Archive of October 6, 2009

In wake of bishop’s child porn scandal, archbishop reassures diocese of God’s ‘healing grace’

Halifax, Canada, Oct 6, 2009 (CNA) - Urging Catholics to rely upon “the healing grace of God,” the Canadian archbishop who took over the leadership of  the Diocese of Antigonish after its bishop resigned has published a reflection about the spiritual aftermath of the “unbelievable revelations and allegations.”

Bishop of Antigonish Raymond Lahey was recently charged with importing and possessing child pornography after images “of concern” were found on his laptop during a search at the Ottawa Airport. The bishop resigned from his office for “personal reasons” and turned himself in to Ottawa police last Thursday.

The diocese’s new administrator, Archbishop of Halifax Anthony Mancini, in an October 2 letter to the faithful of the diocese considered the question of what to say to Catholics after such a scandal.

“What I want to say is: Enough is enough! How much more can all of us take? Like you, my heart is broken, my mind is confused, my body hurts and I have moved in and out of a variety of feelings especially shame and frustration, fear and disappointment, along with a sense of vulnerability, and a tremendous poverty of spirit.”

In the archbishop's words, he has cried and silently screamed and asked God what the scandal means and what God asks of the archbishop and his priests.

“Is this a time of purification or is it nothing more than devastation? Are people going to stop believing, will faithful people stop being people of faith? Lord, what are you asking of us and how can we make it happen?” were the questions the archbishop asked.

He said he was calmed by the sight of the Scriptural phrase on a tapestry: “Be still and know that I am God.”

Archbishop Mancini compared Catholics’ experience of the scandal to the passion and death of Christ, without yet having gone through the Resurrection.

“It is as if we are presently sealed up in a dark tomb waiting for the power of the Spirit of God to overtake us and raise us up to a new day and a new future,” he wrote. “It is this Spirit of God, this Holy Spirit, which we must open our hearts to receive – for only the Holy Spirit can drive out the un-holy spirits with which so many have become obsessed.”

The archbishop wrote that Catholics need to know again or experience for the first time “the healing grace of God’s love.”

“Such healing grace can only come from all of us sharing together our faith and convictions that, in spite of sin in all its forms, mercy is stronger than anger, forgiveness is more powerful than rejection and reconciliation is more transformative of spiritual devastation into new life possibilities,” he continued.

He asked that Catholics find a foundation in their faith on which the Church can be not “a perfect society reserved only for the pure” but an assembly of “forgiven and resurrected human beings.”

Archbishop Mancini emphasized that people, priests and bishops are human. Not recognizing this will produce “inhuman expectations” and give rise to “inhuman behavior.” He also connected failure in “pastoral leadership” to misunderstandings of the relationships within the Church.

“Together, let us face the present crisis; let us find the heart needed to slowly reconstruct our relationships and our capacity to trust and to care,” the archbishop’s letter concluded. “It starts by being still before God and slowly reaches out to another person with love and acceptance. May the God of stillness and the Spirit of life bless all of us and may the person of Jesus Christ be the foundation of our lives.”

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Health care legislation still ‘deeply flawed’ on pro-life concerns, U.S. bishops’ officials say

Washington D.C., Oct 6, 2009 (CNA) - Officials with the U.S. bishops’ conference said that proposed health care reform legislation remains “deeply flawed” on pro-life issues, though they praised the bill for making health care more affordable to at-risk families.

The Senate Finance Committee rejected pro-life amendments proposed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), which the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops (USCCB) had supported.

One proposal would have forbidden federal subsidies for benefits packages that cover abortions, with rare exceptions. Insurers could have offered supplemental abortion policies if they were funded solely by private premiums of those choosing to purchase them.

Another amendment proposed by Sen. Hatch would have forbidden federal agencies and state and local governments receiving federal funds under this bill to discriminate against health care providers that decline to perform, refer for, or pay for abortions.

“The bill remains deeply flawed on these issues and must be corrected,” Richard Doerflinger, Associate Director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said in a statement.

He said it was “especially disheartening” that the committee did not support “longstanding conscience language” on abortion that has been accepted as part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health care reform bill.

In a recent letter to the Senate, the USCCB said that the various health care reform bills have not met President Barack Obama’s pledges to bar federal dollars from paying for abortions and to maintain current conscience laws.

