Baghdad, Iraq, May 20, 2008 (CNA) - The Iraqi government said on Sunday that a leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq has been sentenced to death for the March killing of Chaldean Catholic Bishop Paulos Faraj Rahho.
According to Reuters, the Iraqi Central Criminal Court imposed the death sentence on Ahmed Ali Ahmed, who is also known as Abu Omar.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement that Ahmed was a leader of al Qaeda and had been sought for his involvement in a number of “terror crimes against the people of Iraq.”
Archbishop Rahho, the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, was kidnapped on February 29. He was ambushed after leaving a church where he had celebrated the Way of the Cross. A group of armed men opened fire on the archbishop’s vehicle, killing three aides before they abducted the clergyman.
The archbishop was found dead near Mosul on March 13. Police said it was not clear whether the 65-year-old man, known to be in poor health, had been killed or had died of natural causes.
Pope Benedict XVI called the archbishop’s death “an act of inhuman violence.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had blamed al Qaeda for the death and had vowed to bring the killers to justice. The Shiite Muslim-led government has been accused by Iraq’s declining Christian population of not doing enough to protect them from violence and persecution.
A number of Christian clergy in Iraq have been kidnapped and killed and a number of Iraqi churches have been bombed since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Chengdu, China, May 20, 2008 (CNA) - Chinese Catholics joined the rest of their country in a moment of silence on Monday to mourn and pray for those killed and injured in the massive earthquake that hit southwestern China last week.
UCA News reports that, as of May 19, the State Council reported the death toll to be 34,073, with more than 245,000 people injured. The May 12 quake, centered in Wenchuan in the Sichuan province, was initially estimated to measure 7.8 on the Richter Scale. Its magnitude was later revised upward to 8.0.
About 80 Catholics at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Chengdu stood after Mass and observed the country-wide three minutes of silence.
Father Simon Li Zhigang told UCA News that not many could come for the Mass because it was held on short notice. He said about 100 people had attended a requiem Mass for the dead that morning.
Zhang Jingqi, a 22 year-old Catholic university student and relief volunteer, told UCA News that she could never have imagined such a silence on the university campus. She said the moment of silence showed the “huge power of solidarity among the people.”
Fifty priests and nuns, including a team sent by the nationwide Church-run organization Jinde Charities, have arrived in Chengdu to help the relief efforts. Some of the clergy and religious are qualified doctors and nurses.
More than 113,000 soldiers are involved in the rescue efforts. Father Li told UCA News that the government’s Earthquake Relief Command Unit and the Red Cross Society enlisted the Church workers for coordination, due to the magnitude of the effort.
The Chinese government has declared an unprecedented three-day period of national mourning for the victims of the earthquake. Entertainment businesses have been required to close and the Beijing Olympics torch relay in Zhejiang and Shanghai has been suspended until May 22.
St. Louis, Mo., May 20, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop of St. Louis Raymond L. Burke will ordain nine men to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of St. Louis on Saturday at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
It is the largest ordination class for the archdiocese since 1987.
Some credit Archbishop Burke for the boom in seminarians. A frequent visitor to the seminary, the archbishop sometimes drops by unannounced for lunches with the students.
"He's the center and the core of this whole thing," archdiocesan vocations director Rev. Michael Butler said to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
Archbishop Burke explained that he decided vocations would be one of his priorities.
"A bishop's principal responsibility is to provide priests for the people in his pastoral care," the archbishop said in an interview last week from Rome. "Ordinations have to be absolutely right at the top of my priorities."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported that Archbishop Burke has a habit of inviting each student at the Kenrick-Glennon Seminary for a walk near his residence. “The walks,” as the seminarians call them, are opportunities for the young men to have heart-to-heart talks with their archbishop.
Seminary officials organize the walks using time sheets. When new sheets are posted, seminarians rush to sign up.
“It's like when you throw pellets at the Japanese fish at the Botanical Gardens," said ordinand Edward Nemeth, 26. "Guys falling over each other to get their names on the list.”
There are more than 100 men enrolled at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, more than half of whom are studying to be priests for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Monsignor Ted Wojcicki, president of the seminary, said he hopes to enroll 120 students next year.
All of the ordinands have earned master of divinity degrees and master of arts degrees in theology from Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.
Vatican City, May 20, 2008 (CNA) - The Pope’s council for Social Communications will be holding a summit this coming weekend to strengthen its ties with Catholic universities and the ever-changing realm of communications.
A multi-national group of Catholic communications professors, will meet "to strengthen and expand the co-operative relationship" between the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and Catholic universities. According to a press release on the conference, the gathering also aims "to give the council a fuller understanding of the range of activities taking place in these institutions and a greater appreciation of the qualifications, talents and skills of those who work within them."
"The opening speech of the congress will outline the changing world of communications and the challenges that face all those dedicated to the academic formation of future professional communicators," reads the communiqué.
