Vatican City, Apr 30, 2009 (CNA) - Today the Vatican’s press office released Pope Benedict’s prayer intentions for the month of May. The Holy Father is praying that the laity enourage vocations and that the Church be unified in its efforts to evangelize.
Pope Benedict's general prayer intention is: "That the laity and the Christian communities may be responsible promoters of priestly and religious vocations."
His mission intention is: "That the recently founded Catholic Churches, grateful to the Lord for the gift of faith, may be ready to share in the universal mission of the Church, offering their availability to preach the Gospel throughout the world."
Washington D.C., Apr 30, 2009 (CNA) - Archbishop of Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali has challenged Prof. Doug Kmiec’s defense of new National Institutes of Health guidelines on embryonic stem cell research. Cardinal Rigali charged that the regulations are “broader” and “more sweeping” than any proposed in the past and cannot truthfully be called a “pro-life” policy.
On April 17 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a request for public comment on its draft guidelines which permitted funding for research involving human embryonic stem cells “that were derived from embryos created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed for that purpose.”
The NIH said that somatic cell nuclear transfer—more commonly known as cloning—will not be allowed under the guidelines.
Kmiec, a pro-life Catholic who became a prominent supporter of President Barack Obama in the 2008 election, discussed NIH guidelines in his Catholic News Service column. Kmiec praised the guidelines as “ethically sensitive” and in some respects “more strict” than President George W. Bush’s policy, which barred funding for research on embryonic stem cells from embryos destroyed after August 9, 2001.
Saying President Obama had taken “reproductive” cloning “off the table,” Kmiec claimed the federal government was moving “in a noticeably more Catholic-friendly direction.”
Cardinal Rigali, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, responded to Kmiec in his own essay for Catholic News Service.
He denied that the Obama administration’s policy was ethically sensitive and stricter than previous government rules.
The cardinal pointed out that while the Bush policy forbade researchers from destroying embryos to qualify for federal stem-cell research grants, the new NIH guidelines are “more sweeping” and encourage the destruction of new embryos and those not yet conceived.
Responding to Kmiec’s claim that embryo donation will be a “strict” process to ensure parental consent, the cardinal said this practice is “surely broader than not allowing them to be donated for destruction at all.”
Cardinal Rigali said it was not true that the guidelines limit research to embryos created for fertility treatments that would have been discarded.
“Parents will be invited to consider donating their embryonic sons or daughters for research at the same time that they are considering whether to save them for their own later reproduction or donate them so another couple can have a baby,” he wrote. “The new guidelines will encourage destruction of some embryonic human beings who could otherwise have lived and grown up to adulthood.”
“In key respects, these guidelines are broader than any proposed in the past for destructive embryonic stem-cell research by any president or Congress,” the cardinal said.
According to Cardinal Rigali, President Barack Obama’s executive order which expanded funding for embryonic stem cell research also authorized the NIH to broaden policy to include the use of stem cells from cloned embryos specifically created for research.
“Tragically there is significant support in Congress for such further expansion as well, and pro-life Americans will be called upon to defeat such legislation,” he warned.
President Obama’s apparent foreclosing of “reproductive cloning,” the cardinal underscored, “only means cloned human embryos will be created solely for stem cells and other research uses, and not be allowed to survive and be born.”
“That cannot be called a sensitive or pro-life policy.”
The cardinal rejected Kmiec’s claim that the federal government was moving in a more Catholic-friendly direction, saying it is not even moving in “a human-friendly direction.”
“The values and ideals of our nation on the equality of all human beings are at stake when we discuss such issues, for people of all religions or no religion,” Cardinal Rigali’s Catholic News Service column concluded.
Colombo, Sri Lanka, Apr 30, 2009 (CNA) - Charities are calling for a ceasefire and are working to relieve the “dire need” of hundreds of thousands of “highly traumatized” civilians who have fled intense combat between government and rebel forces in northern Sri Lanka.
Caritas Internationalis said that the civilians are leaving rebel held territory in Vanni in the north of the country after months of combat between government forces and Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels. Two priests who remained in the conflict zone, despite having had the chance to leave, were badly injured in shelling.
The refugees are now in government-run camps, where Caritas is providing cooked meals to new arrivals, medical support and trauma counseling. The organization is also working to provide schooling for children.
Caritas Sri Lanka’s National Director Father Damian Fernando said Sri Lanka is undergoing “the worst scenario.”
“Innocent civilians are paying a huge cost and are the worst hit. Already there are more than 130,000 who have crossed over to the [Vavuniya] government controlled side. These people are coming out in highly traumatized conditions. Most of them are tired and worn out after months of suffering. Many of them are injured and some of them are very severely wounded. The hospitals have totally exceeded their capacity to receive the wounded.”
