Vatican City, Apr 27, 2009 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI's trip to the Holy Land is now just over a week away, and as it approaches, the Vatican is seeking to bolster ties with Muslim nations in the region.
The Pope's trip will begin with a visit to Jordan on May 8, followed by a trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
This past Friday, Benedict XVI received the secretary general of the League of Arab Nations, Amr Mousa, after signing a Memorandum of Understanding between the League and the Holy See.
A Vatican communiqué said, "The agreement further consolidates the existing ties of collaboration between the Holy See and the League of Arab States, especially at a political and cultural level, in favor of peace, security and stability, both regionally and internationally."
"Furthermore," the statement said, "it proposes instruments for consultation between the two sides, with particular emphasis on initiatives of inter-religious dialogue."
The Arab League, was formed in Cairo in 1945 by Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan and Yemen. The League’s mission at the Holy See is headed by Walid Al Gargani.
Vatican City, Apr 27, 2009 (CNA) - This morning Benedict XVI met with both Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, as well as the President of Belarus. During both meetings he emphasized the importance of inter-cultural dialogue for promoting peace in the world.
At the Pope’s 15 minute audience with Prince Charles of Wales and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, the trio discussed matters such as “human promotion and development of peoples, environmental protection, and the importance of inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue for furthering peace and justice in the world."
Prince Charles presented the Holy Father with 12 dessert plates as well as an autographed photo of himself and the duchess.
Pope Benedict thanked them for the gifts and gave them a picture of St. Peter’s Basilica before it was redesigned as well as a set of papal medals.
This morning the Holy Father also met with President Lukashenko of Belarus.
The two heads of state spoke about matters relating to the relationship of “faith and reason,” as well as to inter-cultural dialogue.
According to the Vatican, they also discussed “international issues associated with promoting peace and the true progress of humankind, as well as to certain internal problems of the country, questions concerning the Catholic Church in Belarus and the prospects for deeper collaboration between the two sides.”
The two also made sure to note the peaceful relationship between the Catholic and Orthodox communities within the country.
Vatican City, Apr 27, 2009 (CNA) - During yesterday's Mass and canonization ceremony, Pope Benedict reflected on the relevance and story of each of the five new saints.
At the beginning of his homily, the Holy Father commented on today's Gospel which recounts how the two disciples of Emmaus, returning to Jerusalem, told the eleven disciples that they had recognized Jesus "in the breaking of the bread."
"Each community relives this same experience in the celebration of the Eucharist, especially on Sundays," said the Pope. "In celebrating the Eucharist we communicate with Christ, victim of atonement, and from Him we draw forgiveness and life. What would our lives as Christians be without the Eucharist?"
Going on then to recall certain fundamental aspects of the lives of the five new saints, the Holy Father began by referring to the "concrete and courageous initiatives" of St. Arcangelo Tadini. These included establishing the Catholic Workers' Mutual Assistance Association, building a textile mill and a residence for female workers, and founding the Congregation of Worker Sisters of the Holy House of Nazareth in 1900, his aim being to evangelize the world of work, sharing in its fatigues and following the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth.
"How prophetic the charismatic intuition of Fr. Tadini was, and what relevance his example still has, even today in times of serious economic crisis!" cried the Pope.
Benedict XVI described St. Bernardo Tolomei, abbot and founder of the Olivetan Benedictine Congregation who died of the plague in 1348 while assisting his fellow monks who had contracted the disease, as a "true martyr of charity. ... The example of this saint invites us to translate our own faith into a life dedicated to God in prayer and spent in serving others under the impulse of charity, a charity ready also to make the supreme sacrifice," he said.
St. Nuno de Santa Maria Alvares Pereira, he went on, "was a great soldier and a great leader who never allowed his personal qualities to overshadow the supreme action of God. .... At the end of his life he retreated to a Carmelite convent that he himself had ordered to be built."
