Rome, Italy, Nov 30, 2009 (CNA) - Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa of Mosul said last week that last Thursdya’s anti-Christian attacks in Iraq which destroyed a church and damaged a convent “show that there is a strategy to erase our cultural heritage and more than 2000 years of history” on the part of Muslim extremists.
In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, the archbishop said these Islamic groups “want to destabilize the atmosphere of trust in our country. We must oppose this atmosphere of hatred with strength and with prayer,” he added.
The strategy of these groups “is clear,” the archbishop continued. “As soon as the situation becomes calm and it appears there is a chance Christians can return to their homes in their cities, the terror and violence reappear with greater threats.”
“This is the not the first time extremist groups lashed out at the symbols of the Christian community in Iraq. And it is not the first time that priests and religious have paid with their blood,” he explained.
After recalling the March 2008 assassination of his predecessor Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, Archbishop Casmoussa said, “It seems like nobody is able to guarantee the safety of Iraqi Christians.”
“The only path to take to placate violence is dialogue,” the archbishop continued. “Only then will we be able to isolate these extremist groups and become a tolerant country. Now we must seek to be close to our small community and give ourselves strength and encouragement.”
Havana, Cuba, Nov 30, 2009 (CNA) - The Cuban bishops’ conference has announced the launch of a new blog which provides a place for Catholics to “enrich their experience of God” through the internet.
The new blog at www.creerencuba.org is written by Sergio Cobarrouy from the city of Sagua la Grande and is sponsored by the Online Network of the Catholic Church in Cuba.
Cobarrouy explained that the new blog will be a place “for those who wish to enrich their experience of God and contribute to the experiences of others.” He added that he hopes it will provide a forum enriched by the testimony of the lives of faith of Cubans, their longings, doubts, certainties, pains, joys and hopes.”
“This is a place for proposing rather than for lamenting, a place for speaking and listening, a place to contribute to preparing the way of the Lord in the hearts of those who visit it. May God help us!” Cobarrouy said.
He further explained that the website will give Cubans and others a place to express their opinions and be able to dialogue, “but always with respect for persons and renouncing any partisan politics. Contributions and commentaries will be published if they are in keeping with these guidelines,” he added.
Vatican City, Nov 30, 2009 (CNA) - On Monday morning, the Holy Father met with President of Peru, Alan Garcia Perez at the Vatican. The two heads of state discussed Peru's commitment to the eradication of poverty as well as the protection of the environment.
According to a communique from the Vatican, the Pope and the Peruvian president focused their meeting on the collaboration of the Church and State on issues such as poverty, laws and the environment. In addition, they spoke about current events and concerns in Peru as well as in South America.
Following his meeting with the Pope, the president met with Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone S.D.B. who was accompanied by Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, secretary for Relations with States.
Vatican City, Nov 30, 2009 (CNA) - L’Osservatore Romano (LOR) published an article last week reminding U.S. President Barack Obama that the number of Americans who oppose abortion continues to be on the rise. This was recently demonstrated by the nearly 200,000 signatures to the "Manhattan Declaration," a document drafted by various Christian leaders in defense of life, marriage, the family and religious freedom.
LOR said: "The political and spiritual weight of the Manhattan Declaration is thus evident" as "this is a crucial moment for the Obama administration since the president's credibility is at risk over promises made during the campaign season, considering the not-so-encouraging results of the latest polls on the president's popularity."
In recent days "the spotlight is on health care reform," which is currently being debated in the Senate, with a bill that is "quite different from the one approved only weeks ago by the House of Representatives." That bill prohibited the use of federal funds for abortion and established conscience protections through the Stupak amendment, which was lauded by the U.S. bishops.
LOR pointed out that the difference in between the two bills cannot be considered an accident. “In fact it was Obama himself, in a recent interview, who said that the Stupak Amendment introduced unbalanced language in the health care reform and that "women's choices" should not be restricted.
Thus, LOR argued, Obama is moving between two contrary positions: that of keeping his campaign promises "not to use federal funds for abortion and that the right to conscientious objection be respected," and that of "influential pro-choice groups who demand an ultimate liberalization of abortion practices."
After noting that the Manhattan Declaration clearly defends life and opposes abortion, LOR explained that "polls in recent months show that the number of those who are pro-life continues to rise and is now larger than the number of Americans” who think unrestricted abortions should be allowed during the course of pregnancy.
