Manila, Philippines, Jul 24, 2008 (CNA) - A Catholic bishop in the southern Philippines’ Basilan province has received a letter from self-described “Muslim warriors” possibly linked to Abu Sayyaf who are threatening him with harm if he does not convert to Islam or pay “Islamic taxes.” Further, authorities are seeking the return of three adults and two children, all Catholics, who were kidnapped in the same area this week.
On July 19 Bishop Martin Jumoad of Isabela sent a copy of the threatening letter to Church-run Radio Veritas in Quezon City, UCA News reports. Bishop Jumoad told UCA News that a student at Claret College in Isabela was told to give the letter to the school secretary who could pass it along to the bishop.
The writers of the letter claimed to be “Muslim warriors” who “don't follow any laws other than the Qur'an.” They say the bishop should convert to Islam or pay the Islamic tax, called a “jizya,” to their group in exchange for protecting him “in the place of Muslims.”
If the bishop refuses, the letter threatened, “force, weapons or war may be used” against him. Citing bombings in other Philippines cities, the letter said he should not feel safe even if protected by soldiers.
Bishop Jumoad was given two mobile cell phone numbers and told he had fifteen days to respond. The letter bore the two names “Puruji Indama” and “Nur Hassan J. Kallitut,” both of whom were titled “Mujahiddin.”
The letter was accompanied by a letterhead in the local dialect that said “Al-Harakatul Islamiyya.” The bishop said he has seen the phrase “Al-Harakatul” in kidnapping incidents in Basilan involving the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
He also reported that other Catholics have said they are receiving threatening letters. “Bishop, we are disoriented and we cannot sleep. What is our reaction to this?" they have reportedly said.
On July 21 the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’’ CBCP News reported that three adults and two children who are members of a parish in Basilan had been kidnapped from a public jeep. Provincial administrator Talib A. Barahim on Tuesday told UCA News that no one has reported receiving a ransom demand.
Muslims who commit violence were rebuked at a joint conference between Catholic bishops and Muslim scholars on Monday in Manila, where Hamid Barra, the Muslim convener of the conference, underlined Islamic belief in the sacredness of life.
“It is God who gave life; he is the only one authorized to take life,” he said.
Barra, an Islamic law expert, explained that non-Muslims protected by an Islamic state are required to pay the jizya tax, which is used to support the needy, but no such payment is required in a non-Islamic state.
Washington D.C., Jul 24, 2008 (CNA) - A new documentary about the 40 Days for Life campaign, which involves educational outreach, personal prayer and fasting, and prayer vigils at abortion clinics, is scheduled to air on Friday. The program, titled “beingHUMAN: 40 Days for Life II,” will interview volunteers, national leaders, and former abortionists.
The documentary, which was filmed by the award winning director David Bereit, is the second in the beingHuman series and will help launch the Fall 40 Days for Life campaign.
The campaign is scheduled to last from September 24 through November 2.
David Bereit, the national campaign director of 40 Days for Life, described the new documentary in a press release.
“It focuses on the stories and successes that prayer, fasting, and peaceful vigil have accomplished through 40 Days for Life campaigns that have now spread across the country and around the globe," said Bereit. "This show is a great opportunity to get people in communities across the nation involved in this initiative."
The first installment of the documentary, which was honored with a Telly Award, helped launch the first national 40 Days for Life campaign last year.
“It's an approach that has been successful in reducing abortion numbers and bringing more people into pro-life work,” Bereit said, adding that the campaign has had “significant responses” from communities interested in joining the campaign.
According to Bereit, the new installment of the documentary will air on EWTN on Friday at 6:30 pm Eastern Time.
The 40 Days for Life campaign site is located at http://www.40daysforlife.com/
Vatican City, Jul 24, 2008 (CNA) - A meeting of Catholic bishops from around Africa is being held in Tanzania this week to discuss the need to protect the treasures of African cultures while also proclaiming the Gospel. In a brief message, Pope Benedict encouraged the bishops to look for “new and effective ways” to continue to uphold the values of joy in life, respect for unborn, the family and a profound sense of communion that exists in their cultures.
The congress, which is meeting this week in Bagamoyo, Tanzania is examining the "Pastoral Prospects for the New Evangelization in the Context of Globalization and its impact on African cultures.
In his message to the gathering, Pope Benedict reminded the prelates that evangelizing the culture and inculturating the Gospel "is an old yet ever new mission." This mission, he said, requires that they find "new and effective ways to present the immutable truth of the Gospel and, especially, the values of the joy of life and of respect for the unborn child, the important role of the family, and a profound sense of communion and solidarity which are present in African cultures."
