Archive of February 25, 2008

Pope reaffirms Church’s stance against euthanasia

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2008 (CNA) - Pope Benedict received participants in an international congress entitled: "Close by the Incurable Sick Person and the Dying: Scientific and Ethical Aspects" today and reiterated that the Church is against all forms of euthanasia.

The event which brought the specialists to the Vatican is being promoted by the Pontifical Academy for Life as part of their general assembly. The gathering will take place in the Vatican over the coming days.

Reflecting on the moment of death, the Pope said that it “concludes the experience of earthly life, but through death there opens for each of us, beyond time, the full and definitive life. ... For the community of believers, this encounter between the dying person and the Source of Life and Love represents a gift that has a universal value, that enriches the communion of the faithful".

This moment of encounter, the Holy Father emphasized should draw the community along with close relatives around the dying person in support as they face the last moments of their life. "No believer", he said, "should die alone and abandoned".

Benedict XVI also spoke of the larger societal dimension of respecting those who are ill or dying. All society "is called to respect the life and dignity of the seriously ill and the dying", he said. "Though aware of the fact that 'it is not science that redeems man', all society, and in particular the sectors associated with medical science, are duty bound to express the solidarity of love, and to safeguard and respect human life in every moment of its earthly development, especially when it is ill or in its terminal stages.

"In more concrete terms", he added, "this means ensuring that every person in need finds the necessary support through appropriate treatments and medical procedures - identified and administered using criteria of therapeutic proportionality - while bearing in mind the moral duty to administer (on the part of doctors) and to accept (on the part of patients) those means for preserving life which, in a particular situation, may be considered as 'ordinary'".

As for forms of treatment "with significant levels of risk or that may reasonably be judged to be 'extraordinary', recourse thereto may be considered as morally acceptable, but optional. Furthermore, it will always be necessary to ensure that everyone has the treatment they require, and that families tried by the sickness of one of their members receive support, especially if the sickness is serious or prolonged".

Pope Benedict also pointed to how society can improve its support for the dying or seriously ill.

Just as when a child is born family members have specific rights to take time off work, said the Pope, in the same way "similar rights must be recognized" to the relatives of the terminally ill. "A greater respect for individual human life inevitably comes through the concrete solidarity of each and all, and constitutes one of the most pressing challenges of our times".

After raising the issue of how it is becoming more common for elderly people in large cities to be alone "even in moments of serious illness and when approaching death", the Holy Father noted that such situations increase pressures towards euthanasia, "especially when a utilitarian view of people has become established".

In this context, the Holy Father once again recalled "the firm and constant ethical condemnation of all forms of direct euthanasia, in keeping with the centuries-long teaching of the Church".

"The synergetic efforts of civil society and of the community of believers must ensure not only that everyone is able to live in a dignified and responsible way, but also that they can face moments of trial and of death in the finest condition of fraternity and solidarity, even where death comes in a poor family or a hospital bed".

Society, said the Pontiff, must "ensure due support to families who undertake to care in the home, sometimes for long periods, sick members who are afflicted with degenerative conditions, ... or who need particularly costly assistance. ... It is above all in this field that synergy between the Church and the institutions can prove particularly important in ensuring the necessary help for human life in moments of frailty".

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Free the truth from society’s lies and distortions, Benedict XVI tells the youth

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2008 (CNA) - Benedict XVI met with families, teachers and young people in St. Peter’s Square on Friday and presented them with the letter he wrote on January 21 to the diocese and city of Rome concerning the importance of education. He told the young people listening to him that they must free the truth from “the many lies and distortions” of the culture with the help of their teachers and parents.

“Education has never been easy, and today it seems to be becoming more difficult than ever,” the Pope told the youth and educators.

 Due to the reservations of our culture, many parents and teachers “do not even manage to understand the true nature of the mission entrusted to them. There are, in fact, too may uncertainties, too many doubts circulating in our society and in our culture, too many distorted images propagated by the social communications media,” he said.

Though there is this uncertainty, Pope Benedict continued, "we feel supported by a great hope, a deep trust" that "also in our own time it is possible to educate in goodness ... and each person is called to make his or her own contribution."

The Pope addressed parents, teachers, priests and catechists present, encouraging them to joyfully “shoulder the responsibility with which the Lord entrusts you, so that the great heritage of faith and culture - which is the most authentic treasure of this our beloved city - may not be lost in the passage from one generation to another, but rather be renewed and strengthened, and become a guide and a stimulus on our journey towards the future."

He specifically called on parents to remain firm in their love for one another and to show "a coherent witness of life" in order to help new generations "clearly to distinguish good from evil and, in their turn, to build solid rules for life that may support them through future trials. Thus you will make your children rich with that most precious and lasting inheritance which consists in the example of the daily practice of faith."

