Archive of August 7, 2008

Pope Benedict asks China to 'open up' to the Gospel

Bressanone, Italy, Aug 7, 2008 (CNA) - Speaking from the town of Oies, the birthplace of a canonized Italian missionary to China, Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday said China is growing in international importance but must also “open up” to Christ.

“We know that China is becoming increasingly more important politically and economically, and also in the life of ideas,” the Pope said at a church in the small town, ANSA reports. ''It's important that this great continent opens up to the Gospel of Christ.”

He said St. Joseph Freinademetz—an Italian missionary to China whose grave he was visiting--showed that “faith does not alienate any culture or people, because all cultures are waiting for Christ and will not be destroyed. In the Lord, they reach their maturity.”

The saint lived and died as a Chinese man, but in heaven too he remains Chinese, the Pope declared, saying the missionary “identified with these people and with the certainty that they will open up to the faith of Christ.”

St. Joseph Freinademetz was ordained a priest for Bressanone at the age of 22 but decided to become a missionary, arriving in Hong Kong in 1879. Despite the threat of persecution, he remained in China until his death from typhus in 1908.

On Sunday after reciting the Angelus in Bressanone, Pope Benedict sent his best wishes to China as it prepares to open the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

Pope Benedict XVI has been attempting to open greater dialogue with China, an officially atheist state, in hopes of eventually restoring the full diplomatic ties severed in 1951 soon after the Communist Revolution.

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Obama’s Christianity doubtful because of abortion stand, Star Parker says

Washington D.C., Aug 7, 2008 (CNA) - Star Parker, a black conservative author and activist, has said presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama’s insistence that he is a Christian should be questioned because of his “disregard and disrespect for human life” as evidenced by his support for abortion.

Speaking in an interview with Cybercast News Service, Parker said “Based on his disregard and disrespect for human life, we should question his insistence that he’s a Christian. It is inconsistent with the biblical world view to think that not only is abortion okay, but he goes so far as to support partial-birth abortion.”

A one-time single mother who was once on welfare herself, Parker further argued that Obama’s support for certain welfare policies “will destroy what’s left of the black family.”

Parker, who heads the CURE think-tank focused on race and poverty issues, also declared she would never support someone “just because of their race.”

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Despite protests, Dr. Dobson to remain National Radio Hall of Fame nominee

Chicago, Ill., Aug 7, 2008 (CNA) - The National Radio Hall of Fame (NRHF) has refused to remove Dr. James Dobson from its list of Hall of Fame nominees despite pressure from a group of homosexual activists.

Dobson heads Focus on the Family, one of the United States’ most prominent Protestant evangelical groups. He made his first Focus on the Family broadcast in 1977 and now reaches about 220 million people in 164 countries. The organization played a key role in the so-called “Culture Wars” of the 1980s, which included controversies over abortion, sexual ethics, and secularism.

According to LifeSiteNews, Wayne Besen organized a campaign against the Hall of Fame that sent hundreds of e-mails to the organization, demanding Dobson’s removal from the nominee list because of his views on homosexuality.

Besen claimed that Dobson is “an extremist who has built his empire on the backs of gays and lesbians" and "a bigot who distorts scientific research.”

"It is an affront for the Radio Hall of Fame to honor James Dobson, a right wing demagogue," he said.

Bruce DuMont, NRHF chairman, said the nominations are solely based on the honoree’s contribution to radio. The selection is not based on the politics or religious beliefs of the candidates, but rather their “tenures and accomplishments in the radio industry.”

After the nominations, voters for admission to the NRHF included the public. When voting ended on July 15 after more than 70,000 votes, Focus on the Family won in the nationally syndicated broadcasters category. Its competitors included Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Howard Stern.

Gary Schneeberger, vice president for media and public relations at Focus on the Family, said Besen’s complaint exaggerated the organization’s focus on homosexuality.

"The Focus on the Family broadcast was created as, and remains, a means of helping families thrive," he said. "If you were to analyze the content of our 32 years of broadcasts, only a minuscule number deal with public-policy issues, and an infinitesimal number deal with homosexuality."

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Holy Land conflict needs courageous leaders and gestures, says new patriarch

Quebec City, Canada, Aug 7, 2008 (CNA) - Just five weeks after being installed as the new Patriarch of the Latin Church in Jerusalem, His Beatitude Fouad Twal described his experience to CNA as the “top of happiness.” At the same time, he also said that the complex conflict in the Holy Land requires courageous leaders to forge a new mentality of peace in the region, leaders he is still waiting for.

