Rome, Italy, Jun 19, 2008 (CNA) - Magdi Allam, the Christian convert from Islam who was baptized by Pope Benedict XVI at an Easter service in April, has reacted to Islamist death threats posted on a web site said to be close to al-Qaeda. He has expressed particular concern that the writers of the threatening messages may be Italian.
Allam, an Egyptian-born writer and deputy editor of Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, has been a controversial figure in Italy for his regular critiques of Islam. In fact, in his book “Long Live Israel,” Allam wrote “the root of evil is innate in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictual.”
His conversion to Catholicism prompted angry responses from Muslim clerics and academics in Italy and the Middle East.
Recent threats on a web site targeted both Allam and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. “They are two dead men walking… just like Falcone…” one threat said, comparing both men to an anti-Mafia judge who was assassinated in a 1992 bombing.
"I find it extremely worrying that today we can find internet sites, full of al-Qaeda-inspired thought in the Italian language, giving support to Bin Laden's terrorism,” Allam said in an interview with Adnkronos International. “I find this serious because the writers of these sites are most likely Italians.”
He said those making the threats seemed to be Italians who have converted to Islam or Muslim immigrants who have been “Italianized.”
Allam argued the incident means Italy has reached “a higher and more advanced phase of Islamic terrorism, radicalism and extremism,” similar to what he says has occurred in Great Britain, France, Holland, Germany and Belgium. He said he was worried about a “lack of awareness about the seriousness of these developments,” which he said were “highly dangerous to national security and stability.”
Allam said Italy should be in a high state of alertness because the extremists are Italian citizens “who could be our neighbors” and are easily ignored until there is a “tragic accident which forces us to open our eyes.”
Stockholm, Sweden, Jun 19, 2008 (CNA) - A Latvian priest has been awarded the title “Righteous among the Nations” by Yad Vashem for risking his life to save Jews during World War II.
Father Kasimir Vilnis was parish pastor in Riga, Latvia during the war. He hid Jews from Nazi persecution in his church and in houses belonging to the church. The heroic actions of Fr. Vilnis were attested to by David Packin, a man who later left for the United States.
When the communists were about to occupy Latvia in 1944, Father Kasimir had to flee to Sweden, where he lived until his death in 1988.
The Catholic Diocese of Stockholm brought proof of Father Kasimir’s actions to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. Yad Vashem decided to name the priest “Righteous among the Nations” on March 27. Father Kasimir’s name will be inscribed on the Righteous Honor Wall in Yad Vashem, and a medal and diploma will be given to his relatives in Latvia later this summer.
Bishop of Stockholm Anders Arborelius said in a press release he was glad Father Kasimir had been recognized.
“I am grateful that an effort, done secretly, is acknowledged,” Bishop Arborelius said. “It also shows the close bonds between Jews and Christians. Father Kasimir’s effort is one more proof that even during the hardest of times we human beings have the possibility to reach out to our fellow man and make the choice to do what is good and just.”
The priest himself never discussed how he helped Jews during the war, though in the year before he died he was awarded a medal for his deeds by a Latvian Jewish society in the United States.
According to a press release from the Catholic Diocese of Stockholm, Catholics in Sweden remember Father Kasimir as a good-hearted man, a good priest who loved a joke.
Since its establishment by the Israeli Knesset in 1953, Yad Vashem documents the history of the Jewish people during the Holocaust and preserves the memory of each of its six million Jewish victims. It also recognizes the “Righteous among the Nations” to convey the gratitude of the State of Israel and the Jewish people to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Those named Righteous among the Nations, Yad Vashem’s web site says, come from all backgrounds. “The only common denominator,” the web site says, “is the humanity and the courage they displayed by standing up for their moral principles.”
Aukland, New Zealand, Jun 19, 2008 (CNA) - A High Court judge in New Zealand has questioned the legality of many abortions after Pro-Life New Zealand initiated a review of the country’s Abortion Supervisory Committee, which appoints the consultants who authorize abortions to take place.
According to Radio New Zealand, last week Justice Forrest Miller said there was reason to doubt the lawfulness of many abortions. In an April hearing, Right to Life New Zealand said that the supervisory committee was not supervising the work of certifying consultants as it should. The pro-life group argued that this neglect of duty had led to abortion on demand.
A registered practitioner may legally perform an abortion in New Zealand only if acting under a certificate approved by two consultants.
A Tuesday press release from Family Life International, New Zealand said the judge’s ruling comes at a time when New Zealand’s abortion numbers are approaching record levels. Statistics New Zealand has reported 450 more abortions in 2007 than in 2006, increasing by 2.5 percent from 17,930 to 18,380.
