Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Oct 3, 2008 (CNA) - The Catholic charity Caritas has launched an emergency appeal to help 90,000 people who have fled their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Renewed fighting in North and South Kivu has displaced more than 100,000 people since the end of August.
Caritas’ appeal for more than $1.5 million will help fund the urgent non-food needs of people uprooted in North Kivu, a press release states. The five-month project will provide household articles such as blankets, hygiene products and cooking equipment to 15,000 families who have lost their homes and possessions in the violence.
Caritas DRC has reported at least 17 deaths from cholera at a camp west of Goma. Some cases of malnutrition have also been reported among children and nursing mothers.
Last week Caritas DRC urged a ceasefire and the opening of a humanitarian corridor as clashes between government troops and rebels have hampered access to people in need of urgent help.
The fighting continues despite the Congolese Government’s approval of a UN plan for all sides to withdraw their forces on 17 September. A ceasefire had been signed in January 2008.
Hanoi, Vietnam, Oct 3, 2008 (CNA) - A Wednesday meeting between Prime Minister of Vietnam Nguyen Tan Dung and Vietnam’s Catholic bishops intended to discuss tensions between church and state surrounding disputed properties has reportedly ended without bearing fruit. Following the meeting, the prime minister made remarks on state television asking the Archbishop of Hanoi to correct his behavior and “overcome his shortcomings.”
VietCatholic News Agency described the prime minister’s remarks as a “slap in the face” of the archbishops and the Church as a whole.
The Wednesday meeting, intended to discuss disputes over properties confiscated from the Catholic Church by the government, instead featured a lecture aimed at the Archbishop of Hanoi and what was characterized as a “subtle message” to the bishops’ conference of Vietnam.
The bishops had been invited to meet with the prime minister several days after they issued a late September statement on the conflict.
Cardinal Pham Minh Man of Saigon joined Vietnam Conference of Catholic Bishops president Bishop Nguyen Van Nhon of Dalat and Archbishop Nguyen Nhu The of the Archdiocese of Hue at the meeting. They had arrived anticipating that the prime minister would reiterate his promise to return the nunciature to Archbishop Ngo.
In February, the prime minister had promised that the former papal nunciature would be returned to the archdiocese, its legal owner.
Vietnamese state television broadcast a detailed report of the meeting’s aftermath on Wednesday, according to VietCatholic News Agency.
In his opening statement reported in the broadcast, the prime minister said the government’s stance would remain the same. He also said local government officials’ handling of violent incidents at Thai Ha parish and the former nunciature was justified.
Pro-government gangs have recently clashed with Catholics at the sites of peaceful demonstrations seeking the return of church properties. Nearby police did not intervene to stop the attacks.
Criticizing Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi, the prime minister accused him of “actions and words that had damaged his own reputation among the Vietnamese Catholic Community and society as a whole, thus affecting the good relations between Hanoi archdiocese and the Hanoi local government, and also between the bishops’ conference and the state.”
The state television report stated that the prime minister wanted the Archbishop of Hanoi “to have a serious review of his behavior in order to make practical corrections to overcome his shortcomings.” He further asked that the bishops’ conference assist the archbishop as fellow Christians, claiming the clergyman needed help with abiding by the state law.
VietCatholic News Agency described the prime minister’s statement as a “slap in the face” of the archbishops and the Church as a whole, saying his words “blatantly contradicted with what he had solemnly promised to Hanoi diocese and to the Vatican early this year.”
“What had happened at the Thai Ha Church and at the nunciature during the recent conflicts was still raw in people's mind,” said Father Joseph Nguyen. “It was a classic example of what a persecution look likes, and it was recorded by camera and witnessed by thousands of parishioners and others. Yet the prime minister of the government which calls itself ‘servant of the people’ still has the nerve to deny it, and shamelessly puts the blame on the honest archbishop whose statement was altered and used as a basis for widespread propaganda.”
It should be noted that in their September 25 statement, the bishops’ conference of Vietnam “frankly rejected every accusation against Hanoi archbishop,” Fr. Joseph Nguyen said. He added that the bishops also denounced the “on-going defamation” against the prelate and other Catholic leaders, in addition to denouncing the attacks at the Archbishop of Hanoi’s residence and at Thai Ha and Mac Thuong parishes.
Father Nguyen reported that the bishops blame the “murky, outdated land law which tramples the right to own private property as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
The bishops also criticized both “the dishonesty of state media which have been proven to be effective in spreading doubts and mistrust instead of bridging the nation with mutual understanding and unification” and “the tendency of the government to use violence to suppress people who cry out for justice, thus creating more social injustice.”