As with any monumental event, the handing over of the Catholic Church’s oldest church from Patriarch Michel Sabbah to Bishop Fouad Twal was not without a certain amount of anxiety and nervousness.

“In the beginning,” now Archbishop Twal recalled, “I felt a bit anxious. But seeing many, many friends just beside me, and the many prayers from bishops’ conferences around the world [that] sent messages to say we are with you and we pray with you; thanks [be to] God I don’t feel alone in this mission.”

“Besides Jerusalem always has a world dimension,” Archbishop Twal said as he explained that he doesn’t carry the burden of leading the Church in the Holy Land all by himself. “The problems are not only for me, they must be for all Christians outside and for the Church. The Church must be involved in finding a solution, involved in helping the Christian community to stay there. And I have asked a lot of bishops to feel co-responsible… everyone must feel that Jerusalem is his own mother Church.”

“Spiritually we are all born in Jerusalem,” Archbishop Twal reminded Christians around the world.

Signs of hope in the land of hope

Although the Church in the Holy Land is in many ways besieged, the new patriarch said that he finds many signs of hope in his new flock, one being international support for the small Christian community.

“We have had many bishops’ conferences and groups of pilgrims coming to the Holy Land” over the last few years, the archbishop related.

Even though many reports emphasize the dwindling numbers of Christians, Archbishop Twal told CNA that “you will be surprised to see how prayerful, how dynamic” the parishes in the region are.

Especially noteworthy is the unduly large number of seminarians, he noted. 
“Each year I have from two to three ordained” and the patriarchate currently has 28 seminarians in formation for the priesthood.
One other sign of hope that the archbishop pointed to is a “greater awareness and intensity to resolve the problem than there was before.” When a solution in Palestine and the Holy Land is found, Patriarch Twal thinks that “60 to 70 percent of the Muslim radicalism will run away.”

Conflict in the Holy Land

The decades-long dispute over the Holy Land is over the land’s ownership, which the Jews consider to be theirs by divine right and the Palestinians lay claim to through having settled there in the last couple centuries. While there are many more facets to this conflict, including religious dimensions, the land is at the heart.

Archbishop Twal insists that progress has been made in the past year because the multi-dimensional nature of the clash has been acknowledged by political leaders.

“We are happy to see that in one year more or less, the politicians, the international community have taken into account the religious aspect. Now when they come to the Holy Land, they ask to meet us,” he told CNA.

“They start to consider that maybe this religious leader…can have an influence on our faithful and change the mentality for more cooperation.” He continued, “We cannot resolve the problems but we are sure that the politicians without us cannot solve the problem.” Together in a “partnership with our people and with Muslims and Jews we can create a new mentality for more peace and more collaboration and less for hate.” 

The wall

One major source of agitation for Palestinians is the security wall which Israel says it is building to prevent attacks from terrorists. However, the wall significantly worsens the living conditions of many Palestinians and has divided families.

When Archbishop Twal was asked for his opinion of the wall, he said, “For me the wall is stupid, stupid. The wall is a realization of many other walls in the human being…before building this wall, they had a wall of hate, of mistrust, of ignorance, and they put all of these internal walls, obstacles in something that you can see.”

“It is not with walls that we can find the solution, that we can find peace for all, security for all,” the archbishop said, pointing out that the two recent bulldozer attacks both took place within the wall.

“We cannot go on, I think everybody is tired, tired, tired,” Patriarch Twal stated.

What is needed to achieve peace are “courageous people doing courageous gestures,” he said. “But with all my respect to everybody, I doubt whether we have right now very courageous leaders to make these gestures, to make these decisions.”

The Church can play a role in bringing about an end to the conflict in the Holy Land by breaking the 60 years of mistrust and violence with a new mentality, explained Archbishop Twal. “By starting at zero, with a new mentality, a new education, a new culture, the Church can teach the youth to live in peace.”

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Wichita priest to bring new spiritual direction to the diocesan Spiritual Life Center

Wichita, Kan., Aug 7, 2008 (CNA) - By Fred Solis

God’s voice isn’t always easy to recognize, especially when it comes in a whisper, or in the form of silence. That’s when a second, trained pair of ears, like Father Kent Hemberger’s, can help.

Prior to his assignment as the Spiritual Life Center’s new director, Fr. Hemberger completed a nine-month sabbatical in Guelph, Canada, immersed in a program about providing spiritual direction. “I’m able to use what I learned to give individually directed retreats,” he said.