Father T.R. Vasanthaseelan, local director of Caritas in Vanni, was severely injured in the legs when St. Anthony’s Church in Valaignarmadam was shelled on the morning of April 23. One of his legs required amputation.
Tens of thousands had sought safety at the church. The priest had been in Vanni to provide humanitarian assistance and to move with refugees.
Further, Caritas has received the news that Rev. Fr. James Pathinathan, a member of National Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development was also injured and brought to the hospital in Anuradhapura the day before.
Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Lesley-Anne Knight responded to their being injured, saying the organization’s thoughts and prayers were with the priests and the people of Vanni.
“Fr. Vasanthaseelan is a much loved figure in Sri Lanka and throughout the Caritas confederation. He is a man of peace, courage and hope. He has lived among the people he seeks to serve and accompanied them through their suffering. He has been a sign of love and faithfulness throughout such difficult times.”
“That aid workers are suffering only underlines how innocent people, women and children are being killed and injured in Sri Lanka’s civil war and reinforces our calls for an immediate ceasefire,” she said, reiterating combatants’ obligations to protect civilians and allow humanitarian access under the Geneva Conventions.
“The United Nations and the international community must hold them to these commitments,” Knight added.
The biggest challenge is meeting the needs of those who are now arriving in large numbers and will soon be amassed in “already overcrowded” camps, Fr. Fernando said.
“The military forces in charge of the camps are totally preoccupied with security and fears of LTTE infiltration,” he explained.
He reported that the government has asked religious people from both north and south to be mobilized to bring help to the refugees.
“The Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka has mandated Caritas Sri Lanka to respond. Caritas, as a Church institution, is able to work in the camps and send religious nuns and priests to help the people. Caritas is responding as it’s the only opportunity for the Church to witness its compassion to the suffering people.”
There is a “dire need” for food and other aid items, Fr. Fernando said, adding that Caritas is trying to provide aid through its Manar Valvuthyam and Jaffna offices.
“Caritas will support the needs of the people as and when they arrive and as long as the needs are not catered to by others,” he said, stating that Caritas will negotiate with the government to find a “lasting solution for peace.”
Palm Beach, Fla., Apr 30, 2009 (CNA) - A Florida priest who was stabbed in a confessional by a troubled woman on Saturday says he will neither “live in fear” nor allow the stabbing to prevent him from “God’s work.”
Fr. Michael Massaro had finished hearing confessions in Holy Cross Catholic Church in Vero Beach on Saturday when he was stabbed twice in the back.
“I was in the confessional, putting my coat on, and felt a piercing sensation in my back left side," the priest told CNN. "I looked up and she was standing there, and I felt it again in my back. Then I realized I was stabbed and my hand was covered with blood."
"It was paralyzing, like a nightmare, and I just feel like I woke up from it. It was so quick and sudden.”
His accused attacker, 57-year-old Josephine Gatchell, had previously been arrested for damaging a religious statue at the church. After the attack, she stared at him, but said nothing.
"As I was running away from her, I realized who she was," Fr. Massaro said. "She didn't make any efforts to come after me. I was still in a state of shock."
He fled to his car and drove himself to the hospital, where he underwent surgery to repair the damage. His “T”-shaped wounds required 14 staples.
According to CNN, a Vero Beach police arrest affidavit reported the knife went though muscle, a few veins and chipped a rib. Its blade missed vital organs by two to three centimeters.
Vero Beach Police spokesman John Morrison said Gatchell believed Fr. Massaro was the Antichrist.
An arrest affidavit says Gatchell told detectives she remembered stabbing Fr. Massaro with “a big knife.” Police said Gatchell appears to be a troubled woman.
She is being held without bail in the Indian River County Jail and is scheduled to be arraigned on June 12.
Fr. Massaro told CNN the attack would not stop him from hearing confessions.
"We're at the mercy of the people we serve," Massaro said. "We can't live in fear. God has asked us to live in trust. If it's going to happen again, it's going to happen again, but that's not going to prevent me from doing God's work."
CNA contacted the parish for further comment and was told Fr. Massaro was recuperating and did not want to give any further statements.
Vatican City, Apr 30, 2009 (CNA) - President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia met with Pope Benedict XVI today and discussed the situation in the South American country, including the problem of drug trafficking.
President Uribe is on a small European tour, and today's schedule included a half hour meeting with Pope Benedict around noon.
According to the Holy See's press office, the two discussed "the current international and regional situation" before focusing on Colombia.
