Rome, Italy, May 8, 2008 (CNA) - An Italian business magazine is claiming that the shrine dedicated to St. Padre Pio has become a bigger attraction than Lourdes, now that the saint’s body has been put on display.
ANSA reports that Economy magazine says the number of annual visitors to the southern town of San Giovanni Rotondo will increase to nine million. The projected total will make the town the world’s second most popular destination for religious tourists, behind only the Vatican.
Pilgrims to the shrine at Lourdes usually number eight million per year.
Economy magazine calculates that Padre Pio’s shrine will bring $185 million in revenue from sales of souvenirs, two periodicals, a satellite TV station, and pilgrims’ offerings to the otherwise impoverished region.
Padre Pio, a Capuchin friar, was credited by his fellow friars with more than 1,000 miraculous cures and interventions. In 1910 St. Pio began to bear the stigmata, the wounds that Jesus received from his crucifixion. Church authorities were skeptical of the reputed miracle worker until his death in 1968. He was canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.
The saint’s body was exhumed by Capuchin friars in March and was considered to be in surprisingly good condition. The body, whose face is now covered by a lifelike silicon mask, was to be displayed for just a few months.
However, due to demands from millions of devotees, the body will be on display until September 2009. It will then be returned to the crypt of the Santa Maria delle Grazie church in San Giovanni Rotondo, next to the friary where Padre Pio lived for most of his life.
Toledo, Ohio, May 8, 2008 (CNA) - An administrator at the University of Toledo has been placed on paid administrative leave after writing a column in a local paper that argued against including homosexuals as “civil rights victims” and characterized homosexuality as a lifestyle choice.
Crystal Dixon, associate vice president of human resources at the state-run University of Toledo, wrote a column for the Toledo Free Press in response to an April 4 column by the paper’s Editor-in-Chief Michael S. Miller. Miller argued that Ohio is behind in “gay rights” and also criticized the University of Toledo’s lack of health care benefits for some domestic partnerships.
Dixon, who did not identify herself as a university administrator, argued in an April 18 column that those “choosing the homosexual lifestyle” should not be considered “civil rights victims.” She said that while she cannot change her identity as a black woman, “thousands of homosexuals make a life decision to leave the gay lifestyle.” Dixon referenced prominent individuals who had renounced their behavior, sometimes because of “a realization that their choice of same-sex practices wreaked havoc in their psychological and physical lives.”
She also referenced the high median education and income levels of gays and lesbians, contrasting them to the low median income of the non-college educated black male.
According to Dixon, statements about inequality in benefits coverage are misleading because the University of Toledo’s health benefit plans differ for all employees across its two campuses. She elaborated by saying the university is “working diligently” to address the issue for all employees, “not just one segment.”
Dixon closed her column with two references to the Bible. She said that God had created humankind male and female “with an inalienable right to choose.” Saying there are consequences for our choices, Dixon said it is “base human nature to revolt and become indignant” when the world or God Himself disagrees with our choices.
The second scriptural verse Dixon used was to make the point that Jesus Christ “loves the sinner but hates the sin.” She concluded her letter by saying, “daily, Jesus Christ is radically transforming the lives of both straight and gay folks and bringing them into a life of wholeness.”
On Friday Lloyd Jacobs, President of the University of Toledo, published his own column in the Toledo Free Press, saying he felt the need to publicly “repudiate” Dixon’s comments. He said her comments “do not accord with the values of the University of Toledo” and noted his own support for a “Safe Places” program for homosexual students and faculty at the school.
According to InsideHigherEd.com, a spokesman for the university confirmed Dixon was placed on paid leave because of the column. The spokesman said there may be further action following a meeting between Dixon and President Jacobs.
Sydney, Australia, May 8, 2008 (CNA) - This July, Pope Benedict XVI will text message thousands of Catholic pilgrims at World Youth Day, sending messages of hope and inspiration directly to young people through the latest technological medium.
World Youth Day 2008 (WYD08) recently announced that its official telecommunications partner, Telstra, will provide daily “inspirational” text messages from Pope Benedict, commemorative WYD08 photo messaging, music downloads and hosting for the World Youth Day social networking site XT3.com.
“We wanted to make WYD08 a unique experience by using new ways to connect with today's tech-savvy youth,” said Bishop Anthony Fisher in a Wednesday statement.
Telstra has also provided telecommunications services for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
The company will also provide digital prayer walls at event sites, regional webcasting for catechetical events, interactive centers with wireless internet access, and green screen studios.
