San Diego, Calif., Jun 25, 2008 (CNA) - The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has announced that it is funding a new adult stem-cell treatment that could treat diabetes-induced retinal damage, a leading cause of blindness.
Forbes Magazine says that Pfizer is funding the creation of a San Diego biotech company named EyeCyte to develop stem-cell treatments for eye diseases. The company will base its work upon Scripps Research Institute ophthalmologist Martin Friedlander’s research involving stem-cells from blood and bone marrow. EyeCyte will receive about $3 million from Pfizer, which in return has the right of first refusal regarding the new company’s products.
In animal experiments, adult stem-cells have shown a remarkable ability to target and repair damaged blood vessels in the eye, which are a key problem in diabetic eye disease and macular degeneration.
"It is unbelievable. These cells know where to go and they target the site of injury," said Friedlander, according to Forbes. He said that in his lab he has cured mice “10 times over,” but noted it is unknown whether the treatment will help people.
Friedlander had approached Pfizer to fund his research because academic settings and government grants support basic research and not applied-process development.
“Pfizer has put its flag in the ground that there is future in regenerative medicine," said Corey Goodman, president of the Pfizer's biotechnology unit. "The eye is a very good place to be starting--it is an isolated organ, and there is a huge need."
Stem-cell harvesting for any possible future treatment for people with blood-vessel damage in the eye could require only that a patient go to the doctor and leave a blood sample. After adult stem-cells are isolated in the lab over a few hours, the patient would return and receive an injection of his or her cells into the eye.
A successful treatment could delay further blood-vessel damage and preserve eyesight for years.
Mohammad A. El-Kalay, EyeCyte chief executive and a previous member of several cell-therapy companies, said he “got very excited” about the technology when he first heard of it four years ago because it appeared there could be enough cells in one patient’s blood to treat the eyes without having to grow more cells in the lab.
El-Kalay stated that the company aims to have a treatment ready for human trials within three years.
Minneapolis, Minn., Jun 25, 2008 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has forbidden one of its parishes, St. Joan of Arc Church, from holding a “gay pride” prayer service because the event violates the teachings of the Church.
St. Joan of Arc Church has held the service for several years in conjunction with the Twin Cities Pride Celebration, according to the Associated Press. After discussions between the parish’s associate pastor and the archdiocese, the parish will hold a “peace” service in its place.
An announcement last week in the St. Joan of Arc parish bulletin said that a prayer service had been scheduled in the church for Wednesday at 7 p.m. “to celebrate and give thanks for the gifts of our Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgendered community.”
“This service is part of Pride week in the Twin Cities,” the announcement continued.
Archdiocesan spokesman Dennis McGrath said that the service’s use of the descriptor “LGBT” was “not possible on church property.”
“We suggested they shift it, change the nature of it a little bit, and they did," McGrath continued. “The reason is quite simply because it was a LGBT pride prayer service, and that is really inimical to the teachings of the Catholic Church.”
David McCaffrey, co-founder of the homosexual activist group Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, characterized the action as an attack from Archbishop John Nienstedt, who took over the archdiocese in May.
McCaffrey wrote in an e-mail to supporters that the ban was “yet another volley of dehumanizing spiritual violence directed at LGBT persons and their families under Archbishop Nienstedt's reign of homophobic hatred."
McGrath said that the prayer services were not canceled in past years because the archdiocese was not aware of them.
“It was not something that happened because there's a new regime," McGrath stated, saying that the previous archbishop, Harry Flynn, would have taken similar action.
In 2007, Archbishop Flynn prohibited a Mass from being celebrated at a symposium exploring the conflict between homosexuality and Catholicism, saying Catholics should not be misled into believing the speakers’ views had Church sanction. In 2006, he supported a proposed state amendment banning homosexual marriage.
According to the Associated Press, McGrath said Archbishop Nienstedt is following Catholic doctrine, adding “the church welcomes people with same-sex attractions among its worshippers.”
"The distinction is people who fully adapt to the GLBT lifestyle are not permitted to receive the sacraments or be the subject of a prayer service that endorses that lifestyle," McGrath said.
