Archive of June 5, 2009

Our Sunday Visitor acquires catechetics leader Harcourt Religion Publishers

Huntington, Ind., Jun 5, 2009 (CNA) - The Catholic publishing group Our Sunday Visitor has acquired Harcourt Religion Publishers, announcing that the combination would help catechesis and Catholics who want to “bring their faith to life.”

Harcourt Religion Publishers, formerly a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, will benefit by extending its curriculum base, a press release states. The publisher is best known for its Call to Faith K-8 Series, its Call to Faith eConnect web tool, liturgical-catechetical sacrament preparation programs, and its leading Catholic high school religion programs.

Our Sunday Visitor said the move will solidify its ability to help “millions of Catholics of every age.”

“We are thrilled to welcome Harcourt Religion Publishers into the Our Sunday Visitor family,” said Greg Erlandson, president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor. “They have long stood out for their curricula and forward-looking support tools. The joining of our product lines not only reinforces both missions, but it leverages similar corporate cultures that value innovation, hybrid solutions, and sharing what the Church teaches and why to Catholics of all ages.”

Diane Lampitt, president of Harcourt Religion Publishers, said Our Sunday Visitor’s people, products, and mission complement Harcourt Religion’s vision and commitment to “solid, age-appropriate catechesis.”

“Together, we’ll be able to respond to parish and school needs like never before—with exceptional speed, creativity, and new formats,” she said.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Our Sunday Visitor will reportedly retain Harcourt Religion Publishers’ existing management, support staff, field representatives and product line. Harcourt Religion Publishers’ customers can continue to work through their local sales representatives.

Archbishop of Washington Donald W. Wuerl, former chair of the U.S. bishops’ conference’s committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, said the acquisition “brings together two great traditions in catechesis and lifelong faith formation.”

“Our Sunday Visitor has an exceptional history of bringing the Catholic faith to a wide-ranging audience,” he added. “At a time when education in the faith and strong Catholic identity are of critical importance in our Church, I am confident that Our Sunday Visitor’s acquisition of Harcourt Religion Publishers will contribute to a new day in catechesis.”

The Huntington, Indiana-based Our Sunday Visitor is a non-profit organization and the nation’s largest Catholic publisher. Its product line includes early childhood curricula, sacramental preparation tools, adult education programs, vacation bible school material, books, periodicals, pamphlets and offering envelopes.

More information about the acquisition is available at

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New statistics show U.S. Catholics increase in numbers

Washington D.C., Jun 5, 2009 (CNA) - The 2009 Official Catholic Directory has released new statistics on the Catholic population. The directory shows that there are 68.1 million Catholics in the United States, an increase of about one million from the previous year which maintains Catholics as 22 percent of the U.S. population.

The directory, also known as the Kenedy Directory, reports that there are 41,489 diocesan and religious order priests, 60,715 religious sisters, 4,905 religious brothers and 16,935 permanent deacons.

In 2008 there were 887,145 infant baptisms, 42,629 adult baptisms, and 81,775 baptized Christians who entered full communion with the Church. The Kenedy Directory lists 18,674 parishes, including 91 new parishes, and 189 seminaries with 4,973 students.

Over 722,000 students are in high school religious education programs, while over three million are in elementary school religious ed.

There are 6,133 Catholic elementary schools and 1.6 million students. The country’s 1,341 Catholic high schools educate over 674,000 students, while 234 Catholic colleges and universities serve, over 795,000 students.

U.S. Catholic hospitals number 562 and serve almost 85.3 million patients, while 3009 Catholic social service centers assist 27.2 million people annually.

According to a press release from the U.S. bishops' conference, Catholic organizations in the United States provide an estimated $28.2 billion in services through institutions represented by the Catholic Health Association ($5.7 billion), Catholic Charities USA ($3.5 billion), and the National Catholic Education Association ($19.8 billion).

These figures do not include assistance provided through parishes and other organizations such as the Knights of Columbus.

