San Antonio, Texas, Feb 15, 2010 (CNA) - Archbishop José H. Gomez of San Antonio issued his third pastoral letter today, urging the laity to embrace the task of evangelization, calling it “the duty of every believer.” The task of evangelization is all the more necessary because of the “de-Christianized” American culture, he said.
“We have a duty,” stated Archbishop Gomez, “to bear witness to God. It is a duty of delight, a duty we carry out with joy and thanksgiving. We want the world beginning with those nearest to us, to share in what we have been given – the free gift of God's grace and the joy that comes with knowing the truth that sets us free.”
Marking his fifth anniversary as Archbishop of San Antonio, the prelate said that he wanted his letter to continue the archdiocese's “reflection on the Christian life by talking about our duty as disciples to bear witness to Christ and his Gospel.”
Recognizing that this is the Year for Priests, Archbishop Gomez said he intentionally wanted his pastoral letter to focus on the laity and “the priestly soul of the lay apostolate.” Evangelization, he wrote, “is not an option or obligation reserved for priests, religious and bishops. It is the duty of every believer.”
Moreover, the archbishop explained, every person in the Church “shares in Christ's priesthood” and everyone who has been baptized “has a priestly soul.”
“As lay people, you are called to offer your daily work and prayer as a spiritual sacrifice of praise to God. You are called to live and work for God in a spirit of love, with a desire to serve him in all things and to do everything you can to help the souls around you.”
When it comes to evangelizing, the San Antonio archbishop said it begins “in the heart,” and that the experience of knowing “God's mercy and love” is what prompts the faithful to “testify to the great difference that Jesus Christ has made in our lives.”
Arcbishop Gomez explained that he is issuing the call to evangelize because our culture is “de-Christianized,” since “powerful interests have been at work for some decades now, patiently erasing the influence and memory of our nation's Christian heritage from our laws and public policies, from our arts and literature, from our schools and media, our language and customs, from our entire way of life.”
“The result of this deliberate strategy of secularization is that more and more of our brothers and sisters today live without any awareness of their need for God,” the archbishop said, noting that even “believers face the stark reality that in order to participate in the economic, political, and social life of our country, we are increasingly compelled to conduct ourselves as if God does not exist.”
In light of this, evangelization is ever more imminent, Archbishop Gomez insisted.
“My brothers and sisters, I urge you: we need Catholics who are living their faith and proclaiming it in every profession and walk of life. Through you we can take the truths of the Gospel to every corner of our culture – to the world of arts, politics, and media; to the areas of business, science, and technological research; even to the fields of sports and popular entertainment,” he wrote.
“Proclaiming Christ in these areas does not mean 'proselytizing,'” clarified the prelate.“It means performing your work in these fields to the highest possible standards and with a Christian perspective. It means demonstrating, through your work and friendships with your colleagues, the harmony between faith and reason, and the new insights that are possible if we think of creation and discovery as something we do in partnership with our Creator.”
Archbishop Gomez also reiterated that “all of us in the Church are called to testify to the God-given sanctity and dignity of the human person from conception to natural death. In our evangelization efforts as individuals and as institutions, we must defend the family, the vital cell of society, and the divine institution of marriage as between one man and one woman, which is under attack in our culture and legal system.”
Among those who have a special need for evangelization, the San Antonio archbishop addressed the “millions of Hispanic immigrants in our midst” who are “in danger of drifting away from the Catholic faith to other religions or to know religion at all.” Archbishop Gomez also stated his concern regarding “baptized Catholics who have fallen away from the practice of their faith and from the sacraments of the Church.”
Pointing out that Catholics “cannot preach the Gospel to others unless we have first experienced its good news in our own lives,” he wrote that “evangelization flows from our love of Christ” and that “proclaiming Christ is more than handing on a set of doctrines or a philosophy of life.”
“Proclaiming Christ means bringing men and women into a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. It means bringing people to Jesus and Jesus to people. It means telling people who Christ is, what he teaches, and how we can come to know him better in our lives.”
Archbishop Gomez concluded by saying that “Only the heart that has been converted can lead other hearts to conversion. So we need to pray always for the grace of a new, deepened, life-changing conversion. Conversion is not something that happens only once in our lives. Every day, we have to make a new effort to turn our hearts once more to the Lord.”
