Vatican City, Dec 1, 2008 (CNA) - As the Church begins a new liturgical year with the start of Advent, Pope Benedict XVI has published his prayer intentions for the month of December. He mentions in particular taking up the fight against the culture of death and that Christ may be made known as the hope of the world.
Pope Benedict's general prayer intention for December is: "That, faced by the growing expansion of the culture of violence and death, the Church may courageously promote the culture of life through all her apostolic and missionary activities."
His mission intention is: "That, especially in mission countries, Christians may show through gestures of brotherliness that the Child born in the grotto in Bethlehem is the luminous Hope of the world."
Vatican City, Dec 1, 2008 (CNA) -
Opening the season of Advent on Saturday by praying Vespers, Pope Benedict XVI said that the cry of the Church, "Come Lord Jesus," is a cry for the Lord to come "not as some beautiful decoration to a world already saved, but as the only way of liberation from mortal danger."
At 5:00 p.m. in St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday, Benedict XVI presided at first Vespers for the First Sunday of Advent. The Pope’s homily focused on Advent as the spiritual season of hope "par excellence."
"During that time," the Holy Father said, "the entire Church is called to become hope, for herself and for the world. ... All the people of God resume their journey, attracted by this mystery: that our God is the 'God Who comes' and calls us to come out and meet Him, ... first and foremost in that universal form of hope and expectation which is prayer."
Calling the Psalms the "most exalted form of prayer," quoted from Psalm 141: ‘I call upon You, O Lord; come quickly to me.’ This, he said, "is the cry of a person who senses great danger. But it is also the cry of the Church among the many perils that surround her and threaten her sanctity ...which must be conserved for the coming of the Lord."
This cry for the Lord to come speedily can be heard from "all the just, of all those who wish to resist evil and the enticements of iniquitous wellbeing, of pleasures offensive to human dignity and to the condition of the poor," the Holy Father said.
In praying the Psalms, "the Church relives the grace of this compassion, of this 'coming' of the Son of God into human anguish until touching its very depths. The cry of hope of Advent expresses ... all the gravity of our condition, our extreme need for salvation."
Contrary to those who believe that the world is not in need of salvation or can be saved by man on his own power, Pope Benedict underscored this deep need for salvation by saying that "we await the Lord not as some beautiful decoration to a world already saved, but as the only way of liberation from mortal danger."
Referring again to Psalms 141 and 142, which form part of today's liturgy, Benedict XVI pointed out that "they guard us from any temptation to evade and flee reality, they protect us from a false hope which could perhaps seek to enter Advent and so make us proceed towards Christmas forgetting the drama of our individual and community existence."
The Holy Father brought his homily to a close by pointing Christians to "a reliable hope, one that does not deceive," which can only be found in a "Christ incarnate, crucified and risen."
Vatican City, Dec 1, 2008 (CNA) - Greeting professors, staff and students from the University of Parma, Italy today, the Holy Father cautioned of the dangers of isolating students and the university from the whole of society, especially through information technology. Additionally, he spoke of the great reformer, St. Peter Damian and the current need to reform the university.
When Pope Benedict XVI met with the rector, professors, students and staff of the university at midday on Monday, he recalled the life of St. Peter Damian (1007-1072), who studied at Parma, before becoming a great cardinal and reformer. The Pontiff was careful to emphasize the saint’s life as a hermit. Though he lived alone, Benedict XVI noted that he was able to balance “the two fundamental poles of human existence: solitude and communion.”
Students today are in danger of losing this balance, the Holy Father explained, due to the increased use of information technologies. “On the one hand, they run the risk of a growing reduction in their capacity for concentration and mental application on an individual level; on the other, that of isolating themselves individually in an increasingly virtual reality.”
In doing so, students close themselves off to “constructive relations with others."
With so much uncertainty in our world today, academic studies should not only focus on understanding scientific research, but also give young people “the opportunity to mature intellectually, morally and civilly, through the great questions that challenge the conscience of the contemporary man,” the Pope said.
In order to make these changes, Pope Benedict turned once again to the reformer, St. Peter Damian.
“All authentic reform must be, first and foremost, spiritual and moral; that is, it must start from people's consciences,” he explained. “If we want a human environment to improve in quality and efficiency, we must first ensure that each person begins by reforming him or herself, correcting that which can harm the common good or hinder it in any way."
The goal of St. Peter Damian’s reform was “to ensure the Church became free, primarily in spiritual terms, but also in historical ones.” Similarly, the Pope noted that the “validity of university reform finds its confirmation in freedom - freedom to teach, freedom to pursue research, freedom of the academic institution from economic and political power.”
