Washington D.C., May 14, 2009 (CNA) -
The White House has responded to opposition to President Obama’s appearance at the University of Notre Dame, claiming that only "one group" is organizing a boycott and pointing to other groups who support the president’s commencement speech and reception of an honorary degree.
"I think there's one group organizing a boycott and, as best I can understand it, there are 23 groups that have formed in support of the president's invitation," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, according to ABC.
The "one group," ND Response, is a coalition of 11 pro-life groups including Notre Dame Right to Life, the Notre Dame Law St. Thomas More Society and the Notre Dame College Republicans.
Gibbs’ reference to 23 groups concerned a letter written to University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins by groups such as the African Student Association, the College Democrats, the Notre Dame Peace Fellowship and the Spanish Club.
The letter criticized "those who would rather divide than work together for common ground and for the common good."
"We are concerned that in narrowing the focus to one aspect of life that has often proven polarizing and divisive many have lost the ability to recognize the other aspects of President Obama’s work that continues to uphold the principles of justice and solidarity," their letter said, according to ABC.
Gibbs claimed that 97 percent of the students supported the decision. However, ABC reported that this claim misstated an Associated Press story which said that of the 95 Notre Dame seniors who wrote to the student newspaper The Observer, 97 percent were positive.
Gibbs also cited a Pew poll reporting that 50 percent of Catholics supported Notre Dame’s invitation to Obama, while only 28 percent opposed it.
However, that poll also reported that 45 percent of those who attend Mass at least weekly disapproved of the decision, while 37 percent approved.
"The president understands the right of anybody in this country to disagree and to exercise their disagreement in that way. I think it's important to understand it appears as if the vast majority of students and the majority of Catholics are supportive of the invitation the president accepted. And I know he's greatly looking forward to seeing them," Gibbs said, according to ABC.
More than 2,900 students will receive degrees on Sunday, of whom 2,001 are undergraduate seniors.
South Bend, Ind., May 14, 2009 (CNA) -
Organizers of a group asking alumni and donors to withhold donations to the University of Notre Dame following its controversial commencement invitation to President Barack Obama claim to have confirmed nearly $14 million in donations have been withheld by those concerned about the university’s Catholic identity.
The group, ReplaceJenkins.com, said it had received over 1,400 pledges from alumni and donors promising to withhold future donations.
ReplaceJenkins.com was launched by alumni and financial supporters of the university who said they would withhold their contributions until Rev. Jenkins is replaced by someone who "is committed to the authentic identity of Notre Dame, grounded in the teachings of the Catholic Church."
Group spokesman David DiFranco, a 1995 graduate of Notre Dame, said the donors were "at least loosely aware" of what he called the university’s "trend away from its Catholic identity."
"But the invitation of President Obama to speak and to receive an honorary degree, combined with the weak responses presented by Father Jenkins as a defense to those who have criticized the decision, is what drives most alumni to our site," he said.
Fr. Jenkins’ action brought national attention to a problem "decades in the making," DiFranco said.
"A shrinking percentage of Catholic faculty and the efforts of secular-minded board members has long been eroding the Catholic heritage and foundation that makes Notre Dame great. President Obama’s invitation represents the culminating scandal in this trend."
DiFranco said nearly all alumni who had contacted ReplaceJenkins.com had already decided to cease supporting the school.
"Our website merely tallies the sum of their collective decision," he said.
Albany, N.Y., May 14, 2009 (CNA) -
The New York State Catholic Conference has described the New York State Assembly’s Tuesday vote to recognize same-sex "marriages" as a "radical social experiment" that is "terribly misguided."
The Assembly passed the same-sex "marriage" bill introduced by New York Gov. David Paterson by an 89-52 vote, with five Republicans voting in support. Gov. Paterson characterized the bill as an end to "legal discrimination against same-sex couples," according to All Headline News.
A similar bill passed the Assembly in 2007 by an 85-61 vote. It was defeated in the state Senate, which at the time was majority Republican.
Democrats now hold the state Senate by a 32-30 majority. However, Democratic Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., who is also a Pentecostal minister, is leading opposition to the bill.
The homosexual advocacy group Empire State Pride Agenda expressed optimism that the bill will pass despite the opposition. They claimed to have secured the vote of one more Republican Senator, reported AHN.
The group said the move would provide same-sex couples with "the 1,324 rights and protections" that come with a New York State marriage license.
New York State Catholic Conference executive director Richard Barnes said the Assembly vote was "not surprising but it is nevertheless disappointing."
"Marriage is the fundamental building block of our society. The state has always had a compelling interest in recognizing marriage for reasons of elementary biology," Barnes said in a statement, adding this fact was recognized in a 2006 state Court of Appeals decision.
