San Salvador, El Salvador, Jun 11, 2008 (CNA) - The 84 lawmakers of the Congress of El Salvador have signed the Book for Life, signifying their commitment to defend life from conception to natural death.
The initiative began in Honduras and organizers hope the document will be signed by all the congresses of Central America. The book will be sent next to Guatemala and Costa Rica, with Panama and Mexico to possibly come after.
“We believe that all of us must be faithful defenders of life and not leave room for anything else,” said Hugo Martinez, a leftist Honduran lawmaker.
The president of the Salvadoran foundation Si a la Vida (Yes to Life), Regina Cardenal, said that by inviting lawmakers to sign the Book of Life, organizers hope to create awareness among the different legislative bodies of the importance of protecting life, especially the life of the unborn.
Sydney, Australia, Jun 11, 2008 (CNA) - World Youth Day 2008 organizers, planning a massive barbeque for pilgrims, have placed orders for food supplies for the massive event that will take place this July. About 25 million items have been ordered for the up to 125,000 expected international visitors and 60,000 Australian attendees.
Geoff Morris, Director of Pilgrim Services, said 3.5 million meals will be served during the event, including 900,000 hot meals provided by the Victoria-based Easyfood.
“World Youth Day will be a fantastic event, and my team has the very special challenge of planning to feed the largest mobilization of young people in Australia’s history,” Morris said.
“We want to provide pilgrims with ‘a good feed’ and a little bit of an Australian taste. We have tried to do that by including some of our more iconic items such as Tim Tams, Weet-Bix crunch, vegemite, lamingtons and good old baked beans!”
The focus on Australian cuisine will peak with a massive simultaneous barbeque to be held at around 200 locations on Wednesday, July 16. Rotary Australia has offered its support to help host the barbeque.
“There’s no better way to welcome young people to our country than to host a traditional BBQ,” Morris said.
Morris said that Cadbury will provide 425,000 chocolate bars produced at the company’s Tasmanian plant. Mrs. Macs will supply over 200,000 traditional “Big Aussie Beef Pies,” while Sanitarium will provide more than 300,000 servings of Weet-Bix crunch. Tip Top will supply over 220,000 slices of bread for the barbeque.
Food items with minimal or recyclable packaging have been ordered where possible to reduce waste, Morris said.
World Youth Day will take place from July 15 to July 20 and will mark the first visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Australia.
Hanoi, Vietnam, Jun 11, 2008 (CNA) - A Vatican delegation to Vietnam led by Monsignor Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretariat of State’s undersecretary for relations with states, began its visit in meetings with bishops and priests of Vietnam to discuss the impact of secularism in Vietnam, the intense controversies that have surrounded Church property disputes and the appointment of bishops in the country.
On Monday the delegation met with the bishops of Thanh Hoa, Nha Trang, and Lang Son in the office of the Archbishop of Hanoi, J.B. An Dang told CNA. The archbishop’s office is next to the former papal Nunciature where thousands of Catholics organized daily prayer vigils earlier this year to secure the return of the building, which was confiscated by the Communist government in 1959.
The delegation later met with 123 priests from Hanoi and neighboring dioceses who were attending an annual training session at Hanoi’s Major Seminary.
Monsignor Pietro, speaking to the priests, said such education was especially important in Vietnam, where the Church now faces widespread secularism. The monsignor said the delegation will discuss with the Vietnamese government issues such as bishop appointments, Church property disputes, and religious freedom.
The appointment of bishops is an issue that is especially charged, as the officially atheist Communist government refuses to grant control over appointments to the Vatican and the Vatican insists upon its right to name bishops. The conflict has resulted in long delays in the appointment of bishops and diocesan administrators.
Disputes surrounding church properties confiscated by the government especially focus on the Vietnamese government’s promise to return the former papal nunciature to the Church. On February 1 Archbishop of Hanoi Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet confirmed that the government had agreed to return the property. However, the nunciature continues to be administered by the government.
Rome, Italy, Jun 11, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop Pietro Sambi, representative of the Pope to the United States, has explained in an interview that Benedict XVI’s successful visit is bearing fruit in the local Church and in has opened the eyes of the secular world.