To teachers, the Holy Father emphasized the deeper goal of their profession, "Your task" cannot "be limited to supplying notions and information while ignoring the great question of truth, especially of the truth that can be a guide in life. ... In close association with parents, you are entrusted with the noble art of forming the individual."

Pope Benedict then encouraged priests, religious and catechists of Roman parishes "to be trustworthy friends in whom [children and young people] can reach out and touch Jesus' friendship with them. At the same time, be sincere and courageous witnesses of the truth that makes people free and that shows the new generations the way that leads to life."

He also called on children and young people to play a role in the development of the culture.  Benedict XVI reminded them that they are called "to be participants in your own moral, cultural and spiritual development. It is up to you, then, to freely welcome in your hearts, minds and lives the heritage of truth, goodness and beauty that has accumulated over the centuries and that has its cornerstone in Jesus Christ.”

"It is up to you to renew and develop this heritage, freeing it from the many lies and distortions that often make it unrecognizable and provoke diffidence and disillusionment in you." The Pontiff reminded the young people that in doing this, "you are never alone. Not only are your parents, teachers, priests and friends near you ... but above all that God who created us and who is the secret guest of our hearts. ... He is the true hope and the solid foundation of our lives. To Him, most of all, can we entrust ourselves."

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Christian dissident rejects election of Raul as successor of Fidel Castro

Havana, Cuba, Feb 25, 2008 (CNA) - In an urgent press release, the leader of the Christian Liberation Movement (CLM), Oswaldo Paya Sardinas, rejected the election of Raul Castro, brother of Fidel Castro, as the new president of Cuba and insisted that “the people should decide about who should lead the country and not the Communist party.”

The statement indicated that “disproportional expectations” existed outside of Cuba regarding the election of the new president.  Such expectations “did not exist in the people” of Cuba, he said, “because the succession of Fidel Castro does not in itself bring the changes that the people want and need.”

Paya noted that the representatives that make up the National Assembly “were not elected by the citizens, because the electoral law does not allow the people to choose between various candidates and the ballot only included the same number of candidates as there are representatives.  This never was nor will it ever be an election,” the CLM statement said.

The movement criticized Raul Castro for stating that “there are no antagonistic contradictions” in Cuba. “They do exist, because there is an essential antagonism between this system of no rights on the one hand, and the legitimate rights and interests of the people on the other.”

“The people of Cuba,” the statement continues, “want changes that signify freedom, the full exercise of their civil, political economic and social rights, reconciliation, peace and the exercise of sovereignty.”

Paya said the CLM would continue to “peacefully demand respect for the rights of all Cubans and the release of our brothers and sisters that have been unjustly condemned to prison solely for defending these rights. Our hope is in the people who, in any case, will be the protagonists of their own history,” he said.

Raul Castro was elected this Sunday as the new president of Cuba.  In his first discourse as president, he announced several changes but said he would continue consulting with his brother Fidel about decisions “of special transcendence” for Cuba. “Fidel is irreplaceable and the people will continue his work when he is longer physically with us,” he stated.

The National Assembly also elected Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 71, as the new vice president.  Machado is known for his staunch opposition to any political or economic change.

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Cardinal Bertone calls on Cuban faithful to proclaim Jesus without fear

Havana, Cuba, Feb 25, 2008 (CNA) - During an outdoor Mass and the inauguration of a monument to Pope John Paul II on Saturday in the city of Santa Clara, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone encouraged Cubans, especially young people, to bear witness to Jesus in society.

In his homily at Mass, the Vatican Secretary of State recalled that “it was precisely right here, on January 22, 1998, where the venerable Pontiff celebrated his first Mass on Cuban soil in order to pray for the families of this nation.”

“With one heart we implore the Lord to continue sustaining with his grace the self-denying and massive work of evangelization that the pastors and faithful are carrying out in this land,” the cardinal said.  He called on Cubans to be witnesses to the “charity of Christ” in all places, “whether at home or at work, in hospitals or on the streets.  The circumstances may change, but what remains unchangeable is our identification with the sentiments and attitude of Jesus. Then, with the help of his grace, we will be able to build a civilization in which lies, injustice, oppression and violence are overthrown by the strength of forgiveness and truth.”

Later addressing young people, Cardinal Bertone called on them to fix their eyes on Christ. “He will enrich you with his grace so that you will boldly set out on the path of a love that does not demand, but rather gives of itself without asking for anything in return.  Let Jesus transform you interiorly and have the courage to ask yourselves if He is calling you to following [Him] with a life of special consecration,” he told the youth, exhorting them to be witnesses of the faith to their peers and examples of bold love of God and neighbor.

Monument to John Paul II

Immediately after the Mass, Cardinal Bertone inaugurated the first monument dedicated to Pope John Paul II on public ground.