Directed retreats for individuals follow Ignatian spirituality, which prefers to “Let God deal directly with the retreatant.” The compiler of the Spiritual Exercises, and a gifted spiritual director, St. Ignatius has been described by Pope Benedict XVI as being above all a man of God, who gave the first place of his life to God, and a man of profound prayer.

“You see what the person comes to the retreat with and what they desire, and then allow the Holy Spirit to direct the retreat,” he said. “I meet with them every day and help them discern what God is trying to tell them in their personal lives. From what I hear, I then give suggestions for their prayer that day.

“That’s the beauty of this kind of retreat,” he continued. “Instead of me giving them my insights, God does it. God speaks and they listen, and they grow stronger in their faith, which is the point of their retreat.”

Witnessing people undergoing spiritual growth in their relationship with God has an energizing effect on Fr. Hemberger. “It’s a blessing when you can see that growth, because it’s very personal,” he said.

The Spiritual Life Center will continue to offer educational workshops and other kinds of retreats as well. The individually directed retreats, he said, are meant to build on the programs that are already offered at the center.

“I’m looking to see how the mission of the Spiritual Life Center fits with the mission of the diocese, how we can help parishes, and how we can work with other ministries and collaborate with different offices,” Fr. Hemberger said. “I would like to offer a wide variety of programs to meet a wide variety of needs; programs that touch the heart as well as the head.”

For example, Fr. Hemberger sees the Spiritual Life Center as a place where Catholics that have a great interest and knowledge in their faith can come and take a deeper step in their relationship with God and their understanding of their faith. He also sees it as a location for people from the parishes to receive training that they can take back to their parishes.

Another need the center can fill is holding retreats that meet specific needs, such as grief issues, that individual parishes may not be able to offer because participation at the parish level would be too low to warrant a program.

The focal points of the Spiritual Life Center are its two chapels, The Chapel of Mary, the First Disciple and The Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Facilities include: six conference rooms capable of hosting large and small groups; individual bedrooms with private baths to host as many as 116 overnight guests; and a dining room.

The center was designed so that different groups can attend at the same time and still have their own space.

“This facility is a blessing,” Fr. Hemberger said. “It’s beautiful and well designed. Few dioceses have a place as nice as this.”
Printed with permission from the Catholic Advance, newspaper from the Diocese of Wichita. 

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Cardinal Re recalls testimony and fruitful legacy of Paul VI

Vatican City, Aug 7, 2008 (CNA) - The prefect for the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, presided at a Mass today at St. Peter’s Basilica, marking the 30th anniversary of the passing of Pope Paul VI during which he recalled the “prophetic magisterium, the testimony and the fruitful legacy of Pope Montini.”
In his homily, the cardinal recalled that Paul VI died on the Feast of the Transfiguration, the same day that he published his first encyclical, Ecclesiam Suam, in 1964.  He said the Pope chose the name Paul because, as he himself said during the inauguration of his pontificate in 1963, it was St. Paul “who supremely loved Christ, who desired greatly and strived to bring the Gospel of Christ to all peoples, who for love of Christ, offered his life.” 
Cardinal Re also pointed out the “prophetic magisterium” of Paul VI, who “lived and proclaimed the faith with tireless dedication and courage in the defense of integrity and purity.  He took advantage of every opportunity to make known the Word of God and the thinking of the Church,” the cardinal said.
He went on to note that when Paul VI was elected to the Chair of Peter, it was during “difficult years for the magisterium and for the governing of the Church: the years of protest.  And Paul VI had to firmly steer the boat’s rudder and with courageous strength he strived to defend the deposit of the faith.”
Humanae Vitae and the dialogue with the world
After pointing out that the most criticized and rejected document of Paul VI’s magisterium, and at the same time the one that showed his greatness the most, was Humanae Vitae, Cardinal Re noted that Pope’s decision to issue the encyclical was “difficult and painful.  He knew it would be opposed, but he did not run from his responsibilities.  He had the issue studied and he studied it deeply and afterwards he had the courage to make a decision, understanding well that he was going against the dominant culture and against what public opinion was expecting.”
“The issue was one of divine law, written by the creating hand of God in the very nature of the human person, and the Pope could not change it, only interpret it,” Cardinal Re said.
“In a world wanting of love and full of problems and violence, Paul VI worked to bring about a civilization inspired in love, in which solidarity and love reach to where social justice cannot,” the cardinal added.  “The civilization of love which should be raised up in hearts and consciences was for Pope Montini more than an idea or a project, it was the guiding force of his entire life.” 
“May the Virgin Mary, who Paul VI tenderly loved and proclaimed ‘Mother of the Church,’ intercede so that the light of the teachings and witness of Paul VI continue to illuminate the journey of the Church and of society,” Cardinal Re said.

