Baghdad, Iraq, Apr 7, 2008 (CNA) - Saturday saw more violence against Christians in Iraq, as an Assyrian Orthodox priest was gunned down outside of his house. Pope Benedict expressed his “profound sorrow” upon hearing of the killing, which is the latest in a string of attacks Christians.
Yesterday 300 mourners gathered in central Baghdad for the funeral of Father Youssed Adel. The crowd, which was led by the slain priest’s wife Lamia, was accompanied by heavy security.
In a telegram, sent via the apostolic nunciature to Iraq to the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Mar Saverius Jamil Hawa, Pope Benedict expressed his deep sadness at the death of Fr. Yousef Adel Abudi and assured “Your Eminence, the priests and the religious of the archdiocese of his closeness in prayer.”
The Pontiff also prayed “that all people will follow the ways of peace in order to build a just and tolerant society in the beloved land of Iraq".
Vatican City, Apr 7, 2008 (CNA) - The bishops from the group of islands in the Caribbean known as the Antilles met with the Holy Father this morning and received from him the challenge to “stand tall as heralds of hope!” and combat the destructive social trends in their country.
Addressing the bishops in English, the Holy Father recalled how "your shores have been battered by negative aspects of the entertainment industry, exploitative tourism and the scourge of the arms and drugs trade; influences which not only undermine family life and unsettle the foundations of traditional cultural values, but tend to affect negatively local politics".
In the face of this situation, Pope Benedict called on the bishops to "stand tall as heralds of hope! Be audacious witnesses to the light of Christ, which gives families direction and purpose, and be bold preachers of the power of the Gospel, which must permeate their way of thinking, standards of judgment, and norms of behavior.”
The Holy Father told the bishops that he is “confident that your lived testimony to God’s extraordinary "yes" to humanity (cf. 2 Cor 1:20) will encourage your peoples to reject destructive social trends and to seek ‘faith in action’, embracing all that begets the new life of Pentecost!
Vocations to the priesthood and religious life were also a topic on concern for the Pope, who highlighted the vital importance of "the tireless promotion of vocations together with the guidance and ongoing formation of priests.” He also encouraged the prelates to support the Saint John Vianney and Ugandan Martyrs Seminary, and noted how "the establishment of a Francophone seminary in the region is a welcome sign of hope".
"Your pastoral concern for the decline in religious vocations exemplifies your deep appreciation of consecrated life. I too appeal to your religious communities, encouraging them to reaffirm their calling with confidence and, guided by the Holy Spirit, to propose afresh to young people the ideal of consecration and mission".
The Pope concluded his remarks in French—a common language in the region—saying that each of the bishops "feels the great responsibility to do everything possible to support marriage and family life, which is the primary source of cohesion in communities and hence of vital importance in the eyes of the government authorities.
Lastly, the Holy Father noted that, “Values rooted in the way of truth presented by Christ illuminate the spirit and heart of young people and encourage them to continue along the path of faithfulness, responsibility and real freedom. Good young Christians make good citizens".
Phoenix, Ariz., Apr 7, 2008 (CNA) - In less than three weeks, 3,000 Catholics returned to the Church in the Diocese of Phoenix due to the effort of a new lay apostolate, CatholicsComeHome.org. The program consists of a website and commercials aired on local television that effectively portray the truth and goodness of the Catholic Church.
In an interview with CNA, Catholics Come Home, Inc. founder and president, Tom Peterson explained that the ads are designed to take people to the website, CatholicsComeHome.org, where they can find answers to questions about Church teachings, and also to put them into contact with their local parish to be led home, back to the Catholic Church.
Prior to founding Catholics Come Home, Peterson worked in advertising until he attended a retreat that completely changed his life. It was then that he knew God was calling him to use his advertising talents for evangelization.
Years later, he was contacted by the Diocese of Phoenix to help start a three-week campaign which was launched last month. In Phoenix, the commercials were aired on all major television networks and also ESPN, Lifetime, FOX News and others.
