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Archive of September 22, 2008

Reconcile your differences before approaching the altar, Benedict XVI preaches

Castelgandolfo, Italy, Sep 22, 2008 (CNA) - Before reciting the Angelus on Sunday morning, Pope Benedict traveled to the small town of Albano to dedicate a new altar at its cathedral and to celebrate Mass. Pope Benedict’s message to the congregation of San Pancrazio was to work at continuously communicating their differences and to forgive one another before approaching the Eucharistic altar.

The homily of the Holy Father first touched on the "the love of Christ, charity 'which never ends'," and how this love is "the spiritual energy that unites all those who participate in the same sacrifice and who draw nourishment from the one Bread, broken for the salvation of the world.”

The Pope asked, "Is it in fact possible to communicate with the Lord if we do not communicate with each other? How then can we present ourselves at God's altar divided and distant from one another?"

Turning the congregation’s attention to the altar that he was about to dedicate, Benedict encouraged them to "be a constant invitation to love.” To this altar “you will always come with your hearts ready to accept and to spread the love of Christ, to receive and to grant forgiveness,” he added.

"Each time you come to the altar for the celebration of the Eucharist," the Pope reiterated, "may your souls open to forgiveness and fraternal reconciliation, be ready to accept the excuses of those who have hurt you and ready, in your turn, to forgive."

Benedict XVI went on to explain that "each Eucharistic celebration anticipates Christ's triumph over sin and over the world. And, in the mystery, it demonstrates the splendor of the Church, 'spotless spouse of the spotless Lamb, whom Christ loved and for whom He delivered Himself up that He might sanctify her'."

The Catholics of Albano were also challenged "to grow in charity and in apostolic and missionary dedication, by the Pope.

“What this means in concrete terms," he said, "is bearing witness with your lives to your faith in Christ and to the complete trust you place in Him. It also means cultivating ecclesial communion, which is above all a gift, a grace, the fruit of God's free and gratuitous love, in other words something that is divinely effective, ever present and operative in history, over and above any appearance to the contrary."

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Pontiff exhorts Benedictines to proclaim the ‘primacy of God’ and evangelize youth

Rome, Italy, Sep 22, 2008 (CNA) - Meeting with participants of the International Congress of the Benedictine Federation on Saturday, the Holy Father encouraged the group to announce “the primacy of God without compromise” and to continue evangelizing the youth by showing them the richness of the liturgy, of meditation and lectio divina.

The congress, which is held every four years in Rome, gives Benedictine abbots and superiors the opportunity to discuss how their charism applies to the current social and cultural context and how “to respond to the ever-new challenges this raises for bearing witness to the Gospel.”

Addressing the Benedictine Federation, the Holy Father reminded them that “in a sacrilegious world, and in a time marked by a worrying culture of emptiness and of 'non sense,' you are called to announce the primacy of God without compromise, and to propose new paths of evangelization.”

This must be done, the Pontiff continued, by reaching out to the young people. The youth in our world need to be prepared to face "the many demands of society with constant reference to the evangelical message, which is always current, inexhaustible and enlivening,” the Pope exclaimed.  “Dedicate yourselves, then, with renewed apostolic ardor to the young, who are the future of the Church and of humanity.

“In order to build a 'new' Europe, we must begin with the new generations, offering them an intimate experience of the spiritual richness of the liturgy, of meditation, and of 'lectio divina'," he said.

The Pope continued by describing the “renowned Benedictine hospitality.  “A community capable of truly fraternal life, fervently dedicated to liturgical prayer, study, and work, and cordially open to others who thirst for God, represents the best way to turn hearts, especially those of the young, to the monastic vocation and, in general, to a fruitful journey of faith."

Concluding his address, Pope Benedict turned to the Benedictine nuns and female religious and encouraged them not to lose heart, despite the lack of vocations in some parts of the world.  “Faithfully persevering in your own vocations you bear witness with great effectiveness, also before the world, to your firm faith in the Lord of history, in Whose hands are the times and destinies of individuals, institutions and peoples." The Holy Father exhorted them to "Adopt the spiritual attitude of the Virgin Mary, who was content to be 'ancilla Domini', utterly compliant to the will of the Heavenly Father."

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Details of first investigation into Padre Pio’s stigmata revealed

Rome, Italy, Sep 22, 2008 (CNA) - In an article published by the L’Osservatore Romano, Francesco Castelli, a biographer of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, has revealed details of the first investigation in 1921 by the Holy Office—now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—into the life of the Italian priest and the authenticity of his stigmata.