In an interview with Gianluca Biccini, that will be published in Wednesday's edition of L'Osservatore Romano, Archbishop Sambi said that during the April 15-20 papal trip, the theme of the visit, “Christ Our Hope,” permeated all the addresses of Pope Benedict XVI.
Hope filled more than the Pope’s speeches, the archbishop said as he recalled a brief message that Benedict gave to New York Catholic Radio. Speaking to the radio audience the Holy Father said “he had come ‘to confirm you in the faith, but in truth it has also been you who have confirmed me, with your response, your enthusiasm and affection’.”
The Nuncio said that the Pope was impressed by the fact that Americans “always in difficult moments, have always turned to their churches and temples, finding in the presence of God faith, unity and courage. This people has never been separated from the Word of God: the Bible remains the book that mostly accompanies the American citizen... which continues to illuminate the most significant moments of the personal, family and national life.”
“Therefore, speaking on hope, the Pope has touched an issue deeply rooted in the history and the culture of this people, and has stricken a particularly sensitive cord in these times,” the Nuncio added.
The Archbishop also highlighted the issue of evangelization, telling L'Osservatore that, “The United States, as every country in the world, is in need of a new evangelization. It must begin at home, that is to say, at the core of the Church itself, so that Christians may rediscover the joy and the strength of being Christians.”
“The Pope,” Sambi said, “has opened the way, has given the launch signal in his speeches to the bishops, the priests and religious, the educators, the lay people, the youth: all the sectors of the Church have been called to this commitment, to be instruments of the Spirit to a new Pentecost.”
According to the Nuncio, the Pope provided four major guidelines for the future of the Church in the U.S.
“First, a clear Catholic identity: to what we are and what we want to be, otherwise we become like a drop of wine lost in a glass of water. Second, a strong sense of belonging: each one has a need of a community and the community has the need of each individual; whoever walks alone ends up getting lost. Third, there is a need to cultivate excellence in personal, family and professional life, so as to be a light in the darkness, the city on a hill. In short, to be enriched by a clear identity, by a strong sense of belonging and excellence.” The fourth guideline, Archbishop Sambi said “is full availability to cooperate with whoever wants to build a better future.”
Nevertheless, “the urgency of the need of a solid formation seems to me to be the undercurrent of all his interventions in the U.S., as the foundation needed to launch the new evangelization.”
The fact that the U.S. is a world leader was never far from Pope Benedict’s mind either, according to the Apostolic Nuncio. “Pope Benedict never forgot that he was in the territory of a world superpower, and described the mission of the local Church within that context.”
The Pope's visit, according to Archbishop Sambi, has also been a great occasion for America to get to know better the true personality of the Pope. “Benedict XVI was little known in the United States. Those who were expecting the 'inflexible policeman from the Holy Office' have been conquered by the shepherd, the father, the patient teacher. The Pope has been 'discovered' as a learned man who knows what is happening in the heart of today's man, as someone who brings substantial and lively answers, offered with clarity, humility, almost with shyness; but as a passionate believer of Jesus Christ and steward of the Church, an apostle of hope.”
The response of the American people, according to the Nuncio, has been “an explosion of joy, attention, respect and love.”
“Even those media outlets that usually do not hide their bitterness toward the Catholic Church, have written and transmitted the Pope's activities with interest, respect and even sympathy. The most common expression used in the Catholic milieu has been 'a pastoral visit full of blessings for the whole Church and the country,' while in the secular world it has been 'a success beyond all expectations.' And given the power and influence of the media in the United States, a success here means a success in the whole world.
Regarding the sex abuse crisis, Archbishop Sambi said in the interview that “in the United States many feared that 'the Vatican' had not understood the gravity of the issue.” Following the Pope’s visit, the nuncio said, “This idea has disappeared…. He has shown the way to finally overcome this humiliating conduct. Vigilance will always be necessary.”
Finally the Apostolic Nuncio revealed that he has heard news from many parishes about how “many faithful who had abandoned their religious practice have come back to confession and to weekly Mass.”
“Now the Church is conscious and willing to continue the way opened by the Pope: to renew everything in Christ our Hope,” he asserted.
