Archive of March 25, 2010

Catholic Health Association benefits financially from new health care bill, says critic

Washington D.C., Mar 25, 2010 (CNA) - In a Catholic Advocate article on Wednesday, author Anne Hendershott criticized the Catholic Health Association's (CHA) support for the new health care bill and outlined the details of how she believes the group will benefit financially from the legislation.

Hendershott, who is chair of the Politics, Philosophy, and Economics Program at The King’s College in New York City, began her article recalling the words of Sr. Carol Keehan, CHA's director. On March 11, Sr. Keehan wrote a letter to the House of Representatives which urged the congressmen to “move quickly” to support the Senate-approved bill. According to Hendershott, the letter “was simply a confirmation of what many of us already knew – that Sr. Keehan’s organization has been supporting the President’s plans for health care reform from the earliest days.” 

“And,” Hendershott added, “although her support for health care reform always adds the qualifier that 'any health care reform package will provide no federal funding for abortion,' she must know, as the Bishops continue to point out, that unless a 'correction' is applied to the Senate bill, the bill she is defending will greatly expand public funding for abortion.”

Hendershott then pointed to a video released by CHA last June in which Sr. Keehan stated, “how important health reform is for our economy, not just for the poor, but for our middle class, and for our businesses.”

“When Sr. Keehan’s video statement cited the importance of health care reform 'to businesses,'” said Hendershott, “she may have been referring to the health care businesses she represents. As their representative, Sr. Keehan joins the more than 3,000 health care reform lobbyists on the Hill. And although Catholic hospitals and Catholic long-term care facilities were created to serve the poor, and most of them do a fine job of doing so, the Wall Street Journal revealed recently that some non-profit Catholic health care organizations have become very lucrative.”

“Some of the top executives at CHA’s member institutions – the Catholic hospital presidents and chief executive officers of Catholic health care organizations – are among the highest paid hospital administrators in the country, and some of them sit on CHA’s board,” said Hendershott, who also claimed that these leaders' “hospitals have much to gain by helping to pass President Obama’s health care reform.”

Hendershott cited the example of Lloyd Dean, CEO of Catholic Healthcare West, who began a multi-faceted campaign last September that contributed significant resources to President Obama's health care reform. According to Hendershott, Dean, who received a salary of $5.3 million in 2006, became a chair of CHA in 2008.

“Dean is not alone in receiving what most readers might conclude is a generous salary,” stated Hendershott. “According to the Wall Street Journal, Ascension Health paid its CEO an annual salary of $3.3 million. Like lobbyists on Capitol Hill, advocates representing Catholic hospitals in the health care reform debate are also paid well. Although Sr. Keehan’s $856,093 salary in 2006 (up from $654,915 in 2005) was paid directly to her religious order, according to the CHA’s 2007 IRS 990 report, several key employees at her organization received salaries of more than $300,000.”

“These health care reform advocates know that the single biggest variable for non-profit hospitals is how well insured the patient population is,” Hendershott asserted.

The author concluded her remarks on Wednesday by stating that “Faithful Catholics expect that advocates like Sr. Keehan remain faithful to the Church’s mission of protecting the unborn, the elderly, and those who cannot speak for themselves. Breaking with the Bishops in advocating passage of the Senate bill has created confusion for Catholics and has given lawmakers 'permission' to pass a bill that will greatly expand the rates of abortion.”

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Pilgrims in England to walk 120 miles, bear life-sized cross

London, England, Mar 25, 2010 (CNA) - During the upcoming Holy Week, pilgrims from multiple areas in England will walk 120 miles around the country carrying a life-sized wooden cross. The experience offers participants an opportunity to rejuvenate spiritually and is “intense and rewarding.”

The annual pilgrimage, called Student's Cross, is the oldest in the nation and will bring together more that 250 people. The pilgrims will set out on March 27 from 10 different parts of the country and convene at the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk on April 2, Good Friday. The 10 groups  will remain in the area to celebrate the Easter Vigil.

“Pilgrimage is an intense and rewarding experience,” said Dave Stanley, Student's Cross 2010 director on Tuesday. “It is more relevant today than it has ever been for those prepared to face its challenges.”

Reflecting on the pressures and worries associated with modern life, Stanley noted that the event has spiritual benefits to it. “Going on pilgrimage is a fantastic way to strip back to the basics, examine the fundamental questions in life and consider what is really important,” Stanley said.

