Modesto, Calif., Feb 25, 2009 (CNA) - A convert to Catholicism who lives in California will be one of seven people baptized by Pope Benedict XVI during the Easter Vigil at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Ceres, California resident Heidi Sierras, 29, completed the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) at St. Joseph’s parish in Modesto last year. But through a series of connections—a parishioner who knew a nun at the Vatican—Sierras was chosen for an open spot for a North American to be baptized by the Pope at the 2009 vigil.
Sierras told the Modesto Bee there was never any question whether she would make the trip to Rome.
“It's incredible," she commented. "I feel like, 'Why me?' I felt undeserving. But how could I say no to that? It's an incredible opportunity.”
“It's almost like I'm going to be baptized by Jesus himself. It's an incredible feeling,” said Serras, who will also receive her First Communion from Pope Benedict.
Her husband Dan was also enthusiastic.
"To say I'm excited would be an understatement," he told the Modesto Bee. "It's unbelievable that she's going to be baptized by the Pope, considering there are only seven people selected in the world. I'm extremely happy because it's a true blessing, what she's going to experience.
Sierras reported that she did not attend church as a child, but her husband Dan was raised as a Catholic. He began attending Mass more frequently about three years ago, with Mrs. Sierras accompanying him.
She decided she wanted to know more about the Catholic faith and signed up for RCIA classes.
Serras will be accompanied to Rome by St. Joseph’s pastor Fr. Joseph Illo, RCIA instructor Stacy Phillips and about 40 other parishioners.
The seven people whom the Pope baptizes every Easter in Rome are chosen to represent the seven continents of the globe and the universality of the Church.
Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2009 (CNA) - Fr. Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA has defended his acceptance of a position on President Barack Obama’s Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, saying there is some convergence between Church teaching and the Obama administration’s policies despite other “very clear disagreements” on issues such as abortion.
He delivered his comments on Monday at the 2009 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering in Washington, D.C. The annual event is co-sponsored by 18 national Catholic organizations, including Catholic Charities USA.
Thanking those who congratulated him on his appointment to the President’s Council, Fr. Snyder said he also received a “fair amount” of what he termed “hate mail.” According to Fr. Snyder, such mail questioned why he would associate with a “contemporary Hitler” and told him he would probably go to hell for accepting the appointment.
Responding to critics, he said:
“First of all, there are some very clear disagreements between the teachings of our Church and some of the policies of this Administration. We need to be clear and upfront about this and never compromise our values in our dealings with any other organization.
“There can be no doubt that Catholic Charities is a firmly pro-life organization. Anyone who doubts this calls into question the thousands of women facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy who are given services from free pre-natal care to parenting or adoption services to support a woman in this crisis. In a very real way we give the Church credibility on this issue by providing options and support and not just wishing those in this situation well.
“Let me assure you the Administration is well aware of where we stand on this issue,” he said.
Fr. Snyder remarked that despite Catholic Charities’ differences with the Obama Administration, there are areas where Church teaching and administration policy “converge,” especially when it comes to the “poor and the marginalized.”
“I believe that we must take every opportunity to improve the lot of the poor in this country whenever we can. God will not forgive us for not speaking up about the rights of the unborn. But I believe God will also not forgive us for missing any opportunity to promote the care of the poor and vulnerable in this country. We will be faced with opportunities to do so with the Obama Administration and Catholic Charities will take them.”
Fr. Snyder said Catholic Charities USA needs to be a voice at the table of the President’s Council.
His remarks also noted both Pope Benedict XVI’s Lenten message on penitential fasting and the scriptural roots of Catholics helping the poor.
This help “is not because of a profound humanistic attitude toward life. It is because we have no choice.
If we take seriously the mandates of the Gospel as found in Matthew 25 and Luke 10 and John 13, we cannot do any less,” Fr. Snyder commented.
He said that Catholic Charities’ work in upcoming years will not be easy because the numbers of those needing assistance have reached “epic proportions.” In 2008, he explained, 90 percent of Catholic Charities agencies experienced an increase in requests for financial assistance and 86 percent experienced an increase in requests for rent or mortgage assistance.
“While our resources are being severely challenged, our commitment and passion will not waver,” Fr. Snyder insisted.
“As Catholic Charities quickly approaches our centennial year, we honor the incredible work and commitment of all those who have gone before us and on whose shoulders we stand. But we also recommit ourselves to our Catholic identity and renew the passion for the poor that has been the hallmark of our network and will propel us into the future. But as we go, we carry with us, deep in our hearts, the faces of those who have a special claim on God’s love. For in their faces we see most clearly the face of the suffering Christ.”
