Archive of March 5, 2008

Muslim delegation meets with Vatican to prepare interfaith conference

Vatican City, Mar 5, 2008 (CNA) - A delegation of Muslim leaders met with Vatican officials on Thursday to organize a summit for interfaith dialogue later this year, ANSA reports.

Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, is hosting the two-day organizing conference with a delegation of Muslims from the UK, Jordan, Italy, and Turkey representing a larger group of high-profile Sunni and Shiite leaders from around the globe.

The meeting is the result of an open letter 138 Islamic leaders sent last October to Pope Benedict XVI and 26 other Christian leaders.  The letter, “A Common Word Between Us and You,” was the first time so many high-profile Muslim leaders together had called for peace. 

The letter noted similarities between Christianity and Islam, noting both believed in only one God.  It said both religions are founded on “goodwill, not violence.”  The number of high-profile Muslim leaders adhering to the principles of the letter has increased to 216 and includes the religious heads of 43 countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Sergio Yahya Pallavicini, a delegation member and President of the Italian Islamic Religious Community, said the planned conference aimed to discuss “a series of common initiatives between the two religions in defense of life, against the processes of secularization, and for the education of new generations.” 

According to ANSA, Pallavicini said Muslim leaders hoped to create “something similar to what the Vatican represents for the Catholic world,” a religious coordination that would provide a credible voice for Islam in meetings with the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Churches.

Pope Benedict has made interreligious dialogue a priority of his pontificate.  He re-established the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue in 2007, after having merged it with the Pontifical Council for Culture at the start of his papacy.

The October 2007 letter from Muslim scholars proposed love of God and love of neighbor as subjects for inter-religious dialogue.   However, Pope Benedict has tried to center the dialogue on the topics of human dignity and religious freedom.

In a November 2007 reply to the letter, Pope Benedict wrote that the path to true dialogue lies in “effective respect for the dignity of every human person, on objective knowledge of the religion of the other, on the sharing of religious experience and, finally, on common commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance among the younger generation.”

Over the next two days, the Muslim delegation and Church representatives plan to set a date, a venue, and a list of participants for the interfaith summit, which they hope will be attended by Pope Benedict and a large number of prominent Muslim leaders.

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Bishop calls receiving Communion on the tongue more reverent

CNA STAFF, Mar 5, 2008 (CNA) - Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of Kazakhstan, in a new interview has expanded his advocacy of reverence at Mass and receiving Holy Communion on the tongue.

The Vatican Editing House recently released Bishop Schneider’s book "Dominus Est:  Meditations of a Bishop from Central Asia on the Sacred Eucharist."  The book contains a foreword by Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith, the Vatican’s Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments.

In a video interview conducted by, Bishop Schneider said that his book aims to "strengthen the consciousness" of the holiness of Mass among the clergy and laity. 

The archbishop said that contemporary celebrations of Mass were "so superficial," lacking "due concentration" and "visible, external signs of reverence."

"We are composed of body and soul," Bishop Schneider said.  "We have to worship and to adore Christ in this moment also with our body.  There is a mutual influence between the exterior sign and the interior disposition.

“Therefore, here is not a question of some 'right,' but here is a question of-- we are dealing with the Lord Himself, and therefore we cannot be silent, especially I as bishop, and say 'OK, it's all OK.'  It's not all OK.  When we love our Lord, we have to strengthen this moment in order that it become more sacred in order to educate the exterior sign of adoration, which is also an education of faith."

He referred to the common formal gestures used to greet a president, a king, or a queen, saying comparable respect for the King of Kings was necessary.

"It is not a question of ritualism,” he said, “but a question of faith and love for Our Lord, Jesus Christ."

The archbishop responded to one objection to receiving Holy Communion in the hand, which claims that because one sins more with the tongue than with the hand, the hand is more fitting to receive the Sacrament.  He dismissed the argument, by saying that, "In any case, Holy Communion comes on the tongue."

In the interview, Bishop Schneider also addressed the history of the reception of Holy Communion and the question of whether contemporary abuses, such as receiving Holy Communion while chewing gum, can be corrected.

