Phoenix, Ariz., Aug 5, 2009 (CNA) - A capacity crowd is expected to attend a celebration commemorating the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego. The Guadalupe Festival, organized by the Knights of Columbus, will take place in Phoenix, and will include presentations, music and prayer.
The festival, which begins at 2 p.m. and will wrap up by 8:30 p.m., is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, the Diocese of Phoenix, the Archdiocese of Mexico, and the Instituto Superior de Estudios Guadalupanos.
Scheduled to make appearances are: Bella actor Eduardo Verástegui, singers Alexander Acha and Filippa Giordano, author Immaculee Ilbagiza, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, Phoenix Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead,and the postulator for the Cause of the Canonization of St. Juan Diego, Msgr. Eduardo Chavez.
The festival will take place after a two-day Congress on Our Lady of Guadalupe, which will be held in the Jobing.com Arena in Phoenix.
The event is free and open to the public. For details visit: www.guadalupefestival.org
Nairobi, Kenya, Aug 5, 2009 (CNA) - The head prison chaplain in Kenya has applauded President Mwai Kibaki’s decision to commute the death sentences of some 4,000 prisoners, punishing them with life imprisonment instead of death by hanging.
Murder, illegal possession of dangerous weapons, robbery with violence and treason are capital offenses in Kenya. While convicts are still sentenced to death by the courts, no one has been hanged in the country for 22 years, the Catholic Information Service for Africa (CISA) reports.
In his Monday announcement of the sentence commutations, President Kibaki said that the decision does not suggest the abolition of the death penalty.
Fr. Peter Kimani, head of the Catholic Prisons Chaplaincy, said he welcomed the move “because there are many inmates who are innocent who could have suffered death.”
He told CISA that the death sentence is not a solution to crime and said the penalty should be abolished because there is no one who could not reform their life.
The Kenyan president justified his decision by saying a prisoner’s extended stay on death row causes undue mental anguish and suffering, psychological trauma and anxiety. It may also constitute inhuman treatment.
As the law does not allow death row prisoners to be gainfully utilized by prison authorities, he added, the practice leads to idleness and has a negative impact on prison discipline.
President Kibaki directed all relevant government ministries and departments to study whether the continued existence of the death penalty has any value or impact in the fight against crime.
Chesapeake, Va., Aug 5, 2009 (CNA) - Following complaints from a Wisconsin-based atheist group against a Virginia city that opens public meetings with prayer, the Alliance Defense Fund and the Family Foundation of Virginia have offered to provide pro bono legal assistance if the city adopts a prayer policy that is challenged in court.
The 14,000-member Freedom From Religion Foundation had sent letters of complaint to the city of Chesapeake, Virginia because of what the group called its “illegal practice” of routine opening prayers at its public meetings.
ADF Senior Legal Council Mike Johnson, speaking in a press release announcing the pro bono aid, defended prayer in public meetings.
“America’s founders opened public meetings with prayer. Public officials today should be able to do the same,” Johnson said. “Those who oppose invocations are essentially arguing that the Founders were violating the Constitution as they were writing it. The Constitution allows public officials today to do the same thing America’s Founders did.”
“Public prayer has been an essential part of our heritage since the time of this nation’s founding, and our Constitution has always protected the activity. Moreover, such prayer can include sectarian references without running afoul of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.”
Johnson also characterized the atheist group’s complaints as “threats.”
Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation of Virginia, charged that the Freedom From Religion Foundation had based its complaint on “flawed legal analysis and misrepresented court cases.”
The August 4 letter from the ADF to the city of Chesapeake says that the legality of public invocations is “beyond dispute,” listing several legal precedents. In one example it quotes Chief Justice Warren Burger’s opinion in the 1983 decision Marsh v. Chambers.
There, the chief justice said that opening legislative sessions and other public sessions with prayer is “deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country.”
“From colonial times through the founding of the Republic and ever since, the practice of legislative prayer has coexisted with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom,” Burger said.
Edinburgh, United Kingdom, Aug 5, 2009 (CNA) - A leading Scottish psychologist has claimed that condom use is associated with poorer mental health, problems with stress and depression, saying his research shows the natural conjugal act can significantly boost the mental wellbeing of men and women.
Prof. Stuart Brody of the West of Scotland University in Paisley will publish his conclusion in the academic journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. According to The Scotsman, Prof. Brody studied the sexual behavior of 99 women and 111 men in Portugal. Participants in the study filled in questionnaires about the pleasure they derived from their sex lives and contraception use.