During the blessing, he noted the special significance of the place, “since in Santa Clara (Pope John Paul II) celebrated his first Mass on this land, leaving here the first footprint of his intense journey as ‘messenger of hope’ through other places in the country.”

“The monument erected here to the memorable Pontiff is also a sign that that pilgrimage of his continues illuminating the Church today and those Cubans who long for the highest spiritual values for themselves and their homeland.”

“From now on,” he added, “this monument will remind Christians who come here of an event that marked a milestone in the history of the Church and of Cuba, pointing out to them as well the commitment to be witnesses of the truth of the Gospel and to pass it on to the new generations.”

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Church in Mexico hopes for reversal of abortion law

Mexico City, Mexico, Feb 25, 2008 (CNA) - Father Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, said this Sunday that in the wake of the death of a 15 year-old girl from a botched legal abortion, the law should be declared unsuitable by the court.

Father Valdemar noted that a poll carried out by the National Commission of Mexico for Human Rights showed that 70 percent of Mexicans oppose abortion.  “Therefore this is not a very popular law and it would be beneficial to reverse it.”  Mexico’s Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on whether or not the law is constitutional. 

Father Valdemar said the Church is saddened over the death of the young mother and over “the deaths of the six thousand babies aborted in the last year since the law took effect.”  “These deaths cause great indignation, profound sorrow, and what we will do is pray for that person and for the children who have died,” he added.  “The Church raises her voice of conscience, her moral voice, to say that it is not licit to kill children in the wombs of their mothers,” the priest said. 

He also defended the right of the Church’s pastors “to express our repudiation of the killing of these thousands of children in our city.”  “We are exercising our freedom of expression,” he stressed.

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Cuba needs contemplative religious, says Vatican cardinal

Havana, Cuba, Feb 25, 2008 (CNA) - During a Mass celebrated Friday at the Monastery of St. Teresa of the Discalced Carmelites in Havana, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone called on contemplative nuns to help bring about reconciliation in Cuba through their prayers, because as he said, “Cubans need God.”

In his homily, the Vatican Secretary of State said the Church’s hope for contemplative nuns is “a life transfigured by the profession of the evangelical counsels, which create communion both in the community as well as in the Church and in the world.”

“In fact, the Church and the world hope for their affectionate companionship, with their incessant prayer, in the big and small events both in the universal Church as well as in the specific society in which they live,” Cardinal Bertone continued.  “We especially commend to their prayers the works of evangelization and of the apostolate and those who are charged with carrying them out,” he added.

Cardinal Bertone also reminded the nuns that “your renouncing and your sacrifices should also be transformed into a pleasing offering to the Lord, especially to sustain the numerous pastors, priests and religious, as well as the many lay people who, with unbreakable fidelity to Christ and to his Church, give of themselves generously to those in need, defending the inalienable rights of the person and the dignity that belongs to him as a being created in the image of God.”

He also invited them to collaborate “from the seclusion of the cloister, in the building of an authentic society, often times wounded and stripped of values, deprived of identity, inverted, lacking in faith and far from God.  I earnestly exhort you to be examples, although often misunderstood, of a new humanity.  I encourage you to live your vocation in holiness, in order to be examples, models and inspiration for all Cubans, helping them always to invigorate their profound religious spirit, and at the same time accompany them in their aspirations, joys and sufferings.”

Referring to Cuban political authorities, Cardinal Bertone also called on the nuns to pray “without ceasing that the Lord will enlighten the consciences of those who are responsible for providing a decent life to citizens, restoring peace and justice, promoting solidarity especially with those most in need.  Fervently pray for the fostering of human, ethical and religious values, the absence of which particularly affects young people.”

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Oscar awards portrayed an America without hope, Vatican newspaper says

Vatican City, Feb 25, 2008 (CNA) - Commenting on the latest Oscars awards, the Vatican daily L' Osservatore Romano said in an opinion column that the most awarded movies portray the image of a hopeless America.

The article, written by Gaetano Vallini, says that the awards night was dominated by two visions of evil, two instances of using images to portray evil.

"On one side, the story of perdition, described by Paul Thomas Anderson in 'There Will Be Blood,' on the other, a contemporary Western, with a modern incarnation of evil, 'No Country for Old Men,' produced by Joel and Ethan Coen," each one of them receiving eight nominations.

L'Osservatore says that, aside from the awards given to these two films, Hollywood has been dominated this year "by dark films, filled with violence but mainly with hopelessness."

The author of the column asks if this is not a "sign of the times." "Maybe,” Vallini wrote.
“Since there were films capable of expressing different emotions in the running, with brave openness, like Juno, directed by Jason Reitman, which tales the story of a teenager who decided to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, or 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly', from Julian Schnabel, a secular hymn to life despite grave disabilities."