You can watch the interview here:

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Earthquake aftermath in the Democratic Republic of Congo “still critical”

Konigstein, Germany, Mar 5, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop Francois-Xavier Maroy Rusengo has told the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that the Democratic Republic of Congo is still suffering in the aftermath of last month’s severe earthquakes.  Archbishop Maroy, of the Archdiocese of Bukavu, has appealed to “all people of goodwill” to aid earthquake victims.

A series of earthquakes struck the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the western region of Rwanda between February 3 and 5.  Measuring between 5 and 6 on the Richter scale, they have killed dozens and injured hundreds.  The aftershocks are still occurring.

Archbishop Maroy said the situation was “still critical.”  He told Aid to the Church in Need that many people are still sleeping out in the open because of the continuing aftershocks.  Some are “paralyzed” by a “psychosis” and a “climate of permanent insecurity,” being incapable of productivity.

Archbishop Maroy said many houses have collapsed.  Schools, churches, hospitals, health centers, religious houses, and educational establishments have also been severely damaged.  The estimated damage to Church properties and buildings runs into 7 million Euros, about $10.5 million USD.

Father Bunyakiri Mukengere Crispin, the rector of the seminary in Murhesa, said that the seminary has been damaged and his students traumatized.  He said they nonetheless have decided to continue their exams, spontaneously gathering on the soccer field to continue their studies.  The rector appealed for help to rebuild his seminary.

Father Felicien Nsabimana, a parish priest in Nkanga, told ACN that his parish church was split in half by the earthquake, and one of the halves collapsed.  He now celebrates Mass in the open.  Almost all the dwellings in his area have also collapsed, with the people still in a state of panic.

ACN’s Africa specialist, Christine Du Coudray, said the conflict-plagued region has once again “suffered the severest of trials.”  She also observed that the earthquake disaster and its aftermath have passed almost unnoticed in the media.  As soon as the aftershocks end, it will be necessary to consult with Archbishop Maroy and the Bishop of Cyangugu in Rwanda to decide on the most urgent areas of action. 

"But most important of all, we must not forget the people in the region and must also support them with our prayers," she said.

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St. Leo the Great was one of the greatest Popes in history, says Benedict XVI

Vatican City, Mar 5, 2008 (CNA) - Pope St. Leo the Great was the latest Church Father that Pope Benedict XVI focused on as he held his weekly general audience on Wednesday. Leo the Great, according to Pope Benedict, was one of the greatest pontiffs of all time because of his work as a pastor and his strength during difficulty.    

Before beginning his audience with the 6,000 pilgrims gathered in Paul VI Halla, the Holy Father briefly visited with the pilgrims in St. Peter’s Basilica.

As he began his talk on St. Leo the Great, Pope Benedict reflected on the fact that he is referred to as “the Great,” a title which is rarely given and only done so by the popular acclaim of the people.

Pope St. Leo “was one of the greatest incumbents of the See of Rome, the authority and prestige of which he strengthened. He is also the earliest Pope whose sermons have come down to us, sermons he would address to the people who gathered around him during celebrations", the Holy Father explained.

"It is natural we should think of him also in the context of these Wednesday general audiences, which have over recent decades become a customary way for the Bishop of Rome to meet with the faithful and with many visitors from all over the world," said Benedict XVI.

St. Leo the Great, who was elected as Pope in the year 440, was not a stranger to adversity, Benedict pointed out.

His pontificate lasted more than two decades and included “difficult times” during which "repeated barbarian invasions, the progressive weakening of imperial authority in the West and a lengthy social crisis forced the Bishop of Rome ... to take on an important role also in civil and political affairs", said Pope Benedict.

“For example, in 452 Leo the Great met with Attila the Hun in Mantua to dissuade him from continuing the invasion which had devastated parts of northern Italy. In 455 he similarly sought to dissuade Genseric the Vandal and, though he did not prevent him invading and sacking Rome, he did convince him not to raze the city and to respect the basilicas of St. Peter's, St. John Lateran and St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls, where part of the population had taken refuge,” the Holy Father recalled.

St. Leo the Great’s letters and sermons also provide us a window into his work as a theologian and pastor, the Pope said. He was “Constantly concerned for his faithful and for the people of Rome, but also for communion between the various Churches and for their needs, he tirelessly supported and promoted Roman primacy".

