Washington D.C., Sep 2, 2008 (CNA) - President George W. Bush has issued a proclamation declaring Friday, September 5 through Sunday, September 7, 2008 to be National Days of Prayer and Remembrance.
In the August 28 proclamation, Bush said during these days of Prayer and Remembrance, “we pay special tribute to the thousands of innocent victims who died on September 11, 2001.”
“Our Nation honors the brave citizens, service members, police officers, and firefighters who heroically responded in the face of terror,” he continued, adding “we reflect on the terrible events of September 11, 2001, and lift the victims and their families in our prayers.”
“Our Nation will never forget the individuals who lost their lives in New York, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon,” President Bush wrote. “America remains inspired by the countless acts of kindness and sacrifice we saw that day -- fearless rescuers who rushed toward danger, a beloved priest who died helping others, two office workers who carried a disabled person 68 floors to safety.”
Saying the nation also prays for the “safety and success” of the members of the Armed Forces “now serving freedom’s cause,” Bush writes, “We seek God’s grace on their families, and commit to Heaven’s care those brave men and women He has called home.”
“We pray for help in protecting the gift of freedom from those who seek to destroy it, and we ask the Almighty to strengthen all those securing liberty on distant shores,” he concluded.
Bush asked the people and places of worship in the United States to mark the days of Prayer and Remembrance with “memorial services, the ringing of bells, and evening candlelight remembrance vigils.”
Denver, Colo., Sep 2, 2008 (CNA) - The final Faith in Action panel at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) on Thursday in Denver addressed the engagement of religious communities in religious outreach and the relationship between faith and politics. Touching on how a presidential candidate should speak about religion, the panelists addressed topics such as changing political attitudes in younger evangelical Christians and the place of pro-life Democrats in the party.
Rev. Romal Tune, from Clergy Strategic Alliances, discussed the limits of religious freedom and political criticism before the audience gathered in a ballroom at the Colorado Convention Center. He said a pastor’s “number one priority” is to protect his sheep. While parishioners might appreciate it if a pastor starts talking about candidates, Tune said, “they wouldn’t appreciate it if the IRS shows up.”
He encouraged churches to engage in legal political action, such as encouraging voter registration and ensuring parishioners have proper identification for voting.
Like many Faith in Action panelists, Rev. Tune tried to claim the language of morality for the Democrats.
“Most of what we care about are moral values,” he said, recounting with disbelief how he had once read a Family Research Council pamphlet that didn’t mention poverty among its moral issues.
Rev. C. Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance addressed the relation between faith and politics, stating that the president is “not a religious leader, but the commander-in-chief.” The president must serve people of many faiths or no faith, and those who differ from the president “shouldn’t feel left out.”
While insisting that Democrats are not “stuffy legalists wishing to eliminate religious language,” Rev. Gaddy said, winning an election is “not as important as preserving the Constitution.”
Saying that a president should respect people of all religions, he said that if a candidate speaks about faith he must let voters know how that faith will impact his administration.
However, Rev. Gaddy insisted, the president must put forward a “secular vision that embraces all Americans” and even “resign the office of the presidency rather than press religion in office.”
Outreach to African-American Christian women was discussed by Rev. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner from the Skinner Leadership Institute.
She began her comments by asking the audience to join her in prayer, after which she said people must learn to “share each other’s burdens.”
She noted that ten million African-American unmarried women were not voting. Describing many of these women as “strongly churched,” like herself, Rev. Williams-Skinner called for the inclusion of morally conservative religious people in the Democratic Party.
“I am a pro-life Democrat, and I like to think there is room for me in this party,” she said, receiving scattered applause. She argued that African-Americans care about the “sanctity of life” and the “sanctity of marriage,” adding “and they want to be in this party!”
Saying Obama should be applauded for wanting to reduce the number of abortions, she exhorted pro-life Democrats to “stand next to our pro-choice sisters” in political engagement.
Cameron Strang, who is editor of the Relevant magazine targeted at young evangelical Christians, described the attitudes he found among young evangelical Christians, saying as many as ten million don’t feel they fit the “mold of the church,” as traditionally understood, but still have faith and are moral conservatives.
Characterizing these evangelicals as “more socially aware,” he said this segment of voters offers an opportunity for both political parties. Characterizing young evangelicals as “pro-life,” he claimed they have a more “holistic” view of what being pro-life means.