Castelli explained that the recent opening of the archives that contain the information on the first investigations show that it is not true that the Holy Office was suspicious of Padre Pio, but rather that there was admiration and appreciation for him.

In 1921, the Holy Office charged Bishop Carlo Raffaello Rossi, who would later be made cardinal, with visiting Padre Pio to investigate his life and the origin of his stigmata. In his report, Bishop Rossi wrote that Padre Pio “held his head high and was serene, his look lively and sweet, his words gleamed with kindness and sincerity.”

The task that began on June 14 of that year lasted for eight days, during which Bishop Rossi observed Padre Pio in detail. He wrote that he was very gentle with his brothers, beloved by his superiors for being a “great example and not a gossiper.”  He spent 10-12 hours a day in the confessional and he celebrated the Mass with “extraordinary devotion.”

Bishop Rossi said the observations were not sufficient and he decided to interview Padre Pio, who responded to 142 questions under oath with his hand on the Gospels. Castelli says his answers almost constituted a complete biography.

Questions such as, “Who gave you the stigmata? For what reason? Were you given a specific mission?” were answered serenely by the Italian saint in the following manner:

“On September 20, 1918 after celebrating Mass, while I was giving thanks in the Choir, I was repeatedly overcome by trembling. Later I became calm again and I saw our Lord as if He were on the cross—but I did not see if He did have a cross—lamenting the lack of response from mankind, especially from those consecrated to Him who are His favorites. He was showing that He was suffering and that He desired to unite souls to His Passion. He invited me to enter into His sufferings and to mediate upon them: and at the same time to concern myself with the health of the brothers. Immediately I felt full of compassion for the sufferings of the Lord and I asked Him what I could do. I heard this voice: ‘I unite you to my Passion’. And immediately, the vision having disappeared, I came to and I saw these signs from which blood was flowing.  I did not have them before.”

Castelli said Bishop Rossi went even further. He asked to examine the wounds and as he did so he asked Padre Pio about them.  He saw that the wound in his side “changed aspects frequently and at that moment was in the shape of a triangle, never before seen. Regarding the wounds of Padre Pio, he gave me precise and detailed answers explaining in addition that the wounds in his feet and side had a sort of radiant aspect.”

Bishop Rossi concluded that the wounds were not “the work of the devil” nor were they the result of “deceit, fraud or a malicious or evil ability.  Much less were they the result of external suggestion, nor do I consider them to be the result of suggestion.”  The distinctive elements “of true stigmata were found in those of Padre Pio,” he added.  Other details such as his high fevers and perfume-like scents confirmed the veracity of the phenomenon.

Castelli said the first thing that emerges from these investigations is that the “feared Roman dicastery was not, in these circumstances, an enemy of Padre Pio, but rather the complete opposite! Bishop Rossi showed himself to be an absolute inquisitor but he was also a mature man of true valor, devoid of unjustified harshness towards the one he was questioning.”

Thanks to these investigations, the former Holy Office possesses a history of Padre Pio written by his “spiritual father, Benedetto, a document extremely rich in information that up to now had been almost completely ignored.”

Upon writing that after 1939 there is no clear way to tell what happened to the Capuchin friar who died on September 22, 1968, Castelli recalled how Bishop Rossi would remember the saint in his own words: “Padre Pio is a good and exemplary religious, trained in the practice of virtue, given over to piety and perhaps elevated in degrees of prayer that go beyond the external, resplendent in particular with a profound humility and singular simplicity that have never waivered even in the most difficult of times, in which these virtues have been tried in a serious and dangerous way.”

Francesco Castelli is professor of History of the Contemporary Church at the Romano Guardini Institute of Religious Science and Director of the Historical Archives of the Diocese of Taranto.

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Holy Father reminds new bishops to be inspired by St. Paul during struggles

Vatican City, Sep 22, 2008 (CNA) - On Saturday Benedict XVI addressed a group of 100 recently-appointed bishops who are participating in a training seminar on the episcopate.  “Allow yourselves to be guided by St. Paul who did not avoid difficulties and sufferings because he was well aware that they are part of the cross which, as Christians, we must carry every day,” he adivsed them.

Speaking at Castel Gandolfo, the Holy Father began his address by highlighting that the seminar, which is being promoted by the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples, is being held during the year honoring St. Paul.

"I am sure that the spirit of this 'teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth' will not fail to illuminate and enrich your pastoral and episcopal ministry," he said, recalling how "the expression 'teacher of the Gentiles' opens to the future, projecting the spirit of the Apostle towards all peoples and all generations."