The pilgrimage can also offer a time for vocation discernment. According to Stanley, it “enables people to think deeply about the direction they are taking, how they can see their role in the world and how God can play a part in their lives. It also offers a unique way to celebrate Easter – both a chance to recharge your spiritual batteries and a crash course in community living.”

Though the title of the pilgrimage bears the word 'student,' it is intended for those of all ages and has been since its inception in 1948.

“We are an immensely varied group of people,” the director noted.“ From the very young to the very experienced. From people who feel secure in their faith as Christians, to people who have simply found that walking with friends restores them in some way. We are students, parents, teenagers and children, people with jobs and people without. Fit and unfit, wildly enthusiastic and apparently reluctant. What we have in common is that we find this pilgrimage an invaluable way of connecting with what is most important in our lives.”

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Archbishop Beuchlein, facing tumor surgery, reflects on the nature of illness

Indianapolis, Ind., Mar 25, 2010 (CNA) - Archbishop of Indianapolis Daniel M. Beuchlein, O.S.B., will undergo surgery to remove a small tumor as a precautionary measure, he announced on Monday. He said his health problems have driven him to pray for others and to contemplate a “deeper understanding” of illness.

The archbishop said a recent medical checkup revealed the tumor, which his doctors believe to be benign. Though further test results are awaited, he expects to have surgery in mid- or late April. He may need four to five weeks’ recovery time.

“I regret the interruption this may cause in my normal obligations,” Archbishop Beuchlein wrote, reporting that he did not expect the day-to-day operations of the archdiocese to be greatly affected.

“We are blessed to have so many dedicated and hardworking clergy, religious and parish life coordinators as well as an excellent administrative staff. Our many ministries will continue as usual,” he said.

Previously, the archbishop has suffered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma but the tumor is not related. He has also had a complete shoulder replacement and a kidney stone surgically removed.

“One of the difficulties about my health problems is that they become public because of my absence from liturgical ceremonies during recovery,” he commented in a March 19 column for the archdiocesan newspaper.

One of the “positive consequences” of his cancer is the impetus to spend more time praying for others who have cancer or other debilitating illnesses.

“During chemotherapy, I learned to sit patiently and pray. Anyone who has been sick and waits for a doctor’s appointment or lies on a gurney waiting for a scan of some kind knows what I mean. I especially notice how much poor people have to wait for even the most basic needs of their lives.”

The archbishop wrote that he will always pray for a “deeper understanding” of the meaning of his affliction with cancer.

“I know God does not want bad things to happen to us. But he permits it. I guess since original sin some things go wrong simply because they can. And it is important to see them as opportunities to join our suffering to those of Christ.”

Archbishop Beuchlein closed his Monday statement by voicing appreciation for prayers.

“Please know that I will continue to pray for all of you.”

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Rep. Smith sees Google's China decision as boost for human rights

Washington D.C., Mar 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - In a congressional statement on Wednesday, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) praised the internet company Google for its decision to stop censoring search results for requests from China. The Congressman described the decision as "an important boost of encouragement for millions of Chinese human rights activists and political and religious dissidents.”

After urging Google in Jan. to sever its provisions to Chinese government, Rep. Smith said that on March 22, “Google fulfilled its January commitment to stop censoring results on its Chinese search engine. This is a remarkable, and welcomed action, and an important boost of encouragement for millions of Chinese human rights activists and political and religious dissidents.”

“Google’s recent actions are a blow against the cynical silence of so many when it comes to the Chinese government’s human rights abuses – a blast of honesty and courage and a good example of responsible and principled corporate policy,” he added.

Rep. Smith  also stated at Wednesday's Congressional-Executive Commission on China that “Reporters Without Borders documents that in China alone, at least 72 people are known to be imprisoned for Internet postings. But the victims of the Chinese government’s assault on Internet freedom include the entire Chinese people, denied their right to free expression, denied access to information, and often self-censoring out of fear.”

“Even beyond this,” the Congressman noted, “the Chinese government’s victims include other peoples, tyrannized by governments with which the Chinese government sells or gives its advice on technologies and techniques of Internet repression – reportedly these include Cuba, Vietnam, Burma, Belarus, and Sri Lanka.”

Rep. Smith's legislation is called the Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA), and though it was approved in 2008 by multiple House committees, it was never brought to the House floor. The New Jersey Representative reintroduced the bill in 2009 and has urged fellow representatives to finally vote on it.

“We need to work to protect advocates of human rights and democracy who face real threats from their governments,” Rep. Smith asserted in a Jan 13 statement to Congress. “U.S. companies should have no role in political censorship.”