“If this current trend continues as it has for the last two years, then next year the number of induced abortions in New Zealand will be higher than it has ever been before in our history,” the Family Life International press release said.
“The public debate that has occurred during the last week regarding Justice Miller’s High Court ruling about New Zealand abortions has simply exposed how very little most New Zealanders know about the true harmful effects of abortion, or about how seriously unsound much of the arguments used to support it actually are,” the press release continued.
Family Life International, New Zealand said that the judge’s ruling had prompted remarks from “intolerant and hateful” legalized abortion supporters. The group cited both a Dominion Post editorial that compared pro-lifers to the Taliban and a video posted on YouTube that shows a prominent New Zealand pro-lifer with images of a gun pointed at his head.
“While New Zealand women and their unborn babies continue to pay an unnecessary and horrific price, those who endorse and carry out abortions continue to ignore the harm that their ideology is doing to Kiwi women and their unborn babies, and those who support abortion continue to do so blindly, without properly considering the philosophical and moral validity of their pro-abortion position,” the press release concluded.
Vatican City, Jun 19, 2008 (CNA) - Members of the Aid Agency for the Oriental Churches were received in an audience by Pope Benedict this morning at the Vatican. At the audience, the Holy Father stressed the vital role of the Eastern Churches in working for peace and expressed his desire to visit the Holy Land.
Speaking to the group in Italian, English, German and French, the Pope said that the "everyday life and the special mission" of the Eastern Churches, "especially at the ecumenical and the inter-religious level, must be supported by the entire Catholic Church."
The Pope first spoke of the aid agency’s concern for religious communities in Armenia and Georgia "which were among the first to receive the light of Christ." These churches, he said, are able "by living humbly and fraternally with other Christian Churches, and by generously serving the poor … express in a very practical manner the communion of love proper to the universal Catholic Church."
Nonetheless, Pope Benedict said that he still worries about the difficult situation of Christians in Iraq, recalling the figure of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho of Mosul of the Chaldeans, who died in tragic circumstances after being kidnapped on February 29 this year.
On the other hand, Lebanon is showing signs of change, and this, the Pope said, gives him "gratitude and relief." The recent success of negotiations between rival Lebanese factions led the Holy Father to say that the country has apparently "found the path of dialogue and understanding."
Given this progress, the Pope prayed that, "Lebanon may respond decisively to her vocation to be - for the Middle East and the entire world - a sign of the real possibility for peaceful and constructive coexistence between human beings". He then went on to mention Fr. Jacques Ghazir Haddad who will be beatified next Sunday in Beirut, speaking of his hope that the example of the new blessed "may touch the hearts of young Lebanese, showing them the sweetness of an evangelical life at the service of the poor and the weak, and bringing them to become faithful witnesses of the Catholic faith in the Arab world."
Finally, Pope Benedict recalled a recent visit by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, and other church officials to the Latin- and Eastern-rite communities in the Holy Land. The "cause" of these communities, said the Pope, "is vital for the entire Church.”
Saying that he shares “their trials and their hopes,” Pope Benedict XVI also fervently prayed that he “may be able to visit them in person, just as I pray that certain signs of peace, which I greet with immense hope, may soon be put into effect.”
"I appeal to the leaders of nations", he added, "that the Middle East - in particular the Holy Land, Lebanon and Iraq - may be offered its longed-for peace and social stability, while respecting the fundamental rights of the person, including that of real religious freedom. Peace", the Pope concluded, "is the only way to face the serious problem of displaced people and refugees and to halt immigration, especially Christian immigration which affects the Oriental Churches so deeply. I entrust these wishes to Blessed John XXIII, a sincere friend of the East and the Pope of 'Pacem in terris'."
Vatican City, Jun 19, 2008 (CNA) - President Joseph Kabila Kabange of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was welcomed by Pope Benedict at the Vatican on Thursday. The two leaders discussed the struggle to disarm militants in the eastern region of Kivu and President Kabila extended an invitation for the Holy Father to visit the country.
The bulk of the meeting was dedicated to discussing the ongoing effort to wrest control from warlords who have dominated the provinces of North and South Kivu for years. According to the U.N., some 20,000 militia fighters occupy the area and have been responsible for razing villages, terrorizing locals and rape.
Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the importance of respecting human rights in order to put an end to the suffering of the civilian population and build a more just and united society.