By reflecting on St. Paul, the Holy Father continued, the new bishops should learn “to look sympathetically upon the people to whom we are sent" and "to seek in Christ the light and grace to announce the Good News today."

The Pontiff also touched on the topic of the “dictatorship of relativism.”

He informed the bishops that many societies are being hit by “the increasingly-violent wind of religious indifference, secularization and the relativization of values,” creating “an environment in which the weapon of preaching may appear - as happened to Paul in Athens - to lack the necessary strength.”
 
In many regions of the world, he added, “Catholics are a minority, sometimes a tiny minority. This compels you to deal with other much stronger religions that are not always welcoming towards you. Finally, there is no lack of situations in which, as pastors, you must defend your faithful in the face of persecution and violent attacks."

The Holy Father encouraged the newly ordained bishops not to be “discouraged by these inconveniences, which are sometimes very harsh, but allow yourselves to be guided and inspired by St. Paul, who did not avoid difficulties and sufferings because he was well aware that they are part of the cross which, as Christians, we must carry every day.”

“Suffering unites us to Christ and to our brothers and sisters, and expresses the fullness of love, the source and supreme trial of which is Christ's own Cross,” the Pope explained.  “Paul's deepest motivations were the fact that he was loved by Jesus Christ and his desire to transmit this love to others."

"You are at the beginning of your episcopal ministry. Do not hesitate to draw from this powerful teacher of evangelization, learning from him how to love Christ, how to sacrifice yourselves in the service of others, how to identify yourselves with the people among whom you are called to preach the Gospel, how to proclaim and bear witness to the presence of the Risen One."
 
The Pope concluded, "You who, as successors of the Apostles, continue Paul's mission in bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles, draw inspiration from him in seeing your vocation as closely dependent on the light of the Spirit of Christ."

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Vietnamese gang ransacks Catholic chapel as police stand by

Hanoi, Vietnam, Sep 22, 2008 (CNA) - The simmering property disputes between the Catholic Church and the Vietnamese government were again aggravated on Sunday when a Hanoi official accused the Archbishop of Hanoi of inciting riots, making false allegations against the government, ridiculing the law, and disrespecting the nation.

Meanwhile late Sunday night, a street gang made a second attack upon a chapel at Thai Ha Church with no interference from nearby police. In what one priest called a “sort of terrorism” against the Catholic faithful, the gang ransacked the building, destroying statues and books while shouting threats against the lives of clergy and religious, Catholic faithful, and the Archbishop of Hanoi.

On Sunday evening state media reported a statement by Nguyen The Thao, the chairman of People’s Committee of Hanoi City. Father J.B. An Dang told CNA that the chairman criticized Archbishop of Hanoi Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, accusing the prelate’s Friday letter to the Vietnamese president and prime minister of conveying “distortional information.” 

The chairman charged that the letter contained language “challenging the state,” specifically quoting the archbishop’s words “We have our rights to use all of our capabilities to protect our property.”

The property dispute concerns church land confiscated by the Vietnamese government decades ago, including the former papal nunciature and the lands surrounding the Redemptorists’ Thai Ha Church.

Chairman Thao accused the archbishop of treason for “smearing the state” and reported that the archbishop’s actions have “angered people of the capital.”

“These behaviors of offending the law and going against the benefits of state and nation must be punished severely in order to defend our regime, to protect the rights and legitimate benefits of the state and citizens,” the chairman continued.

On Sunday morning thousands of Catholics demonstrated in Hanoi, following a protest of more than 5,000 people the previous evening. The protests were renewed in response to the government’s decision to begin demolishing the former papal nunciature, claiming the land would be used for a library and a park.

The Sunday protest was the largest since the Communist takeover in 1954.

Bishop Joseph Dang Duc Ngan of the Diocese of Lang Son and hundreds of priests led a march of more than ten thousand through the city to the nunciature where they set up an altar and statue of Our Lady in the street, according to Fr. An Dang.

The former papal nunciature site has been surrounded by rolls of barbed wire and a police cordon with dogs. Within the cordon, workers were pulling down the building. Outside the cordon, protestors sang and prayed.

On Friday the Associated Press Hanoi Bureau Chief Ben Stocking was detained by police while covering the demonstrations at the site. He left police custody with a gash in his head requiring four stitches, charging that police had choked, punched and bashed him with his own camera, the Associated Press reports.

A Vietnamese foreign ministry statement denied the reporter had been beaten while in police custody and tried to justify his detention.