Some of the provisions in GOFA include protections for personal identifying information such as email accounts, prevention of U.S. IT companies blocking U.S. government websites, record keeping by U.S. IT companies on demands from the government for information on internet users and notification of the same to the Attorney General, as well as the establishment of an Office of Global Internet Freedom within the State Department.

In addition to Google supporting the legislation, GOFA has also received the endorsement of organizations which include Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Wei Jingsheng Foundation, China Information Center, Laogai Research Foundation, International Campaign for Tibet, Uyghur-American Association, China Aid Association, PEN American Center as well as the World Press Freedom Committee.

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Fr. Lombardi explains Vatican response to sexual abuse by Wisconsin priest

Vatican City, Mar 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The New York Times printed an article on Wednesday in which they alleged that in the 1990s the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), then Cardinal Ratzinger, did not respond to letters of a Wisconsin bishop on the matter of a sexually abusive priest. In an official response to the Times for the article, Fr. Federico Lombardi addressed the specific case and the CDF response.

According to the Times' article, Fr. Lawrence C. Murphy started working at the St John’s School for the Deaf in 1950. During his time there, civil and Church authorities were allegedly aware that he molested boys in the school.

He was moved from the Diocese of Milwaukee to the northern Wisconsin Diocese of Superior in 1974, where he continued working with children in parishes and even a juvenile detention hall.

After nearly two decades had passed and repeated complaints were received from victims about Fr. Murphy’s actions, Archbishop of Milwaukee Rembert G. Weakland began to investigate the cases in 1993. As part of the investigations, he hired a social worker to interview Fr. Murphy, during which he admitted to molesting around 200 boys.

The Times reported that, in 1996, after information had come to light that the priest had made solicitations in the confessional, thus violating the Sacrament of Penance, the archbishop referred the case to the Vatican.

Archbishop Weakland sent two letters about the violations to Cardinal Ratzinger, who was prefect of the CDF at the time. After eight months, he received orders from Cardinal Ratzinger's second-in-command, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, instructing the U.S. bishops conference to carry out a canonical trial behind closed doors.

The investigations ended abruptly, they report, when Fr. Murphy sent a letter to the Vatican protesting the trial claiming that he had repented, his health was poor and the statute of limitations had passed.

Archbishop Weakland continued to call for the defrocking of the priest until a final meeting in the Vatican in May, 2008.

The New York Times stated that, “even as the pope himself in a recent letter to Irish Catholics has emphasized the need to cooperate with civil justice in abuse cases, the correspondence seems to indicate that the Vatican’s insistence on secrecy has often impeded such cooperation.”

"At the same time," the report continues, "the officials’ reluctance to defrock a sex abuser shows that on a doctrinal level, the Vatican has tended to view the matter in terms of sin and repentance more than crime and punishment.”

Fr. Federico Lombardi released his full response to the New York Times about the “Murphy Case” to members of the press in the Holy See’s Press Office on Thursday. The Vatican spokesman's response was only cited in part in the article from the New York Times.

He underscored that “Father Murphy violated the law and, more importantly, the sacred trust that his victims had placed in him.”

Fr. Lombardi related that victims reported abuses to the civil authorities in the mid-1970’s, but “according to news reports, that investigation was dropped.”

The CDF was made aware of the matter nearly two decades later, he pointed out, adding that the examination of how to address the question canonically was initiated, since the case involved a violation of the Sacrament of Penance.

Fr. Lombardi emphasized in his reply, “It is important to note that the canonical question presented to the Congregation was unrelated to any potential civil or criminal proceedings against Father Murphy.”

“In such cases, the Code of Canon law does not envision automatic penalties, but recommends that a judgment be made, not excluding even the greatest ecclesiastical penalty of dismissal from the clerical state," he explained.

Responding to the question of punishment, Fr. Lombardi referred to the fact that the abusive priest was "elderly and in very poor health, and that he was living in seclusion and no allegations of abuse had been reported in over 20 years." This led to the CDF suggestion to Milwaukee's archbishop of "restricting Father Murphy's public ministry and requiring that Father Murphy accept full responsibility for the gravity of his acts."

Fr. Lombardi notes that the priest died about four months afterward, "without further incident." He was 72 years old.

Concerning the suggestion of a link between the "non-reporting" of child abuse to civil authorities and the application of the Vatican document Crimen sollicitationis, which establishes Church policy against priests who violate the sanctity of the Sacrament of Penance by making advances in the confessional, Fr. Lombardi stated that "there is no such relationship."

