Manila, Philippines, Aug 5, 2008 (CNA) - Thousands of Catholics in two southern Philippines cities on Monday demonstrated against a government agreement granting Muslims more territory and political and economic powers. One critic characterized the deal as the building of a “Berlin Wall” in the country and another called it a “virtual declaration” of a new state.
Church bells rung and businesses closed for the protest in the mainly Catholic city of Zamboanga, Reuters says. About 10,000 people, many wearing red shirts to show their opposition, gathered at a demonstration where a Catholic archbishop and a local tribal leader wearing traditional head dress and loin cloth sat beside the city’s mayor, Celso Lobregat.
"Do not build a Berlin Wall among the people in Mindanao," Lobregat said in an address to the crowd. “We are also for peace. We don't want the creation of an area based on religion, an area that would segregate us. Christians and Muslims have been living in peace and harmony together in our city.”
Around 8,000 people, who wore red shirts and armbands and held placards, also gathered in the city of Iligan in protest.
The agreement between the Philippines government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), reportedly the country’s largest Muslim group, extends an existing autonomous region for Muslims and gives them the authority to set up their own system of education, courts, civil service, and control of resources.
It calls for a referendum to be held by next August for over 700 villages in six provinces spread across three islands to determine if residents wish to join the new region.
CBCP News reports that on Saturday North Cotabato’s Vice Governor Emmanuel Pinol said the peace negotiators “committed us to an agreement” but “without even the courtesy of showing and explaining to us the provisions [of the agreement].”
Pinol characterized the agreement as “a virtual declaration of a new and distinct state,” charging that the government’s haste to reach an agreement with the MILF is “actually putting the future of our children in jeopardy.”
Alleging that elements in the MILF are linked with Al Qaeda and the radical group Jemaah Islamiya, he questioned whether the establishment of police and armed forces would help their pursuit of an independent Islamic state.
“With the government bent on pressuring us into accepting the terms of an agreement that we have not studied, we will have to rely on ourselves to defend our homes, our families and our communities,” Pinol cautioned.
On Monday the country’s Supreme Court met to hear petitions from local Catholic politicians to stop the signing of the agreement, which is scheduled to take place Tuesday in Kuala Lumpur, Reuters reports.
The agreement would re-open peace talks to end 40 years of conflict in which more than 120,000 people have been killed and two million displaced. Analysts say a deal could trigger new violence between Catholics and Muslims in the south.
On Sunday Muslim rebels attacked rice-harvesting Catholic farmers in two towns in North Cotabato. A week earlier guerillas burned about 80 houses in the same province.
Rome, Italy, Aug 5, 2008 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI is continuing to vacation with his brother in the northern Italian town of Bressanone, where he is reportedly drafting a new encyclical.
On Sunday, after celebrating the Angelus service at Bressanone’s cathedral, he and his elder brother Father Georg Ratzinger made a quiet visit to the tomb of his friend and Catholic missionary Anton Agreiter in the nearby village of Sant’Andrea.
The Pope, who had vacationed in Bressanone before his election to the papacy in 2005, has reportedly spent much time in his seminary retreat’s library where he reads and prays. According to ANSA, he has planned to devote his two-week break to draft his encyclical on social issues and also to work on the second part of his book Jesus of Nazareth.
A grand piano has been installed at the seminary for both of the music-loving brothers.
The two will stay in Bressanone until August 11. On Tuesday Pope Benedict will travel to the town of Oies to visit the house of St. Joseph Freinademetz, a local priest who was a missionary to China.
Quebec City, Canada, Aug 5, 2008 (CNA) - As he opened the Knights of Columbus’ annual convention on Tuesday morning, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the Archbishop of Québec, called on the fraternal organization to react to the increasing secularization of society by more strongly promoting “a culture of life and a civilization of love.”
Two thousand five hundred delegates and their families joined Cardinal Ouellet to celebrate the opening Mass of the Knights of Columbus convention in Québec City, Canada with some 80 bishops from around the world.
Cardinal Ouellet began his homily by welcoming the congregation to “the city of Champlain and Laval, a city of explorers and saints, the cradle of Evangelization in North America, a Eucharistic city which has hosted some weeks ago the 49th International Eucharistic Congress.”
In their midst, the cardinal informed the congregation, was a work of art meant evoke the arks of the Old Testament, which traveled throughout Canada in preparation for the International Eucharistic Congress.
“The presence of the Ark of the New Covenant in our midst symbolizes the renewed Eucharistic commitment we are invited to promote in the life of the Church. The great success of the Congress was due to the prayer and involvement of many actors and benefactors, among which -- I tell you sincerely -- the Knights of Columbus were the most committed organization at all levels.”
Cardinal Ouellet then turned to the challenge being witnesses to the Catholics faith in a society that is becoming increasingly dominated by a culture of death.