The Holy Father explained how during Leo's pontificate the Council of Chalcedon took place, "the most important assembly in the history of the Church up to that time", which "affirmed the union in the one Person, without confusion and without separation, of the two natures, human and divine".

"It is clear", Benedict XVI went on, "that this Pope felt particularly acutely his responsibility as Peter's Successor, whose role in the Church is unique because 'just one Apostle is entrusted with what is communicated to all the Apostles'".

Leo the Great was also an advocate of the unity of the Churches of the East and West, said Pope Benedict. He "showed himself capable of exercising this responsibility in both West and East, intervening prudently, firmly and coherently in various circumstances, both through his writings and by his legates. Thus he showed how the exercise of Roman primacy was necessary then, as it is now, as an effective service to communion, which is a characteristic of the one Church of Christ.

"Conscious of the historical moment in which he lived and of the move that was taking place - in a period of profound crisis - from a pagan to a Christian Rome, Leo the Great remained close to the people and to the faithful with pastoral activity and prayer". He also "related the liturgy to the daily life of Christians", showing how "Christian liturgy is not a recollection of past events but the realization of invisible truths that act upon the life of each individual".


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Catholic-Muslim dialogue takes step forward as dates are set

Vatican City, Mar 5, 2008 (CNA) - Members of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue met with Muslim leaders March 4 and 5 to establish a 'Catholic-Muslim Forum'.  The forum’s first seminar will be held in Rome, November 4-6, 2008 and is designed to respond to calls for dialogue between Catholics and Muslims.

The meeting, which ended today, was a result of the open letter “A Common Word” signed by 138 Islamic leaders in October 2007.  The letter points out similarities between Islam and Catholicism such as the belief in one God and being founded on “goodwill, not violence.”

Pope Benedict responded to the letter in November 2007 by stressing that the path to true dialogue lies in “effective respect for the dignity of every human person, on objective knowledge of the religion of the other, on the sharing of religious experience and, finally, on common commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance among the younger generation.”

Vatican analyst Sandro Magister sees Pope Benedict’s response, which differed from the original proposal of the 138 Muslim leaders, as “asking Islam to make the same journey that the Catholic Church made under pressure from the Enlightenment. Love of God and neighbor must be realized in the full acceptance of religious freedom”.

The seminar, entitled “Love of God, Love of Neighbor”, will be attended by 24 religious leaders and scholars from each religion. Other topics emphasized will include "Theological and Spiritual Foundations" and "Human Dignity and Mutual Respect".  The seminar will conclude with a public session on November 6 and the participants will be granted an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

The Catholic participants in the March 4 and 5 meeting were: Cardinal Tauran, Archbishop Pier Luigi Celata and Msgr. Khaled Akasheh, respectively president, secretary and head officer for Islam of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue; Fr. Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot M.C.C.J., president of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies; and Fr. Christian W. Troll S.J., visiting professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

On the Muslim side, the meeting was attended by Sheikh Murad, president of the Muslim Academic Trust, UK; Professor Aref Ali Nayed director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, Amman, Jordan; Dr. Ibrahim Kalin of the SETA Foundation, Ankara, Turkey; Imam Yahya Pallavicini, vice-president of CO.RE.IS. (Comunità Religiosa Islamica), Italy; and Sohail Nakhooda, editor- in-chief of "Islamica" magazine, Amman, Jordan.

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Bishops of Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador to hold “emergency meeting”

Caracas, Venezuela, Mar 5, 2008 (CNA) - The newspaper El Diario Catolico of Venezuela is reporting that representatives of the bishops’ conferences of Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador will hold an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis facing the three countries.

The paper quotes Archbishop Roberto Luckert, vice president of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference, who said the meeting would take place in Bogota.

He said the bishops would issue a statement reiterating that “everyone loses in war; only with peace does everyone win.”

The archbishop said Venezuela is not a hostile country.  “We are sister nations and war does not characterize us,” he insisted, reiterating his call for calm and for mediation and dialogue.

At the meeting the bishops intend to forge a joint position in response to the crisis between “sister countries that have not had this kind of confrontation.  We have never had problems with our neighbors.”