"Stocking broke the Vietnamese law by deliberately taking pictures at a place where taking pictures was not allowed," the statement said, the AP says. "Officers who were on duty to keep the public order warned him, but Mr. Stocking did not follow.”

Over at Thai Ha Church, a Redemptorist monastery which is also the center of a property dispute, a street gang attacked a chapel at the church from late Sunday night through early Monday morning.

According to local Redemptorist priests, the gang “yelled out slogans calling for the head of the Archbishop of Hanoi and Father Matthew Vu Khoi Phung, the religious superior of Thai Ha monastery.”

“Protestors who slept inside the chapel were evacuated into the monastery.”

The gang reportedly dispersed after they failed to gain entry to the monastery itself.

Nonetheless, the ruffians did take their fury out on Church property. “All statues of Our Lady where protestors pray every day were completely destroyed. They left pieces of the statues inside the yard of the monastery,” the Redemptorists at the monastery added.

More details were revealed in Father Matthew Vu Khoi Phung’s letter of complaint, which was released Monday and addressed to the People’s Committee of Hanoi City and police agencies of Hanoi and Dong Da district.

According to the letter, at 11:20 pm local time “a crowd in great numbers surrounded our monastery and our church… They yelled, smashed everything on their way, threw stones into our monastery, and shattered the gate of Saint Gerardo Chapel.”

“The gang yelled out slogans threatening to kill priests, religious, faithful and even our archbishop,” the monastery’s superior clergyman wrote.

Father Matthew Vu continued, saying “everything happened clearly in front of a large number of officials, police, security personnel, anti-riot police, and mobile police – those who are in charge of keeping security and safety in the region.

“But they did nothing to protect us,” he charged.

Father Vu also reported that on Sunday evening a gang of about 200 young men wearing the blue shirts of the Youth Communist League, came to Thai Ha Church “to disturb order, smear and spit on the face of our priests, religious and faithful.”

In this case, too, police did not intervene.

“This is a sort of terrorism against Catholic faithful and clergy taking place right at the center of the capital of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” Father Vu said.

The attack on Thai Ha Church was the second in the past week. At about 1 am local time on Friday, a gang attacked the altar used to celebrate open air Mass for the protestors near the church. The altar was ransacked and statues of the Virgin Mary were sprayed with used motor oil.

Father Joseph Nguyen of Hanoi reported that the former protest site has been surrounded by rolls of barbed wire.

“Police and their dogs attack anyone who comes to the site. This shows a clear signal from an unyielding government which has been determined to persecute rather than dialogue,” Father Nguyen said.

“Hanoi Catholics have been very upset with the assault; and they are really concerned for Thai Ha parishioners and their priests. Many pieces of the land in dispute were provided to high police officials. They were particularly enraged with Thai Ha Catholics since they were not able to sell their land, he added.

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Venezuelan lay group rejects Chavez’s authoritarian laws

Caracas, Venezuela, Sep 22, 2008 (CNA) - The National Council of Laity in Venezuela expressed its rejection this week of a package of 26 laws passed by President Hugo Chavez last July, saying they violate fundamental human rights and imply control of citizens by the State.

After a detailed analysis of the legislative package, the Council warned that the laws are ideologically driven and would impose greater control over Venezuelans and their property, over public institutions and the economy and a greater concentration of centralized power.

The group said the laws run contrary to what voters approved in a December 2, 2007 referendum, “violating the will of the country” and constituting anti-democratic measures.

The laws are contrary to the “fundamental values and principles of the Gospel and the Church’s Social Doctrine,” which promote “respect for the dignity of the human person, for truth, freedom, justice, the common good, solidarity, subsidiarity, and the free and responsible participation in the democratic construction of a nation,” the Council said.

The group encouraged all “those concerned about the wellbeing of the country to faithfully commit to working for reconciliation and peaceful coexistence among all Venezuelans,” as well as to fulfill their right and duty to participate in the next elections of November 23.

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Nuncio in Bolivia calls for peace in the country

La Paz, Bolivia, Sep 22, 2008 (CNA) - In response to the violence and confrontations that are sweeping across Bolivia, the Apostolic Nuncio to that country, Archbishop Luciano Suriani, has encouraged Bolivians to work for “peace and understanding between all, for the serenity and harmony necessary to building a society worth of mankind.”

Echoing the calls of “the recent popes, who untiringly called the entire world to peace and not violence, to dialogue and not confrontation, to love and not hatred,” the archbishop recalled what Pope Benedict XVI said in his message for the World Day of Peace last year. “All people of good will are a channel of peace,” the Pope said, “a peace that begins in one’s own conscience and is made concrete later in peace in the family and society.”