Kathy Saile, USCCB Director of Domestic Social Development, said the bill took steps towards making health care more affordable, but explained that many families are still vulnerable to high health care costs.

“As Congress continues to debate health care reform, it should take further steps to help at-risk poor and low-income families and implement access as soon as possible,” Saile commented, suggesting that access to programs like Medicaid should be expanded as soon as possible.

The Senate Finance Committee also defeated amendments which would have placed additional restrictions on health care access for legal immigrants and their families.

“Legal immigrants, who work hard and pay taxes, should be treated equally with U.S. citizens,” stated Kevin Appleby, Director of Migration Policy and Public Affairs for the USCCB. Appleby said it was “counterproductive” for the public health system to leave immigrants outside the system and thereby making them dependent upon emergency care and unable to access preventive treatment.

“The U.S. bishops will continue to push for affordability grants to legal immigrants and their families and a removal of the five-year waiting period for legal immigrants to access Medicaid,” he added.

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Diocese says Supreme Court ruling on personnel files has constitutional implications

Washington D.C., Oct 6, 2009 (CNA) - The Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have expressed disappointment at the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to extend a stay on the release of personnel files to several major newspapers. They said the refusal marked a “serious threat” to First Amendment rights.

Newspapers including the Hartford Courant and the New York Times have reportedly sought access to the personnel files to determine how the recently retired Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Edward Egan, handled sexual abuse cases during his time as Bishop of Bridgeport.

The material includes 12,600 pages of depositions, exhibits and legal arguments involving 23 lawsuits against seven priests from the Diocese of Bridgeport. Most of the lawsuits were filed in the mid-1990s and were settled in 2001 for an undisclosed amount with the agreement that the settlements and the documents would remain sealed forever.

“We are disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to extend the stay,” the Diocese of Bridgeport said in a statement on October 5, claiming that the content of the sealed documents had already been provided to alleged victims’ lawyers and had been extensively reported on.

In the diocese’s backgrounder, it charged that a Connecticut superior court judge changed the rules “mid stream” to allow the newspapers to intervene in the settled cases.

The diocese also charged that the judge used “anti-Catholic Church rhetoric.”

According to the diocese, it appealed the superior court’s decision because it “violated its privilege claims” and threatened the reputations of innocent persons.

The case involves constitutional issues such as under what circumstances a party can be considered to have waived its legal privileges, including First Amendment rights.

Further, it concerns what documents produced in pre-trial discovery can be considered public documents. The diocese asserted that documents produced in the pre-trial period can be “inaccurate, incomplete, or irrelevant” for the purposes of the case.

The Appellate Court of Connecticut ruled in favor of the Diocese of Bridgeport’s appeal. However, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the diocese had waived its privileges in complying with the pre-trial court orders. The court also classified the contested materials as “judicial documents” that must be released to the public.

The Connecticut Supreme Court stayed its decision pending the diocese’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The diocese’s Monday statement reiterated that it has addressed clerical sexual abuse “compassionately and comprehensively.”

“For now, however, the serious threat to the First Amendment rights of all churches and the rightful privacy of all litigants remain in jeopardy because of the decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court. This, indeed, is regrettable,” the Diocese of Bridgeport stated.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) also said on Monday that the case implicated “important principles.” The conference warned of the risk that processes designed for the legitimate disclosure of documents would be abused in particular cases.

This might result in “the excessive entanglement of the state in the affairs of the Church,” the USCCB commented.

“We must insist upon fair treatment for the Church in accordance with the rule of law, so that the intense emotions surrounding sexual abuse cases do not result in decisions that would deny the Church the same legal protections—including those regarding disclosure of documents—that any other party would enjoy.”

Expressing their “fraternal support” for Bishop Lori, the bishops expressed gratitude for his “strong defense” of his diocese, especially praising “the balance he has tried to strike among the principles of compassion, transparency, religious freedom, fundamental fairness, and the rule of law.”