Baghdad, Iraq, Oct 3, 2008 (CNA) - Jean Sleiman, the Latin-rite Archbishop of Baghdad, recently spoke to an Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) event in Westminster, England, saying a “paralyzing fear” still grips Iraq’s Christian communities. The archbishop said “very real persecution” remains a threat alongside intense pressure to conform to rigorous Islamic standards, driving many Christians to leave the country.
The archbishop, a Lebanese Carmelite who pastors approximately 5,000 Latin-rite Catholics in Iraq, spoke of the situation in the country before a crowd of more than 400 at the Aid to the Church in Need UK’s annual Westminster Event this past Saturday.
Archbishop Sleiman said most Christians in Iraq still want to leave the country despite the decline of violence in and around Baghdad and the reconstruction efforts in Kurdish areas in the north. He said Baghdad, Mosul, and other regions remained hot-spots of persecution and violence against minority groups.
The Christian population numbered over one million before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, but is now barely 400,000.
“Emigration remains the dream of most people. The hope of emigration – even when it is not realistic – represents a kind of salvation for the people,” Archbishop Sleiman said.
“Very real persecution” remains a huge threat for Christians in some areas, he explained. In other regions “co-existence under pressure” means that Christians are forced to adopt Islamic practices, including dress and veil-wearing. Christians are also pressured to leave.
Even those seeking sanctuary in the Kurdish north of Iraq are suffering exploitation masked by generosity and good-will in the regional government’s church reconstruction projects.
The archbishop reported how the charity Caritas’ general director thanked a Kurdish official for building homes for displaced people from Baghdad.
The officer replied: “We did it for us [Kurds]. We know that you will leave and these houses will be ours.”
Instead of relocating Christians, Archbishop Sleiman said, “the best way to protect, not only Christians but all the citizens, is to bring back the state of law in Iraq.”
He also criticized plans for a Christian “enclave” around the Nineveh Plains, saying the scheme only promotes “a ghetto.”
The Iraqi government recently announced plans to remove the quota requirements for minority group seats in provincial councils, which could affect Christian representation.
Vatican City, Oct 3, 2008 (CNA) - A contingent from the Knights of Columbus making a pilgrimage to Rome for the occasion of the Year of St. Paul was received in an audience by Pope Benedict this afternoon at the Vatican. The Holy Father praised the men’s organization for its work to seek holiness and renewal in the Church.
Addressing them in English the Pope recalled his own recent pastoral visit to the United States, noting how he had sought to encourage the lay faithful "to recommit themselves to growth in holiness and active participation in the Church's mission.”
This same vision was what inspired the foundation of the Knights of Columbus as a fraternal association of Christian laymen, the Holy Father noted, adding that “it continues to find privileged expression in your order's charitable works and your concrete solidarity with the Successor of Peter in his ministry to the Universal Church.”
"That solidarity," he continued, "is manifested in a particular way by the 'Vicarius Christi' Fund, which the Knights have placed at the disposal of the Holy See for the needs of God's people throughout the world. And it is also shown through the daily prayers and sacrifices of so many Knights in their local councils, parishes and communities. For this I am most grateful."
The Pope left the Knights with the challenge to “discover ever new ways to serve as a leaven of the Gospel in the world” and to become “a force for the renewal of the Church in holiness and apostolic zeal.” The Pontiff also expressed his appreciation for the Knights’ efforts to provide “a solid formation in the faith for young people, and to defend the moral truths necessary for a free and humane society, including the fundamental right to life of every human being."
Vatican City, Oct 3, 2008 (CNA) - With the historic Synod of Bishops on the Bible due to get underway this coming Sunday, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic held a press conference at the Vatican this morning to announce some details of the event, which looks to have both an ecumenical and international flair to it.
Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, who is the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, noted that the synod on "The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church" differs from every other synod because it will begin with a Mass presided over by the Pope in the basilica of St. Paul's Outside-the-Walls. All previous synods have begun in St. Peter’s Basilica.
"This will be the first time a Synod of Bishops has been opened in a basilica other than St. Peter's," said the archbishop. "The reason for this is apparent: the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly is being held during the Pauline Year."
The assembly, which will gather 253 Roman Catholic bishops, 13 Eastern Rite Catholic bishops and numerous experts, will run from October 5-26, closing with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
The 253 synod fathers, who are representing 113 episcopal conferences from around the world, will be joined by 25 dicasteries of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General. Also present will be 41 experts from 21 countries, and 37 auditors from 26 countries. Pope Benedict, Archbishop Eterovic pointed out, has made sure to include women as part of the synod, with six of the experts and 19 of the auditors being women.