After the first commercial campaign, not only did the diocese report a marked increase in Mass attendance, but over “31,000 unique visitors came to the website from Phoenix and other US cities plus 60 foreign countries, with questions, to look up Mass times, to read information on marriage issues, to watch testimonies or to order Matthew Kelly’s book, ‘Rediscovering Catholicism.’”
The commercials aired on television are produced by CatholicsComeHome.org. Before airing the ads, two of the clips, “Epic”, and “Movie,” were shown to a focus group that consisted of former and practicing Catholics, non Catholic Christians, as well as those without any faith.
The feedback received from the group was outstanding. Seventy-eight of the 100 participants had positive responses to the ads. In another assessment, the organization found that before watching the videos, 90% of the participants had negative impressions of the Catholic Church. After viewing ads one time, 54% had a much more favorable impression. Hearts and minds were changed after viewing these creative and inspired ads.
The first commercial, “Epic” portrays the history, beauty, and spirituality of the Church that Jesus started 2,000 years ago. Peterson mentioned that “many people don’t realize the history of the Church. They don’t realize that Peter – the Apostle from the Bible – was the first Pope. They don’t realize the vast accomplishments that the Church has made over the centuries.”
“Epic” also effectively represents the universality of the Church. The clip shows a Mexican fiesta, an African Mass, a Tongan baptism, aid workers serving in a Vietnamese jungle, among other scenes.
The reaction to the video has been overwhelmingly positive. Viewers commented, “After seeing ‘Epic’, it made me proud to be Catholic.” Priests have noted that the video made them feel “re-invigorated about their vocation.” The video also has touched former Catholics who have said that the video showed the truth about the Church – “truth that they haven’t seen in decades.”
The second commercial, “Movie” has a different effect. Peterson described the ad as mirroring the Book of Revelation which states that we will give an account of our lives at the end of time.
“Most people are brought to tears when they watch “Movie,” said Peterson. It shows that though Jesus’ divine mercy, “no matter what we’ve done, we can accept the mercy of Jesus who will help us create the perfect ending to each of our lives.”
Not only have people enjoyed the video clips, but they have also succeeded in bringing people back to the Church. One woman, Angela, said that she became an agnostic 20 years ago. After watching the video she commented, “How is it that after seeing the commercial one time, I go to the CatholicsComeHome.org website, look up my local church and go home?”
The commercials encourage people to visit the site which contains information for three groups of people: Those who “used to be Catholic”, those who “are not Catholic” and those who “are practicing Catholics.”
Peterson described the site saying, “The web site provides answers to questions about Church teachings, and why strong faith is important in today’s busy and confusing world. The site also offers an overview of the faith, with additional resources and a local parish finder.”
The website also includes 26 short testimonial videos – stories of why people left the Church and how they began their journey back home. The stories are representative of common reasons that people leave the Church and the unique circumstances and call from God that led them back to the Catholic faith.
CatholicsComeHome.org also has a Spanish site: CatolicosRegresen.org. It is a goal of the organization to launch its ministry worldwide once the commercials are perfected and aired heavily on national TV networks here in the United States first.
While CatholicsComeHome.org is still searching for further funding and quality advisors, the organization is hoping to take the information learned in the focus groups and initial airings, and bring the commercials to other dioceses next year.
When asked where these commercials will be broadcast, Peterson stated, “On main network programs like during American Idol, the evening news, and even the Super Bowl. Imagine if we can do it, how our culture would change for the better and God would be glorified.”
For more information, and to support this non-profit charity, please visit CatholicsComeHome.org.
Rome, Italy, Apr 7, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, said in Rome last week that Benedict XVI would like to visit Mexico in January of 2009 to preside at the World Meeting of Families, but that the trip would depend on his schedule.
“We are optimistic and hopeful, we want him to come, the Pope wants to go but I do not know what commitments he has on those dates. I hope the Holy Father decides to make the trip,” Cardinal Rivera told Notimex news agency.