Vatican City, Feb 15, 2010 (CNA) -
The highly anticipated meetings between the bishops of Ireland, the Holy Father and leaders of Vatican congregations began on Monday morning. Before the first of the three closed sessions, Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone presided at Mass with the Irish bishops in the Vatican grottoes, where he called for humility and trust in God, saying "this is all the Lord expects of us."
Near the tomb of St. Peter, in the crypt below the altar of the Vatican basilica, Cardinal Bertone and 24 bishops from Ireland celebrated Mass to prepare for two days of meetings. The gatherings are intended to inform the Pope of their concerns regarding the current state of the Church in Ireland and receive feedback from him and members of various congregations of the Holy See.
In his homily, the Vatican's Secretary of State invoked the aid of the Holy Spirit so that "this encounter be the height of charity in truth and bring about a renewed commitment of community and of unity between the Shepherds and the faithful entrusted them."
Noting that trials can come from inside and outside the Church, the cardinal said that "both are painful, but those that come from within are naturally harder and more humiliating."
Although, as St. James affirmed, "every type of test can become a reason for purification and sanctification for the Community of believers, provided they are illuminated by faith," Cardinal Bertone preached.
He also emphasized how important it is to pray and ask God for wisdom, which with "true and sincere humility" will allow the grace of God to "act profoundly and realize a true rebirth."
"Thanks to the humiliation of Christ, the Holy Spirit, that resurrected him from the dead, can also resurrect us from our humiliation and give us new life," the cardinal told the Irish bishops.
The Secretary of State also noted that "storms" like the one that threatened to sink the boat carrying the apostles and Jesus on the Sea of Galilee and "those that rock the boat of the Church through the fault of the sins of some of its members," present an opportunity to "entrust ourselves totally to Him, to the Lord."
"The most dangerous storm," he continued, "is that which touches the heart of believers, shaking their faith and threatening their capacity to entrust themselves to God, to trust in his overabundant providence."
"Dear and venerated Brothers," concluded Cardinal Bertone, "humility and trust: this is all the Lord expects of us."
Pope Benedict is scheduled to hold two sessions of individual meetings today with the Irish bishops. They will be joined by the prefects of five Vatican congregations, including that for Bishops and for the Doctrine of the Faith. A handful of other leaders within the Roman Curia are expected at the meetings, among them the Apostolic Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza.
The first session was held from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and the second from 4:30 to 7:00pm. Tuesday's meeting will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and be followed by a press conference at Vatican Radio's headquarters.
Martin Long, director of communications for the Irish Bishops' Conference told CNA that there would be no immediate press release regarding Monday's discussions.
La Paz, Bolivia, Feb 15, 2010 (CNA) - Archbishop Tito Solari of Cochabamba in Bolivia has called on the faithful to avoid excessive Carnival celebrations this week. In a message to the faithful in his country, he asked Bolivians to avoid excessive alcohol consumption and to act morally and physically respectful “towards ourselves and others.”
Turning to the youth, he urged them to “celebrate by building up our lives, not by destroying ourselves with gestures and acts that humiliate us, make us lose our minds, impoverish us and endanger our health.”
“I think Carnival in Bolivia has a special meaning, especially because of the folkloric aspect that we see in Oruro,” he said. “It is a normal expression of having fun, spending time with others, and becoming a little bit like children during this time.
“That is the positive aspect of carnival: the family celebration, the celebration among friends,” the archbishop stressed.
Archbishop Solari urged Bolivians to strengthen their consciences with the Spirit and to respect God’s law during the festivities, because that “is what brings us true happiness.”
Last month the Archbishop of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Cardinal Julio Terrazas Sandoval addressed Catholics in Bolivia urging them to “tone down” Carnival celebrations as a sacrifice for those suffering due to the earthquake in Haiti.
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Feb 15, 2010 (CNA) - Last week, Archbishop of Santo Domingo, Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez, expressed disappointment in his country's court system calling it “an embarrassment that drug lords operate at will in the Dominican Republic.” He added that “many military leaders and judges are making a mockery of the Dominican people” by releasing criminals who were jailed for various felonies.
The cardinal made his statements during a Mass for doctors, nurses and patients at the Salvador Gautier Hospital.
After pointing out that there are many factors “involved in court decisions to release criminals,” Cardinal Rodriguez underscored that the influence from different international organizations on Dominican criminal law need to be reviewed.
“Unfortunately,” he said, “it is an embarrassment that these bandits are taking over the country with the support of many military leaders and judges.”