Vatican City, Jun 11, 2008 (CNA) - Arriving in St Peter's Square to greet a cheering crowd of pilgrims and tourists, Pope Benedict spoke today about St. Columban, an early Irish saint who helped re-evangelise Europe in the early Middle Ages, and can serve as a guide for Europe to return to its Christian roots.
Seated under the shade of a large canopy, the Holy Father began recalling the life of the saint. "Columban made his monastic profession in Bangor and was ordained a priest. At the age of fifty, he left the monastery to begin missionary work in Europe, where entire regions had lapsed into paganism. Beginning in Brittany, Columban and his companions established monasteries at Annegray and Luxeuil. These became centres for the spread of the monastic and missionary ideals brought by the monks from their native Ireland. Columban introduced to Europe the Irish penititential discipline, including private confession."
The Pope went on to say that this Saint revived and nourished the Christian roots of Europe and is still serves an example for us today.
"His stern moral teachings led to conflict with the local Bishops and the Frankish court, resulting in the exile of the Irish monks, first to the Rhineland and then to Italy. At Bobbio, where he established a great monastic centre, Columban worked for the conversion of the Arian Lombards and the restoration of unity with the Bishop of Rome. It was there that he died, leaving behind not only the example of an austere monastic life, but also a corpus of writings which shaped the monastic culture of the Middle Ages and thus nourished the Christian roots of Europe."
“St. Columban's message focuses on a powerful call to conversion and detachment from worldly goods, with a view to the eternal reward. With his ascetic life and his uncompromising attitude to the corruption of the powerful, he evokes the severe figure of John the Baptist. Yet his austerity ... was only a means to open himself freely to the love of God and to respond with his entire being to the gifts received from Him, reconstructing the image of God in himself, and at the same time plowing the earth and renewing human society."
"A man of great culture and rich in gifts of grace, both as a tireless builder of monasteries and as an uncompromising penitential preacher", the Pope said, Columban "spent all his energies to nourish the Christian roots of the nascent Europe. With his spiritual strength, with his faith, with his love of God and neighbor, he became one of the Fathers of Europe, showing us today the way to those roots from which our continent may be reborn."
At the conclusion of the audience Pope Benedict offered warm greetings to all the English speaking pilgrims including those from Thailand and Nebraska in the United States.
"I offer a warm greeting and prayerful good wishes to Cardinal Kitbunchu and the pilgrims from Thailand who are present today, and also to the large group of delegates from the Pope Paul VI Institute in Nebraska. To all the English-speaking visitors, from England, Scotland, Scandinavia, Korea, and the United States of America, I extend a warm welcome. May God bless you all."
Taking a final turn around St Peter's Square in the popemobile, the Holy Father waved to all those gathered before returning inside the Vatican.
San Salvador, El Salvador, Jun 11, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle of San Salvador has said the Catholic Church has not approved the alleged apparitions of Mary at the hill of Guazapa, despite claims made by the supposed visionary to a local newspaper.
During a press conference, the archbishop lamented “the abuse by a group of people in Guazapa who sent false documents to the press, making them believe the apparitions had been approved by the Archdiocese.”
The newspaper El Mundo recently published a series of reports on the events in Guazapa, which is located several miles north of San Salvador.
The alleged seer, identified as Bessy Rodriguez, gave false documents to the newspaper supposedly showing the apparitions had been approved.
Archbishop Saenz pointed out that “no official of the archdiocese has signed, sealed or sent documents to anyone.”
“There has been a lot of, shall we say, commercialization of these legends, but the visions of Guazapa have never been approved,” he said.
Bogotá, Colombia, Jun 11, 2008 (CNA) - A federal court in Colombia has thrown out a lawsuit to prohibit distribution of the morning-after pill in the country, denying the drug’s abortifacient effect despite testimony by the drug’s manufacturers to the contrary.
The lawsuit was brought by Carlos Humberto Gomez, who sued the country’s Food and Drug Administration for authorizing the organization Profamilia to import and sell the morning-after pill for a period of ten years.
Gomez asked the court to issue a ruling on the drug that, he explained, can “cause the death of the human life that is the product of the union of the sperm and the ovum before it reaches the womb.”