Obama’s promise to reduce the numbers of abortions could appeal to this segment, Strang thought, adding that political action must consider the situation that would result were the Supreme Court to permit restrictive abortion laws again.
“Let’s say the Republican Party overturns Roe v. Wade. What then?” he asked.
Strang proposed a reform of adoption laws and a review of the financial expense involved in an adoption.
“An abortion costs $500, while an adoption costs $25,000. That’s absurd.”
In the question and answer period of the panel Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, a professor at Chicago Theological Seminary who sat on Tuesday’s Faith in Action panel, asked how to address the concerns of “principled secularists” who were skeptical of the Democrats’ newfound openness towards religion. She asked how the Democratic Party could be kept together as the “Faith Caucus” grows.
“It’s a sad commentary that religion is such a scary word,” Rev. Gaddy answered, blaming people who abuse religion and don’t respect those who disagree for secularists’ negative attitudes.
However, Rev. Gaddy added that the Faith Caucus shows that the Democratic National Convention is “a place where it is appropriate to struggle with how faith fits together with politics.”
Vatican City, Sep 2, 2008 (CNA) - On Sunday September 7, the island of Sardinia, which lies southwest of Italy, will welcome Pope Benedict XVI for a one day visit. The city of Cagliari will host the Pope as he celebrates Mass, and visits with bishops, priests, seminarians and young people.
The Holy Father’s pastoral visit will begin with his arrival to the airport in Cagliari at 9:30 a.m. local time. At 10:30 a.m. the Pontiff will celebrate Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Bonaria, followed by a visit to the chapel of the city's regional seminary.
The afternoon will be dedicated to visits with clergy and seminarians. Pope Benedict will have lunch with the bishops of Sardinia at the seminary and then meet with priests, seminarians and the community of the Pontifical Theological Faculty of Sardinia at the cathedral in Cagliari. He will also deliver an address to the faculty of theology.
In the evening the Holy Father will meet with the youth at 6:15 p.m. in Piazza Yenne. After his encounter with the youth, the Pope will depart for Rome.
Rome, Italy, Sep 2, 2008 (CNA) - During a press conference after her audience with Pope Benedict XVI on Monday at Castel Gandolfo, former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt revealed that during her captivity deep in the Amazon jungle, “amidst my desperation and sadness I heard the Pope’s voice on the radio pronouncing my name.” His voice, she said, “was like a light.”
Before some 200 journalists, diplomats and Italian officials, Betancourt said that after telling her story of captivity, the Holy Father told her, “You learned to pray to God because you asked that his will be done.”
“After a very long and harsh march over difficult terrain, and under the weight of all the equipment, at six in the afternoon I was able to rest, and amidst my desperation and sadness I heard the Pope’s voice on the radio pronouncing my name. It’s difficult to describe the psychological effect of that on a prisoner,” Betancourt said according to AFP.
“When we were in the jungle and we thought we no longer existed, the voice of the Pope was like a light. Therefore when I was freed I wanted to come to see him and embrace him. Today, that dream was fulfilled,” she said.
Betancourt explained that she slowly began drawing close to God again through the Bible. “On June 1, while I was listening to Radio Catolica Mundial”—EWTN’s Spanish language radio broadcast—“someone was talking about a saint to whom Jesus had made some promises on the condition that she surrendered herself to the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” Betancourt said overwhelmed by tears and drawing the applause of those gathered.
“The three conditions he asked [of the saint] were the same for me. I said to myself, Jesus I ask you for the miracle not of my release, but of knowing when I will be released because that gives the strength to go on. If the miracle happens, I will be yours,” she said.
“I told the Pope I didn’t know what it meant to be Christ’s, and he answered that He will show me the way,” Betancourt continued. “If you all understand how to talk to him, that will help you as well,” she said to the crowd.
“The Bible has all the answers and all the solutions,” she said after promising that she would not stop fighting to get all the hostages in Colombia and throughout the world released.
Call for peace in Colombia
Ingrid Betancourt also took the opportunity to “send a message to Alfonso Cano, Jorge Briceno, Ivan Marquez, and Joaquin Gomez (the leaders of the FARC). I would like to say to you that the whole world is watching and wants to see room in your hearts for love and forgiveness, just as there is my heart, where there is love and forgiveness.”