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John Paul II’s beatification cause could pass final hurdles in 2009

Rome, Italy, Jun 5, 2009 (CNA) - Two requirements necessary to beatify Pope John Paul II could be met this year, a former Vatican spokesman has said.

The Congregation for the Causes of Saints must approve a decree recognizing the late pontiff’s “heroic virtues” and certify a miracle attributed to him before he can be declared a blessed.

Joaquin Navarro Valls, who was the Vatican spokesman under John Paul II, stated in an interview with “Sole 24 Ore” on Thursday that once the requirements are met, Pope Benedict “at any moment” can set the date to proclaim his beatification.

Navarro-Valls also denied reports that the beatification process had been slowed by Polish psychiatrist Wanda Poltawska’s failure to hand over personal correspondence with John Paul II.

Daniel Ols, the spokesman for John Paul II's cause, did not confirm or deny to ANSA that the beatification could occur in April 2010 on the fifth anniversary of the Pope’s death.

Pope Benedict XVI had waived a requirement of a five-year wait before beginning an investigation into his predecessor’s beatification. New reports of miracles attributed to John Paul II’s intervention are said to arrive in Rome every week.

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Christian leaders applaud Obama's Cairo speech, wait for his actions

Cairo, Egypt, Jun 5, 2009 (CNA) - U.S. President Barack Obama delivered an address to the Muslim world on Thursday at Cairo University, calling for religious tolerance, an end to violent extremism, and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Christian leaders from the Middle East described the speech as a “clear change,” but asked that the president’s words be backed up by action.

The president said in his speech that relations between the West and Islam have included “coexistence and cooperation but also conflict and religious wars.” Remarking that colonialism and the Cold War had helped feed tensions, he said “violent extremists” like those who committed the 9/11 attacks had made some Americans fearful and mistrustful of Islam.

“So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end,” he said.

Describing “civilization’s debt to Islam,” the president claimed that American Muslims have enriched the United States since its founding.

The president quoted “the Holy Koran” several times in his speech. He also cited the Bible and the Talmud once each.

Criticizing Americans’ stereotypes of Muslims, he also said that America does not fit the “crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”

Praising American traditions of religious freedom, he said: “Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations.”

Insisting that the United States is not “at war with Islam,” he denounced toleration of violent extremists.

He also described plans to invest in building Pakistani and Afghan infrastructure, schools and hospitals before saying America has the responsibilities of helping Iraq forge its future and to “leave Iraq to Iraqis.”

Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Obama professed respect for both the Palestinian and the Jewish people.

Noting historical persecution of Jews, he also said Palestinians, both Muslims and Christians, have suffered “in pursuit of a homeland.”

President Obama pointed to the stalemate between the two peoples, and called for a two-state resolution to the conflict so that Israelis and Palestinians may each live in “peace and security.”

“Palestinians must abandon violence.  Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed,” he said, noting the advance of American blacks in the peaceful U.S. civil rights movement.

“At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's,” he said, rejecting the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.

“Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society,” he said, declaring the Gaza humanitarian crisis to be a threat to Israel’s security.

Rejecting the use of the Arab-Israeli conflict to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems, he called on Arab states to assist in resolving the conflict.

“Too many tears have been shed.  Too much blood has been shed.  All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer,” President Obama remarked, using a Muslim expression.

Turning to the issue of democracy, he rejected imposing democracy but pledged support for “human rights.”

“Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure.  Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them.”

He also pledged support for “all elected, peaceful governments” provided they govern with respect for “all their people.”

Praising what he called Islam’s “proud tradition of tolerance,” he called for preserving “religious diversity” for Marionites and Copts while calling for an end to divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Discussing women’s rights, he said all humanity must be allowed “to reach their full potential.”

Several Middle East Christian leaders responded positively to the president’s speech.

The Guardian of the Holy Land, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, told SIR news that the speech marked a “clear change” that will be welcomed in the Arab world.