London, England, Feb 25, 2009 (CNA) - A new leaflet from the British government advises parents to be cautious about discussing moral values when they talk to their children about sex and also advises that teenagers should be encouraged to form their own views about sexual morals.
The leaflet, titled “Talking to Your Teenager About Sex and Relationships” will be distributed in pharmacies beginning in March as part of an initiative led by U.K. children’s minister Beverly Hughes, the Sunday Telegraph reports.
Hughes said that the government doesn’t raise children but argued it has a role in “supporting parents and giving them access to advice and information.”
Any discussion of moral values should be kept “light,” the leaflet advises, recommending that parents talk with their children about sex at as young an age as possible.
“Discussing your values with your teenagers will help them to form their own. Remember, though, that trying to convince them of what’s right and wrong may discourage them from being open,” it says, according to the Telegraph.
The leaflet also provides technical information on different forms of contraception.
Simon Calvert, deputy director of the Christian Institute, criticized the leaflet.
“The idea that the government is telling families not to pass on their values is outrageous,” he said, according to the Telegraph. “Preserving children’s innocence is a worthy goal. We would like to see more of that kind of language rather than this amoral approach where parents are encouraged to present their children with a smorgasbord of sexual activities and leave them to make up their own minds.”
Vatican City, Feb 25, 2009 (CNA) - Catholics worldwide are beginning Lent today with Ash Wednesday liturgies. On the occasion of the Brazilian Church’s Lenten Fraternity Campaign, Pope Benedict has issued a message reminding them that Lent "calls us to an unfailing struggle to do good" by practicing justice.
The message from Pope Benedict was sent to Archbishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha, president of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, as the Brazilian Church kicks off its Fraternity Campaign with the theme: "Peace is the fruit of justice."
Pointing to the Latin American and Caribbean bishops’ document from Aparecida, the Pope describes the "clear signs of the presence of the Kingdom of God" as being found in "the individual and community experience of the Beatitudes, in the evangelization of the poor, ... in universal access to the goods of creation, in mutual, sincere and fraternal forgiveness, ... and in the struggle not to succumb to the temptation of becoming slaves to evil."
As Lent begins, Catholics are called to "an unfailing struggle to do good, precisely because we know how difficult it is for us, as human beings, to dedicate ourselves seriously to the practice of justice, a justice more than ever necessary for a coexistence based on peace and love and not on hatred and indifference," the Pope explains.
And still, this world is not Paradise, the Pope says. "Yet we know that, even if we achieve a reasonable distribution of wealth and a harmonious organization of society, nothing can remove the pain of sickness, misunderstanding, solitude, the death of people we love, or an awareness of our own limitations."
Perhaps addressing the often raised question of how a good God can permit evil, the Holy Father writes, "Our Lord, abhors injustice and condemns those who practice it; yet He respects individual liberty and for this reason allows it to exist, because it forms part of the human condition after original sin. Despite this His heart, full of love for human beings, brought Him to shoulder, along with the cross, all our torments: our suffering, our sadness, our hunger, our thirst for justice."
"Let us ask him for the strength to bear witness to the same feelings of peace and reconciliation that inspired Him on the Sermon on the Mount, in order to achieve eternal Beatitude."
Havana, Cuba, Feb 25, 2009 (CNA) - Prisoner of conscience Jose Ferrer Garcia warned this week that the current situation in Cuba is critical and that all Cubans need to participate in the National Dialogue to find solutions for the country.
"This initiative is very good, clear and precise. If we join forces, I am completely sure that it will be successful," Ferrer said in a telephone interview with the Center for Information of the Human Rights Council of Cuba.
Ferrer, who is imprisoned in Las Tunas, said the current situation in the country demands changes. Conditions are ripe for change, he said, because the people want it, but he said he would like to see Cubans both on the island and abroad work together for democracy.
The National Dialogue initiative is an effort at attempting dialogue between political dissidents and the Cuban government, run by Raul Castro. The initiative also serves as a think tank for those seeking to bring about greater freedom on the island nation.
Ferrer described the National Dialogue initiative as urgent and necessary for solving problems related to human rights, the rule of law, free and democratic elections, prosperity and other issues.
All Cubans should enter into dialogue without fear, distrust or selfishness, leaving aside personal ambitions and seeking solutions to the grave problems that affect all. "This must be done with much love and great desire to serve the country with disinterest," Ferrer said.
Ferrer, 38, is one of 75 Cubans imprisoned in 2003 for reasons of conscience. He was condemned to 25 years in the prison at Las Tunas. He belongs to the Christian Liberation Movement and was declared a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International.