The meeting, which is scheduled to last four days, began Tuesday with a Mass presided by Cardinal Polycarp Pengo, archbishop of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. After the reading aloud of the Pope's message, a speech entitled "Cultural Challenges of Secularism, Propagated through Globalisation" - due to have been delivered by Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who was unable to be present - was read our by Fr. Bernard Ardura, secretary of the pontifical council.
Among the challenges Archbishop Ravasi mentions are "oblivion to the common good, social behavior guided by the logic of the market, the destruction of models of life transmitted by family, school and parish, and the exaltation of individualism."
The poorest countries, observes the president of the pontifical council, are those most exposed to the dangers of a poorly-understood globalization which leads to "the destruction of the values handed down by ancestral cultural traditions, the undermining of consciences, and the cultural uprooting of entire generations which are drawn into a spiral that leads to poverty and misery."
Nevertheless, the archbishop continues, in a context of globalized secularization the Church has the chance to make "Christian humanism" flower, "re-proposing the great moral values" and proclaiming "the Word of God, which is capable of making deserts of indifference and superficiality bear fruit."
Canterbury, UK, Jul 24, 2008 (CNA) - The Anglican bishops assembled for the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury, England heard a speech from the Catholic Cardinal Ivan Dias on Tuesday night. The cardinal appealed to the bishops to maintain unity and said that those who live “short-sightedly rooted in the fleeting present, oblivious to our past legacy and apostolic traditions” are suffering from “a sort of spiritual Alzheimers.”
Cardinal Dias, who is in charge of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, made his comments in a speech entitled, “Proclaiming the Good News: the bishop and evangelism.”
As the Anglican Communion struggles with the wide-ranging views on the ordination of homosexuals and women, Cardinal Dias offered some insights on dialogue. “Dialogue,” he said, “does not mean imposing or relinquishing one’s ideas but listening to what the others have to say.” Real dialogue “means instead that, while holding on to what we believe in, we are willing to respectfully listen to the others, in an attempt to make out all that is good and holy, all that promotes peace and cooperation.”
“Unity and cohesion among the members of the Church, between them and their pastors, and above all among the pastors themselves” is a prerequisite for the Holy Spirit to still be able to work and spread the Gospel across the world, he told the bishops. If instead “diversity escalates into division, it becomes a counter-testimony and seriously undermines the image and commitment” of the Churches to spreading the Gospel.”
“Diseases such as Alzheimer and Parkinson are widely spoken of today,” said the cardinal. “Similarly, their symptoms can also be found in our Christian communities. For instance, when we live short-sightedly rooted into the fleeting present, oblivious to our past legacy and apostolic traditions, we might be suffering from a sort of spiritual Alzheimers. And when we behave disorderly, moving eccentrically along our walk with no coordination with the head or the other members of our community, that might be a sort of ecclesial Parkinson.”
The Vatican official’s words echo the reaction of the Vatican to the Church of England’s recent decision to approve the ordination of women as bishops, while at the same time voting down safeguards for parishes that rejected the change. When the mother Church of the Anglican Communion voted for the change, Rome reacted by saying, “Such a decision signifies a break with the apostolic tradition maintained by all of the Churches since the first millennium and is, therefore, a further obstacle to reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England.”
Cardinal Dias also addressed the challenges faced by evangelizers in modern society, the cardinal explained. He pointed to secularism, “which tries to build a God-less society,” “spiritual indifference that is insensitive to transcendental values,” and “relativism,” which “is against the permanent doctrine of the Gospel.” These societal trends, Cardinal Dias warned, accelerate the spreading of a “culture of death.”
Among the manifestations of this culture of death are “deliberate abortion (or the massacre of innocent unborn children),” “divorce, which kills the sacred bond of marriage blessed by God,” and “social, economic and political injustice.”
Protecting society from this culture requires that the family and the young be defended since they are “especially vulnerable.” In the face of this onslaught, “Christians cannot sit on the fence and be passive onlookers” but must be “Faithful to our call to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, we must be proactive in reading the signs of the time,” the prelate told the Anglican leaders.
Cardinal Dias stressed that “what the world needs today” is the testimony of Christians and quoted Pope John Paul II, saying, “our peers believe witnesses more than the teachers.”
Managua, Nicaragua, Jul 24, 2008 (CNA) - Bishop Rene Sandigo, secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Nicaragua, has joined other Catholic leaders in criticizing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for comparing Fidel Castro to Jesus Christ during a political rally in Managua on July 19.
During the event organized by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to celebrate the anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution, Chavez said, “Fidel, our father who art on the earth, in the water and in the air.”
