Guatemala City, Guatemala, Jun 23, 2009 (CNA) - A recent report from a Catholic charity indicates that the Catholic Church in Guatemala is being seriously threatened by the growth of Evangelical sects that try to win converts with offers of money and other goods.
Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a Catholic Charity that works with oppressed and suffering Christians throughout the world, found that half of the people of Guatemala are now Evangelical, and new churches are appearing rapidly.
ACN issued the report after a 17-day trip that included 10 of the country’s 14 dioceses. The report describes how the new Evangelical churches far outnumber Catholic churches.
One example reported by a recent fact-finding trip was a 30-mile-drive through the northern part of the country, which yielded 10 Evangelical chapels or churches and only four Catholic ones.
According to the report, some radical leaders in the country have been bribing the poor to attend their church services, offering food, medicine and jobs. In addition, some Evangelical leaders are targeting the Catholic Church to recruit new members, attacking important Catholic teachings and exaggerating clergy scandals.
The report suggests that this type of recruiting occurs especially in poor areas after natural disasters or during other times in which the people are most affected by poverty and economic need. “It seems that what attracts people to sects is not so much a matter of faith but a matter of economics. It is the promise of getting rich quick,” says the document.
Now, concerns are growing that the Catholic Church in Guatemala may disappear into obscurity, unless efforts are made to prevent the massive numbers of converts to other Christian denominations.
ACN Latin America projects coordinator Xavier Legorreta said that although Guatemala has had strong Evangelical communities for years, the rate of their growth is surprising. “We were shocked by the sheer number of new Evangelical churches that we saw during the trip – they seemed to have mushroomed all over the place,” he said.
The ACN report goes on to talk about the major publicity campaigns being run by the Evangelicals, noting that the sects often receive strong financial backing from wealthy organizations in the United States. With posters and signs across the region, Legorreta believes the Evangelical leaders are getting their message through to the people.
“Everywhere, Evangelical Christianity is being promoted – on television, radio, billboards – even on the front of pharmacies in the main streets,” he said.
In response to the discoveries outlined by the report, ACN is working with the Guatemalan bishops on a plan to print and distribute more Catholic Bibles throughout the country. Legorreta reports that the local bishops are aware of the problem in their country and say they are “ready and waiting to help.”
Recognizing the importance of teaching the Catholic faith clearly, he added, “Bible formation is absolutely key to this – not only in Guatemala but all over the continent.”
Indianapolis, Ind., Jun 23, 2009 (CNA) - In a close election, members of the National Organization for Women (NOW) voted last weekend to elect Terry O’Neill as their new president, despite concerns that younger leadership may be necessary for the organization’s survival.
O’Neill, 56, is an attorney who served as NOW’s vice president for membership from 2001 to 2005. In her campaign, she said she would focus on grassroots organizing and membership recruitment as the pro-abortion group struggles to add new members.
“The press releases, the media exposure, invitations to the White House -- these are excellent things, but they're not enough,” she said. “It's going to take well-organized, grassroots movement to advance our agenda.”
O’Neill, who will take office on July 21, describes herself as “honored and eager” to take over leadership of the organization. However, statements from her opponent’s campaign reveal concerns about the age and relevance of NOW as a force in the modern world.
Running against O’Neill was Latifa Lyles, former Vice President of NOW who also has a background in grassroots organizing. Support for the two candidates was narrowly divided.
Both women supported a “feminist” agenda that includes increasing access to abortion and birth control, however Lyles claimed she could also offer the organization a much-needed image makeover that would encourage participation from a broader range of women.
As a 33-year-old African American, Lyles ran a campaign emphasizing youth and diversity. Supporters hoped she would be able to draw in younger members and revitalize the movement, whose current membership is mostly white and over age 40.
“The profile of NOW is just as important as the work we do,” Lyles said. “There are a lot of antiquated notions about what feminism is.”