The cardinal also revealed some details about the event that will take place in Mexico City, including a theological congress January 13-16, a festival and a Mass at the Estadio Azteca on January 17. “If the Holy Father attends, things change, if he cannot for some reason the venues will be smaller,” he said.
The final Mass may be held at the Alameda Poniente in the Mexican capital in an area that could hold up to two million. The second alternative would be to celebrate the Mass at a sports complex in Iztapalaba with a capacity for one million. The third alternative is the plaza outside the Basilica of Guadalupe, which has a capacity for 140,000.
Vatican City, Apr 7, 2008 (CNA) - On Saturday, the Holy Father received 300 participants in an international congress entitled: "Oil on the wounds. A response to the blight of abortion and divorce". In his address of the two topics, he stated that though abortion and divorce are separate decisions, they both “leave wounds that mark life indelibly.”
At the event, which was promoted by the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in collaboration with the Knights of Columbus, Pope Benedict stated that the effects of individualism and hedonism have left the world without adequate social support. This leads people to make, “decisions that contrast with the indissolubility of the conjugal bond and with the respect due to human life freshly conceived and still guarded in the maternal womb."
The Pope continued by explaining the impact of divorce and abortion on the human person. “The Church's ethical judgment concerning abortion and divorce is clear and well-known to everyone: they are grave sins which - in various ways and with due evaluation of subjective responsibilities - injure the dignity of the human person, involve a profound injustice in human and social relationships, and offend God Himself, the guarantor of the marital bond and the architect of life."
Those who have struggled with divorce or abortion are still loved by the Church, the Pope explained. “The Church has the primary duty to approach these people with love and delicacy, with kindness and maternal concern, in order to announce the merciful closeness of God and Jesus Christ. ... Yes, the gospel of love and of life is also always the gospel of mercy" and, "on the basis of this mercy, the Church cultivates an indomitable faith in mankind and its capacity for recovery.”
The Church realizes that “with the help of grace, human freedom is capable of the definitive and faithful giving of self which makes it possible for the marriage of a man and a woman to be an indissoluble bond," just as she knows that "human freedom, even in the most difficult circumstances, is capable of extraordinary gestures of sacrifice and solidarity to accept the life of a new human being."
The Pope added that often the actions that the Church prohibits—divorce and abortion—are also the things on which the public often fixes its attention as negative, but they “are in fact so many 'yeses' to the dignity of human beings, their lives and their capacity to love."
The Holy Father emphasized the impacts of divorce and abortion on society. Speaking first about the consequences of divorce, he emphasized its negative impact on children. Pastors and parishes should concentrate on ensuring "that children do not become the innocent victims of conflicts between divorcing parents,” the Pope recommended.
Speaking of the effects of abortion, Benedict XVI stated, "How much selfish complicity often lies at the roots of a difficult decision that so many women have had to face alone and of which they still have the open wound in their soul!" Then, quoting John Paul II in his Encyclical "Evangelium vitae", he continued, "Do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. ... The Father of mercies is ready to give you His forgiveness and His peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation."
In conclusion, Benedict XVI expressed his appreciation for those working with “social and pastoral initiatives which seek the reconciliation and cure of people affected by the drama of abortion and divorce". These programs are, "essential elements in building the civilization of love of which humanity today has more need than ever.”
Mexico City, Mexico, Apr 7, 2008 (CNA) - The president of the National Pro-life Committee in Mexico, Jorge Serrano Limon, said he has confirmed that eight women have died from botched legal abortions in Mexico City since the practice was legalized last year. City officials, on the other hand, have said only one woman has died from abortion related complications.
Speaking to Notimex, Serrano Limon said, “We have the information, the dates and the names of the hospitals where they died. Authorities have only acknowledged the death of an underage girl at the Balbuena Hospital,” he stated.
The Pro-Life Committee and three other civil organizations have requested permission to participate in the public hearings on the legalization of abortion.