"Marriage is not simply a mechanism with which to provide people with benefits," he continued. "By creating same-sex 'marriages,' the state is endorsing the notion that procreation is completely disconnected from marriage and that a nontraditional family structure serves a child as well as a traditional one."
"On behalf of the Catholic Bishops of New York State, we call on the state Senate in the strongest terms to reject this radical social experiment and continue to recognize marriage for what it has always been and always will be – the union of one man and one woman."
Nazareth, Israel, May 14, 2009 (CNA) - This morning in the town where Jesus was raised by Mary and Joseph, Pope Benedict XVI called upon Christians to learn from the virtues of the Holy Family and to heal divisions caused by tensions between Christians and Muslims.
The Holy Father was welcomed to Nazareth by Archbishop Elias Chacour, who told the Pope that the local church is “so encouraged” by his presence, and that they hope the late John Paul II will be canonized soon.
Pope Benedict noted that the local Church is celebrating the Year of the Family and prayed that the soon-to-be-built International Center for the Family will “promote strong family life in this region, offer support and assistance to families everywhere, and encourage them in their irreplaceable mission to society.”
Men and women of our time, the Pope said in his homily, need to follow the example of Joseph and Mary who, remained faithful for their whole lives, were “consecrated by the covenant of marriage” and were “accepting of God's gift of new life.”
“How much the men and women of our time need to reappropriate this fundamental truth, which stands at the foundation of society, and how important is the witness of married couples for the formation of sound consciences and the building of a civilization of love!” the Pope said.
Pope Benedict then reflected on the individual qualities of Mary, Jesus and Joseph.
“As we reflect on these realities here, in the town of the Annunciation, our thoughts naturally turn to Mary, 'full of grace,' the mother of the Holy Family and our Mother. Nazareth reminds us of our need to acknowledge and respect the God-given dignity and proper role of women, as well as their particular charisms and talents,” he said.
In particular, the Holy Father explained, “women have an indispensable role in creating that 'human ecology' which our world, and this land, so urgently needs: a milieu in which children learn to love and to cherish others, to be honest and respectful to all, to practice the virtues of mercy and forgiveness.”
St. Joseph's “strong and fatherly example” provides men with a model of the virtues of “manly piety, fidelity to one’s word, integrity and hard work,” said Benedict. In the carpenter of Nazareth, Jesus saw how “authority placed at the service of love is infinitely more fruitful than the power which seeks to dominate.
“How much our world needs the example, guidance and quiet strength of men like Joseph!” exclaimed Pope Benedict.
Speaking to children, the Holy Father told them that they have a “special role to play in the growth of their parents in holiness” and pointed them to the example of the child Jesus.
“I urge you to reflect on this, and to let the example of Jesus guide you, not only in showing respect for your parents, but also helping them to discover more fully the love which gives our lives their deepest meaning. In the Holy Family of Nazareth, it was Jesus who taught Mary and Joseph something of the greatness of the love of God his heavenly Father, the ultimate source of all love, the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name,” the Pope said.
Given the previous problems between Christians and Muslims in Nazareth, the Pope encouraged Christians to reaffirm their “commitment to be a leaven of respect and love in the world” around them.
“Let everyone reject the destructive power of hatred and prejudice, which kills men’s souls before it kills their bodies!” Benedict XVI pleaded, asking that both sides work to repair the damage done.
The Pope closed by invoking the intercession of Our Lady of the Annunciation so that people become open to God's word, which can “inspire courageous decisions” and “guide our feet into the path of peace!”
Vatican City, May 14, 2009 (CNA) - Pope Benedict paid a visit yesterday to the Caritas Baby Hospital in Bethlehem. In his address, he praised the staff for their charity and assured the patients that he "spiritually accompanies" them each day in his "thoughts and prayers."
The hospital, founded in 1952 is supported by the "Kinderhilfe Bethlehem" Association as well as the German and Swiss episcopal conferences.
Before greeting the medical and administrative staff, and the Franciscan Elizabethan Sisters of Padua who help care for the patients, the Pope visited the chapel and the maternity ward.
Addressing the young patients and their families, the Holy Father noted that while today he is with them in person, each day he "spiritually accompanies" them in his "thoughts and prayers, asking the Almighty to watch over you with His tender care."
He also acknowledged the growth of the hospital since it was founded. Caritas "brings together people of different origins, languages and religions, in the name of the Reign of God, the Kingdom of Peace. I heartily encourage you to persevere in your mission of showing charity to all the sick, the poor and the weak."
