Vatican City, Jun 16, 2008 (CNA) - The Church reported progress in its dialogue with Muslims over the weekend as the Islamic-Catholic Liaison Committee met for its fourteenth session. Participants found five points of agreement on the topic: “The God of Justice, of Peace and of Compassion in a World Suffering from Violence.”
In a statement made public on Saturday by the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, it was explained that this meeting was the fourteenth time that the Islamic-Catholic Liaison Committee has held a meeting.
The Catholic delegation was headed by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, while the Islamic delegation was headed by Professor Hamid bin Ahmad Al-Rifaie, president of the International Islamic Forum for Dialogue, of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The committee focused their discussions on the topic of “Christians and Muslims as Witnesses of the God of Justice, of Peace and of Compassion in a World Suffering from Violence.”
After both sides talking about their religious teachings on the topic, five separate points were agreed upon.
1. From the inherent dignity of each human being stem fundamental rights and duties.
2. Justice is a priority in our world. It requires, beyond the implementation of the existing legal provisions, the respect of the fundamental needs of individuals and peoples through an attitude of love, fraternity and solidarity. There can be no true and lasting peace without justice.
3. Peace is a gift from God and also requires the commitment of all human beings, and particularly believers, who are called to be vigilant witnesses to peace in a world afflicted by violence in many forms.
4. Christians and Muslims believe that God is compassionate and therefore they consider it their duty to show compassion towards every human person, especially the needy and the weak.
5. Religions, if authentically practiced, effectively contribute in promoting brotherhood and harmony in the human family.
Following their June 11-13 sessions, the participants were received in audience by Benedict XVI "who encouraged them to continue their endeavors for the promotion of justice and peace."
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jun 16, 2008 (CNA) - In response to a debate among local officials over the legalization of abortion, Archbishop Jose Luis Mollaghan of Rosario lamented this week that leaders forget “to protect the life of the unborn, the most defenseless human beings,” and that they do not consider that the unborn “also should be protected, like any other human beings.”
“If we want to honor and dignify life, if we are going to respond to the natural call and to grace to protect it and defend it from all evil and from every form of aggression, then each one of us, and society itself, should respect, protect and promote the dignity of each human person, in every moment and condition of his life from conception,” the archbishop said in a pastoral letter sent to the faithful.
“It is very interesting that our sensitivity for life and human rights in so many cases does not extend to a right that is primary and fundamental: the right to life,” Archbishop Mollaghan said. “This right belongs to human nature as such, and through it to the person, who could not exist otherwise,” he added.
Archbishop Mollaghan stressed that respect for the life demands an “enthusiasm for this truth, as well as the proper ordering of science and technology towards man’s comprehensive development.” Human life, he went on, should not only not be suppressed; it should be protected with loving care. “Abortion that takes the life of the unborn and euthanasia are unacceptable.”
The archbishop also addressed more difficult decisions in which people who reject a newly conceived life are not motivated by seemingly selfish interests or by convenience. Even in circumstances where the desire is to preserve other goods such as health, a decent life for other members of the family or because it is believed that it would be best that a child with a certain physical condition not be born, “even in such serious and dramatic situations, the deliberate killing of an innocent human being can never be justified,” he wrote.
He also stressed that the terminally ill also have the right to life even when in certain cases suffering can be difficult to endure or there exists a temptation to cut short one’s suffering by hastening death.
These assaults on human life take place when it is most vulnerable and defenseless, he added, and therefore “they demand our attention so that we may be wiling to love and protect life,” he said in conclusion.
Brindisi, Italy, Jun 16, 2008 (CNA) - On Sunday evening Pope Benedict wrapped up his weekend visit to the Archdiocese of Brindisi-Ostuni by speaking to a gathering of all the priests, deacons and seminarians of the archdiocese. Being a good priest, the Pope said, requires that one become a “master of prayer.”
As he spoke to the clergy in Brindisi’s St. Lawrence Cathedral, the Holy Father told them that, to ensure "your faith is always strong and vigorous, it is important, as you well know, to nourish it with assiduous prayer. Be, then, models of prayer, become masters of prayer."
Benedict XVI then reflected on how the entirety a priest’s ministry flows from his prayer.
"The moment of prayer is the most important moment in a priest's life, the moment in which divine grace acts most effectively, making his ministry fruitful. Prayer is the first service to be offered to the community," he said.
