Archive of November 16, 2009

Well-formed conscience imperative to defense of life, says Holy Father

Vatican City, Nov 16, 2009 (CNA) -

At the conclusion of their visit to Rome, Pope Benedict addressed members of Brazil’s National Conference of Bishops, inviting them to continue their evangelization efforts and emphasizing that the well-formed conscience brings about the absolute good of humanity.

Integral to that human good, and to the formation and exercise of conscience, is the defense of life, which is “not just a Christian prerogative” the Pope continued. “The 'people of life' are happy to share their commitment with others in such a way that they may become ever more numerous and the new culture of love and solidarity may grow, for the true good of human civilization,” he told the bishops.

In face of the “growing wave of violence and contempt for human beings” in today’s culture, Benedict XVI encouraged the prelates to speak "to people's hearts" and "to unite their efforts,” reminding the people that they are not merely a human product but “a gift of God welcomed in the loving intimacy between man and woman.”

Essentially, “the conviction - founded on proper reason and the certainty of faith - that human life, from conception to natural death, belongs to God and not to man, gives life that sacred character and individual dignity which justify the only correct legal and moral attitude: one of profound respect," the Pope added.

The Holy Father closed by inviting the bishops to do God’s work, “not with the sadness of those who see only shortcomings and dangers, but with the firm trust of those who know they can be sure of Christ's victory.”

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Benedict XVI meets with Serbian, Czech heads of state

Vatican City, Nov 16, 2009 (CNA) -

On Saturday, the Holy Father met with the president of Serbia and the prime minister of the Czech Republic.  With Serbian President Boris Tadić, the Holy Father discussed the country's bid to become part of the European Union.  Later, meeting with Czech Republic Prime Minister  Jan Fischer, the Pontiff emphasized the country's recent ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

First meeting with President  Tadić, Pope Benedict spoke of the challenges that face Serbia in her journey towards becoming a member of the European Union. Serbia completed the first step in being added to the EU in April 2008.

Pope Benedict also expressed the desire of the Catholic Church to contribute to Serbian society and made mention of the various factors which ensure her continued presence and contribution.  

On the same day, the Pope received Jan Fischer, prime minister of the Czech Republic. The meeting provided a chance to continue the discussions which the two had begun during the Pope’s September visit to the Czech Republic. They also discussed the Lisbon Treaty, which will come into effect on December 1.

The Czech Republic will be the final member state of the EU to sign the Lisbon Treaty.

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Cardinal Schönborn’s visit to Medjugorje 'not a statement,' spokesman says

Medjugorje, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nov 16, 2009 (CNA) - Cardinal Christoph Schönborn will visit Medjugorje, the small town in Bosnia-Herzegovina where six young people have allegedly been witnesses of apparitions from the Virgin Mary. But according to the Archdiocese of Vienna, the trip is “completely private” and does not imply a statement from the cardinal on the veracity of the apparitions.

“It was supposed to be a completely private visit, it was not supposed to go out to the internet,”  Fr. Johannes Fürnkranz, personal secretary to the Archbishop of Vienna, explained to CNA.

The cardinal’s visit will take place between December 8th and January 4th.

“The cardinal's visit was supposed to be absolutely personal and not public, but since it has been leaked, I can only confirm that it will take place. There is no statement whatsoever involved (in the visit),” Fr. Fürnkranz told CNA.

The local Church authorities, including Bishop Ratko Peric, whose diocese encompasses Medjugorje, have declared that the alleged apparitions are not to be published or promoted.

Bishop Peric has reaffirmed the official statement of his predecessor, Bishop Pavao Zanic, who in July 1987 wrote to the pastor of Medjugorje:

“I demand from you that you remove the 'visionaries' from public display and put an end to their 'visions' in the parish church. They have had 'visions' in Mostar, and earlier in Sarajevo, Visoko and Dubrovnik. Let them now have them at their homes: people say that they had them at their homes during 1981... You must stop talking about apparitions and also cease publicizing messages. The devotions that grew out of the 'apparitions' and their messages must be eliminated, sales of souvenirs and printed material which propagate the 'apparitions' must also stop.”