Archbishop Eterovic also highlighted the large number of participants from other Christian Churches.
Representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will be present alongside others from the Patriarchates of Moscow, of Serbia and of Romania, from the Orthodox Church of Greece and the Armenian Apostolic Church, as well as from the Anglican Communion, the World Lutheran Federation, the Church of the Disciples of Christ and the World Council of Churches, he explained.
Pope Benedict has also invited three special guests to address the synod, who will each present a unique perspective to the bishops.
The first guest is Chief Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen of Haifa, Israel, who will speak to the assembly on October 6 about how the Jewish people read and interpret Sacred Scripture. "This will be the first time that a rabbi and a non-Christian has addressed the Synod Fathers," Archbishop Eterovic noted. The other special guests are Rev. A. Miller Milloy, secretary general of the United Bible Societies, and Frere Alois, prior of the Taize Community.
One last notable ecumenical facet of the synod on the Bible will be addresses delivered by Pope Benedict XVI and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I on October 18.
Both leaders will preside at first Vespers for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time and then speak to the assembly on the subject of the Word of God, with particular reference to the Pauline Year. “This will be the first time the Ecumenical Patriarch has addressed the Synod Fathers," the archbishop said.
Hollywood, Calif., Oct 3, 2008 (CNA) - Steve McEveety, producer of "The Passion of the Christ," has written a letter encouraging people to see the new movie "An American Carol," comparing buying tickets for the movie to casting a vote in the “emerging culture war.” American Carol producer John Shepherd explained to CNA that the movie is meant to make Hollywood question its animosity towards conservatives.
“In the coming weeks your vote is going to play a crucial role in the battle for the hearts and minds of all Americans -- and it is not your vote in the Presidential election,” he writes.
Claiming Hollywood is “holding an election” in which a vote is the price of a movie ticket, he tells readers “your participation is key to the emerging culture war.”
He says the conflict presently centers on two films released on Friday, October 3.
McEveety describes the first movie, comedian Bill Maher’s “Religulous,” as a “militant pro-atheism documentary.”
He also cites Maher’s own anti-religious words: “We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that -- I think religion stops people from thinking. I think it justifies crazies.”
McEveety contrasts the film with David Zucker's “An American Carol,” calling the latter a “pro-America, pro-faith comedy.”
He describes Zucker’s movie as “a film that celebrates America as a country founded on the principles of faith. If you are one of the so-called ‘religious’ crazies who wants to be heard LOUD and CLEAR by Hollywood -- come out to the theater on October 3rd and buy a ticket for An American Carol.”
Movie producer David Zucker, who is Jewish, described his motives for making the film to the Chicago Tribune.
Saying he was tired of Christian-bashing in pop culture, and Catholic-bashing in particular, he described one satirical scene inspired by celebrity Rosie O’Donnell’s comments that radical evangelicals were as dangerous as Islamic terrorists.
"We do a whole routine where Rosie shows a documentary to Bill O'Reilly about 'the truth about radical Christians,' where they're going on planes, hitting the pilots with their crosses and Bibles, and we have a nun blowing up a bus – all these crazy things.
"I loved doing that scene," Zucker told the Chicago Tribune.
In an email to CNA on Friday afternoon, American Carol producer John Shepherd Zucker described the O’Donnell scene as a use of “hyperbole, exaggeration and satiric humor to illustrate a point.”
“Yes sometimes the comedy is shocking and embarrassing. But so was the little boy who blurted out "the Emperor's not wearing any clothes!" Shepherd said.
For Shepherd, “An American Carol” is an attempt to prod Hollywood into seeing how intolerant it has become. "It used to be that Hollywood was a two party town, a ‘tolerant’ town... and one could have a heated debate about politics or religion and still part company as friends. Anymore I find that if you are a person of faith, or a conservative, or God forbid, both (!), you are dismissed as a fanatic or irrelevant,” he told CNA.
The Hollywood producer related how reading the script for Zucker's satire was a relief from the caustic environment he has come to find himself in lately. “I found myself laughing at the extreme views to which we all hold. And I found his point of view refreshing, and ideologically cathartic!”
Shepherd hopes that the film will go beyond just a good laugh though. In the end, he hopes that “An American Carol” will allow Americans to “engage one another once again in a heated and spirited debate about the things that are really important in life – God, family, country.”“After all,” commented Shepherd, “in the end, we're still one Nation, under God — with liberty and laughter for all!"