In comments last month, Cardinal Rodriguez described the “questionable rulings” by Dominican Republic judges as “painful,” especially with the difficulties the country is facing following Haiti's January 12 earthquake.
Madrid, Spain, Feb 15, 2010 (CNA) - Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona encouraged Catholics in Spain to seek God in the poor and needy this Lent.
“If fasting invites us to sobriety, almsgiving is a call to solidarity. This human and Christian virtue is always necessary, but it is especially urgent in these times of great economic crisis,” the cardinal said in his Lenten message.
Christ calls us to a conversion of the heart, the cardinal continued, because without it, “our works of penance would be sterile and deceiving.”
Thus, the cardinal said, Lent is an opportune time “to reflect on how we live, on the meaning of the things we possess, on the spiritual meaning of fasting, and, especially in this current economic situation, on sharing our own goods with those who are in need.”
Cardinal Martinez Sistach also said Lent should be a time to “strengthen our Christian identity,” returning to our Christian roots. “We must deepen our Christian convictions. This makes us more welcoming to other ethnicities and cultures in order to mutually enrich one another,” he said.
“If we become converted in the human and Christian virtue of solidarity, our Lent will not be a mere parenthesis” before returning to our previous way of life, the cardinal said.
The current crisis does not only require personal conversion, but also institutional changes in favor of greater justice and equity for the needy of our society and the world,” he stated.
Bogotá, Colombia, Feb 15, 2010 (CNA) - During their 88th Plenary Assembly, the bishops of Colombia clarified that strictly pastoral dialogue with rebel groups in the country does not require permission from the government.
According to the bishops’ communications' office, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of Colombia, Bishop Ruben Salazar Gomez, said that “as pastors, we have the duty to dialogue with everyone.”
“We do not need permission for these strictly pastoral discussions. It’s another story when we are trying to reach an agreement between the groups and the government,” the bishop explained. “In that case I think it would be necessary for us to receive authorization from the (country's) president.”
Bishop Jaime Prieto Amaya of Cucuta added that as pastors, “We do not need permission to dialogue with those who are within our ecclesiastical jurisdiction.”
Just as “doctors are for treating the sick,” members of the guerrilla groups “approach us, talk to us and we must attend to them pastorally.
“We cannot reject them because it would be wrong from an evangelical point of view,” he concluded.
Rome, Italy, Feb 15, 2010 (CNA) - A symposium was held in Rome last week to discuss issues presented in a recently released book on "important questions for the future direction and content of ecumenical discussion." The book features the results of 40 years of bilateral dialogues between the Catholic Church and four Christian denominations.
According to a Vatican communique, theologians from the Roman Catholic Church, the World Lutheran Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Anglican Communion and the World Methodist Council met from Feb. 8 - 10 in the offices of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to discuss the content of the book "Harvesting the Fruits: Basic Aspects of Christian Faith in Ecumenical Dialogue," released in Oct. 2009.
Not only did the gathering provide an opportunity for the delegates to appreciate the "remarkable achievement" of the 40th anniversary commemorated by the book, but it also offered participants a forum to examine "the question of the reception of joint statements and agreements, the need for the common witness of Christians at every level and the changed context in which Christianity must undertake its mission."
In the course of the three days, the groups discussed parameters for future ecumenical dialogue and considered further actions to work towards the "goal of ecumenism, which remains full and visible communion," the Vatican reported.
Participating theologians, hosted by Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, revisited "traditional disagreements" as part of continuing attempts to resolve them. The representatives also contemplated approaches and proposals that might lead them to greater unity.
Delegates to the ecumenical sessions included both veteran and young theologians, who "expressed gratitude for the opportunity to discuss in depth the real challenges encountered in the search for Christian unity, and affirmed that the ability to call together meetings of this nature is a particular ability of Rome, indicating the wider service that the Petrine ministry can offer to ecumenism."
"Positive suggestions" introduced over the course of the symposium will be readdressed at the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in November 2010.
Rome, Italy, Feb 15, 2010 (CNA) - Cardinal William Joseph Levada celebrated Mass for the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Croatian Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac last Wednesday at the church of St. Girolamo in Rome. In his homily, Cardinal Levada spoke of the fortitude and heroism of the 20th century martyr.
According to an article in L'Osservatore Romano last week, Cardinal Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, preached at the Mass on the importance of staying true to the essence of the Gospel which, while it may not be easy, "doesn't discourage," as evidenced in the life of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac.
