Archive of February 29, 2008

Roman clergy and seminarians to compete for basketball Clericus Cup

, Feb 29, 2008 (CNA) - Priests and seminarians in Rome are preparing for a new basketball tournament in which teams will compete for the Clericus Cup, ANSA reports.

Inspired by last year’s Clericus Cup soccer competitions, the basketball contest is open to all clergy and anyone registered as a seminarian at the city’s pontifical colleges or universities.

Like the soccer tournament, the basketball competition is organized by the Centro Sportivo Italiano, a Christian organization that promotes education through sport.

The Clericus Cup soccer competition began its second season in November, with 16 teams competing to participate in the May 3 final game.  Though otherwise following most standard soccer rules, games last only 60 minutes and referees show a blue card to temperamental players to send them to a ‘sin bin’ for five minutes to calm down.

A skiing competition for about fifty priests took place earlier this month at an Italian ski area.  The contest, the ninth edition of the Priests’ National Ski Championship had chosen the motto “May the Lord ski with you.”

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Colorado bishops clarify stand on Human Personhood amendment

Denver, Colo., Feb 29, 2008 (CNA) - Colorado’s Catholic bishops have denied a pro-life group’s claim that they have “personally expressed support” for an amendment to the state constitution that would define personhood as beginning at conception.

In a February 26 press release from Colorado for Equal Rights, Keith Mason claimed that the Catholic bishops of Colorado “have personally expressed support” for his organization’s proposed “Personhood Amendment.”

On Thursday, the Colorado Catholic Conference (CCC) suggested in a press release that Colorado for Equal Rights “seriously misrepresents” the views of the Catholic bishops of Colorado.  It said Mason’s statement about episcopal support was “false.”

“No broad-based coalition of Catholic leaders has voiced support for Colorado’s Personhood Amendment,” the press release said.

The bishops, however, are not rejecting the amendment. “We commend the goal of this effort to end abortion.  Individual Catholics may certainly choose to work for its passage,” they said.

The reason the Catholic leaders gave for their choice not to back the amendment was that other pro-lifers had raised “serious questions” about the timing and content of the amendment.

“We encourage any and all efforts to eliminate or reduce attacks on the unborn, but we do not believe that this year’s Colorado Personhood Amendment is the best means to pursue this issue at this time,” the CCC statement concluded.

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Vocation inquiries increased 30 percent in 2007, survey finds

CNA STAFF, Feb 29, 2008 (CNA) - A new survey has revealed that Catholic religious communities in the United States have increased the number of individuals they have in initial formation by 30 percent. Furthermore, 62 percent of communities participating in the survey reported an increase in vocation inquiries last year.

The figures come from the Second Annual Survey on Trends in Religious Vocation.  The survey was sponsored by VISION Vocation Guide and published by TrueQuest Communications of Chicago on behalf of the National Religious Vocation Conference.

The results come from surveys of 1096 discerners, of whom 320 responded, and 476 vocation directors, of whom 225 responded.  Researchers also examined and compared, inquirer profiles, using 3,422 profiles from late 2007 to mid-2008 and 5,591 profiles from late 2006 to mid-2007.

The majority of individuals considering religious life are under thirty.  One in five respondents plan to enter a religious community in the next year, while another 64 percent are “seriously considering it.” 

About 73 percent of respondents considered “essential” or “very important” both praying in community and devotional prayer.  Living a life of faithfulness to the Church and her teachings was ranked as “very important” or “essential” by 90 percent of those in discernment.

Vocation directors for both women and men commented on an increased interest among inquirers in wearing a habit or traditional religious garb.

Personal contact with a religious priest, sister, or brother was considered “essential” or “very important” in obtaining vocation information by 82 percent of respondents.  Communities’ websites were considered “important” or “very important” sources of vocation information by 70 percent of respondents.  Using prayer as a discernment tool was ranked as “essential” or “very important” by 97 percent of respondents.

Inquirers believed the “discipline of prayer” would be the most difficult part of religious life, followed by a vow of celibacy and a life of service.  Discerners ranked “living with people who are not my age” their least important concern.

Respondents noted that they were most surprised by the “diversity of communities and spiritualities,” and also found “great joy” among religious men and women.  Some were most surprised that they were considering religious life at all. “A year ago I would have laughed if someone had suggested that I enter into religious life," one young man said.