In particular, the talks centered on the fight against drug trafficking, social policies aimed at improving the living conditions of the many people living in poverty and on the efforts of the local Church and the State to achieve lasting peace in the country.
The Pope gave the president a white box with a commemorative gold medal, while Uribe gave the Pope a set of white gold cufflinks.
At the end of the meeting with the Holy Father, President Uribe met with the Archbishop Dominique Mamberti,the Secretary for Relations with States.
Washington D.C., Apr 30, 2009 (CNA) - At last night's prime time press conference, President Obama responded to a question about abortion by saying that he hopes to “tamp down” some of the “anger” cause by his pro-abortion decisions. Pro-life organizations are doubtful this will happen, saying that “abortion advocates clearly have an open door” at the White House.
Obama, celebrating his first 100 days in office, spoke about the economy, swine flu, and a host of other topics facing the nation. After concluding his speech, he was asked by Ed Henry of CNN about the “controversy” he has caused among Catholics for his pro-abortion stance and his upcoming commencement speech at Notre Dame.
The reporter reminded Obama that he had said during the campaign that it was “above his pay-grade” to comment about when life begins, but now that he is President, his “pay-grade is a little higher.”
Obama laughed at the question and then told the reporter that his abortion stance has been “very consistent,” adding that abortion is a “moral and ethical issue.” He also said that those who are “pro-choice” make a “mistake” when they suggest abortion is “simply an issue about women’s freedom.”
He went on to further say, “the reason I’m pro-choice is because I don’t think women take that – that position casually” and that they are in a “better position” to decide to take the life of their child than members of Congress or a president of the United States.
Teen pregnancies were something he said he would like to reduce, since they have “started to spike up again,” Obama said.
The U.S. president also told reporters that a “task force” within his Domestic Policy Council is working with both the pro-abortion and pro-life groups to try to work together to reduce pregnancies and gather “consensus.”
He concluded his answer on abortion by saying the “Freedom of Choice Act is not [his] highest legislative priority,” but instead wants to “tamp down” some of the “anger” around his pro-abortion policies during his first 100 days.
Austin Ruse, Director of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, told CNA in an email that President Obama's response shows that he is “very crafty” and “has many Catholic quislings giving him cover on his abortion radicalism.”
Ruse cited the fact that just a few years ago Obama voted against giving medical assistance “to a baby gasping for breath after surviving an abortion.” More recently, Ruse noted that “against the wisespread wishes of the American people, he has begun to spend taxpayer money on abortions overseas. And his Secretary of State just announced that the full force of the U.S. government will be used to spread abortion around the world.”
“By any standard except the abortion lobby, these are radical measures and why he is considered the most pro-abortion president we have ever had,” said Ruse.
The women's pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List took issue with Obama's claim that pro-lifers have a say in the abortion debate.
“President Barack Obama spoke of finding ‘common ground’ on abortion policy, but abortion advocates clearly have an open door,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser told CNA.
“It’s only been 100 days, but President Obama has managed to check off ten of the fifteen demands of the abortion industry. From his personnel selections to his exclusion of pro-life voices from the health care debate, the President’s actions speak louder than his words. This is the most aggressive, pro-abortion administration in decades.
“Fortunately,” she addded, “pro-life activists are more energized than ever to defend women and unborn children at every opportunity. The Obama Administration should be prepared – commonsense abortion policy like the Hyde Amendment will not be repealed without a fight by pro-life Americans.”
Mark Stricherz, political commentator and author of the book “Why the Democrats are Blue” remarked to CNA that "President Obama's rhetoric about abortion is that of a moderate. But his record is that of an ally of Planned Parenthood and NARAL. For example, he supports taxpayer funding of abortion, such as efforts to rescind or curtail the Hyde Amendment."
"While signing FOCA into law is not a priority of his now, if he is elected for a second term, it could well be," he added.
Madrid, Spain, Apr 30, 2009 (CNA) - A Spanish congressional committee has approved a proposal by green party lawmakers to “publicly” reprove the statements made by Pope Benedict XVI about AIDS and condom use during his recent trip to Africa. The measure moved through committee despite a lack of support from the more conservative Popular Party.
Europa Press reported that the proposal was to adopt the same language used by the Belgium parliament, which condemned the Pope’s statements as “unacceptable.”
The vote against the measure by Popular Party members was the second time in a week they have voted against leftist proposals. Last Tuesday, they voted against a proposal to hold hearings on sexual health in Africa and Latin America, although the proposal was adopted.
The denouncements being made against the Pope continue to occur despite scientific evidence that the Pope's statement was correct.
