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Archive of April 26, 2008

Papal visit triggers “tsunami” of New York seminary applications

Yonkers, N.Y., Apr 26, 2008 (CNA) - St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers, New York, has received dozens of applications following Pope Benedict’s visit, the New York Daily News reports.

"It's been like a tsunami, a good tsunami of interest," said Father Luke Sweeney, the Archdiocese of New York's vocations director.  “I've been meeting people all week and have a lot of e-mails I haven't had the chance yet to respond to. It has been incredible.”

For the first time in 108 years, the seminary had been preparing for a year with no students.  Only 23 seminarians are expected to be ordained for New York City over the next four years.  A study carried out by Catholic World Report claims the archdiocese’s ratio of priests to congregation members is among the worst in the country. 

Currently there are only 648 diocesan priests for the Archdiocese of New York, which has 2.5 million Catholics.

“We are facing a severe shortage,” Father Sweeney said.  The vocations director recently launched a recruitment campaign that uses the slogans “The World Needs Heroes” and “You Have To Be a Real Man If You Want to Become a Priest.”

“We were hoping the Pope would convince many who were considering the priesthood to make the next step. It looks like he did,” he said.

The Pope spoke to a rally of 25,000 young people on the seminary’s grounds last Saturday, April 19. 

Father Sweeney described how the Pope’s words affected one new applicant.

“One said he came, saw the crowd, heard what the Pope said and then called us," the priest said.  "He said his questions and concerns were answered when he heard him speak.”

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Devotees flock by the thousands to view Padre Pio's body

, Apr 26, 2008 (CNA) - Thousands of devotees of the Italian mystic St. Padre Pio gathered at his shrine to see his exhumed body, which is on display for the first time since his death nearly 40 years ago.

More than one million people are expected to view his corpse, which is displayed in a transparent casket, between now and September 2009, according to Agence France Presse.

On Thursday more than 15,000 people viewed the saint’s body and also attended a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Saints.

Cardinal Martins said in his homily, “What we see is a dead body, no longer animated by the breath of God. But Padre Pio is not simply a corpse: he lives on in communion with Jesus resurrected.”  The cardinal also called Padre Pio a “saint of the people.”

The Italian state broadcaster RAI broadcast the events live across the country.  According to AFP, Consilia De Martino, who was cured from a ruptured lymph duct through the Padre Pio’s intercession, was present.  Her recovery was considered one of the miracles necessary for the saint’s canonization.

Padre Pio, a Capuchin friar, was credited by his fellow friars with more than 1,000 miraculous cures and interventions.  Church authorities were skeptical of the reputed miracle worker until his death in 1968.  He was canonized by Pope John Paul II.

In 1910 St. Pio began to bear the stigmata, the wounds that Jesus received from his crucifixion.

Investigators examining his cause for sainthood considered and dismissed allegations that Padre Pio acquired carbolic acid from a pharmacist that could have been used to simulate the stigmata.  A book published last year repeated the allegations.

The saint’s body was exhumed in March and was reportedly in “surprisingly good condition.”  His beard, nails, knees, and hands were clearly visible.

Biochemists and forensic scientists have worked to make the body fit for display.  His displayed body wore a lifelike silicon mask of his face and was mainly hidden under his monk’s habit.  The forensic scientists, addressing a press conference, denied that the face was badly decomposed.  They said the mask was used to protect the sensibilities of visitors.

Local Bishop Umberto Domenico D’Ambrosio told the press conference that when the tomb was opened there was no unpleasant smell.  “When I asked the doctors for an explanation they told me it was up to me to provide an answer, not them," he said.

In 2009 the body will be returned to the crypt of Santa Maria delle Grazie church in San Giovanni Rotondo, next to the friary where Padre Pio lived for most of his life.

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Government forces take historic Catholic shrine from rebels

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Apr 26, 2008 (CNA) - Sri Lankan government troops have taken an historic Catholic church from the Tamil Tiger rebels after the latest battle in the country’s 25-year-old civil war, Reuters reports.

The Wednesday fighting in the north of Sri Lanka killed 21 people.  The Sri Lankan army said that 17 rebels had been killed, while four of its own soldiers died in the fighting.

Military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said the Sri Lankan army had taken the Catholic church in Madhu in the northwest without any resistance.  "The troops managed to enter Madhu without firing a single gunshot and without any resistance," Nanayakkara said.