“Against violence, hatred, addictions, despair,” the Primate of Canada said, “the love stemming from the Eucharist is able to foster hope, reconciliation and peace.”
Examples of this loving witness can be found in the examples of Jean Vanier, Nicolas Buttet, Marguerite Barankitse and Bl. Father Frederic Janssoone for inspiration to live out this love, he added.
The Knights are called to play a unique part in this mission, Cardinal Ouellet pointed out. “As an international Catholic Fraternity, the Knights of Columbus have a special role to play in witnessing the love of Christ in today’s world under the wise leadership of Pope Benedict the XVI.”
This witness is not always popular, he said, pointing to the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which “despite the cultural opposition to this Church teaching, we are called to revisit this document and to realize how prophetic it was and still is.”
Giving this witness requires Catholics to grow “in holiness on the personal level and to be present as a social body on the public scene, particularly by promoting the values of the family, among which the sacredness of human life from the moment of conception to the last breath of natural death.”
Cardinal Ouellet admitted that, “It is not easy to embody those values in today’s context, especially in Canada where the culture of death is making further steps of domination by rewarding publicly an activist of abortion,” he said, referring to the recent granting of Canada’s highest honor, the Order of Canada, to Henry Morgentaler.
In times such as these, Catholics must “wake up and to hear the word of the Lord: ‘Do not be afraid’ when the storm hits the boat, ‘come to me’ and ‘hold firm my hand,’ the hand of the Church.”
When we hear of sad events in the world, Cardinal Ouellet encouraged the congregation, don’t be of “‘little faith’ but of a new faith commitment to hold firmly the Church teaching on human life and love and to engage with courage the cultural challenges by promoting more strongly a culture of life and a civilization of love.”
Rome, Italy, Aug 5, 2008 (CNA) - The L’Osservatore Romano paid homage this week to one of the most important Russian intellectuals and the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, Alexander Solzhenitsin, an Orthodox Christian who died on Sunday at the age of 89 and who survived the cruelty of the Russian concentration camps, or Gulags, where millions died.
“A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and “Archipelago Gulag” are two of the most well-know works by this important Christian thinker, which made known to the world the barbarities being committed in the Gulags, where priests and religious were also among the millions who died.
Solzhenitsin was born in Kislovodsk on December 11, 1918, on the eve of the Russian revolution. Despite his preference for literature, he graduated with degrees in physics and mathematics.
Between 1942 and 1943 he lived in the Ukraine and wrote critically of Stalin. He was arrested on February 9, 1945 and condemned to eight years at the Gulags. During this time, the Vatican newspaper reported, Solzhenitsin experienced the arduous life of a dissident, one of intellectual secrecy and exile.
While he was in the Gulag, he wrote that several dozen dissidents were spread out all over Russia and that “each of us wrote about what we knew according to the dictates of our honor and our consciences, that is, about what was the essential truth, which is not made up solely of prisons, firing squads, jails and deportations. When the time comes we will emerge together from the depths and thus our great literature that we have expanded in the depths of the sea during the Great Revolution will be rebuilt.”
Between 1973 and 1976, Solzhenitsin penned “Archipelago Gulag,” in which he described the Stalinist system of the first half of the century as a “universal prison” for the millions of who lived in the Soviet Union.
In his last years, the famed dissident also published a diary and a series of articles written between 1967 and 2003 under the title, “Sketches from Exile” in which he argued for a modern Christian humanism that would save Russia, the west and the entire world.
“We must build a moral world,” he wrote. “The new explosion of capitalist materialism constitutes a threat for all religions.” The Vatican newspaper praised Solzhenitsin for holding fast to the faith that sustained him in prison and gave him the courage to continue encouraging others to believe in a “higher plan,” a plan that makes it worthwhile to be in this world.
Bressanone, Italy, Aug 5, 2008 (CNA) - On Tuesday Pope Benedict traveled to the town of Oies near Bressanone, where he is spending his vacations, to visit the birthplace of St. Joseph Freinademetz, a missionary to China and the most popular saint in the region.
A Divine Word missionary, St. Joseph Freinademetz spent thirty years in China (1852-1908). According to the director of the Holy See’s Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi, “the fact that the Pope desires to honor this great missionary figure, a missionary to China—which is a subject very much present nowadays in the Pope’s prayers—is something that should unite Catholics.”
The fourth of thirteen children from a German-speaking family in northern Italy, St. Joseph Freinademetz went to China as a missionary, where he learned the language and customs, adopting local cultural mannerisms that helped him to preach the Gospel. He profoundly identified with the Chinese and said, “I want to continue being Chinese even in heaven.”