Archbishop Suriani went on to explain that “peace is a gift and a task,” which must be realized with courage and unflagging commitment.  “By building the peace we put down the premises for an authentic coexistence of brothers among brothers,” he added.

“May we always be sincere and courageous heralds of peace, without forgetting that there is no peace without justice and there is no justice without forgiveness,” the Nuncio said.

He encouraged government leaders to have the wisdom and good will to become “channels of peace no matter what the cost.”

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Liberal Democrat argues same-sex marriage makes society less 'pro-child'

Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 22, 2008 (CNA) -

A self-described liberal Democrat has explained his opposition to same-sex marriage in an opinion column for the Los Angeles Times. Arguing that marriage is not “simply a private love relationship between two people,” he argues that marriage unites the “biological, social and legal” dimensions of parenthood into the “pro-child” form of the married couple.

David Blankenhorn, founder and president of the Institute for American Values and pioneer in the “fatherhood movement,” makes his case in the September 19 edition of the Los Angeles Times.

He writes that despite cross-cultural differences, the purpose of marriage is clear.
“Marriage shapes the rights and obligations of parenthood,” Blankenhorn states. “Among us humans, the scholars report, marriage is not primarily a license to have sex. Nor is it primarily a license to receive benefits or social recognition. It is primarily a license to have children.”

The social institution of marriage ensures that children grow up with a secure family life and parents are accountable both to their spouses and to their child.

“Marriage is society's most pro-child institution,” he asserts.

Blankenhorn notes that the Child Trends nonpartisan research center supported this conclusion in a 2002 report, saying “family structure clearly matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.”

The 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child also “specifically guarantees” children the right “to know and to be cared for by the two parents who brought them into this world.”

“The last time I checked,” Blankenhorn adds, “liberals like me were supposed to be in favor of internationally recognized human rights, particularly concerning children, who are typically society's most voiceless and vulnerable group.”

“Every child being raised by gay or lesbian couples will be denied his birthright to both parents who made him,” the liberal Democrat continues. “Every single one.”

Changing the meaning of marriage, he says, “further and perhaps definitively undermines” marriage’s distinctive pro-child contribution to society.

Blankenhorn also voices his concerns about the constricted range of debate on same-sex marriage. People must “be careful” if they believe that every child deserves his mother and father, or believe that fathers and mothers are different from each other, or believe that biological ties matter to children, or believe that the best family has only two parents, he says.

If one opposes same-sex marriage, he adds, “More than a few grown-ups will be quite willing to question your integrity and goodwill. Children, of course, are rarely consulted.”

Saying he rejects “homophobia” and believes in the “equal dignity” of homosexual love, Blankenhorn concludes by emphasizing that society should seek “to maintain and to strengthen” marriage for the sake of children.

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Archbishop of Newark’s sci-fi novel Space Vulture selling ‘decently’

Newark, N.J., Sep 22, 2008 (CNA) - A new science-fiction novel co-authored by Archbishop of Newark John J. Myers and “Roger Rabbit” creator Gary K. Wolf has sold “decently” in the first six months since its publication. The “fast-paced intergalactic tale” is about a space marshal and a con man who team up with a widow and her two children to fight a cosmic villain named Space Vulture.

The two authors, who have been friends since childhood, based the story on the pulp fiction of their youth. They would tease out themes for the book and devise plots over the phone, editing the text via e-mail.

The archbishop said he worked on the book at night, when he didn't have appointments, or at his summer residence.

“Pulp science fiction, just as pulp westerns, are not great art. And we knew that. But it can be fun. ... This won't be a classic. We didn't write it with that in mind,” Bishop Myers told the Star-Ledger.

Archbishop Myers described how he wove minor religious elements into the story.

"Science fiction tends to be atheistic, or not to refer to creators or higher beings," Myers explained to the Star-Ledger. "I enjoyed getting some lines in there on how Cali prays when she's in trouble, and how the boys knew their dad was in a better place. These are things that indicate a higher being without it being explicitly Catholic."

The archbishop said his favorite part of the plot involves the character development of Gil Terry, the con man who has had his human body parts replaced with insect parts for failing to pay a debt. Archbishop Myers said the character transforms “from being a scalawag, as my mother would say, to being a nice guy in his relationship with the boys.”

According to the Star Ledger, Space Vulture publisher Tor Books said the book has sold decently. Though the book’s Amazon.com ranking is low, reader reviews are reportedly positive.

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