"This exemplary figure, his life characterized by faith and prayer in apparently unfavorable settings, shows that in any situation - even military life and warfare - it is possible to enact and fulfill the values and principles of Christian life, especially if one places oneself at the service of the common good and the glory of God."
Turning then to focus on St. Gertrude Comensoli, foundress of the Institute of Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, Benedict XVI explained that the aim of her institute was "to translate 'charity contemplated' in the Eucharistic Christ into 'effective charity' through dedication to the needy.
"In a confused and often wounded society such as our own; to young people, such as those of our time, in search of values and of a meaning to give to their lives, St. Gertrude indicates a firm point of reference in God, Who in the Eucharist made Himself our traveling companion," he added.
Turning his attention then to St. Caterina Volpicelli, foundress of the Institute of Handmaidens of the Sacred Heart, the Pope noted how she "strove 'to be of Christ in order to bring to Christ' the people she came across in late nineteenth-century Naples, at a time of spiritual and social crisis."
This saint, the Holy Father concluded, "shows her own spiritual daughters, and all of us, the demanding path to a conversion that changes the heart at its roots and translates into activities coherent with the Gospel. Thus it is possible to lay the foundations for a society open to justice and solidarity, overcoming that economic and cultural imbalance which still exists in a large part of our planet."
South Bend, Ind., Apr 27, 2009 (CNA) - Less than a month before Notre Dame’s Commencement, the former Vatican ambassador Mary Ann Glendon has written President Jenkins to refuse the university's Laetare Medal, rebuffing his claim that her acceptance speech would somehow “balance” the event.
Mary Ann Glendon, a pro-life feminist and Harvard professor, today released an open letter to Notre Dame President John I. Jenkins, in which she told Jenkins that she could not speak alongside President Obama at the May 17th Commencement exercises.
In her letter, Glendon related that she was initially “profoundly moved” at the news that she would receive Notre Dame’s coveted Laetare Medal. After hearing the news, she said she quickly began crafting an acceptance speech that she “hoped would be worthy of the occasion.”
In March, Glendon said that she received a phone call from Fr. Jenkins informing her that she would not be giving the commencement speech, but that instead President Obama would fill that role. Upon learning of the change of plans, Glendon said that a “task that once seemed so delightful” had now been “complicated by a number of factors.”
The first factor Glendon mentioned was her work as a “longtime consultant” to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which caused her to become “dismayed” that Notre Dame “planned to award the president an honorary degree.” This action, she said, would “disregard” the U.S. Bishop’s “Catholic’s in Political Life” document.
Glendon also rebuffed the idea that the teaching “seeks to control or interfere” with a Catholic institution's “freedom to invite and engaged in serious debate whomever it wishes.”
The former Vatican ambassador also took exception to Fr. Jenkin's “talking point” that awarding the Laetare Medal to her would “balance the event.” Fort Wayne-South Bend Bishop John D’Arcy also criticized Jenkins’ “talking points” by calling them “wrong” and a “flawed justification.”
“A commencement,” Ms. Glendon wrote, “is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.”
She also worried that Notre Dame’s decision is having a “ripple effect” that is encouraging other Catholic institutions to ignore the U.S. Bishop’s teaching.
“It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony,” she concluded.
President Jenkins responded to the criticism by saying Notre Dame is “disappointed” with Glendon’s decision and that the university intends “to award the Laetare Medal to another deserving recipient.”
Notre Dame said they will make the “announcement as soon as possible."
Jerusalem, Israel, Apr 27, 2009 (CNA) - Painters, workers and archeologists are among those making the final preparations for Pope Benedict XVI’s first visit to the Holy Land, which will take place May 8-15.
According to the EFE news agency, workers are busy painting the door frames and checking the drywall at the Upper Room. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher will also be closed in the coming days for preparations. At Mount Precipice, workers are building the platform from which the Pope will address thousands outside Nazareth.
