Archive of April 11, 2008

Polish bishops seek return of John Paul II’s heart to Poland

Rome, Italy, Apr 11, 2008 (CNA) - Polish bishops are trying to have Pope John Paul II’s heart extracted and moved to the Polish cathedral where the Pope served as cardinal, AKI News reports.

Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, speaking to the Polish Catholic news agency KAI, said that many Poles wanted the exhumed heart to be sent as a relic to the Wawel Cathedral in Krakow. 

Since his death in 2005, Pope John Paul II’s burial site in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica has been venerated by thousands daily.

Pope Benedict XVI, the present Pontiff, has waived the ordinary five-year waiting period required before investigations begin into Pope John Paul’s cause for beatification.

At a Mass last week commemorating the death of his predecessor, Pope Benedict praised John Paul II’s “many human and supernatural qualities,” including “an exceptional spiritual and mystical sensibility.”

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Pope to pray terrorists “turn to the way of love” in Ground Zero visit

Vatican City, Apr 11, 2008 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI will pray for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and for the conversion of “those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred” during his visit to Ground Zero, according to prayers released by the Vatican.

The Pope will visit Ground Zero on April 20, the last day of his six-day visit to the United States.  During his time at the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Pope will pray the following prayer for the nearly 3,000 people who died.

"O God of love, compassion, and healing, look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions, who gather today at this site, the scene of incredible violence and pain.

"We ask you in your goodness to give eternal light and peace to all who died here -- the heroic first-responders: our fire fighters, police officers, emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel, along with all the innocent men and women who were victims of this tragedy simply because their work or service brought them here on September 11, 2001.”

"We ask you, in your compassion to bring healing to those who, because of their presence here that day, suffer from injuries and illness.”

"Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy. Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope. We are mindful as well of those who suffered death, injury, and loss on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.”

"Our hearts are one with theirs as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering. God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world: peace in the hearts of all men and women and peace among the nations of the earth.”

"Turn to your way of love those whose hearts and minds are consumed with hatred. God of understanding, overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, we seek your light and guidance as we confront such terrible events.”

"Grant that those whose lives were spared may live so that the lives lost here may not have been lost in vain. Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope, and give us the wisdom and courage to work tirelessly for a world where true peace and love reign among nations and in the hearts of all."

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Air Force Academy cuts “anti-Catholic” film clips from religion seminar

Colorado Springs, Colo., Apr 11, 2008 (CNA) - A seminar at the Air Force Academy that had been organized to discuss religion and war removed several movie clips from its presentation after receiving complaints that the clips were anti-Catholic, the Colorado Springs Gazette reports.

A Wednesday seminar on war and religion planned to show clips from “Constantine’s Sword,” a documentary based on a book by James Carroll.

Among the complainants was the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.  Catholic League President Bill Donohue in an April 8 press release called Carroll, a columnist for the Boston Globe, an “embittered ex-priest.” Donohue claimed the book on which the movie was based had been “widely discredited.”

According to The Gazette, Donohue called the documentary "a propaganda film that trashes Catholicism."

The event’s sponsors at the Air Force Academy decided at the last minute against using clips from the film.  The seminar, titled “USA’s War on Terror:  Not a Battle Between Christianity and Islam,” was delayed 25 minutes as organizers debated whether to show the clips.  Some of the clips reportedly included scenes describing alleged religious discrimination at the academy between 2003 and 2005.

The event had been organized to counter charges of bias from Muslims and others who believed a February seminar presented by former terrorists characterized Islam as a dangerous religion.

Wednesday’s speakers argued that the U.S. military’s alleged embrace of Christianity makes Muslims think the Iraq war is about converting Muslims to Christianity.  Panelists showed a five-minute film compilation of news stories alleging religious discrimination against non-Christians.  Photos showed military personnel holding Bibles and military leaders using terms like “holy war” and “crusade” when talking about the Iraq war.

The panelists were former U.S. ambassador Joseph Wilson, Islamic scholar Reza Aslan, and Air Force Academy graduate Mikey Weinstein.  Weinstein sued the Air Force in 2005, alleging the Air Force encouraged evangelical Christians’ proselytizing of cadets.  The case was dismissed before going to trial.

In an April 10 statement, Bill Donohue said he was “delighted” the academy “made the right decision.”

“The film is based on an anti-Catholic book written by an angry ex-priest who has no credentials in the subject area,” he said.

Donohue said that he had discussed the issue with the academy’s superintendent, Lt. Gen. John F. Regni, and considered the matter “closed.”

“We know there have been accusations of religious bias on the campus, and if that is true, it needs to be rooted out,” Donohue said.  “What can never be tolerated is to slam one religion while purportedly addressing religious intolerance expressed toward another religion.”

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Archdiocese of New Orleans to close more parishes in Katrina aftermath

New Orleans, La., Apr 11, 2008 (CNA) - Calling it a “pivotal moment in the history of the archdiocese,” Archbishop of New Orleans Alfred C. Hughes announced on Wednesday a major reorganization of the archdiocese that will position to Church to improve despite a shortage of priests and a Catholic population diminished by Hurricane Katrina.