In a phone conversation with CNA, McGrath confirmed that the archdiocese had not been previously aware of the event, saying numerous phone and e-mail contacts had brought the event to the archdiocese’s attention.
Contrary to earlier reports, McGrath said, the archdiocese did not suggest a peace service. Rather, the associate pastor had asked if a peace service could be held in place of the gay pride service at the scheduled time.
McGrath, who said he was acting in Archbishop Nienstadt’s absence, said he did not see how anybody could object to the peace service, “as long as the service was not ‘a rose by any other name’” and not dedicated to the same cause as the gay pride prayer service.
He emphasized to CNA that the parish typically had regular prayer services on Wednesday and that the service was not a once-a-year event.
St. Joan of Arc Church “tends to be very liberal parish,” McGrath told CNA. He reported that he and the archbishop have received several phone and e-mail messages from parishioners critical of the decision.
McGrath said he has told critics “we embrace and welcome people with same-sex attractions and are directed to do so by the Vatican.” He said he cites in his responses a 1992 document signed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who later was elected Pope Benedict XVI.
However, McGrath said that welcoming these persons “does not include acceptance of a lifestyle that includes sexual relations between people of the same sex. Linking a prayer service dedicated to the full GLBT lifestyle on sanctified church property is not acceptable.”
Vatican City, Jun 25, 2008 (CNA) - Today the Holy Father expressed his appreciation for the first Malayalam language version of the "Osservatore Romano." In a message, he said that it is his hope that the new translation will deepen the faith of those residing in the Indian state of Kerala where Malayalam is spoken.
The Pope noted that the translation is “highly significant” to the Church in India because it will keep over six million Catholics “fully informed about the ministry of the Pope and the work of the Holy See and strengthen the bonds of faith and ecclesial communion linking the Catholic community to the See of Peter.”
The Pontiff took the opportunity to offer his “prayerful good wishes for this important undertaking, together with my heartfelt thanks to the directors of the Carmel International Publishing House and to all those who in any way have contributed to its realization.”
"It is my hope that this new translation of the English edition, which now takes its place alongside the other language editions of the 'Osservatore Romano, will prove a valuable source of instruction and enrichment in the faith, an incentive to ever greater fraternity and co-operation within Kerala's richly diverse Catholic community, and an indispensable aid to the continuing work of evangelization."
Washington D.C., Jun 25, 2008 (CNA) - A new survey from Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) indicates that Catholics may lean towards voting for the Democratic candidate for president in the 2008 election.
The CARA polling shows that only 21 percent of all Catholics are either strongly or weakly affiliated with the Republican Party in 2008, compared to 31 percent in 2004. Fewer Catholics identify themselves as Republicans than in any year since 2000.
Among all adult Catholics, 38 percent identify as a weak or strong Democrat, while 22 percent lean Democratic.
Republicans are found to be more numerous among the general electorate Catholic population, with 28 percent identifying themselves as Republicans and 17 percent saying they lean Republican. However, Catholics who attend Mass weekly are still more likely to be Democrats, with 37 percent self-identifying with the party and another 18 percent saying they lean Democrat.
“Overall, these shifting Catholic attitude trends, less support for the use of U.S. military force, more support for higher taxes for wealthy Americans, and increasing acceptance of immigration, may favor the Democrats and Obama,” said Mark Gray, the director of CARA Catholic polls.
Gray said that Democrats still must mobilize well to take advantage of their edge among Catholic voters. “In the past two presidential elections the Republicans have been noted to be more effective at mobilizing voters using religion and religious organizations—often using the issue of abortion,” Gray said.
The CARA poll results suggest a shift in Catholics’ views on several major issues. In 2002, before the Iraq war, 63 percent of adult Catholics agreed “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement that “The U.S. should be willing to use military force to overthrow governments that support terrorism against the U.S., even if it mean losing lives of U.S. service members.” In 2006, only 43 percent agreed.
Catholic support for a tax on the wealthiest Americans has increased from 52 percent in 2002 to 65 percent in 2006. Catholics are also less likely to agree that the number of immigrants permitted entry into the U.S. should be decreased, with agreement down from 65 percent in 2002 to 54 percent in 2006.