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Leading a “double life” is source of crisis in the world, says Peruvian cardinal

Lima, Peru, Mar 5, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne, said this week the world is in crisis because “there is no interior life, just simple appearance.  We are not sincere, we live a double life, we say sorry but we do not forgive, we talk a lot but we don’t act.”

During Mass for the fourth Sunday of Lent, the cardinal said, “The dark clouds of a dark conscience hide what we do wrong and many times, lying is the main problem of our own spiritual blindness.”

Therefore, we should “go to confession, ask for forgiveness and act with works, so that it in our interior life it can be seen that we are disciples of Jesus,” the cardinal stressed.

“If we want to follow Christ, let us begin by having the same sentiments as Jesus,” he continued.  “Let us contemplate Christ in our own souls,” and be “sincere with Him and recognize our sins” without fear, since “God only wants to help us.”

“Let us also not be accomplices with our consciences in hiding the truth of our own life because, sooner or later, it will lead to our spiritual death,” he emphasized.

Lastly, Cardinal Cipriani prayed that the Virgin Mary would “help us to awaken our consciences to repentance, sincerity and humility,” in order to recognize our failings and be more converted during this Lenten season.

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Brazilian bishops denounce deception of false Catholics who promote abortion

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Mar 5, 2008 (CNA) - The National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (NCBB) has issued a statement clarifying that the self-proclaimed group “Catholics for a Free Choice,” “is not a Catholic organization and does not speak for the Catholic Church.”

The bishops said they have received numerous inquiries about the group and their statements that contradict Catholic teachings and morals.

“This is a feminist entity established in Brazil in 1993 and that acts in conjunction with various partners in Brazil and the world, in particular with its North American counterpart ‘Catholics for a Free Choice.’  The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has already issued several statements stressing that the group publicly defends abortion and distorts the Catholic teaching on the respect and protection due to the life of the defenseless unborn.   The group goes against many teachings of the Magisterium of the Church.”

Last January, the newspaper Gazeta do Povo denounced the production company Verbo Filmes for a DVD that was supposed to be pro-life but ended up featuring statements by women from the organization, who took advantage of the opportunity to criticize the Church for defending the unborn.
The DVDs were removed from distribution by order of the NCBB and Catholic leaders demanded the bishops issue a formal pronouncement about the incident.

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Christians in Middle East pray for release of kidnapped Iraqi archbishop

Mosul, Iraq, Mar 5, 2008 (CNA) - The Christian communities in Iraq have launched a prayer campaign for the release of Catholic Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul, who was kidnapped by a group of armed men on February 29.

Fides news agency reported that after the call by Pope Benedict XVI and international institutions such as the European Union to release the prelate, Iraqi Christians of diverse rites and confessions asked the faithful of the world to join in prayer for his release.
Pray that “the bishop will be released, that he may feel the closeness of Jesus Christ in these moments of suffering and uncertainty, and that his family may feel the presence of God in this time of trial,” organizers of the prayer campaign said.

They also urged “all the believers of Mosul to continue being faithful witnesses of the Risen Savior” and to pray “that the captors might be touched by the love of God” and free Archbishop Faraj, who is in delicate health and in need of medicine.

Organizers also ask that “all the leaders of Christian churches” to “continue being guided by the Holy Spirit, and to ensure the local population continues to receive liturgical, pastoral and charitable care.”

Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk said the situation in Mosul is “very painful and fear is spreading.”  However, he went on, “we are hoping and working with other groups to save the archbishop.”  The “mayor of Mosul, the Council of Imams and other groups have begun to work for his liberation,” Archbishop Sako said.

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Sikhs won’t give up daggers for U.S. meeting with Pope

Washington D.C., Mar 5, 2008 (CNA) - Sikh leaders have been excluded from an upcoming interfaith meeting with Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the United States because their ceremonial daggers were forbidden by the Secret Service, the Washington Times reports.

The April 17 meeting is scheduled to take place at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center near Catholic University in Washington.  The meeting originally included Sikhs along with Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist guests.  A list released on Tuesday by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops substituted followers of another India-based religion, the Jains, in place of the Sikhs.

Ten to 15 Sikhs were to attend the papal meeting.  Most of them were veterans of a Catholic-Sikh dialogue begun in 2006.