In June 2009, Bishop Peric addressed the parish in Medjugorje and insisted that “the presumed daily apparitions, known as the 'phenomenon of Medjugorje,' have not been declared as authentic by the Church. Not even after the investigations of various commissions nor after 28 years of media hype. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we cannot behave as if these 'apparitions' are authentic and approved.”

Nevertheless, 22 years later, the popularity of Medjugorje as a Marian destination for pilgrims remains.

Speaking on background, an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith told CNA that the Roman dicastery remains behind the bishops of  Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“The local bishops have the ultimate authority on this matter, and their arguments against the alleged apparitions are doctrinally solid,” the official said.

Asked if Medjugorje should not be judged by its fruits of many conversions and vocations to the Church, the official responded: “It is not the duty of this Dicastery to make a pastoral assessment, but a doctrinal one. But regarding the argument, it can equally be argued that God can write straight with crooked lines, just as it has been proven in several previous occasions with patently false apparitions.”

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Cardinal George defends Church's right to speak on health care

Baltimore, Md., Nov 16, 2009 (CNA) - In his opening address on Monday to the full assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Francis George, the president of the bishops' conference, insisted on the Church's right to speak on issues in the public debate, particularly health care reform. Remarking on the recent attempts to silence the bishops, he noted, “issues that are moral questions before they become political remain moral questions when they become political.”

Cardinal George said that it is not the place of the bishops to speak to particular means of delivering health care, but that it is their responsibility “to insist as a moral voice concerned with human solidarity that everyone should be cared for and that no one should be deliberately killed.”

Demonstrating that the U.S. Bishops have long discussed this issue, Cardinal George quoted his predecessor Cardinal Bernadin, who stated in 1994 that concern for health care “requires us to stand up for both the unserved and the unborn, to insist on the inclusion of real universal coverage and the exclusion of abortion coverage, to support efforts to restrain rising health costs and to oppose the denial of needed care to the poor and vulnerable.”

Cardinal George went on to say that Americans are still participating in the same debate 15 years later, and that we are “most grateful for those in either political party who share these common moral concerns and govern our country in accordance with them.”

The USCCB president also commented on the presence and rights of the Church in the public square. In order for priests and bishops to be able to govern pastorally and effectively on issues such as health care, they need to be able to speak in “public without being co-opted and (be) who we are without being isolated,” he said.

“We approach every issue from the perspective of the natural moral law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” explained the cardinal, adding that  “issues that are moral questions before they become political remain moral questions when they become political.”

“To limit our teaching or governing to what the state is not interested in would be to betray both the constitution of our country and much more importantly, the Lord Himself,” he underscored.

Cardinal George also discussed Pope Benedict's “Year for Priests” and urged the faithful to reflect on the need for ordained priests both in the Church and society at large.

Ordained priests educate, govern and counsel people in the name of Christ, he said, adding that without them all of these tasks that they undertake would fall completely to the secular realm. Most importantly, Cardinal George noted, without ordained priests, the Church would be deprived of the Eucharist, making it a mere “spiritual association” or “faith community” but “not fully the body of Christ.”

The USCCB President concluded his remarks by saying, “Jesus Christ is the savior of the whole world, our public lives as well are our private lives of our business concerns and our recreational outlets of our families and our institutions of the living and of the dead, in His name and as bishops of his church we gather now to seek his will for ourselves our priests and our people, and with His authority we govern.”

Cardinal George received a standing ovation upon finishing his address.

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Archbishop Dolan says 'Thank you Lord!' to Milwaukee appointment

New York City, N.Y., Nov 16, 2009 (CNA) - After the Vatican announced Saturday that Pope Benedict appointed Bishop Jerome Listecki to head the Catholic Church in Milwaukee, Archbishop Timothy Dolan—who led that archdiocese until last February—said, “Today my prayer is simply: thank you Lord!”

Bishop Jerome Edward Listecki, who served as the bishop of the dioceses of La Crosse, Wisconsin until this past Saturday, was named by the Pope as the 11th Archbishop of Milwaukee.