Other topics to be discussed are: “The identity and mission of communications faculties in Catholic universities in various geographical and ecclesiastical contexts”; “The ethical formation of communicators"; and "Preparing the study programme; how can study programmes in Catholic university faculties reflect the specific mission of universities?"
The May 22-24 congress will be the first of its kind and will be held at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome.
Baghdad, Iraq, May 20, 2008 (CNA) - Auxiliary Bishop Shlemo Warduni of Baghdad has rejected the death sentence the Iraqi government has handed down against Al Qaeda leader Ahmed Ali Ahmed, who participated in the kidnapping and murder of Catholic Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul.
In response to the news of the verdict against the man also know as Abu Omar, Bishop Warduni told the SIR news agency, “We seek peace, security and reconciliation in Iraq—the things Archbishop Rahho strived for during his life and the things for which we continue working.”
“Archbishop Rahho would not have accepted such a sentence. Christian principles teach that it is not permissible to condemn anyone to death and they invite us to forgiveness, reconciliation and justice. The Church in Iraq is interested in peace, security and reconciliation in the country,” Bishop Warduni said.
The news of Ahmed’s death sentence was announced by the Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh. A date for his execution has not yet been fixed. Archbishop Raho was kidnapped on February 29 and found dead on March 13.
Madrid, Spain, May 20, 2008 (CNA) - In an interview with the Socialist daily El Pais this past Sunday, Spain’s Minister of Education, Mercedes Cabrera, reaffirmed the government’s policy of complete intolerance of parents who conscientiously object to the controversial course “Education for Citizenship.”
In response to the thousands of parents who have said for reasons of conscience they will not allow their children to attend the course, Cabrera said that people were free to file complaints and protests but that as long as the Supreme Court has not said otherwise, “what we have here is a law that must be obeyed. The responsibility of local communities is to clearly and unambiguously inform parents of the consequences of pulling their children out of the class.”
When asked what the consequences would be Cabrera said they would not be given diplomas. “But this is not a threat, it is the fulfillment of the law,” she stated.
Cabrera acknowledged there was widespread disagreement about educational policy in Spain and that there needed to be a greater effort to achieve a consensus.
Asunción, Paraguay, May 20, 2008 (CNA) - The Diocese of San Pedro in Paraguay has issued a statement warning that the violent occupation of private property is only leading to more violence and strife between Paraguayans.
The Diocese, where ex-bishop and now President Fernando Lugo was pastor, issued its statement last weekend condemning the continual occupation of private property and the threats of new action by the movement “Los Sintierra.”
Signed by Bishop Adalberto Martinez, the statement points out that the “recent occupation of private property and the threats to continue such action, as well as the gestures and statements that show no respect for the rule of law, do not contribute to social peace and instead create an unnecessary climate of antagonism during this time of transition we are experiencing.”
The bishop acknowledged the legitimate complaints regarding agriculture and land reform that has been partially undertaken by officials, but he said that lasting and comprehensive solutions are not possible until after the transition to the new government.
“The Church calls on all social and political leaders involved in the conflict over properties in the San Pedro province to prudence, common-sense and calm,” Bishop Martinez stated.
Guadalajara, Mexico, May 20, 2008 (CNA) - In preparation for the eighth anniversary of the canonization of the martyrs of Jalisco of the Cristero War, Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez of Guadalajara is encouraging the faithful to participate in the festivities scheduled for May 21.
The main celebration will take place outside the Shrine of the Martyrs being built at the Cerro del Tesoro in the Mexican state of Jalisco.
In his message, Cardinal Sandoval recalled that the “27 saints whose canonization we commemorate on May 21 are the reason for the celebration, which I have asked priests to observe in all parishes, in addition to the special ceremony which will take place at the Shrine at the Cerro del Tesoro.”
The cardinal noted the special devotion of Mexicans, and in particular of Jalisco residents, to the Cristero martyrs, “as many of them were born and raised here.”
“They have an incalculable spiritual value that has no price: that of being witnesses of the faith, men of their word, defenders of their ideals, courageous in the face of death and faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ to the point of shedding their own blood and giving up their lives. These are admirable spiritual values that should inspire us all to imitate that faithfulness and loyalty to our beliefs,” the cardinal said.
London, England, May 20, 2008 (CNA) - Despite criticism that the research techniques involved are unethical and overhyped, British lawmakers on Monday defeated a proposal to ban the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for medical research.
The House of Commons is considering amendments to the Human Embryology and Fertilization Bill, which will affect regulations of embryonic research and artificial reproduction.
The proposed amendment to outlaw the creation of hybrid embryos was defeated by 336 to 176 votes, according to Agence France Presse.