Rome, Italy, Feb 25, 2009 (CNA) - The Catholic community in the Indian state of Orissa praised a decision by the state government to block the construction of a Hindu temple on the foundation of a Catholic church recently destroyed by Hindu extremists. The Catholic church was located in the city of Betticola.
According to L’Osservatore Romano, when a government inspector visited the site, he was able to verify that the fundamentalist Hindus had begun building on the foundation of the church. He announced that the authorities were preventing the project from going forward.
Extremists had previously threatened to raze the church in 2000, and this past August, amidst the wave of violence against Christians, they succeeded in carrying out their threats.
Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar called the decision by the government of Orissa a "positive step." However, he underscored, given the situation of Christian refugees, "this is not sufficient, as while the faithful are taken in at refugee camps, those who attack them remain free and none has been arrested thus far."
The fear in which Catholics have lived for months was also noticed by Betticola parish priest Father Praful Sabhapati, who pointed out that "the faithful cannot return to their homes because of the atmosphere of tension that persists in the region." "The few families that have had the courage to return to their homes are constantly threatened and humiliated," he said.
Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2009 (CNA) - Today, Congressman Chris Smith was prevented from offering two pro-life amendments to the $410 billion Fiscal Year 2009 Omnibus spending bill being considered on the House floor. His proposed amendments would have restored both the Mexico City Policy and the Kemp-Kasten policy.
After hearing Smith testify on his intended amendments last night, the Democrat House Rules Committee issued a closed rule that prohibited his propositions from consideration on the House floor, explained a statement from the congressman’s office.
The first amendment Smith wanted to implement would have restored the Mexico City Policy which prohibits U.S. taxpayer money from funding groups that promote or perform abortion in other countries, while allowing other family planning programs. The policy was overturned by President Obama last month.
Smith called to mind the consequences of Obama’s decision, saying that by “nullifying the Mexico City Policy the number of innocent children forced to die from dismemberment, decapitation, or chemical poisoning by abortion will increase significantly, mostly in Africa and Latin America.”
“The pro-abortion organizations who will divvy up the $545 million pot of U.S. taxpayer grant money contained in today’s Omnibus bill have made it abundantly clear that they will aggressively promote, lobby, litigate and perform abortion on demand in developing countries. My amendment would have prevented that from pushing abortions as a method of family planning.”
The second proposed amendment would have restored the Kemp-Kasten policy for all organizations, including the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA). Kemp-Kasten ensures that no U.S. taxpayer money goes to organizations that support or participate in forced sterilizations or forced abortion programs overseas.
“The U.N. Population Fund has actively supported, co-managed, and white-washed the most pervasive crimes against women in human history,” explained Smith, who is also former House chairman of the Human Rights committee.
“China’s one-child-per-couple policy relies on pervasive, coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, ruinous fines in amounts up to ten times the salary of both parents, imprisonment, and job loss or demotion to achieve its quotas.
“And through it all, throughout the past three decades, the UN Population Fund has remained China’s chief apologist as well as population control program trainer, facilitator and funder.
UNFPA will be given $50 million from today’s Omnibus bill.
Congressman Smith also reprimanded the Democratic leaders for neglecting the human rights abuses against “Chinese women, children and the family.”
“So, how does Congress respond to the UNFPA’s complicity in China’s crimes against women?” Smith asked. “Do we demand reform and protection of Chinese women and children?
“Heck no. We gut the anti-coercion law and write a $50 million check to the UNFPA,” Smith said, deriding the Omnibus allocation.
Rome, Italy, Feb 25, 2009 (CNA) - Lefebvrist Bishop Richard Williamson left Argentina on Tuesday, after the government gave him ten days to leave the country or face expulsion.
The news was confirmed by a spokesman for the South American district of the Society of St. Pius X. Television crews covered the bishop’s departure from the Buenos Aires international airport.
Williamson sported a baseball cap and sunglasses as he boarded a British Airways jet. It was not known where his final destination would be but the Argentinean media speculated he would be traveling to Europe.
Williamson has been the target of harsh criticism throughout the world over his comments on Swedish television denying the Holocaust. The controversy surrounding him erupted in January when Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication imposed on him and three other bishops ordained in 1988 by schismatic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
The Vatican asked Williamson to recant his position, but he replied that he needed time to “study history.”
Last week, the government of Argentina asked him to leave the country over irregularities with his visa, underscoring that his recent statements about Jews “profoundly offend the Argentinean society, the Jewish people and all of humanity.”
Just recently the Society of St. Pius X removed Williamson as director of the group’s seminary in Buenos Aires.
Rome, Italy, Feb 25, 2009 (CNA) - The president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, said this week a proposed reform of the abortion laws in Spain "attacks society itself" and goes "against the common good."