World Youth Day 2008 will take place in and around Sydney from July 15 through July 20. At least 225,000 pilgrims are expected to attend.
Washington D.C., May 8, 2008 (CNA) - In a Tuesday speech that could have significant ramifications for the pro-life cause, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain pledged to use President George W. Bush’s Supreme Court appointees as a “model” for his own choices.
He also announced the formation of a committee to advise him on such judicial appointments, which have greatly affected the legal status of abortion in the United States.
The Washington Post reports that Senator McCain spoke on Tuesday before a crowd of several hundred at Wake Forest University. He decried what he called “the common and systematic abuse of our federal courts by the people we entrust with judicial power.” The Arizona senator also said that Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. “would serve as the model for my own nominees, if that responsibility falls to me.”
Both of the justices appointed by President Bush are believed to oppose the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Some observers believe only one more Supreme Court justice opposed to the decision must be appointed for Roe v. Wade to be overturned.
The remaining Democratic presidential candidates, Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton both opposed the nominations of Roberts and Alito.
McCain zeroed-in on Senator Obama for voting against Justice Roberts, saying the senator “went right along with the partisan crowd.”
“Apparently nobody quite fits the bill except for an elite group of activist judges, lawyers and law professors who think they know wisdom when they see it -- and they see it only in each other," he said, according to the Washington Post.
Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor responded to McCain’s attack, saying, "Barack Obama has always believed that our courts should stand up for social and economic justice, and what's truly elitist is to appoint judges who will protect the powerful and leave ordinary Americans to fend for themselves."
McCain said that he himself had voted for President Bill Clinton’s two Supreme Court nominees because, he said, he believed they were qualified.
Later on Tuesday, Senator McCain announced the formation of a conservative-leaning Justice Advisory Committee, which he said will advise him on judicial appointments if he wins the presidency. The group will be chaired by former solicitor general Theodore B. Olson and Kansas Senator Sam Brownback. Members of the committee include Robert P. George, a Princeton University professor who is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics.
Besides legal abortion, a conservative change in the Supreme Court could affect other court decisions involving discrimination, civil liberties, private property, and other issues.
Vatican City, May 8, 2008 (CNA) - The Paul VI Hall was the scene of an unusual performance on Wednesday afternoon—the 75 member Chinese Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied by the Shanghai Opera House Chorus presenting Mozart's Requiem Mass and some Chinese folk songs to the Pope.
Benedict XVI addressed the audience pointing out how music can serve as a bridge between cultures.
This concert, he said, "puts us in touch, as it were, with the living reality of the world of China," recognizing that "in a group of such accomplished artists, we see represented the great cultural and musical tradition of China, and this performance helps us to understand better the history of the Chinese people, their values, and their noble aspirations".
"Music, and art in general," he continued, "can serve as a privileged instrument for encounter and reciprocal knowledge and esteem between different populations and cultures, a means attainable by all for valuing the universal language of art".
Benedict XVI emphasized the orchestra and choir's interest in "European religious music. This shows that it is possible, in different cultural settings, to enjoy and appreciate sublime manifestations of the spirit such as Mozart's Requiem which we have just heard, precisely because music expresses universal human sentiments, including the religious sentiment, which transcends the boundaries of every individual culture."
In meeting with the Chinese musicians, the Pope said that he intended to reach out to all Chinese people and he added that he especially had in mind “those of your fellow citizens who share faith in Jesus and are united through a particular spiritual bond with the Successor of Peter."
The Pope pointed out that "the Requiem came into being through this faith as a prayer to God, the just and merciful judge, and that is why it touches the hearts of all people, as an expression of humanity's universal aspirations".
The Olympics also came to the Pope’s mind and as he parted with the artists, he gave his greetings "to all the people of China as they prepare for the Olympic Games, an event of great importance for the entire human family." In Chinese, Benedict XVI told the musicians, "I thank you all and I offer you my best wishes".
Rome, Italy, May 8, 2008 (CNA) - Salvatore M. Perrella, an expert in dogma and Mariology from the Mariunum Pontifical School in Rome, explained this week the criteria used by the Church to determine the legitimacy of Marian apparitions. His explanation comes in the wake of the Church’s approval of the apparitions of Our Lady of Laus in France.
In an article for L’Osservatore Romano, Perrella cited Jesuit Father Giandomenico Mucci to explain the difference between a vision and an apparition. The first is of a spiritual nature, while the second is of a physical one. That is, the seer has a real and sensible experience of the one in the apparition.