There will be “three local choirs, one Maronite, one Melchite and one Latin, and at least one reading will be sung according to the Eastern Rite” during the May 14 Mass at Mount Precipice, said Fr. Ricardo Bustos of the Shrine of the Annunciation.
Rafi Ben Hur, the General Director of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, said, “We estimate that between 15 and 20 thousand pilgrims will come during the Pope’s visit, and that his visit will boost the number of pilgrims who visit the rest of the year to 200,000.”
John Seligman, an archeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, who is charged with renovating the Upper Room, said the arrival of Benedict XVI “is a great opportunity to show the most important places of Christianity. We have cleaned the walls, repaired the bricks and patched the drywall, which was falling apart, so that the place will be presentable for the Pope’s visit.”
Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Custodian of the Holy Land, said the Pope’s visit shows that “despite the misunderstandings, the relationship with the Jewish world and the Muslim world are very important both for the Catholic Church and for the Pope personally.”
Israel will invest more than nine million dollars in renovating the places that will be visited by Pope Benedict XVI.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Apr 27, 2009 (CNA) - Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez denied last week that the Church pressured lawmakers to vote to reject the legalization of abortion. The cardinal also said if that had occurred, it would have been a step backwards for the country.
“To me it is very clear that we have taken the correct position, the one we need, and I am happy, and I congratulate the lawmakers because regardless of the pressures or the lack thereof, they are like other people and they voted against it,” the cardinal said.
The Apostolic Nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, reiterated that “direct abortion is always an immoral act, a murder.”
“The term therapeutic abortion does not exist in ecclesial terminology, it is always a sin and this is not debatable. We must always seek to save the life of both mother and child,” he added, saying abortion is a moral and not a political problem.
The Caribbean island nation's lawmakers voted last week by a margin of 167 to 32 to protect the right to life from conception to natural death.
Asunción, Paraguay, Apr 27, 2009 (CNA) - In the wake the paternity suit recently filed against President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, the Secular Institute of Schoenstatt Priests in Asuncion has issued a strong statement saying that by his actions the president has demonstrated he is unfaithful to his word, lacks an understanding of the family and of parenthood and is motivated by political opportunism.
In their statement about the conduct of Lugo, who was Bishop of San Pedro, the priests recalled that “being faithful to our word defines our essence as free and firm persons. In the Catholic Church nobody is forced to make a vow of chastity or a promise of celibacy. Both point to the same thing: the consecrated renounce biological parenthood so that our parenthood at the service of the Kingdom of God will be more fruitful.”
The priests went on to say Lugo also failed to understand that we are responsible “not only for our actions but also for their consequences.”
“We are not little animals, enslaved by our instincts. We are human beings, with free will bestowed by God. The immediate consequence of this freedom is the responsibility for what we do and what we do not do, and also for the consequences that result from our actions and our omissions. If we fall into sin, not only do we repent and ask for forgiveness, we also assume the consequences without looking for cheap excuses or childish justifications,” they added.
The priests explained later that Lugo also failed to consider the value of the family, “the rights of children and parenthood.”
“All human beings, and especially the most defenseless, are children of God and have inalienable rights. We do not have the right to deprive a child of the experience of having a father, a mother, a well-constituted family, of feeling expected, loved and valued. No child should have to discover that he was a ‘problem,’ a ‘threat’ that has become a reality, some embarrassing that had to be hidden and denied at all costs. It would be much worse of course to deny a child the right to life, falling into the crime of abortion,” they said.
“Neither do we have the right to ‘dazzle’ an underage person with the importance of our position, our possessions or with promises that we are not going to fulfill—and much less use her as an object of sexual satisfaction. That is the corruption of minors!”
The priests also referred to “another anti-value” in the country manifested by the scandal involving the Paraguayan president, namely, those who portrayed Lugo's acknowledgment of his children as a sign of honesty and courage used the situation to score political points. “Is this not in some way adulation and flattery in search of personal benefit?” they asked.