"Another opportunity of spiritual growth for your community", the Holy Father pointed out, "is the diocesan synod, the first since Vatican Council II and since the unification of the two dioceses of Brindisi and Ostuni. This is a chance to relaunch the apostolic commitment of the entire archdiocese, but it is above all a special moment of communion which helps you to rediscover the value of fraternal service."
The ongoing synod has the task of "helping your local Church, in all its elements, to rediscover the meaning and the joy of service: a service for love. This holds true, above all, for you, dear priests, molded after Christ 'Head and Pastor' and always ready to guide His flock. Recognize the gift you have received, and be joyful for it! Be generous in performing your mission! Base it on assiduous prayer and on permanent cultural, theological and spiritual formation!" the Pope exhorted.
Looking ahead to the Pauline Year, which Benedict XVI will inaugurate on June 28, the Pope called on the archdiocese to look at it as “an occasion for a generous relaunch of missionary activity, for a more profound announcement of the Word of God, welcomed, meditated upon, and translated into a fruitful apostolate, as happened with the Apostle of the Gentiles."
Brindisi, Italy, Jun 16, 2008 (CNA) - Over the weekend, Pope Benedict XVI visited the southern Italian Archdiocese of Brindisi-Ostuni. After being welcomed the region’s young people, the Holy Father challenged them to live lives rich in values instead of seeking after material possessions. He also called on the youth to, “Be apostles to your peers."
The Pope began his remarks by first addressing the civil authorities who greeted him. Recalling that Brindisi has always been a place of refuge, he encouraged the people of the region to “defend the family, the solid foundation upon which to build the life of all society."
Turning then to address young people, the Holy Father explained how he well understood both their enthusiasm for life and the problems afflicting them. "In particular," he said, "I understand the burden weighing upon many of you, and upon your future, because of the dramatic problem of unemployment. ... In the same way, I know that your youth is threatened by the lure of easy earnings, and by the temptation to find refuge in artificial paradises or to allow yourselves to be attracted by warped forms of material satisfaction.”
"Do not let yourselves be ensnared by the trap of evil," Benedict warned the youth. "Seek a life rich in values, in order to create a more just society, one more open to the future. ... It is up to you ... to ensure that progress becomes a greater good for everyone. And the path of goodness, as you know, has a name: it is called love."
"The love of God has the sweet and compassionate face of Jesus Christ," the Holy Father said, explaining that this brings us “to the heart of the Christian Message: Christ is the answer to your queries and problems. ... Follow Him faithfully. And, in order to be able to meet Him, love His Church, feel responsible for her, do not seek to avoid being - each in his or her own environment - courageous protagonists."
"You are the young face of the Church. Do not fail, then, to make your contribution so the Gospel she proclaims may spread everywhere. Be apostles to your peers," Pope Benedict challenged.
Rome, Italy, Jun 16, 2008 (CNA) - Thousands of Poles lined up to say their final goodbyes to Agata Mroz, a young volleyball star who died on June 4 after postponing a bone marrow transplant in order to allow her daughter to be born.
At the age of 17, Agata was diagnosed with leukemia. She battled the disease and ended up becoming one of the top athletes in Poland, winning the European Volleyball Championship twice with her country’s team. She joined the professional volleyball team CAV in Murcia, Spain, where she also led the team to title wins.
Her struggle against leukemia forced her to take a sabbatical year during which she received many blood transfusions. Thousands of Poles donated blood for her cause. On June 9, 2007, she married Jacek Olszewski. She was too weak to travel away for a honeymoon but soon afterwards she became pregnant. A few weeks later, doctors discovered her cancer had progressed. She decided to postpone a bone marrow transplant until after the baby’s birth, set for April 4.
Agata told the Polish daily Dziennik that she never regretted her pregnancy. “The news I was going to be a mother made me feel fortunate. I was so happy because I would know what it was like to be a mother and I would give my husband something good from myself,” she said.
Agata underwent the transplant after the birth but she contracted a deadly infection. Her funeral Mass was celebrated in the same church that she was married in one year earlier to the day. She was remembered for her heroism and her decision to confront her illness.
Bishop Marian Florczyk of Kielce presided at the Mass and said Agata gave Poland a witness of “love, motherhood, the desire to give life and the heroic love for an unborn child.”
