Lisbon, Portugal, Oct 21, 2009 (CNA) - Several experts said this week that the statements by Jose Saramago about the Bible, which he called “a manual of bad customs, a catalogue of cruelties,” should lead the Church to value biblical culture and combat ignorance of Scripture.
While promoting his new novel “Cain,” the award-winning Portuguese author said that without the Bible, “a book that had great influence on our culture and even on the way we are,” human beings would “probably be better.”
In statements to the Portuguese news agency Ecclesia, Bishop Manuel Clemente of Porto, who is also the president of the Bishops’ Committee on Culture, said “a personality like Jose Saramago, who has undeniable literary merit, should be more rigorous when speaking about the Bible, because you cannot say what Saramago says about biblical facts and authors.”
“All you need to do is read the introduction of any book of the Bible, such as Genesis, to see that they are religious readings that have to do with the history of Israel” and that were later collected as “biblical history for all Christians and for all believers.”
Father Manuel Morujão, secretary of the Portuguese Bishops’ Conference, also lamented the “superficiality” with which Saramago treats the Bible, saying a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature ought to know better.
“There’s no need for criticism to be offensive. It should expressed with respect and humility. What we have here is clearly exaggeration, which we didn’t like to see in him [Jose Saramago],” Father Morujao said, adding that the statements by the Nobel laureate have “hurt the feelings” of more than two million believers.
The Portuguese biblical scholar, Capuchin Father Fernando Venturo, said Jose Saramago has the intellectual capacity to become informed on matters before writing.
“The Bible can be read by somebody who has no faith, but it requires some intellectual honesty on the part of the reader,” he said, accusing Saramago of “a huge lack” of it.
Graver still, Father Ventura said, is his ignorance “of literary genres” or of the role of “myth” in literature, which is especially troubling for a writer who expressed opinions “about a field in which he not an expert.”
“Not knowing how to situate a text in its context is unforgiveable for a writer,” the priest said, adding that he hopes the controversy will help Catholics find the best manner to respond to the publicity coup in a media characterized by “atrocious biblical ignorance.”
Despite the fact that many Catholics are ignorant of the Bible, Father Morujao said a writer of Jose Saramago’s caliber has more responsibilities than the average citizen. The Nobel statue does not give him the right to delve into fields “of which he does not have sufficient knowledge,” the priest said. “The Bible has 76 books and they must be interpreted in the diversity of literary genres,” he pointed out.
Father Morujao finished by saying he expected more from a Nobel laureate, “regardless of his ideology,” and he recommended Saramago express more “humility” when making statements.
He called for a greater promotion of “the biblical culture” and for more knowledge of the passage in which Jesus says “to love even one’s enemies.”
Vatican City, Oct 21, 2009 (CNA) - The Seventeenth General Congregation of the Synod for Africa began in Rome on Tuesday with the reading of a letter from synod leaders who expressed their “deep sorrow” about the violent conflicts in Africa. The letter was read in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI and 217 Synod Fathers.
Addressed to the presidents of the bishops conferences of Sudan, Uganda, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, the letter expressed the Synod Fathers’ “deep sorrow” about the persistent war in Africa’s Great Lakes region.
The letter noted that hundreds of thousands of people, fearing for their lives, have abandoned their homes to seek refuge in nearby countries in “extremely perilous conditions.”
The Synod Fathers also lamented the “worrisome situation” of child soldiers, orphans, and those who are severely physically or mentally injured.
“As Synod Fathers, in solidarity with the president of the Synod, Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, we wish to express our deepest sentiments of fraternal communion with the bishops of the dioceses involved in this inhuman suffering of innocent peoples,” the letter read.
“At the same time, we turn to the parties concerned, imploring them to replace at once the language of arms with that of dialogue and negotiation. In dialogue, undertaken in mutual respect and peace, all problems can be solved. War, on the other hand, makes everything more difficult, transforming brothers into enemies.”
“Strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Risen Lord Jesus, we, as Synod Fathers, declare the sacred value of every human life. The commandment 'not to kill' is not only a part of the Decalogue, revealed by God and recorded in the Bible, but a law written in the heart of every person who comes into this world.”
Using a traditional biblical reference, the bishops noted that the blood of the innocent “cries to heaven for vengeance” to God who will judge those who have bloodied their hands.
The prelates also prayed for the “gift of peace” and the “grace of reconciliation” through the intercessions of the saints and the Virgin Mary.