This is not achieved by isolating the university or its members from society, but by becoming truly free. This is accomplished when a person, community or institution “fully responds to its own nature and goals."
Vatican City, Dec 1, 2008 (CNA) - Before praying the Angelus at St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Pope Benedict visited the Vatican Basilica of San Lorenzo to celebrate the 1,750th anniversary of St. Lawrence’s martyrdom.
In his homily the Holy Father spoke of the significance of Advent, explaining that "it means remembering the first coming of the Lord in the flesh, with our minds on His definitive return; at the same time, it means recognizing that Christ is present among us and is our traveling companion in the life of the Church which celebrates His mystery."
"'Come Lord Jesus,' this ardent invocation of the early Christian community must also become our constant aspiration, the aspiration of the Church in all ages which longs and prepares for the meeting with her Lord: 'Come today, Lord, help us, enlighten us, give us peace, help us to overcome violence, come Lord, we pray in these weeks, Lord bring Your face to shine and we will be saved.'"
The Pope then turned his attention to St. Lawrence’s care for the poor, "his generous service to the Church of Rome in the field of charity work, and his faithfulness to the Pope to the point of following him in the supreme trial of martyrdom."
While Benedict XVI noted that everyone knows about Lawrence’s charitable work, he recounted an event from World War II that is not so familiar.
On July 19, 1943, "a violent bombardment inflicted grave damage to the building and to the entire neighborhood, spreading death and destruction," the Pope recalled.
"History will never forget the indelible memory of the generous act undertaken on that occasion by my venerated predecessor, Pius XII, who immediately set out to save and console the hard-hit people among the smoldering ruins," he said.
"Nor do I forget," he added, "that this basilica houses the tombs of two other great figures," Blessed Pope Pius IX and Alcide De Gasperi "who was the wise and provident guide of Italy during the difficult post-war years of reconstruction and, at the same time, an outstanding statesman with a broad-ranging Christian vision of Europe."
After mentioning the invitation in today's Gospel 'to remain vigilant,' the Holy Father explained how this means "to follow the Lord, to chose what He chose, to Love what He loved, to conform our lives to His."
"Vigilance," Benedict stated, "means spending every instant of our time within the horizon of His love without allowing ourselves to be cast down by the inevitable difficulties and daily problems. This is what St. Lawrence did, this is what we must do, and we ask the Lord to give us His grace, that Advent may become a stimulus for everyone to advance in this direction."
Vatican City, Dec 1, 2008 (CNA) - The secretary for the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, announced last week his dicastery is working on a document that will address the issue of refugees and be issued in 2009.
The archbishop made the announcement during the Assembly of the Committee for Migrations of the German Bishops’ Conference, which took place in Cologne. During his remarks, he stressed that “the aid that is provided to refugees should include material and spiritual necessities,” and therefore the document to be released in 2009 will be of a “pastoral nature.”
“Refugees have always been present in the heart of the Church,” he stated, noting that each human being “is precious, as people are more important than things, and the value of each institution is measured according to how it treats life and the dignity of the human being.”
“Each human being has essential and inestimable value, a dignity that should in no way be threatened,” he said.
Havana, Cuba, Dec 1, 2008 (CNA) - The website of the Catholic bishops of Cuba announced just hours before the beatification of Brother Jose Olallo Valdes that Daniela Cabrera Ramos was cured of terminal cancer at the age of three and that her healing paved the way for the Cuban priest’s beatification.
Reporter Osvaldo Gallardo Gonzalez interviewed the girl who is today 12. According to the website, she was cured of a fatal type of cancer after her family prayed to Father Olallo for his intercession.
“I remember my veins got pricked a lot. My mom told me that I was very sick with massive cancer in my abdomen and the doctors said I would not survive,” the girl said.
Daniela, who lives with her family on a street dedicated to the Cuban priest, said Father Olallo “dedicated his life to the care of the sick, whom he considered to be his favorites. He was a great nurse.”
“He bought food with his savings and went from door to door leaving food for the sick,” she added, saying her healing happened thanks “to Jesus Christ through the intercession of one of his servants, Father Olallo.”
“Now that I am older I give thanks to God for having chosen me for a miracle, because in my hospital there were many other kids just as sick as me and who died,” she said.
Daniela was present on Saturday at the beatification Mass and said she would be bringing a special petition. “I will pray to him for a good kidney transplant for my dad and for his healing, that God will place his hands on all the sick children and heal them like he healed me, and that peace and love will reign on the earth,” she said.
Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 1, 2008 (CNA) - Archbishop Jose Luis Chavez Botello of Antequera-Oaxaca warned this week that alcoholism has become a social illness and urged Mexicans to combat the problem starting in the family.
In a press release, the archbishop pointed to a recent national poll on alcoholism among young people and children, which has been on the rise.
After noting the causes of the problem are many, the statement points out that “alcoholism is an illness that harms not only a person’s physical health but also his capacity to make decisions and his behavior by distorting reality. It is an illness that affects the mind and the will, and consequently, human relationships as well.”
“Faced with this serious public health problem that affects families in general and now more and more young people and children in particular, causing serious social harm, we cannot remain indifferent,” the archbishop said. “We are all responsible for the future of children and young people; we all must be examples of responsibility regarding the consumption of alcohol,” he stated.
For this reason, he stressed, “the family plays a very important role in prevention and in the care of children and young people. What is the environment like inside the family? What is the example of the parents? How and with whom do the children and young people spend their free time? Who are the friends of their children? How are these problems discussed in the family?” the archbishop asked.
Washington D.C., Dec 1, 2008 (CNA) - President George W. Bush on Monday discussed his administration’s AIDS relief policies, announcing that the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, has exceeded its goal of assisting millions of victims and their families.
In comments delivered at the White House on Monday to mark World AIDS Day, President Bush reported that PEPFAR has already exceeded its goal of supporting treatment for two million people in five years.
Previously, only about 50,000 HIV-positive people in sub-Saharan Africa had been receiving retroviral treatment for HIV.
Calling PEPFAR “one of the most important initiatives of my administration,” the president remarked that the program has supported care for more than 10 million people affected by HIV, including more than four million orphans and vulnerable children.
“More than 237,000 babies have been born HIV-free, thanks to the support of the American people for programs to prevent mothers from passing the virus on to their children,” he continued.
Declaring that PEPFAR is “bringing hope and healing to people around the world,” he said that he and First Lady Laura Bush have witnessed firsthand the gratitude of the African people.
About a half hour after making his remarks on the North Lawn of the White House, President Bush spoke at the Saddleback Forum on Global Health with Evangelical leader Rev. Rick Warren.
The president explained that he had insisted on “measurable goals” because “lives needed to be saved.”
He accused bureaucracies of avoiding goal-setting while explaining what he believed to be a successful feature of PEPFAR.
“We said to people, we want to help you. But rather than being paternalistic about our help -- which basically says, we know better than you on how to achieve our goals -- we expect you to be a partner in achieving the goals. Which was an attitudinal change basically saying to African leaders, in this case, we trust you; we think you've got the capacity to be a good partner. “
This involvement of local leaders, in President Bush’s view, “aligned responsibility and authority” and made AIDS programs more accountable.
By shunning destructive paternalism in favor of constructive partnership, Bush said the approach was “earthshaking” because “it basically says, ‘we believe you can do better’.”
“’We believe in setting high standards and helping you achieve high standards.’ That's different from, ‘we're just going to give you money to make ourselves feel better,’ and that the results don't end up accomplishing our objectives,” President Bush said.
Rome, Italy, Dec 1, 2008 (CNA) - Fides news agency reported this week that during a recent meeting in Suji, South Korea the Church in South Korea said that continuing the humanitarian aid to North Korea is the key to bring about reconciliation between the two nations.
The meeting was part of the “White Book of Reconciliation” initiative, which is meant to help foster gradual reunification with North Korea and will be “published and distributed in 2009.”
During his remarks, Father John Kim Hun-il, representative of the Committee for Humanitarian Aid for North Korea, said the evangelization strategy for the country includes “offering humanitarian help and cooperation for development, establishing friendly relations, carrying out common initiatives, celebrating the Sacraments and proclaiming the message of Christ, with a view towards the reunification of the two nations.”
Father Petr Im Eul-chul said, “The key path for establishing cordial relations with the civil authorities of North Korea and for gaining the trust of the people is that of humanitarian aid and cooperation.”
During the meeting, Fides reported, there was also discussion about opening a new aid center in Pyongyang with a Franciscan brother as the director.
Scranton, Pa., Dec 1, 2008 (CNA) - Bishop of Scranton Joseph F. Martino’s October comments emphasizing the importance of abortion in Catholic voters’ decisions could result in continued national and even international attention focused upon the Pennsylvania bishop, Catholic observer John Allen says.
At a faith and politics forum at St. John’s Catholic Church in the town of Honesdale in October, Bishop Martino made an unscheduled appearance warning against erroneous interpretations of politics-related documents from the U.S. bishops. He also emphasized his own authority as bishop, saying “There is one teacher in this diocese.”
However, news coverage focused upon his remarks about abortion.
“No social issue has caused the death of 50 million people,” he remarked at the forum, noting that he no longer supports the Democratic Party. “This is madness people.”
Vatican expert John Allen Jr. told the Scranton Times Tribune that, because of the reaction to the prelate’s comments, Bishop Martino may no longer deal “exclusively with realities in Scranton” but is getting “encouragement” from the pro-life community.
Allen speculated that the bishop may be sought to keynote pro-life conferences and his writings may be increasingly studied by pro-lifers across the country. He added that normally bishops tend to shun outspoken advocacy on issues perceived as political, in an effort to avoid division in their flock.
“One way of looking at what Martino is doing is that he’s incredibly brave and therefore to be encouraged,” he said. “Another way of looking at it is, he’s splitting his diocese apart. That debate has been with us for a long time.”
After his appointment to the Diocese of Scranton in 2003, Bishop Martino reportedly indicated he intended to confront controversies directly. Other controversies in the diocese have included school and parish closings and his refusal to recognize a Catholic teachers’ union.
His recent statements have won praise from pro-life advocates.
Helen Gohsler, president of the Scranton chapter of Pennsylvanians for Human Life, told the Times Tribune that her organization is pleased and proud that the bishop’s October pastoral letter urged Catholic voters to consider abortion a priority among voting issues.
“It’s something very much that the Catholics needed to hear,” she commented.
The president of the American Life League, Judie Brown, called the bishop “one of our heroes.”
“His clear opposition to abortion, his clear teaching that a Catholic cannot vote for a pro-abortion candidate, sent ripples across the country,” she said. “Never before have we seen such outspoken, direct opposition to abortion from the bishops.”
“Every bishop in the United States should be shouting from the rooftops the sanctity of life,” Brown added.
Allen credited the internet and a fast-paced news cycle for bringing the bishop to prominence.
“The truth is that what the bishop of Scranton does can become news in Nigeria instantly, so these guys find themselves playing to a national or international audience,” he said.
According to the Times Tribune, Allen classified Bishop Martino as part of a significant minority of U.S. bishops who teach that abortion is the only voting issue that matters. He reportedly estimated that about 45 percent of the bishops teach this position, while others teach that abortion should be considered in the context of social justice and “life” issues.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Dec 1, 2008 (CNA) - A Catholic weekly in Malaysia involved in a controversy with the government over its use of the word "Allah" has not yet been granted its publishing license for next year.
While the weekly’s editor said there is no indication the license will be renewed, a government official blamed an application backlog for the delay.
Publishers in Malaysia are required to obtain annual permits from the government, a policy that has been criticized for infringing on the freedom of the press. Members of minority religions have also complained that they do not enjoy full freedom of religion, despite such guarantees in the nation’s constitution.
For the past year The Herald, the main Catholic weekly in Malaysia, has been in a court dispute with the government over its use of the word "Allah" as a Malay translation for the word "God." The government argued the usage would confuse Muslims while the newspaper insisted it uses the word "Allah" as it has been used for centuries in the Malay language.
According to the Associated Press, Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew said Malaysia’s Home Ministry has not renewed the paper’s license, though it submitted an application months ago.
"If they want to delay it like that, it doesn't give me any indication that it (the license renewal) will happen," Father Andrew said in a telephone interview, the Associated Press reports.
Speaking to Reuters, he said: "The Catholic Herald's 'Allah' is seen as a threat to national security."
"We are now a scapegoat, a means for the Malay-Muslims to rally together."
The license expires on December 31.
According to Reuters, the government insists it is still reviewing the Herald’s license and is following due process.
"Until Dec. 31, we are not going to announce anything. There is plenty of time till then. Let them wait," Deputy Home Minister Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh told Reuters.
Che Din Yusoh, an official with the Home Ministry's publishing unit, told the Associated Press that officials were backlogged by the large number of applications.
"We will issue it by the end of the month," he told the Associated Press. "There is nothing to worry about."
The Herald publishes reports in four languages: English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil. It reportedly has a circulation of about 14,000.
There are more than 800,000 Catholics in Malaysia, among an overall population of 27 million.