Human-animal hybrid embryos are created by inserting the nucleus of a human cell into an animal egg. Some researchers speculate that they could be a possible source of embyronic stem cells, and possibly have potential for research and therapy for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
After much debate, lawmakers were granted a free vote on sensitive parts of the bill, which means they will not be forced to follow the party line. Three Catholic members of Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Cabinet supported banning hybrid embryos.
Conservative lawmaker Edward Leigh, who proposed the amendment, argued in the House of Commons that hybrid embryos were "ethically wrong and almost certainly medically useless."
Prime Minister Brown defended the creation of hybrid embyros in The Observer newspaper on Sunday. His youngest son Fraser has cystic fibrosis, which could potentially receive treatments discovered through embryonic stem cell research.
"I believe that we owe it to ourselves and future generations to introduce these measures and in particular to give our unequivocal backing, within the right framework of rules and standards, to stem cell research," Brown wrote.
David Cameron, leader of the opposition Conservative party, also opposed the ban.
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of Edinburgh, has called the concept of animal-human hybrid embryos “hideous.”
"It is difficult to imagine a single piece of legislation which more comprehensively attacks the sanctity and dignity of human life than this particular bill," he said in an Easter Sunday sermon.
"One might say that in our country, we are about to have a public government endorsement of experiments of Frankenstein proportion," the cardinal said.
"Crossing the species barrier in this way is deeply, deeply reprehensible, undesirable," said Josephine Quintavalle, a bioethicist who founded Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE), according to CNN. "Humans do not reproduce with animals. Whether it's done in the laboratory or not doesn't make it right."
The secular organization Human Genetics Alert (HGA) said it also found defects among existing hybrid embryos which raise doubts about whether such hybrids can produce useful stem cells.
David King, a former molecular biologist who now heads HGA, said he was “very, very unimpressed” with the scientific case for creating human-animal hybrid embryos. He said the scientific arguments in favor of the research had been “overhyped,” CNN reports.
"The science is so weak and the ethical concerns are so significant, I think you have to weigh that.
"Very little, I think, will come out of it and I think hopes are being raised that will be cruelly disappointed," King said.
Lawmakers also voted 342 to 163 against a ban on the creation of “savior siblings,” children created as a close genetic match for an ailing sibling who needs blood or tissue donations.
Parliament is considering proposed amendments to reduce the upper time limit for abortions from 24 weeks to 22, 20, or 16 weeks. Another proposal in the bill would ease access to IVF treatment for single women and lesbians by removing requirements for clinics to consider a child’s need for a father.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 20, 2008 (CNA) - Argentina’s president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has reversed a government decision to organize a “multi-religious ceremony” and will instead attend the traditional Te Deum ceremony, which commemorates important political changes that took place in Buenos Aires on May 25, 1810.
The reversal by Kirchner came after widespread criticism and the opposition of Archbishop Mario Cargnello of Salta to replace the Te Deum with a new ceremony, “breaking a tradition that dates back to 1810.”
Archbishop Cargnello said, “The Church is committed to ecumenism,” and that representatives of other religious would participate in the Te Deum.
The president of campus ministry in Buenos Aires, Father Guillermo Marco, said that although the ceremony will go forward, the government’s proposal to move the traditional ceremony to another city reveals “a profound ignorance of what is being celebrated,” as May 25 marks events that took place specifically in Buenos Aires, when there was still no national government.
Some government officials said there was “no reason to sit down (in the Cathedral of Buenos Aires) to listen to [Cardinal] Bergoglio challenge them,” and in order to avoid possible criticism, they decided to hold the ceremony in Salta. However, they don’t know “what Archbishop Cargnello will say,” the prelate noted.
Argentinean historian Jose Ignacio Garcia Hamilton also weighed in on the controversy, saying, “May 25 is a Buenos Aires holiday. It does not have national import.” “The Te Deum has always been held in the capital. Now they want to move it to Salta because Kirchner is always trying to make new enemies,” he said.
London, England, May 20, 2008 (CNA) - Cherie Blair, wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair, appeared to contradict Catholic teaching on artificial birth control during a television interview in which she talked about the impact of contraception on women’s lives.
Speaking in an interview on GMTV, Blair responded to viewers interested in her remarks concerning contraceptive use in her new book. In her book, Blair told how her youngest son was conceived when she did not pack her contraceptive equipment.
"People seem to be quite shocked that perhaps a Catholic girl even uses contraception but it is really an important thing for women because one of the things about the book is about how women's lives have changed," Blair told interviewer Lorraine Kelly.
"One of the reasons women's lives have changed is that they have been able to control their fertility, it is an important issue."
Her comments follow Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks earlier this month defending the 1968 papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, which explains how artificial contraception is immoral.
Blair also spoke in the interview about meeting two Popes, which she called a “huge thing” for a “good Catholic girl.” Her husband converted to Catholicism last December.
According to The Press Association, a spokesman for the Catholic Church in England and Wales declined to comment.