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Archbishop Chaput responds to Cardinal Cottier on the Notre Dame controversy

Rome, Italy, Oct 6, 2009 (CNA) - The Italian daily Il Foglio published an article today entitled  "L'ascia del vescovo pellerossa - Charles J. Chaput contro Notre Dame e l'illustre cardinale sedotto dall'abortista Obama" (The ax of the red skin Bishop  - Charles J. Chaput against Notre Dame and the illustrious cardinal seduced by the pro-abortion Obama)  in which  the Archbishop of Denver contests some of the strongly pro-Obama assertions made by Cardinal Georges Cottier last July in the international Catholic magazine "30 Days."

Il Foglio is one of the most influential intellectual dailies in Italy, dedicated more to analyzing than covering the news. Its director is one of the most famous contemporary Italian thinkers, Giuliano Ferrara.

Despite being an agnostic, Ferrara is a long-time admirer of the thought of Joseph Ratzinger.

In its Tuesday edition, Il Foglio published a front page interview with Cardinal Francis George, and devoted its third page to Archbishop Chaput's comments on Cottier's original essay.

The archbishop's article, originally submitted under the more modest title of "Politics, Morality and a President: an American View," focuses on what it meant to American Catholics to have President Obama speak at the University of Notre Dame and be honored with a law degree, an event which Cardinal Cottier, Theologian Emeritus of the Pontifical Household, described in 30 Days in a very positive light.

Catholic News Agency exclusively presents below the full text of Archbishop Chaput's article published today in Il Foglio.

Politics, Morality and a President: an American View

One of the strengths of the Church is her global perspective.  In that light, Cardinal Georges Cottier's recent essay on President Barack Obama ("Politics, morality and original sin," 30 Days, No. 5), made a valuable contribution to Catholic discussion of the new American president.  Our faith connects us across borders.  What happens in one nation may have an impact on many others.  World opinion about America's leaders is not only appropriate; it should be welcomed.

And yet, the world does not live and vote in the United States.  Americans do.  The pastoral realities of any country are best known by the local bishops who shepherd their people.  Thus, on the subject of America's leaders, the thoughts of an American bishop may have some value.  They may augment the Cardinal's good views by offering a different perspective. 

Note that I speak here only for myself.  I do not speak for the bishops of the United States as a body, nor for any other individual bishop.  Nor will I address President Obama's speech to the Islamic world, which Cardinal Cottier mentions in his own essay.  That would require a separate discussion. 

I will focus instead on the President's graduation appearance at the University of Notre Dame, and Cardinal Cottier's comments on the President's thinking.  I have two motives in doing so.

First, men and women from my own diocese belong to the national Notre Dame community as students, graduates and parents.  Every bishop has a stake in the faith of the people in his care, and Notre Dame has never merely been a local Catholic university.  It is an icon of the American Catholic experience.  Second, when Notre Dame's local bishop vigorously disagrees with the appearance of any speaker, and some 80 other bishops and 300,000 laypeople around the country publicly support the local bishop, then reasonable people must infer that a real problem exists with the speaker – or at least with his appearance at the disputed event.  Reasonable people might further choose to defer to the judgment of those Catholic pastors closest to the controversy. 

Regrettably and unintentionally, Cardinal Cottier's articulate essay undervalues the gravity of what happened at Notre Dame.  It also overvalues the consonance of President Obama's thinking with Catholic teaching.

There are several key points to remember here.

First, resistance to President Obama's appearance at Notre Dame had nothing to do with whether he is a good or bad man.  He is obviously a gifted man.  He has many good moral and political instincts, and an admirable devotion to his family.  These things matter.  But unfortunately, so does this:  The President's views on vital bioethical issues, including but not limited to abortion, differ sharply from Catholic teaching.  This is why he has enjoyed the strong support of major "abortion rights" groups for many years.  Much is made, in some religious circles, of the President's sympathy for Catholic social teaching.  But defense of the unborn child is a demand of social justice.   There is no "social justice" if the youngest and weakest among us can be legally killed.  Good programs for the poor are vital, but they can never excuse this fundamental violation of human rights.

Second, at a different moment and under different circumstances, the conflict at Notre Dame might have faded away if the university had simply asked the President to give a lecture or public address.  But at a time when the American bishops as a body had already voiced strong concern about the new administration's abortion policies, Notre Dame not only made the President the centerpiece of its graduation events, but also granted him an honorary doctorate of laws – this, despite his deeply troubling views on abortion law and related social issues. 