According to a statement from the Holy See’s Press Office, “Regional aspects of the question were also considered, with the hope being expressed that the forthcoming implementation of the 'Pact on Security, Stability and Development in the Great Lakes Region' may mark a decisive turning point in the promotion of the peace and well-being of all inhabitants of the area.”
Looking to build a brighter future for the beleaguered African nation, the Pope discussed the importance of “the education and formation of the young, for whom the Church is always ready to make her specific contribution” with President Kabila.
The significance of dialogue and collaboration, especially in reference to “resolving the problem of the restoration of certain properties of the Church which were nationalized several decades ago” was also raised.
The Press Office also related that "President Kabila invited the Holy Father to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo."
Vatican City, Jun 19, 2008 (CNA) - This morning at the Vatican, the Holy Father recalled the importance of devotion to the Eucharist as he received prelates from the Pakistan Catholic Bishops' Conference, who have just completed their "ad limina" visit. “The Eucharist,” the Pope recalled, “reminds us … violence never has the last word, for Christ has conquered sin and death through His glorious resurrection.”
Benedict XVI explained the important role that the Body of Christ should have in the lives of the prelates as they lead the people of Pakistan. "The centrality of the Eucharist, both through the worthy celebration of the Lord's Supper and in silent adoration of the Sacrament, should be especially apparent in the lives of priests and bishops. This will lead the laity to follow your example and come to a deeper appreciation for the Lord's abiding presence among them," he said.
The Pope explained this is essential because the Eucharist "reorients the way Christians think, speak and act in the world and makes present the salvific meaning of Christ's death and resurrection, thus renewing history and vivifying all creation. The breaking of the bread reminds us again and again that the absurdity of violence never has the last word, for Christ has conquered sin and death through His glorious resurrection."
"Eucharistic spirituality," continued the Holy Father, "embraces every aspect of the Christian life. This is evident in the emerging vitality of ecclesial movements within your dioceses. ... By exhorting the members of these movements and all the faithful to listen attentively to the word of God and to cultivate a habit of daily prayer, may your people foster genuine fellowship and create ever expanding networks of charitable solicitude for their neighbors."
The Pope also bolstered the bishops by saying, "the 'theologate' in Karachi, the program of philosophy in Lahore and your minor seminaries are vital institutions for the future of the Church in Pakistan," said the Holy Father. "Never doubt that your investment of human and material resources will ensure a solid formation for your candidates for the priesthood.”
At this time, it is particularly urgent, the Holy Father went on, to prepare seminarians -and indeed all catechists and lay leaders – “to become effective promoters of inter-religious dialogue. They share a responsibility with all Christians in Pakistan to foster understanding and trust with members of other religions by constructing peaceful forums for open conversation."
The Pope also recalled how other Catholic institutions such as "hospitals, schools, social and charitable agencies ... continue to serve the common good of the Pakistani people" by responding "to the concrete needs of others."
Benedict XVI left the bishops with words of encouragement, saying, "build on the noble example of service to neighbor etched in the history of these institutions.” When priests, religious and the lay faithful in your dioceses, care for the sick, help young people grow in knowledge and virtue, and meet the needs of the poor, they reveal the human face of God's love for each and every person, the Pontiff added.
Rome, Italy, Jun 19, 2008 (CNA) - The L’Osservatore Romano reported this week that during the Wednesday General Audience, a group of Holocaust survivors who are part of the Pave the Way Foundation greeted Pope Benedict XVI and announced they would organizing a symposium in September of this year on “the important help Pius XII gave to the Jews” during World War II.
Garry Krupp, president of the Foundation, said the symposium would be held in Rome September 15-18 and would be dedicated to studying Pope Pius XII’s efforts to save Jews. He said his attendance at the audience, together with the Holocaust survivors, was “an expression of gratitude to Pope Pacelli to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death.”
Benedict XVI stopped to greet each member of the group one by one.
The Pope also was greeted by Mame Mor Mbacke, a Senegalese Muslim leader, who expressed his desire to work for peace and justice with Christians. He was also greeted by Samart Sue and his large family, who financed the construction of 50 churches in Thailand.
Santiago, Chile, Jun 19, 2008 (CNA) - The organization Muevete Chile has launched a campaign entitled, “Discrimination in the name of Non-Discrimination,” in response to a law in Senate committee that would promote same-sex unions.
According to the organization, “This proposal was not requested by voters but rather by the gay lobby. For this reason it is interesting to note that the bill does not punish arbitrary discrimination such as that committed against an unborn child.”
“There are non-negotiable principles that exist, such as the recognition and promotion of the natural family, a union between one man and one woman,” the organization said, urging voters to act against the proposal.