From a movie-making perspective, the author finds “No Country for old Men” "well crafted, with a solid story line and a compelling rhythm."

However, Vallini found the Cohen brothers’ story "marked by absurd and mindless acts of violence, a world in which there is no place for old values."

"In the film, moral conscience is lacking, and perhaps deliberately, it faintly appears in the sheriff. Too little to justify so much gratuitous violence," he noted.

The film reviewer also pointed to the unbalanced portrayal of the Cohen brothers saying, "Even if in the Cohen movie there is no complacence in showing the evilness of a killer … there isn't the slightest sign of credible compassion either."

In this way, L'Osservatore says, "the American dream is obliterated, described by the directors in bold strokes, without offering any anchor for hope, no hope for the future;" unlike the original novel, "in which the author leaves some room open for hope."

Vallini says that "this clearly pessimistic view that the United States offers of itself through the movies "seems to be shared by the jury of the Academy awards, which has awarded a film that leaves no doubts about its goal, which is to show the decline of modern society, the decay of values."

"The voyage is over. So are the illusions. In short, not a very encouraging sign," he adds.

L'Osservatore, nevertheless, expresses optimism in the fact that "the 'Oscars' of the independent films, which don't have to respond to the big Hollywood producers, have awarded Juno as the best film, best original screenplay (with Ellen Page as best actress), and 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' for best direction and photography."  "In short, an award for [a film] which, going against the mainstream, tells about the beauty of life."

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Survey finds one-tenth of Americans used to be Catholic

Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2008 (CNA) - The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released the results of a detailed new study of the religious affiliation of the American public.  The results reveal that the United States is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country, that one-third of Americans who were raised Catholic no longer identify themselves as such, and that the outflow of these Catholics is stabilized by Catholic immigrants.

The survey also shows that a significant number of Americans change their religious denomination over their lifetimes.

"We hope that the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey will contribute to a better understanding of the important role that religion plays in the personal and public lives of most Americans," said Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, in a press release.

The survey, based on interviews in English and Spanish of 35,000 adults, found that more than a quarter of American adults have left the faith of their childhood.  Including changes between Protestant affiliations, 44 percent of Americans have switched religious affiliation, moved from no affiliation to affiliation with a particular faith, or dropped any affiliation to a specific religious tradition.

Though the Catholic proportion of the population has held steady at one fourth of the U.S. population, approximately one-third of the survey respondents who were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic.  According to the Pew Forum report, this means around ten percent of all Americans are former Catholics.

Though converts have offset some of the numbers of Catholics who have left the Church, the disproportionately high number of Catholics among immigrants is most responsible for keeping the Catholic population stable.  Latinos now account for 45 percent of American Catholics aged 18-29. 

The decline of the country’s Protestant majority is another surprising result from the survey.

“The U.S. is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country. The number of Americans who are affiliated with Protestant denominations now stands at barely over 51%; as recently as the mid-1980s, in contrast, surveys found that approximately two-thirds of the population was Protestant,” according to the Pew Forum.

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Draft Kosovo constitution eliminates protection for unborn, marriage

, Feb 25, 2008 (CNA) - A draft constitution for the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo would remove all legal protection for unborn children and undermine marriage, the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute reports.

Article 25 of the draft document on the “Right to Life” states that “every individual enjoys the right to life from birth,” while Article 26 grants "the right to make decisions in relation to reproduction in accordance with the rules and procedures set forth by law" and secures for each citizen "the right to have control over his/her body in accordance with law."

The draft constitution also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  The English version of the draft article “Right to Marriage and Family” omits mentioning men and women, saying, "Based on free will, everyone enjoys the right to marry and the right to have a family."

The non-governmental organization Public International Law and Policy Group initially authored the draft constitution in 2004.  Tufts University professor Bruce Hitchner, one of the draft’s authors, told C-FAM that the constitution had generally maintained its original form.  After the organization drafted the document, it was given to the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe.  Hitchner said that European lawyers evaluated and assessed the document, with Americans working on it “quietly.”

The Venice Commission, which was established in 1990 to help former communist countries in the transition to democracy, had given the document to the Constitutional Commission of Kosovo.  The chairman of the commission, Hajredin Kuci, said that commission members would visit municipalities and organize meetings in Kosovo to receive public comment on the document before March 26, the 120-day deadline mandated by the UN Secretary General.

The draft constitution also cedes the interpretation of social norms to international human rights bodies at the United Nations, such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Protocols.  The committees monitoring these treaties have been criticized for interpreting the documents to include abortion “rights” and other controversial entitlements specifically excluded from the by their mandate.

The draft constitution states that it will rely on the European Court of Human Rights and other international bodies to oversee the implementation of human rights.

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