“It encourages our hopes for the future,” he said.

Fr. Pizzaballa remarked that President Obama was “very balanced” in confirming a link with Israel but also assuming a “new position” with the Arab world.

“This new position is a new beginning, a change of strategy and relationships which will give a further impulse to the search for a solution of the main problem, the one of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Change will imply sacrifices by both Israel and Palestinians, who will have to reconsider their positions, he said.

Fr. Pizzaballa said it was an “important novelty” that President Obama addressed Hamas and asked for the immediate acknowledgment of Israel. Also notable was the president’s acknowledgement of peaceful nuclear plants for Iran.

“Maybe Israel didn’t like those themes,” the Guardian added. “Obama pledged with respect to both Israel and Palestinians, in a balanced way.”

“Certainly, the U.S. want a new image before the Arab world; today, that image is negative. However, one speech is not enough, real facts are necessary. Today I saw a sincere, resolute and transparent Obama,” Fr. Pizzaballa told SIR.

The Chaldean Bishop of Cairo Youssef Sarraf, who was present at the University of Cairo for the speech, told SIR the president’s words were important but needed to be supported by action.

“This speech would have been necessary long ago,” he said. “The U.S. president had the courage to make it, choosing Egypt for its position and its weight in the Middle East and in the Muslim world.”

The message of the speech, he said, is to encourage cooperation to address “a whole agenda” of issues such as democracy, terrorism, religious freedom, human rights, the dignity of women and globalization. These issues, Bishop Sarraf said, are “the core of debate between moderates and fundamentalists in the Muslim world.”

“We hope that Islam and the Arab world will be able to accept this helping hand.”

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Spanish media reports government considering suppression of religious symbols

Madrid, Spain, Jun 5, 2009 (CNA) - Publico, a newspaper closely allied with Spain's ruling Socialist party, reported this week that the government is studying the idea of suppressing religious symbols in military barracks, hospitals, jails and public schools, as well as during State funerals or inauguration ceremonies for public officials.
The newspaper reported that Minister of Justice Francisco Caamano referenced the proposal in comments about “creating religiously neutral public spaces.”

If the so-called “Law on Freedom of Religion and Conscience” is adopted, the paper says that Spain would for the first time regulate conscientious objection and the rights of those who profess no religion.

The proposal is expected to be rolled out before the end of the year.


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Holy Father backs U.N. push to protect children

Vatican City, Jun 5, 2009 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI has sent a telegram to the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE) to lend his support to a worldwide call for a "new mobilization on behalf of children" initiated by the United Nations in Geneva.

The telegram references the U.N.'s Convention on the Rights of the Child and says, "Twenty years after its ratification, there is an urgent need for it to be implemented to the full." This is especially important, "given the new challenges" of the modern world.

The Convention, ratified two decades ago, sets out the basic human rights of children that must be respected, based on the four core principles of non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child.

National governments that have agreed to the obligations of the Convention have committed themselves to upholding its standards and to being held accountable before the international community.

Now, the Pope is calling upon the international community to see that the principles outlined in the Convention are being put into practice.

In his telegram, the Holy Father stresses the necessity of "respecting the inviolable dignity and rights of children, of recognizing the fundamental educational mission of the family" and of "a stable social environment capable of favoring the physical, cultural and moral development of all children."

The Pope continues by calling on Catholic organizations such as BICE "to work generously for a correct application of the Convention, and for the construction of a future of hope, security and happiness for the children of our world."

Founded in 1948, BICE works to promote and protect the rights and dignity of children around the world. It works in a special way to support the most vulnerable children in society, including those at risk or suffering from abuse, exploitation, or violence.

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Vatican official explains new authority of bishops to defrock priests

Vatican City, Jun 5, 2009 (CNA) - During an interview today with Vatican Radio, the Secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Clergy, Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, clarified that bishops around the world have not been granted "automatic" powers to defrock priests, but only the capacity to proceed more speedily in cases that were not considered by the current Code of Canon Law.