In an interview with Europa Press, the cardinal said the Church would always oppose any law that legalizes or decriminalizes abortion because it is nothing other than the "killing of a human being," regardless of when it takes place during pregnancy.
"The state has the obligation to preserve life. This is the vision that prevailed 15 or 20 years ago, while today the governments have become victims of ideology and of a misunderstood vision of freedom" that leads us "to chose what destroys us" and ends up simply becoming "license," Cardinal Lozano said.
He connected the tendency to expand abortion with the "sexual revolution" and the "trivialization of sex," which in addition to separating "procreation from the sexual act," turns sex into a "passing hobby whose ‘bad consequences’ must be avoided."
"Sexuality is the maximum expression of love between two persons of the opposite sex and that maximum expression means total and absolute donation of one person to another; one person to another forever. And that is called marriage, which in turn, is the origin of the family," he explained.
"For this reason to play around with sexuality is to play around with the source of life, and to therefore destroy the family, which the source of society, and in the end, to destroy society as well," Cardinal Lozano continued. "A law such as this one attacks society itself" and is contrary to what should be "the first priority of any government, which is to build the common good." In this case, he noted, what is being built is "the common evil."
Cardinal Lozano said the Vatican is "concerned that any nation would promote these kinds of policies," and in this case it is even more concerned about the example Spain would set for the 22 nations of Latin America and the Caribbean, and Italy, because of their cultural connections to Spain.
Rome, Italy, Feb 25, 2009 (CNA) - The scientific magazine PLoS Medicine" reported in its latest edition that an Israeli boy who suffers from a rare genetic disease has developed tumors in his brain and spine after being injected with fetal stem cells, thus raising more doubts among scientists about the usefulness of such therapies.
Scientists from the Sheba Medical Center in Israel explained to the Associated Press that the boy, who suffers from ataxia telangiectasia, had traveled to Russia at age 9, when he was injected with fetal neural stem cells in his brain and spinal cord.
However, in 2005, he began to suffer from headaches. Tests revealed the growth of abnormal cells in the brain and spinal cord fluid. The following year, doctors removed the cancerous cells from the spinal cord fluid, and after analysis it was determined that the origin of the tumors was the fetal stem cells.
Baltimore, Md., Feb 25, 2009 (CNA) - Archbishop of Baltimore, Edwin F. O’Brien has called on the Legion of Christ to give “full disclosure” of their founder’s activities and has expressed his concerns that the movement ‘fosters a culture of personality’ with the founder at the center.
In an interview with The Catholic Review, Archbishop O’Brien noted that while Fr. Maciel appeared to be “a man with an entrepreneurial genius,” he “used our faith to manipulate others for his own selfish ends.”
Last month it was revealed that founder of the Legion of Christ, Father Marcial Maciel Degollado fathered a daughter 22 years ago with a mistress.
“Father Maciel deserves our prayers, as every Christian who dies does, that he’ll be forgiven and we leave the final judgment to God as to what his life and death amounted to,” Archbishop O’Brien continued.
The prelate then called on the Legion to provide “full disclosure of his activities and those who are complicit in them or knew of them and of those who are still refusing to offer disclosure.”
In the interview, Archbishop O’Brien acknowledged that while there are faithful priests in the Legion, he is concerned that the movement fosters a “cult of personality” with Fr. Maciel, in the center.
“While it’s difficult to get a hold of official documents,” Archbishop O’Brien noted, “it’s clear that from the first moment a person joins the Legion, efforts seem to be made to program each one and to gain full control of his behavior, of all information he receives, of his thinking and emotions.”
He continued by noting that when members of the Legion have left, many have suffered “deep psychological distress for dependency and need prolonged counseling akin to deprogramming.”
Jim Fair, U.S. spokesman for the Legion acknowledged to The Catholic Review that the news about their founder has caused “great disappointment” to its members.
“We’re processing that mystery, that the Holy Spirit could use what was very clearly a flawed instrument to do good,” Fair continued. “The Holy Spirit does that with all of us. We think it did it with Father Maciel. So while this is certainly disappointing, we have a charism that is approved by the church and we’ll continue to work on behalf of the church on our various apostolic works.”
Fair also noted that the Legion is interested in working with the Vatican to address concerns about the movement. “We’ll be double-checking our policies and procedures to ensure that we’re in a good position to ensure the integrity of the group,” he said.
The spokesman added that he hoped the Legion will be able to prove to Archbishop O’Brien that “we have some value that would help his ministries and the archdiocese.”