"Indeed, contrary to some statements that have circulated in the press, neither Crimen nor the Code of Canon Law ever prohibited the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement authorities," he insisted.

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Many artists desire to renew partnership with the Church, Vatican official affirms

Santiago, Chile, Mar 25, 2010 (CNA) - The president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, noted this week that during Pope Benedict XVI’s most recent meeting with artists, several specifically asked for the Church to renew her partnerships with artists.

“Meeting with numerous artists from different continents, we clearly saw their desire and will to come together with the Church and her spiritual, model, and cultural patrimony.”  The archbishop added in comments to the Chilean daily “El Mercurio,”  that Church-artist dialogue “has been interrupted and fragmented in recent times.”

Today Christians are less present in the artistic world in comparison to other historical periods, due to two main reasons, he explained.

“On the one hand, if we think about the last two centuries, the Church has sometimes appeared closed in on herself, unconcerned with the cultural phenomena and tendencies that intensely move people and consciences. And on the other hand, there has been and is no lack of philosophical, political, economic and cultural currents obstructing the actions of the Church and acting to marginalize and deprive her of any possibility of communication and intervention in society,” the archbishop said.

He went on to underscore the importance of decorum in art and liturgy explaining that “in the history of the Church and of Christian art we find two fundamental currents, both of which are important and are certainly complementary: a first current holds that the beauty and richness of works of art reflect the beauty of God, while the other proposes the essentiality and simplicity of the forms so that the absolute beauty of God emerges even more. 

“Evidently, the two possibilities correspond to different sensibilities and cultural and artistic contexts,” the archbishop concluded.

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Vatican records from World War II era now online

Vatican City, Mar 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Holy See announced today that documents that had only been available in hard-copy in libraries are now available online through the Vatican's website. The new records "represent a documentary resource of inestimable value that is now at the disposal of scholars and all interested persons," the Vatican said.

The official "Acts of the Holy See" from 1865 to 2007, taken from the Actae Sanctae Sedis and Acta Apostolicae Sedis collections are accessible in Adobe Acrobat format (pdf), as well as the twelve-volume set of the Acts and Documents of the Holy See Relative to the Second World War, ordered by Pope Paul VI and edited by four Jesuit historians.

Access to the resources is free of charge.

According to a Vatican communique, the offering of the collection to the public "is a great contribution to research and information on the history and activities of the Holy See."

The texts can be accessed at, the official website of the Holy See, in the "Resource Library" section or directly from the home page of the English site by clicking on the icon under that of the "Letter to the Catholics of Ireland."

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Holy Father accepts no excuses for clerical abuse, affirms cardinal

Vatican City, Mar 25, 2010 (CNA) - The president of the Italian bishops’ conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, remarked this week that in the Holy Father's pastoral letter to Irish Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI teaches the faithful to not fear the truth about the sexual abuse of minors by priests.  Likewise the Pontiff underscores his firm decision to confront this issue without excuses or cover-ups.

Cardinal Bagnasco made his statements at a meeting of the Italian bishops’ executive committee, which took place this week.  The cardinal said, “The more attempts there are to disparage his pure and kind character, the more the People of God view the Pope with emotion and pride.  For this reason too we renew our strongest relationship, our deepest affections, and our full and solid communion" with the Church.

In his letter, the cardinal recalled, the Pope confronts the painful truth about the clerical sex abuse crisis and notes that the Church must not fall back on the "tendency to drudge up excuses for the actions of certain clergy members.”

His letter is “imbued with a sincere spirit of contrition and the unquestionable testimony of the Church, which is not on the defensive when she must take upon herself the ‘consternation,’ the ‘sense of betrayal,’ and the ‘remorse’ for what some of her ministers have done.”

“Benedict XVI leaves no room for uncertainty or minimization,” Cardinal Bagnasco said, adding that “the clear initiatives the Holy See has given for years confirm the determination to arrive at the truth with the necessary means, once the facts have been sorted out.”

“At this present time in which she feels humiliation, the Church learns from the Pope to not fear the truth, even when it is painful, to not hide it or cover it up.  However, this does not mean enduring strategies to discredit her in general,” the cardinal said.

“It is appropriate, then, that we all return to calling things by their names at all times, to indentify evil in all of its gravity and in the multiplicity of its manifestations,” he added.

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Pilgrims to Shroud of Turin will see a 'mirror of the Gospel,' Cardinal Poletto says

Vatican City, Mar 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal Severino Poletto, custodian of the Holy Shroud and Archbishop of Turin, was in Rome on Thursday morning to officially present plans and progress at a press conference for the Shroud's exposition this spring. He emphasized the "spiritual" benefits that will be provided to pilgrims through their contemplation of the image.