Being the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the Holy Father invoked the Virgin Mary: "May love triumph over hatred, solidarity over division, and peace over every form of violence!" And he concluded: "We ask your Son Jesus to bless these children and all children who suffer throughout the world."
Nazareth, Israel, May 14, 2009 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI met with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday afternoon at the Franciscan Convent in Nazareth and spoke about ways to advance the peace process.
The meeting began with a 15 minute one-on-one discussion between the Pope and Netanyahu, in which they discussed the peace process.
Following the Pope and prime minister's discussion, delegations from the Vatican and Israel met for 20 minutes about the fundamental agreement that has been under discussion for some time. The agreement concerns tax exemptions church institutions, the granting of religious visas for priests and religious and the protection of Christians and their holy sites.
According to the Vatican's spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Pope told the prime minister in their private meeting about his discussions on how to bring peace to the region with Jordan's King Abdullah II .
Netanyahu also visited with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak on Monday and earlier on Thursday made the short flight to Jordan to speak with King Abdullah II. During their short talk, Israel's prime minister told the Pope about his meeting with Mubarak, Fr. Lombardi said.
"The king demanded the Israeli government declare its commitment to the two-state solution, accept the Arab peace initiative and take practical steps to achieve progress," King Abdullah's office said after the meeting.
"The international community has agreed there is no alternative ... and any other solution is unacceptable because it will not achieve a just peace, creating more conflict," the statement said, according to the BBC.
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with President Obama on May 18, when Obama is expected to press Israel to commit to a two-state solution.
Nazareth, Israel, May 14, 2009 (CNA) - Muslims, Christians, Jewish and Druze leaders met with Pope Benedict XVI in the auditorium of the Shrine of the Annunciation this afternoon. Thanking the leaders for their efforts to help form younger generations dedicated to peace, the Pope appealed for their cooperation in easing tensions over religious places of worship in Galilee.
Benedict XVI began by noting that it is a blessing to be able to visit Nazareth, the place where the angel Gabriel announced Jesus' birth and where Jesus was raised.
Recalling these historical events led the Pope to reflect on the conviction that “the world is a gift of God, and that God has entered the twists and turns of human history.” This perspective is the source of Christians' belief that creation has “a reason and a purpose,” he explained.
Peace, the Pope noted, is “a gift of God, yet it cannot be achieved without human endeavor.” However, he said, “We cannot do whatever we please with the world; rather, we are called to conform our choices to the subtle yet nonetheless perceptible laws inscribed by the Creator upon the universe... .”
The fact that the Pope is in Galilee, a religiously diverse region of Israel, gave him the opportunity to call for the numerous religions to “promote a culture of peace.” This can be done, he asserted, through educating the younger generations in “the deeper spiritual values of our common humanity.”
The Holy Father pledged Christians' eager participation in joining “Jews, Muslims, Druze and people of other religions in wishing to safeguard children from fanaticism and violence while preparing them to be builders of a better world.”
The issue of violence surrounding religious sites was also touched on by the Pope.
In the late 1990s, tensions flared in the square that holds the Basilica of the Annunciation because of plans by Muslims to build a large mosque that would have blocked the view of the basilica. The confrontation over the Israeli government-approved mosque brewed over into clashes between Muslims and Christians just before Pope John Paul II's visit in 1999. In 2003 the Israeli government intervened by sending in troops to demolish the mosque's foundations.
Pope Benedict, aware of the conflict, said in his speech today, “I know that you accept cheerfully and with a greeting of peace the many pilgrims who flock to Galilee. I encourage you to continue exercising mutual respect as you work to ease tensions concerning places of worship, thus assuring a serene environment for prayer and reflection here and throughout Galilee.”
At the end of the meeting, the Pope smiled as the leaders joined hands and sang "Shalom, Salam, May the Lord's peace be with you"--a song composed and led by Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi was asked if this marked the first time on the trip that the Pope prayed with Muslim and Jewish leaders. He replied, "I'd say that the rabbi had a ingenius and creative idea because nobody can object to singing peace."
Fargo, N.D., May 14, 2009 (CNA) - Fargo Bishop Samuel J. Aquila is scheduled to appear on Fox News’ "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" tonight to discuss President Obama’s invite to speak at the University of Notre Dame’s commencement this Sunday.
Speaking to CNA, the Diocesan Director of Communications, Tanya Watterud noted that Fox News called early this week to see if the bishop would appear on the show.
She explained that Bishop Aquila agreed to the interview “because he knows the importance of the news media in reaching out to people with the teachings of the Catholic Church. The teachings on the dignity of all human life are especially important to him, and he frequently addresses, through his homilies and writings, how our society today attacks that dignity through the courts, through legislation, in the media, and in many other ways.”
