Vatican City, Jun 24, 2008 (CNA) - On May 29, at the Philippine Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Manila, representatives from both the Vatican and the Philippines exchanged an agreement signed April 17, 2007 regarding the care of historic Catholic churches in the region.
The agreement, signed by Pope Benedict XVI and President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was ratified at a ceremony which took place at the Office of the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City last month.
At the event, Archbishop Edward J. Adams, Philippine apostolic nuncio, assured the Vatican’s commitment to “mutual cooperation” for the proper care of old churches that the Philippine Catholic church has maintained for the past 400 years.
He continued by explaining to the Filipino Catholic Bishops’ Conference that the agreement is a major move in ensuring the protection of the country’s old churches “which the church continues to utilize for its pastoral activities and evangelization.”
Albert G. Romulo, foreign minister of the Republic of the Philippines, said that both countries have made strides toward preserving the “value of symbols of spirituality.”
“Such symbols of the Filipinos faith remain vital in continuously shaping and molding positive character and strengthening an individual and the people’s beliefs and devotions,” Romulo said.
In addition, the pact also discusses the implementation of the regulation of Church properties through property inventory, restoration, anti-trafficking, custody and security, archiving and promotion of tourism in the heritage sites.
Vatican participants in the ceremony included Cardinal Gaudencio B. Rosales, archbishop of Manila, and Bishop Julito B. Cortes, auxiliary of Cebu and president of the Commission for the Cultural Patrimony of the Church in the Philippines.
Philippine government officials who attended are Carmen Padilla, head of the national commission for UNESCO; Emelita V. Almosara, counselor of the National Historical Institute, and Angel Bautista, head curator of the cultural property section of the National Museum.
The pact went into effect on the day that the agreement was exchanged, May 29.
Washington D.C., Jun 24, 2008 (CNA) - The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued a statement in response to a study from the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life which reported that Americans have a non-dogmatic approach to religion.
The Pew study, which surveyed 35,000 adults, estimated that 92 percent of American adults say they believe in God or a “universal spirit.” It states that 74 percent of Americans say they believe in life after death and 63 percent say they believe that Scripture is the Word of God. Another 63 percent say they pray at home and read Scripture with their children, while 60 percent say they send their children to religious education programs.
The study reports that a majority of Americans affiliated with a religious tradition agree there is more than one way to interpret the teachings of their faith. The survey also states that most Americans don't think their religion is the only way to eternal life – even if their faith tradition teaches otherwise.
Commenting on the survey, Archbishop of Washington Donald Wuerl, who is chairman of the Bishops’ Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, said, “History testifies that religious faith is very important to Americans.” “At every juncture of our past, Americans have called upon God for guidance, protection, and direction. There is a clear identification with religion in America which, for Catholics, reflects the dedicated efforts of priests, catechists and teachers in our history.”
Father J. Brian Bransfield, a specialist in the USCCB’s Secretariat of Evangelization and Catechesis, said “it is hard to quantify the tremendous thirst for truth among families and people of all ages, as demonstrated by the overwhelming response to the recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States. This thirst is sometimes misdirected through the effects of secularism, with its focus on individualism and consumerism.”
Father Bransfield repeated a statement Pope Benedict made before his election to the papacy, “God does not count in large numbers.”
“In the face of any measure, the steady and ongoing response of the Church is an ever renewed commitment to robust catechetical efforts,” Father Bransfield stated.
Manila, Philippines, Jun 24, 2008 (CNA) - The Catholic Church in the Philippines is working in the aftermath of Typhoon Fengshen to help evacuees and other victims of the storm that, according to Reuters, has killed 224 known victims and left hundreds missing.
That death toll does not include fatalities among the 626 passengers and 121 crew members of the ferry which capsized on June 21 about 65 miles southeast of Manila. UCA News reports that another five people have been confirmed dead in that disaster, but only 32 survivors have been reported as rescued from the disaster.