Sikh leaders say that the Secret Service had forbidden them to wear the “kirpan,” a dagger that all Sikhs are required to wear.  Sikhs have compared its importance to their faith with the Orthodox Jewish requirement that men wear a yarmulke.

Anahat Kaur, secretary general of the World Sikh Council, America Region, said that Pope John Paul II met with kirpan-bearing Sikhs at the Vatican in January 2002. 

"We were pretty disappointed," Kaur said, speaking about the prohibition of the kirpan. "At an event meant to promote understanding between faiths, we would have had to renounce a fundamental tenet of our faith to attend.”

Kaur said that the Secret Service had the opportunity to investigate the guests and evaluate their safety.  “We thought that would be enough,” she said.

"We have to respect the sanctity of the kirpan, especially in such inter-religious gatherings,” Kaur said in a separate press release. “We cannot undermine the rights and freedoms of religion in the name of security.”

Eric Zahren, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said that no weapon could be allowed within striking distance of a head of state.

"We have every respect for it as a religious artifact," Zahren said, according to the Washington Times, "but it's by definition a weapon even though that is not the intended use. And we have to answer for the security of the Holy Father while he is here."

Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the conference feels "bad about this" but that the groups involved "came to an impasse."

According to Kaur, kirpans are only used in self-defense as a last resort.  In 2004 a Sikh leader was refused admittance to the White House when he refused to give up his kirpan.  In 2006, Sikh representatives were also refused entrance to the European Union parliament in Brussels.

There are about 20 million Sikhs worldwide, making Sikhism the world’s fifth largest religion.  There are about 250,000 Sikhs in the United States.

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Wisconsin considers bill to force pharmacists to supply abortifacients

, Mar 5, 2008 (CNA) - A Wisconsin bill that would compel all pharmacists to provide abortifacient contraceptive drugs in spite of their moral and professional objections was recently the subject of a public hearing in the state senate.

A public hearing was scheduled for Wednesday to discuss Senate Bill 232, called the “Birth Control Protection Act.”  It would force all pharmacists, regardless of their beliefs, to dispense the morning-after pill and other FDA-approved abortifacient contraceptive drugs.  The legislation would also redefine the statutory definition of abortion to exclude all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices.

Violators of the law would be subject to various penalties, including the revocation of their license.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin endorsed the bill in a statement praising the bill’s sponsors, Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson and State Representative Christine Snicki, both Democrats.

The statement said, “With the Republican controlled Assembly recklessly endangering women's health in its latest budget, this bill is more important than ever. This legislation recognizes that Wisconsinites strongly support better access to birth control, even though some in the state Assembly are clearly out of touch with these widely held beliefs.”
Several pro-life leaders have objected to the bill.
"This bill is not about access to birth control at all," said Peggy Hamill, state director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, which strongly opposes the bill. "Birth control is everywhere – even the morning-after pill is now accessible over the counter for those aged 18 and over. What this bill is really about is forcing pro-life pharmacists to cast aside any moral or medical qualms about birth control and do the bidding of the birth control industry."

"Excluding the morning-after pill and other abortion-causing birth control drugs from the legal definition of abortion does not change the fact that they can and do cause early chemical abortions," said Hamill. "Simply wishing something to be true does not make it so."

Some have argued that the law would contradict the right to free exercise of religion guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The Wisconsin Constitution also protects conscientious objectors, saying "any control of, or interference with, the rights of conscience" shall not be permitted.

"Respect for individual conscience rights is a bedrock American principle," said Matt Sande, Pro-Life Wisconsin's legislative director. "We don't force people to take up arms who conscientiously oppose war. Why then would we force pharmacists to participate in the killing of pre-born children? Whether or not legislators agree or disagree with specific moral objections, their sworn oaths to the state and federal constitutions command them to respect and protect them. They can't pick and choose which conscience rights to protect or reject."

Those objecting to dispensing abortifacient drugs are presently accommodated by their employers so that customers can access the drugs from other pharmacists on staff or from nearby pharmacies.

"Senate Bill 232 would completely abrogate any and all good-faith accommodations between pharmacists of conscience and their employers," argued Sande. "Pharmacists, like doctors and nurses, are valued members of the professional health care team who should not be forced to choose between their consciences and their livelihoods. No pharmacist should have to daily check his or her conscience at the door.”

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