Brisbane, Australia, Feb 19, 2008 (CNA) - Increased interest in Satanism and the occult has led to a rise in exorcisms in the Australian state of Queensland, the Courier Mail reports.
One priest who asked not to be identified said he presently carried out exorcisms at least once every two weeks.
"Being possessed by a demon is terrifying in one's mental and emotional life," he said to the Courier Mail. "Some of these manifestations are extremely powerful, causing people to be plagued by disturbances. They hear voices and see hideous creatures in their sleep.
"There has been a recruitment of pagan practices, and it's sheer poison.”
The priest said the Gold Coast area of the state, which is in southeastern Queensland, had far more exorcisms than Brisbane, the state capital.
Bishop Brian Finnigan, acting head of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, said it was important for the Church to carry out exorcisms.
"People need to be freed of that burden," he said, according to the Courier Mail.
Father Gabriele Amorth, a chief exorcist in Rome, is considering plans to have in each diocese a group of priests who are trained in exorcism.
"Too many bishops are not taking this seriously and are not delegating their priests in the fight against the devil. You have to hunt high and low for a proper, trained exorcist," Father Amorth said, according to the Courier Mail.
Priests in Queensland can only carry out an exorcism with the permission of the bishop. The priest who spoke to the Courier Mail said he was the only authorized exorcist in the state.
"We are not very plentiful and certainly need more of us to cope with the big occult following that is emerging today," he said.
"It's frightening what can happen when you invite entities into your life which are not meant to be part of God's world."
The priest claimed one woman he had met had been afflicted by demonic manifestations since taking part in a playground witch game as a child.
Vatican City, Feb 19, 2008 (CNA) - The beatification cause of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero has stalled because of a question concerning whether the archbishop died as a martyr for the faith, the Associated Press reports.
In the late 1970s Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, criticized the actions of the military-led government in El Salvador during its crackdown on suspected guerillas and leftist opponents. He delivered passionate homilies condemning human rights abuses by the government and paramilitary groups. He also advocated the welfare of the poor.
The day after calling on the military to halt its repression, he was shot during Mass at a hospital chapel on March 23, 1980
Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said there was a question about the motive of the archbishop’s assassin.
"To be a martyr, the Catholic faithful must be killed for 'hatred of the faith,'" Cardinal Saraiva Martins said at a news conference on the Church’s new sainthood procedures. "There can be political, social motives. If the motive is not clear it must be studied in depth."
The cardinal emphasized that the Vatican was not trying to block the beatification of Archbishop Romero.
Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have said publicly that Archbishop Romero was a martyr for the faith. If the Congregation for the Causes of Saints confirms his martyrdom, he could be beatified without having a verified miracle attributed to him, as is the case with all martyrs.
Beijing, China, Feb 19, 2008 (CNA) - Talks between China and the Vatican to establish diplomatic relations have intensified in recent months, with proposals for a papal visit apparently under discussion, The Times reports.
Liu Bainian, the de facto head of the government-run Patriotic Catholic Church, has said on several occasions that he would like to welcome the Pope to China once an agreement has been reached.
Observers say Liu’s words would have been spoken only with approval from high levels within the Chinese government.
Mutual recognition between the Holy See and China and an announced papal visit would be a great boost for China’s reputation. Recent setbacks for the nation include American filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s announcement that he would not visit the 2008 Olympics in Beijing because of the nation’s policies in Sudan, where the Sudanese government has engaged in genocide.
Meetings between Vatican and Chinese representatives are reportedly taking place in government buildings in Beijing. According to the London Times, sources close to the discussions say they had reached a detailed and businesslike stage.
One Vatican official said they were “somewhat optimistic” about the discussions with the Chinese government. The official said a papal visit before the Olympic Games in August was “very unrealistic,” but an announcement of an agreement and a future visit would be a public relations gift to Chinese leaders.
There are at least 10 million Catholics in China, but they are split between the government-recognized Patriotic Association and the underground Church whose members have endured martyrdom, imprisonment, and harassment since the communist takeover in 1949.