They urged the faithful to pray for priests and bishops, as “we are exposed to the same temptations as everyone else, we are sinners too, but our falls tend to be more spectacular, they cause much harm and hurt many people.”
“Our best response to these incidents is not one of lament but of firm decision to fight for these values in our own lives and to give bold and joyful witness to the fact that one can live coherently, that our Catholic faith does not lead us to be repressive and deceitful, but rather it is a path of authentic happiness and fullness of life.”
Rome, Italy, Apr 27, 2009 (CNA) - The Grand Master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, Cardinal John Foley, said last week, “The Vatican City State is the smallest country in the world, but it is also one of the most important because of the moral authority of the Pope and the Church, of which he is the visible head.”
The cardinal made his comments upon receiving the Angelicum Alumni Award instituted by the Pontifical University of St. Thomas, where he studied as a young man during the Second Vatican Council.
The L’Osservatore Romano reported that Cardinal Foley thanked those present in Latin, in order to emphasize the importance the language has for him personally. “I came to Rome without knowing a single word of Italian and Latin was the privileged means of my formation,” he said.
Cardinal Foley received his doctorate in philosophy from the University in one year—which was a record. His thesis on “Natural Law, Natural Right and the Warren Court,” was an analysis of the jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The courses with the Dominican fathers gave me valid instruments for my 17 years of teaching philosophy at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia and also for my work as a journalist and commentator for the Catholic Standard and The Times of Philadelphia,” he said.
Vatican City, Apr 27, 2009 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI has called on Bolivian officials to shed light on the attack against the president of the Bolivian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Julio Terrazas Sandoval.
According to Vatican Radio, the Pope made his request through the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
“Any act of violence, committed with the sole intention of harming, damaging or intimidating others is always reproachable and unworthy of the human person and profoundly contrary to the Christian values of love, communion and mutual respect,” the message to Bolivian officials said, referring to the April 15 attack on the Cardinal’s residence.
Vatican Radio reported that the Holy Father, through Cardinal Bertone, called on Bolivian officials to “shed light on the attack that Cardinal Terrazas suffered.”
Benedict XVI also expressed his closeness to Cardinal Terrazas and asked the Lord that “paths of reconciliation and sincere harmony be sought” in Bolivia.
Washington D.C., Apr 27, 2009 (CNA) - A new survey provides detailed information about the one in ten American adults who are former Catholics, showing that most left the faith before the age of 24. Those who became Protestant most often said their spiritual needs were not being met, while those who became unaffiliated most often said they just gradually drifted away.
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which conducted the survey, released the results on Monday in a report titled “Faith in Flux: Religious Conversion Statistics and Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.”
The survey, a follow-up to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey published in February 2008, polled all Americans who had left their childhood religion. The survey used 973 follow-up interviews and claims a margin of error among the entire U.S. population of plus or minus five percentage points.
The survey also distinguished between those Catholics who were now Protestant and those who were now unaffiliated. It claims a margin of error of plus or minus 6.5 percentage points for the first group and plus or minus 7 percentage points for the latter group.
Why Catholics Leave the Church
Catholicism tends to retain childhood members at a rate of 68 percent, which the Pew Forum says is “far greater” than the retention rate of the unaffiliated and is comparable with or better than the retention rates of other religious groups. Former Catholics compose 10.1 percent of the overall U.S. population, while converts to Catholicism make up 2.6 percent.
Of all those raised Catholic, 15 percent have become Protestant, with nine percent now belonging to evangelical denominations and five percent belonging to mainline Protestant denominations. About 14 percent of those raised Catholic are now unaffiliated.
Almost half of Catholics who are now unaffiliated left Catholicism before the age of eighteen, while one-third who are now Protestant did the same. Most in this group said it was their own decision rather than their parent’s decision, the Pew Forum says.
The survey also found few differences in religious commitment between former Catholics and those who have remained Catholic concerning their participation in youth groups or religious education classes.