Bogotá, Colombia, Apr 30, 2009 (CNA) - The guerrilla group known as the National Liberation Army has released Edgar Humberto Obando Olaya and turned him over to a Church commission led by Bishop Leonardo Gomez Serna of Magangue. Obando was kidnapped by the group on August 3, 2006.
The release occurred on April 26 in the mountainous region of Bolivar. Joining Bishop Gomez Serna was the Director of the Peace Plan for Magdalena Medio, Father Libardo Valderrama; and Father Dario Echeverri Gonzalez, secretary of the Commission on National Reconciliation.
The Bishops’ Conference of Colombia said, “Obando Olaya was received by the humanitarian commission which immediately transferred him to Bucaramanga where he was returned to his family. Although his health is good he is being examined closely to more accurately determine his condition.”
According to the bishops’ website, the guerrilla group sent a statement to the bishops about the release of Obando.
Meanwhile, the President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican today and discussed the ongoing attempts to achieve reconciliation in the country.
South Bend, Ind., Apr 30, 2009 (CNA) - Following former Vatican Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon’s refusal of the University of Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, 1984 medal recipient Judge John T. Noonan, Jr. has accepted an invitation to deliver a speech “in the spirit of the award” at the school’s commencement.
The university said his speech will take place in lieu of awarding the medal.
Glendon turned down the award after a month of intense controversy over its invitation of President Barack Obama to deliver the commencement address and to receive an honorary law degree. Glendon, who had originally been asked to deliver the commencement address, objected to university president Rev. John I. Jenkins’ use of her appearance in talking points claiming she would “balance the event.”
A commencement, she added, is not the right place “for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision,” a decision she said disregarded the “settled position” of the U.S. bishops against honoring pro-abortion rights politicians.
In an April 30 statement Father Jenkins said Judge Noonan was an “ideal choice” because he could bring “a compelling voice, a passion for dialogue, great intellectual stature, and a deep commitment to Catholic values,” especially in “these unusual circumstances.”
Judge Noonan, who was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in 1985 by President Ronald Reagan, was the Laetare Medal’s 1984 recipient. He has also been a consultant for the Presidential Commission on Population, the National Institutes of Health and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
An author of numerous books, Noonan has also been a consultant for several Catholic Church agencies, governor of the Canon Law Society of America, and director of the National Right to Life Committee, a press release from Notre Dame reports.
However, Noonan's scholarly work has promoted dissent from the Church's teaching on contraception.
He taught at Notre Dame Law School from 1961 to 1966 and has also taught at the University of California Law School at Berkeley.
The Notre Dame press release noted that Glendon had declined the 2009 Laetare Medal.
“Since Judge Noonan is a previous winner of the Laetare Medal, we have decided, upon reflection, to not award the medal this year,” Fr. Jenkins explained.
“This commencement ceremony, more than anything else, is a celebration of our students and their families. Judge Noonan will join with President Obama and other speakers in that celebration, sending them from our campus and into the world with sound advice and affirmation,” he said.
Montevideo, Uruguay, Apr 30, 2009 (CNA) - At the conclusion of their plenary assembly, held April 22-28, the Bishop’ Conference of Uruguay emphasized and encouraged in an extensive document, the centrality of the human person, the defense of human life from conception to natural death, as well as the family built upon the marriage between a man and a woman.
In their statement, "Guidelines for Political Discernment in an Election Year," which is intended to help voters during the upcoming elections, the bishops stress that "respect for persons should always be fundamental in our behavior and judgment, rejecting the temptation to justify or obtain success at any cost."
For this reason, the bishops consider the defense of life to be an important priority. "Uruguayans must judge concrete policies by facing the global problem of human life in today’s Uruguay, with special attention to the defense of the right of all human beings to life, from conception and through all stages of development to natural death."
After underscoring that in political decisions it is necessary "to look after not only one’s own interests but principally the interests of the most vulnerable," the bishops recall the centrality of the family that is currently "under attack from multiple economic, social, cultural and ideological factors."
"We observe with concern how certain ideological proposals based on the ‘gender perspective’ aim towards emptying and destroying human sexuality of its true meaning as well as the family as the source of life. As Christians we need to cast aside all ambiguity and clearly choose the truth about family and about the nature of human love," the bishops said, as every person "is called to promote and protect this fundamental institution that is the family, but it is especially our responsibility as citizens, Christians and members of the Church of Christ."
For this reason, the bishops propose "setting as a condition for supporting different proposals the defense of the family based on stable marriage between a man and a woman and the coherence of these proposals with the consequent vision of human sexuality and its meaning. We also demand the full and real freedom of parents to choose the kind of education their children will receive," the bishops said.
Washington D.C., Apr 30, 2009 (CNA) - By a vote of 249-175, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to expand federal “hate crime” laws to include sexual orientation, gender identity, or mental or physical disability.