The real source of Catholic frustration with President Obama's appearance at Notre Dame was his overt, negative public voting and speaking record on abortion and other problematic issues.  By its actions, Notre Dame ignored and violated the guidance of America's bishops in their 2004 document, "Catholics in Political Life."  In that text, the bishops urged Catholic institutions to refrain from honoring public officials who disagreed with Church teaching on grave matters. 

Thus, the fierce debate in American Catholic circles this spring over the Notre Dame honor for Mr. Obama was not finally about partisan politics.  It was about serious issues of Catholic belief, identity and witness – triggered by Mr. Obama's views -- which Cardinal Cottier, writing from outside the American context, may have misunderstood.

Third, the Cardinal wisely notes points of contact between President Obama's frequently stated search for political "common ground" and the Catholic emphasis on pursing the "common good."  These goals – seeking common ground and pursuing the common good – can often coincide.  But they are not the same thing.  They can sharply diverge in practice.  So-called "common ground" abortion policies may actually attack the common good because they imply a false unity; they create a ledge of shared public agreement too narrow and too weak to sustain the weight of a real moral consensus.  The common good is never served by tolerance for killing the weak – beginning with the unborn.

Fourth, Cardinal Cottier rightly reminds his readers of the mutual respect and cooperative spirit required by citizenship in a pluralist democracy.  But pluralism is never an end in itself.  It is never an excuse for inaction.  As President Obama himself acknowledged at Notre Dame, democracy depends for its health on people of conviction fighting hard in the public square for what they believe – peacefully, legally but vigorously and without apologies.

Unfortunately, the President also added the curious remark that ". . . the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt . . . This doubt should not push us away from our faith.  But it should humble us."  In a sense, of course, this is true:  On this side of eternity, doubt is part of the human predicament.  But doubt is the absence of something; it is not a positive value.  Insofar as it inoculates believers from acting on the demands of faith, doubt is a fatal weakness. 

The habit of doubt fits much too comfortably with a kind of "baptized unbelief;" a Christianity that is little more than a vague tribal loyalty and a convenient spiritual vocabulary.  Too often in recent American experience, pluralism and doubt have become alibis for Catholic moral and political lethargy.  Perhaps Europe is different.  But I would suggest that our current historical moment -- which both European and American Catholics share -- is very far from the social circumstances facing the early Christian legislators mentioned by the Cardinal.  They had faith, and they also had the zeal – tempered by patience and intelligence – to incarnate the moral content of their faith explicitly in culture.  In other words, they were building a civilization shaped by Christian belief.  Something very different is happening now.

Cardinal Cottier's essay gives witness to his own generous spirit.  I was struck in particular by his praise for President Obama's "humble realism."  I hope he's right.  American Catholics want him to be right.  Humility and realism are the soil where a commonsense, modest, human-scaled and moral politics can grow.  Whether President Obama can provide this kind of leadership remains to be seen.  We have a duty to pray for him -- so that he can, and does.

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Cardinal Urosa calls on Venezuelans to fight to preserve religious education

Caracas, Venezuela, Oct 6, 2009 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, remarked to  Catholics recently that the Venezuelan government decided long ago to expel religion from schools, and therefore they should avoid the temptation to fall into secularism or yield to its onslaught.

“This is the immense challenge that we face, amidst the onslaught of secularism.  Once we learn of the laws and norms that will exclude religious education—which was never obligatory or compulsive—from school curricula and the school day, we will have to come up with creative ways to carry out our sublime mission,” the cardinal said.

While noting that the new federal law does not in itself prohibit religious education from the classroom, the implementation of the law is where the attempt will be made to do so, he explained.

This is the interpretation that has already been applied to the new law in certain regions of the country, the cardinal warned, saying the government had long decided it would move to expel religion education from schools.

Cardinal Urosa stressed that evangelization through education is also part of the Church’s mission, and therefore he called for the defense of “the identity of Catholic schools and insistence on our right to educate students in the faith.”

“If there is a temptation in which we must not fall it is the temptation of secularism, of softening the proclamation of our faith, of giving up carrying out the glorious mission of being messengers of the Kingdom of God, of resigning ourselves to do nothing about it,” the cardinal said.
Cardinal Urosa recalled the words of Christ, telling his flock, “Be not afraid” and trust in the Lord.  “We have the structures, the personnel, the experience, and above all, we have the grace of God,” he added.