Pope John Paul II canonized him in 2003.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug 5, 2008 (CNA) - During her short life of one year, eight months and twelve days, Marcela de Jesus Ferreira made more friends than any other child of her age. Some 1,500 attended her funeral and accompanied her casket to the cemetery of Patrocinio Paulista, her hometown, where a street will be named in her memory.
Marcela de Jesus Ferreira was born on November 20, 2006. At four months of development, doctors diagnosed her with anencephaly, a birth defect in which the baby is born with a partial or non-existent brain. Babies born with this condition usually survive for only hours or days.
Marcela’s birth and struggle for life coincided with a heated debate on the legalization of abortion in Brazil in cases of anencephaly. Abortion supporters, who for months insisted that the condition only causes pain and suffering to babies, were not able to stifle the testimony of Casilda Galante Ferreira, the 36 year-old mother of Marcela.
“Everybody suffers, but she doesn’t belong to me, she belongs to God and I am taking care of her here,” she told journalists who interviewed her after giving birth. “Every second of her life” is precious, she said. “I consider her life to be a miracle so great that I am going to wait until God decides when to take her.” That moment came on August 1.
According to Brazilian media, Marcela died of cardiac arrest from complications due to pneumonia. Hundreds attended her funeral, and her parents decided to carry her casket to its final resting place. Prayers and songs of joy accompanied the procession, as friends and family members took turns respectfully carrying her casket to the cemetery.
Casilda said she tried to be the best mother she could. “God came to get her. It was her time. I am happy because she didn’t suffer much and she lived surrounded by love,” she said before saying her final goodbyes to little Marcela.
Quebec City, Canada, Aug 5, 2008 (CNA) - Riding the enthusiasm of Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the United States, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson delivered a rousing speech today in which he challenged his fellow Knights to transform the world through their actions and political decisions.
“Pope Benedict’s visit was an enormous gift to us: millions of Catholics are now more willing to live the Catholic life more actively. But it is up to us to follow through on this opportunity,” said Anderson.
“Let us be co-workers in the renewal of the Church that our great Pope is leading,” he encouraged. Turning to the Pope Benedict XVI, Anderson quoted, ‘The Horizon of love, is truly boundless: it is the whole world!’
“It may seem too ambitious to talk about transforming the world, much less doing so by trying to create a civilization that is very different from the one we now live in. But the earliest Christians did precisely that: they did so by their example, by holding out the possibility of a life that is higher, more beautiful, and above all more authentic than the vulgarity, violence and greed of the ancient pagan world.”
“Gentlemen, we have the power—given to us by the Holy Spirit—to transform the world in the same way,” the head of the Knights of Columbus exhorted in his annual report.
The Knights have been very active in trying to positively impact the culture in 2007, according to Carl Anderson. In the past year, the men’s fraternal organization has raised more than $144.9 million for charity and volunteered 68 million hours to churches, neighborhoods and communities.
In addition, the group has been very active in supporting the Church at the financial level and in providing solidarity to fellow members.
As one example, Anderson related that he and Bishop William Lori were able to present Pope Benedict with a gift of $1.6 million for his personal charitable organizations.
On the solidarity front, Carl Anderson highlighted the fact that since 1961, Knights from Cuba had been unable to attend the annual convention because of the political situation on the island nation. This year, however, marks the first time in 58 years that delegates from Cuba were able to attend the meeting, he announced, as the Knights from Camaguey, Cuba were received with a standing ovation.
However, the work of the Knights must go beyond the present efforts, Anderson said as he assessed the current political and social climate.
Saying that the opposition to abortion on demand is not going away but getting stronger every year, the Knight’s leader pledged that the group will “never waver in the cause to ensure legal protection for every human being, from the moment of conception to natural death.”
Anderson touched on the U.S. presidential election as well, saying that the question, ‘How should Catholics exercise their responsibilities as citizens?’ must be answered by people working to build a culture of life through a “new politics.”
“Today we constantly hear about change. We must remember that real change means building a culture of life, and real change means building a civilization of love, and that means truly transforming our politics. In this process of change, dealing with the abortion issue is fundamental,” said Anderson.
Noting that the Knights are a non-partisan organization, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson emphasized that there are “certain moral issues that affect our most fundamental values as Catholics and as citizens.”
“This is especially important since Catholics confront a moral dilemma when deciding how to vote: Can we support a candidate who may be attractive for many reasons but who supports abortion? Some partisan advocates have sought to excuse support for pro-abortion candidates through a complex balancing act. They claim that other issues are important enough to set off a candidate’s support for abortion.”
This type of reasoning is unacceptable for Catholics, Anderson stressed, as he warned that, “We will never succeed in building a culture of life if we continue to vote for politicians who support a culture of death. … It’s time we stop accommodating pro-abortion politicians, and it’s time we start demanding that they accommodate us.”