Current law limits federal jurisdiction over hate crimes to assaults based on race, color, religion or national origin.
President Barack Obama asked Congress to pass the Federal Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, saying it would “protect all of our citizens from violent acts of intolerance.”
House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer argued that the crimes “terrorize entire segments of our population and tear at our nation's social fabric.”
Conviction of a hate crime causes additional punishment and would allow the federal government to help state and local authorities investigate “hate crimes,” the Associated Press reports.
During debate on the bill, Rep. Lamar Smith argued the bill was discriminatory.
"All violent crimes must be vigorously prosecuted," Rep. Smith said. "Unfortunately, this bill undermines one of the most basic principles of our criminal justice system -- 'equal justice for all.'"
"Justice will now depend on the race, gender, sexual orientation, disability or other protected status of the victim," Smith said. "It will allow different penalties to be imposed for the same crime."
President George W. Bush had helped stop the bill in the last Congress, arguing existing state and federal laws were adequate.
House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio said that all violent crimes should be prosecuted vigorously, but argued the legislation “places a higher value on some lives compared to others. That is unconstitutional, and that is wrong. Republicans believe that all life was created equally, and all life should be defended equally.”
He said he was particularly concerned about the implications the legislation would have on religious groups expressing their beliefs.
“Simply put, this bill is not only a threat to the constitutional principle of equal justice under the law, but to religious freedom of speech as well,” he added.
Rome, Italy, Apr 30, 2009 (CNA) - During remarks at an event marking the 800th anniversary of the Franciscan order at the Antonianum Pontifical University, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, Archbishop Angelo Amato, explained the essence of holiness and what it means when the Vatican recognizes a person's virtues as heroic.
“With Vatican Council II, it can be said that all of the faithful are called to holiness. Holiness is the vocation of all the baptized. As a consequence, holiness today is part of the identity of the Church—One, Holy—and of the baptized.
After recalling that the “original source of the holiness of the Church and in the Church is this Triune God,” Archbishop Amato explained what the Church is declaring when it recognizes a Servant of God's heroic virtue. Receving this recognition is one of the most important steps in the process of canonization.
He went on to recall that St. Thomas Aquinas considered “heroic virtue as the extraordinary perfection of the rational part of the soul.” St. Thomas, he said, “explains later the relationship between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and virtue. The gifts are indispensable for the baptized to achieve their supernatural dimension. In this context, he speaks of the heroic or divine habit, which indicates a disposition towards the good that is higher than that which is common. Heroic virtue is the exercise of virtue in the eminent degree.”
Afterwards, the archbishop said, “In heroic virtue the moral level that is present is above the moral level present in almost all men. This inspires admiration, which also constitutes an element of the definition of heroic virtue.”
Regarding the question of how heroic virtues are recognized, “the answer is that the heroic degree is recognizable, first of all, by its frequency, its promptness, the joyful character of virtuous activity; and secondly, by the fact that amidst complicated obstacles, formed by external or internal circumstances, these are overcome in such a way that the virtuous hero can be considered capable of great sacrifices for the Gospel in the total abnegation of self.”
“In heroic virtue, Christ becomes visible again in our midst and the saint becomes the mirror of Christ. The saints, moreover, are true operators of the enculturation of the Gospel, not through theories elaborated at a desk, but rather by living and manifesting the sequela Christi (the following of Christ) in their own culture.”
“The saints,” Archbishop Amato explained, “show gospel truth with their existence. The Christian metamorphous of a culture is realized in them, from the moment in which they reveal how the gospel beatitudes touch and convert towards good the hearts and minds of people of all cultures.”
“In the saints, enculturation does no occur principally ab externo, in the style of the churches, the vestments of the body, linguistic manners; but above all ab interno, that is, in their persons. They are themselves the living Gospel for the culture. As in the beginning of the Church when it was the holy pastors, the holy theologians and the holy martyrs who evangelized the culture, so today the Church needs saints for the success of enculturation. The Gospel, in fact, is not reserved for a determined culture but rather exists for all cultures.”
Archbishop Amato said the existence of the saints is the most convincing act of kindness of the Word of God. “Only in this way can we explain the conversions to the Gospel carried out by the holy missionaries beginning with the apostles, who went to the whole world proclaiming the good news of salvation in Christ, converting and baptizing.”
“The saints are concrete signs of hope for a future of brotherhood, joy and peace,” he added.
“Sometimes I hear complaints about the large number of saints who are canonized. But the Holy Church cannot help be generate holy children. To make this criticism is almost like complaining about the great quantity, variety and beauty of flowers in springtime.”