Patrice Tuohy, executive editor of VISION Vocation Guide and, commented on the survey results, saying, "Religious vocation as a life choice has been off the radar screen for too long. What this crop of discerners is finding is that the option of life as a brother, sister, or priest may be the one that satisfies their heart's desire above all else."

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Venezuelan cardinal blames government for occupation of chancery

Caracas, Venezuela, Feb 29, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Sabino, blamed the government of Venezuela for the lack of security and negligence that allowed a group of Chavez activists to occupy the archdiocesan chancery for more than three hours on Wednesday.

“This escalation of violence must cease, and that falls to the government.  Everyone must collaborate to bring about peace, harmony and unity.  Differences need to be resolved through dialogue and democracy,” the cardinal told the TV network Globovision, which the activists demanded be shut down.

The group of activists were led by Lina Ron, a well-known Chavez supporter.

Cardinal Urosa lamented that his phone calls to government officials protesting the occupation went unanswered, and he demanded “respect for the Church.”  He said the events of Wednesday were linked to verbal attacks on the Church recently made by some officials over the bishops’ call for greater amnesty and for authentic respect for democratic practices.

“It’s not a coincidence that the other day high-level government officials verbally attacked the Church and me and today this happens,” the cardinal said.

On Mondaym Interior Minister Ramon Rodriguez Chacin criticized the Apostolic Nuncio for giving asylum to Richard Nixon Moreno, a college-aged opposition leader branded a “fugitive of justice” by the government.

Cardinal Urosa warned, “The government is losing control of things,” and he called for “cordiality and serenity.”

During their takeover, the group of activists read a statement denouncing an alleged complicity between the private media, oligarchic sectors and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to provoke the fall of President Hugo Chavez.

Lina Ron warned that this complicity made these entities “the target of revolutionary groups,” although she did not specify what actions would be taken against them.

The occupation of the chancery coincided with the celebration by Chavez supporters of the anniversary of a popular uprising on February 27, 1989 against the government of then-president Carlos Andres Perez.

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Pope encourages Americans to defend life, traditional marriage and family

Vatican City, Feb 29, 2008 (CNA) - In a discourse addressed to Mrs. Mary Ann Glendon, the new US ambassador to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged Americans to defend the right to life from conception to its natural end, traditional marriage and the family.

The Pontiff first expressed his appreciation for Doctor Glendon (69), a Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard Law School who in 2004 became the first female President of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

After revealing that he is looking “forward to my Pastoral Visit to the United States in April," the Pope noted that "from the dawn of the Republic, America has been a nation which values the role of religious belief in ensuring a vibrant and ethically sound democratic order."

“Your nation's example of uniting people of good will, regardless of race, nationality or creed, in a shared vision and a disciplined pursuit of the common good has encouraged many younger nations in their efforts to create a harmonious, free and just social order", he added.

"I am confident that your country,” Pope Benedict explained, “established on the self-evident truth that the Creator has endowed each human being with certain inalienable rights, will continue to find in the principles of the common moral law, enshrined in its founding documents, a sure guide for exercising its leadership within the international community."

He also encouraged the US to work worldwide "for the integral development of peoples, especially through the provision of adequate health care, the elimination of pandemics like AIDS, broader educational opportunities to young people, the promotion of women and the curbing of the corruption and militarization which divert precious resources from many of our brothers and sisters in the poorer countries."

After expressing appreciation for the US effort to solve tensions in the Middle East by means of the recent Annapolis summit, the Holy Father said that "the resolution of these and similar problems calls for trust in, and commitment to, the work of international bodies such as the United Nations organization".

"I cannot fail to note with gratitude the importance which the United States has attributed to interreligious and intercultural dialogue as a positive force for peacemaking," he added. 

In the most important part of his address to Professor Glendon, the Pope said that "the American people's historic appreciation of the role of religion in shaping public discourse and in shedding light on the inherent moral dimension of social issues - a role at times contested in the name of a limited understanding of political life and public discourse - is reflected in the efforts of so many of your fellow citizens and government leaders to ensure legal protection for God's gift of life from conception to natural death, and the safeguarding of the institution of marriage, acknowledged as a stable union between a man and a woman, and that of the family".