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Popular Sri Lankan Catholic festival canceled due to government-rebel fighting

Colombo, Sri Lanka, Aug 7, 2008 (CNA) - A popular annual festival at a historic Catholic church near the front lines of Sri Lanka’s civil war has been canceled because the government and Tamil rebels will not recognize the area as a peace zone.

The church of Our Lady of Madhu is centuries old and normally houses a revered 400-year-old statue of Mary. Located in the town of Madhu about 130 miles north of Colombo, it attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every August who come to see the statue, which is believed to have miraculous powers.

Church officials said the event has been canceled because of safety concerns, the Associated Press says.

“We do not expect therefore pilgrims this time at Madhu,” Bishop of Mannar Rayappu Joseph said in a statement.

Rebels had controlled the area around Madhu but abandoned it in April during fighting in the region. Priests fled the church during the fighting, returning only on Wednesday after four months’ absence.
The priests have appealed to both the government and the Tamil rebels to avoid combat near the shrine.

In 1999, 44 civilians were killed when the Madhu church was hit by artillery shells. At the time, about 3,500 people had taken refuge in the church to escape nearby fighting, according to the Associated Press.
The Sri Lankan military claimed that ten Tamil rebels and one Sri Lankan soldier were killed in Wednesday fighting, but their report could not be verified.

The Tamil Tiger rebels have fought since 1983 to create an independent homeland for Tamils, an ethnic minority who have reportedly been marginalized by governments controlled by people of the Sinhalese ethnicity. More than 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

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Italian clergy to use inflatable church to minister to beachgoers

Rome, Italy, Aug 7, 2008 (CNA) - Catholic nuns and priests in Italy have established a 98-foot-long inflatable church and a beach-convent to minister to vacationing beachgoers. Activities at the two movable venues will include opportunities to confess sins and to pray the Rosary, but not Mass.

The inflatable church will be set up on Saturday in the Molise region on the Adriatic Coast and will be staffed by priests who hear confessions, Reuters reports. The first attempt to use the church failed last month on the island of Sardinia due to strong winds.

A group of singers will also perform at the church late at night.
On the Mediterranean coast, nuns from a convent near Naples have moved to beach cabins to join vacationers saying the Rosary, with an adjoining altar set up under two tents.

“The concept of a beach-convent is something that is appreciated by vacationers and the nuns themselves," Father Antonio Rungi said to ANSA.
Italy’s larger cities empty in August, when Italians customarily holiday at the beach.

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Catholics to make 57-mile pilgrimage to Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa

Trenton, N.J., Aug 7, 2008 (CNA) - On Thursday morning American Catholics began their version of a centuries-old Polish pilgrimage with a 6 am Mass in Great Meadows in northwest New Jersey. Their four-day walk of penance, song and prayer is destined for the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

In Poland many of the faithful walk hundreds of miles on foot to Jasna Gora monastery in Czestochowa, which since 1384 has hosted the icon called the Black Madonna. The icon, whose creation is attributed to the evangelist St. Luke, depicts Poland’s patron saint, Our Lady of Czestochowa, bearing a darkened face.

A similar pilgrimage has taken place in the United States since 1988, with more than 2,000 pilgrims trekking to the National Shrine last year, the Associated Press says. Most of the pilgrims walk 57 miles to Doylestown from Great Meadows, though smaller groups take shorter routes from Trenton and Philadelphia.

Pilgrims remain largely unseen as they pray, sing, and walk along rural back roads in lines that often stretch for miles.

"It's amazing," commented one pilgrim, 25-year-old Jolanta Derkacz. "You get to see how much stronger you are as a person, how you can adapt to your surroundings, and the things you feel -- it can change your life."
According to the Associated Press, Derkacz said she has made the pilgrimage since she was nine, explaining that it helps strengthen her faith and her ties with Polish immigrants.

"It bonds people together," she explained. "You hear people say; 'I would love to hear your story.' It shows you wonderfully the power of God -- you meet somebody you may have never talked to because they sat 10 aisles away from you in church."

According to Derkacz, the pilgrims sometimes attract stares and insults while other passersby wave, take pictures, or applaud when the pilgrims move through small towns in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Some towns along the pilgrimage route provide participants with a police escort or stop traffic to let them pass. Homeowners and farmers allow pilgrims to camp on their property each night.