On June 30, 2007, Pope Benedict issued a letter to Chinese Catholics praising the devotion of the underground Church, but also urging reconciliation and unity among Christians. The letter’s emphasis on obedience to the Vatican was interpreted by some Beijing officials as a sign that the Pope wanted to prepare the underground clergy for a change in policy.
Nevertheless, the director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, explained the Letter’s intentions differently. “The Pope is not seeking confrontation with anyone. He is not launching accusations, inside or outside the Church.… The exhortation to unity, reconciliation, and reciprocal forgiveness is one of the most intense messages sustained throughout the letter.”
Further dialogue must still take place, Fr. Lombardi said shortly after the issuance of the Letter to the Church in China. “If Chinese officials tend to be worried about external interference in the life of the country, the Church for her part is concerned about undue interference from the State in her internal life,” he said.
“Thus the Pope insists on explaining the correct distinction between the political sphere and the religious sphere, between the responsibilities of civil officials and those of the Church, and he firmly declares the willingness of the Church to dialogue in order to overcome misunderstandings and disputed points, as well as in the area of the naming of bishops,” the Vatican spokesman said.
The appointment of bishops has been a point of contention between the Holy See and Beijing. Recent agreements have led to the installation of candidates who are acceptable to both parties into the episcopacy of the Patriotic Association.
In December the politburo convened for its reportedly first meeting wholly devoted to a study session on religion. President Hu Jintao and other Chinese leaders attended two presentations explaining Christianity and traditional Chinese beliefs.
The state news agency Xinhua issued a Chinese-language report free of its normal derogatory remarks about religion being a feudal remnant or an opiate of the people.
President Hu’s own remarks to the meeting were unprecedented and believed to have been intended for the Vatican. He recognized the constant presence of religions in China and praised their role in social stability and harmony.
“The party and government shall reach out to religious believers in difficulties and help them through their problems,” he said. “We shall fully understand the new problems and challenges to manage religious affairs so that we can do it right.”
The place of Taiwan is a key topic of Beijing-Vatican discussion. The Vatican is reportedly prepared as part of a mutual agreement to move its embassy from Taipei to Beijing.
Assisi, Italy, Feb 19, 2008 (CNA) - During a Mass celebrated to mark the 50th anniversary of the declaration of St. Clare as the patroness of television, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said television still holds evangelizing potential and should be used by Catholics.
During the Mass celebrated in Assisi, the birthplace of St. Clare, Cardinal Bertone noted there is a temptation to demonize television because of the negative and anti-gospel messages it often disseminates.
“The Church on the other hand insists that the media, and television in particular, has enormous potential in the hands of human beings and its effects depend on how it is used,” the cardinal said.
In this image-driven culture, he continued, “the Church recognizes that today there is a need for apostles and missionaries of Christ who know how to use the language of the modern media without ever compromising the integral content of the gospel.”
“In order to carry out such a difficult task, one must undoubtedly be very professionally and technically competent; but also one needs above all an intense interior life, a spirit of contemplation: the great missionaries, the preachers who reach the hearts of the people, are in fact people who live in profound union with God.”
On February 14, 1958, in the Apostolic Letter Clarius explendescit, Pope Pius XII declared St. Clare of Assisi to be the patroness of emerging medium of television. The Pope chose St. Clare because of her mystic experience of seeing and hearing Christmas Eve Mass in 1252 at the Basilica of St. Francis even though she was ill in her cell at San Damiano.
Referring to the experience of St. Clare, Cardinal Bertone explained that television is capable of combining fantasy with reality, and therefore broadcasters have a great responsibility.
The cardinal warned that today’s mass media tends to impose a uniform cultural model, “without respecting the ethical values that are indispensable in forming a peaceful society where the rights and duties of man are founded upon human dignity. Let’s think of the family, life, education of the new generations and other issues that touch upon the present and the future of humanity.”
“The perennial lesson St. Clare teaches us is this: let us be guided by the truth, which is the only thing that makes us truly free,” he said in conclusion.
Havana, Cuba, Feb 19, 2008 (CNA) - In a press release issued in response to the news that Fidel Castro has stepped down as president of Cuba, the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, said the Cuban dictator’s retirement should mark the beginning of an era of freedom and reconciliation in the country.