"Upon you and your family, and upon all the beloved American people, I cordially invoke God's blessings of wisdom, strength and peace," the Pope concluded.

Read the full discourse of Pope Benedict XVI:

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CDF rules feminist-inspired baptisms invalid

Vatican City, Feb 29, 2008 (CNA) - The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a correction today to those who use feminist-inspired non-Trinitarian formulas for baptizing children, declaring that those baptized in this way are, in fact, not baptized.

The teachings, which were made public today, are in response to two different questions sent to the Church’s doctrinal authority. The first question is: "Is a Baptism valid if conferred with the words 'I baptise you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier', or 'I baptise you in the name of the Creator, and of the Liberator, and of the Sustainer'"?

The second question is: "Must people baptised with those formulae be baptised 'in forma absoluta'?"

As is traditionally done, the CDF responded with a simple positive or negative ruling saying, "To the first question, negative; to the second question, affirmative".

The responses, which were authorized by Pope Benedict, are also accompanied by an explanatory note that further develops the answers.

The note explains that the problem with the formulas is not that they are said in English, but that they fail to express the Catholic belief in the Holy Trinity. "Baptism conferred in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit", the note says, "obeys Jesus' command as it appears at the end of the Gospel of St. Matthew. ... The baptismal formula must be an adequate expression of Trinitarian faith, approximate formulae are unacceptable.”

The CDF also addressed the feminist origins of the improvised baptismal formulas.

"Variations to the baptismal formula - using non-biblical designations of the Divine Persons - as considered in this reply, arise from so-called feminist theology", being an attempt "to avoid using the words Father and Son which are held to be chauvinistic, substituting them with other names. Such variants, however, undermine faith in the Trinity".

The new ruling is bound to have a wide ranging impact according to the CDF.

"The response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith constitutes an authentic doctrinal declaration, which has wide-ranging canonical and pastoral effects. Indeed, the reply implicitly affirms that people who have been baptised, or who will in the future be baptised, with the formulae in question have, in reality, not been baptised. Hence, they must them be treated for all canonical and pastoral purposes with the same juridical criteria as people whom the Code of Canon Law places in the general category of 'non- baptised'".

People who fall into the category of non-baptized cannot receive any of the other sacraments within the Catholic Church and must be baptized first.

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World Catholic population increases by 1.4%

Vatican City, Feb 29, 2008 (CNA) - Today Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone presented the Holy Father with the 2008 edition of the “Annuario Pontificio”, better known as the pontifical yearbook. In addition, a communiqué was released highlighting the growth of the Church over the past few years.

In 2007, eight new episcopal sees (dioceses) were created, as well as one apostolic prefecture, two metropolitan sees and one apostolic vicariate.  Last year 169 new bishops were also appointed.

Between 2005 and 2006, the number of Catholics in the world increased from 1.115 to 1.131 billion, a growth of 1.4 percent. Over the same period, the number of bishops grew from 4,841 to 4,898, an increase of 1.2 percent.

Around the world, the number of religious and diocesan priests rose from 406,411 in 2005 to 407,262 in 2006 (a growth of 0.21 percent). The number of priests has grown steadily from 2000 to 2006.

However, the distribution of priests differs from continent to continent. Their numbers have fallen in Europe and the Americas, and increased in Africa and Asia.

Seminaries have also seen a similar rise in the number of students.  Diocesan and religious seminary students number 115,480, an increase of 0.9 percent over last year. Of these 24,034 are in Africa, 37,150 in the Americas, 30,702 in Asia, 22,618 in Europe, and 976 in Oceania.


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Benedict XVI's prayer intentions for March

Vatican City, Feb 29, 2008 (CNA) - The Press Office of the Holy See released Pope Benedict's prayer intentions for the month of March this morning. 

Pope Benedict's general prayer intention for March is: "That the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation between persons and people may be understood and that the Church, through her testimony, may spread Christ's love, the source of new humanity".

His mission intention is: "That Christians, who are persecuted in many parts of the world and in various manners because of the Gospel, may continue, sustained by the strength of the Holy Spirit, to bear witness courageously and openly to the Word of God".