Archbishop of Bukavu François Xavier Rusengo had to leave the Synod to return to the war-torn eastern Democratic Republic of Congo because of a violent incident in which uniformed men burnt down one of his archdiocese’s parishes, attacked priests and took others hostage.
After the reading of the letter, a list of fifty-four propositions was presented for the consideration of the Synod Fathers. The propositions will be consigned to Pope Benedict as he writes the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation.
On Tuesday afternoon the Synod Fathers were scheduled to meet in language groups to prepare their amendments to the proposition list.
Calcutta, India, Oct 21, 2009 (CNA) - The government of India has told the Albanian government that it will not allow the remains of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to be returned to the land of her birth. Church officials insisted that any decision would ultimately rest with the Missionaries of Charity, who dismissed reports of the move as speculation.
Vishnu Prakash, spokesperson of the Ministry for External Affairs, said that the late nun was an Indian citizen who is “resting in her own country, her own land.”
“The question of returning her remains does not arise at all,” he told the Indian Express.
Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha had asked the Indian government to return the remains of Mother Teresa, an ethnic Albanian, to Albania for the 100th anniversary of her birth in August of 2010, UCA News reports.
Sister Christy, a senior nun in Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, told UCA News her congregation has not heard anything official about such a request but has seen the media reports, which she dismissed as “speculations.”
Mother Teresa arrived in India in 1929 and became a citizen of the country in 1947. After her death in 1997 she was buried inside the headquarters of her Missionaries of Charity congregation in Calcutta.
Father Babu Joseph, a spokesman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told UCA News that even if talks are going on between the Indian and Albanian governments, the final decision would depend on the Missionaries of Charity nuns.
While it is an “understandable desire” that the people of Mother Teresa’s native country want her body returned, Fr. Joseph remarked, he also noted that she was an Indian citizen.
Archbishop Emeritus of Calcutta Henry D’Souza said that Mother Teresa identified herself with the people of Calcutta and noted that people would be deprived of the opportunity to make pilgrimages to her tomb if her remains are removed to Albania.
Archbishop D’Souza, who reportedly knew Mother Teresa well, said she did not wish to be buried anywhere other than Calcutta.
Washington D.C., Oct 21, 2009 (CNA) - This year’s Collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) is intended to help struggling families in the midst of the national economic crisis, the U.S. bishops’ conference says.
The Collection, which has as its theme “Families are struggling. Faith is Calling,” will be held in most Catholic parishes the weekend of November 21-22, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) reports.
The USCCB said that many face insecurity in employment, health care and retirement. The U.S. Census estimates there are 39.8 million people in poverty in the U.S., an increase of almost three million over the previous year.
Bishop of Biloxi, Mississippi Roger Morin, who chairs the USCCB Subcommittee on CCHD, described the purpose of the campaign’s “crucial” mission: “To uplift and embolden all who are one layoff or one medical scare away from the poverty line—and all who are already there.”
Bishop Morin has written a letter inviting parishes to be as generous as possible. Citing Lk. 4:18, he said Catholics are called “to bring glad tidings to the poor…to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” This call is “more important than ever before,” he added.
The CCHD says it has embodied Catholic social teaching through its nearly 40 years of existence. In its mission to pursue justice and to uphold the dignity of the human person, the USCCB says, the CCHD has funded community groups that create affordable housing, obtain fair wages, provide job training, and organize communities to seek local solutions to improve their neighborhoods.
CCHD-supported groups include the Florida group Faith and Action for Strength Together (FAST), a network of parishes and other congregations working on issues related to education, transportation and affordable housing.
The Chicago-based Progress Center for Independent Living reportedly empowers those with disabilities through mentoring, disability rights training, outreach, and community organizing and advocacy.
In Baltimore the United Workers Association (UWA) organizes low-wage workers to seek better wages and working conditions. According to the USCCB, the UWA’s campaign at Camden Yards Stadium resulted in a wage increase for cleaners from less than $4.50 per hour in 2003 to the state’s living wage of $11.30 per hour.
The Movimiento por Justicia en El Barrio, based in Harlem, New York City, works with over 400 mainly Mexican immigrant members to focus on tenant issues. It is also involved in negotiations with the Mexican Consulate to improve services for New York City’s Mexican immigrant population.
Some CCHD grantees have been controversial. In 2008 the USCCB defunded the community organizing group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) following allegations that some of its members were involved in voter fraud.
The self-described Catholic grassroots group Bellarmine Veritas Ministry (BVM) also uncovered evidence that some CCHD grantees were involved in advocacy for abortion, contraceptive distribution, and same-sex “marriage.”