Bogotá, Colombia, Jun 16, 2008 (CNA) - The president of the Bishops' Conference of Colombia, Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga, said this week the Church in that country has had no contact with the FARC since the death of Raul Reyes, but that the bishops hope that peace and the release of the hostages can be obtained once dialogue is restarted.
Speaking with Caracol Radio, Archbishop Castro said that after the death of Reyes, "It has not been possible to establish contact for very objective and obvious reasons. We must continue working with persistence and patience but also with the hope of scheduling a meeting and opening dialogue not only for the release of the hostages but also to encourage them to return to civility through dialogue."
"We must continue working, knowing that there are difficulties, but the desire of everyone is that the release of the hostages be achieved as soon as possible," he added.
The archbishop said he does not expect an immediate change in conduct from the new FARC leadership, but hopes that change will come soon. "These people, who have studied at universities, should understand that the only reasonable solution must come through negotiation. I hope there are promises on both sides to prepare the way," he said.
Madrid, Spain, Jun 16, 2008 (CNA) - The civil rights watchdog organization in Spain, HazteOir.org, has reported that the insurance company Ocaso has decided to pull its ads from the anti-Catholic comedy program, "Saved by the Church," broadcast by La Sexta network.
The website said the offenses against the Catholic faith in this program could constitute "a crime according to article 535 of the Penal Code," and that "more than 29,000 complaints against decision makers of the companies that are sponsoring ads during the program" have been made. The companies include El Corte Ingles, General Optica, Seat and Fujitsu.
Alejandro Compoy, the website's spokesman, said the decision by Ocaso shows the company is committed to "the highest standards of corporate social responsibility in responding one by one to the complaints sent by viewers and informing them of their decision to pull their ads from the offensive program."
Eugenio Ros, Director of Marketing for Ocaso, said the company "would not allow its commercials to run during programs that could offend the sensibilities of any specific group of viewers."
"The alert over this program continues to be active," the website stated. "The objective is to get more companies that are contributing to keeping this offensive content on the air by running commercials to reconsider their decision."
Mexico City, Mexico, Jun 16, 2008 (CNA) - The director of Pre-Natal Care at the La Raza National Medical Center in Mexico City, Polita del Rocio Cruz, said this week the open heart surgery and C-section carried out simultaneously on a pregnant woman who had considered aborting her child “was a miracle with the help of God.”
Identified as Elizabeth, the young woman became pregnant at the age of 21 despite her use of contraceptive devices. Her doctor warned her that the pregnancy would be risky and that she should consider abortion.
“They gave me three months to decide,” Elizabeth told the Excelsior news agency, adding that she was also worried “that the baby would be born with a birth defect or some other problem, as such things can develop in any pregnancy during the first three months.”
“I decided to wait. If a problem came up, I would get an abortion. If not, then she’s hanging on to life for some reason,” Elizabeth said. At three months she had an ultrasound and the baby was in good health, so she decided to proceed with the pregnancy.
At 34 weeks she was admitted to the hospital after doctors discovered problems with one of her heart valves that doctors treated when she was 15 years old. They decided to perform both open heart surgery and a C-section at the same time.
Both operations were scheduled for August 17, 2007, and doctors gave her a five percent chance of surviving. “The case of Elizabeth was unique because the valve was blocked by a blood clot that had to be removed, because at the moment of birth there was a 99% chance she would die,” Polita Cruz said. The chances were “one in a thousand. Yes, it was a miracle with the help of God,” she said.
Elizabeth’s daughter, Adriana, which means “gift of God,” weighed just four pounds when she was born. Now she is 12 months old and weighs 19 pounds.
Vatican City, Jun 16, 2008 (CNA) - Today at the Vatican, Benedict XVI received the Letters of Credence of Antoine Zanga, the new ambassador of Cameroon to the Holy See. The Holy Father took the occasion to address the authorities and people of the African country exhorting them to always seek the common good.
Through the new ambassador, the Pope greeted the civil and religious authorities, and Catholics of Cameroon, encouraging them to spread, “fundamental human and Christian values for the life of society,” to help the nation to develop “for the well-being of everyone."
Comparing Cameroon to other African countries that suffer greatly, the Holy Father said their suffering results from families being unable “to meet their most elemental needs.” He also pointed out that this “does not favor the growth of the nation.”