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Castro interested in prisoner exchange with US, says Cardinal Bertone

, Feb 29, 2008 (CNA) - In an interview with the L’Osservatore Romano and Vatican Radio, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone reflected on his recent visit to Cuba and said dialogue between the Church and the State is necessary.  He also said Raul Castro is willing to “exchange prisoners” with the United States.

Recounting his meeting with Cuba’s new president and with other officials, Cardinal Bertone said, “Discussions began initially with the exchange of impressions about Cuba and about the vitality of the Catholic Church.  Later I met privately with the President face to face for 55 minutes. I presented him with a specific request and the new President responded positively.”

The Vatican Secretary of State said one issue addressed with the Cuban president “refers to the action of the bishops’ conference.”  “The recognition of the Catholic Church’s legal status is one concrete problem that exists,” he stated.

Cardinal Bertone also revealed that he discussed the issue of political prisoners with the President. “I gave President Raul a list of names of prisoners for consideration [to be released] for humanitarian reasons, respecting always the sovereignty of Cuba,” the cardinal said, adding that he also expressed his concern for the families of those detained.

In response, Cardinal Bertone said, “the President emphasized the importance of reciprocity at the international level.  He said he was willing to address all the problems with great openness and even to make concrete gestures in an atmosphere of reciprocity.”  In that regard, Cardinal Bertone mentioned “the crucial problems of Cuba” related to the US-led embargo and the European Union sanctions, which “slow its development and do not allow for the serious socio-economic difficulties that afflict the island to be faced.”

The Vatican cardinal said President Castro also brought up the issue of five Cuban prisoners in the United States and their humanitarian treatment, “with the eventual possibility of an exchange.”  He also stressed that since the embargo directly affects the inhabitants of Cuba, he “gave assurances that the Holy See would work to have these sanctions reduced, if not altogether eliminated.”

However, he emphasized that “this would certainly imply movement towards greater freedom, towards the recognition of personal, social, political and economic rights” by the Cuban government.

Cardinal Bertone summarized his visit to Cuba by saying, “The results have far surpassed the expectations in all that I have seen of the vitality of the Cuban Church in all of her components and initiatives.”

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Pope names Italian airline reformer as Vatican's international financial controller

Vatican City, Feb 29, 2008 (CNA) - Alitalia president Maurizio Prato has been named as the Vatican's international financial controller by Pope Benedict XVI.

The vice director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Father Ciro Benedettini, said Prato, who has been a financial advisor to the Vatican already for some time, will be responsible for examining the Vatican’s accounts and balance sheets.  As a member of the council of international controllers that review the Vatican’s finances, he will offer his services free of charge.

Prato is considered one of the most competent Italian businessmen.  Since he took over as head of Alitalia, he has begun a series of reforms aimed at rescuing the ailing company.

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No party defends the family in Spain, report asserts

Madrid, Spain, Feb 29, 2008 (CNA) - An upcoming report by the Institute for Family Policy in Spain warns that “the two main national parties,” the Popular Party (PP) and the Spanish Socialist Worker Party (PSOE) have ignored the problems of the family and the birth rate in their election campaigns.

“The birth rate will continue to be an unresolved issue during the next legislature, since the two main national parties—the PP and the PSOE—have ignored it in their respective election campaigns,” the report asserts.

The Institute said politicians have failed to address the relationship between the lack of aid for families and the low birth rate, despite the demographic winter Spain is experiencing.

The report indicates that measures taken by the Socialist government have been insufficient, consisting merely in raising the non-taxable, combined income per year from $16,693 to $22,700 per couple.  80% of families in Spain are not affected by such a measure, the Institute says.

“On the other hand, despite the PP’s commitment to raise the amount of public resources dedicated to the family to the same level as the rest of Europe, this commitment has not taken shape in any concrete measure, neither with regards to maternity nor to social assistance per child,” the report states.

The president of the Institute, Eduardo Hertfelder, said the parties need to grasp the urgency of the issue of family assistance in the next legislative session.

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Archbishop of Mosul kidnapped, Pope condemns act as “despicable”

Baghdad, Iraq, Feb 29, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, Iraq was kidnapped on Friday by gunmen who killed his driver and two bodyguards. Pope Benedict has denounced the act as “premeditated” and “despicable” and called on the entire Catholic Church to pray for the archbishop’s prompt release.