The new powers granted to bishops were announced by a letter sent to all episcopates from Cardinal Claudio Hummes on April 18 and are aimed at filling some legal voids present in the current Canon law. The archbishop explained that they are not a "blank check" to automatically defrock priests, as some members of the Italian press have recently claimed.

The changes authorized by Pope Benedict XVI allow bishops to proceed with the laicization of priests only in some cases, such as when a priest leaves the ministry by his own will; when he asks the bishop to be dispensed from the commitment of celibacy; or when a priest leaves the priesthood without telling the bishop and enters into a civil marriage, has kids and "is not interested in solving his canonical situation."

"In those cases, for the good of the Church and his own good," Archbishop Piacenza explained, "the power to give a dispensation to the priest is requested as an act of charity, especially if he has children, since the children have the right to a father in good standing with the Church."

"In these cases, it is the bishop who has to take the initiative," the archbishop added.

Nevertheless, he clarified that "there is nothing 'automatic,' there is no 'automatism' in the timing of the cases, each case has to be carefully and rigorously examined."

"All the other rights and duties of the bishops in exercising their juridical authority remain unchanged," Piacenza continued.

"On a daily basis, the vast majority of priests live according to their own identity and carry on their own ministerial duties faithfully. But in few cases, the Holy See has to intervene in a subsidiary manner, to repair the scandal, reestablish justice and help the sinner amend his course." the archbishop explained.

According to the new regulations, the bishops can begin the procedure to declare the loss of the clerical state for those priests who "have attempted marriage, even if only civil," and "after the proper warning have not made changes." Also the bishop can proceed in cases where the priest is "guilty of grave external sins against the sixth commandment," which is: "You shall not commit adultery."

"Priestly celibacy," Archbishop Piacenza concluded, "is a gift that the Church has received and wants to preserve, convinced more than ever that it is good for herself and the world."

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Vatican announces Pope's vacation without confirmation of Obama visit

Vatican City, Jun 5, 2009 (CNA) - The Holy See's press office announced today that Pope Benedict XVI will leave for vacation in northern Italy from July 13-29, without knowing if President Barack Obama, who will be in Italy for the G8 summit, will formally request an audience with the Pope.

From Monday, July 13 to Wednesday, July 29, the Pope will spend vacation time at Les Combes di Introd, in the northwestern Italian province of Valle d'Aosta.

On July 19, the Pope will visit the town of Romano Canavese in the diocese of Ivrea, where he will preside over the Angelus prayer.  On Sunday, July 26, he will visit the town of Les Combes, also praying the Angelus there.

The general audiences of Wednesday 15, 22 and 29 will be suspended.

President Obama will travel to Italy to attend the G8 summit in the Italian town of L’Aquila, July 8-10, but he will reside at the U.S. embassy in Rome. The Vatican has not yet been contacted by the White House for a possible meeting between the President and Pope Benedict XVI.

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Rosary makers close in on 300,000

Baltimore, Md., Jun 5, 2009 (CNA) - Pat Evans had big dreams when she helped coordinate a rosary-making campaign for U.S. servicemen six years ago at St. Mary in Annapolis.

Still, she can hardly believe the effort has blossomed to 25 nationwide parishes and Catholic institutions and is nearing the 300,000th crafted “ranger rosary.”

Evans sees the work as a mission and a way of letting the troops know they aren’t forgotten. It provides soldiers, sailors and airmen a means of holding onto their Catholic faith as they serve far from home.

“It’s amazing,” Evans said. “This just keeps getting bigger and bigger. We get requests for more rosaries all the time.”

Chaplain Jesse Vega, stationed at Contingency Operating Base Speicher in Iraq, recently wrote to say how much the prayer beads mean to the soldiers in his Army National Guard unit.