Seventeen of the parish communities, which were damaged by Katrina will be shut down while others in undamaged areas will also be closed or merged. This will result in a reduction of the number of parishes in the archdiocese from the pre-Katrina count of 141 to only 108, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports.

Some of the churches to be closed are historic, such as the Sacred Heart of Jesus parish where Louis Armstrong was baptized.

While some churches will be closed outright, others will be reduced in status to missions—second churches in a single parish where the sacraments can still be celebrated.

Population changes helped motivate the plan to reconfigure the archdiocese.  At least 20 percent of the area’s 385,000 Catholics left after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region.  Many others were forced to move within the archdiocese. 

The need to accommodate a declining number of priests was another factor driving the changes.  According to figures released by the archdiocese, the number of active and retired diocesan and religious order priests fell from 545 to 334 between 1980 and 2008.

Financial concerns were also pressing.  The uninsured damages to archdiocesan property totaled over $120 million.  When asked about the archdiocese’s financial state, the archbishop said he hopes to end the fiscal year on June 30 in the black for the first time since the 2005 storm.

“The losses in the Katrina and post-Katrina experience have been a very difficult cross for the people to carry, and the last thing I want to do is to complicate that for people, Archbishop Hughes said, according to the archdiocesan newspaper The Clarion Herald. 

“I know how much people look to the Lord, to his Church, and to their local churches for strength and support.

“My greatest concern was [what would happen] if we were to keep the status quo and diffuse the limited resources we now have in ways that focus on maintenance,” Archbishop Hughes continued.  “This would lose sight of the God-given opportunity that is ours to make some sacrifices for the present so that the future may be built on a smaller foundation – smaller but stronger.”

Some parishioners at the parishes chosen to be closed have announced they will try to appeal Archbishop Hughes’ decision.

According to the Clarion Herald, the archbishop told the area’s Catholics, “I don’t claim infallibility with any decision.”

“Obviously, every decision is a prudential judgment, but the attempt has been honestly made to apply objective criteria with regard to the vitality of parishes.”

The archdiocese reportedly has no plan to sell any of the churches.  According to the Times Picayune, Archbishop Hughes said he prefers to find another ministry-related use for them, followed by some civic use “for the common good,” with sale for commercial use left as a third option.

The archbishop also announced that no parochial schools will close, but neither will any open in the foreseeable future.

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Vietnam state-owned media ramps up attacks on Catholic demonstrators

Hanoi, Vietnam, Apr 11, 2008 (CNA) - A standoff between protestors and police at a Redemptorist monastery in Hanoi continued yesterday as the state-owned media accused the Catholic demonstrators of occupying state-owned land, gathering and praying illegally in public areas, illegally erecting crucifixes and icons of the Virgin Mary, and disturbing public order.

Father J.B. An Dang informed CNA that the New Hanoi newspaper also accused the protestors of taking advantage of religious freedom to stir up protests against the government.

Vietnamese Catholics have sought the return of property confiscated by the government and have been demonstrating at the Redemptorist monastery since January, 2008.

The hostile media coverage has increased fears among the demonstrators that a police crackdown is imminent.

The local government has ordered the Redemptorist superior in Hanoi, Father Vu Khoi Phung, to present himself to the People’s Committee of Dong Da District to face charges that the Redemptorists have been flaunting the committee’s ultimatum to halt the demonstrations and sit-ins before noon last Monday.

At the time of the deadline, hundreds of police came to the site of the protests, but more and more people joined the Redemptorists and their parishioners.

Hundreds of protestors are presently camped at the site.  Demonstrators attend Mass each morning and evening, where plain clothed and uniformed police officers reportedly photograph and videotape them in what is seen as an intimidation tactic. 

Some Westerners have also visited the site to show solidarity with the protesters.

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Pope memorabilia in high demand

, Apr 11, 2008 (CNA) - As Pope Benedict XVI, prepares to touch down in the U.S. next Tuesday, New Yorkers are gobbling up Pope-related merchandise, NBC reports.

Benedict XVI gear also seems to keep multiplying the forms in which it comes. His face is emblazoned on t-shirts, key chains, hats, mugs - even a bobblehead doll.

While it could be easily interpreted as another example of consumerism, Mt. Carmel Catholic book shop worker Neil Fusco says it's about spirituality, not sales.

"It's just about the Holy Father and making him known to the world," Fusco told NBC.

The Archdiocese of New York has also launched its own papal merchandise website, which includes devotional and every day items like t-shirts and coffee mugs. 

"I still have my mementos from the 1995 visit of Pope John Paul II, and I'm sure the people from this visit will have something they'll cherish forever," said New York Archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling.

With the advent of the internet, things have changed since Pope John Paul II’s visit.  Not only has the variety of items increased, but the papal-themed gear is flying off the shelves.