“Many people will never be aware of the inherent dignity of human life – the inherent dignity of their own lives - and the multiple efforts against human life at its most vulnerable stages unless Catholic leaders and others share this news in the public arena, she continued. “Bishop Aquila frequently calls on the people of the Diocese of Fargo to live their faith in the world. He is setting an example for us by doing so, himself, through news media interviews like the one scheduled for tonight.”
The bishop previously spoke out against the invitation last month when he sent a letter to Father John Jenkins, president of Notre Dame saying that he was both "surprised and saddened" to learn that President Obama "would be speaking at the commencement exercises and also be receiving an honorary degree."
In the letter, which is also posted on the diocesan site, he wrote, "I know you are a man of integrity and believe in the Church’s witness. I also know as a priest and a president of a Catholic University, you are well acquainted with Ex Corde Ecclesiae and the 2004 statement of the Bishops of the United States on ‘Catholics in Political Life.’ Even though President Obama is not Catholic, he clearly rejects the truth about human dignity through his constant support of a so called ‘right to abortion.’ He also tolerates the inexcusable act of letting aborted children die who are born alive. He promotes an intrinsic evil which must always be resisted by a just and civil society."
Quoting from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 16, Bishop Aquila continued, "Your judgment in this matter is seriously flawed, with damaging consequences, for ‘…you are not on the side of God, but of men’."
Nazareth, Israel, May 14, 2009 (CNA) -
Wrapping up his time in Nazareth, Pope Benedict prayed in the grotto of the Basilica of the Annunciation and then met with bishops, priests and laity in the church. The Pope, reminding Christians of the power of the Annunciation despite its apparent insignificance, encouraged them to remain in the Holy Land, assuring them that they "have a part to play in God's plan for salvation."
"It is profoundly moving for me to be present with you today in the very place where the Word of God was made flesh and came to dwell among us," Benedict began, after having prayed Evening prayer with the faithful.
He noted that when the same Spirit that hovered over the waters at creation 'came upon Mary,' God permanently established a new relationship with us. But this narrative "illustrates God's extraordinary courtesy," since "He does not impose himself, he does not simply pre-determine the part that Mary will play in his plan for our salvation: he first seeks her consent."
Aware of the plight of the Christian community in the Holy Land, the Pope said, "when we reflect on this joyful mystery, it gives us hope, the sure hope that God will continue to reach into our history, to act with creative power so as to achieve goals which by human reckoning seem impossible."
"In the state of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Christians form a minority of the population. Perhaps at times you feel that your voice counts for little," the Holy Father surmised, while noting that their situation calls to mind the "young virgin Mary, who led a hidden life in Nazareth."
Christians in the Holy Land should draw strength from God as Mary did in her famous prayer the Magnificat, the Pope said.
"Have the confidence to be faithful to Christ and to remain here in the land that he sanctified with his own presence!" the Holy Father entreated his fellow Christians.
"Like Mary, you have a part to play in God's plan for salvation, by bringing Christ forth into the world, by bearing witness to him and spreading his message of peace and unity."
Benedict XVI finished his words to the crowd by calling on Christians to be unified in faith, hope and love and adding that he prays for them "constantly."
Madrid, Spain, May 14, 2009 (CNA) - A court in Zaragoza, Spain has recognized the right of a student at a local school to exercise conscientious objection against the course Education for the Citizenry, ruling she can exempt herself from the class.
The ruling in favor of the parents will allow the girl to be absent from the class without her grades being affected.
Teresa Monaj, a local activist for parents, said the court in Zaragoza is the same one that issued another ruling favorable to objecting parents on April 13. These are in addition to the four rulings issued by Spain’s Supreme Court supporting conscientious objection to the course.
Monaj said parents hope the Supreme Court of the province of Aragon, where Zaragoza is located, will take into account these rulings as it issues its own.
Madrid, Spain, May 14, 2009 (CNA) - The Spanish Alternative political party has demanded that the country’s government withdraw a measure that would allow the sale of the morning-after pill without a prescription, saying it “violates the right of parents to watch over the health of their children and endangers the health of girls and young women.”
“The decision of the government to distribute the abortion pills, usually known as the morning-after pill, without any medical controls, constitutes another step in the expansion of the culture of death,” the party said in a statement.
The fact that the drugs can be administered to minors “constitutes a violation of the right of parents to watch over the health of their children” and “shows what the priorities of the administration are in addressing the problems that Spaniards face.”