According to the study, pro-abortion sentiment has slightly increased among adult Catholics. In 2002, 55 percent somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement “A woman should have the right to choose to abort an unwanted pregnancy.” In 2006, the percentage in agreement increased to 58 percent.
Vatican City, Jun 25, 2008 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI addressed some 14,000 thousand pilgrims today from beneath a white canopy as the sun blazed down on St. Peter’s Square. The Holy Father, continuing his catechesis on the great figures of the Church, spoke of St. Maximus the Confessor, a monk, theologian and scholar, who was famous for his courageous witness to Christ.
"Maximus understood that our salvation depends on the integrity of Christ, true God and true man," Pope Benedict said. Another aspect of St. Maximus that, the Pope focused on was his “indomitable courage in defending orthodoxy."
Also known as Maximus the theologian, he was born in Palestine in the year 580 and died in exile in the year 662. "From Jerusalem, Maximus moved to Constantinople then, because of the barbarian invasions, he took refuge in Africa where he distinguished himself for his great courage in the defense of orthodoxy. During his time in Carthage, he publicly defended the integrity of Jesus as having both a divine and human nature.
Called to Rome by Pope Martin I to participate in Lateran Council, Maximus was accused along with the Pope of heresy. Despite the accusations, he challenged with "indomitable courage" the power of the emperor, who maintained that Christ had only a divine nature, and who then sentenced Maximus to “have his tongue and his right hand cut off, the two organs through which, in speech and writing, Maximus had combated the erroneous doctrine of the one nature of Christ.”
“Finally the saintly monk was exiled to Colchis on the Black Sea where, exhausted by his sufferings, he died at the age of 82 on August 13, 662.”
In his defense of the integrity of Christ, the Pope said, "Maximus did not accept any reduction of humanity to Christ." Rather, he understood immediately that to maintain that Christ had only a divine will "would have destroyed the mystery of salvation, because humanity without a will, a man without desire is not a real man; it is man as an amputee."
The Pope continued, "And so, St. Maximus says with great decision: The Holy Scripture does not show us a man that is an amputee, without desire, but a true and complete man: God, in Jesus Christ, has really taken the totality of the human being - of course except sin - and also a human will."
"The life and thought of Maximus were strongly illuminated by an immense courage in testifying to the integral truth of Christ, without reduction or compromise," said the Pope. Thus it is clear "how we must live in order to fulfill our vocation. We must live united to God in order to remain united to one another and the universe."
"Only in the great opening of the "yes" does man become fully himself; in the unification of his will with the divine, man becomes immensely open…Being like God was the desire of Adam, that is to be completely free. But it is not divine, is not completely free when man closes himself. It is only in going out of oneself in saying "yes" that man becomes free, and this is the drama of Gethsemane: Not my will but yours."
Pope Benedict explained the witness of St. Maximus in his universal “yes” to Christ, gives us the measure of every other value:
"We think of the values so popular today, which are rightly defended: the values of tolerance, freedom and dialogue. But tolerance that does not know how to distinguish between good and evil becomes chaotic and selfish; likewise, a freedom that does not respect the freedom of others and that cannot find a common measure for freedom becomes anarchy and destroys authority. And dialogue that no longer knows what to say becomes empty chatter,” the Pope said.
These values, the Holy Father explained, “remain true values only if they have a reference point that unites them and gives them the true authenticity. This point of reference is the synthesis between God and the cosmos, it is the figure of Christ in whom we learn the truth about ourselves, and thus we also learn how to position all other values because we discover their true significance. Jesus Christ is the reference point that gives light to all other values. This is the point of arrival of the testimony of this great Confessor."
At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted English speaking pilgrims from different corners of the globe, including groups from the United States and Pakistan, as well as England and Scotland.
Rome, Italy, Jun 25, 2008 (CNA) - The Vatican has said it regrets the speculation in the Italian media that the deceased Archbishop Paul Marcinkus was involved in the disappearance of a Vatican employee’s daughter in 1983.