In a statement released on Saturday, Archbishop Dolan responded to the naming of his successor by saying, “for the last nine months, since my appointment as Archbishop of New York, I have daily asked our Lord to send a happy, holy, humble new archbishop to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”

“Pope Benedict has chosen wisely,” Dolan remarked.

Archbishop Dolan also offered an apology of sorts: “sorry, Jerry, that I did not leave the archdiocese in better shape, but I was counting on being there a lot longer!” He also praised the faithful in his previous  flock, stating, “you've got some of the greatest clergy, sisters and people in the Church...and now they've got one of the best archbishops anywhere!”

Archbishop-elect Listecki also issued a statement on Saturday in which he said, “I am humbled by my selection as the Archbishop of Milwaukee. I will do my best to fulfill the confidence His Holiness Benedict XVI has placed in me.”

Born and raised in Chicago, Archbishop-designate Listecki attended school locally and eventually began his graduate studies at the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein Seminary. He was ordained a priest in 1975. A few years later, he attended the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome, earning a doctoral degree in Canon Law. Fr. Listecki was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of La Crosse by the late Pope John Paul II in 2000 and was ordained a bishop in 2001.

Speaking on archbishop-designate Listecki's appointment, Cardinal Francis George offered “heartfelt congratulations,” and said, “we congratulate, as well, the Catholics and all the citizens of Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin as they prepare to welcome a shepherd who will love them and guide them in the name of Christ.”

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Catholic writer explains conversion, discusses new book

Madrid, Spain, Nov 16, 2009 (CNA) - The only writer to have interviewed two Popes: John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger, has just released his latest book, “Why I Believe.”  In it, Vittorio Messori explains how he went from being an agnostic to becoming one of the most prestigious Catholic apologists of his day.

Messori, who edited the book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” as well as “The Ratzinger Report,” spoke with reporter Luis del Espanyol and granted this exclusive interview to CNA.  In it, he explains his reasons for writing this new book and also recounts the story of his conversion.

CNA: Mr. Messori, why did you write this book?

Messori: Because readers asked to know "my conversion."  For many years they insisted that I tell it all. I used to speak in generalities, giving generic responses, especially since I do not enjoy discussing my private affairs. I also was aware that it is very difficult - indeed, it is impossible - to describe an internal revolution like one that I experienced many years before, one that suddenly changed my life forever. In addition, many fellow journalists insisted on interviewing me about the deep experience that I had.

In the end, I gave in to the insistence of both readers and colleagues, and I answered the questions in a long interview with the person who, in my opinion, is the best Italian religious historian, Andrea Tornielli, Vatican analyst from Il Giornale (the Milan newspaper founded by Indro Montanelli) and the author of many books. As both Tornielli and the book’s publisher predicted, the book has stirred much interest and curiosity, and it’s already in its fifth edition in Italy, with new translations still coming out.

CNA: What was your conversion like?

Messori: It is the story of a young man who, without foreseeing it or wanting it, was stopped abruptly on the road on which he was walking and was forced to drastically change direction. Many times a conversion - that is, the discovery or rediscovery of the faith - is the result of a search, the point of arrival after a long journey. This is normal. But there are exceptions, and I am one of them.

CNA: So you did not seek to be a Christian?

Messori: I wasn’t searching for anything, I was in good health, I wasn't rich, but I didn't have financial worries either.  I was happy with the agnostic culture that my teachers had imparted on me at school. I was preparing for a career as an entirely secular intellectual, far from religious motivations and concerns. I studied, and because I was young and very sensitive to the fascination with the female gender, I was taking my first steps towards being a career liberal.

CNA: Was your education secular?

Messori: My family was not against Christ, but against the Church.  We rejected the clerical institution, not the Gospel. My mother often put me on guard against priests, and often said that the Church was "only a pub.” My father was more moderate, but never went to church. Of all my relatives, only one aunt went to Mass on Sundays. We called her “the Blessed."

CNA: And at school?