“The vicious circle of hatred and violence must be broken. You held me captive for seven years, I know you, your organization, your way of thinking and your objectives very well, and today I want to tell you that the world is hoping for peace in Colombia, that you leave your rifles and death behind,” she added.
“If you want things to change in Colombia, you should work through the democratic means under the protection of the law and the Constitution, respecting the rights all Colombians, of those who think like you and those of us who don’t think like you,” Betancourt said.
She ended by saying that after seven years in captivity as “a victim of uncertainty and war,” she feels her mission now is “to speak for those who have no voice.”
Baton Rouge, La., Sep 2, 2008 (CNA) - Catholic Charities has announced that it is collecting financial donations to assist Gulf Coast communities that were damaged by Hurricane Gustav. The donations will initially focus on directing critical resources to the hurricane victims.
Seven deaths have been linked to Gustav as it knocked over trees and power lines in the Gulf Coast region. The hurricane came ashore about 80 miles southwest of New Orleans on Monday before moving northwest, hitting costal cities such as Houma and Morgan City, leaving 1.4 million homes in Louisiana without power and 92,000 in Mississippi, according to CNN.
To assist the impacted families, Catholic Charities facilities in the region plan to open community resource sites where residents can access food, water, toiletries, cleanup supplies, and other resources provided by partner agencies.
Additionally, response teams will continue to survey the region to assess damages and identify communities’ unmet needs.
“With compassion and commitment, we are here to help our brothers and sisters in the Gulf Coast,” said Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA. “Catholic Charities USA is firmly dedicated to rebuilding lives, rebuilding communities, providing help, and creating hope.”
Hurricane Gustav was reduced to tropical depression status on Tuesday morning, however the National Hurricane Center has reported that Tropical Storm Hanna could build into a hurricane as well as storms Ike and Josephine.
Rome, Italy, Sep 2, 2008 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Kirkuk, Iraq, Louis Sako, addressed the city’s Islamic leaders yesterday on the occasion of the beginning Ramadan. During his speech, the prelate prayed for goodness, brotherhood and peace between Christians and Muslims around the world.
According to the Italian Bishops’ news agency, Servizio Informazione Religiosa, the archbishop opened his address by sending, “my beloved Muslim brothers and sisters, my most heart-felt congratulations and best wishes for the beginning of the blessed month of Ramadan.”
He continued, “As you know, Ramadan is an extended time of prayers, fasting and charity. It is a month of sacrifices and good deeds. As the holy Koran says, ‘Then shall anyone who has done an ounce of good see it! And anyone who has done an ounce of evil, shall see it’ (99:7-8).”
The prelate encouraged the leaders to “invoke God the Almighty that He may accept your devout obedience and ensure for the Iraqi nation the peace that is the foundation of goodness and brotherhood between us, and that He may remove violence, hostility and conflict from us.” He also called on Christians to “join their Muslim brothers, so that God will ensure peace and stability to all of us.”
The archbishop finished his statement by asking Christians to respect the Muslim devotions of fasting during this time by “not eating in public and dressing properly.”
“May God the Almighty bless us all, each other’s brothers and sisters,” the archbishop said.
New Dehli, India, Sep 2, 2008 (CNA) - Violence against Christians in the Indian state of Orissa appears to be subsiding after 26 people were killed and 4,000 Christian homes, churches and centers were destroyed by Hindu extremists.
Fides News Agency is reporting that local police authorities say the violence has tapered off after a curfew was established on Monday. The police are continuing to patrol public places, town squares, centers, streets and around churches to prevent the outbreak of further violence.
Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, the head of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said this past Saturday that because Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government did not deploy government troops to the region, the violence has lasted for a week.
Catholic schools and institutions around India participated in a protest in opposition to the violence against Christians by closing their doors on August 29. The Archdiocese of Raipur, which closed its schools in solidarity with those under attack in Orissa was threatened by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for closing.
According to SAR News, Satyam Dua, the local official in charge of the BJP, said: "Those educational institutions which participate in the bandh and keep their educational institutions closed will be shut down by the BJP activists forever."
Expressions of solidarity were found elsewhere, despite these threats. Christians in Orissa told Fides that, “they had been sheltered and saved thanks to Hindu citizens that, in the face of destruction by the fundamentalists, opened their homes to many Christians, condemning the attacks.”