“I think these kinds of expressions are abusive and disrespectful towards the faith of Nicaraguans, the rejection by the clergy of the Venezuelan president’s remarks is unanimous,” said Bishop Sandigo.
“I am sure that all of Nicaragua is upset with this sort of manipulation of the religious concepts we have grown up with and use daily to communicate with our God,” he added.
“It’s not enough that Chavez pulls these stunts in his own country. He wants to bring them here. Nonetheless, I think most people reject them,” the bishop said.
He pointed out that Chavez is attempting to “re-launch liberation theology, which was rejected in the past and will be rejected in the future, since its proposals only call to mind bad memories of the past.”
“Liberation theology never had any lasting biblical or theological foundation and died over time,” Bishop Sandigo asserted. “To bring it back to Nicaragua is like drudging up bad memories of the past. It’s like trying to bring back a dead person,” he said.
“Nicaragua certainly never accepted liberation theology. True theology is that in which God is the total liberator from evil,” the bishop said.
Rome, Italy, Jul 24, 2008 (CNA) - Although only a dozen Iraqi young people were able to attend World Youth Day in Sydney, more than six thousand young people took part in their own WYD celebrations in northern Iraq, attending catechetical sessions and sharing their faith experiences in an atmosphere of joy and enthusiasm.
Together with young people from Lebanon, Australia and France, Iraqi young people celebrated WYD in the dioceses of Amadiyah and Arbil, where a procession and closing Mass were celebrated on July 18.
Bishop Rabban Al-Qas of Amadiya of the Chaldeans told L’Osservatore Romano that more than one thousand young people carried a cross in procession to the town of Araden, the location of the “monastery of the Sultan Mahdokh, the Iraqi martyr who lived there in the fourth century. From there you could see the entire Sapna Valley as the young people sang the WYD songs. Their spirits were not dampened by fatigue and you could see the emotion in their faces throughout the long day.”
At the end of the procession, the young people expressed their hope that “the next WYD would be celebrated ‘in the entire country’ and not just in the north, as in this case, ‘without any fear of violence’.”
Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk said five thousand young people came to his archdiocese. “We followed the same schedule as Sydney, but translated into Arabic. This was an historic event for us, perhaps even more significant than the WYD of Sydney, where it was easy for people to come together. Here we saw the determination of young people to bear witness to their faith amidst difficulties and sufferings,” he said.
Through their example, the Christian young people made Christ present to the other 97% of young people who are Muslim, the archbishop noted. He revealed that he was so happy with the event that he hopes to organize “an encounter between Christians and Muslims at the beginning of Ramadan in September, to pray together for peace and reconciliation.”
Rome, Italy, Jul 24, 2008 (CNA) - In an interview with Vatican Radio, the director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Father Federico Lombardi, said the next World Youth Day to be held in Madrid in 2001 will focus on the challenge of preventing Europe from losing its Christian identity.
Europe “is a continent where the confrontation between the faith and the problems of modern society, secularization and development, which the world imposes on the faith, is always alive,” Father Lombardi said. The effort to recover the Catholic identity of Europe will take place “without controversy and without trying to make comparisons with the world around us.”
“The Pope has spoken often of the risk that Europe might lose its fundamental values connected to the Christian tradition and the contribution the faith has made to this continent,” Father Lombardi explained. Therefore, he said, “this will be one of the issues and objectives of the next World Youth Day.”
He also recalled the success of the World Meeting of Families which took place in Valencia, Spain, “where the Pope’s message was completely positive, centered on the beauty of being a Christian and on the positive message for today’s family as well.”
“I think this will be the spirit also of the next World Youth Day in Spain: a message of hope, a message that says that the faith makes a beautiful and important contribution to the future of our society and our world,” Father Lombardi said.
Caracas, Venezuela, Jul 24, 2008 (CNA) - In statements on Union Radio, the vice president of the Venezuelan Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Roberto Luckert Leon, warned that the self-proclaimed “Reformed Catholic Church,” which is backed by the Hugo Chavez administration, is seeking to name military chaplains with government support.
Archbishop Lückert reiterated that the small religious sect led by former Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican clergy members, is “financed by the government in an effort to put an end to the Catholic Church, which it has not and will not be able to do.”
The “Reformed Catholic Church” announced this week that on July 29, it would “ordain” former Catholic priest Jon Jen Shu Garcia a “bishop.”
Archbishop Lückert noted that the “supposed bishop they are going to ordain left the Church because he was living scandalously with a woman and her children. At one time he was a military chaplain.”
He said he was concerned about the confusion that might spread in the military if the Ministry of Defense decides to place military chaplains from the sect in the armed forces.