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Magdi Allam canceled trip to Spain over security concerns

Madrid, Spain, Apr 11, 2008 (CNA) - Egyptian journalist Magdi Christian Allam, who recently converted to Catholicism, canceled his planned visit to Spain because the Spanish government could not guarantee his security.

Encuentro Publishers had organized an event to launch the Spanish edition of Allam’s book entitled, “Overcoming Fear. My Life Against Islamic Terrorism and Western Unawareness.”  However, the company said Allam would not be able to attend because “the Spanish government would not guarantee him the same level of security he receives from the Italian government” to protect him against death threats.

Allam was condemned to death several years ago by various Muslim representatives, “who consider him to be an enemy of Islam.” 

Allam, who is the vice director of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, appeared via videoconference.

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Renowned oncologist changes position on euthanasia after contracting cancer

Madrid, Spain, Apr 11, 2008 (CNA) - The Spanish magazine Huellas has published an interview with Sylvie Menard, one of the most renowned oncologists in Europe who for many years was a supporter of euthanasia but several months ago changed her views after she was diagnosed with bone cancer.

Menard told the magazine that she always believed that each person should decide his own fate, but ‘when I became ill, I changed my position radically.”

“When you get sick, death ceases to be something virtual and becomes something that is with you every day,” she said.  “So you say to yourself: ‘I am going to do everything possible to live as long as possible.”

Menard, who is married and has one son, acknowledged, “Today anything that means a new chance at life is valuable to me.”

Despite her illness, she continues as head of the Experimental Oncology Department at the Institute of Cancer in Milan. She said that those who promote euthanasia do so for two reasons: they don’t want to suffer and they don’t want to lose self-sufficiency, thus becoming a burden for others.

She agreed that people who are ill “do not want to experience pain” and that “they have a right to alleviate it”. She also emphasized that “pain therapy has advanced considerably in recent years.”

“Even if you do not have complete use of your faculties and you cannot get up because you are confined to bed, but you still have the affection of your family members, in my opinion, even in those conditions, it’s worth it to keep living,” she said.

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Catholics call on Raul Castro to reveal his political agenda

Havana, Cuba, Apr 11, 2008 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Havana’s magazine, Espacio Laical, has called on Raul Castro to unveil his political agenda and to allow Cubans to participate in the reforms he has begun since his election as president of Cuba.

The current situation “needs to be fixed. As such it is inescapable, indeed necessary—inasmuch as possible—to involve citizens more in this process of adjustment, change and transformation,” the magazine stated.

While the magazine acknowledged that change in Cuba will take time, “the current state of daily life” in the country makes change urgent.  For this reason, the publication called on President Castro to make known his political agenda for the country.

In order for the Cuban people to be involved and to be assured that it will indeed be carried out, Castro must make his plans known “in a sufficient manner,” the magazine stated.  It also reaffirmed the Church’s commitment to contribute to building up the country, with the hope that she will be given “the necessary room to carry out her difficult responsibility during this decisive moment in the history of our nation.”

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Official data shows 13,000 baptized in China during Easter Vigil

Rome, Italy, Apr 11, 2008 (CNA) - The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples reports that during the Easter Vigil over 13,000 people were baptized in China.

The Fides news agency reports that in the 80 dioceses of continental China, “13,608 people were baptized in the Easter Vigil 2008. In addition to the Sacrament of Baptism, the catechumens also received the other two sacraments of initiation: Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist.”

“The number of baptized in 2008 is much higher than that of 8,000 baptized on Easter in 2007.  As well, many parishes and dioceses in China not only celebrate Baptisms on Easter, but throughout the entire liturgical year, according to the local needs,” Fides revealed. 

The report also indicated that “the number 13,608 is the result of a provisory study done by the Chinese Catholic website ‘Faith’” and that “in the Archdiocese of Beijing, there were about 500 baptized on Easter, 100 more than in 2007,” while “among the newly baptized in the Diocese of Shang Hai, where baptisms have had to be celebrated all year long, there were 54 university students.”

In the Diocese of Chong Qing, there were over 500 baptized and another 400 in the Diocese of Wan Zhou. In the northeastern part of the continent, there were over 600 baptized in the Diocese of Hei Long Jiang, 398 in the Diocese of Liao Ning, and 242 in that of Ji Lin.

In the northeast province there were 235 in Lan Zhou and 235 in Tian Shi. In the northern part of the continent there were 200 baptisms in the Diocese of Wu Meng and 300 in the Diocese of Tai Yuan.

In the province of He Bei, there were 752 baptized in the Diocese of Han Dan, 300; in the Diocese of Heng Shui, 186; in the Diocese of Tang Shan, over 500; in the Diocese of Shi Jia Zhuang, 471; and in the Diocese of Xing Tai, 48.

In the Eastern costal region, 500 were baptized in the Diocese of LinYi.

More than 870 were baptized in the southeastern part of the continent, and 957 in the southern provinces.

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