Mexico City, Mexico, Jun 19, 2008 (CNA) - More than sixty Catholic organizations in Mexico are preparing to convene the “Pilgrimage for the Marvelous Gift of Life,” which will take place on Sunday, June 22. The pilgrimage is being held in view of the Supreme Court’s expected ruling on whether to confirm the law that legalized abortion up to the twelfth week in the Mexican capital last year.
In a press release organizers said, “We are making a direct call through the media to all Mexicans who live human life from the moment of conception” to join in the pilgrimage.
The event, which will take place as the Supreme Court is hearing public arguments on a challenge to the Mexico City law’s constitutionality, will conclude with a Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“Millions of people convinced that human life begins at the precise moment of conception will prayerfully go on pilgrimage” to pray for the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe to protect women who are pregnant and their unborn children. The gathering is also dedicated to interceding for the “unjust law that allows the de facto killing of the human being in his most vulnerable stage” to be struck down, organizers said.
They noted that Catholics will be joining lawyers, politicians, scientists and human rights leaders who have participated in the high court’s public hearings to urge that the law be overturned.
“We will make the words of the Holy Father John Paul II to our country our own: ‘May no Mexican dare to violate the precious and sacred gift of life that springs forth in the mother’s womb,” organizers said.
London, England, Jun 19, 2008 (CNA) - In a Mass celebrated on June 16 at the Cathedral of Westminster, the president of the Committee on External Affairs of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Bishop Roger Francis Hollis, said that despite the violence and persecution of Muslim extremists, “the light of the faith is alive” in Iraqi Christians.
According to L’Osservatore Romano, Bishop Hollis recently visited the Iraqi towns of Erbil, Kirkuk and Sulemanyiah. His visit came just days after the kidnapping and killing of the Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho.
During his homily at the Mass celebrated in London by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Bishop Hollis denounced the violence in Iraq and “the killing of laypeople and priests by Muslim extremists has been systematically and deliberately carried out.”
Addressing the hundreds of Iraqi Christians present at the Cathedral of Westminster, the bishop explained that his trip to Iraq allowed him “to share the faith with your bishops, priests and fellow citizens. I felt very encouraged and strengthened by their courage and fidelity.”
Bishop Hollis said that during his visit to the seminary of Ankawa, where he met with 27 seminarians, “We had a very beneficial time with them, their professors and the community of religious who fearlessly and untiringly work for the spread of the Gospel. Our gathering here today, for this Eucharistic celebration, reminds us of the people they are serving and is a desperate prayer to the Lord for the gift of peace for a profoundly troubled country.”
Speaking to the Iraqis present at the Mass, Bishop Hollis said, “I will always remember being among a people for whom the light of the faith is alive. For me it has been a blessing to experience all of this. As it often happens, I think that during my first visit to Iraq I have received more than I have been able to give. I will return soon but today we should pray in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Iraq, we should pray for peace, for your country.”
Buffalo, N.Y., Jun 19, 2008 (CNA) - The Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo has created a “Tim Russert Making a Difference Fund” to support Catholic elementary schools.
Several winners of the annual Making a Difference Award, which was established by Russert in 2001, expressed gratitude for his work and voiced their condolences for the newscaster and political commentator whom Bishop Edward Kmiec of Buffalo called “a gracious son of Buffalo” and a strong supporter of Catholic education.
“His commitment has been evident every year since 2001 when he began the Sister Lucille Socciarelli/Father John Sturm Making a Difference Award, honoring an outstanding Catholic elementary school teacher in the diocese,” the bishop said in a Saturday statement lamenting the passing of Russert.
“I am deeply saddened by the death of Tim Russert, a gracious son of Buffalo who was a highly respected journalist and dedicated member of the Catholic Church,” he said.
Bishop Kmiec described Russert as a “strong supporter” of Catholic education in the Diocese of Buffalo, noting that the newscaster had graduated from West Seneca’s St. Bonaventure Catholic Elementary School and Canisius High School in Buffalo.
The 2006 Making a Difference Award winner, Sr. M. Timothy Howard, OSP, said she was “deeply saddened” by Russert’s passing.
“He was an honorable man, with deep love for his family, his country, this city and most importantly, for God,” Sister Howard said. “Tim never forgot his roots, or the morals his parents raised him with. If we can learn anything from his passing it is that anything is possible, anyone can achieve greatness through hard work and integrity. Success is not measured in the amount of money we make, but on the positive ways we touch others.”