Cardinal Levada said that although the martyr was never able to wear the insignias of the cardinal because he was in prison, "he lived what they stand for... sacrificing his own life for the truth and the unity of the Church in Croatia with the Successor of Peter."
He described the Croatian cardinal as a "hero, and something more" for his refusal to give in to the "farse" of a legal process that took his liberty but wasn't able to take his honor or dignity.
He was "a man who loved justice, detesting every falsehood" and was thus "persecuted, slandered (and) tested but didn't fold," declared Cardinal Levada.
Cardinal Stepinac, who was made Archbishop of Zagreb in 1937,was imprisoned in 1946 by the ruling communist regime for alleged collaboration with the fascist Ustasa regime during World War II.
After five years in a Yugoslav jail, he was given the option of seeking refuge in Rome or be confined to house arrest in his home parish of Krasic. He opted for the latter.
In 1953, Pope Pius XII made him a cardinal, although he was never allowed travel to the Holy See to be officially elevated.
He died in 1960 of a blood disorder, which was said to have been caused by the conditions he endured in jail.
After the fall communism in Yugoslavia, the original court decision of 1946 was overturned and Pope John Paul II beatified him as a martyr for the faith in 1998.
In his homily, Cardinal Levada proposed that, as is true for all Christians, the secret to the life of the martyr was in his capacity to change his perspective, choosing to concentrate on God rather than the "limited reasonings of man." This ability to confront life with true faith, preached the cardinal, doesn't come about overnight, but must be reached through a life of true faith.
Cardinal Levada offered the model of the martyr as particularly relevant in the Year for Priests, since the Croatian cardinal stayed close to his people when he could have escaped oppression.
"His presence, despite being a prisoner, was a sign of hope and truth for all," added the prefect of the CDF, noting that this can be observed in those pilgrims who continue to visit his burial place, to confess their sins and participate in the Mass.
The Mass celebrated by Cardinal Levada was held simultaneously with Masses presided over by Cardinal Vinko Puljic in Krasic--the site of Cardinal Stepinac's imprisonment and death-- and by Cardinal Josip Bozanic in the cathedral of Zagreb, where the beatified martyr's tomb lies.
Port au Prince, Haiti, Feb 15, 2010 (CNA) - Haitians have remembered the victims of January’s devastating earthquake with three days of mourning and fasting. Stores, gas stations and banks have closed down and the roads have been emptied to make way for the event’s processions.
“Time has stopped in the different parts of Port-au-Prince,” reported Mathilde Magnier, Caritas Communications Officer in Port-au-Prince.
From dusk until dawn in Port-au-Prince, loudspeakers broadcast the Gospel, sermons and prayers. Writing in a report on the Caritas blog, Magnier described the mood as “a strange atmosphere of joy, despair and reverence.”
She said that Catholics, Protestants and followers of voodoo joined in the observance.
Since the main places of worship were destroyed, ceremonies took place in the city’s waste grounds, schoolyards and temporary shelter camps.
The solemn mourning processions were made up of people openly grieving. Women were dressed in white, children wore their best clothes and men tied black armbands of mourning around their arms.
“Those who can walk help the injured in their wheelchairs and support those hobbling on crutches. Some sing and dance while others are prostrate,” Magnier wrote.
Thousands of faithful gathered on the steps of the destroyed cathedral for a memorial Mass celebrated by Fr. Serge Chadic, Director General of Caritas Haiti.
A man named Janel told Caritas that all his family members survived the quake. He was at the Mass to support those who were suffering.
“We were all deeply affected by the quake, we must help each other. That is why I am here,” he explained.
A woman named Lérénie was also among those at the cathedral. She sat on a piece of rubble in the middle of the crowd, holding her four-month-old baby in her arms. Her husband and two brothers were killed in the earthquake.
“These are difficult days. As Haitians we have to mourn our dead together,” she commented to Caritas.
Lérénie said she had to cling to her faith. “That and my boy are all I have left,” she said.
Rome, Italy, Feb 15, 2010 (CNA) - In a Sunday afternoon media briefing at the Irish College in Rome, Bishop of Clogher Joseph Duffy, chair of the communications commission of the Irish Bishops’ Conference, revealed details of this week’s meetings with the Pope and members of Vatican congregations. He emphasized that survivors are the “top priority” of the discussions.