“The use of the abortifacient pills would contribute to spreading the aberrant idea that the so-called right to an abortion is an achievement,” Gomez said. “If the child is not wanted he doesn’t have to be killed, he can be given in adoption” or entrusted to child protection agencies.
The court, however, ruled in favor of the promoters of the drug and refused to recognize its abortifacient effect.
In the ruling, Justice Rafael Ostau de La Font called the drug a “contraceptive” and claimed that “the process of gestation can take between 12 and 16 days after sexual relations. Since the pill is only effective up to 72 hours after relations, it will continue to be legal in Colombia.”
Madrid, Spain, Jun 11, 2008 (CNA) - A spokesman for Professionals for Ethics in Madrid, Maria Angeles Eyries, said this week the number of parents who have expressed formal objection to the course Education for Citizenship has now reached 10,000.
Blanca Franco of the organization Alcala Freedom in Education, reiterated that Education for Citizenship, “in its current form, grants the State the right to educate students in obligatory and binding moral values, and that is inadmissible totalitarianism.”
She also said some parents have been waiting over a year for alternatives which administrators promised to provide them.
Madrid, Spain, Jun 11, 2008 (CNA) - Bishop Jose Sanchez Gonzalez of Siguenza-Guadalajara in Spain said this week the greatest danger and most important reason for rejecting the controversial school course Education for Citizenship is the Socialist government’s intention to use the course for indoctrinating children and young people.
The experience of the State as the “educator of the people,” with popular titles such as “big brother” and the “Führer” “couldn’t be more ominous.” This has always been the temptation of every totalitarian or one-party state. The result tends to be indoctrination, the bishops said.
He explained that the contents of the course promote a “perspective that is closed to the transcendent, [one that contains] relativism and gender ideology,” conveying to students “a concept of the world, of history and of the human person and certain aspects of human relations, such as marriage, that explicitly contradicts Christian anthropology, our concept of the world, of history, of life and of human and religious relationships.”
Bishop Sanchez went on to point out that allowing schools to adapt the course to their own philosophies was not sufficient. “The problem continues, especially in public schools, for believing and practicing students, who choose Christian education based on their faith and convictions, and who are obliged to assimilate issues, principles and behaviors that could be in contradiction with their convictions and principles, and to respond to matters with which they are in disagreement.”
Because parents are the first educators of their children, he said, “they have the right and the obligation to defend them, using all legitimate means, from intrusion into an area as sensitive as their faith, their principles and their convictions.”
CNA STAFF, Jun 11, 2008 (CNA) - Prominent scholars have accused the National Geographic Society’s 2006 series of articles on the Gospel of Judas of mistranslation, commercial exploitation, and “scholarly malpractice.” A recent essay in the Chronicle Review asserts that the widely publicized reports of the gospel’s portrayal of a “noble Judas,” including reports from the National Geographic project team itself, have been thoroughly challenged by experts who believe the public has been misled.
On April 6, 2006 the National Geographic Society announced the completed restoration and translation project surrounding the rediscovered apocryphal Gospel of Judas, a second-century text written by a heretical Gnostic sect. A documentary on the gospel aired on April 9, Palm Sunday.
National Geographic’s introductory webpage for the Gospel of Judas summarizes its interpretation of the text:
“The Gospel of Judas gives a different view of the relationship between Jesus and Judas, offering new insights into the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Unlike the accounts in the canonical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in which Judas is portrayed as a reviled traitor, this newly discovered Gospel portrays Judas as acting at Jesus' request when he hands Jesus over to the authorities.”
Since the publication of National Geographic’s interpretation, a heated debate over the magazine’s controversial view has arisen in scholarly circles. Thomas Bartlett described the scholarly criticisms of National Geographic’s interpretation in his essay “The Betrayal of Jesus,” published in the May 30 issue of the Chronicle Review, a publication of the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Bartlett summarized the contents of the Gospel of Judas, in which Bartlett says the character of Judas is more prominent than he is in the canonical New Testament. “He and Jesus discuss theological matters, like the meaning of baptism and whether the human spirit dies. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the text is Jesus himself, who is often laughing, playful, and aggressive and who seems to enjoy mocking his disciples. For those familiar with the Jesus taught in Sunday school, that may come as a jolt,” Bartlett wrote.