Lyles was seen as a figure who could modernize NOW. Her campaign website spoke of working with “new technology” and trying to “reenergize feminist activists.” Among important goals, she listed an increase in membership, including “the recruitment of young women and women of color, both as members and leaders.”
New York Times bestselling author and feminist Nancy Redd also endorsed Lyles as the best option to “renew faith” in NOW. In her endorsement, Redd acknowledged that membership growth had “stagnated” and that thousands of similarly-minded activists “dismiss involvement with NOW, not seeing our organization as ‘for them.’”
With Lyles’ defeat last weekend, pro-abortion feminists are pinning their hopes on O’Neill.
Washington D.C., Jun 23, 2009 (CNA) - Last week, it was made public that President Obama will disband the President’s Council on Bioethics, and create a new bioethics commission, whose members he will appoint. The decision has drawn criticism from those who believe it is simply an attempt to replace current Council members with more liberal ones.
Since 1974, presidential bioethics commissions have worked to help develop guidance on issues such as genetic engineering and human cloning. The current Council on Bioethics was appointed by President George W. Bush in November 2001, as the debates surrounding human stem cell research grew. Bush’s Council was initially led by Leon Kass of the University of Chicago and, since 2005, by Edmund Pellegrino of Georgetown University.
But according to Reid Cherlin, a White House press officer, the Council under Bush was “a philosophically leaning advisory group” that favored debate over developing a shared consensus. The new bioethics commission will have a new mandate that “offers practical policy options,” Cherlin told the New York Times.
But Robert George, a professor of the Philosophy of Law and one of the current Council members, is not convinced by Obama’s talk of a more practical Council.
“I don’t think Obama has any intention of appointing a commission that is more practical,” George said. “He intends to appoint a commission that is more uniformly liberal than philosophically diverse.”
George explained the Council of Bioethics under Bush was the most philosophically and politically diverse council ever created by a president. Of 18 members, half did not share the Bush’s convictions, and six were not even his political supporters, George told CNA.
“Bush was falsely accused of stacking the Council with religious conservatives, but really, he did not stack it at all,” George said. “It was incredibly diverse and that allowed the best possible contributions to be made.”
Now, George believes that Obama is doing what Bush was falsely accused of doing. “I believe his Council will have no substantial dissenting voice. There will be few, if any, members who do not support the president politically.”
Asked about the Obama administration’s claim that the Council under Bush spent more time debating than developing a shared consensus, George responded that debate is a key step in reaching an agreement, and that the only way to avoid substantial debate would be to have a Council filled with members that already agree on the issues from the beginning, one in which “no dissenting voices are allowed to be heard.”
Prof. George speculated that Obama will proceed to appoint a liberal Council, confirming his real motives. “They’re not interested in a Council that reaches its own conclusions, just one that supports Obama,” he asserted.
“I think the new Council will likely function as a rubber stamp to support Obama’s agenda."
Rockville Centre, N.Y., Jun 23, 2009 (CNA) - The about-face on homosexual “marriage” accomplished by Thomas Suozzi, a Catholic who serves as the executive of Nassau County, New York, has drawn a strong rebuke from Bishop William Murphy. In his statement, the bishop spoke of the real meaning and a purpose of marriage “that homosexual relationships cannot fulfill.”
Bishop William Murphy's response came in reaction to Suozzi’s announcement in The New York Times that he “now supports gay marriage.” The Rockville Centre bishop reiterated Church teaching on the subject and called on all Catholics to adhere to this teaching.
“The logic of Mr. Suozzi’s argument is difficult to discern,” Bishop Murphy said.
“It seems that he has become convinced that because he has met homosexual persons who have suffered discrimination, they now have a 'right' to insist that the state re-define their private sexual relationships and give such the term of marriage.”
Bishop Murphy then addressed the issues of “employment benefits, life and health insurance and inheritance laws,” observing that “none of these require that homosexual relationships between consenting adults need to receive the state’s blessing declaring them marriage.”