The wave of attacks against Christians began when Hindu leaders blamed Christians for the killing of the 85 year-old Hindu leader Swami Laxanananda Saraspati. Since his murder on August 23, Christians have been targeted for attacks throughout India but mostly in the state of Orissa.
Catholics in India will hold a “Day for Fasting and Prayer” on September 7, in memory of the victims of violence and for the spread of peace and harmony in the nation.
Mexico City, Mexico, Sep 2, 2008 (CNA) - In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of a law in Mexico City legalizing abortion up to the twelfth week, the bishops of that country issued a statement reiterating the need to defend life from conception to natural death.
In their statement entitled, “The Culture of Life for Mexico,” the bishops stressed that “moved by the certainty that faith in Jesus Christ gives us, we cannot help but proclaim that human life is a gift and a right that we must always appreciate, care for and protect.”
“This awareness evidently begins by respecting and defending life from conception to natural death. In the context of this reflection, we call on all of society to fight for the protection of each human embryo, because the inalienable right to life of all individuals from the moment of conception should be an essential element of civil society and its legislation,” the bishops said.
“The decision taken by the Supreme Court clearly shows what task faces society and lawmakers in ensuring that the Constitution of our country explicitly recognizes the rights of the unborn, which is a fundamental element for the strengthening of the culture of life,” they continued.
“Consequently, we believe it is never morally acceptable to grant someone the right over another, even more so if we are talking about the principle of human life, which begins from the moment of conception,” they added.
The bishops encouraged Mexicans to work “together to guarantee the right to life of all persons,” the foundation for all other rights and “upon which the future of our Mexico depends.”
Rome, Italy, Sep 2, 2008 (CNA) - In an interview with Vatican Radio, the Archbishop of Ranchi in India, Cardinal Telesforo Placidus Toppo, said that the Catholic Church’s defense of the sacredness of the human person and its opposition to the caste system are what is fueling the violence against Christian minorities in India.
“In the caste system, equality doesn’t exist. That is why the Church’s commitment to overcome the caste system is not accepted. For us the person is sacred,” Cardinal Toppo said.
After acknowledging that “it is not easy to understand India,” the cardinal noted that not all Hindus are extremists. “There are socio-economic-political factors at play, factors that are at the root of these incidents, of the burning of Christian-owned properties. Another factor is the law against conversions. We have clarified that we do not convert people by force,” the cardinal said.
In response to these aggressions, he continued, the response of the Church “is that of Jesus, Christians have not responded to the aggressions. I think we will be given help by the central government and by the State,” the cardinal noted, praising the many “good initiatives. And here let me underscore: equality among all is a threat for the fundamentalists.”
Utica, N.Y., Sep 2, 2008 (CNA) - A Zogby Interactive online poll of likely voters conducted in the aftermath of the announcement of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as Sen. John McCain’s running mate reports that most respondents believe the Palin pick will help McCain, as do Catholic respondents in particular.
The survey report claims the presidential race is a “dead heat,” with the McCain/Palin ticket leading the Obama/Biden ticket at a rate of 47 percent to 45 percent of voters, a statistical tie.
Asked whether the selection of Sarah Palin helps or hurts Republican Sen. McCain’s chances of victory in the November elections, 52 percent of the online respondents believe the choice helps his chances, 29 percent believe it hurts them, while ten percent believe it makes no difference.
By comparison, a Zogby poll conducted in the aftermath of Democratic Sen. Barack Obama’s selection of Delaware Sen. Joseph Biden showed that 43 percent of poll respondents believed the action helped Obama, while 23 percent believed it hurt him.
Stephanie DeVries, Zogby assistant director of communications, told CNA in an e-mail on Tuesday that the Catholic sample for the poll was 526 respondents. The statistical breakdown shows Catholics giving answers similar to those of the respondents as a whole.
At a rate of 54 percent, Catholic respondents believe McCain’s choice of Palin would help the Republican ticket, while 31 percent believe it would hurt the campaign. Seven percent believed it would not make a difference.
The Zogby Interactive online poll included 2,020 likely voters nationwide and claims a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points.
According to the interactive survey, 22 percent of voters who supported Sen. Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary elections or caucus are now supporting the Republican McCain. Further, 62 percent of self-described weekly shoppers at Wal-Mart support McCain, while Obama wins only 24 percent of their support.