On Tuesday afternoon, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Holy See Press Office Director, spoke about how the case of 15 year-old Emanuela Orlandi’s has been handled by the media.
According to Lombardi, the recent disclosure of confidential testimony to the media “has come about in a striking way, with the widespread journalistic disclosure of confidential information, information that remains completely unverified and that proceeds from a witness of extremely dubious credibility.”
Recent reports on several Italian news agencies cited testimony from Sabrina Minardi, who was the girlfriend of Enrico De Pedis, a leader of the infamous Rome-based Magliana gang in the 1980s. In the confidential testimony, Minardi claimed that a renowned gangster kidnapped Emanuela acting on orders from Archbishop Marcinkus, who was head of the Vatican Bank (the Institute for Religious Works) at the time.
"This serves only to renew the immense pain of the Orlandi family, while showing no respect and humanity towards people who have already suffered so much,” Lombardi lamented.
Fr. Lombardi also criticized the accusations leveled against the late archbishop. “It also serves to spread defamatory and groundless accusations against Archbishop Marcinkus, who died some time ago and cannot defend himself.”
While saying that he did not want to sway the judges and investigators in their “rigorous verification of facts” surrounding the Orlandi case, Fr. Lombardi said, “we cannot but express our extreme regret and reproof at methods of information that owe more to sensationalism than to the requirements of seriousness and of professional ethics."
Rome, Italy, Jun 25, 2008 (CNA) - The new Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, who was named to the post a few days ago by Pope Benedict XVI to replace retiring Patriarch Michel Sabbah, said this week, “Our people of the Holy Land, like all the peoples of the Middle East, continue to weep and suffer awaiting the hour of their liberation, the hour of their resurrection, because their way of the cross continues.”
In an article written for L’Osservatore Romano, reporter Sara Fornari quoted the new Patriarch who said, “Just as the distance between Golgotha and the empty tomb is short, so also we know that the distance between death and resurrection is short. Therefore there is no reason to be afraid. My faith is nourished by all of the spiritual, human and ecclesial treasures of this diocese,” he said.
During the traditional procession to the Holy Sepulcher on June 21, Patriarch Twal told the faithful, “After almost three years of waiting and preparation, I receive from the Holy Church the assignment of guiding our beloved Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, ‘Mother of all Churches.’ I thus inherit the challenges and pick up the different internal and external problems that have accumulated. I am filled with faith because I know I am not alone, I lean on the grace of God that has not been in vain in me and on the power of the Savior that is made manifest in my weakness.”
On Monday the new Patriarch celebrated Mass at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher and encouraged the faithful to remember that “Christ is head of our Diocese of Jerusalem. We are children of this land, we are children of the way of the Cross and of Golgotha, but at the same time we are children of the light, of joy and the resurrection.”
“We will be the voice that proclaims the coming happiness and peace, the voice that denounces and combats injustice, hatred and deception,” he said.
Lima, Peru, Jun 25, 2008 (CNA) - Carlos Polo, the director of the Latin American Office of the Population Research Institute, warned this week that those behind the multimedia project called “The Decency Gap” are trying to portray themselves as neutral in order to “continue ahead with the intention of misinforming people about the reality of abortion.”
Several days ago, Polo unmasked the true nature of the project that claims to be neutral, and in response to negative media coverage, the leaders of “The Decency Gap” changed the homepage of their website. Nonetheless, Polo says that information about the project is still accessible on the site.
“Until recently the homepage referred to the Mexico City policy as the Global Gag Rule, echoing the most radical pro-abortion groups. In other words, the purpose of ‘The Decency Gap’ is regain access to U.S. funds, and the political backing that that represents, for all organizations that carry out or promote the legalization of the killing of the unborn around the world,” Polo stated.
“This about money, not art,” he continued. “This is about killing innocent children and not about saving women. To call it ‘decency’ to raise money from contributors by lying and even leading them to kill the unborn is characteristic of perverted art,” Polo asserted.
The project’s name
Polo went on to explain that the name of the project “has been carefully chosen to deceive people. But for those of us who follow these issues closely it is quite revealing. The term ‘The Decency Gap’ was coined by Poul Neilson, as the website explains on pages that can still be viewed.”