At some locations, nuns nicknamed “Sister Blister” treat pilgrims’ tired feet.

While pilgrims often sing in Polish and are of Polish background, the dark-complexioned Black Madonna icon has attracted groups of Haitians from Brooklyn, New York and elsewhere to the pilgrimage. They reportedly see in the icon’s complexion and distinctive cheek scars, a reference to their African heritage.

Prayers in Creole, English and Spanish are often heard from pilgrims’ lips.

Bozena Bienkowska, a Polish native now living in Trenton, said she did not have a chance to take part in the pilgrimage while growing up because of the then-ruling communist government, according to the Associated Press. She made her first pilgrimage when she immigrated to New Jersey 20 years ago.

"In Poland, I didn't go, I was dreaming and hoping that one day I would join," she said. "I never dreamt we could have this here in the United States. As you see, here, any dream can come true."

According to the pilgrimage web site, the pilgrimage is planned to end on Sunday with a 2 pm Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa.

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Oslo researchers confirm link between abortion and depression

Oslo, Norway, Aug 7, 2008 (CNA) - A study conducted by researchers from the University of Oslo, Blinderen in Norway confirmed that women who have abortions in their 20s have a greater chance of experiencing depression.

The Scandinavian Journal of Health published an article by Willie Pedersen from the university’s Department of Sociology and Human Geography who was interested in the “likely social or mental health-related implications of undergoing induced abortion.”  Specifically, “whether induced abortion was a risk factor for subsequent depression.”

The article also addressed weaknesses in previous studies which focused on abortion and depression.  Due to a poor design, past studies had not controlled confounding factors – those “likely to increase the risk of both abortion and depression.”

The researchers used a representative sample of 768 women between the ages of 15 and 27.  To avoid the inaccuracies of previous studies, participants were questioned about “depression, induced abortion and childbirth, as well as sociodemographic variables, family relationships and a number of individual characteristics, such as schooling and occupational history and conduct problems.”

While the study did not show a link in between teenage abortion and depression, the researchers had evidence to conclude that “Young adult women who undergo induced abortion may be at increased risk for subsequent depression."

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Christian group detained twice in Beijing after human rights, pro-life protests

Beijing, China, Aug 7, 2008 (CNA) - As the opening of the Olympic Games nears, three Christian activists protesting on behalf of religious freedom and human rights were dragged from Tiananmen Square and detained in Beijing on Thursday, marking the second incident in which the group was detained.

According to the Associated Press, Patrick Mahoney, director of the Washington DC-based Christian Defense Coalition, and Brinda Swindell and Michael McMonagle from Generation Life in Idaho attempted to stage a news conference and prayer vigil outside the Mao Zedong Memorial Hall.

Speaking to a small crowd of foreign media, Mahoney said: “We have come here today to speak out against the human rights abuses of the Chinese government. We have come here today to be a voice to those who are in prison because of their religious beliefs.”

Plainclothes security officials reportedly forced the protesters off the square, holding up hands and umbrellas to prevent the incident from being filmed.

On Wednesday in Tiananmen Square the group protested China’s one child policy and its reported practice of forced abortion.

“End the brutality. To those who are forced to go through forced abortions and have no voice, we are your voice," they shouted out to spectators, the Associated Press says. They were removed after unfurling a yellow banner reading “Jesus Christ is King” in English and Mandarin.

"We knelt right there in the middle of Tiananmen Square and began to pray,” Mahony said, speaking to an American radio station on Wednesday. “More people gathered around, we were having umbrellas shoved in our side, kicked...the police of course were there.

"After a while they took the banner and then they picked us up and physically removed us from Tiananmen Square and detained us."

The protesters were held for 45 minutes before being released. Mahony said their passports had been examined and security officers were stationed in their hotel lobby.

He insisted the group was determined to use the attention focused on China during the Olympics to continue to campaign on behalf of persecuted Christians.

Hours before their Wednesday protest, two British pro-Tibetan campaigners climbed two pylons overlooking Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium and unfurled “Free Tibet” banners.

Speaking from Bangkok on Thursday, U.S. President George W. Bush called on China to improve its records on human rights.

“America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists,” he said, the Times Online reports. “We press for openness and justice – not to impose our beliefs but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs.”

“The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings,” he continued. “We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights not to antagonize China’s leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential.”

The president is scheduled to arrive in China on Thursday and will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

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