After explaining the Church’s process for verifying Marian apparitions was discussed at the Lateran Council and the Council of Trent, Perrella explained that currently “discernment about the veracity” of alleged apparitions “falls to the diocesan bishop or archbishop—and in recent times to the episcopal conference in question—and to the Pope.”
He also pointed out that the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith drafted an internal and secret document on February 25, 1978, after four years of study, signed by the prefect Cardinal Franjo Seper to be used by the competent authorities” in evaluating supernatural occurrences.
Perrella went on to point out that the CDF instructed that for an investigation to proceed, “precise information” should be gathered about the various aspects of the alleged apparitions such as testimonies of conversions, theological analysis of the message of the apparitions, a medical and psychological review of the seer or visionary, including his or her educational level, an examination of their spiritual life, their level of communion with the Church, miraculous healings and occurrences, and other factors.
After a detailed examination of the numerous events related to apparitions, Perrella said, the Church “has approved a total of 11 apparitions out of 295 that have been studied—including now the 12th, which are those of Our Lady of Laus, approved on May 4, 2008.”
“Once verified and authenticated by Church authorities, the extraordinary manifestations may be freely embraced, as faith is reserved only to the public Revelation of God which ended with the death of the last Apostle,” he said.
In any case, Perrella stressed, the apparitions approved by the Church only manifest the evangelical mission of Mary throughout the history of the Church, which has been to point the way to the Father’s house through faith in the Lord Jesus.
Such revelations, while they help to increase faith, “do not add to the Revelation given to the Church in Sacred Scripture, but rather they help to make it current during a specific period in history,” he said.
Vatican City, May 8, 2008 (CNA) - Pope Benedict received a large delegation of Melkite Greek Catholics this morning at the Vatican. The Pontiff called on the clergy to refrain from becoming involved in politics and exhorted the local Church to open the path to peace by proposing the light of the Gospel.
The 300 Melkite Greek Catholics were lead by Patriarch Gregorious III Laham on a pilgrimage to Rome. The Melkite Greek Church is in communion with the Pope.
Noting that the Church lives in an area that is a cultural and religious crossroads, Pope Benedict praised "the vitality of the Melkite Church, despite the difficulties of the region's social and political situation."
Indeed, Damascus, the site of St. Paul’s conversion, is located in the same area, the Pope observed. It was his conversion that “opened the doors of Christianity to all the nations," Benedict said. With the beginning of the Pauline Year approaching (June 28), the Holy Father asked the patriarch to carry out "an intense pastoral outreach" to awaken in the faithful "a new impetus to know ever more closely the person of Christ, thanks to a renewed reading of Paul's writings". This focus," he emphasized, "will also guarantee a thriving future for the Melkite Church".
The internal functioning of the Melkite Church was also addressed by the Pope, who said that "the role of the Bishops' Synod is of primary importance” and “every time the right allows for it” the Synod should be given “the standing it merits."
After emphasizing the “urgent obligation” of Christians to tear down divisions between themselves, the Holy Father also praised the Melkite Church’s “good relations with the Muslims.”
The Holy Father also addressed the Church’s interaction with the secular realm in the “troubled" and “at times dramatic context of the Middle East."
This places the Church in situations where politics affects its life and makes it important to maintain contact with the various political parties, Pope Benedict said. “Nevertheless, it does not fall to the clergy to dedicate themselves to a political life. That is the duty of the laity.”
Instead, the Church can best carry out its mission by proposing “the light of the Gospel to all so that all may dedicate themselves to serve the common good and so that justice may always prevail, so that the path to peace for all peoples in this much loved region may be opened," he concluded.
, May 8, 2008 (CNA) - On Wednesday Brazil’s Social Security and Family Commission unanimously voted to reject a new law that would have legalized abortion in the country. All 33 members of the commission voted against the law that would have made killing the unborn—for any reason—legal throughout pregnancy.
Lawmakers who wanted the debate on the new law to continue into a fourth round withdrew from the hearing after there was not enough support from a majority of members. Amidst widespread protests for and against the law, the hearing was closed.
The organization Defesa da Vida said “Representative Jose Aristodemo Pinotti, together with Representative Cida Diogo, initially said they would vote in favor of the law.” Pinotti justified his position by arguing that the number of abortions has decreased in the countries where it has been legalized. Defesa da Vida said such arguments were misleading and that data from countries in developed world, such as Britain, Spain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada show that after being legalized the number of abortions grew instead of diminishing.”
The pro-life organization noted that since 1970 Pinotti has also been a member of the Population Council, which belongs to the Rockefeller Foundation, and was established in 1952 to spread international population control. The foundation currently seeks to spread abortion around the globe.