“We hope the justices will act in accord with the Constitution. We call on them not to issue rulings that are ideological or partisan in any way and to realize that life is the most important right,” Serrano Limon continued.
Since abortion was legalized in Mexico City during April 2007, 6,400 children have been aborted. According to the Pro-Life Committee, some 22 women have suffered severe injury.
Hamburg, Germany, Apr 7, 2008 (CNA) - The former Minister of Justice of Hamburg (Germany), Roger Kusch, recently unveiled a “suicide machine” to allow the terminally ill to end their lives if they wish.
According to the German television network Deutsche Welle, on March 28 Kusch presented his new “invention” to journalists and explained that the “machine is ready for use.” He explained that now the terminally ill in Germany do not have to travel to Switzerland where assisted suicide is legal.
“It’s the best method for those who desire death,” he later told CNN. The machine consists of an IV that sends anesthetic into the body through one tube and a lethal dose of potassium chloride through another. The only thing a doctor has to do is insert the needles into the patient, a procedure which by itself does not violate any German law. The patient would then press a button to begin administration of the drugs.
Kusch said the death process would last around four minutes.
Auxiliary Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke of Hamburg told the KNA news agency that the machine is an “instrument of torture” and a “macabre game with death, disguised with noble words of compassion and questionable legal tricks.”
Frank Ulrich, vice president of the German Medical Association, warned in statements to the DPA news agency that “we do not need a killing machine but rather care for the terminally ill and palliative medicine that alleviates patients’ pain and fear of the end of their lives.”
“This is an attack on the spirit of our ethics, the spirit of our ethical tradition, the spirit of the Christian image about the human being and against the spirit of our laws,” said Wolfgang Huber, the director of the German Lutheran Church.
Vatican City, Apr 7, 2008 (CNA) - Addressing the Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, explained over the weekend that in a society characterized by hedonism and superficiality, the role of grandparents is key in the passing on of the faith to the new generations.
During his speech on the conference's theme of “Grandparents: their witness and presence in the family,” the cardinal said that in a society in which ethical values “are more and more superficial and are dominated by the prevailing hedonism,” the role of grandparents as “authentic networks of passing on the faith to the new generations” is important.
Cardinal Bertone expressed his concern for the tendency of families “to break apart as the spouses approach an older age,” a phase in which they need “reciprocal love and understanding.”
He also emphasized “the comforting strength and sure moral support” of grandparents, saying they “pass on perennial values to the new generations.”
“The elderly remind us that life on earth is a parable with a beginning, an unfolding and an end, and in order to find the fullness of life, it must not have short-lived values as a reference,” the cardinal stated.
, Apr 7, 2008 (CNA) - A display at the Cathedral Museum in Vienna, Austria that features obscene depictions of the apostles and demeaning portrayals of Christ has provoked anger and calls for the exhibit to close, Reuters reports.
The Cathedral Museum of Vienna had put on a retrospective exhibition honoring the 80-year-old artist Alfred Hrdlicka. One of the pictures contained what Hrdlicka described as a “homosexual orgy” involving the apostles at the Last Supper. Another artwork depicting the Crucifixion shows a soldier simultaneously beating Christ and holding his genitals.
Within a week, the Church removed the picture of the apostles from the museum, following the orders of the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn.
“"This has nothing to do with censorship, rather [it] corresponds with the understood ‘reverence for the sacred’," the cardinal's spokesman said in a statement.
"It is also an act of respect towards those believers who feel this portrayal offended and provoked them in their deepest religious sensitivity," the spokesman continued.
A blank wall from which the painting was removed now marks the entrance to the display.
Curator Martina Judt said the museum chose to show that controversial works inspired by religious imagery can be discussed without taboo.
“People have said the Catholic Church has become a lot more liberal," she said. "But in the end, the reactions show this perhaps isn't the case.”
Bernhard Boehler, the museum’s director, defended Hrdlicka, saying, "We think Hrdlicka is entitled to represent people in this carnal, drastic way.”