The professor, using a measure of psychological health developed in Canada, concluded that condom use was associated with members of the study who exhibited problems dealing with stress.
"The more often people are using condoms independent of age, independent of the nature of their relationship, the greater use of immature defense mechanisms against stress,” Prof. Brody said, according to The Scotsman.
"In contrast, the more often they have sex without condoms, the better their mental health and the more mature their mechanisms.”
Groups dedicated to “family planning” and “safe sex” promotion attacked the researcher’s conclusions.
Tony Kerridge of Marie Stopes International said anyone’s mental health would be affected if he or she discovered they had a sexually transmitted disease or had an “unwanted” pregnancy.
“Particularly in the case of casual relationships where there is no desire to get pregnant, advice should always be that condoms should be used,” he said, claiming that condom use is a “no-brainer” and warning of “rapidly increasing rates of HIV” among heterosexual couples in Europe.
Prof. Brody said he believes that mankind is biologically programmed to enjoy unprotected sex because it bestows an evolutionary advantage and maximizes the chances of a couple reproducing.
“Evolution is not politically correct, so of the very broad range of potential sexual behavior, there is actually only one that is consistently associated with better physical and mental health and that is the one sexual behavior that would be favored by evolution. That is not accidental,” he commented.
Catholic moral theology condemns the use of condoms and other contraceptives, deeming as intrinsic evils those acts which intentionally make procreation impossible.
Phoenix, Ariz., Aug 5, 2009 (CNA) - At Tuesday’s opening session of the Knights of Columbus' annual convention, the Supreme Knight, Carl Anderson, presented his 2009 report on the organization, summarizing its service to the Church.
Anderson began by recalled that the Knights have a history of standing behind the authority of the Church. “Indeed, our very identity as the world’s largest lay Catholic organization is built upon our determination to stand with Peter and his successors, and our zeal for serving as their ‘strong right arm’.”
He explained that serving in solidarity with priests and bishops is “an integral part” of their “loyalty to Peter” and then went on to highlight the many ways the Knights have served the Church.
Anderson began with vocations. He noted that in the past year, “4,758 men and 148 women received financial support through the Knight’s RSVP vocations program.” According to the Knight’s website, seminarians or postulants are “adopted” through the Refund Support Vocations Program (RSVP), which provides “them with financial assistance and moral support.”
Since RSVP began in 1981, said Anderson, “Knights of Columbus councils have used it to provide more than $44 million to over 70,000 seminarians, postulants and novices.”
However, he was careful to emphasize, the Knights don’t just offer financial support, but they “extend moral support and personal friendship, and encourage vocations within our own homes.”
“Many priests and women religious have come from Knights’ families down through the years, and we make clear to our own children that we welcome and encourage them to consider carefully whether they might have a vocation, too.”
Anderson also spoke about the Knight’s commitment to charity. “Despite the severe recession of the past year, the dedication of the Knights of Columbus to charity shone brighter than ever,” he said.
“While total charitable giving in the United States fell by 2% last year, our total charitable contributions went up by 3.5%.”
Additionally, the Knights “donated 68,783,653 hours of volunteer service, a jump of almost 88,000 hours over last year, and a new record.” Anderson explained that these hours were completed with other charities including Habitat for Humanity, the Special Olympics, as well as part of the Knights sponsorship of programs such as the American Wheelchair Mission, and Coats for Kids.
The membership rolls of the Knights also grew for the 38th straight year. “A net gain of 22,211 members brought our membership to a new all-time record high of 1,785,393.”
Anderson, however, didn’t get too excited about the numbers. “While there is plenty of good news to celebrate on the membership front, we must not lose site of the huge unrealized potential in the countries where we are active. In the United States, for example, we have more than 1,287,000 members, but there are as many as 30 million eligible Catholic men who are not yet Knights.” The story is similar for Canada who has 231,000 members while 5 million Catholic men are eligible.
Anderson then turned to the Knights’ political activities. In the past year, he explained, the Order worked to pass state amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Additionally, they worked with bishops to oppose an assisted suicide measure as well as one that supported embryonic stem cell research.
The Knights have also spent time educating the faithful about the dignity and value of human life.
Pointing to recent surveys that suggest more Americans describe themselves as pro-life than pro-choice, Anderson encouraged the Knights saying, “In short, our long-term strategy of working to change hearts and minds on abortion is working.”