Vatican City, May 8, 2008 (CNA) - In a little more than a week Pope Benedict will visit the Italian diocese of Genoa and the city of Savona for two days. The Vatican announced the Pope’s schedule this morning as the Archbishop of Genoa says that his flock is joyfully awaiting his arrival.
The Pope will arrive at Genoa’s airport on the afternoon of Saturday, May 17 at 4:30, and then board a helicopter to travel to the shrine of Our Lady of Mercy in Savona.
After visiting the shrine, Benedict XVI will be taken by car to the Piazza del Popolo in Savona where, at 5:45 p.m., he will concelebrate Holy Mass and give the homily.
The Holy Father will take a helicopter back to Genoa in the evening and land at the shrine of the Virgin of the Watch in Ceranesi, where he will spend the night.
At nine o’clock on Sunday morning, the Pope will make a private visit to the shrine and will then be taken by helicopter to Genoa where he will arrive at the Villa Gentile Sports Center around 9:40 a.m. From there will be taken by car to the Gaslini Children's Hospital where he will meet the medical staff and the children who are patients and their families. He will then be taken by car to Piazza Matteotti where, at 11:15 a.m., he will
meet with the youth of the area, addressing them and praying the Angelus with them.
From Piazza Matteotti, the Pope will travel to the Genoese Cathedral of St. Lawrence where, at 12:20 p.m., he will meet with the cathedral's chapter and consecrated men and women, addressing them. He will then be taken to the Benedict XV Seminary where he will lunch with the Ligurian bishops.
At 4:30 p.m. he will arrive at the Piazza della Vittoria to concelebrate Holy Mass and give the homily. Afterward, Benedict XVI will be taken to Christopher Columbus Airport where his flight will leave at 7:00 p.m., returning to Rome around 7:50 p.m.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco is asking the faithful to surround the Pope with their “affection, prayers and support.” According to AGI news agency, Cardinal Bagnasco says the ambience in the city is very different how the press portrays it: "There is a great sense of joy and excitement. Joy because the Holy Father, visiting Genoa, greatly honors our city and our local Church; it's a grace for the confirmation of faith."
Vatican City, May 8, 2008 (CNA) - In a letter to all of the episcopal conferences of the world to mark the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on May 30, the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, has said that the priestly vocation can only be lived with radical commitment.
In his letter, the cardinal said, “As we celebrate the Day of Prayer for the sanctification of priests, which coincides with the feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I wish to point out the priority of prayer with respect to our actions, namely that the efficacy of our work depends on it. The mission of the Church depends in large measure on the personal relationship of each one of us with the Lord Jesus. Therefore, the mission must be nourished by prayer.”
Cardinal Hummes said, “The most authentic dimension of our priesthood is begging: simple and continuous petition. One learns through silent prayer, which has always characterized the lives of the saints; we must ask for it with insistence.”
“The only adequate means to living our holy vocation is radicalism,” the cardinal continued, adding that “this complete surrender, with complete awareness of our infidelity, can only take place as a prayerful and repeated decision which Christ later fulfills day after day. Even the gift of priestly celibacy must be welcomed and lived in this dimension of radicalism and in complete configuration to Christ. Any other position, regarding the reality of our relationship with Him, runs the risk of being ideological,” he said.
Cardinal Hummes also warned priests that their excessive workloads should lead them to “care for our priestly identity with greater attention.” The “peculiar conditions of priestly ministry” should lead to a deeper spiritual life, thus bearing greater witness to the fact that priests belong “exclusively to the Lord.”
“Dear brothers,” the letter continued, “let us be faithful to the daily celebration of the holy Eucharist, not only to fulfill our pastoral duty or because our parish community demands it, but because of the absolute personal necessity that we have for it, like our breathing, the light of our life, the only adequate reason for a total priestly life.”
The cardinal went on to remind priests that their parishes are not a “distraction” from their own lives but rather “the face of Christ that we contemplate each day, as the face of the beloved to her spouse, as Christ is to the Church, His spouse. The people entrusted to us are the essential path to our own sanctification, that is, the path in which Christ manifests the glory of the Father through us.”
He also encouraged all priests to foster an intense closeness to Mary. “Our relationship with her cannot be reduced to a pious practice of devotion, but rather must be nourished by continuously abandoning to the arms of the Virgin our entire lives, our entire ministry,” Cardinal Hummes said.
The Congregation for Clergy has issued three prayers to help priests grow and mature in their priesthood. CNA has made them available here.