Regular worship, however, was correlated with continued faith.
Reasons for Leaving
The Pew Forum survey asked respondents to name their own reasons why they left their faith.
About half cited religious and moral beliefs. About 21 percent of the unaffiliated professed non-belief in Catholicism or any religion, 11 percent cited moral or social teachings, and another seven percent cited disbelief in God or a loss of faith as their motive. Eighteen percent of Protestants named a biblical or scriptural reason as a cause.
The survey then asked people to respond to a specific list of issues which they believe made them leave the faith of their upbringing.
Among Protestants who were raised Catholic, 71 percent said that their spiritual needs were not being met. Another 70 percent said they found a religion they liked more, while 54 percent said they just gradually drifted away. About half said they stopped believing in Catholic teachings, while 43 percent professed unhappiness with teachings about the Bible and 32 percent professed dissatisfaction with the atmosphere at worship services.
About 71 percent of unaffiliated former Catholics said they just drifted away from the religion, while about two-thirds said they stopped believing in the religion’s teachings. About 56 percent said they were unhappy with teachings on “abortion/homosexuality,” but the Pew Forum survey did not distinguish between the two issues. Another 48 percent professed unhappiness with Catholic teaching on birth control, while 43 percent said their spiritual needs were not being met. About 39 percent said they were unhappy with the way Catholicism treated women.
Fewer than three in ten former Catholics said the clerical sexual abuse scandal factored into their decision to abandon Catholicism, the Pew Forum reports, with Protestants slightly less likely than the unaffiliated to say so.
“While the ranks of the unaffiliated have grown the most due to changes in religious affiliation, the Catholic Church has lost the most members in the same process,” the Pew Forum survey report said. “Many former Catholics who are now unaffiliated, however, remain open to the possibility that they could some day find a religion that suits them; one-third say they just have not found the right religion yet.”
Archbishop of Washington Donald W. Wuerl, past chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Catechesis and next chairman of the Committee on Doctrine, said the report highlights the importance of Mass attendance among children and teenagers.
“Adolescence is a critical time in religious development and, as the poll shows, what happens in the teen years has a long-lasting affect. We have to help young people and their parents appreciate the importance of going to weekly Mass so teenagers know Jesus is there for them now and always.“
He also noted that only about two to three percent of former Catholic respondents named clerical sexual abuse as a factor when asked generic questions about why they left.
“Catholics can separate the sins and human failings of individuals from the substance of the faith,” he said. “Sexual abuse of a child is a terrible sin and crime, but most Catholic people, because of good personal experience with their priests in their parishes, recognize sex abuse by clergy as the aberration it is.”
Karachi, Pakistan, Apr 27, 2009 (CNA) - Last Wednesday’s anti-Christian violence in Karachi left 15 people wounded and resulted in the houses of 15 Christian families being set on fire, putting Christians on alert as the Taliban increases its influence in Pakistan.
Fr. Mario Rodriguez, the Karachi-based Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies of Pakistan, told Fides news agency that several Taliban members were caught spraying offensive and intimidating messages on the walls of a church.
The vandals were stopped by a group of Christians, but they returned with over 40 armed soldiers who began firing on the gathered Christians. Fifteen were wounded, one man seriously.
The mob then began to sack the nearby houses of 15 Christian families, later setting them on fire.
Police arrived and imposed a ceasefire in the neighborhood. Local communities are seeking protection and justice from the local government, Fides says.
The “Muttahida Quami Movement,” which represents the religious minorities in the Pakistani Parliament, organized a protest and condemned the violence, saying “no to the Talibanization of Pakistan.”
The aim of the Taliban is to force Christians to leave the area or pay a tribute imposed by Sharia law on non-Muslim minorities.
Taliban forces have taken control of the Swat Valley in the country’s northwest, where they have implemented a rigorous form of Sharia. Their show of strength in the southern city of Karachi has caused much fear among Christians and other religious minorities.