LOR said the change in public opinion in the U.S. is made evident by the Manhattan Declaration, which reads: "no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.”
Among the signers of the declaration are "Jonah Paffhausen, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and Robert Duncan, Anglican Primate of North America, as well as the Rev. William Owens, president of the Coalition of African American Pastors. Signers such as these could make Obama campaign staffers recalculate,” LOR said.
New Haven, Conn., Nov 30, 2009 (CNA) - On Wednesday the Knights of Columbus announced its commitment of $1 million to food banks across the U.S and Canada to support families in need.
“At a time when record numbers are at risk of hunger, and with fewer able to give financially to charity, the Knights of Columbus hopes this program will help both to alleviate the problem, and to encourage other religious and charitable organizations – as well as businesses and corporations – to conduct similar programs,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, who announced the initiative Wednesday morning.
According to the USDA, nearly 50 million Americans experienced food insecurity last year, while statistics in Canada have shown an increase in food bank usage by 18 percent. The Knight's “Food for Families” program is one of the many aspects of the “Neighbors Helping Neighbors” project which was organized in February of this year as a response to the present economic crisis.
Despite the current economy, members of the Knights of Columbus set records last year by donating 69 million hours of volunteer service and more that $150 million to to charitable causes.
“People may not be able to give a lot of money to Charity this Christmas, but many can give a can of soup to help their neighbors, and the Knights of Columbus are committed to providing them the opportunity to do so,” said Anderson.
The Knights of Columbus has more than 1.75 million members worldwide, the majority living in the United States and Canada.
CNA STAFF, Nov 30, 2009 (CNA) - Teenage girls (and their mothers) had been joining the growing wave of Twilight fans or fanatics, even before the movie “New Moon” hit theaters on November 20. Chris Padgett, a Catholic author and youth speaker explained to CNA that the epidemic isn't due to the attractive actors or innovative storyline, but rather it is the longing for heroic love that is drawing them in.
What they are really looking for, Padgett added, “is actually given in Christ who truly is heroic, who will give up himself entirely so you can be the best you.”
Padgett, who was introduced to the Twilight series by this oldest daughter, has since read the entire series with his wife. The couple will soon be releasing a book on the topic.
The books themselves were written by Stephenie Meyer and present a new twist on the traditional vampire story. In her books, and the subsequent movies, Meyer introduces her protagonist as a “vegetarian” vampire, who drinks animal blood but has sworn off that of humans. Though he looks 17 years old, Edward Cullen has been alive for over 100 years and, because he is a vampire, he will never die.
Despite his self-confidence, his calm rationality and his good looks, he falls for the extraordinarily ordinary girl, Bella Swan. Swan is the product of a divorce who often reverses roles with her immature, impulsive mother and becomes the responsible caretaker of the family.
The drama of the series revolves around the relationship between Edward and Bella. Though the two appear to be soul-mates, Edward denies his feelings and leaves Bella in the hope that she will be safe if she is not in contact with the world of the vampires. Bella, who according to Padgett, is “the picture of co-dependency,” falls apart completely when Edward leaves. In his absence, Jacob Black who is a were-wolf enters and provides Bella with the support she needs to pull herself out her depression.
Black cares deeply about Bella, though she thinks of him as more of a brother.
“Both Edward Cullen and Jacob Black have appealing qualities for young girls,” Padget told CNA. They are both willing to fight to the death for Bella and in doing so demonstrate a degree of chivalry. “There's a longing in women to be fought over, to be considered of such worth and value that someone would willingly lay down his life for them,” Padgett observed.
“Stephanie Meyers is touching on a subject which kids are longing for, which is true love,” Padgett noted. But what is disturbing about the series is the emotional response it evokes. “Everyone is now looking for their Edward Cullen, their soul mate.”
He then asked the question, “Girls, do you know who you are, before you entirely and willingly give yourself to this guy?” In the case of Bella Swan, such a situation becomes dangerous precisely because she does not know who she is before she becomes involved with Edward Cullen. Where is Bella's identity outside of Edward Cullen?” Padgett wonders.
Padgett emphasized that Edward Cullen has both his flaws and his finer points. While Edward is controlling and overly-rational, he is also capable of exercising the virtue of temperance and thinks of Bella's well-being, both physically and spiritually. Similarly, Jacob Black is very emotional and impulsive, but is loyal and caring.