Hoping to increase the number of pro-lifers in North America, Anderson noted the new Culture of Life Fund “will allow us to weigh in whenever opportunities present themselves, and this will be a tremendous advantage.”
The fund has already helped the Knights provide resources to: Sisters of Life, Birthright International, Project Rachel, the National Life Center and the National Catholic Bioethics Center as well as projects closely associated with the bishops of the United States and Canada.
Anderson brought his presentation to a close saying reflecting on a meeting that the K of C Board of Directors had with Pope Benedict. The Holy Father urged them to “defend the moral truths necessary for a free and humane society, including the fundamental right to life of every human being.”
“This is why we stand for the right to life. This is why we stand for ethical business practices. This is why we stand for helping the intellectually disabled. This is why we stand for helping our neighbor in need,” he concluded.
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Aug 5, 2009 (CNA) - In his first general audience at Castel Gandolfo this summer, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the example of St. Jean Marie Vianney, who provides priests with an example of how to minister in a culture under the influence of moral relativism.
The Holy Father began by noting that yesterday the Church celebrated the 150th anniversary of his “birth into Heaven.”
He then spoke about the childhood of the Curé d’Ars, his illiteracy as a child and his struggles with his seminary studies.
Nevertheless, Pope Benedict continued, “in his pastoral service, as simple as it was extraordinarily fruitful, this anonymous priest in a remote village in southern France was able to become one with his ministry, to become, even in a visible and universally recognizable way, alter Christus, the image of the Good Shepherd, who, unlike the mercenary, gives his life for his sheep.”
He recalled that the Curé d’Ars was able to help his “parishioners rediscover the meaning and the beauty of sacramental penance, showing it to be an intimate requirement of the Eucharistic Presence.”
“In fact,” the Pope said, “what made the Cure d'Ars holy was his humble fidelity to the mission to which God had called him, his abandonment was constant, full of confidence, in the hands of divine Providence.”
He “managed to touch the hearts of the people not by virtue of his human skills, nor by relying solely on an, albeit laudable, effort of the will. He conquered souls…by communicating to them what he intimately lived, that is his friendship with Christ.”
Pope Benedict also reflected on the early adulthood of Jean Vianney who, in a post-revolutionary France that was experiencing a kind of “dictatorship of rationalism” bent on erasing the very presence of priests and the Church in society, heroically traveled kilometers at night to attend Mass.
“Then, as a priest,” Benedict recalled, “he stood out for his unique and fruitful pastoral creativity in showing that the rationalism that prevailed at the time was far from meeting real needs and moreover, ultimately not worth living.”
“If then there was a ‘dictatorship of rationalism,” he added, “at present there is in many environments a kind of ‘dictatorship of relativism. Both responses are inadequate to man’s just demand to fully use his own reason as a distinctive and constitutive element of his identity. Rationalism was inadequate because it did not take account of human limitations and wanted to elevate reason alone as the sole measure of all things, transforming it into a god.
“Contemporary relativism mortifies reason because it arrives at the point of insisting that human beings know nothing with certainty beyond the field of positive science,” the Pope taught.
In the midst of today's moral relativism, Benedict insisted that priests “must create an intimate personal union with Christ, to be nurtured day by day, only then will he touch the hearts of the people and open them to the merciful Lord.”
“Let us pray,” the Holy Father concluded, “so that through the intercession of St. Jean Marie Vianney God makes a gift to his Church of holy priests and so believers may grow in their desire to support and assist the priestly ministry. We entrust this intention to Mary, whom today we invoke as Our Lady of the Snows.”
Youngstown, Ohio, Aug 5, 2009 (CNA) -
Bishop of Youngstown, Ohio George Murry, SJ, has voiced his opposition to a bill sponsored by Ohio U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan which claims to reduce the need for abortions. Bishop Murray said the proposed bill mistakenly promotes contraception and is inferior to other proposals which would help pregnant women.
Rep. Ryan, who is a Democrat and a Catholic, joined Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) in co-sponsoring the Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act (H.R. 3312). Bishop Murray is Rep. Ryan’s bishop.
Ryan’s proposed bill reportedly calls for grants for "comprehensive sexuality education" and substantially increases funding for the Title X Family Planning Program. It also provides some funding for after-school programs and efforts to support pregnant students.
In a statement issued on Tuesday by the Diocese of Youngstown, Bishop Murray said the bill is “based on the mistaken belief that greater access to contraception reduces abortions.”
“Numerous studies as well as life experiences have shown that taxpayer support of contraception does not reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions,” he continued. “For example, a 2006 study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute presents evidence that those states which are aggressive in promoting contraception also have the highest abortion rates.”
The bishop also warned that some contraceptives may have an abortifacient effect.
Bishop Murry encouraged support for the Pregnant Women Support Act (S. 1032, H.R. 2035), calling it a “common sense approach” to help women “choose life for their babies.” The proposed bill makes adoption tax credits permanent, provides grants for ultrasound equipment, increases funding for domestic violence prevention programs, and ends health insurance companies’ discriminatory practices against women.
Catholic teaching considers contraceptive use to be a sin because it separates the possibility procreation from the marital act and thereby removes the complete gift of oneself from sexual intercourse.
Susan Wills, Assistant Director for Education and Outreach in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, has also criticized Rep. Ryan’s bill, characterizing it as a “Planned Parenthood Economic Stimulus Package.”
In the past, Rep. Ryan presented himself as a pro-life Democrat and served on the national advisory board for Democrats for Life of America (DFLA). However, he was removed from the board in 2008 because, in DFLA President Kristin Day’s words, he had “turned his back” on the pro-life community “at every turn.”
He now has a 100% rating from the pro-abortion group NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Lima, Peru, Aug 5, 2009 (CNA) - The Peruvian affiliate of Catholics for a Free Choice will begin operations in the country with a conference by an ex-Dominican friar from Mexico, Julian Cruzalta, who left the order five years ago and has made a career out of giving speeches about “the urgency” of changing Catholic teachings on abortion.
Although he presents himself as “Friar Julian Cruzalta, O.P.,” the self-proclaimed expert on moral theology was discredited by the Dominicans for using the order for his own purposes.
In May of 2008, Cruzalta attended hearings at the Supreme Court of Mexico and testified in support of the legalization of abortion in the Mexican capital, presenting himself as a friar even though he had left the Dominican Order. The Archdiocese of Mexico City’s news service issued a statement at the time by the provincial superior of the Dominicans, Friar Gonzalo Ituarte Verduzco, who said Cruzalta “is not a priest but was a deacon, that is, he had faculties to assist in certain priestly functions.”
Friar Ituarte said, “Julian Cruzalta had asked the Superior permission to leave the order for a year, but he never returned and we have not heard from him for more than four years. Therefore, his is living outside the order without the authorization of the Dominican provincial father or of Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, Archbishop of Mexico City.”
Cruzalta has traveled across Mexico with pro-abortion, feminist and homosexual groups and for years has worked as an advisor to Catholics for a Free Choice, which continues to portray him as a priest, making him one of their most active spokesmen. He recently told Mexican reporters he rejected the reforms approved by 14 Mexican states protecting their constitutions from the legalization of abortion.
He also leads the controversial Magdala Ecumenical Community, which participates in campaigns that support homosexual practices.
Vatican City, Aug 5, 2009 (CNA) - With more than three million visits since its inception, the Vatican City State website, vaticanstate.va, recently celebrated its second anniversary on July 19.
The site, which allows users to get a more up-close look at Vatican City, is visited by an average of 1,800 users per day, totaling some three million since it was launched.
The site’s webmaster, Eugenio Hasler, said the initiative “was created in 2005, with the intention of building a database to introduce the State, its organization, activities and services.” Later it became an actual website in 2007, now available in five languages: Italian, French, Spanish, English and German. In each language, the site is divided into five sections: State and government, services, other institutions, monuments and an online store.
The most popular pages are those featuring webcams looking out over certain areas in the Vatican, such as the tomb of John Paul II, the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, the view of St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican Gardens and Castel Gandolfo, where Pope Benedict is currently staying.
Caracas, Venezuela, Aug 5, 2009 (CNA) - The vice president of the Bishops’ Conference of Venezuela, Archbishop Baltazar Porras, warned this week that with the closing of 24 radio stations, President Hugo Chavez is “closing the democratic channels of the country,” but that even this could not cover up what is really happening in Venezuela.
Speaking on Union Radio, the archbishop said the latest events must be seen “from a much wider perspective, because this is the closing of the democratic channels of the country.”
He said the purpose of the Chavez’s strategy is to “turn the country into a society that has only one ruler, one entity who has all the rights and all the obligations and gives the leftovers to the citizens.”
The Venezuelan president, he said, wants to turn the country “into an army” that follows orders.