Lansing, Mich., May 8, 2008 (CNA) - The Michigan General Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages also blocks Michigan governments and state universities from offering “domestic partnership” benefits for homosexual couples.
The Marriage Protection Amendment was approved by nearly sixty percent of voters in 2004. Considered the broadest of the 11 state marriage amendments barring same-sex marriage, the language of the Michigan amendment says “…the union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage or similar union for any purpose.”
The Michigan ACLU, representing the AFL-CIO homosexual activist group National Pride at Work, had challenged the application of the law as based in Attorney General Mike Cox’s interpretation of the amendment.
The Michigan court’s 5-2 decision did not rule on whether government employment benefits can be offered to homosexual partners on some broader basis also available to other employees. Some local governments and universities have attempted to maintain present benefits by amending the eligibility requirements.
“The people of Michigan have constitutionally protected marriage as exclusively the union of one man and one woman, period, and that includes prohibiting the recognition of homosexual relationships as equal or similar to marriage for any purpose, including offering spousal-type benefits to the homosexual partners of government employees,” Gary Glenn, one of the co-authors of the Marriage Protection Amendment and head of the American Family Association of Michigan.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, praised the decision, saying, “The Michigan Supreme Court courageously upheld the will of the people.”
Havana, Cuba, May 8, 2008 (CNA) - The latest edition of the Archdiocese of Havana’s publication “Espacio Laical” features an extensive article on the new government of Raul Castro and argues that he is the only one capable of producing changes that are both gradual, dramatic and profound.
The article states that Raul Castro must face the challenge of formulating a “bold and creative agenda to reverse the political, social and economic problems that have been increasingly accumulating in our country.” Because he was one of the original masterminds of the Cuban revolution, he is in a unique position to “open new horizons for Cuba.”
“Intellectual leaders and the Catholic Church have expressed confidence in the new Cuban leadership, pressing it for gradual change,” the article continues, and they have communicated to the political leadership in a climate of trust and respect the issues that in their judgment need to be changed.”
Most Cubans, the submission says, agree that change should come gradually in order to “preserve stability in the country and the achievements that have been made in social rights, which are valued greatly by the populace.” In addition, it said, Raul Castro has been given a vote of confidence by governments throughout the world that have taken his promise of change seriously.
However, Castro must face a complex situation in Cuba in order to bring about change, including a top-heavy government that prevents lower-level leaders from creating new initiatives, a political culture of intolerance, a crisis in the values and a wide sector of society that perhaps does not view the possibility of change as something positive.
President Raul Castro has the historic responsibility of involving all Cubans in a new dialectic of inclusion,” the magazine says, “and on this will depend whether or not our institutions become more participative, inclusive and democratic.”
“Raul Castro has stepped up and seems committed to the task of building new horizons…at 75 years of age, history’s clock has begun to tick. Meanwhile, the nation waits,” the article concludes.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, May 8, 2008 (CNA) - A Brazilian rancher accused of ordering the murder of American religious sister Dorothy Stang has had his conviction overturned in a retrial. The court confirmed the conviction of a second suspect in the shooting.
Sister Dorothy Stang was shot and killed in February 2005 in the state of Para. She was working with the rural poor and peasants who were opposed to the destruction of the rainforest. Their opposition provoked threats from loggers, ranchers, and developers.
BBC News reports that in May 2007 Rancher Vitalmiro Vastos de Moura was initially sentenced to 30 years for ordering the shooting. Brazil requires retrials for first offenders who are sentenced to more than 20 years.
The court confirmed the conviction of Rayfran das Neves, who had confessed to shooting the sister. In the retrial, Rayfran das Neves reportedly changed his story for the tenth time, claiming he was solely responsible for the murder.
Moura had been considered the mastermind of the attack, but the jury at his retrial acquitted him by a 5-2 decision.
Sister Dorothy’s relatives said they were stunned by the acquittal.
“The prosecution was excellent. They presented their case very well, so we're very surprised,” said David Stang, her brother, who attended the trial.
Marguerite Hohm, Sister Dorothy’s sister, had watched the two-day trial from her home in the United States over a live internet feed.
“I saw the judge shaking hands with the defendants and I didn't understand what was going on,” she told the Associated Press. “We’re very saddened.”
Moura’s lawyer argued the rancher had no motive to shoot the religious sister.
The conflict over natural resources in Brazil’s Amazon region has at times turned violent. In the past 30 years, more than 1,000 people have been killed in land disputes in Brazil. More than two-thirds of the murders have taken place in Para state.