The famous Shroud, which is believed to be the burial shroud of Jesus, will be on display in the Cathedral of Turin from April 10 - May 20 of this year. Msgr. Giuseppe Ghiberti, president of the archdiocesan commission on the Shroud, said at the press conference that no research would be done on it during the days of the exposition.

Speaking about how the exposition will be the first in the new millenium and the first since its restoration in 2002, Cardinal Poletto said it must be remembered that the event should not be seen as "religious tourism," but instead, as "a spiritual and pastoral initiative."

"In the Shroud we are able to read all of the marks, all the particulars of the person of Jesus as they are described in the Gospel. It's clear that ... our Christian faith is not found in the Shroud," rather it is based on the "Gospel and the witness of the Apostles who announced Jesus Christ as the only Savior of the world, crucified but, most of all, resurrected."

This exposition, he continued, is an "occasion to offer to the Christian faith, not the foundation ... but an aid to meditation, to prayer, to the contemplation of a extraordinary, tragic ... mysterious suffering that, as we believe, corresponds to the suffering of Christ."

Cardinal Poletto pointed out that regardless of the fact that there is no "certainty" about the origin of the linen, and even though no one has been able to reproduce it artificially, "our faith ... our prayer ... our meditation is aided by the contemplation of this image."

He repeated the words of Venerable John Paul II, who said that the Shroud is "the mirror of the Gospel"account, including its evidence of whipping, nails and blood.

"From a spiritual point of view it's important that we offer to the faithful the opportunity to see and to venerate this mysterious image," the cardinal added.

The Holy Father is one of over 1.3 million people, including 8,000 Americans, who will be in Turin to see the Shroud in the nearly two months of exposition. On May 2, among other events with the youth and local clergy, he will visit the Cathedral of Turin, where he will give what Cardinal Poletto called "a much awaited reflection" on the passion of Christ.

The cardinal expressed gratitude for the "great gift" that Pope Benedict XVI will be making to the archdiocese and the city by visiting in person.

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Bishops call on Pakistani government to combat anti-Christian persecution

Rome, Italy, Mar 25, 2010 (CNA) - The president of the Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha, has condemned the recent anti-Christian attacks in the country and called for “action,” not only “words” from the government “to defend Christians.”

According to Fides news agency, Archbishop Saldanha was referring to the recent cases of Christians being burned alive for refusing to convert to Islam.  In the name of the Church in Pakistan, he called on the government to bring justice and to prevent these acts from going unpunished.  “We demand that the rights of Christians are respected, as they should be for all other citizens,” he said.

"The political authorities, the media of Pakistan, the international community, civil society: all are called to do more to create awareness of suffering and insecurity of Christians and religious minorities, who should be protected in their dignity and fundamental human rights,” the archbishop told Fides.

He called on the government to quickly set up a "direct hotline" number to the office of President Ali Zardari to report anti-Christian violence. "It would be an important step; we support it strongly. It is often difficult for Christians to have contact with the authorities,” he said.

Meanwhile, Francis Mehboob Sada, director of the Christian Study Center in Rawalpindi, an ecumenical center for the promotion and protection of minorities in Pakistan, told Fides, "We are bitter about the vulnerability of Christians who suffer under the regime of apartheid and the stigma of persecution.”  “The attitude of the police was appalling and shameful. With other NGOs, we will write to the President and the Prime Minister, asking for urgent action,” he said.

Archbishop Saldanha also called for “greater security in view of the Holy Week celebrations. The Christian community wants to celebrate Easter in peace. Good Friday for Christians in Pakistan will be experienced with particular intensity and prayer, as the suffering of the present unites us in the Cross of Christ."

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Human life under attack in Peru, cardinal warns

Lima, Peru, Mar 25, 2010 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, warned this week that human life from the moment of conception is under attack in Peru through the country's "actions and policies such as abortion and artificial contraception, which are massively promoted as a health policy.”  However in reality, he explained, they “attack the dignity of the human person.”

The cardinal’s comments came in reference to a decision by Peru’s Minister of Health, Oscar Ugarte, to allow the distribution of the morning-after pill despite a ruling to the contrary by the country’s Constitutional Court.

“It is a very grave sin to manipulate the beginning of life, to prevent the implantation of a human embryo, or to interrupt the life of a child in any stage before birth. It is to kill a human being, in whom the image of God is present,” the cardinal said.