The Catholic church of Our Lady of Madhu is centuries old and normally houses a revered 400-year-old statue of Mary.  The church, a key place of worship for Catholics in the country, had been under rebel Tamil control since 1999.

According to the Sri Lanka Guardian, Catholic priests and nuns fled the church on April 3 with the statue of Our Lady of Madhu.  They reportedly moved to Thevanpiddi, which is under Tamil rebel control.

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Pope brought America new perceptions and challenging ideas, says George Weigel

Washington D.C., Apr 26, 2008 (CNA) - As Pope Benedict XVI’s presence and words linger with Americans, George Weigel is offering his analysis of last week’s trip in an article for Newsweek. The Pope, Weigel says, not only managed to deftly change the false perceptions of many, but also delivered words of challenging wisdom to Americans.

“From his first moments at Andrews Air Force Base,” Weigel begins, “it was clear that this was no hard-edged theological enforcer, no Rottweiler. Instead of the cartoon Ratzinger, America was introduced to a modest, friendly man, a grandfatherly Bavarian with exquisite manners and a shock of unruly white hair, full of affection and admiration for the United States.”

This changed perception of Benedict XVI was also accompanied by the crumbling of any anti-Catholic prejudice on behalf of the U.S. government, Weigel writes.

“Now, an evangelical Texas Methodist pulled out all the ceremonial stops to welcome the Bishop of Rome on the south lawn of the White House – and the Bishop of Rome, a former American POW, could be seen singing the refrain of the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' along with the U.S. Army choir.”

The change in the perception of Pope Benedict changed within the Church too, says Weigel. “The transformation of the papal image was complete when Benedict XVI surprised everyone (including many senior churchmen) by meeting privately for conversation and prayer with five Boston-area victims of clergy sexual abuse.”

According to Weigel, this transformative chapter began even before the Pontiff landed on American soil. “On the flight to America, the Pope had forthrightly seized control of this issue, speaking of his own ‘shame’ over the behavior of priests who had abused the young; he later acknowledged the parallel and related disgrace of bishops who had failed in their duty to protect the flock."

"Still, it took that meeting with those who had suffered at the hands of something both they and he loved – the Catholic Church – to drive home the point that Benedict XVI was not just a friendly scholar. By meeting, praying, and, by all accounts, crying with those who had been deeply hurt, Benedict made unmistakably plain what those who had known him already knew: that he is a man with a pastor’s heart and a true priest’s compassion.”

Benedict XVI’s pastoral touch could also be seen when he preached at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. His forthright challenges to his listeners, whether young or old, serve as a “reminder to pastors of all denominations that ‘preaching up,’ rather than ‘preaching down,’ is the way to inspire and nourish,” Weigel asserts.

All of this was accompanied by the pomp and ceremony that surrounds a papal visit, but to only see the glitz would be to miss the substantial ideas the Holy Father proposed, says Weigel.

Most notable for George Weigel are the Pope’s ideas “about the way the world works, ideas about inter-religious dialogue, and ideas about Christian ecumenism.” All three of these categories of thought are united by a common thread: “the Benedictine project of turning noise into conversation through the recovery of moral reason,” he proposes in his Newsweek article. 

Human Rights: The World’s Moral Vocabulary

First noting that the “primary purpose of Benedict’s trans-Atlantic pilgrimage was to address the General assembly of the United Nations”, Weigel says that the Pontiff’s goal at the U.N. was to give the world body a means of beginning the process of reform.

This type of reform is the can only take place if the Western problem of a loss of “faith in reason” is addressed. The West has “a very shaky hold on the conviction (fundamental to western civilization from Socrates through the scientific revolution) that human beings can know the truth of things, including the moral truth of things.”

This crisis of faith in reason, writes Weigel, “seems to Benedict not just a grave problem in itself, but a grave political problem: for how can the conversation, debate, and argument that are the lifeblood of any humane politics happen when everyone is speaking a different language, no one can agree on a translator, and the very need for “translation” is regarded by the post-modern avant-garde as impossibly old hat?”

The solution that the Pope pointed to was the language of human rights, which “are based on the natural law inscribed on human hearts and present in different cultures and civilizations.”

The Holy Father, in arguing this point, makes “a claim that can be engaged be non-believers, as well as by believers of all religious traditions that cherish reason,” Weigel notes.