The 2005 Making a Difference Award Winner, Jeanne Kielbasa, described how her family had purchased a dining room table to celebrate her award. They now call the dining room the “Russert Room.”
“My family was speaking of Mr. Russert last night at the dinner table,” Kielbasa said. “We were discussing how he completely embodied the hope for the future that all Americans are praying for. He truly embodies the American spirit and the values that as a society we should cherish.”
Like many other eulogists, Bishop Kmiec lauded Russert’s commitment to faith and family, saying “he recognized the importance of fatherhood, family and faith, and he set a wonderful example for others to follow.”
“Tim Russert is being remembered in Masses throughout the Diocese of Buffalo this weekend. My prayers are with Tim, his wife Maureen, his son, Luke, his family and friends. May God grant him eternal rest.”
David Kersten, Executive Director of the Foundation for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Buffalo, said the establishment of the new Tim Russert Making a Difference Fund “will ensure that Tim’s mission of helping to further Catholic education in the Diocese of Buffalo will continue for generations to come.” Donations to the fund, he said, will be used for the annual Making a Difference Award and to provide financial aid to “deserving students wishing to attend a Catholic elementary school” in the Diocese of Buffalo.
“It is our hope to honor Tim by providing a means to support the Catholic values and heritage he credited with shaping who he became as a man, a husband, a father, a journalist and a human being,” Kersten concluded.
Donations to the Tim Russert Making a Difference Foundation may be made through the Diocese of Buffalo foundation’s web site at http://www.frcdb.org/
Washington D.C., Jun 19, 2008 (CNA) - A Virginia affiliate of Catholic Charities is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for helping a 16-year-old Guatemalan girl be fit with a contraceptive device and obtain an abortion, in possible violation of Virginia law and in direct contradiction to the teachings of the Catholic faith.
A story in the Washington Times reveals that four employees of Commonwealth Catholic Charities, Richmond (CCR) have been fired and one supervisor with the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services agency has been suspended, according to the Times’ federal sources and a secret April 19 letter written by three bishops to the 350 bishops of the United States.
Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City and Bishop Michael P. Driscoll of Boise, Idaho wrote the two page letter after a federal investigation was requested on April 23. The letter was publicized in the Catholic weekly The Wanderer.
The letter and other sources show that an unnamed Guatemalan girl, who already has one child, had been fitted with a contraceptive device provided by CCR members two months before the January 18 abortion. According to the Washington Times, CCR members signed the consent form required for a minor to have an abortion and also arranged her transportation to and from the abortion clinic.
Virginia law forbids a social worker form signing a parental consent form for an abortion. The law requires that at least one parent, grandparent or adult sibling give consent.
The Guatemalan girl, whose parents are missing, was a ward of the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The department provides $7.6 million each year in contracts with the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) for foster care of immigrant children. The USCCB subcontracts services through agencies like Commonwealth Catholic Charities.
"These federal funds are awarded with the clear purpose of caring for unaccompanied minors here from other countries," stated Health and Human Services spokesman Kenneth Wolfe, according to the Washington Times. "To that end, we were surprised and disappointed to learn of a chapter of Catholic Charities using this funding to facilitate a minor procuring an abortion."
Wolfe said that the case has been referred to HHS Inspector General Timothy Menke because it might have violated Virginia law and contradicts federal policy.
The HHS has requested the USCCB take “several corrective actions,” Wolfe said, “in order to prevent this type of abuse from happening again.”
“Our agency is one that supports human life, and we take that responsibility seriously,” Wolfe said.
In the letter from Bishops DiLorenzo, Wester, and Driscoll to other bishops in the USCCB, they wrote “Some members of the MRS staff were not sufficiently aware of church teaching and [USCCB] policy regarding these matters to take stronger and more appropriate actions.”
"This incident is a most regrettable stain on the record of excellence in the work both of MRS and of Catholic Charities," their letter said, according to the Washington Times.
The bishops also wrote that all MRS staff will receive training on "the primacy of Catholic teachings and beliefs as they impact their work or professional ethics ... to assure that such unacceptable incidents never happen again."
Catholic teaching condemns deliberate abortion and deliberate use of contraception as sins. In the case of abortion, anyone who obtains or knowingly helps someone obtain an abortion is automatically excommunicated.
A Monday statement from the Alexandria-based Catholic Charities USA blamed Bishop DiLorenzo for the incident, according to the Washington Times. The statement noted that CCR, which is a member of the Catholic Charities USA social service network, is incorporated under the leadership of the Diocese of Richmond, with the bishop serving on its board.
CNA attempted to contact the Diocese of Richmond for comment but none was available by press time.