Messori: For 13 years I attended public schools where I was imparted a culture that was more secular than neutral and where, in any case, no teacher talked about religion other than to condemn the Church of the past, and often also the present. After those 13 years I enrolled in college, specifically in the school of Political Science. I soon became one of the favorite students of the famous teachers at that school, all of whom were teachers of agnosticism.

CNA: In college at that time, wasn’t there supposed to be even a hint of transcendence?

Messori: Agnosticism was taught, I mean, not atheism: atheism was considered vulgar, it was considered a religion, although turned upside down. The atheist is one who wastes time and energy arguing with believers, when what he should do is ignore them. Those teachers taught us that the true perspective of the cultured man should be that the problem of religion cannot be solved with reason. And because man has no other instrument superior to his mind, he must abandon any concern about the Hereafter and concentrate only on what can be seen and touched: in history, in the world, in politics. We cannot know whether God exists or not. So why bother? In short, a radical, impenetrable agnosticism. Only a hit from a non-human striker could shatter it.

CNA: And did that striker show up?

Messori: Yes, it came unannounced, without me sensing it or desiring it all. On the contrary, when I realized that if I accepted the faith I would also have to accept certain moral duties, I began to cry, knowing that I would have to destroy my precious address book full of female contacts!

CNA: What happened to you that was so powerful that caused you to totally change your life?

Messori: In the book I try to explain it, though obviously I do not think I've completely succeeded. All I know is that suddenly, and without having looked for it, between July and August of a now distant 1964, I entered into a kind of new dimension in which the truth of the Gospel, that until then was unknown to me, became very clear and tangible.  Even though I had never attended church, even though I had never studied religion, I found that my perspective as a secularist and agnostic had become suddenly Christian. What's more, Catholic. And I realized I had to go deeper into the truth that I had been given and communicate it to others. So mine was not a "search for faith" but rather from that moment it has been a search for "reasons that make the faith reasonable and believable."  Faith not as an ending point, but as a starting point which I state to be certain (so it seemed in that long-ago summer), and about which I must reflect and inquire, in order to understand why it is "true."

CNA: Mr. Messori, you say you had a mystical experience, even though you were so rational...

Messori: I was, and I am still, a very rational and practical person, and I have nothing in common with visionaries, with those who believe they have divine revelations and inspirations and who consider themselves to be inspired or to be gurus. What happened to me during those two months has been something unique in my life, and this makes me believe in its truth. There was nothing in me that made me predisposed to it. In college, my teachers were very surprised and disappointed when I had to confess that I had been "forced" by a mysterious encounter, to become Catholic, and that therefore I could not continue my cultural collaboration with them. They thought it was a psychiatric crisis, a depression, a mistake, but since I insisted on my new journey, they abandoned me and finally disowned me.

CNA: The book says that you appreciate and value the rational teaching that your teachers gave you…

Messori: Yes, reason is a gift from God that we should use and for which we must be grateful. The mistake is when we enclose reason and turn it into an ideology, rationalism, which asserts that there is nothing beyond or outside it. I'm bored with all of the discussions that are constantly recycled about the incompatibility between science and faith, reason and religion. I draw on my experience, which has confirmed the truth of the words of Blaise Pascal who, as you know, was not what you would call a dreamer, but one of the greatest scientists in history. I have found in my own life that Pascal was right when he wrote: "The final step of reason employed to its utmost is to recognize that there are many things that surpass it.”  Faith, therefore, is not against, but goes beyond reason, without any contrast, but rather complementarity. This is what I have tried to show in my books, including "Why I Believe." I tried to reason with the reader to show that accepting the Gospel mystery is something reasonable.

CNA: You have devoted your life to reconciling faith and reason, right?

Messori: That's why I felt it a duty to try with my writings to strengthen believers in their belief, and to make non-believers see that they can accept the faith without every denying the demands of reason.”

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Pope targets eliminating hunger as goal for Catholic Church

Rome, Italy, Nov 16, 2009 (CNA) - On Monday Pope Benedict XVI addressed a gathering at the World Summit on Food Security in Rome, calling hunger “the most cruel and concrete sign of poverty” and stating that “the Catholic Church will always be concerned for efforts to defeat hunger.”

Speaking at the United Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) headquarters in Rome, the Pope addressed food production and the current state of the global economy.