Tying in Christianity, Padgett said that the wild popularity of Meyer's books manifest humanity's, and especially youth's, desire for true love and for their positive valuation by others. “What you're really looking for is actually given in Christ who truly is heroic, who will give up himself entirely so you can be the best you,” Padgett said.
“Christ shows us love in time by these four things: sacrifice, service, mediation and advocacy. Inasmuch as Edward Cullen or Jacob Black model that, they have aspects of love. But when you see, for example, selfishness as opposed to selflessness, there's a problem. When you see manipulation rather than free and complete self-donation, that's a problem.”
“Christ's gift to us is fulfilling; it is satisfying. We're not questioning his love for us. At least we're not as we look upon the cross,” he continued.
Ultimately, Padgett, who has seen this series impact youth across the country, said, “I want to see kids transformed by God's love. They're hungry and they're desperate for it, and that's why this series is so gigantic, because it plays at those issues.”
For more information, visit: http://www.chris-padgett.com
Melbourne, Australia, Nov 30, 2009 (CNA) - On Sunday, November 29, Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart gathered to celebrate Mass with members of the communities affected by the devastating “Black Saturday” bushfires last February.
Archbishop Hart welcomed representatives of the communities impacted by the bushfires, members of local government, representatives of emergency and community services, as well as welfare organizations to the Mass.
According to the archdiocese, in memory of those who lost their lives in the natural disaster, 173 roses were placed on the steps of the Cathedral sanctuary. Family and friends of the victims took the roses home after Mass.
In his homily, Archbishop Hart prayed for those who had lost their lives during the fires, and added, “We remember with esteem and gratitude the tremendous work of people right across the community - the State Emergency Services, the Police and Fire Service, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Saint Vincent de Paul, community organizations and so many individual people who were moved by the tremendous ferocity and tragedy of the events of February seventh.”
“The paradox of all these events is that as we try and grapple with why these natural disasters seem to happen in a terrible way, they are the occasion for the emergence of the greatness of the human spirit,” he said. “It is almost as if in our daily lives we do not always comprehend the nearness and the goodness of people around us and it is only in times of disaster and great stress that our common humanity seems to triumph.”
The Archdiocese also reported that “visitors from the bushfire communities said they found consolation in the special show of support and were encouraged by the prayers of all those who attended.”
The February 7, bushfires are the worst in Australia's history to date, claiming 173 lives and producing clouds of smoke and burnt swaths across the state of Victoria that were visible from space.
Rome, Italy, Nov 30, 2009 (CNA) - The Catholic Conference of Italian Bishops will broadcast a series of spots on national television meant to raise awareness for the economic needs of Italy's 38,000 diocesan priests. The commercials, due to be released in the days leading up to the feast of the Immaculate Conception, emphasize the continual efforts of the conference to collect funds for the clergy.
For the last 20 years, the Catholic Conference of Italian Bishops (CEI) has footed the costs of its 38,000 diocesan priests, 600 of whom work in foreign missions. The CEI has been creative in pushing new initiatives for their fundraising outreach, counting a flash-based website among their inventory of resources for receiving donations.
The new 30-second spots, filmed in black and white, follow three priests as they carry out their vocations of service to the Gospel.
These “commercials” include specific information on how the viewer can make an offering to a fund and "sustain the activity of... diocesan priests, above all those in the smallest communities and communities where there is the most need."
In Italy, these donations are put into a collective fund for the shared use of all of the dioceses.
Diocesan priests also receive a stipend from the state. Since 2006, there has been a program in place called 5 per mille, or five per thousand, through which a person is able to specify the destination of 0.5% of their annual taxes. They may choose to give this cut to any one of a number of non-profits, research institutions or social initiatives in place of the Church, but if none of these options is indicated, the percentage is destined to the CEI.
Bishop of Caserta Pietro Farina, President of the Committee for the Promotion of Economic Support for the dioceses of Italy, comments on the CEI website on the value of these funds to the country, "We all know how much the Church, through its multiple activities, pastoral and social actions and, most of all, through the presence of its ministers is important for the well-being of our country. What would our cities be without our priests?
"Educating the community to sustain them," he continues, "even though an offering goes not only your own parish priest, but to all priests, means educating the community as to the sense of fraternal communion, of active participation and of real ecclesial co-responsibility."