Bishop Duffy said the summit will not be a “cosmetic exercise” and reported that Irish bishops will be encouraged to speak frankly.
“Following the publication of the Murphy Report, the Holy Father has, due to the very serious situation which prevails in the Church in Ireland, called individual bishops to Rome,” stated Bishop Duffy at the briefing.
He indicated that it was important that Benedict XVI had invited the prelates not as a conference, but as individuals.
The bishop reported that over Monday and Tuesday, 24 bishops from Ireland will be meeting with the Holy Father and high-ranking members of the pontifical congregations. There will be three total meetings over the two-day period.
Each of the bishops will have the floor with Pope Benedict for seven minutes. Cardinal Sean Brady, primate of all Ireland, will be the first of the Irish delegation to speak.
In the meetings, said Bishop Duffy, the group will examine problems and “consider an approach that will help to give assurance to families and restore confidence and serenity to the clergy and the faithful.”
Having consulted with survivors, clergy, religious and lay faithful in their dioceses in recent weeks, each bishop will use the time he has with the Pope and the prefects of the various congregations to “speak from his own experience.”
Bishop Duffy said that victims of abuse will be “at the top of the list of priorities.” He emphasized that when they speak to the Holy Father “the very first concern has to be the question of survivors and the enormous injustice and cruelty that they have suffered, and we must never lose sight of that as a priority.”
“Each of us will speak to the Holy Father personally and we have been encouraged to speak in a frank, open way,” added the bishop.
The entire summit would be "a flop,” he said, if the bishops were to leave out important details or “if this was to be seen simply as a formality or some kind of a glossing over (of) the difficult parts. It’s meant to be frank and open, and if it’s not either of those it will not have succeeded.”
The challenge is in the bishops’ hands to make their cases a strongly as possible, Bishop Duffy commented. He added that the bishops would let Pope Benedict down “if we didn’t say what was on our mind… and that’s the whole point of the exercise.”
Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone will attend the meeting as will members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Clergy, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Congregation for Catholic Education, and the Pontifical Council for the Integration of Legislative Texts.
A full press conference will take place on Tuesday at the conclusion of the meeting with the Holy Father to conclude at 1 p.m. on that day to allow time for the bishops to return to their dioceses for Ash Wednesday celebrations.
Bishop Duffy assured the Sunday media briefing that a pastoral letter will come about “in due course” from the Holy Father, after he has heard the bishops’ accounts and has had time to consider what they had to say.
“Otherwise, it wouldn’t be taken fully seriously… this is not just a cosmetic exercise as some people might seem to think, it’s very serious,” he remarked.
“The fullness of truth must come out,” he said, “everything must be laid on the table.”
Lahore, Pakistan, Feb 15, 2010 (CNA) - A Catholic family in a Pakistani village has suffered from threats by Muslim neighbors, culminating in their house being burned to the ground.
According to the Vatican-based Fides news agency, the family of Walayat Masih from the village of Shadokey near Lahore had been threatened repeatedly by Muslim neighbors who insisted the family convert to Islam or leave the area.
Wayalat had refused to sell his home that bordered his Muslim neighbors because he had inherited the property from his ancestors. Following the alleged threats, the Masih family home was reportedly burned to the ground on Jan. 26, leaving Walayat's wife and four children homeless.
Fides reported that although the family sought to register the complaint, the local police not only refused to do so but further harassed the family.
“It is a very serious act of intimidation,” said Xavier Williams, vice president of “Life for All,” a NGO which seeks to ensure human rights for Christians in Pakistan. “It is yet another case of patent injustice against Christian citizens,” Williams told Fides on Monday. “The institutions and the police should protect and uphold the law, instead of being accomplices in lawlessness.”
“It seems that local authorities support or deny these blatant violations of personal rights,” he added.
According to Fides, “Life for All” has helped relocate the family to Rawalpindi, providing personal care for them. The organization has also enlisted the help of a lawyer and filed a lawsuit in the Rawalpindi High Court against the Shadokey police for negligence. Judges are currently investigating the allegations and have summoned the leaders of the Shadokey police station.
Fides remarked in its Monday article that the inaction of the police in this situation is reminiscent of a recent case where a 12 year old Catholic girl was allegedly raped and killed by a wealthy Muslim lawyer in Lahore last month. It was reported by local Christian leaders that the police only responded to the allegations after angry protests from Christians as well as some Muslims.