“They especially find it a comfort to carry one when they go on missions outside the wire,” Vega wrote. “They all know that there is a possibility that they won’t be coming back, and I think it helps them to focus on their faith and gives them a spiritual assurance.”

Hundreds of other appreciative letters have streamed in from servicemen and chaplains.

Many men and women in uniform never see a Catholic priest because there aren’t enough Catholic chaplains, Evans said.

“The rosary is a bridge or link to their Catholicism,” she said. “Mary wants to be with her children – especially those in harm’s way.”

A team of about 25 volunteers meets weekly at St. Mary’s mission, St. John Neumann in Annapolis, carefully threading black plastic beads onto the same olive-green parachute cord used by soldiers.

Unlike metal or glass versions, the St. Mary’s-produced plastic rosaries don’t reflect light or make rattling noises.

Parishioners have made more than 200,000 ranger rosaries and ship about 600 prayer beads weekly with pamphlets explaining how to pray the devotion.

Parishioners of the Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City have made 44,000 ranger rosaries, with other parishes in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and elsewhere making the rest.

Volunteers make naval rosaries out of gray parachute cord and royal blue beads, along with desert rosaries made with tan cord and brown beads. All feature a black crucifix.

Julie Walton, coordinator of the ranger rosary effort at Church of the Resurrection, said volunteers pray at least one decade of the rosary over every string of beads they make, asking God to bless the person who will receive it and all parishioners serving in the military.

“What makes this ministry so special is that prayer is at the heart of it,” Walton said.

The rosary-making network is funded through donations. It costs about $1 to make and ship each rosary. The prayer beads have been sent to Iraq, Afghanistan, stateside military bases, military hospitals and elsewhere.

“Every single chaplain from every service academy called, and they all want them for their grads and some wanted them for first-year students,” Evans said. “Isn’t that marvelous?”

Printed with permission from The Catholic Review, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

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Christopher West’s teaching warrants uneasiness, theologian warns

New Haven, Conn., Jun 5, 2009 (CNA) - Theologian David Schindler has expanded upon his criticisms of Christopher West, saying the speaker’s views can encourage a “dangerous imprudence” and arguing that those not at ease with his presentation have some ground for concern. He suggested that West’s work merits “patient reflection” in light of its critics.

Last month Christopher West, a Catholic speaker on the Theology of the Body, was the topic of an ABC interview broadcast he later said was “sensationalized.” The ABC story claimed West saw John Paul II and pornography propagandist Hugh Hefner as his “two big heroes” and depicted West’s call for Christians to “complete what the sexual revolution began.”

West's interview drew responses from critics such as Prof. David Schindler, a theologian who is dean of the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C., and defenders.

Prof. Janet Smith, a professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and Dr. Michael Waldstein, an Ave Maria University theology professor and translator of Pope John Paul II’s work, defended West's teachings. Waldstein spoke of West as an effective communicator and popularizer whose works should not be harmed by a critical “spin,” while Smith said West’s informal style was a response to “the sexually wounded and confused” and dismissed many criticisms of him as “without foundation.”

Writing on the Knights of Columbus site, Schindler explained on Friday that he was not reacting only to West’s comments on ABC Nightline. He also drew on his own personal experience with his former student and his own examination of West’s tapes, videos, and his writings. Further, he said he had been approached by people who had attended West's lectures and workshops.

Schindler said that many people respond to West’s presentations with “uneasiness,” and in his view this has foundation in West’s work. The uneasiness is “not only or always” a consequence of “Puritanism,” but often simply a reaction of their “spontaneous and authentic human and Catholic instincts,” he wrote.

Aspects of West’s thought and focus warrant that “uneasiness,” Schindler said, explaining that his own criticisms of the speaker were intended to establish discussion and not meant to cause West to fail.

Addressing his concern about West’s alleged vulgarity, Schindler said “some things just ought not to be talked about in a public setting, on the grounds not of prudishness but of simple human decorum and respect for others.”