St. Louis, Mo., Nov 30, 2009 (CNA) - In a statement Monday, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson of St. Louis responded to a demonstration held outside the city's cathedral by a gay rights group protesting the use of archdiocesan funds to defend traditional marriage in Maine. Catholics have an obligation to “carry out Christ's teachings, whether in the privacy of our own home or in the public square,” stated the prelate on the Archdiocese of St. Louis website.
On Sunday, gay rights organization Show Me No Hate protested the donation of $10,000 that the Archdiocese of St. Louis made to the “Yes on 1” campaign in Portland, Maine earlier this year. The initiative, which supported traditional marriage between a man and a woman, was voted on and passed during the mid-term elections.
According to The Vital Voice, Show Me No Hate has accused the Archdiocese of St. Louis of misusing the funds, saying the Church has neglected the poor, sick and homeless in the city by donating the money to a campaign against gay “marriage.” The organization plans to rally outside the cathedral every Sunday for the duration of the season of Advent.
“Following Christ's teaching on marriage does not mean we neglect the poor,” stated Archbishop Carlson in response to the accusations. “In fact, no other private institution in the world does as much for the sick and poor as the Catholic Church.”
Archbishop Carlson explained that the funds used for the “Yes on 1” campaign were discretionary, provided by private gifts and sent in response to the request of the Archdiocese of Maine. The archbishop also mentioned that “Yes on 1” succeeded despite the fact that same-sex “marriage” supporters had outraised the campaign by almost $2 million.
The Church “always tries to follow the teachings of Jesus in welcoming all people,” and “does not believe in discrimination” said the archbishop in his statement on Monday. He then made reference to the fact that the Archdiocese of St. Louis is currently the largest private contributor to Doorways, an organization that provides services for those living with HIV/AIDS.
The archbishop explained, however, that this “does not mean we can change Christ's teaching on the nature of marriage” and added that Catholics have the obligation to “carry out Christ's teachings, whether in the privacy of our own home or in the public square.”
“Separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor a particular faith,” continued the prelate. “It does not mean that faith-filled people lose their right to speak out publicly and engage in the political process.”
When it comes to serving the poor and supporting traditional marriage, Archbishop Carlson added that “it's not an either/or choice when it comes to Christ's teachings. As Catholics, we are called to live and teach them all.”
Brooklyn, N.Y., Nov 30, 2009 (CNA) - On Thursday Nov. 26, St. Ephrem's Chaldean Church and the nearby presbytery in the Northern City of Mosul were destroyed when attackers walked in and detonated high explosives. Both buildings were empty at the time and no one was injured.
According to the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) a second bombing occurred shortly after at St. Theresa's Convent which is a few minutes drive away from church and presbytery. Although five Sisters where present in the building when the attack took place, no one was injured.
“We are in total shock,” said one of the sisters to ACN. “The sheer noise of the bomb and the damage it caused terrified us.”
Senior Iraqi priest Fr. Bashar Warda, who has helped coordinate aid after the attacks, told ACN that “we are at a loss to explain why this should have happened” although he speculated that the bombings may have political motives in the run-up to elections next year.
The attacks have come after what many have viewed as a time of peace for Christians in Mosul. Although thousands had left the area last fall after similar attacks, many had returned in hope of a new beginning.
“The Christian people in Mosul were really surprised by these attacks that have just taken place,” said Fr. Bashar Warda. “Things were gradually becoming normalized and many felt that security had improved. What has happened now has put a stop to the optimism.”
In a recent message to ACN, Pope Benedict XVI stated that the Church in the Middle East is “threatened in its very existence” and support for it has been a top priority of the charity.
Vatican City, Nov 30, 2009 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI reached out to Bartholomew I and the Eastern Church Monday in his annual letter to the Patriarch celebrating the Feast of St. Andrew. The message encouraged continued ecumenical talks towards unification of the churches of the East and West and "openness to the Holy Spirit" to guide them in the process.
The letter was delivered to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Istanbul, Bartholomew I, by way of a Papal delegation led by the President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity Cardinal Walter Kasper. The delegation concelebrated Mass with the Patriarch and gave him the letter in a ceremony afterwards.
The message included words of shared celebration for the Feast of St. Andrew, patron of the Patriarchate of Constantinople
Citing St. Andrew's martyrdom, the Pope wrote "The memory of the holy martyrs compels all Christians to bear witness to their faith before the world. There is an urgency in this call especially in our own day, in which Christianity is faced with increasingly complex challenges. The witness of Christians will surely be all the more credible if all believers in Christ are 'of one heart and soul.'