Noting Suozzi’s claim that civil unions are not sufficient because they do not provide “equality” for gay couples, Murphy explained that marriage has “a meaning and a purpose that homosexual relationships cannot fulfill.”
“Whatever may be the intensity of a relationship between two persons,” Bishop Murphy reminded, “it cannot become what it is not.”
“Some may find all kinds of positive qualities to such relationships but it cannot be re-defined into marriage. To use an absurd example, no matter how much a man might like so to do, he cannot give birth to a child and if he is blessed to be the father of his child, he cannot claim he is really the mother.”
This meaning and purpose demand “that the sexual construct of human beings be respected.”
“The sexual reality of male and female is such that they are related to each other and to each other only in a complementarity that alone can naturally create new human life,” the bishop stated. Thus, marriage is not a right that can be claimed by a homosexual couple.
Bishop Murphy went on to say that civil society can regulate marriage because it is “the most basic social unit” and therefore a key component “in ensuring a healthy society as a whole.”
“Other private sexual relationships are immaterial to the state because they have no impact on the common good which the state exists to foster and protect,” he said.
Bishop Murphy concluded by saying that Church teaching on homosexuality is very clear. “While homosexual orientation is a neutral reality on a moral level, homosexual acts are not morally neutral. They are wrong and they are sinful,” he stated.
Calling on Suozzi and all Catholics to remain faithful to Church teaching, the New York prelate emphasized that such teachings are “non-negotiable,” and that only true adherence to the Lord will bring real “freedom, justice, joy and peace.”
Vatican City, Jun 23, 2009 (CNA) - Right now the Church is in a period of liturgical overlap, with the Year for Priests having begun last Friday and the Year of St. Paul set to conclude on June 28. The Pope's Office of Liturgical Celebrations announced today that the Holy Father will close the Pauline Year with Vespers next Sunday.
The period of dual celebration is due to Pope Benedict XVI's desire to adhere to the liturgical feasts connected with the two saints associated with the two Years—St. Paul and St. Jean Vianney. The year dedicated to St. Paul is scheduled to conclude on the vigil of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, while the Year for Priests was opened on the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Vianney.
The Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff announced on Tuesday that the Year of St. Paul will officially close at 6 p.m. on Sunday, June 28, in the Roman basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls with the celebration of Vespers.
The Office also gave notice that Pope Benedict will preside over a Eucharistic celebration on Monday, June 29, with the new metropolitan archbishops he has named in recent months. The Holy Father will bestow palliums—a circular band about two inches wide and made from the wool of two blessed lambs—on the new archbishops. The pallium signifies the duty of shepherding the universal Church that the archbishops are entrusted with alongside the Pope.
Rome, Italy, Jun 23, 2009 (CNA) - The Pope’s Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, has deplored the decision of the Provincial Council of the Italian capital for installing condom machines in the city’s schools, calling it an attack on the sexuality and emotional wellbeing of young people.
This decision, the cardinal said in a statement published by L’Osservatore Romano, “has no consensus among the ecclesial community of Rome or in Christian families who are seriously concerned about the education of their children.”
It is surprising, he added, “that an initiative of this type conceived for schools, which by their nature are intended to promote the comprehensive formation of the person, could be considered as something good, in the name of so-called information and prevention.”
“Reading thus the sense of many parents,” the cardinal continued, “we deplore that this initiative is defined as a courageous action. We think that the only value this has is to banalize yet again the issues of affectivity, sexuality and the education of youth, at a time in which a so-called ‘crisis in education’ is at the center of attention.”
Cardinal Vallini recalled later that last January, the Pope invited those involved in education in Italy “to devote themselves seriously to young people, to not leave them to their fate, that they are of great concern to the Cardinal Vicar, to the other pastors and to the entire ecclesial community of Rome.”
“Therefore we need to reaffirm that it is best to teach people, especially young people, that sexuality must be used as a gift of God’s love and that their bodies must be valued,” the cardinal stressed.
