Archive of March 3, 2008

Guard against activism with mysticism and asceticism, Pope tells Salesians

Vatican City, Mar 3, 2008 (CNA) - The Salesians of Don Bosco are gathering in Rome this week for their 26th general chapter meeting. To mark the beginning of the chapter, Pope Benedict wrote a letter to the order encouraging them to continue to seek out a spiritual life rooted in “profound mysticism and a solid asceticism” instead of activism.

In his Message, dated March 1, the Holy Father writes that the theme chosen for this general chapter - "Da mihi animas, cetera tolle" (Give me souls, take away all else) - expresses "that same program of spiritual and apostolic life which Don Bosco made his own".

Pope Benedict also brings up a point that he has been making to religious orders lately, that of drawing inspiration from their founders and returning to the charisms of their founding.

"It is vitally important for the Salesians to draw continual inspiration from Don Bosco, to know him, study him, love him, imitate him, invoke him and make their own that apostolic passion which flows from the heart of Christ," the Pope wrote.

Another trend that the Pontiff has been warning religious orders about is the temptation to abandon the quest for holiness in favor of a religious activism of sorts.

In his letter, the Holy Father writes that the theme that the Salesians will study this week "expresses in synthesis the mysticism and asceticism of Salesians” and “is necessary to overcome the dispersive effects of activism and to cultivate the unity of spiritual life by acquiring a profound mysticism and a solid asceticism.” He continued, saying, “This nourishes apostolic commitment and is a guarantee of effectiveness in pastoral activity. It is in this that each Salesian's path to sanctity must consist, and on this that the formation of new vocations to Salesian consecrated life must concentrate".

The Holy Father points out that "evangelization must be the principal and priority frontier" in the Salesian mission. "In pluri-religious settings and in secularized ones, it is necessary to find new ways to make the figure of Jesus known, especially to the young, so they may become aware of His perennial attraction".

"It is important to help young people to turn their interior resources to account as dynamism and positive desire; to bring them into contact with ideas rich in humanity and evangelical values; to encourage them to become active members of society through work and participation in the common good".

Benedict XVI also takes the opportunity to thank the congregation "for the research and educational activities of the Pontifical Salesian University". Going on to refer to the "educational emergency" that exists in many parts of the world, he writes: "The Church needs the contribution of scholars to study the methodology of educational and formative processes, the evangelization of the young and their moral education, together finding answers to the challenges of post-modernity and inter-culturality, and of social communications, while at the same time seeking to come to the help of families".

At the end of the Message, the Pontiff recalls that 2015 will mark the bicentenary of the birth of Don Bosco, and expresses the hope that the anniversary may stimulate Salesians "to be ever more 'credible signs of God's love for the young', and to ensure that the young truly do become the hope of the Church and society".


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Vatican Secretary of State postpones visit to Armenia

Vatican City, Mar 3, 2008 (CNA) - The political situation in Armenia has become unstable following post-election riots broke out between opposition leaders and government forces on Sunday. In lieu of the developments, the Vatican’s Secretary of State decided on Sunday to postpone his trip to the country.

Cardinal Bertone was due to visit the former Soviet republic March 2-6, but following the declaration of a state of emergency by President Robert Kocharian, the trip has been postponed. Hundreds of troops swarmed into Armenia's capital on Sunday to enforce a state of emergency after initial clashes between opposition activists and government forces left eight people dead and more than 100 injured.

The bloodshed over the results of last month's presidential election is the worst political crisis to hit this volatile former Soviet republic in nearly a decade.

President Robert Kocharian declared the 20-day state of emergency Saturday night after a day of violence between police and demonstrators. The protestors claim that elections which took place on Feb. 19 were fraudulently won by Prime Minister Serge Sarkisian.

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Catholics to receive four new saints in October

Vatican City, Mar 3, 2008 (CNA) - On Saturday, Benedict XVI declared that four people will be recognized as saints in a ceremony to be held on Sunday October 12. The blesseds who will be canonized are: Gaetano Errico, Maria Bernarda Butler (nee Verena), Alfonsa of the Immaculate Conception (nee Anna Muttathupandathu), and Narcisa de Jesus Martillo Moran.

Gaetano Errico was an Italian teacher, born in 1791, who showed immense dedication to his students.  He not only educated his students but formed them spiritually with Christian doctrine and moral values. 

He experienced a life-changing event in 1818 while praying at a retreat.  St. Alphonsus Liguori appeared to him in a vision and told him that God wanted him to found a new religious congregation and to build a church in Secondigliano in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Fr. Errico died in 1860 at the age of 69.