"Our Churches have committed themselves sincerely over the last decades to pursuing the path towards the re-establishment of full communion, and although we have not yet reached our goal, many steps have been taken that have enabled us to deepen the bonds between us."
Said the Pontiff of this relationship, it "should not be hindered by those who remain bound to the remembrance of historical differences, which impedes their openness to the Holy Spirit who guides the Church and is able to transform all human failings into opportunities for good."
The Pope referenced the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, which met for the 11th time in a plenary session in Cyprus in October, as progress towards unity. "The meeting was marked by a spirit of solemn purpose and a warm sentiment of closeness."
Pope Benedict XVI chose to reiterate the words that he had used while in Phanar, Turkey in 2006, to express his the Roman Catholic Church's wish for an “ecclesiology of communion” in recognizing the establishment of the Petrine lineage of the Church of Rome. He wrote, "It is a question of seeking together, inspired by the model of the first millennium, the forms in which the ministry of the Bishop of Rome may accomplish a service of love recognized by one and all."
"Yet even as we make this journey towards full communion," he continued, "we should already offer common witness by working together in the service of humanity, especially in defending the dignity of the human person, in affirming fundamental ethical values, in promoting justice and peace, and in responding to the suffering that continues to afflict our world, particularly hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and the inequitable distribution of resources."
Newark, N.J., Nov 30, 2009 (CNA) -
The New Jersey bishops asked pastors to read a statement to their parishioners last weekend which explained the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage and encouraged the faithful to pray that New Jersey will not pass a same-sex “marriage” measure. Same-sex “marriage” advocates are working to put the bill before the current governor who has promised to sign it before he leaves office in January.
His successor has promised to veto the bill.
The bishops began their letter by acknowledging a shift toward “secular individualism” noted in the “recent authorization of 'marriage' between individuals of the same sex in a few states and the call for passage of a same sex 'marriage' law in New Jersey.”
“As Catholics, we must not stand by in silence in the face of the many challenges that threaten marriage and, in turn, children and the public good,” they asserted. “We must not shirk from our responsibility.”
“Marriage faces challenges from a society more focused on individual satisfaction than on the Gospel,” the bishops' letter stated. “We must protect and promote marriage. We must not abandon the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage and the complementarity of the sexes – a truth that is evident to right reason and recognized as such by the major cultures of the world.”
They continued calling for support for those who struggle with same-sex attraction: “We must pledge our support to all family members, including those who choose to remain single. We must help those entering marriage to prepare for the challenges, sacrifices and joys to come. We must reach out with the special compassion of Christ to those married couples and families experiencing difficulties, anxiety, and illness.”
The bishops then stressed that defining marriage between one man and one woman would not take away from same-sex couples' rights to have hospital visitation privileges or employee benefits.
“In New Jersey, same sex couples have every benefit and right without exception that the State of New Jersey grants to heterosexual married couple,” the bishops noted. “Same sex civil unions may represent a new and a different type of institution, one in which government grants to same sex couples benefits and protections, but same sex unions are not marriage.”
The bishops the argued that the same-sex marriage initiative is an attempt to redefine marriage entirely and change the structure of marriage from being the union of one man and one woman.
“In New Jersey, the debate about same sex marriage is not about benefits and rights. The Civil Union Act [N.J. Statutes 37:1-31(a)] settled that issue once and for all. In New Jersey, same sex couples have every benefit and right without exception that the State of New Jersey grants to heterosexual married couples. The same sex “marriage” initiative is an attempt to change the historic structure of marriage as a union only of a man and a woman. This initiative ignores human nature because throughout all of human history marriage has required the complementarity of man and woman.”
The bishop's letter comes in wake of the victory of Maine's Question 1, which repealed a same-sex “marriage” law enacted by the Maine legislature. Same-sex unions are also highly contested in Washington D.C. where the city council, which will be voting on a same-sex “marriage” proposition on Dec.1, has refused to allow a petition which would allow voters to weigh in on the issue.
In this year's election, New Jersey voters elected Chris Christie, a practicing Catholic who said he would veto the same-sex marriage bill. Christie takes office on January 19. Pro-gay lawmakers are scrambling to put the bill before the current Governor Jon Corzine, who said that he would sign the bill, before he leaves office.
However, according to the Christian Post, a Quinnipiac University poll released last Wednesday shows that 49% of New Jersey voters oppose the bill while only 46% support it.