Spanish Alternative warned that this measure does not contribute to decreasing the number of abortions or unwanted pregnancies, but rather increases them without their being included in any official statistics.
The party also noted the drug has many side-effects, which are listed in the directions for use provided by the manufacturer, thus making the distribution of the pills without medical controls dangerous. To make the pills available without prescription is irresponsible, the party asserted.
“Spanish Alternative, in defense of life, demands not only the withdrawal of the measure but also the prescription of these kinds of drugs,” the statement said.
Madrid, Spain, May 14, 2009 (CNA) - "May Feelings II" is a new video created by Belomasan Films which uniquely reminds those who pray the Rosary that they are not alone and it also encourages those who have not discovered the Marian prayer to give it a try.
Since its debut on www.belomasanfilms.com, which features a high-resolution version, and on YouTube, the video has been seen by over 100,000 users.
The producers of Belomasan Films, who last year surprised everyone with “May Feelings,” a video listing 50 reasons to pray the Rosary, told CNA in a previous interview they hoped that the videos would give encouragement those who already pray the Rosary and would present the Marian prayer as something pleasant and useful to those who have not yet discovered it.
The video can be seen at:
Ankara, Turkey, May 14, 2009 (CNA) - Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II, now claims he would like to convert to Christianity after his release from prison. He says he wants to be baptized in a ceremony at the Vatican.
Agca shot and seriously wounded John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. In 1983, the Pope met with his would-be assassin in an Italian prison and forgave him.
Now serving a prison term for killing a Turkish journalist, Agca has made frequent claims that he is the Messiah or Jesus Christ, the Associated Press reports. This has raised questions about his mental health and also sparked speculations he has converted to Christianity.
"Agca is not formally a Christian," lawyer Haci Ali Ozhan told the Associated Press. "When he converts, he would like a baptism ceremony at the Vatican," Ozhan.
He is scheduled for release on January 18, 2010.
London, England, May 14, 2009 (CNA) -
A priest from the Democratic Republic of the Congo has called on the Congolese government to stop the illegal exploitation of the country’s mineral resources which are being used to help fuel instability and fund militant groups in the region.
Fr. Justin Nkunzi, justice and peace commission director of the Archdiocese of Bukavu, said that the illegal trade in minerals, including gold, has lead to increased fears about the rise of rebel attacks.
Speaking to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) during a visit to the UK, he called on industry leaders to improve the transparency of supply chains to allow buyers to trace the source of their gold.
"If you buy diamonds and gold from rebel held areas. It helps the rebels – they can buy weapons and guns and continue the war," he told ACN.
He suggested the UK government could assist Congolese authorities in combating the illegal mineral exploitation, saying such action would help build peace.
Rebel action funded by the mineral trade has caused serious problems in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Conflict has increased sexual violence and the numbers of child soldiers and refugees.
"Rebel groups have so many child soldiers. We must give support to these children, help them to leave militia camps in the forest and bring them back to the village."
Reintroducing child soldiers into their community is problematic, Fr. Nkunzi said, because they have training in weapons but nothing else and must be taught useful skills.
Militia groups have also used the terrifying rape of women as a way to demoralize the local people.
"For us it’s a kind of new terrorism. It is a strategy for destroying the family. It destroys everyone. It is a kind of ‘killing.’
"Sexual violence causes a big degree of trauma – individual trauma, communal trauma. The perpetrators know that the most effective ways of humiliating a man is to rape his wife," he told ACN.
U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs John Holmes has called the sexual violence in the Congo "the worst in the world."
"The sheer numbers, the wholesale brutality, the culture of impunity — it’s appalling," he said in 2007.
"In our country many people suffer," Fr Nkunzi told ACN, explaining that the rule of the dictator Mobutu from 1965 to 1997 had led to many years of war. "The Church must be wherever someone asks us for our help."
"Everyone must do the best they can to bring peace, first within your heart, second in the family, then in all the community."
"The Church must work to bring our people together and say that another way is possible," he advocated, saying unpunished violence must be rebuked.
Explaining the work of the justice and peace commission he directs, he said the commission aims to help communities come together after being "torn apart" and to support them in bringing change.
"It is a ministry as Jesus said to bring peace and reconciliation everywhere," Fr. Nkunzi said.
"Our work wouldn’t be possible without the prayers and the peace that comes from Jesus and God. It is possible because Jesus is beginning the new way and we are following the new way in our country, many persons need to meet him in our country."
"We are all brothers in Africa. We must hear Jesus; we must try to build our region because God has given us a good country," he continued.
Fr. Nkunzi praised ACN’s efforts to help in the Congo, concluding his interview by asking God to bless those who help ACN help those in the Congo.