As part of the Catholic response to the disaster, St. Elizabeth Metropolitan Cathedral in the central Philippines city of Jaro is housing 206 evacuated families in a hall where wedding receptions are normally held, UCA News says. Some evacuees brought folding beds with them, while those with no beds are being given cartons to sleep upon.
Monsignor Meliton Oso, chairman of the Jaro Archdiocesan Social Action Center, said members of the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals are distributing food to evacuees. “People just come to bring a cauldron of soup" or other food, he reported to UCA News. The monsignor added, "We need all the hands we can get."
The evacuees have also received medicines for diarrhea, fever and headache. Church workers are trying to ascertain how many evacuees’ houses have been totally destroyed so the Church can help them rebuild “immediately,” Monsignor Oso said.
The Archdiocese of Manila’s social service ministry is also distributing relief goods. Gina Santos, an administrative officer with Caritas Manila, said the social service ministry and the archdiocesan development agency has distributed rice and canned goods to 1,225 families in some parts of the capital and in neighboring Pasay City.
Rome, Italy, Jun 24, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Genoa and President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, said this week the impossibility of divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion “does not depend on an external disposition but rather comes from the interior of the sacrament of the Eucharist itself, the sacrament of the perennial unity between the love of Christ and humanity.”
According to the SIR news agency, the cardinal made his comments in response to a question about the matter during a conference at which he was presenting a book on the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Genoa.
Cardinal Bagnasco pointed to the example of Catholics who are separated and who “suffer from this difficult situation, but nonetheless live in fidelity to the indissolubility of the sacrament and desire to meet and pray together, to exchange experiences and encourage one another.” This situation “is one of the ways in which the maternity of the Church is expressed,” he added.
The cardinal's comments also come in the context of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's public campaign to push for allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Berlusconi is himself divorced and remarried.
Catholic teaching says that Catholics cannot ignore Jesus' teaching that the faithful cannot divorce and remarry. The Church teaches that for the good of their souls, believers should not present themselves for Communion, when they have departed from the teachings of Jesus.
Vatican City, Jun 24, 2008 (CNA) - The Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff announced that on June 29, the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate the Eucharist at 9:30 a.m. in the Vatican Basilica. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I is also scheduled to participate in the ceremony.
Bartholomew I and the Holy Father will deliver the homily, recite the profession of faith and impart the final blessing. The Pontiff will concelebrate with the new Catholic metropolitan archbishops, upon whom he will impose the pallium.
Among the 43 archbishops receiving palliums are: Most Rev. Frederick Edwin O'Brien, archbishop of Baltimore; Most Rev. Thomas John Rodi, archbishop of Mobile; Most Rev. John Clayton Nienstedt, archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis; Most Rev. Anthony Mancini, archbishop of Halifax, Canada; Most Rev. William Martin Currie, archbishop of Saint John's, Newfoundland, Canada.
Receiving the pallium is a 1,700 year old tradition reserved for the Pope and archbishops. When the archbishop receives the strip of cloth made of lamb’s wool, it signifies the archbishop’s role as shepherd over his respective archdiocese.
Just the day before, the Pope will have inaugurated the Pauline Year by celebrating Vespers at the Roman basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls.
Colorado Springs, Colo., Jun 24, 2008 (CNA) - After having launched an effort to reach out to religious conservatives, Barack Obama is being criticized for deliberately misinterpreting the Bible by Dr. James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family.
The critique of Obama’s use of Scripture is part of a series that Dobson and Tom Minnery, senior vice president for government and public policy at Focus on the Family, are conducting on the two presidential candidates as the national elections approach.
Interestingly, Tom Minnery told CNA that “we’re open to have Obama or McCain visit” the headquarters of Focus on the Family. Minnery also told the Associated Press that one of Obama’s aides recently suggested a meeting at the organization's headquarters.
Focus on the Family sent an advance copy of the radio show to CNA, in which the two radio hosts analyze a speech Obama gave in June 2006 to the liberal Christian group, Call to Renewal Covenant for a New America. The speech came to Dobson’s attention, in part, because he is cited by Obama in the address.