 Truth-Centered Dialogue

“The Pope also had some important and challenging things to say about turning-noise-into-conversation among religions, and within the fractured Christian household.”

The Pope, among other things, made clear at the meeting with other religions that, “in his mind, tolerance doers not mean avoiding differences in an exchange of pleasantries and banalities; rather, he gently suggested, true dialogue means taking differences seriously and exploring them, within a bond of civility created by mutual respect in the quest for truth,” explains Weigel.
 
The Catholic author and academic explains that for Benedict XVI, “genuine interreligious dialogue” does not “avoid the hard questions; it begins with the hard questions.”

“It is not difficult to imagine that Benedict had in mind here the dialogue he has been slowly nurturing with Islam: a dialogue focused on religious freedom and the separation of spiritual and political authority in the state. Unlike those veterans of the Catholic-Islamic dialogue who have long preferred to avoid those questions, Benedict insists, quietly but firmly, on beginning with them. Whether his approach helps support those Islamic reformers working to build an Islam that can live with pluralism and political modernity is one of the great questions on which a lot of 21st century history will turn.”
 
Weigel then turns to the address that Benedict delivered to the ecumenical gathering of Christians, a group that often appears fractured by division.

In this provocative speech, Weigel claims that “Benedict sharply raised the ecumenical ante by asking his fellow Christian leaders to consider whether those divisions did not reflect a ‘relativistic approach’ to Christian doctrine and moral teaching”.

The Pope pointed out that this relativistic approach is strangely parallel to secularist critiques of Christianity: a “relativism” about the truth of Christian faith that is shaped by the assumption that “science alone is ‘objective,’” an assumption that relegates all religious conviction “to the subjective sphere of individual feeling.”

According to Weigel, “Benedict’s personal answer to that question is, undoubtedly, yes.”

“Which suggests that this man who once took a professor’s post at Tubingen precisely to deepen his own theological dialogue with Lutheran colleagues now realizes that the real future of serious ecumenical conversation lies with the Catholic Church’s encounter with those Christian communities (largely, but not exclusively, evangelical) that still believe that the Gospel and the creeds stand in judgment on our theological speculation, rather than vice-versa. The Gospel and the creeds, the Pope suggested, are the boundaries within which real conversation can grow from ecumenical noise.”

Among the observations that strike George Weigel about the Pope’s visit is that, “it was refreshing to be in the presence of an adult – an adult who treated his hosts as adults by paying them the compliment of making serious, sustained arguments.”
 
In addition, “The American majority was reaffirmed in its conviction that religiously-informed moral argument has a place in public life; the non-believing minority experienced a religious leader who took care to speak in a language non-believers could understand,” he writes.

Indeed, “by showing his pastor’s heart,” says Weigel, “one of the world’s most learned men embodied a truth of which both he and John Paul II were firmly convinced: faith and reason go together.”

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Former guerillas and paramilitaries leave Cathedral of Bogota

Bogotá, Colombia, Apr 26, 2008 (CNA) - After several hours occupying the Cathedral of Bogota on Thursday, some 250 guerilla fighters and paramilitary groups have left the church.  The soldiers had occupied the Cathedral in order to call the government’s attention to the issue of monthly payments and commitments.

The soldiers met in groups with government official Frank Pearl in order to lay out their demands.  Officials called the pressure “unacceptable.”

On Thursday morning, the soldiers forced worshipers to leave the church and announced their intention to occupy it for an indefinite period of time.

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Brazilian bishop says Church did not encourage missing priest to take balloon flight

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Apr 26, 2008 (CNA) - Bishop Joao Alves Dos Santos of Paranagua said this week the Church warned Father Adelir de Carli, who disappeared last Sunday, against the dangers of taking a balloon flight.

The 41 year-old priest was hoping to break a balloon flight record in order to raise money for a spiritual rest stop for truck drivers.  Although he said he was prepared for the journey, he went missing a few hours after he began his flight and he has still not been found. Rescue efforts by the Brazilian Air Force were suspended on Thursday, but the priest's family is persisting in the search with the help of a rented twin engine plane.

Bishop Dos Santos had joined in the now suspended search effort and said he is praying for the wellbeing of the priest.

According to the bishop, the Church did not encourage Father De Carli to take the flight.  “We respected his decision but we advised against the trip because it was dangerous,” he said.

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