In September 2009 the CCHD announced that it had begun to defund at least two of the accused groups and said it was investigating other groups accused of advocating for positions and activities that contradicted Catholic teaching and CCHD grant regulations.
Vatican City, Oct 21, 2009 (CNA) -
Pope Benedict XVI addressed almost 40,000 people on Wednesday about a figure known as “the last of the Fathers of the Church,” St. Bernard of Clairvaux. The Holy Father spoke to the gathered faithful about how St. Bernard's example should show them that true understanding of the Faith requires an “intimate relationship with the Lord” and profound faith.
Pope Benedict began his catechesis by describing the life of the celebrated French saint.
Born in 1090 in Fontaines, France to a "numerous and fairly well off” family, Bernard studied grammar, rhetoric and dialectic. At 20 years-old he entered the monastery of Citeaux, which the Pope described as a “more rigorous” monastic foundation than the existing ones of the time.
In 1115 he was sent by St. Stephen Harding, third abbot of Citeaux, to found a new monastery at Clairvaux, where Bernard himself became abbot. At Clairvaux the saint "insisted on the importance of a sober and restrained lifestyle, in food, in clothing and in the structures of the monastery, at the same time encouraging support and assistance for the poor."
Together with his theological writings and homilies, including the celebrated Sermons on the Song of Songs, Bernard maintained a vast correspondence, developed warm friendships with his contemporaries, defended sound doctrine, and combated heresy and outbreaks of anti-Semitism. Benedict XVI recalled Bernard’s writings against the heresy of the Cathars who despised the material and the body and thus despised the Creator. This monk defended the Jews, so much so that a rabbi, Ephraim, “addressed a stirring tribute” to him.
Pope Benedict also pointed out that St. Bernard wrote a very special book on how to be a good pope for a pupil of his, Bernardo Pignatelli, who became Pope Eugenius III.
Bernard of Clairvaux died in 1153.
Turning to the value of St. Bernard's teachings for modern Christians, the Holy Father The Pope highlighted "two central aspects” of Bernard's teaching which concern Jesus Christ and Mary his most holy mother. The Monk expressed "the Christian participation in the love of God.” "It is from this that he was given the title of Doctor Mellifluous,” the Holy Father expounded. “His praise of Christ, in fact, flows like honey."
Bernard of Clairvaux loved to repeat, "there is one name that matters, that of Jesus of Nazareth.”
For Bernard "true knowledge of God lies in a personal and profound experience of Jesus Christ. Faith is first of all an intimate personal encounter with Jesus, the experience of his closeness, of his friendship and his love. Only in this way can we learn to love him and know him even more. Let us hope that this can happen in all of us," Pope Benedict said.
Bernard also emphasized the "privileged place of the Virgin in the economy of salvation." "It is no coincidence," said Benedict XVI, “that Dante puts on the lips of the Doctor Mellifluous his sublime prayer to Mary: 'Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son, humble and exalted more than any other creature, fixed term of eternal counsel.'"
St. Bernard's ideas, Pope Benedict concluded, "stimulate not only theologians but all believers.”
“At times we think we can resolve the fundamental questions about God, mankind and the world using only the power of reason. St. Bernard however, solidly rooted in the Bible and the Fathers of the Church, reminds us that without a deep faith in God, nourished by prayer and contemplation, an intimate relationship with the Lord, our reflections on the divine mysteries are in danger of becoming a futile intellectual exercise, and lose their credibility."
Lima, Peru, Oct 21, 2009 (CNA) - A new bill that would legalize abortion in cases of rape and fetal deformation has moved through a Congressional committee in Peru and will be sent to the floor of the Peruvian Congress in the coming months, despite widespread opposition to the measure among voters.
Various lawmakers from the ruling party in Peru—which has expressed opposition to abortion—voted to move the bill through committee, including Representative Jose Vargas, who recently during a radio interview called those who defend the unborn hypocrites. “Nobody defends life without restriction because, for example, a vegetable is life and therefore you shouldn’t eat salads,” he argued.
Pro-life protestors gathered outside the Congressional building Tuesday to voice opposition to the measure and were met by feminist groups who said that they supported the bill.
Police had to intervene with tear gas to break up the confrontation after a man supporting the feminist groups physically assaults a group of nuns and mothers who were among the pro-life protestors.
Mexico City, Mexico, Oct 21, 2009 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Mexico City has criticized the so-called “success” celebrated by abortion supporters in the country after it was announced that 30,000 abortions have been performed in the capital since the practice was legalized.