Venezuela’s new law on education was approved by the National Assembly, which is dominated by the party of Hugo Chavez. The vote was pushed through without any consultation with the opposition or other sectors of society.

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Five continents reflect on Synod for Africa theme in second session

Vatican City, Oct 6, 2009 (CNA) - The Synod for Africa commenced with its second full session on Monday afternoon, listening to how the synod's theme (The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: "You are the salt of the earth. ... You are the light of the world") is understood in South America, North America, Asia, Europe and Oceania.

The afternoon session was attended by Pope Benedict XVI and began at 4:30 p.m. in the Synod Hall.

Delegates from the continents of South America, North America, Asia, Europe and Oceania presented the gathering with a variety of ways that their local Churches can help the African Church live out the synod's theme. Some representatives also reflected on how the theme of the synod can be implemented on their respective continents.

The presentations were followed by a report from Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya on the impact of Pope John Paul II's apostolic exhortation "Ecclesia in Africa," which was that fruit of the first Synod for Africa, held in 1994.

The first prelate to give his observations was Archbishop Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida, Brazil. He offered to share the "great wealth" of his episcopal conference's 54 years of existence as well as the resources of Latin American seminaries to help form priests and seminarians.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta spoke next, saying that the Church in the United States continues "to benefit from those people from Africa who recently have come as visitors and new residents to our shores." In particular, Archbishop Gregory found that, "Many of these new peoples bring with them a profound and dynamic Catholic faith with its rich spiritual heritage. These wonderful people challenge us to rediscover our own spiritual traditions that so often are set aside because of the influence of our secular pursuits."

Speaking for the continent of Asia, Archbishop Orlando Quevedo compared his continent with Africa. "The Church in Africa and the Church in Asia bear similar experiences of sorrow and joy. Sorrow at the many forces of a culture of death ... such as the increasing poverty and marginalization of our peoples; ... injustices against women and. children; ... our inability to compete with the powerful in a global economic order unguided by juridical and moral norms; religious intolerance instead of a dialogue of reason and faith.

"On the other hand," noted Archbishop Quevedo, "we experience great joy and hope in movements of justice and peace, ... in the solidarity of people of good will from different social classes and religious traditions to work for a more just, more peaceful, more fraternal social order."

The continent of Oceania's representative, Archbishop Peter William Ingham, said that the Church in his region shares a rich history of martyrs with the African Church. He also observed that, "In both Oceania and Africa, great work is being done by the Church and its agencies to help people recover their equilibrium in their communities and to manage risks that could arise from natural disasters."

Echoing a similar theme, was Europe's delegate, Cardinal Peter Erdö of Budapest. "We European Catholics have learned from our own history closely to follow the fate of African Christians, and we have also learned to respect your faithfulness, your witness, and the African martyrs who give their lives - year after year in worryingly-large numbers - for Christ and for His Church, and in the same way also for us. The Church in Africa has earned our gratitude and our profound respect," the cardinal said.

The second full assembly came to a close with a report from Archbishop Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Archbishop Pasinya explained to the gathering how the Church in Africa took up the recommendations of the first Synod for Africa with vigor. The first synod, he said, gave "fresh impulse to the life and mission of the Church in Africa."

On Tuesday morning, the Synod for Africa began its third full session with an address from His Holiness Abuna Paulos, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The patriarch reminded the synod that in striving to meet the spiritual needs of the African faithful, "apostleship and social works cannot be treated separately."

Pope Benedict responded to the patriarch's words by thanking him for his presence, and saying, "In Christ we know that reconciliation is possible, justice can prevail, peace can endure! This is the message of hope which we are called to proclaim. This is the promise which the people of Africa long to see fulfilled in our day."

The synod fathers continued their speeches, warning against abuses across the continent. Archbishop Polycarp Pengo said that the Church in Africa must be willing to root out corruption and even to the point of denouncing clergy who abuse the role and practice of authority, resort to tribalism and ethnocentrism and act in a politically partisan manner.

Bishop Maroun Elias Lahham of Tunis, Tunisia closed out the session by calling for the North African Church to share their experiences with Islam in the upcoming Synod for the Middle East and for an opportunity for the the Church in Africa to share its experience of Islam "from Tunis to Johannesburg."