Archbishop Rahho was ambushed as he left a church in the eastern al-Nour district, immediately after he finished celebrating the Way of the Cross at a local church and shared consoling words of hope and peace with the parishioners, according to local sources.

“Eyewitnesses said that a group of armed men attacked Archbishop Rahho’s vehicle.  The gunmen opened fire on the car, killing the three aides, before kidnapping the archbishop. 

"The bishop is in the hands of terrorists," Bishop Rabban al-Qas, the bishop of the northern Iraqi cities of Irbil and Amadiyah told reporters.  "It's a terrible time for our church; pray for us," he added.

The kidnappers have reportedly communicated their demands, which were not made public. 

The Vatican responded to the violent kidnapping with a statement that condemned the act as premeditated since the gunmen knew Rahho would be celebrating the Way of the Cross.

Pope Benedict XVI appealed to the whole Catholic Church "to unite in fervent prayer so that reason and humanity prevail among the authors of the kidnapping, and that Monsignor Rahho is returned quickly to the care of his flock," according to the statement.

The Holy Father also expressed his spiritual closeness to the Iraqi people, particularly the minority Christians, and offered his prayers that the whole country could find the path to reconciliation and peace.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraqi Christians have been targeted by Islamic extremists who label them "crusaders" loyal to U.S. troops.  These radical Muslims are able to use this strategy to recruit other extremists, raise terror funds, and force Christians to flee the country forfeiting their homes and property to extremists.  The property is then sold or used to fund insurgency strikes against coalition forces. 

Churches, priests and businesses owned by Christians have been systematically attacked by Islamic militants forcing most Christians to flee the country.  Without any protection and indifference by the Iraqi government, Christians in Iraq remain easy targets for their attempts to destabilize the government.

Missionary News Agency (MISNA) reported in November that Rahho said the situation in Mosul was not improving and "religious persecution is more noticeable than elsewhere because the city is split along religious lines."

"Everyone is suffering from this war irrespective of religious affiliation, but in Mosul Christians face starker choices," he told MISNA.

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“Cute phrases are not enough”, Spanish cardinal tells politicians

Madrid, Spain, Feb 29, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Valencia, Cardinal Agustin Garcia-Gasco, reminded politicians this week that their basic commitment is to serve the common good, which is cemented on respect for the dignity of the person and not on the construction of a society without religious references.

Referring to the upcoming elections in Spain on March 9, the cardinal said in his weekly letter that democracy “does not consist in winning elections at all costs, but rather it is the expression of having learned to live with full respect for human dignity, according to the ideal that ‘all rights are for everyone’.”

He warned that promises and “cute phrases are not enough,” as “voters know perfectly well how to tell who is supporting measures that benefit everyone and who is looking out for himself or for an ideological faction of society.”

“Democracy is confirmed or denied each time one of its actors moves in favor or against the rights and dignity of man,” the cardinal stressed, adding that human rights, especially for the most vulnerable and defenseless, “are the objective ethical keys of the common good,” which public officials must be in tune with, above and beyond their own interests and electability.

Cardinal Garcia-Gasco went on to reaffirm the Church’s commitment to the “renewal of truly democratic values” and to the primacy “of spiritual values above material ones.”  For this reason, he said, “it is never just for a politician to build an atheistic culture, a society without religious references.”

“The Church has always taught the primacy of the common good, and in doing so, has educated good citizens for each State,” the cardinal said.  “Whoever wants to grow in love according to the model of Jesus Christ cannot set aside his obligations towards the community in which he lives.”

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First Catholic Church in Arabic country to be dedicated to Mary

Doha, Qatar, Feb 29, 2008 (CNA) - The first Catholic Church in an Arab Muslim emirate will be dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, during a ceremony that will be celebrated by Cardinal Ivan Dias, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

On March 14, Cardinal Dias will officiate at the ceremony in Doha, the capital of Qatar.  The Apostolic Vicar of Arabia, Archbishop Paul Hinder, will join the cardinal for the dedication of the new church.

The church was built on land donated by Emir Amir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who in recent years has become a supporter of inter-religious dialogue, despite keeping Islamic law in place which forbids Muslims to convert to other religions.

Qatar, which has 800,000 inhabitants, established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 2003.  The pastor of the new parish will be a priest from the Philippines, Father Tomasito Veneracion.

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