Fidel Castro announced on Tuesday that he is resigning from the presidency after 49 years in power. In a letter published by the official state newspaper Granma, he said he would neither “aspire to nor accept” another term as leader of the country.
The 81 year-old dictator resigned after ailing health forced him into seclusion from the public almost nineteen months ago, just five days before the country’s National Assembly was set to elect him for another five-year term.
Paya said the news “undoubtedly is of importance both historically and for the lives of Cubans both inside and outside of Cuba,” because “one man’s almost five decades of power has ended, and we have always said the successor of Fidel Castro should be the sovereign people.”
The leader of the Christian Liberation Movement is calling on Cuba’s National Assembly to “immediately work to transform the laws so that citizens may enjoy freedom of expression and of association, to transform election laws, hold free elections, free peaceful political prisoners or so that in order and in peace, in an atmosphere of reconciliation, the Cuban nation can begin a new phase in its life.”
Paya noted that “no matter how each Cuban views this period that has just ended, it should not lead to confrontation with one another but rather to looking together towards the future.”
“May God allow this news that has surprised the people and the world to open the way to this new era in the lives of the new generations and all the people and may it be one of peace, harmony, justice and rights,” he added.
“This is our call and our decision,” Paya said, “to continue working in this direction for the good of all Cubans. May God help the people of Cuba in this moment.”
Vatican City, Feb 19, 2008 (CNA) - Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the members of the executive committee of the International Union of Superiors General, telling them that “when communities have chosen to return to the origins and live in a way more in keeping with the spirit of the founder,” they see positive signs of renewal.
The religious superiors were gathered at the Vatican to discuss "some particularly relevant and important aspects of consecrated life."
The Holy Father launched into some of the most pressing problems for religious communities. "We are all aware how, in modern globalized society, it is becoming ever more difficult to announce and bear witness to the Gospel", he said. "The process of secularization which is advancing in contemporary culture does not, unfortunately, spare even religious communities.”
"Nonetheless", the Pontiff encouraged, "we must not be discouraged, because if (as has been said) many clouds are gathering on the horizon of religious life today, there also exist (indeed they are constantly growing) signs of a providential reawakening which gives rise to consolation and hope.
"The Holy Spirit blows powerfully throughout the Church, creating a new commitment to faithfulness, both in the historical institutes and, at the same time, in new forms of religious consecration that reflect the needs of the times. ... What characterizes these new forms of consecrated life is a shared desire ... for a radical form of evangelical poverty, for faithful love of the Church, and for generous dedication to the needy with particular attention to that spiritual poverty which so markedly characterizes the modern age," the Pope noted.
He also addressed the situation within "the orders and congregations with a long tradition in the Church," pointing to how they have suffered a "difficult crisis due to the ageing of members, a more or less accentuated fall in vocations and, sometimes, a spiritual and charismatic 'weariness'".
Although describing this crisis as "worrying", Benedict XVI highlighted certain positive signs, "especially when communities have chosen to return to the origins and live in a way more in keeping with the spirit of the founder. In almost all recent general chapters of religious institutes the recurring theme has been precisely that of rediscovering the original charism, to then incarnate it and renew it in the present."
In parting, the Holy Father explained to the religious superiors that returning to their roots "has helped give institutes a promising new ascetic, apostolic and missionary impulse" and that "It is along this road that we must continue, praying to the Lord to bring to full fruition the work He began."
Vatican City, Feb 19, 2008 (CNA) - University students from all over the world will meet with Pope Benedict on Saturday, March 1 to hold a prayer vigil to mark the European Day for Universities.
This year students from the United States and Latin America will also take part in the vigil whose theme will be: "Europe and the Americas together to build a civilization of love".
The university students gathered in the Paul VI Hall will be linked by satellite to other students in various European and American cities: Naples, Italy; Bucharest, Romania; Toledo, Spain; Avignon, France; Minsk, Belarus; Washington DC, U.S.A.; Mexico City, Mexico; Havana, Cuba, Aparecida, Brazil, and Loja, Ecuador.
At 5 p.m. the Holy Father will lead the praying of the Rosary, then address some words to the participants before distributing copies of his Encyclical "Spe salvi" to a number of student representatives.