“The international community is currently facing a grave economic and financial crisis. Statistics bear witness to the dramatic growth in the number of people suffering from hunger,” said the Pontiff. This situation is “made worse by the rise in price of foodstuffs, the reduction in economic resources available to the poorest peoples, and their limited access to markets and to food,” he lamented.

However, despite the grave statistics and the fretting of population control advocates, the Holy Father made reference to “the known fact that the world has enough food for all its inhabitants.”

“Indeed,” continued the Pope, “sufficient food is produced on a global scale to satisfy both current demands and those in the foreseeable future. From these data we may deduce that there is no cause-and-effect relationship between population growth and hunger, and this is further demonstrated by the lamentable destruction of foodstuffs for economic gain.” 

Pope Benedict also condemned “opulence” and “waste,” saying they are “no longer acceptable  when the tragedy of hunger is assuming ever greater proportions.”

Giving his answer to the current debacle, Pope Benedict turned to his recent encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” stating, “what is missing is a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food and water.”

The Pope highlighted the need for impoverished countries to be given economic initiatives through international trade. “Once they have greater income at their disposal, these countries will be able to advance toward the self-sufficiency that leads to food security,” he said.

In concluding remarks, Pope Benedict said that “the Catholic Church will always be concerned for efforts to defeat hunger,” and that “the Church is committed to support, by word and deed, the action taken in solidarity - planned, responsible and regulated - to which all members of the international community are called to contribute.”

“The Church does not wish to interfere in political decisions: she respects the knowledge gained through scientific study, and decisions arrived at through reason responsibly enlightened by authentically human values, and she supports the effort to eliminate hunger,” the Holy Father said.

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Midwest Catholic-Muslim dialogue meets in Milwaukee

Milwaukee, Wis., Nov 16, 2009 (CNA) - Muslims and Catholics met at the Midwest Catholic Muslim Interreligious Dialogue in Milwaukee Oct. 25-27. There they discussed common concerns such as religion in the public square and efforts to maintain religious practice among younger generations.

The annual meeting was hosted by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Initiatives and the Islamic Society of Milwaukee. Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit Francis Reiss represented the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as co-chair of the meeting, while the Muslim co-chair was Dr. Syyid M. Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America.

The meeting began on Oct. 25 with a well-attended public lecture titled “Faithful Citizenship – Catholic and Muslim Engagement in Civic Life,” held at the Islamic Center School, the USCCB reports.

Michael Hovey, coordinator for the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs, delivered a Catholic perspective on the topic. Dr. Irfan Omar, Professor of Islamic Studies at Marquette University, gave an Islamic perspective.

On Oct. 26 the dialogue continued at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist with the lecture “The Nature and Dignity of the Human Person: Implications for the Public Square.” The lecturers were Fr. Leo Walsh, associate director of the USCCB’s Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and Dr. Zeki Saritoprak of John Carroll University in Cleveland.

The speakers noted several points of commonality in the experiences of both Catholics and Muslims, especially their histories of being immigrant communities in the U.S.

Speaking at a luncheon, Bishop Reiss emphasized that practical cooperation between Catholics and Muslims in the public square is increasingly important in an era when society does not value the contribution of theology and religious conviction in public discourse.

According to the USCCB, other sessions at the meeting explored the dignity of the family. Presenters included Joan Crist, PhD., who is a Calumet College of St. Joseph professor and Coordinator of Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs for the Diocese of Gary, Indiana. Dr. Zulfiquar Ali Shah, Imam for the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, was also a speaker.

The speakers said cultural and socio-economic factors such as suburban sprawl are challenges to all people of faith, as is the need to maintain family life and religious heritage in the next generation.

Members of the dialogue discussed plans to publish the results of their conversations and expressed a desire to work with the members of the West Coast and Mid-Atlantic regional Muslim-Catholic dialogues.

The next meeting of the Midwest Muslim-Catholic Dialogue is scheduled for October 2010, the USCCB says. The Dialogue has been sponsored by the USCCB’s interreligious committee and the Islamic Society of North America since 1996.

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