“This is not a matter simply of identifying euphemisms to replace vulgar language, nor simply of avoiding mention of acts that may be immoral,” he said. Rather, the dominant culture’s indiscretion and its intolerance of mystery is “precisely what needs to be called into question.”

Schindler again voiced his concern that West does not adequately treat the Catholic position on concupiscence. Granting that West stresses “purity of heart,” he questioned whether the speaker gives “sufficient weight” to the tendency to sin.

He also questioned whether West adequately weighs modesty and shame. Schindler said there was a “reverence” in the mystery of the body which requires a “sensitivity” which is not a simply a matter of sin and shame.

Faults on such points can encourage a “dangerous imprudence” on sexual matters, he warned.

Schindler then voiced the concern that Christopher West does not place marriage in the proper order of love. First is God’s love, infinitely different from man’s but revealed in Jesus Christ and the Eucharist. Next is the “virginal fruitfulness” of the single human being’s love for God and for all God’s creatures. Marital-sexual love is only a subset of this, he explained.

Citing Pope John Paul II, Schindler wrote that the body is “made for God” and it is only because of that orientation that man has a “capacity” for another human being.

“One must always be clear that the theology of the body is not synonymous with a theology of sexuality,” he said in his essay.

He then repeated an earlier charge that West’s approach is one-sidedly male and does not consider women’s “naturally more profound sense of mystery” as in the example of the Virgin Mary.

“None of those involved in this discussion, myself emphatically included, question the depth of West’s faithful love for the Church and indeed for humanity,” he said. However, he advised that “patient reflection” on West’s work is necessary.

Schindler also offered Christopher West space to print his reflections in Communio, the prestigious international theological journal which he edits.

To read Dr. Schindler's full response visit:

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Spanish feminists want girls to be able to have abortions without parental consent

Madrid, Spain, Jun 5, 2009 (CNA) - The State Coordinator of Feminist Organizations in Spain said this week that since 13-year-old girls can legally engage in sexual relations in Spain, “then they should also have the right to decide about the consequences of those relations,” without input from their parents.

The State Coordinator of Feminist Organizations sent 12,145 signatures to the Spanish Congress this week opposing the proposed reform of abortion laws, arguing that abortion on demand up to the fourteenth week is “clearly insufficient” and that the proposed reform does not guarantee legal protection for women and health care professionals who perform abortions.

Yolanda Iglesias, the spokesperson for the office, said one of the organization’s complaints is that the law should be broader. “We want the government’s reform not to be so restrictive, so that it truly can be one of the most advanced norms in Europe, as Socialist lawmakers assert it is,” she said.

The feminist groups also oppose requiring doctor’s approval for abortions between the fourteenth and twenty-second week of pregnancy, claiming the requirement leaves “the decision about health and maternity in the hands of others.” “For this reason we are sure that many pregnant women will travel to more permissive countries or will seek out clandestine abortions,” they said.

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Uruguayan bishop challenges priests to embrace their identity

Montevideo, Uruguay, Jun 5, 2009 (CNA) - Bishop Orlando Romero Cabrera of Canelones, Uruguay has called on priests to take up the challenge of their “priestly identity” by living a “priestly spirituality that is humane and that transforms us.”

On the occasion of the Year of Priests decreed by Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop Romero sent a letter to the priests of his diocese in which he reminded them, “We are experiencing in the Church right now a time of strong calling to spirituality and conversion to a more evangelical way of life.  Listening to the Word of God in the Christian community and in one’s personal life is the way in which the Spirit of God is manifest,” he said.

For this reason, Bishop Romero said there is an urgent need for “a personalized spirituality in the experiential encounter with the Lord, in the contemplation of the Word of God made flesh, assumed progressively through the methodology of Lectio divina.”

We need “a spirituality that is rooted in our human condition and that brings healing and sanctification, a priestly spirituality that makes us more humane and that transforms us,” the bishop said.

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