Steubenville, Ohio, Oct 3, 2008 (CNA) - Franciscan Univeristy of Steubenville issued a statement on Friday distancing itself from its Board of Trustees member Nicholas Cafardi, who has recently come out in support of Sen. Barack Obama, despite the candidate’s abortion stance.
Cafardi, who is the dean of Duquesne University’s School of Law and serves as a trustee for Franciscan, explained his reasons for endorsing Obama in an editorial for the National Catholic Reporter this past Tuesday.
According to Cafardi, there are two reasons that he can support Senator Obama, who has professed his support for upholding Roe v. Wade. First, he claims that the pro-life movement has "permanently" lost the struggle over abortion, and secondly, he asserts that Obama’s plans to strengthen the “social safety net” will decrease abortions.
“Every faithful Catholic agrees that abortion is an unspeakable evil that must be minimized, if not eliminated,” Cafardi wrote. “I can help to achieve that without endorsing Republicans' immoral baggage. Overturning Roe v. Wade is not the only way to end abortion, and a vote for Obama is not somehow un-Catholic,” he asserted.
This line of reasoning did not fly with Franciscan University of Steubenville, where Dr. Cafardi serves on the Board of Trustees.
In a statement obtained by CNA, the university said that it “stands with the Catholic Church in its opposition to abortion as an intrinsic evil and violation of the sanctity of human life.”
Contrary to Cafardi’s belief, the university said that it “does not believe the abortion battle is lost, but that the tide is decidedly turning in favor of life.”
The school also pointed out that, “The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has stated, “Life issues are paramount among all issues because the right to life is fundamental. All other rights are based on it.”
“In keeping with the Church’s guidelines, Franciscan University does not endorse any particular political party or candidate. It does, however, strongly encourage its students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other constituents to view the life issues—such as abortion, euthanasia, and the protection of marriage and the family—as foundational, and as issues that do not lend themselves to the prudential judgment of the voter,” the statement said.
Vatican City, Oct 3, 2008 (CNA) - Marking the 40th anniversary of “Humane Vitae,” Pope Benedict XVI has sent a message to the president of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, in which he praises the Church’s teaching on contraception as the only way to understand the truth about human sexuality.
The papal message sent to Msgr. Livio Melina, president of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, examines the wisdom of Paul VI's Encyclical "Humanae Vitae."
That important document, writes Pope Benedict, "deals with one of the essential aspects of the vocation of marriage, and of the specific path to sanctity deriving therefrom. In fact, the married couple, having received the gift of love, are called in their turn to give themselves to one another unreservedly."
Noting that the “possibility of procreating a new human life is inherent to the complete giving of the spouses," Pope Benedict explains that contraception seeks to “deny the intimate truth of married love."
Given the hindsight of 40 years, Benedict XVI writes that we are better able to understand "how decisive it was to our understanding of the great 'yes' implicit in conjugal love."
In the light of the Encyclical "children are not seen as the aim of a human project but are recognized as an authentic gift, to be welcomed with an attitude of responsible generosity towards God, Who is the primary source of human life."
That being said, the Holy Father also acknowledges that, "during a couple's life serious situations may arise that make it prudent to separate the births of children or even suspend them altogether. It is here that a knowledge of the natural rhythms of a woman's fertility become important."
"Methods of observation that enable a couple to determine periods of fertility," he continues, "allow them to administer what the Creator wisely inscribed in human nature without disturbing the integral meaning of sexual relations. In this way the spouses, while respecting the full truth of their love, can modulate the expression thereof in accordance with these rhythms. ... Clearly this requires a maturity in love, ... and mutual respect and dialogue."
The Pope also asks why the world and many faithful are unable to accept a teaching about sexuality that “explains and defends the beauty of conjugal love in its natural expression."
Although "technological solutions to the great human problems often seem the easiest,” the Pope cautions, “in reality they hide the basic problem which concerns the meaning of human sexuality and the need for responsibility so that its exercise may be an expression of personal love."
"Technology cannot substitute, … when love is at stake. Indeed, as we well know, not even reason is enough. ... Only the eyes of the heart can perceive the requirements of a great love capable of embracing the entire truth of human beings," writes the Pope.
The Pope finishes his Message by expressing the hope that the congress to commemorate "Humanae Vitae" may bring "abundant fruits and contribute to helping spouses hold their course with ever greater wisdom and awareness, encouraging them in their mission to be credible witnesses of the beauty of love before the world."