“We continue to be convinced that schools and other educational institutions must strive to enlighten young people and alert them of the paths that only lead to the devaluing of life,” he said.
Santiago, Chile, Jun 23, 2009 (CNA) - The National Comptroller’s Office of Chile, which oversees a wide range of government activities, issued a decree on June 16 prohibiting the distribution of the morning-after pill by all municipalities and by any private or public organization.
The decree states that municipalities are legally forbidden from implementing any policies or programs that imply the use or distribution under any title of the morning-after pill. It also ordered all public health care facilities to refrain from making the drug available through their services.
Attorney Carmen Dominguez, director of the Family Center at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, said the organization sent a petition last October to the Comptroller’s Office requesting a ruling on whether municipalities could distribute the pill, even though the Supreme Court previously prohibited its sale in similar circumstances.
Dominguez explained that the decision by the Comptroller directly confronts the actions of the government, which had used local municipalities to distribute the pill in order to get around the ruling by the Supreme Court.
The president of the Chilean Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Alejandro Goic, underscored the Church’s position in support of human life, even in difficult situations. “We must save lives, because the child who has been conceived through rape is not an aggressor. The aggressor is the one who abused that woman,” he said.
Speaking on Radio Cooperativa, the bishop stated, “I would tell women and candidates to look for the causes that produce these situations and not to focus only on the effects. I feel they are attacking the effects but not the causes of the problems,” he said.
Rome, Italy, Jun 23, 2009 (CNA) - During a press conference at the conclusion of their 187th General Chapter, the Order of Friars Minor O.F.M. announced that the current Minister General, Father Jose Rodriguez Carballo, has been elected to a second term.
It was also announced that Father Michael Anthony Perry has been elected as Vicar General.
During the press conference, Fr. Rodriguez explained that by 2015 the Friars Minor will establish a presence in some areas of the former Soviet Union, Laos, Cambodia, Senegal, Cameroon and Ghana.
He also said that next week an open letter would be sent to the Secretary General of the U.N. regarding the conflict taking place in Sri Lanka and asking for intervention to help civilians.
At the conclusion of the conference, the Minister General gave to all present a copy of a DVD commemorating the 800th anniversary of the Franciscan order, which recounts the missionary, pastoral and charitable works carried out by the 15,000 friars present in more than 110 countries.
Madrid, Spain, Jun 23, 2009 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Madrid, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, celebrated Mass this weekend at the Hill of Angels in Getafe, where he renewed the consecration of Spain to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was first done 90 years ago.
The newspaper ABC reported that during his homily before some 20,000 faithful, the cardinal warned that “the way of de-Christianization does not lead to any future of salvation and true happiness for man.” For this reason, he added, “We renew today that most solemn consecration made by our forefathers.” And “we do so praying for all of the families of our country and for all Spaniards, that through the Spirit we may be strengthened in the core of our being, that Christ will by faith live in our hearts, that love will be our source and our foundation.
Cardinal Rouco later recalled that 90 years ago, on the same Hill of the Angles, “Spain was consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus before a statue that had been raised through the Christian piety of the Spanish people.” The act was an expression of the “ardent and incessant prayer that the Sacred Heart of Jesus would reign in Spain through the grace of his infinitely merciful love” and was the result of a “profound and historic awakening of deep spiritual significance for the present and future of Spain.”
The cardinal also underscored that although the times have changed since that first consecration by King Alfonso XIII, today Spain is in need of “reconciliation, solidarity, justice, harmony and peace.”
In his homily, Cardinal Rouco touched on to the Year of Priests and underscored that priests “are essential instruments of grace and of the saving love of Christ.” For this reason, he said, “the renewed consecration of Spain to the Sacred Heart will not bring forth abundant fruit of life and of witness of Christian love without holy priests.”
“Spain, the Spain of today, needs many holy priests according to the heart of Christ!” he exclaimed.