Washington D.C., Feb 25, 2009 (CNA) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks that human rights concerns should not “interfere” with U.S.-China cooperation on economic, environmental and other issues drew criticism from several Congressmen and a former political prisoner who argued the comments ignore the regime’s practices of coerced abortion, religious persecution and forced labor.
Speaking to reporters in Seoul, Korea on Friday, Secretary Clinton noted past U.S. administrations’ focus on human rights issues and issues such as Chinese action in Tibet.
“We have to continue to press them but our pressing on those issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises. We have to have a dialog that leads to an understanding and cooperation on each of those,” she said.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) called the remarks “a shocking display of pandering” and argued they make clear that the Obama Administration “has chosen to peddle U.S. debt to the largest dictatorship in the world over combating torture, forced abortion, forced labor, religious persecution, human sex trafficking, gendercide, and genocide.”
“Secretary Clinton said concern for the protection of human rights of the Chinese people can’t ‘interfere’ with the economic crisis, climate change, and security – as if human rights were somehow disconnected and irrelevant to those issues,” he charged.
Rep. Smith said that Chinese political prisoners “languish” in concentration camps and face “unspeakable torture and abuse.” He claimed about half a million Chinese are in such labor camps.
He also argued the Obama Administration and the Democratic leadership is about to “lavishly” fund the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) with $50 million in U.S. taxpayer money.
He said the UNFPA has “shamelessly and systematically” aided the Chinese government’s one child policy, which includes forced abortions.
“That cruel, anti-family policy has made brothers and sisters illegal in China and murdered tens of millions of children and wounded countless Chinese women,” Rep. Smith said.
Under Secretary of State Colin Powell, the U.S. State Department verified the pro-life Population Research Institute’s allegations that the UNFPA was cooperating with coercive abortion program in China.
“UNFPA's support of, and involvement in, China's population-planning activities allows the Chinese government to implement more effectively its program of coercive abortion,” Powell said in a July 21, 2002 letter to Congress.
Chinese state policy requires monitoring of all Chinese women’s reproductive cycles, mandatory birth permits, mandatory contraception or sterilization, and extreme fines for those who do not comply with the one child per couple policy.
Also critical of Secretary Clinton was Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), who argued that “bold public proclamations on the importance of liberty” give hope to political prisoners.
“Words have power,” he continued. “They have the power to inspire, or deflate; they have the power to give vision or to stifle hope. But for words to inspire the hope for a day when the Chinese people can worship freely, where the press is not censored, where political dissent is permitted – they must first be spoken.
“…We should not turn our backs on the importance of international human rights because we are in a recession. We must not let human rights become trivialized. I urge Secretary Clinton to repair the damage she has done with her comments by expressing the importance of human rights in the U.S. relations with all nations, especially China.”
Wei Jingsheng, a former Chinese political prisoner who chairs the Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition, in a Feb. 21 letter to Secretary Clinton said her remarks sent the message that U.S. human rights-centered diplomacy has “come to an end.”
Rep. Smith recounted a conversation he had with Wei:
“He told me ‘When the U.S. government panders, they beat us more. When the U.S. government talked tough, they beat us less’.”
San Francisco, Calif., Feb 25, 2009 (CNA) - The San Francisco-based group Catholics for the Common Good has announced a novena of prayer and fasting for the seven California Supreme Court justices who are considering three lawsuits filed to overturn Proposition 8.
Catholics for the Common Good describes itself as “a new Catholic Action based on the social teachings of the Catholic Church.” It is different from the Washington, DC-based group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
The novena began on Ash Wednesday and will last through Thursday, March 5, when the California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the lawsuits challenging Proposition 8.
Catholics for the Common Good warned that opponents of Proposition 8 have gathered support from a coalition of cities, counties, state legislators and myriad special interests.
“The case should be decided solely on the legal facts and arguments, rather than political pressure,” the group said in a statement.
The legal team defending the constitutionality of Proposition 8 includes Kenneth Starr, former U.S. Solicitor General and Federal Appeals Court Judge. Catholics for the Common Good called Starr “one of the top constitution lawyers in the country” and said he is part of an “outstanding legal team representing marriage supporters.”
“The only thing left for us to do is to pray,” the group said. “With marriage and the sovereign right of the voters to amend their constitution hanging in the balance, we must mount a massive prayer effort – equivalent to that which took place during the fall campaign.”
“Please commit yourself to prayer and fasting. We ask that you unite your prayers with those of the entire Mystical Body of Christ, through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Joseph, patron of family,” Catholics for the Common Good said, requesting that participants ask their friends and family to join the prayer effort.
The novena prayers are available at http://ccgaction.org/downloads/pmnovena09-03-05.pdf