The archdiocesan newspaper, “Desde la Fe,” published the statistics that were released by the Mexico City Institute of Women.
“These figures were presented as a triumph for the rights of women against the ‘shadowy interests’ of ‘the right and of conservatives,” the newspaper said.
“What are these people celebrating this as a triumph?” the article questioned. “Nothing less than the annihilation of more than 30,000 human lives, with the medical, technical, legal and economic support of the Federal District’s government, where not only the Legislative Assembly, but also the head of the government and supposed defender of Human Rights have actively intervened to carry out this massacre, an embarrassment for our times.”
The newspaper also pointed out that “behind abortion there is a human tragedy that ought to concern us all. Behind abortion there is a true human problem that we must confront as a society and seek out humanitarian solutions, and not laws that take us back to the era of the caveman and promote social irresponsibility.”
A poll carried out by the Population Council reveals that the number of people who support the legalization of abortion has almost doubled. Six out of ten support it, while 83 percent said they thought the Mexico City law should be extended to the rest of the country.
Vatican City, Oct 21, 2009 (CNA) - Cardinal Antonio Canizares, Prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, today officially presented Pope Benedict XVI with the “Compendium eucharisticum,” aimed at helping priests to properly celebrate Mass.
The compendium, which was officially published on October 19, is a collection of study materials, prayers and meditations related to the celebration of the Eucharist. According to Cardinal Canizares, it is “a response to the desire of the Holy Father and the request made by the bishops during the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist.”
According to the daily edition of L’Osservatore Romano, the document “puts together texts from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prayers, theological explanations of the Roman Missal’s Eucharistic prayers and everything that may be useful for the correct understanding, celebration and adoration of the Sacrament on the altar.”
L’Osservatore Romano also explained that the Pope’s desire is that the compendium will help both priests and laity in “believing, celebrating and increasingly living out the Eucharistic Mystery.” The Holy Father also hopes that it will stimulate “every faithful person to make of their own lives a spiritual worship,” the paper added.
The compendium has been published in Italian by the Vatican’s publishing house and will soon be available in other languages, including English.
Vatican City, Oct 21, 2009 (CNA) - Gertrud Gänswein, the 78 year old mother of Pope Benedict's personal secretary, Msgr. Georg Gänswein died on Wednesday at her home in Freiburg, Germany, the Vatican announced today.
The Vatican did not explain the causes of Mrs. Gänswein's death, but L’Osservatore Romano lamented the "unexpected" passing.
In August, Mrs. Gänswein joyfully participated in celebrating the 25th anniversary of her son's priestly ordination, and was received in an audience by Pope Benedict XVI.
Today L'Osservatore Romano published condolences from several Vatican dicasteries, including the Press Office, the Swiss Guard and the community of Vatican workers.
Latrobe, Pa., Oct 21, 2009 (CNA) - St. Vincent College has announced that Jim Towey will be stepping down as the institution´s president at the conclusion of the 2009/10 academic year, following 4 years of service. The former White House official highlighted the college's "Catholic witness" as a reason for the institution's strong growth under his tenure.
“I came to Saint Vincent to make a difference, and by the grace of God and the good work of so many people, I have," Towey said, in a recent press release from the Catholic college.
In the just over three years since he became St. Vincent's president, his accomplishments have been numerous. Under his direction, the college reports that it has experienced "unprecedented success in fundraising," having secured more than $35 million in new pledge commitments.
On-campus initiatives brought about during his tenure include an increase in service learning opportunities and the expansion of study abroad programs to triple the number of students participating.
Towey has also taken an active hand in promoting what he calls "faith in action" by going on the annual service-learning trip to Calcutta, India. The trip involves dozens of students volunteering in homes founded by Mother Teresa. Other major initiatives brought about during his administration were the quadrupling of the Campus Ministry budget, initiation of Eucharistic adoration on campus and renovation of the College chapel to add 100 seats by this coming January.
Towey´s actions haven´t only been noticed on campus. He has also attracted national media exposure to St. Vincent with appearances on national news shows such as CBS 60 Minutes, ABC Good Morning America, and NBC Nightly News, among others. He drew a great national attention to the College by hosting President George W. Bush as commencement speaker in 2007 and with an international conference he convened to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Mother Teresa´s death.
All of these accomplishments have increased interest in the College and stimulated enrollment to never before seen levels at St. Vincent.