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Homosexual unions are not marriages or families, says Mexican bishop

Mexico City, Mexico, Oct 6, 2009 (CNA) - Auxiliary Bishop Antonio Lerma Nolasco of Mexico City said this week that homosexual unions cannot be considered marriages or families.  “They can be called whatever you want, but never marriage,” he said.

In his homily at the Cathedral, the bishop exhorted the faithful to defend marriage as part of the divine plan, which starts with the union between a man and a woman. Because of the origin of marriage, the bishop said unions that are distinct from this “act of mutual love” cannot be considered marriage.

After pointing out that man and woman were created to form a couple capable of passing on love, Bishop Nolasco said other kinds of unions such as those between people of the same sex, cannot be called families, since “rather than fostering unity,” these unions “attack family values.”

Same-sex unions “can be called whatever you want, but never marriage,” Bishop Nolasco insisted.

“God created them man and woman, and for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two will be one, such that they are no longer two but one flesh,” he said, quoting from Genesis.

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Cardinal Cipriani prays to Lord of Miracles for protection of the unborn

Lima, Peru, Oct 6, 2009 (CNA) - During Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne prayed to the Lord of Miracles for protection of “the lives of the weakest and most innocent, of those who are in the wombs of their mothers.”

In the presence of Peru's President Alan Garcia and other officials, the cardinal said, “The world is going through a very particular situation. Lord of Miracles, protect the wombs of these mothers, protect the legal realm, confuse those who threaten human life in order to prevent them from causing harm.”

Cardinal Cipriani also prayed for family unity, “which is essential for seeking peace, justice and for affirming the identity of the nation in the Latin American region.  We implore your blessing upon the Peruvian nation.  Help us to understand that we are all Peruvians, there are no second-class Peruvians,” he prayed.

The cardinal also raised his prayers to the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Lord of Miracles, that she might care for and protect “marriage which unites one man and one woman for their entire lives; and also that she might strengthen family unity in these times in which the education of children is a primordial task.”

History of the Lord of Miracles

The Lord of Miracles image was originally painted by an unnamed black slave from Angola on the wall of a building on the outskirts of Lima. The anonymous slave and his fellow prisoners were being held in the building before they were sold into slavery.

In 1655 an earthquake demolished the entire wall, with the exception of the painting. Seeing that the image survived the earthquake unscathed, slaves developed a devotion to the image.

According to tradition, the King of Spain's local representative tried to have the image erased, first employing Freemasons and later soldiers. When both groups tried to carry out the viceroy's command, they were paralyzed and unable to accomplish the job.

The incident with the viceroy led Church and political authorities to change their minds and declare the image miraculous.

After a second earthquake devastated part of Lima, the image was painted on a canvas and taken out in a procession in the mid 16th century, a practice that has continued ever since.

The Feast of Our Lord of Miracles is celebrated on October 28.

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Experts question scientist’s claim of reproducing Shroud of Turin

Colorado Springs, Colo., Oct 6, 2009 (CNA) - An Italian scientist is claiming to have re-created the burial cloth believed to have covered the crucified body of Jesus, called the Shroud of Turin.  However, CNA spoke with experts who maintain that there are still several major differences between the new shroud and the ancient one.

According to Reuters, Luigi Garlaschelli, an organic chemistry professor at the University of Pavia announced that he and his team “have shown it is possible to reproduce something which has the same characteristics as the Shroud.”  The scientist plans to present his findings at a conference on the paranormal this weekend in Italy.

The Shroud of Turin is considered by many to bear an image of the face of Jesus Christ. Made of herring bone linen, the shroud is nearly four feet by 14 feet and bears faint brown discolorations forming the negative image of a crucified man.

The shroud’s positive image, revealed by modern photography, shows the outline of a bearded man.  While skeptics contend that the shroud is a medieval forgery, scientists have been unable to explain how the image appeared on the cloth.

Garlaschelli and his team, who were funded by an Italian association of atheists and agnostics, created their image by placing the linen over a volunteer before rubbing it with a pigment called ochre with traces of acid.

The linen was then “aged” by heating it in an oven and washing it with water.  Reuters reports that the team then added blood stains, burn holes and water stains to finalize their product.