“Neilson, the European Union's Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, came up with the term shortly after the EU announced it was going to help replace 34 million dollars in funding that the U.S. withdrew from the U.N. Population Fund in 2002. The convincing evidence presented by the Population Research Institute to the U.S. Congress showed that this institution decisively collaborated in the development of China’s one child per couple policy, which includes abortions and forced sterilizations of poor women. This was a heavy blow directly aimed at the greatest provider of abortion and birth control in more than 140 countries,” Polo explained.
“I don’t think this entire conglomerate of death can hide behind the appearance of a group of supposedly impartial artists,” he stated. “You can’t hide the truth, it doesn’t matter if you change the website of project of this nature,” Polo said.
Vatican City, Jun 25, 2008 (CNA) - In interview published in the Wednesday edition of L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Benedict’s new Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, Monsignor Guido Marini, says he believes that people receiving Communion kneeling and on the tongue will become common practice at the Vatican.
Msgr. Marini’s comments were made during an interview with Gianluca Biccini on some of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent liturgical decisions and their meaning.
Biccini noted in the exchange that Pope Benedict distributed Holy Communion to people who knelt and received the host on their tongues during his visit to Brindisi (Southern Italy) last week.
When he was asked if this would become a common practice at the Vatican, Marini responded, "I believe so."
"In this regard it is necessary not to forget the fact that the distribution of Communion on the hand remains, up to now, from the juridical standpoint, an exception (indult) to the universal law, conceded by the Holy See to those bishops' conferences who requested it,” the liturgical master of ceremonies reminded.
Canada, Mexico, the Philippines and the United States are all countries that have been granted an exception from the universal practice of receiving Communion on the tongue.
It seems though that the Pope wants to provide an example for the Church, according to Msgr. Marini, “The form adopted by Benedict XVI is meant to highlight the force of this valid norm for the whole Church."
"It could also be noted that the (Pope's) preference for such form of distribution which, without taking anything away from the other one, better highlights the truth of the real presence in the Eucharist, helps the devotion of the faithful, and introduces more easily to the sense of mystery. Aspects which, in our times, pastorally speaking, it is urgent to highlight and recover."
Moscow, Russia, Jun 25, 2008 (CNA) - The Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported this week that a top official of the Russian Orthodox Church has called the Vatican its most important ally in the task of protecting the moral values of the Christian religion in the modern world.
The website of the Orthodox Episcopal Council, which is meeting this week, published the statements of Cyril, the director of External Affairs for the Moscow Patriarchate and Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad.
According to Metropolitan Cyril, the dialogue between both Churches “is promising in this sense,” as it offers wide opportunities for “the joint protection of traditional Christian moral values, a correct organization of social and family relations and the defense of human rights.”
He said the Russian Church and the Vatican maintain “almost identical positions in these areas,” and warned that the greatest threats to Christian morality are “the offensive by belligerent secularism” and “a devastating liberalism of many Christian communities,” in particular, of Protestant communities that bless same-sex unions and allow homosexuals to hold the office of bishop.
Despite this, Metropolitan Cyril said he agrees with the accusations of the Moscow Patriarch against the Catholic Church, specifically what he considers “the unjustified expansion” of the Greek Catholic Church of the Ukraine into regions traditionally dominated by the Orthodox.
Rome, Italy, Jun 25, 2008 (CNA) - Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad warned this week that there is an effort underway “to rid the Middle East of Christians.” According to the bishop, “The war has destroyed everything and even the tradition of coexistence. One-third of Christians have fled the country because of threats, abuse and violence.”
The Italian news agency SIR is reporting that the bishop made his comments in an address to the scientific committee of the Oasis International Study and Research Center, which is meeting in Amman, Jordan, to discuss the situation in Iraq. Bishop Shlemon also mentioned the “kidnapping of men of the Church, like the 16 priests that were kidnapped, some of which were killed, like Archbishop Faraj Rahho of Mosul.”
Despite all this, he continued, “God is the source of freedom and truth, and bearing witness to Christ does not mean being a fanatic. Our churches have taken in many during the war, with no distinction of ethnicity or faith. The same is true of our schools and ecclesial institutions. And this allows us to get know our Muslim friends,” he said.