“I don't see any blasphemy here," Boehler said, speaking of the crucifixion scene where a Roman soldier beats Christ and holds his genitals. "People can imagine what they want to."
The exhibit’s most disputed work, “Leonardo's Last Supper, restored by Pier Paolo Pasolini,” displayed the apostles sexually abusing each other. Hrdlicka said he presented the apostles in that manner because there are no women in the Leonardo da Vinci painting which inspired it.
Hrdlicka, a communist and atheist, has said the Bible is the most thrilling book he has ever read and that religious imagery forms a central core to his work. He said the Last Supper piece was not intended as an attack on the Catholic Church.
"There was such a reaction to its physicality. For me it was quite surprising the museum wanted to show the piece in the first place," Hrdlicka told Reuters.
"If the Cathedral Museum is having problems now, it's not really my affair, it's for the Cathedral Museum to deal with.”
Both Boehler and Hrdlicka compared the controversy to the one that resulted from Danish cartoons showing unfavorable depictions of Mohammed.
Boehler said the reaction also reminded him of the response to Mel Gibson’s 2004 film, “The Passion of the Christ.”
“The Crucifixion was brutal and it would be a lie to say everything in our world is nice," he said.
Valladolid, Spain, Apr 7, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop Braulio Rodriguez of Valladolid has denounced the progressive scorn for human life in the West, the existence of a “eugenic society” and movements that push for legal reform in order to legalize abortion.
In his latest weekly pastoral letter, the archbishop said “We have grown accustomed to abortion. It no longer seems strange and no longer scandalizes many people.”
Calling it a problem that “not only affects Catholics,” he criticized the “truly hypocritical face” of a society with high numbers of abortion while “thousands of couples have to go through long and arduous adoption processes.”
The archbishop warned that a society that scorns “the human dignity of the weakest” ends up becoming a “eugenic society in which, for example, children with Down’s syndrome are not permitted” and in which large families are considered “obsolete, outdated and subject to a religious imposition that cannot be tolerated.”
St. Louis, Mo., Apr 7, 2008 (CNA) - An accomplished musician and authority on the Church’s musical heritage will move to St. Louis, Missouri to head the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ new Institute of Sacred Worship, the St. Louis Review reports.
On Friday Archbishop of St. Louis Raymond L. Burke announced that Father Samuel A. Weber, OSB, is being appointed as the first director of the institute.
The new sacred music office will, with Father Webb’s help, offer parish music directors and choirs several educational programs, including courses covering: Gregorian Chant; singing the Mass in English, especially the Entrance Antiphon, the Responsorial Psalm, and the Communion Antiphon; the Liturgy of the Hours; and the full implementation of the English translation of the Roman Missal.
Father Weber will also offer instruction to seminarians.
Father Weber is a professor at Wake Forest University in North Carolina and a monk at St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana. An accomplished organist and Church music composer, he earned a degree in sacred theology from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm in Rome. He also earned a master of arts in classical languages from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Archbishop Burke said he established the new sacred music office after talks with people within the diocese who were involved in the music sung at Mass.
"The concern does not come from a negative judgment on the music presently used for sacred worship but from the sense of the Church’s perennial, that is, constant, responsibility to make the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy as worthy and beautiful as possible," the archbishop said. "Given that sacred worship is the highest expression of our life in the Church, the desire is to offer every possible help for the most worthy and most beautiful possible celebration of the Sacred Liturgy."
Father Weber told the St. Louis Review that he has been working on resources “to enable all to participate fully in the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours.” Father Weber played a part in producing the Mundelein Psalter, which he called “a resource that allows for simple and immediate participation in the Liturgy of the Hours in parishes.” He said that families had found the Psalter helpful in family prayer.
Father William McCumber, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Worship, welcomed the news.
"It’s going to be a great boost for the archdiocese to have the institute under the direction of Father Weber, a very talented man and a holy priest," Father McCumber said.