address the increase in violence and the deterioration in the relations with Colombia during an extraordinary meeting of their conference, Bishop Ubaldo Santana, the president of the conference, said.

The food supply has become an imminent problem in Venezuela after ExxonMobile won an international court ordered the freezing of $12 billion in assets of PDVSA—the company that provides 90 cents of every dollar that enters the country.

“This decision is very troublesome, because it could affect international relations, the food supply in our country, and therefore the lives of our people in an area as crucial as food,” Bishop Santana said. 

Referring to the relations between Venezuela and Colombia, the bishop said that it is necessary that the two countries return to the path of peace, stressing that Venezuelans have always been concerned about what happens in their neighboring country.  He praised the position taken by the bishops of Colombia to help end the climate of violence that has reigned in the country for fifty years and to call for the re-establishing of formal relations between our countries.”

“I applaud the release of the Colombian hostages, it is something very good, and there is nobody who doesn’t applaud these efforts, but it would be much more beneficial if our government would retain close ties to the Colombian government,” Bishop Santana stressed.  “We are praying and we are willing to do our part as pastors to foster a climate of conversation and understanding between the two governments,” he added.

The bishop also mentioned that the climate of violence that has swept the country will also be addressed during the meeting.

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Lourdes celebrates 150th anniversary of Marian apparition

Paris, France, Feb 11, 2008 (CNA) - Fifty five thousand pilgrims turned out in the southwestern French town of Lourdes on Monday to mark the 150 anniversary of the Virgin Mary appearing to St. Bernadette Soubirous, who was 14 years old at the time.

The feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is expected produce the largest number of pilgrims in a single day for all of 2008.

The celebration culminated in a Mass concelebrated by 29 bishops and 800 priests for a crowd of pilgrims from all over the world. In his homily, Bishop of Lourdes and Tarbes Jacques Perrier connected the celebrations to the start of Lent, saying it was a time for Christians to deepen their faith.

St. Bernadette is said to have seen the Virgin Mary at least 18 times over several months in 1858.  Though at first greeted with skepticism by Church authorities, she proved sincere and was canonized in 1933.

The place of the apparition is now a sanctuary for physical and spiritual healing, its waters considered to bestow miraculous cures.

Anniversary celebrations will take place at Lourdes throughout the year and include a papal visit from Pope Benedict possibly in September.

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