As Dobson kicked off the radio segment, he explained that it was being paid for by Focus on the Family’s Action, an affiliate whose donations are taxed, so it is able to address political issues.
After discussing the number of Christians that make up the America’s population, Obama said, "Even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools?" Obama said. “Would we go with James Dobson's or Al Sharpton's?" referring to the controversial civil rights advocate.
Another passage of the discourse that Dobson took issue with involved Obama’s questioning of how Christianity and the Bible should guide public policy.
“Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus,” which Obama said suggests slavery is OK and eating shellfish is an abomination. “Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount?—a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application."
“So before we get carried away, let’s start reading our Bibles now. Folks haven't been reading their Bibles," Obama said.
Both radio show hosts were upset that Obama seemed to be intentionally fusing the teachings of the Old Testament with Jesus' teachings in the New Testament, contrary to the Christian belief that many of the Old Testament laws and practices were rendered obsolete by Jesus’ teachings.
“I think he's deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology," Dobson said.
“He is vastly confused about the details of biblical exposition; that he’s painting himself in this highly religious aura,” Minnery added.
“And then says go read the Bible, as if he’s some kind of biblical authority,” Dobson interjected.
Dobson also pointed to another comment Obama made, which Dobson says means the presidential contender believes, “it is anti-democratic to believe or fight for moral principals from the Bible that are not supported by people of all faiths.”
In the audio clip, Sen. Obama says, “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concern into universal, rather than religion-specific values. What do I mean by this? It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason. …”
According to Dobson, this means that “I can’t seek to pass legislation that bans partial-birth abortion because there are people in the culture who don’t see that as a moral issue. And if I can’t get everyone to agree with me, it is undemocratic to try to pass legislation that I find offensive to the Scripture. Now that is a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution. … We don’t have to go to the lowest common denominator of morality, which is what he’s suggesting.”
"Am I required in a democracy to conform my efforts in the political arena to his bloody notion of what is right with regard to the lives of tiny babies?" Dobson said. “What he's trying to say here is unless everybody agrees, we have no right to fight for what we believe."
Joshua DuBois, director of religious affairs for Obama's campaign, reacted to the criticism by saying that a full reading of Obama's speech shows he is committed to reaching out to people of faith and standing up for families. "Obama is proud to have the support of millions of Americans of faith and looks forward to working across religious lines to bring our country together," DuBois said.
Dr. Dobson is in a unique position since he previously stated that he could not in good conscience vote for McCain. His main concern about the Republican contender is that he is not a true conservative. Dobson has said he will vote in November but has suggested he might not vote for president.
Obama has been mobilizing religious leaders lately, including conservative evangelicals. His campaign has plans for thousands of "American Values House Parties," where participants discuss Obama and religion, as well as a presence on Christian radio and blogs.
The radio show can be accessed here: http://www.citizenlink.org/
Mexico City, Mexico, Jun 24, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, addressed the upcoming Supreme Court decision on whether or not to strike down the law legalizing abortion Mexico City, by saying that “Mexico is a land of life and not of death.” He also called on Mexicans to stand up for life.
“We come to the feet of Our Lady of Guadalupe to express thanks for the gift of life and to reaffirm the truth about human life in a world that turns a blind eye to what science confirms: that the life of the embryo is human from the first moment of conception until the last moment of its natural existence,” the cardinal said during Sunday Mass at the conclusion of a massive pro-life march.
“True secularism is that which listens to reason,” the cardinal continued, “and not that which is carried away by politically imposed madness. Christians “want their right to defend their points of view with reason, tolerance and respect to be respected” without being labeled as “backwards for not going along with the official opinions of the self-proclaimed intelligentsia.”
“Mexico is a land of life and not of death,” and this is the truth that “we must proclaim in society,” the truth “we must defend, with clarity of reason, amidst the legal quandaries that a pluralist society puts on the table for debate and on the consciences of people,” Cardinal Rivera said.
He encouraged the faithful to support “pregnant women in order to help them overcome the difficult temptation to eliminate the new life that has begun in them.” In this way they will be witnesses in the midst of a plural and democratic culture to the need for values that guarantee the lives of everyone.