“The campus has never looked so beautiful, our Catholic witness continues to attract students in record numbers, and there is a strong leadership team in place to build on the momentum of recent years,” Towey commented as he looked ahead.
Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki, OSB also offered his assessment of President Towey's tenure, saying, "There have been many great accomplishments and positive developments during his time at Saint Vincent, including the deepening of the College community’s commitment to our mission. He also has succeeded in moving the College from being a well-respected regional college to a nationally-recognized college of excellence. Thanks in no small part to his leadership, Saint Vincent has the faculty and staff to carry this momentum forward.”
Prior to his service at Saint Vincent, Mr. Towey served at the White House as director of the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, as legal counsel to Mother Teresa and as a volunteer in her missions.
In a video posted on the school's website, Towey said that he intends to serve as St. Vincent's president until the end of this academic year. He added, “I have no plans for my future in terms of what I'll be doing, but I'm certain that the good Lord who brought me to St. Vincent will certainly care for my wife, my five children and me.”
London, England, Oct 21, 2009 (CNA) - Finance leaders of global influence met at Schroders Bank in London’s financial district on Wednesday morning to explore the relevance of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.” The seminar, hosted by Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, received a message of support from the Pope.
The seminar discussed ethical issues in the light of Catholic social teaching and also the various challenges facing financial leaders in the United Kingdom, a Wednesday press release from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales reports.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone sent an Oct. 6 message to Archbishop Nichols which said that Pope Benedict was pleased to be informed of the seminar and sends his “cordial greetings” to all the participants.
Cardinal Bertone reported that the Pontiff was gratified to learn that leading financial figures are responding to the challenge to build within economic activity what “Caritas in Veritate” called “authentically human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity.”
The cardinal added that the Pope encourages the participants to promote “integral human development” rooted in a transcendent vision of the person.
The bishops' conference said that the seminar participants, who attended only in a personal capacity, included Schroders chief executive Michael Dobson, Schroders president George Mallinckcrodt, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International Lord Brian Griffiths, Rothschild’s director Anthony Salz, Barclays Bank chairman Marcus Agius and former Chief of the Defense Staff Field Marshal Lord Peter Inge.
Attendees with Catholic connections included Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster John Arnold; Sister Catherine Cowley, Lecturer in Christian Ethics, at the University of London’s Heythrop College; Archbishop of Cardiff Peter Smith; and Professor Stefano Zamagni, an economics professor at the University of Bologna who advised the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace on “Caritas in Veritate.”
Washington D.C., Oct 21, 2009 (CNA) - Pro-life leaders gathered in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the danger of federally-funded abortion being a part of health care reform. One speaker, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), said that although President Obama ran his presidential campaign on “hope,” “abortion crushes hope” and is “its polar opposite.”
The press conference took place at the House Triangle, a grassy triangular area near the Capitol Building. Others present were: Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Representatives Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) as well as the organizations Focus on the Family Action, Susan B. Anthony List, National Right to Life Committee, Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America.
Rep. Smith addressed the crowd on the prospect of federal funds being used to pay for abortions under new health care reform measures. He began by noting that President Barack Obama led his campaign based on “hope,” but that “abortion is the antithesis of hope.”
“Abortion is violence against children, and a serious human rights violation—not hope,” he added.
Turning his focus to mothers, Smith explained that abortion also crushes the “hope and the spirit of women,” and that the government needs to “defend women from abortionists, not publicly fund and facilitate this insidious exploitation of women.”
“The myriad of word games routinely employed to divert attention from the gruesome reality of abortion and its deleterious consequences to women and children are now being used to suggest that the public somehow isn’t being coerced into funding and facilitating abortion on demand in the House and Senate health care reform bills,” he warned.
Rep. Smith then recalled Obama's words to Congress on Sept. 9, 2009, when he said, “under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortion.”
“Oh if that were only true,” Smith lamented, adding that Americans would not pay for abortions if the Stupak/Pitts amendment was enacted. The amendment would have prohibited taxpayer funds from being used for abortion, but it was defeated in a committee vote this past July.
Also in attendance at the news conference was Wendy Wright, the president of Concerned Women for America. Previewing her comments to the media, Wright noted that with the current health care bill, the government will decide which procedures Americans can receive, “with cost as a major factor.”
“It also will fund abortion,” she insisted. “Since abortion costs less than prenatal care, delivery and post-natal care, especially if the mother or child has special needs, it is not unlikely that bureaucrats will put on their green-eye shades and decide that abortion will be covered but expensive maternal and child care is not.”