The archbishop said the idea of the Chavez government is not a new one, as the dictatorship in 1945 “also founded the Venezuelan Apostolic Catholic Church, which was also a failure.” “What they are trying to do failed in the past, and I think that during this election year this is going to cost rather than gain them votes,” he stated.
Venezuela will hold local and regional elections in November.
Rome, Italy, Jul 24, 2008 (CNA) - On July 28, the John Paul II Foundation for Sports will be introduced during a press conference at the Marconi Hall at Vatican Radio’s headquarters. The new foundation’s mission will involve the organization of a three-year program of national and international sporting events focused on promoting the dignity of the human person, especially among young people.
According to the SIR news agency, the president of the new institution, Edio Costantini, said, “The creation of the foundation and the beginning of its activities coincides, not by coincidence, with the Pauline Year. In his letters, St. Paul often referred to the Christian life as an athletic race that, in the end, would be awarded with an incorruptible crown.”
Bishop Carlo Mazza of Fidenza, the honorary president of the Foundation, and Bishop Josef Clemens, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, will be present at the ceremony.
The John Paul II Foundation for Sports will be headquartered on the Via della Conciliazione, which is directly in front of St. Peter’s Square.
Sioux Falls, S.D., Jul 24, 2008 (CNA) - During what one pro-life advocate called “a great week in South Dakota for unborn children,” a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota has apparently closed. The abortion provider on the other hand, disputes the alleged closure.
Local pro-lifers believe that the clinic has closed its doors because it refuses to comply with a state informed consent law upheld by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals last month.
The South Dakota law requires any physician who performs an abortion to obtain “voluntary and informed written consent” from a woman seeking an abortion, except in cases of medical emergency. The woman must also be provided with information about the health risks and legal consequences of the procedure.
The information the woman must be provided includes the knowledge “that the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being." She must also be told that she "has an existing relationship with that unborn human being and that the relationship enjoys protection under the United States Constitution and under the laws of South Dakota.” Further, she must be informed “that by having an abortion, her existing relationship and her existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship will be terminated.”
The state law went into effect on Saturday after an attempted injunction filed by Planned Parenthood was rejected on July 17. A spokesman for pro-life protest groups outside the Sioux Falls Planned Parenthood location said that even though women who had apparently scheduled appointments appeared at the clinic, no abortionists arrived.
“I think Planned Parenthood cannot figure out a way not to comply with the law," said Dr. Allan Unruh, a leader in the state’s Vote Yes for Life campaign, WorldNetDaily reports.
We don't know if they will open again," he said. "Personally, I don't think they are going to find any abortionists who want to take the risk of losing their license."
Leslee Unruh, the Founder of the Alpha Center Pregnancy Center in Sioux Falls, on Thursday told CNA that the abortion clinic continues to be closed. She noted that pro-life counselors have talked with several of the clinic clients scheduled to have abortions this week.
“One for sure has changed her mind and is going to have the child,” said Unruh, who has advocated on behalf of the informed consent legislation.
“It’s historical, it’s wonderful what is happening. We’re hoping the other states will follow our lead and put the same laws in through their legislatures that can also shut down abortion clinics this way,” she continued. “It’s a great week in South Dakota for unborn children.”
However, Kathi Di Nicola, a Planned Parenthood spokesperson based out of Minnesota, flatly denied that the clinic was closed.
“That is absolutely false. We are open and committed to providing for women’s health services in South Dakota,” she said.
When asked whether abortion services were still being provided at the Souix Falls clinic, Di Nicola responded that they were.
Basra, Iraq, Jul 24, 2008 (CNA) - Christians in the southern Iraq have begun a campaign to restore churches which have been rendered unusable due to war and neglect.
Father Imad Aziz Al Banna of the Chaldean Archeparchy of Basra told Iraqlaan News Agency that the local Christian community has requested government funding for the restorations and is collaborating with the Ministry of Planning and the Basra Governorate Council, BaghdadHope.com reports.
Built in 1880, one of the oldest churches in southern Iraq, the Chaldean Church of Um Al Ahzan (Our Lady of Sorrows), recently reopened. Father Al Banna celebrated a special Mass and baptism there on June 29, Ankawa.com reports.
It presently serves only 18 Christian families. In the whole Archeparchy of Basra there are reportedly only one priest, two permanent deacons, and two religious sisters among 2,500 of the faithful.
Father Al Banna said there is confidence among Christians that the government can preserve the Christian religious heritage in the area. Some families who fled the region have even returned because of the new security situation.
The Christian community in southern Iraq dates back to the fourth century and reportedly was the launching pad for the spread of Christianity to the territories of the Persian Gulf.