According to Bartlett, the text of the Gospel of Judas has survived in an originally leather-bound codex which is about 1,700 years old and written in Coptic, an ancient Egyptian language. It is supposed to have been discovered in a cave by an Egyptian farmer sometime in the 1970s. The codex, which includes other ancient apocryphal writings such as the Letter of Peter to Philip, was purchased by a Cairo antiquities dealer and later spent 16 years in a safe deposit box in Hicksville, New York.
Swiss antiquities dealer Frieda Tchacos Nussberger purchased the manuscript in 2000. In 2004 she reportedly sold the rights to translate and publish the gospel to the National Geographic Society for $1 million.
The codex itself was in poor condition, its fragile and torn pages requiring careful restoration.
To study and restore the codex, National Geographic brought together a panel of experts including Gregor Wurst, a professor of ecclesiastical history and patristics at the University of Augsburg, in Germany; Bart Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton University; and Marvin Meyer, an expert in Coptic studies.
According to Bartlett, National Geographic’s materials presented Judas in a positive light:
“In an online video clip, Meyer calls the text's Judas the ‘most insightful and the most loyal of all the disciples.’ In Ehrman's essay, Judas is ‘Jesus' closest friend, the one who understood Jesus better than anyone else, who turned Jesus over to the authorities because Jesus wanted him to do so.’ The teaser on the documentary's DVD case asks, ‘What if this account turned Jesus' betrayal on its head, and in it the villain became a hero?’”
Bartlett reports that though these interpretations attracted an initial flood of media attention, many scholars now argue that National Geographic’s coverage seriously distorts the text.
April D. DeConick, a professor of biblical studies at Rice University, examined the English translation of the Gospel of Judas on the Internet soon after the National Geographic documentary aired. In her reading, she saw that Judas was not turning to Jesus as a friend but rather was sacrificing him to a demon god named Saklas.
Translating from the original Coptic the next day, she found what she considered a major error. The National Geographic translated one line from the gospel’s Jesus to say “O 13th spirit, why do you try so hard?" The word ‘spirit’ was used for the word ‘daimon,’ which is usually translated in other early Christian texts as “demon.” The number 13, in the Sethian Gnostic sect believed to have written the Gospel of Judas, also signifies the realm of a demon, Ialdabaoth.
Professor DeConick believes other errors in the translation include a phrase saying that Judas “would ascend to the holy generation” which should have been translated to say he would not “ascend.” Another translated passage said that Judas would be “set apart for the holy generation” where the original said “set apart from the holy generation.”
According to Bartlett, DeConick suggests the translators were overly influenced by St. Irenaeus’ comments on the Gospel of Judas. In his work “Against Heresies” the Church Father wrote that the gospel, which he considered heretical, portrayed Judas as "knowing the truth as no others did."
In a December 2007 essay in the New York Times, DeConick explained her criticisms, asking, “How could these serious mistakes have been made? Were they genuine errors or was something more deliberate going on? This is the question of the hour, and I do not have a satisfactory answer.”
She suggested that National Geographic’s desire for an exclusive led it to insist on nondisclosure agreements from cooperating scholars, whose work then could not be corrected by their peers.
DeConick also organized a conference on the Gospel of Judas at Rice University, where many attendees were critical of the National Geographic research team. She has expanded her criticisms of the project in her book The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says.
Professor Bart Ehrman has defended the National Geographic Society’s actions, saying its nondisclosure agreements were necessary to secure its exclusive rights to the Gospel of Judas story.
Terry D. Garcia, executive vice president for mission programs at National Geographic, also said such agreements were necessary. "The last thing we wanted were multiple voices talking about bits and pieces of this project," he says. "All that would do was fan speculation and create unsubstantiated claims that might impede the research."
Garcia attacked the assertions in Professor DeConick’s New York Times essay, calling them “the height of irresponsibility.”