The pro-life march, called the “Pilgrimage for the Marvelous Gift of Life, took place on June 22. Thousands took part in the three-hour event which ended with a Mass at the Basilica of Guadalupe.
Madrid, Spain, Jun 24, 2008 (CNA) - The civil rights watchdog website HazteOir.org reported this week that the Japanese company Fujitsu has said it does not have an advertising contract with La Sexta television in Spain and will not run spots during the controversial program “Salvados por la Iglesia” (Saved by the Church), which mocks the Catholic faith.
According to the watchdog website, speaking on behalf of the General Director for Marketing for Fujitsu Spain, Walther Plettenberg of the German House of Commerce said the Japanese company has no advertising contract with La Sexta.
The ads that appeared during the program “Salvados por la Iglesia” were for air conditioning units that carry the Fujitsu brand name and are sold in Spain by the Tecno Sakura Company. Luis Bertran Farga, a spokesman for the company, said the ads would be pulled immediately.
Bogotá, Colombia, Jun 24, 2008 (CNA) - The secretary general of the Colombian Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Fabian Marulanda Lopez, said this week that even though FARC has offered proof that the hostages it holds are alive, the group could be “politically motivated” in doing so.
Although he acknowledged that “proof of survival brings comfort to family members,” Bishop Marulanda said “in the end these proofs” could simply be of a political nature, and “that is not what Colombia wants.”
Likewise, he said all the bishops and priests of the country are open to receiving communications from the hostages and facilitating their release.
Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman Volmar Pérez told Radio Caracol he hoped the FARC would understand the need to provide proof that all the hostages are alive, as such gestures “provide relief for immediately family members because it shows that their loved ones are still alive.”
Vatican City, Jun 24, 2008 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Cardinal William Joseph Levada, Cardinal Oswald Gracias and Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, as presidents of the bishops’ synod on the Bible.
The three presidents will take turns presiding over the assembly of the world’s bishops, which will be held in the Vatican from October 5 to 26 on the theme: "The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church."
Pretoria, South Africa, Jun 24, 2008 (CNA) - Following the withdrawal of Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai from the country’s presidential race, the Catholic Bishops of Southern Africa have asked all African states to reject President Robert Mugabe should he be declared winner of Friday’s presidential run-off election. They also warned a humanitarian crisis looms unless there is a unified international effort to rebuke the abuses of the Mugabe government.
A coalition of religious groups has even called for international intervention to remedy the crisis.
“Sadly, the politically motivated violence, intimidation and torture have made a just and fair run-off presidential election virtually impossible,” the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) said in a statement, the Catholic Information Service for Africa reports.
The statement, signed by SACBC spokesman Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, said Tsvangirai, the candidate of Zimbabwe’s opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), withdrew from the election because it has “degenerated into a sham.”
“The electoral playing field is not level. Opposition candidates cannot present their views to the electorate, nor do they have equitable access to the media. Monitoring systems are not in place,” the statement continued.
The bishops called for the creation of a consensus model of government that involves all Zimbabweans, The statement said a “winner-takes-all” solution only rewards the ruling party for its atrocities and criminality.
The statement warned that the “atrocities and barbarism” of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party are being documented. It also said the actions of Mugabe and his party are a “blight on every African.”
“Mr. Mugabe’s actions and those of his generals, their wives, his thug supporters and the so-called ‘war veterans’ are offensive in the eyes of God. Judgment awaits,” the bishops said.
The SABC statement warned that violence, famine and uncertainty will “engulf” the whole region of Southern Africa without a unified international effort.
The Brussels-based Catholic group International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity (CISDE) joined the ecumenical group APRODEV and the Ecumenical Zimbabwe Network (EZN) in calling for international intervention from the United Nations. The groups cited U.N. Security Council resolution 1674, which established as an international norm the “responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.”
“What is needed is international intervention,” John Stewart, director of the Zimbabwean human rights NGO NOVASC, said in a press release from the coalition. “The direct intervention of an international, African-led presence to guarantee security and the protection and safety of the people is necessary. Militias have to be disarmed, disbanded, demobilized; the state security agencies must be reined in and kept under scrutiny, to prevent them continuing with their campaign of violence and terror, and to prepare the processes of a return to the rule of law and extensive security sector reform.”
The press release said Tsvangirai’s withdrawal from the presidential election “must finally end the pretense of a democratic process.” The coalition also lamented the Mugabe government’s June 4 decision to forbid humanitarian groups from providing humanitarian aid in the country.
, Jun 24, 2008 (CNA) - An Italian businessman who claimed to have close connections with the Vatican in his appeals to real estate investors was arrested on Tuesday on charges of operating a fraudulent real estate scheme.
The 29-year-old Raffaello Follieri was charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, and money laundering in a U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Reuters reports.
According to federal prosecutors and the FBI, Follieri is accused of misleading investors into believing he has close links with the Vatican that would enable him to buy the Catholic Church’s unwanted U.S. real estate at a discount.
Follieri and others allegedly used the investors’ money to buy expensive clothes and restaurant meals, a $37,000 per month Manhattan apartment, and other personal expenditures including medical expenses for his girlfriend at the time, whom authorities did not identify.
For four years Follieri has dated actress Anne Hathaway, who starred in the films “Get Smart” and “The Princess Diaries.” The two have reportedly ended their relationship.
Follieri, a native of Foggia, Italy, allegedly claimed that the Vatican formally appointed him to manage its financial affairs and that he met with the Pope when he visited Rome.
According to the criminal complaint unsealed in court on Tuesday, witnesses say Follieri kept various ceremonial robes in his office in New York. In one incident, Follieri allegedly asked a monsignor travelling with him to change into the robes of a more senior clergyman “in order to create the false impression that Follieri had close ties to the Vatican," the complaint says.
Follieri allegedly received millions in investment money from an unspecified private equity firm based on his misrepresentations. The complaint claims that his scheme lasted from June 2005 to June 2007, according to Reuters.
He is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a penalty of up to five years; six counts of wire fraud, which carry a penalty of up to 20 years; and five counts of money laundering, which also carry a penalty of up to 20 years. If convicted, Follieri also faces fines.
Follieri has also been sued in Delaware by California supermarket mogul Ron Burkle, who accused him of misusing money from a joint real estate venture involving buying and selling Catholic Church properties.
Rome, Italy, Jun 24, 2008 (CNA) - According to Andrea Tornielli, who claims to have a copy of the original letter sent by the Holy See to the schismatic Bishop Bernard Fellay, head of the St. Pius X Society, the Holy See has given an ultimatum to the Society, with a deadline of June 30 for it to respond.
According to Tornielli, who writes on his blog for the Italian newspaper Il Giornale, Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos has written a letter in his capacity as President of the Pontifical Ecclesia Dei Commission, presenting the conditions of the ultimatum that, if accepted would conclude with the final incorporation of the St. Pius X Society into the Church by means of the canonical procedure of personal prelature, similar to that of Opus Dei.
This arrangement would allow them to "continue their activity of training seminarians and priests" and would give them autonomy for the celebration of the liturgy according to the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, that is to say in Latin, and according to Missal of 1962.
According to Tornielli, the five demands are the result of a June 4 meeting between the Cardinal and excommunicated Bishop Bernard Fellay, leader of the fraternity St. Pius X.
The Vatican demands require: "a commitment to a response proportional to the generosity of the Pope, also the commitment to avoid any public statement disrespectful to the person of the Holy Father and that could be negative to ecclesial charity, the commitment to avoid the premise of a Magisterium superior to that of the Holy Father and not to propose to the fraternity (St. Pius X) in opposition to the Church; the commitment to demonstrate the will to act honestly in full ecclesial charity and in full respect of the authority of the Vicar of Christ."
The last requirement of the Holy See, Tornielli says, is "to respect the date established for June 30, ... for responding positively. This will be a required condition and necessary as immediate preparation for the adherence to have full communion."