However, the bishop continued, we should not forget that “our young people have no hope, they are not accepted. A fleeing Iraqi is taboo. The situation right now is unbearable as well because of the difficulties of daily life: little water, electricity and high prices. Ironically we have all this oil but we are poor.”
Bishop Warduni encouraged the continuation of dialogue with Muslims and noted, “There are common beliefs that can serve as starting points: prayer, fasting, eternal life, but we should not ignore the differences,” he said.
Washington D.C., Jun 25, 2008 (CNA) - Four weeks into his new job, Fr. John McLaughlin says that that his position as the first national vocations director for the Archdiocese of the Military has so far been “a pleasurable experience.”
“The military personnel have been very welcoming,” he told CNA, adding that he has “met great service people” who are interest in the priesthood.
Early this month, Father McLaughlin, 50, left St. Monica Parish in Methuen, Massachusetts to become the first national vocations director for the Archdiocese of the Military, located in Washington, D.C. The Associated Press reports that in the new position, the priest will travel to bases around the U.S. “speaking to troops about following a commitment to their country with commitment to their religion.”
When he received the call from the Archdiocese of the Military, he was hesitant to accept the new title. He explained to CNA that the call was completely “out of the blue.” He wasn’t sure what the position would entail since it was brand new and he enjoyed serving the Church as a pastor.
However, he decided to accept the position with the support of Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who leads the Archdiocese of Boston.
Fr. McLaughlin believes his new position will benefit both the Church and those in the military. The new vocations director sees his work as helping ease the extreme shortage of priests serving as chaplains in the military, especially since thinks he might find priests who are more apt to serve in the military amongst their ranks.
Fr. Paul Hurley, an Army chaplain who attended seminary with Father McLaughlin, was a supporter for Fr. McLaughlin to be considered for the position.
Fr. Hurley spoke highly of his classmate, saying he has an authenticity and a knack for getting young people to talk about what's important to them. Those characteristics are crucial when someone is deciding if life as a priest or nun is right, Fr. Hurley added.
"He's got that special touch," said the priest. "He finds a way of connecting with people where they're at."
Washington D.C., Jun 25, 2008 (CNA) - Matt Daniels, Founder and President of the Alliance for Marriage, has warned that the legal recognition of same-sex marriages further threatens Americans’ civil liberties and religious freedoms, some of which have already been affected by anti-discrimination laws protecting sexual orientation.
Daniels, writing in a press release, noted that a recent National Public Radio (NPR) story broadcast on June 16 listed some incidents in which liberties have already been curtailed by laws favoring homosexual rights over the rights of people with ethical and religious objections to the normalization of homosexuality.
In its radio broadcast, NPR reported that Catholic Charities in Massachusetts has been forced to shut down its adoption program because it refused to place children with same-sex couples as required by state law.
In another case, the Jewish institution Yeshiva University in New York City banned same-sex couples from its married student dormitory due to its religious principles. New York’s highest court invalidated the school regulations as a form of unlawful discrimination.
In California a gynecologist refused to perform an in-vitro fertilization treatment on a lesbian woman due to his religious beliefs. Though the doctor referred the woman to another physician, the doctor is being sued and is likely to lose.
A photographer in New Mexico has been fined $6,600 by the New Mexico Human Rights Commission for refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, while a Methodist association in New Jersey has had a portion of its group’s tax exemption removed after a lawsuit from a lesbian couple challenged the group’s refusal to rent its boardwalk pavilion to them for a civil commitment ceremony.
“For the first time in our history, America is are faced with a powerful movement that defines its alleged ‘rights’ in terms of the deprivation of the fundamental rights of others,” Matt Daniels said. “As a result, this movement is depriving other Americans of civil liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, including: freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion.”
“Most Americans believe that gays and lesbians are free to live as they choose,” Daniels continued, “but they don’t have a right to redefine marriage for our entire society. But we are living in an era when adhering to the common sense definition of marriage – for the sake of kids – is increasingly a punishable offense.”