Also for the occasion of this European Day, a congress is due to be held at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University from 28 February to 1 March on the theme: "Europe and the Americas together towards integral and solidarity development".
The meeting will then continue with three main sessions, the first on: "Europe and the Americas in the global society", the second on: "The role of university formation in facing development challenges", and the third on: "University cultures and models in globalization".
The summit will come to an end on the morning of 1 March with two round table discussions on "The brain drain problem: U.S.A. - Latin America - Europe" and "Experiences of and prospects for university cooperation for integral development and solidarity".
London, England, Feb 19, 2008 (CNA) - In a step towards greater religious autonomy, the general synod of the Anglican Church of England decided to do away with the traditional approval by the British Prime Minister for the naming of bishops.
When Henry VIII decided to separate the Church in England from the Catholic Church, he established the tradition of the Anglican synod of bishops presenting two candidates to the Queen, from which the crown will elect one to occupy a vacant Episcopal see. When Britain became a constitutional monarchy, the responsibility for making the selection between the two candidates fell to the Prime Minister.
During the Synod which ended last week, the Anglican bishops discussed whether they should favor a church model that is more disconnected from the political regime, or whether this link should be maintained in order to preserve the identity of the “Church of England” as completely distinct from the Roman Catholic Church.
The debate ended with the decision to establish greater autonomy from the state in order to assure a clearer spiritual dimension.
Vatican City, Feb 19, 2008 (CNA) - The participants from the General Congregation of the Society of Jesus will meet with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican this Thursday, Jesuits sources in Rome announced today.
They also announced that the General Congregation has elected the four Assistant Generals "ad providentiam" (in case something happens to the Superior General.)
They are Fr. Lisbert D'Souza (Mumbai, India), Fr. James Grummer (Wisconsin, United States), Fr. Marcos Recolons (Bolivia) and Fr. Federico Lombardi (Italy), the noted Director of the Vatican Press Office as well as Vatican Radio.
D'Souza, Grummer and Recolons have already been elected as regional assistants for Asia, the United States and South America, respectively.
According to the Jesuits' constitution, the responsibility of the four Assistant generals is to assist the Superior General in things related to the exterior aspects of his life –including expenses- so that he "may not exaggerate in fatigue or in excessive rigor," and "if necessary," help him spiritually.
The new Superior General, Fr. Alfonso Nicolás, has also announced the appointment of Fr. Ignacio Echarte (Loyola, Spain) to replace Fr. Francis Case as the new Secretary General of the Society of Jesus.
Vatican City, Feb 19, 2008 (CNA) - In an interview with the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, announced a meeting with congressmen from North, Central and South America to discuss family and life issues this summer.
The meeting, to be held in Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), is part of a series of meetings planned before the World Congress of Families, scheduled for January 2009 in Mexico City.
Cardinal Lopez Trujillo told L'Osservatore that this is the 7th event of this kind promoted by his Dicastery. "We have had three similar gatherings with politicians and legislators in Europe and three in America: Brazil in 1994, Mexico in 1997 and Argentina in 2003."
“As always, this time we have invited representatives from different political parties and different countries to discuss with respect and openness about the truth," he explained.
The Cardinal said that these conversations have been "productive" even with the participations of non-believers, who "by the means of reason can also reach the truth about the issues related to the right to life and to families."
Cardinal Lopez Trujillo highlighted that the right to life from conception to natural death "is not a dogmatic thing from the Catholic Church, but a natural truth that can be understood by simple reason, because they [natural truths] belong to the basic structure of every true Humanism."
The head of the Pontifical Council for the Family also announced that a similar conference with political leaders will take place in Europe, "maybe by the end of this year or the beginning of the next one."
Mexico City, Mexico, Feb 19, 2008 (CNA) - During a Mass celebrated with pro-life demonstrators who are calling on Mexico’s Constitutional Court to declare abortion illegal, the Archbishop of Guadalajara, Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez, said politicians and public officials who support abortion do not speak for the Mexican people, who love life.
The cardinal led one of the numerous pro-life marches that took place in several cities throughout Mexico last Sunday in order to call on the high court to declare the law passed in Mexico City legalizing abortion to be unconstitutional.