San Antonio, Texas, Jun 23, 2009 (CNA) - The latest gathering of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) expressed “appreciation and support” for Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend John D’Arcy, a central figure in the controversy over the University of Notre Dame’s commencement invitation to President Barack Obama.
“We affirm his pastoral concern for Notre Dame University, his solicitude for its Catholic identity, and his loving care for all those the Lord has given him to sanctify, to teach and to shepherd,” the bishops said at the USCCB’s spring General Assembly in San Antonio.
Bishop D’Arcy had boycotted the school’s official commencement activities, citing among other concerns President Obama’s “long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred.” The bishop instead spoke at a campus pro-life rally.
He had also lamented Notre Dame President Fr. John I. Jenkins’ failure to inform him and consult with him about the invitation to the U.S. president.
CNA contacted the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for a reaction to the bishops' support but did not receive a reply.
Mexico City, Mexico, Jun 23, 2009 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, said in his homily on Sunday that the internal divisions in the Church need to be overcome through unity with Peter's Successor, “to whom the Lord has entrusted the helm of the Church.”
The cardinal explained that the internal difficulties that the Catholic Church is suffering, such as “schisms, heresies, desertions and distortions, which are never lacking,” harm the Body of Christ, but this should not discourage the faithful, as the Lord is always present to comfort and encourage.
Cardinal Rivera also pointed out that if the Church continues navigating through the sea of history, “it is not because of our own merits or the fruit of our capacities and strategies. We would have sunk her long ago with our negligence and evil, but the ship has someone at the helm whom the sea, the winds and the storms obey. The sails of the ship are blown by the wind of the Spirit,” he said.
Referring to the storms that are “in our hearts, not in the Church,” Cardinal Rivera stressed that “temptations, mistrust, rebellion, seem to bury us. It is time to awaken the faith that is in us, it is time to turn to Jesus who seems to be asleep, but who is close to us and hears us,” he added, in a reference to Sunday's Gospel reading.
“He is awaiting our cry. He is awaiting our trusting prayer, in order to calm our storms, to give us peace, so that we might continue this crossing until we reach the other side,” the cardinal said.
St. Paul, Minn., Jun 23, 2009 (CNA) - U.S. Army chaplain Fr. Tim Vakoc, who was severely injured five years ago by a roadside bomb in Iraq while returning from saying Mass with troops in Mosul, died on Sunday at the age of 49.
The attack destroyed his eye and caused severe brain damage, according to his CaringBridge website. He was hospitalized for four months at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and in October 2004 was transferred in a near coma state to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis.
After many surgeries and infections, he gradually began to recognize friends and family again. He also began to communicate through squeezing his hand or slightly smiling. In the fall of 2006 he spoke for the first time since his injury.
A native of Robbinsdale, Minnesota, Fr. Vakoc served as a parish priest before becoming an Army chaplain in 1996. He also served in Germany and Bosnia, eventually attaining the rank of Major.
Before his injury, in a letter to his sister Fr. Vakoc said “The safest place for me to be is in the center of God’s will, and if that is in the line of fire, that is where I will be.”
One of the chaplain’s superior officers, Lt. Col. Dennis Thompson of the 296th Brigade Support Battalion stationed in Mosul, told the National Catholic Register that the priest’s death in the line of service showed that he “never let the dangers of our battlefield prevent him from serving.”
He reported that Fr. Vakoc’s attempts to provide Mass to all the soldiers in the Stryker Brigade were difficult as its soldiers were spread across an area “the size of Connecticut” and in hostile territory. “None of this prevented Father Tim from being there for the soldier,” Lt. Col. Thompson told the National Catholic Register.
Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis John Nienstedt addressed Fr. Vakoc’s death in a statement, saying: “A man of peace, he chose to endure the horror of war in order to bring the peace of Christ to America’s fighting men and women.”
According to an announcement on CaringBridge.org, Fr. Vakoc’s funeral Mass will be celebrated on June 26 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota.