Lahore, Pakistan, Sep 16, 2009 (CNA) - A Friday outbreak of anti-Christian violence in Pakistan, which included the burning of a church, was reportedly sparked by a Muslim woman who was furious that her daughter had become romantically linked with a Christian man. The mother allegedly tore pages from a Koran and framed the young man for the deed.
Hundreds of Christians in Jethki village in the Sialkot district of Punjab Province fled for their lives as extremists went on rampage.
The extremists were armed with bricks, stones and sticks. They sprinkled kerosene on the church before setting it on fire and desecrating it, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reports.
The mob set fire to two Christian homes next to the church and threatened to kill the village’s inhabitants.
Church leaders claim the violence was sparked by a Muslim mother who was determined to break off the three-year-old relationship between her 18-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old Christian man. Clergy allege that she ripped a page containing verses of the Koran out of a book and was seen throwing it in front of the man’s house.
She then allegedly ran to the local Muslim authorities and accused the man of desecrating the Koran, in violation of Pakistan’s strict Blasphemy Laws.
The laws carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
According to ACN, Muslim authorities apparently orchestrated the violence as an act of revenge. The man accused of desecrating the Koran is now detained in prison while police investigate. He was not named for security reasons.
Father Andrew Nisari, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Lahore in which Sialkot is located, told ACN that people are “very frightened and upset” by the attack.
“Although the church is still standing, it is completely burnt inside – the altar, the statues, the pews, the priest’s chair, Bibles and other religious books. The whole church is now totally unusable,” Fr. Nisari reported.
All the priests of the village told the Christians to run from the village or they would be killed, he reported. The displaced Christians have taken refuge with friends and relatives in nearby towns.
“We are actually glad that the 19-year-old boy is in jail at the moment – at least there he will be safe. It means he won’t be killed by the fanatic Muslims,” Fr. Nisari added.
The priest characterized the Blasphemy Laws as an “invisible sword” used to take revenge.
“This case shows that religion is being misused in our country and that it is very necessary that the Blasphemy Laws be repealed.”
The anti-Christian incident is the fourth within three months. Last month, nine Christians were killed in anti-Christian attacks in Gojra city in Punjab province.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Saturday condemned the attacks and pledged government funds to repair the church. Shahbaz Mhatti, the Pakistan minorities’ minister and the only Christian in the federal cabinet, will visit the region and submit a report to the government.
The Friday violence has prompted more calls from Christian leaders and others in Pakistan for the repeal of the Blasphemy Laws. ACN has also endorsed the laws’ repeal.
“I urge all the Christians in the world to pray for us who are persecuted in Pakistan. We need your prayers right now,” Fr. Nisari appealed.
Washington D.C., Sep 16, 2009 (CNA) - Charging that the traditional definition of marriage is “discriminatory,” U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) has announced that he will reintroduce a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). One critic of the measure is warning that it will lead to discrimation against those who support marriage between a man and a woman.
DOMA defines marriage for federal purposes and protects states that do not recognize same-sex “marriage” from being forced to do so. The Act was passed in 1996 by a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives of 342-67 and in the U.S. Senate by a vote of 85-14.
A September 15 statement from Rep. Nadler’s office characterized the legislation as one of the United States’ “most discriminatory laws,” accusing DOMA of singling out “legally married” same-sex couples for discriminatory treatment and denying them “critical” federal responsibilities and rights such as Social Security.
In its place, Rep. Nadler and 91 co-sponsors have proposed a “Respect for Marriage Act.” Rep. Nadler’s office said the act would repeal DOMA “in its entirety” but would only pertain to the recognition of marriage for the purposes of federal law.
It claims that marriage recognition under state law would continue to be decided by each state. However, it also claims to restore a historical approach of states determining whether to recognize a marriage under the principles of “comity” and “Full Faith and Credit.”
DOMA was passed in part because of concerns the “Full Faith and Credit” clause of the U.S. Constitution would force states to recognize homosexual “marriages” contracted in states which recognize the unions.
“In support of families throughout the nation, our legislation will extend to same-sex, legally married couples the same federal rights and recognition now offered to heterosexual married couples, nothing more, nothing less,” argued Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.
She said the repeal of DOMA was “a necessary step toward full equality for LGBT Americans.”
Rep. Nadler’s office said the legislation had been written with the cooperation of LGBT and civil rights “stakeholders and legislators.” The statement also noted that President Barack Obama has endorsed the repeal of DOMA on the grounds it is discriminatory and interferes with states’ rights.
However, a statement from the National Organization of Women criticized the Obama administration, saying the administration “strongly denounced and defended” DOMA.
“Rep. Nadler is doing what the Obama administration has failed to do: take a hard line on DOMA and say discrimination and bigotry do not belong in the law,” said NOW Executive Vice President Bonnie Grabenhofer.
Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women for America (CWA), criticized the effort to repeal DOMA.
“The citizens of 39 states have worked hard to pass legislation and constitutional amendments to protect marriage as the union between one man and one woman,” she said. “DOMA ensures the integrity of our constitutional system and the will of Americans. DOMA reflects the reality that marriage provides unique benefits to individuals, children, and society which cannot be replicated by any other living arrangement.”
Wright remarked that the Defense of Marriage Act anticipated the “assault” that “homosexual activists” would inflict upon marriage, saying that the legislation honored “the will of the people.”
Shari Rendall, Director of Legislation and Public Policy at CWA, charged that homosexual activists and their congressional allies are making the “outrageous claim” that protecting marriage is a form of discrimination.
Rendall asserted that overturning marriage laws will result in “reverse discrimination” against those who believe marriage is between one man and one woman.
Boston, Mass., Sep 16, 2009 (CNA) - The Massachusetts-based broadcaster CatholicTV has announced the airing of a new movie review show staring two priests who are self-proclaimed “movie buffs.”
In the new show, titled “Spotlight,” pastor Fr. Chip Hines and Fr. Bill Kelly will make their debut as movie reviewers. The two often disagree about films. When a fellow priest overheard one of their debates about a movie, he suggested the two men get their own television show.
The new show features footage from films such as Superman and Lord of the Rings. It also aims to help Catholics think about their faith.
The two priests examine themes such as the “Christ-like self-sacrifice” of Superman in Superman Returns and the humility and temptation of Frodo in Lord of the Rings, CatholicTV reports.
"I think the show's going to be great. We hope that we will be able to help people come closer to Christ." Fr. Hines said. "Fr. Kelly and I have very good chemistry, and want to help people grow in their faith by looking at universal themes in films such as good and evil.”
The new show will begin in October and will be viewable in full-screen and free of charge at CatholicTV.com and on cable where CatholicTV is available.
Vatican City, Sep 16, 2009 (CNA) -
This morning in the Paul VI Hall, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the importance of Symeon the New Theologian’s teachings on progressing in spiritual maturity. Besides book knowledge, the Eastern monk teaches about the necessity of interior purification for making spiritual progress, especially with the help of a “good spiritual father.”
Symeon was born in Asia Minor in 949 to a noble family. As a young man, he moved to Constantinople to embark on a career in the civil service, but during his studies he was shown a work by Mark the Monk called “The Spiritual Law,” the book completely changed his life. In 977 he entered the monastery of Studion in order "to follow the path of union with God" under the guidance of Simeon the Pious. The New Theologian died in 1022.
“It is interesting to note,” Benedict XVI said, “his designation of ‘New Theologian,’ despite the fact that the name is reserved for John the Evangelist and Gregory Nazianzen.”
Symeon teaches us that Christian life is an intimate and personal communion with God, the Pope explained. "If, in fact, we are rightly concerned with tending to our physical, human and intellectual development, it is even more important not to overlook our inner development which consists in knowledge of God and communion with Him, so as to experience His help at all times and in all circumstances," he added.
In the nine volumes of his works, Symeon “insisted that true knowledge of God comes not from books but from the spiritual life, born of a journey of inner purification that begins with conversion,” the Pope summarized. The New Theologian "calls us all to the spiritual life, the hidden presence of God in us, to the purification of conscience, so the Holy Spirit becomes present in us and guides us."
Adding his own reflection to Symeon's teaching, Pope Benedict said, “the love of God grows within us if we remain united to Him through prayer and listening to His Word. Only divine love makes us open our hearts to others and renders us sensitive to their needs, bringing us to consider everyone as our brothers and sisters and inviting us to respond to hatred with love and to offense with forgiveness.”
Symeon "found a spiritual director who helped him greatly and for whom he always maintained great respect," the Pope told his audience of 8,000 faithful. "This remains valid even today, as everyone, priests, consecrated persons, lay people and especially the young, is invited to seek the counsel of a good spiritual father, one capable of accompanying each individual in a profound knowledge of self and leading him or her to intimate union with the Lord, that their lives may be increasingly molded to the Gospel."
"To advance towards the Lord we always have need of a guide, of some form of dialogue. We cannot do it just with our own reflections.”
After the general audience the Pontiff received the Prime Minister of Romania Emil Boc and his entourage in a private audience.
Rome, Italy, Sep 16, 2009 (CNA) - In a ceremony today, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg was awarded the Van Thuan Prize, an award given to those who have distinguished themselves in the promotion and defense of human rights.
Grand Duke of Luxembourg Henry I made headlines last December for refusing to approve a decision by his country’s House of Representatives to legalize euthanasia due to reasons of conscience.
In wake of the rejection, the country’s Parliament modified the Constitution to limit the Duke’s power before making Luxembourg the third country in the EU to legally allow euthanasia.
Henry I received the award today at Palazzo Colonna in Rome on the seventh anniversary of the death of Cardinal Francois- Xavier Van Thuan, a Vietnamese cardinal who spent 13 years in a Vietnamese prison because of his faith.
Cardinal Van Thuan’s beautification cause was opened in 2007.
Also being presented are four Van Thuan Solidarity and Development Prizes.
The recipients of the prizes are: the Skills Development Centre for the Blind run by Fr. Carlo Velardo S.D.B. in Pakkred, Thailand; the ALAS project of the "Caminos de Libertad" Foundation in the archdiocese of Bogota, Colombia, for the building of a national center for pastoral care in penitentiaries; the non-profit organization, "Cooperazione Missionaria e Sviluppo" run by Msgr. Andrea Vece at the Our Lady of Fatima parish in Salerno, Italy; and finally “ROCHER L'oasis des cites", an association dedicated to educational and social projects at the service of inhabitants of "difficult" neighborhoods of French cities.
Rome, Italy, Sep 16, 2009 (CNA) - The secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, said this week the proclamation of the word of God is an undeniable task that priests must carry out with dignity and wisdom, to show Christ to others. It is a mission that leaves no room for subjective views of the Lord or relativism, he said.
In an article published by L'Osservatore Romano, the archbishop said, "No priest proclaims himself or his own ideas, nor his personal or subjective interpretations of the one and eternal Gospel.”
Carrying out this labor with dignity requires engaging people's hearts, since that is where true knowledge of the Scriptures originates. This knowledge comes “from daily intimacy with Him, from lectio divina, as part of the great tradition of the fathers, from deep meditation that gradually transforms each priest into a ‘living Gospel,’” the archbishop said.
“We know well,” he continued, “that the ‘Gospel is not only words, Christ himself is the Gospel’ and we are called to be conformed unto Him, through the exercise of the ministry of proclamation as well.”
Speaking later about the need for “wise” preaching, Archbishop Piacenza recalled that this “presupposes prudence and the capacity to see reality according to the totality of its factors, without absolutizing any one human point of view, but rather always referring everything to the only absolute who is God.”
“Wise preaching always considers first the real demands of those who receive it, never imposing arbitrary and insufficient interpretations, but rather always preferring the one true thing that is necessary: the real encounter with God of those entrusted to our care,” the archbishop reminded priests.
Wise preaching means “being always aware of the work of God in each proclamation: it is He who prepares the hearts, it is He who encounters men, it is He who brings forth the flowers of conversion and ripens the fruit of charity,” he continued.
“The only ‘relativism’ allowed is that which is directed towards one’s self,” the archbishop noted. “As preachers, we must always be totally ‘relative’ (related) to God.”
In this way priests will discover the beauty of their ministry and will sense the intimate presence of the Lord, “who loves those who give with joy and never leaves His servant alone,” wrote the Vatican official.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sep 16, 2009 (CNA) - Archbishop Hector Aguer of La Plata in Argentina is questioning the attitude of parents and night club owners, whom he called “merchants without souls,” amidst the growing problem of alcohol abuse and related violence by young people in the neighborhoods of Buenos Aires.
“Parents are the ones who have neglected a fundamental responsibility, and then there are the merchants without souls, the owners of the night clubs. Everybody knows this is a business that endangers the physical, psychological and spiritual health of young people,” the archbishop warned in a radio interview.
This is a problem that is getting out of control and must be dealt with, the archbishop warned, adding that at the same time, “We mustn’t generalize, because I don’t think that every young person is trapped by the night club culture.”
“Staying out all night two or three days per week is insane,” the archbishop said. “I don’t think one can properly work or study afterwards.”
While he recognized that the problems associated with a night life are complex, he went on to say that club owners ought to “recognize that they should not be selling alcohol or the other ‘little things’ that we know circulate in some night clubs.”
“Nighttime is not for having fun all the time, it is an educational issue that depends above all on the family. I suspect that many parents are just as juvenile as their children,” he said.
Archbishop Aguer’s comments came as the State Governor of Buenos Aires State Governor, Daniel Scioli, has increased restrictions on alcohol consumption in public places and is in discussions with night club owners to curb alcohol use at their places of business.
Pensacola, Fla., Sep 16, 2009 (CNA) - In what critics are characterizing as the “criminalization of prayer,” a principal and an athletic director at a Florida high school are facing criminal contempt charges for violating a federal order prohibiting prayer at school events.
Principal Frank Lay and Athletic Director Robert Freeman at Pace High School in the Florida panhandle county of Santa Rosa could face fines, jail time and loss of their retirement benefits.
During a luncheon to honor those who contributed toward the public school's athletic Field House, Principal Lay reportedly asked Freeman to offer a blessing for the meal. Students were not present at the time of the blessing.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) charged that the action constituted a violation of a previous court order and accused Lay and Freeman of contempt of court.
Last year the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the Santa Rosa County School District, charging that some of the teachers and administration endorsed religion. The school district did not fight the suit but consented to an order fashioned by the ACLU.
“School officials shall neither offer nor participate in a prayer during or in conjunction with a school event,” part of the order read.
“School officials shall not authorize students, student groups, a student body… or third parties to include prayer, whether or not it is noted in a printed program, during or in conjunction with a school event,” the order continued. It barred “non-student third-parties” from offering a prayer, invocation, benediction or other religious remarks during or in conjunction with a school event.
U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-V), a co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, criticized the trial of the two school officials in a Wednesday speech on the House floor.
“Under the order issued by this judge in this court,” he claimed, “this principal would not have been able to ask the president of the United States to speak at the school if the president concluded his speech, as he often does, with the phrase ‘God bless America.’”
He charged that the precedent set by this case would eventually result in the Speaker of the House and the House chaplain being threatened with jail for asking for and delivering a prayer, respectively.
Rep. Forbes invoked the Founding Fathers who were dedicated to a set of rights “given to us by the very Creator, the mention of whom by this principal or this athletic director could now lead them to a jail term.”
“It’s time for Americans to simply say ‘enough is enough,'” Forbes stated.
Rep. Forbes and a bipartisan group of 60 Members of Congress have signed a letter of support to Lay and Freeman.
“The tradition of offering prayer in America has become so interwoven into our nation’s spiritual heritage that to charge someone criminally for engaging in such an innocent practice would astonish the men who founded this country on religious liberty,” their letter said.
The letter noted that Rev. William Linn, the Chaplain of the House in the first session of Congress, began the tradition of beginning each legislative day with prayer.
Lay and Freeman will be put on trial on Thursday, September 17.
Rome, Italy, Sep 16, 2009 (CNA) - During Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Tuesday, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone called on the bishops present “to be holy in order to infect all those entrusted to us with the love of Christ.”
After noting that Benedict XVI will meet next Monday with the bishops who were ordained during the past year, Cardinal Bertone reiterated the Pope’s call to fidelity, prudence and kindness.
“The Church is not our Church but rather the Church of God, and we must render an account for how we have administered what was entrusted to us,” he said, urging the bishops to be faithful to Jesus Christ and to work “for the community and not for ourselves.”
“Prudence demands humble, disciplined and vigilant reason, the Holy Father says, that is not blinded by prejudices. It does not judge according to desires and passions but rather seeks the truth,” the cardinal said.
He went on to urge the bishops to “cultivate a profound interior orientation towards God,” and to become saints like the holy Cure of Ars, “living our ministry according the Heart of Christ and the maternal heart of Mary.”
“The Christian people need to see credible witnesses and to be guided by holy pastors,” Cardinal Bertone said. “May this be the agenda for each one of us: to be holy in order to infect all those entrusted to our responsibility as pastors of the People of God with the love of Christ.”
Lahore, Pakistan, Sep 16, 2009 (CNA) - The Catholic and Anglican bishops of Pakistan have written to the country’s president demanding an inquiry after a young Christian man died under suspicious circumstances in police custody. The man’s relationship with a Muslim woman sparked anti-Christian riots after the woman’s disapproving mother accused him of blasphemy.
The body of Robert Fanish, 19, was released to his family on Tuesday, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reports. His body was covered with marks on his torso and arms, leading observers to believe he had been severely beaten.
The marks on his body call into question the official police claim that Fanish hung himself. The results of a post-mortem examination are expected within days.
More than 3,000 people attended Fanish’s funeral on Tuesday. The funeral turned into a demonstration by people demanding an investigation into the teenager's death.
An official memorandum signed by the Bishops’ Conferences of both the Catholic Church and the Church of Pakistan requests a “fair inquiry” into his death. The memorandum has been sent to Pakistan President Asif Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Gilani and Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of the Punjab Province and brother of former Prime Minister Nawar Sharif.
Fr. Andrew Nisari, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Lahore, told ACN that everyone is “furious” about what happened to Fanish.
“For us it is clear that the police have taken the law into their own hands and have killed him,” he said.
Fanish had been in a relationship with an 18-year-old Muslim woman whose mother was determined to break off their connection. Clergy have alleged that the mother ripped a page containing verses of the Koran out of a book and was seen throwing it in front of the man’s house.
She accused him of desecrating the Koran, sparking a rampage by Muslim extremists. Hundreds of Christians fled for their lives from the Punjab province’s village of Jethki. Extremists burned down a church and several Christian homes.
Fanish was detained in prison while police investigated.
After his detention, Fr. Nisari had initially said Christians were glad he was in jail.
“At least there he will be safe. It means he won’t be killed by the fanatic Muslims,” he had told ACN.
In his most recent comments, Fr. Nisari noted that the outbreak of anti-Christian violence was the fourth in three months. Each incident was sparked by an allegation of blasphemy. Last month, nine people were killed in a violent episode in the Punjab city of Gojra.
The priest reported that Christians in Pakistan feel increasingly under strain.
“The situation for us is getting worse and worse. There is a wave of unrest going around the country in which people are using any opportunity they can to put pressure on Christians,” he explained.
Fr. Nisari told ACN that demonstrations at Fanish’s funeral coincided with a demonstration of 600 people in front of the Press Club in Lahore.
Christian leaders both inside and outside Pakistan have called for the abolition of the country's strict Blasphemy Laws.
Madrid, Spain, Sep 16, 2009 (CNA) - Amidst a sea of young people gathered at the Cathedral of Almudena in Madrid, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela presided at the beginning of the pilgrimage of the World Youth Day Cross and pointed out that the Cross is a scandal for some who reject it because they do not understand its significance.
The WYD Cross was received by a group of young people wearing the red shirts worn by the Spanish youth who received the Cross in Rome, while some wore white shirts bearing the WYD 2010 logo.
Accompanied by eleven other bishops, Cardinal Rouco said, “Those who are scandalized by the Crucified Christ and those who call it folly do so often today in a militant fashion.”
“It is hard for them to bear the fact that for others, for us, it is the strength and wisdom of God, who saves the world and the irreversibly and gloriously guides history,” the cardinal explained.
He quoted St. Paul in referring to the “folly of the Cross” and warned that the nihilism of the 20th century led to two great evils: totalitarianism and world war.
At the conclusion of the celebration, hundreds of young people processed silently with the Cross from the cathedral to the nearby Monastery of the Incarnation. There they sang hymns and were blessed by Cardinal Rouco. Some stayed afterwards in prayer and adoration.