“This march is for the family and for human life,” Cardinal Sandoval said, “and it is an opportune moment for our leaders and legislators to take the people’s pulse” and to “pass consistent laws because they represent the people.”
“If they are true representatives of the people, they should represent them with dignity and reflect the values of this nation that loves the family and life,” he added.
Cardinal Sandoval denounced the anti-life measures that have been proposed in the legislature as “contrary to the law of God and to the right to life.”
“Life is the basic gift that God gives to people and is the fundamental right of the human being, a right that must be respected, because nobody is master neither of one’s life, nor of that of another. The master is the Lord,” the cardinal emphasized.
Mexico City, Mexico, Feb 19, 2008 (CNA) - The organizers of the 2009 World Meeting of Families have unveiled the official logo for the event, which will have as its theme, “The family: teacher of human and Christian values.”
The ceremony was led by the secretary of the WMF preparation team, Father Enrique Glennie Graue, and by the director of public relations for the meeting, Enrique Gomez.
The official logo for the meeting shows a series of shadows representing a family. “From (the family) is born love symbolized by three hearts and governed by the faith, represented by a cross above,” they said.
“The cross represents the presence of God as the support of the unity of the family,” and “the three hearts unite or represent the family united by love and relationships. The attitude of the members of the family is one of trust and joy in the Lord,” the organizers explained.
They also pointed out that the shadow of the pregnant mother in the logo points to the issue of life, the fundamental value that is promoted, protected and celebrated by the family. “The green color in the logo signifies hope in the future of the family and the color of Mexico,” they added.
The organizers emphasized that the sixth World Meeting of the Families, which will take place in Mexico January 13-18, 2009, will invite families to “reflect on themselves, the situations they are going through and have a Christian appreciation of marriage.”
Vatican City, Feb 19, 2008 (CNA) - Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone has suggested that Pope Benedict XVI could visit Cuba in the future, the International Herald Tribune reports.
Cardinal Bertone will leave for Havana on Wednesday for a weeklong visit commemorating the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s historic pilgrimage to the communist country.
Speaking in an interview with the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, the cardinal spoke of a possible visit to Cuba by Pope Benedict. "Up until now it hasn't been possible," he said. "In the future we will see."
The cardinal also spoke to reporters on Tuesday, saying he would bring the Pope’s blessing to all Cubans. He described Vatican-Cuba relations as “relatively good,” saying the Church in Cuba enjoyed “great vitality” despite the “known difficulties.”
The Church continues to face problems in participating in the media, bringing in foreign clergy, and operating religious education freely.
Cuba was once officially atheist, but the government never ended diplomatic relations with the Vatican and in 1992 dropped all references to atheism from its constitution.
Following Pope John Paul II’s 1998 Cuba visit, in which the Pope called for increased freedom for the Church and for society, many predicted political changes in the country. Though Catholic leaders now can occasionally speak or write in state media, religious schools remain closed.
There has been no official statement on whether Cardinal Bertone would meet with Fidel Castro, who resigned as president of Cuba on Tuesday.
Vatican City, Feb 19, 2008 (CNA) - Reacting to the Serbian province of Kosovo’s Sunday declaration of independence, the Vatican called for “prudence and moderation,” according to L’Osservatore Romano.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said in a front-page L’Osservatore Romano commentary that the Holy See urged politicians in the region to show "a decisive and concrete commitment to ward off extremist reactions and violence."
The statement urged that respect be ensured for all ethnic, religious, and linguistic minorities in Kosovo. It also said that Christian artistic and cultural heritage must be preserved.
"The Holy Father continues to look with affection at the people of Kosovo and Serbia, is close to them and is praying at this crucial moment of their history," Fr. Lombardi wrote.
Kosovo has already gained the recognition of major European countries, the United States and Australia. Spain and other European countries are resisting recognition of Kosovo describing the declaration as a unilateral action.
Serbia has vowed to resist the independence movement in Kosovo and recalled its ambassador to the U.S. in protest.
On Tuesday, around 1,000 Kosovo Serbs set fire to two border crossings and police vehicles to protest against the declaration of independence. The attacks took place at the northern Jarinje and Banja crossings, manned by United Nations and Kosovo police, the BBC reports.