Archbishop Porras also expressed his concern for the employees of the stations that are being shut down. He encouraged Venezuelans not to lose hope and to defend and fight “for the values and virtues that have allowed us to live together in peace and to progress.”
“Let us not give in to the temptation to violence, to discouragement, to throw in the towel, but rather let us look at things with greater serenity,” he said.
Phoenix, Ariz., Aug 5, 2009 (CNA) - On the second day of the Knights of Columbus’ annual conference, Cardinal William Joseph Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, delivered a homily in which he spoke of Mary as a model for following God’s will and warned American Catholics that they too “will be pierced by that sword of opposition” if they are faithful to Christ.
Noting that today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, Cardinal Levada began by reflecting on the history of the feast and Mary’s role in the Incarnation.
“We see in the mystery of the Incarnation the most remarkable example of the power of God’s word: the Word himself becomes flesh, the Son of God is born in time.”
The cardinal explained that there are two lessons connected with the Incarnation.
First of all, he explained, “the work of creation and salvation is first, last, and always God’s initiative. Life is God’s gift, not our accomplishment.” Secondly, he continued, though it is God’s work, we also “have a role to play.”
He went on to explain that Mary was not simply God’s instrument “by which the word became flesh, a lifeless patch of land made fruitful by the downpour of God’s word,” but she was a human “with a free will and she cooperated in God’s saving plan. Mary freely and joyfully embraced God’s will, and for this reason she is intimately connected with her Son’s mission.”
“The Mother of Jesus is involved in the whole mystery of the life of Christ, she is we might say a ‘co-conspirator’ in God’s plan of salvation,” he observed.
“The significance of this for us is both very simple and very awe-inspiring,” Levada said, honing in on the meaning for modern Catholics. “Only once in history did God himself literally become Man, so that Mary’s child is uniquely the Son of God. But spiritually God the Son assumes a human nature in each of us.”
The same Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary, he explained, “also sanctifies us, making us more truly the Body of Christ – to the extent that we open ourselves to God’s will in our lives.”
This openness to God’s will and the guidance of the Holy Spirit will inevitably lead to conflicts between secular society and Catholics in America, Cardinal Levada told the Knights.
“Our nation has been blessed with many gifts and resources, and at times that abundance can blind people to our utter dependence on God, and the need to seek to do his will. We Knights of Columbus are dedicated to fostering both faith and patriotism in your members; and you experience the tensions when our religious ideals come into conflict with a society that is becoming increasingly secular.”
“Like Mary, we too will be pierced by that sword of opposition if we are faithful to Christ. That is the cost of discipleship,” Cardinal Levada remarked.
“As American Catholics, we can and we should work with all people of good will, regardless of their religious beliefs, to improve the lot of others.” However, he concluded, “no matter how remarkable its scientific accomplishments or technological advances,” America, “will always be a barren patch of earth without the life-giving refreshment of the word of God.”
Phoenix, Ariz., Aug 5, 2009 (CNA) - While presenting the Knight’s annual report on Tuesday, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson insisted that health care reform measures must not “become a vehicle for taking lives through abortion and euthanasia.”
The Supreme Knight noted that by including an abortion mandate, the government is going against the majority of Americans who favor restrictions on abortion.
“If people were allowed to choose; 86% of the American people would choose to significantly restrict abortion,” Anderson said citing a Knights of Columbus poll. A Gallup poll conducted from May 7 to May 10 reported that 51 percent of Americans now call themselves "pro-life," while only 42 percent call themselves "pro-choice." Self-described pro-lifers had never made up a majority of survey respondents since Gallup started asking the question in 1995.
“A health care system designed to save lives on the one hand must not become a vehicle for taking lives through abortion and euthanasia,” Anderson said.
He also discussed the Knight’s ultrasound initiative, which assists in purchasing ultrasound equipment for pregnancy clinics.
“The Ultrasound Project saves lives. Up to 90% of women considering abortion choose to have their babies after seeing an Ultrasound image. They hear their baby’s heartbeat; they see their baby’s head and fingers. They know that their baby is a child, not a choice,” the Supreme Knight explained.
He continued, “And here’s the best part: you can’t change that decision for life by an executive order. It can’t be reversed by a court decision. Once the baby is born, mother and her baby have won. The Culture of Life has won. All of us have won.”
In the past year, nine ultrasound machines have been donated to clinics in several states, with the goal of putting “at least one ultrasound machine in every jurisdiction in the Order this year.”
For more information, please visit: www.kofc.org.