Maria Bernarda Butler will be the first modern Swiss woman to be canonized. 

Born in 1848 in Auw, eastern Switzerland, Maria entered the Capuchin Maria-Hilf convent at the age of 19.  She was named the mother superior only four years later. 

She later traveled to South America to establish a convent to teach and care for children in Ecuador, and later performed healing miracles in Colombia where she died at the age of 76.

The third Blessed is Anna Muttathupandathu born in Kerala, southern India, in 1910.  She was a professed sister of the Congregation of Poor Clares of the Third Order of St. Francis.  Also known as Alfonsa of the Immaculate Conception, she died in 1946 and will become India’s first female saint.

Blessed Narcisa was born on October 29, 1832 in the city of Nobol, Ecuador. Her parents were farmers and devout Christians. During her youth she was a seamstress and showed a great love for prayer.

She dedicated her early life to the service of her family, caring for the home and creating an atmosphere of charity, joy, and peace between her eight brothers and sisters.  After the death of her mother, she also devoted herself to the education of her younger siblings. 

Later she went to Guayaquil where she devoted herself to caring for abandoned children and young people.  She lived in Cuenca and later moved to Lima, Peru, where she was renowned for her qualities as a catechist of children and young people, until her death on December 8, 1869.

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Archbishop calls on Venezuelan government stay out of Colombia situation

Caracas, Venezuela, Mar 3, 2008 (CNA) - In declarations to Union Radio, the first vice president of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Roberto Luckert of Coro, has called for reconciliation and said the government should avoid any kind of military confrontation with Colombia or other neighboring countries.

On March 1, Colombian forces killed Raul Reyes, the number two in command of the Marxist rebel group FARC, during a confrontation that took place on Ecuadoran soil.  The episode has caused a crisis between Colombia and Ecuador.

In what appears to be saber rattling, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has also ordered 10 battalions of tanks to the border with Colombia.

During his TV program “Alo Presidente,” President Hugo Chavez said the Colombian incursion “violated Ecuador’s sovereignty” and that if it had occurred on Venezuelan soil it would have been “a reason for war.”

Ecuador announced the immediate expulsion of the Colombian ambassador in Quito and recalled its ambassador from Bogota.  Ecuador has also mobilized troops on its border with Colombia.

Archbishop Luckert said it was a mistake for Chavez to stir up the nationalism of Venezuelans over a confrontation with Colombia that does not involve them, “because supposedly the one who should complain is President Correa (of Ecuador).”

He also noted that more than five million Colombians live in Venezuela, many in the agriculture industry in the region of Zulia, which would be “paralyzed” if all the Colombians who work there went home.

Chavez “cannot take Venezuela into an armed conflict just because he feels like it.  He must consult the country,” Archbishop Luckert stated.

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$ 1.8 million ransom demanded for release of Iraqi archbishop

Madrid, Spain, Mar 3, 2008 (CNA) - The Mensajeros de la Paz (Messengers of Peace) foundation is reporting that the captors of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul are demanding $1.8 million in ransom money to free the Iraqi prelate who was kidnapped last Friday.

In comments to Italian Bishops’ news service Servizio Informazione Religiosa (SIR), Bishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk said that, "The kidnappers have called more than once asking for ransom."

The president and founder of Mensajeros de la Paz, Father Angel Garcia, expressed his hope that the captors would relent and “for humanitarian reasons release the Archbishop of Mosul, who is man of faith and not politics and is also ill.”

He also said he called on the “governments, religious institutions and episcopal conferences of the world to follow the lead of Pope Benedict XVI and call for the immediate release of Archbishop Rahho.”

According to the foundation, Father Garcia is working to get the archbishop released, and in the coming days he will travel to Spain with five sick Iraqi children who need treatment.

Father Garcia has spent time as well with the families of the three young people killed during the kidnapping of Archbishop Rahho, who is also his personal friend.  In March of 2005, the archbishop visited Spain at Father Garcia’s invitation to call for peace and reconciliation in Iraq.  During his visit he was treated for heart difficulties he had been experiencing.

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Padre Pio exhumed, body is “well preserved”

San Giovani Rotundo, Italy, Mar 3, 2008 (CNA) -

In the most discrete manner possible, the body of St. Padre Pio was exhumed at 12:30 a.m. Monday morning by a group of medical experts, while Church representatives observed.

Padre Pio was buried September 27, 1968 at the San Giovanni Rotondo shrine, just four days after he died.

"The body is well preserved" said Bishop Domenico D'Ambrosio of San Giovanni Rotondo-Manfredonia-Vieste, who observed the removal of the saint’s remains.

“From the very beginning (of the exhumation) you could clearly see his beard. The upper part of his skull is visible, but his chin is perfect and the rest of the body is well preserved. You can clearly see his knees, his hands, his mittens and his fingernails,” Bishop D’Ambrosio recalled.

The Italian bishop commented on the state of Padre Pio’s body by saying, "If Fr. Pio allows me to say, it is as if he was manicured.”

The Bishop also said that besides the upper skull, which shows some signs of the process of mummification, the rest of his remains are in surprisingly good condition, including his joints -which are all attached, and his feet.

D'Ambrosio confirmed that neither his feet nor hands showed any trace of the stigmata, since "as we know, they disappeared at the moment of his death."

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Battle in Colombia over woman who wants to abort deformed fetus

, Mar 3, 2008 (CNA) - A woman in Colombia who is in her sixth month of pregnancy has filed a lawsuit demanding that the San Ignacio Hospital grant her an abortion after tests revealed the baby is deformed.

Migdony Yolima Bernal Castillo decided to file the lawsuit after the San Ignacio Hospital ruled against granting the abortion for ethical reasons and insisted that despite the abnormalities, the baby could be saved and could live.

Castillo alleged that her unborn child, who suffers from hydrocephalus and symmetric growth, should be aborted because “it is better to live with that pain now and avoid seeing our child like this, because he has the right to a decent life.”

The hospital, operated by the Society of Jesus, said an abortion is not only unnecessary in this case, it also goes against its principles, which hospital officials said they would defend no matter what the cost.

“Because of the Hospital’s mission and ethical position, abortions will not be performed at any time,” said Dr. Julio Cesar Castellanos, director of the facility.  He said they would await a ruling from the court before deciding on what step to take next.

According to an official from the Ministry of Social Protection, the hospital can only refuse the procedure if a statement of objection to abortion signed by the doctors exists.  Colombia’s Constitutional Court has legalized abortion in cases of rape, grave deformation of the fetus and life of the mother.

However, according to the law, abortion is legal up to the twenty-second week of pregnancy, and Castillo has already reached her twenty-seventh week.  She alleges that the delay has been the result of “medical negligence,” about which the courts will decide.

According to the Secretariat of Health, an abortion at this stage would pose a risk to the life of the mother. 

Castellanos said, “We carried out an exam and we can confirm that the fetus does have serious deformations, but they are not lethal.  Other babies with similar problems have been born.”

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Benedict XVI prays for protection of ‘our little ones’ regarding case of missing Italian brothers

Vatican City, Mar 3, 2008 (CNA) - Following Sunday’s Angelus, the Holy Father addressed the recent discovery of the bodies of two young Italian brothers who disappeared from their home more than a year ago.

The brothers, ages 11 and 13 at the time of the disappearance, were last seen at a Holy Communion party on June 5, 2006.  Their bodies were discovered last week at the bottom of a cistern, along with a small, red ball that was given out at the party.

The prosecution is working to discover if the children accidentally fell into the cistern while playing with the ball or if foul-play was involved.

The primary suspect is the boys’ father, who has a history of abusing of his sons.

The father is currently in jail under the suspicion of killing the young boys or hiding their bodies.

The Pope described the situation as "A very sad end, that affected me deeply as it did many people. I wish to take this opportunity to launch a cry in support of childhood: Let us look after our little ones! We must love them and help them to grow. I say this to parents, but also to institutions. In launching this appeal, my thoughts go to children all over the world, and especially to the most defenseless, exploited and abused. I entrust each child to the heart of Jesus who said: 'Let the little children come to me'".

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Trial of “Doctor Death” begins in Germany

, Mar 3, 2008 (CNA) - Last Thursday the trial began in Germany of Dr. Mechthild Bach, accused of killing eight terminally-ill patients with overdoses of morphine between 2001 and 2003 in a clinic in Langenhagen in Hanover.

According to prosecutors, Dr. Bach intentionally caused the death of the patients whose ages were between 52 and 96.  Despite claims by the lawyers of the 58 year-old doctor that “in everything she did or did not do she was firmly convinced that her actions were given consent by the patients,” active euthanasia remains illegal in Germany and is punishable by law.

The widow of one of the victims said in a letter that her husband was very ill and in much pain, and she asked the doctor to do everything in her power to keep him from suffering.  However, these testimonies and other similar ones were deemed inadmissible by the court.

Although Dr. Bach claims she only accompanied terminally-ill patients in the past, the trial will also attempt to define the complicated issues of “accompaniment of terminally-ill patients” and “manipulation of death,” as well as to highlight the differences between passive and active euthanasia.

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Catholic dissident in Cuba nominated for Nobel Prize

Oslo, Norway, Mar 3, 2008 (CNA) - The founder and president of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, is among the 197 candidates nominated for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.

According to Nobel officials, those nominated include 164 individuals and 33 organizations. It’s the second largest number of candidates in the history of the Prize.  The largest number was in 2005, with 199 candidates.

The five member committee met last Tuesday to begin whittling down the number of candidates after nominations ended in February.  The Nobel Peace Prize includes $1.62 million, which can be shared by up to three winners, who will be announced on October 10.

Oswaldo Jose Paya Sardinas was born in Havana, Cuba, on February 29, 1952, and is one of the most well-known democratic activists in the country.  He organized the Varela Project, which was an effort based on Cuba’s constitution to collect enough signatures to present a referendum for political change to the legislature.

According to Paya, these changes, if they had been accepted by the government and approved by popular vote, would have introduced freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, free elections, freedom of business and amnesty for political prisoners.

Paya grew up in a Catholic family and was a child when the Cuban government began its repression of the Church.  As a youth he refused to join the Communist Party of Cuba and its youth organizations.  However, at the age of 16 he was drafted into the Cuban army.

While in the army, he was punished for refusing to participate in the transportation of a group of political prisoners and afterwards was condemned to forced labor on the Island of Pinos (known today as the Isle of Youth) for three years.

As a devout Christian, he attributes the cause of his punishment to his refusal to compromise his religious beliefs.  Paya later became and engineer and now works as a manufacturer of anesthetic equipment.  He is married and has three children.

Together with other lay Catholics he founded the Christian Liberation Movement in 1988, a political movement with no religious affiliation that seeks to advance the human and civil rights of Cubans.

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Mexican bishops call for constitutional reform to guarantee religious freedom

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 3, 2008 (CNA) - The president of the Bishops’ Conference of Mexico, Bishop Carlos Aguiar Retes, said the Mexican bishops have formally called for the reform of article 24 of the constitution to replace the phrase “freedom of worship and beliefs” with the basic concept of “religious freedom.”

During the presentation of the book, “15 Years of Relations Between The Holy See and Mexico,” at the conference’s headquarters, Bishop Aguiar said the request is intended to obtain guarantees of a fundamental right, that of religious freedom, which right now is ambiguously interpreted, often against the Church, because of the imprecise phrasing in the constitution.

“We are not saying that a bishop is going to be president of the country in the 21st century.  What we are seeking is that the State continues to be secular, but that we move forward,” Bishop Aguiar said.

For the Catholic Church, he explained, the concept of religious freedom means freedom for all Mexicans, including the clergy, to “live their faith in public and private, individually or collectively, in every activity and sector, without any other limit besides that of respect for the rights of others.”

Bishop Aguiar emphasized that religious freedom is the greatest pillar for ensuring the secular State, which is not supposed to just “tolerate” the religious beliefs of its citizens, but rather defend, guarantee and promote them, because it recognizes that faith in a supreme being strengthens the ethical and moral conduct of citizens.”

He also explained that the concept of the secular state is one of respect and freedom for any religion and its members to contribute to society.  On the other hand, secularism discriminates and marginalizes those with religious convictions and constitutes “a sort of creed that is imposed on others, nullifying in practice the real human right to freedom of belief.”
According to Bishop Aguiar, the concept of “freedom of worship” is very limited and outdated.  “It’s from the 19th century, and therefore we need to update it and change the concept as other countries have done,” he added.

The bishop stressed that while the Church is patient and will “wait for the opportune moment,” “we will continue insisting as long as we have not obtained what we are seeking: religious freedom.”

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Notre Dame awards Laetare Medal to Martin Sheen

South Bend, Ind., Mar 3, 2008 (CNA) - The University of Notre Dame has awarded its Laetare Medal, the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics, to actor and human rights advocate Martin Sheen.  He will be presented the medal at the university’s commencement on May 18.

“As one of our nation’s most recognizable and accomplished screen actors, Martin Sheen has achieved a level of celebrity that few Americans enjoy,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., University president. “He has used that celebrity to draw the attention of his fellow citizens to issues that cry out for redress, such as the plight of immigrant workers and homeless people, the waging of unjust war, the killing of the unborn and capital punishment.  We welcome the opportunity to lift up his example for our Church, our country, and our students.”

Sheen’s legal name is Ramon Gerardo Antonio Estevez.  He adopted his stage name in honor of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, the pioneering Catholic televangelist.