CNA spoke with Dr. John Jackson who runs the Turin Shroud Center of Colorado and is a physics lecturer at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.  Jackson led a team of 30 researchers in 1978 who determined that the shroud was not painted, dyed or stained.  He explained to CNA that that based off the Reuters report as well as photos of Garlaschelli’s shroud on the internet, it appeared that it doesn’t exactly match the Shroud of Turin.

Dr. Jackson first questioned the technique used by Garlaschelli’s team, taking issue with the method of adding blood after aging the cloth.  Jackson explained that he has conducted “two independent observations that argue that the blood features on the shroud” show “that the blood was on it first, then the body image came second.”

Dr. Keith Propp, a physicist who is also a colleague of Jackson's, told CNA that while Garlaschelli’s shroud “does create an image that could’ve been done in medieval times,” there are a many things that “are not consistent with what the actual shroud shows us.”

For example, he continued, we know that the blood contacted the shroud before the body “because there’s no image beneath the shroud.”  He added that this image pattern would be difficult to duplicate “because it would ruin the blood stains.”

Another area concern for the scientists is the three dimensionality of the shroud. 

Propp explained that while Garlaschelli’s cloth does have some aspects of light and dark to create a three-dimensional perspective, “it’s nowhere near as sophisticated as the shroud” and that “it misses out on the accuracy and subtleties that are in the actual image.”

Dr. Jackson from the Turin Shroud Center also touched on the same point, saying, “The shroud’s image intensity varies with” the distances in between the cloth and the body.  While he admitted that the images of Garlaschelli’s shroud on the internet look authentic, when taken from a 3-D perspective, “it’s really rather grotesque.”

“The hands are embedded into the body and the legs have unnatural looking lumps and bumps,” he explained.

Jackson noted that he or his colleagues would be open to testing the Garlaschelli shroud or any other “idea about the shroud relative to the scientific characteristics that have been documented in respect to the shroud,” however to do so they would need “more detailed information about what was specifically done.”

Garlachelli’s technique has also received criticism from other experts.  One scientist from the Shroud Science Group, a private forum of about 100 scientists, historians and researchers provided CNA with some of the critiques made in the forum.

One English-speaking expert explained that the blood used on the Shroud of Turin is not whole blood.  “They didn't just go out and kill a goat and paint the blood on the cloth.  The blood chemistry is very specific,” he said explaining that the blood is from “actual wounds.”

He added that most of the blood on the shroud flowed after death. “The side wound and the blood that puddles across the small of the back are post-mortem blood flows,” he said, adding that blood flowing after death “shows a clear separation of blood and serum.”

Propp added, “In some ways, it comes out better than most others I’ve seen before.  Still there are too many things – the shroud is more than just the image.”

Jackson also pointed out that Garlaschelli’s findings have yet to be peer reviewed.  What scientists need “to do is present their work for publication before their peers.”  

He explained that any person can conduct his or her own research, but it doesn’t matter whether or not the author believes his or her hypothesis was proven. In the end, what the scientific community decides “upon seeing and reviewing the work” is what counts, he said.

Pope Benedict has announced that the Shroud will be open for public viewing in 2010 and that he is planning to visit the image at some point during its exposition.

The Catholic Church has not taken an official position on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin.

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Cardinal Bergolgio prays to Our Lady of Lujan, asks for hearts filled with hope

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Oct 6, 2009 (CNA) - Before the thousands of faithful gathered in Belgrano Square on Sunday to celebrate Mass in honor of Our Lady of Lujan, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, prayed to the Mother of God that she might “strengthen the hearts” of her children with hope.

During his homily, the cardinal pointed out that “our Mother looks upon us all without exception, but for a long time she has looked after those who are poorest” and those who have been cast aside by society. 

“Mother, look upon all these your children who have been rejected. Look upon them and strengthen their hearts with hope,” the cardinal prayed.  He asked Our Lady of Lujan to give the strength of hope to those who are suffering from poverty and exclusion, and also called on young people “not to allow your hope to be taken away.”

“Together let us build a homeland of brothers and sisters,” the cardinal urged the faithful, commending them for their commitment of solidarity with whose who are suffering.

He also prayed that Our Lady of Lujan would “erase anything that might lead to confusion from our hearts,” repeating three times the theme of the pilgrimage: “Mother may your gaze renew our hope.”

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