However, the Pontiff pointed out, “there are internal factors that could help. All nations must seek their own economic and social stability, using their own means and respecting their institutions.” This can be done by supporting “micro-projects which provide local employment, at the same time combating illegal trafficking and corruption. Hence, I invite all Cameroonians to become ever more aware of the common good."
The international community can also help Cameroon in its plight by providing “concrete and appropriate forms of assistance and by economic planning on a world-scale” so that “the vicious circle of under-development and poverty" is broken, the Pope said.
The Holy Father then went on to express his hope that the international institutions will collaborate with authorities in Cameroon "in order to diminish or cancel external debt, and with a view to a fairer distribution of wealth," may favor "a new economic and social drive for the good of all inhabitants and to give young people hope in a better future."
Turning to address the leaders of the nation, the Pope brought to mind recent violence in Cameroon emphasizing the tragic deaths of Msgr. Yves Plumey, of the Jesuit Engelbert Mveng and of the Claretian Anton Probst, highlighting how "one of the fundamental duties of political leaders is to offer their citizens a peaceful society.”
These leaders must “undertake to put an end to those tensions which regularly generate conflicts, so that dialogue and respect for legitimate cultural diversity between social and ethnic groups may prevail, in order to build and unify the nation."
In closing, the Pope mentioned the Church's efforts in the fields of healthcare and education, which are greatly appreciated by the local people of Cameroon. "Local ecclesial communities, missionaries and Catholic charity institutions seek above all the good and development of the population."
Rome, Italy, Jun 16, 2008 (CNA) -Vatican officials and parish pastors in Rome have banned filmmakers working on the movie “Angels & Demons” from filming scenes both in the Vatican and in any church in Rome. Diocesan officials said the movie, which is based on a previous book by “The Da Vinci Code” author Dan Brown, is “blasphemous,” poisons the faith and is untruthful. One parish priest compared the filmmakers to sensationalist tour guides.
The movie concerns a secret society’s plot to seize control of the papacy during a papal election. It is directed by Ron Howard and stars actor Tom Hanks, who reappears in his Da Vinci Code role as Harvard professor Robert Langdon. The film sets key scenes in the Vatican and in two churches in Rome, Santa Maria del Popolo and Santa Maria della Vittoria. In both churches cardinals are murdered and mutilated with mysterious symbols.
According to The Times, Father Antonio Truda, parish priest at Santa Maria del Popolo, said that there was "no question" of allowing scenes to be filmed there. "It's bad enough having to put up with tour guides explaining the scene to tourists," he said.
Archbishop Velasio De Paolis, head of the Vatican's Prefecture for Economic Affairs, said that Dan Brown had "turned the Gospels upside down to poison the faith. It would be unacceptable to transform churches into film sets so that his blasphemous novels can be made into mendacious films in the name of business."
Father Marco Fibbi, spokesman for the diocese of Rome, said: "Normally we read the script, but this time it was not necessary. The name Dan Brown was enough."
"When a film is about the saints or about stories regarding the Church's artistic values, then we give permission without any doubts," Father Fibbi told the TV listings magazine Sorrisi e Canzoni (Smiles and Songs). "But when it is a question of content which does not relate to traditional religious criteria, then our doors are closed."
Vatican officials said they have been unable to prevent the filmmakers from shooting exterior shots of St. Peter’s Basilica and the surrounding medieval streets of the Borgo. The Times reports that the filmmakers are using the marble halls and staircases of the former Royal Palace at Caserta near Naples to double for Vatican interiors.
Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” which suggested that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children, also prompted criticism when it was made into a movie.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was Archbishop of Genoa at the time of “The Da Vinci Code” movie’s release, called it a "phantasmagorical cocktail of inventions" and "a pot-pourri of lies." The Catholic organization Opus Dei also protested the movie for using as its villain a murderous Opus Dei monk. Opus Dei has no monks.
Like “The Da Vinci Code,” “Angels & Demons” has been criticized for making basic mistakes concerning the locations of historic buildings, artistic conventions, and the meaning of historical symbols. One of the ridiculed claims in “Angels & Demons” states that the oculus opening in the domed roof of the Pantheon is known as the “demon’s hole.” The book also misstates the famous inscription on the Pantheon’s facade.