While acting in New York City in the 1950s, Martin Sheen became fascinated by Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement she founded.  He visited and volunteered at Catholic Worker houses on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

He would later play the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, Peter Maurin, in the 1996 film “Entertaining Angels.”

While he has played numerous television and film roles, including an American soldier in the 1979 film “Apocalypse Now” and a journalist in the 1982 film “Ghandi,” Sheen is also well-known for his role in the NBC television series “The West Wing,” where he played an American president who had graduated from Notre Dame.

A press release from the University of Notre Dame announcing the award noted Sheen’s arrests in non-violent demonstrations against various U.S. military policies and his dedication to alleviating poverty and homelessness.  The release said he has also worked to improve the conditions of migrant workers and the environment.

According to the press release, Sheen is “a self-described Catholic peace activist, opponent of abortion and student of Catholic social teaching.” 

Some critics have questioned Sheen’s pro-life credentials.  In 2004 Sheen was listed as a supporter of “March for Women’s Lives,” an abortion-rights event organized by the National Organization for Women, the American Civil Liberties Union, and NARAL.  His name was later removed from the list of supporters.

In an interview with Progressive Magazine, published in July 2003, Sheen outlined his views on abortion:

“I cannot make a choice for a women [sic], particularly a black or brown or poor pregnant woman. I would not make a judgment in the case. As a father and a grandfather, I have had experience with children who don't always come when they are planned, and I have experienced the great joy of God's presence in my children, so I'm inclined to be against abortion of any life. But I am equally against the death penalty or war-- anywhere people are sacrificed for some end justifying a means. I don't think abortion is a good idea. I personally am opposed to abortion, but I will not judge anybody else's right in that regard because I am not a woman and I could never face the actual reality of it.”

The Laetare Medal is named because its recipient is announced each year on the fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday.  “Laetare,” the Latin word for “rejoice,” is the first word in the entrance antiphon of the Mass that Sunday.  The medal bears the Latin inscription, “Magna est veritas et prevalebit,” which in English means “Truth is mighty, and it shall prevail.”

The medal, which was established in 1883, was conceived as an American counterpart to the Golden Rose, a papal honor older than the 11th century.  The Laetare Medal is awarded annually to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”

Past recipients include Dorothy Day, novelist Walker Percy, President John F. Kennedy, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, and death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean.

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Minneapolis parish’s “progressive” liturgies being brought into line

Minneapolis, Minn., Mar 3, 2008 (CNA) - Efforts to return a Minneapolis Catholic church to liturgical standards have prompted dozens of parishioners to protest and leave their parish, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.

The church had held prayer services that changed the “Our Father” to begin “Our Father and Mother.”

Around 100 members of St. Stephen’s Catholic Church planned a march on Saturday morning to protest changes made to bring the parish into conformity with liturgical norms and to mark their change of venue to a locale five blocks away from the parish.

"How can it have been OK for 40 years -- even been encouraged because of the work we do -- and not be OK anymore?" asked parishioner Eileen Smith.  "They should hold us up as a model of service. Instead, they are giving us the boot."

"It's incredibly sad," said Mary Condon Peters, a former parish council member. "All these years, there was room in the big old Catholic tent for all of us. And now there isn't. And they gave us three weeks' notice."

Nick Coleman, writing in the Star Tribune, summarized the past 9 a.m. English-language Sunday prayer service, believed to have begun in 1968.

“You know the kind of service: with guitars, lay people giving homilies, dancing in the aisles with people who have mental and physical disabilities, gay couples openly participating in worship, along with ex-priests, ex-nuns and sundry other spiritual wanderers,” Coleman wrote.

The Archdiocese of Minnesota has tried to bring the parish into conformity with the standards set out in the GIRM, the General Instruction on the Roman Missal.  The parish had made significant changes to some prayers, rewriting the first lines of the Our Father to read “Our Father and Mother, Who Art in heaven.”  Women have filled roles in the prayer services reserved for clergy, and the parish did not use chalices of precious metal but instead used ceramic vessels.

Archdiocesan spokesman Dennis McGrath compared the GIRM to a sport playbook.

"They all have to play with the same playbook," said McGrath. "They've had plenty of warnings to get their act together."

The parish, which has only had part-time clergy, will receive a new pastor next month.  McGrath said the archdiocese wanted to get things “straightened out” before the new pastor arrives.

Archbishop Harry Flynn had met with parish representatives on February 5, instructing them that the 9 a.m. prayer service must end.  About two hundred people attended the final prayer service, held on February 24.

The former parishioners plan to continue their prayer meetings at an address shared with Park House, a historic mansion, which describes itself on its website as “a day health center for people living with HIV/AIDS.”

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