The last group of voters is, according to Zogby International, both “value” and “values” voters.
John Zogby, speaking in a Zogby International press release, said politically independent women will be a “very important demographic” in the upcoming election, saying the survey shows 15 percent of them to be undecided voters.
“This contest is likely to be very close until the weekend before the election - then the dam may break and support may flood one way or the other,” he claimed.
San José, Costa Rica, Sep 2, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop Hugo Barrantes of San Jose in Costa Rica exhorted the more than 100,000 Catholics gathered for a pro-life march to care for the family, “the primary and fundamental cell of society” and “the first school of virtues,” against certain anti-family and anti-marriage laws in the country.
On Sunday at the Cathedral of San Jose, where he celebrated a Mass at the conclusion of the pro-family march, the archbishop underscored that “the family is one of the most precious gifts God has given humanity. We are convinced that there is no alternative to the family. The family is the first school of virtues that all societies need.”
In pointing out that there are some “who think they can be happy without God, that they can change and improve the world without God,” Archbishop Barrantes stressed that “without God, the family falls apart and society crumbles.”
The archbishop also touched on marriage, saying that it is not “the tale of Alice in Wonderland. Those who get married should remember that there is no success going downhill, nor true happiness at a cheap price. Spouses should pray frequently before the cross. They should pray for the grace and strength that come from the cross, they should put themselves under the protection of the cross and they should follow Christ on the way of the cross.”
Archbishop Barrantes then turned to the five new bills that threaten the family, which attack the definition of marriage being between one man and one woman, and threaten the freedom of parents to choose the kind of education they want for their children. Catholic legislators must reject these measures, he said.
He urged that discussions about the measures be conducted to ensure that “the voice of Catholics is heard, within the context of the rule of law.”
After encouraging spouses to renew their promises of love and fidelity, Archbishop Barrantes said “the great revolution in favor of the family” should begin with “living matrimonial holiness.”
Sacramento, Calif., Sep 2, 2008 (CNA) - Bishop of Sacramento William K. Weigand has asked Pope Benedict XVI permission to retire, citing a lack of physical energy.
“I'm just kind of worn out," Bishop Weigand told the Sacramento Bee. "I haven't run out of ideas. I just don't have the energy."
The 71-year-old bishop is seeking retirement four years before the mandatory retirement age of 75. According to the Diocese of Sacramento’s website, Bishop Weigand has been diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis and underwent a living donor liver transplant in April 2005.
He was Bishop of Salt Lake City for 13 years before becoming shepherd of Sacramento in January 1994.
In 2004 he told then-Gov. Gray Davis to “have the integrity” to stop receiving Communion because of the governor’s policies favoring abortion.
In 2005, Bishop Weigand ordered the firing of a drama teacher at the all-girls Catholic prep school Loretto High School after a parent discovered the teacher was serving as an escort at an abortion clinic.
“If we are to form faithful Catholic young people and provide suitable role models for such formation,” the bishop said in an October 26, 2005 letter, “teachers in our Catholic schools must themselves be witnesses to the Truth proclaimed in the Gospel, conducting themselves by word and deed in accordance with the Truths of our Faith. Their witness does not end when the school bell rings at the end of the day or the school year concludes at the beginning of summer.”
According to the California Catholic Daily, the Diocese of Sacramento agreed to settle 33 claims of clerical sexual abuse at a financial cost of $35 million in June 2005. Presently, Bishop Weigand said the diocese is beginning to recover from the expense, but the “hurt and pain” still remain.
The bishop is scheduled to turn over responsibility for the diocese to current coadjutor Bishop Jaime Soto at a November 30 Mass in Sacramento’s Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. During the rite, Bishop Weigand will retire his coat of arms, which bears the motto “Feed my Lambs.”
The sitting bishop’s coat of arms will be replaced by that of Bishop Soto, which bears the motto “Joy and Hope.”
Bishop Soto, the former auxiliary bishop of Orange County, was named coadjutor bishop for Sacramento in October 2007. When he takes over Bishop Weigand’s office, he will become the highest-ranking Hispanic bishop in the Western United States.
Bishop Weigand has said he plans to spend his first six months of retirement camping in a new trailer, writing and working on his family genealogy.