The head of the Knights also said that the fraternal organization “must be in the forefront of efforts to defend the sanctuary of human life—the institution of marriage.” The work to support marriage and the family “does not end with legislation and referenda,” the Supreme Knight underlined.
Thus far, the Knights of Columbus have sponsored a conference for men on being good husbands and fathers with the Archdiocese of Boston, and will host others in Chicago and Houston this coming Fall. The organization’s new “Fathers for Good” initiative, which was launched today, is another way that the Knights are supporting marriage and the family.
Supreme Knight Carl Anderson closed his speech by saying that building the civilization of love will not be easy, but “it is our mission, our vocation, our solemn duty.”
Sacramento, Calif., Aug 5, 2008 (CNA) - The Catholic Bishops of California have endorsed Proposition 8, a measure on the California ballot that would ban what they called the “radical change” of same-sex marriage. Writing in a statement, the bishops explained Catholic teaching on marriage and also defended marriage’s natural functions in stabilizing society for the procreation and rearing of children.
“As citizens of California, we need to avail ourselves of the opportunity to overturn this ruling by the California Supreme Court,” the bishops urged in their statement, referring to the court’s May 15 decision mandating that same-sex marriage be enacted in the state.
The language of the ballot, which declares only marriage between a man and a woman to be valid in California, “simply affirms the historic, logical and reasonable definition of marriage—and does not remove any benefits from other contractual arrangements.”
The bishops declared that marriage is intrinsic to “stable, flourishing and hospitable societies” and is the “ideal relationship between a man and a woman for the purposes of the procreation of the human race.”
Criticizing the ruling of the California Supreme Court, the bishops argued the decision “discounts the biological and organic reality of marriage” and “diminishes the word ‘marriage’ to mean only a ‘partnership’,” making children no longer a “primary social rationale” of the institution.
Citing the Catholic Catechism’s teaching that “God himself is the author of marriage,” the bishops said that same-sex unions are not the same as opposite-sex unions. The marriage of man and woman embraces their “sexual complementarity” and is ideal for children, who are thus raised by both a mother and a father, they said.
“Marriage mirrors God's relationship with us-and that marriage completes, enriches and perpetuates humanity,” the bishops also wrote. “When men and women consummate their marriage they offer themselves to God as co-creators of a new human being.”
Further, they repeated that protecting the traditional understanding of marriage should not be seen as a disparagement of our brother and sisters who disagree with us.
The bishops concluded by saying that they “strongly encourage” Catholics to provide financial support and volunteer efforts for the passage of Proposition 8 and to vote in the November election.
Catholic News Agency contacted Protect Marriage, a California organization backing the proposition, for comment on the bishops’ endorsement but did not receive a response by press time.
Quebec City, Canada, Aug 5, 2008 (CNA) - The “States Dinner” that the Knights of Columbus hold at their annual convention is always a colorful affair with representatives from the different states and provinces expressing their state pride.This year’s dinner was made even more lively with the quick-witted humor and insights of Cardinal John Foley.
Aware that the city of Québec is celebrating its 400th anniversary this year, Cardinal Foley lauded the recently held International Eucharistic Congress and used it as an opportunity to request a favor of Québec’s Cardinal Marc Ouellet.
“Your Eminence, when Father John Carroll, who was to become the first American bishop …accompanied Benjamin Franklin to Québec to ask that the Canadians join in the American Revolution, the then Bishop Briand of Québec forbade his priests to have anything to do with the visitors and he actually excommunicated John Carroll.”
“Bishop Briand had his reasons, in that the British had guaranteed the Catholics of Québec freedom of religion, a freedom which was not guaranteed at that time in the original thirteen rebellious colonies, where Catholics were often discriminated against,” explained the cardinal.
“Bishop Briand saw no reason for Canadians to join the American colonies against the British, and he was very annoyed that a Catholics priest should be among those seeking to encourage Canadians to risk their religious liberty in what he considered to be a dubious cause. So he excommunicated Father Carroll—and there is no record of which I know that such an excommunication has ever been lifted.”
“Your Eminence, Cardinal Ouellet,” said Cardinal Foley, “in the interest of better Canadian-American relations and in recognition of the fact that Americans now enjoy religious liberty… I would deeply appreciate it if you might lift the excommunication against John Carroll.”
“A government official down here said he said yes,” Cardinal Foley quipped.
Since recently being assigned to work in the Holy Land as the Grand Master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher, the cardinal also brought in the plight of Christians in the region.
He reminded the crowd that “we cannot permit the Holy Land to become merely a Christian museum; we must keep alive a vibrant Christian community in the land made sacred by the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
The American cardinal closed by saying that the Church in the Holy Land is working for the “love and respect for which Jesus called –‘Love one another as I have loved you’.”