Marvin Meyer, the National Geographic project’s coptologist, said he was bothered by DeConick’s suggestion that some of the translation had been deliberately falsified. However, he did voice some criticisms of the National Geographic Society’s approach to the Gospel of Judas research.
"We have at times gnashed our teeth to work with them," Meyer said, according to Bartlett. "We have found things to be highly irregular in terms of how we do things in scholarship."
In a May 30 press statement, the National Geographic Society responded to Bartlett’s Chronicle Review essay. The statement accused Bartlett of mischaracterizing the “long and painstakingly careful” process of preserving and presenting the codex as a “rushed job.” National Geographic said that its disputed translation choices are “addressed in extensive footnotes in both the popular and critical editions of the gospel” and chastised Bartlett for not mentioning that DeConick’s New York Times essay coincided with the release of her book on the Gospel of Judas.
Speaking with CNA, Bartlett said that he was reluctant to characterize the overall reaction of the academic community to the debate. However, he said he has noted a large response from various Christian blogs and websites. He said some Christians had expressed a “great deal of consternation and concern” about whether the Gospel of Judas would change traditional Christian interpretations of the biblical figure, though many were generally skeptical towards the material presented in the National Geographic project.
He said that Craig A. Evans, an evangelical Christian and professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College who was on the Gospel of Judas project, is now “pretty vehement” against the “good Judas” interpretation. According to Bartlett, Evans feels the first translation was “problematic and inaccurate.”
Bartlett also addressed the National Geographic Society’s characterization of his Chronicle Review essay saying it was “inaccurate in a number of ways.”
He also provided more detailed responses to the society’s accusations on several academic web logs. One fact that Bartlett pointed out was that, contrary to the claims of National Geographic, he did report that later editions of the Gospel of Judas acknowledge alternate readings of the text and make some corrections to the translation. However, he said, “the best-selling first edition of the book and the television documentary watched by millions do not include these caveats.”
“I understand that National Geographic must be reeling from criticism of its Judas project by biblical scholars. But your sloppy, bewildering response to my article doesn't help your case,” he wrote.
Hanoi, Vietnam, Jun 11, 2008 (CNA) - After meeting with government officials over previous days, the Vatican delegation visiting Vietnam left Hanoi for the Central Highland province of Da Lat on Wednesday morning. The delegation did not issue an official statement about disputed issues between Vietnamese Catholics and the country’s government.
A source familiar with the meetings told CNA that the delegation met with a number of government officials including Pham Gia Khiem, who is both foreign minister and deputy prime minister. The delegation discussed issues concerning the appointment of bishops, religious freedom, and disputes over former Church properties confiscated by the Vietnamese government. The disputed former papal Nunciature in Hanoi was one particular topic of discussion.
Monsignor Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretariat of State’s undersecretary for relations with states, reportedly asked Nguyen The Thao, the chairman of the People's Committee of Hanoi City, about the government plan to return the Nunciature. The chairman reportedly skirted the issue, instead praising the “contribution offered by the Catholic community in the common cause for a society of peace, equality, progress and development.” He did not mention any concrete plan to resolve the dispute.
Washington D.C., Jun 11, 2008 (CNA) - The U.S. Catholic bishops at their upcoming semi-annual spring meeting in Orlando, Florida could issue their first formal statement exclusively dedicated to embryonic stem cell research.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has been prominent in the debate over embryonic stem cell research for many years. Conference officials have contributed to the discussion by offering public statements and testimony on the issue to Congress. Individual bishops and state bishops’ conferences have also been involved in speaking about the issue, often in reference to state legislation and ballot initiatives. The Catholic position against destroying human embryos in research was also stated in the November 2007 document “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”
In the proposed statement on embryonic stem cell research, the bishops insist that researchers are not ethically justified in destroying human embryos to produce stem cells for research. The statement also responds to several popular arguments justifying such research and explains possible negative consequences of the research.
The statement must be approved by two-thirds of USCCB members.The June 12-14 meeting’s agenda will include a presentation on the recent Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate’s report on sacramental belief and practice among U.S. Catholics. Other agenda items include the discussion of a new translation of the Proper of the Seasons of the Roman Missal and a progress report on a study of clerical sexual abuse.