Any healthy culture recognizes the fundamental principle of the value and dignity of human life, which is protected by the precept, “Thou shalt not kill,” he continued. 

Cardinal Cipriani addressed parents as well and invited them to welcome their children “not only as a great gift from God,” but also as “a new way of receiving Christ himself into the family. 

“In the experience of the transmission of life that all fathers and mothers experience, the fundamental fact of our existence is illuminated: they become aware of a specific relationship, a communion with God, and the sacred value of human life,” the cardinal stated.

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USCCB communications department to undergo reorganization

Washington D.C., Mar 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Thursday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' communications office released a statement detailing changes that the department will soon undergo.  The reorganization efforts include two new offices, additional staff to oversee Spanish language translations and the use of Web 2.0.

“These changes will allow us to tap the benefits of the rapidly changing media environment around us,” said Helen Osman, secretary of the Communications Department, who announced the new plan on March 16.

The reorganization effort will be effective May 1 and will first create two new offices:  the Office of Creative Services and the Office of Customer and Client Relations.   A unit for project management in the Office of the Secretary for Communications will also be added.

“The new creative services office,” said Osman, “will produce material to be available in print and digital forms – video, audio, text, Web, mobile devices and other emerging technology.”

Other significant changes, noted Osman, include the addition of new staff members who will oversee Spanish language translations as well as the use of Web 2.0 within the Office of Media Relations.

“We are in a paradigm shift in how people receive information, as profound as when the printing press was invented,” the secretary underscored. “It is important that the Church not only provide its wisdom regarding the primary dignity of the human person in this information evolution, but also take advantage of the opportunities this new media ecology provides.”
Thursday's press release also detailed the five priority initiatives that the U.S. bishops have set for the USCCB, which include the promotion of marriage, faith formation with an emphasis on sacramental practice, promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, life and dignity of the human person, and cultural diversity, with a particular emphasis on Hispanic populations.

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Iraqi youth use technology to join celebrations in St. Peter's Square

Rome, Italy, Mar 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Fr. Rayan P. Atto's parish in Mar Qardagh ad Erbil, Iraq will be "present" for the Pope's celebration for World Youth Day 2010 (WYD) from the Holy See on Thursday evening. The priest said that for his Chaldean Catholic community, spiritual commuion with other youth preparing for WYD has become a tradition.

Members of Fr. Atto's parish will "virtually" join the Holy Father to celebrate the 25th anniversary of WYD, SIR news reported on Thursday.

For the Chaldean priest and his parish, it won't be the first time they take part in World Youth Day celebrations. He took a small group to Sydney and is working out the details to make the pilgrimage to Madrid in 2011.

Preparations have been underway in St. Peter's Square for this year's celebration all week. An enormous stage has been erected on the steps of St. Peter's and young people have been gathered in the school since this morning. The sounds of drums and singing fill the air as the square prepares to receive an expected 70,000 young people.

"To be physically present at World Youth Day is a dream, especially for young Iraqis," Fr. Atto told SIR. "Like in Sydney, also for Madrid, we'd like to take the witness of our faith, our attachment to the Lord that helps us to live in the difficult situation that Iraq has been going through for years," he said.

Asked about the difficulty of securing visas to enter Spain, when there is no Spanish embassy in Iraq, the priest responded, "Difficult? Life has never been easy for the Iraqi people and challenges don't scare us. We will also be in Madrid."

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Commission notes urgency of unity in Chinese Catholic Church

Vatican City, Mar 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - A joint Vatican-Chinese commission to discuss the matter of formation of priests and religious within the Church of China wrapped up three days of meetings on Wednesday. Among the conclusions of the sessions was the need for "concrete steps" in the Chinese Church to create unity between clergy and the faithful.

During this year's plenary meeting, the delegations from China and the Holy See examined themes tied to the human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation of semarians and consecrated people, as well the long term formation of priests.

According to the Vatican statement recognizing the conclusion of the meetings, some "relevant challenges" in China today are the new pastoral demands of evangelizing in the dynamic and complex Chinese society and difficulties arising from formation of clergy.

The statement recognized that the Catholic bishops of China are on the front lines in the work of formation and that "fraternal collaboration" will continue to be offered to them.

Using the Pope's 2007 Letter to Chinese Catholics as a guide, the commission "reflected on the manner of promoting unity within the Catholic Church in China and of overcoming the difficulties that it finds in its relationship with civil society."

The Vatican communique said that steps have been taken to respond to the Pope's invitation in the 2007 Letter to bring about "true ecclesial communion" in the country. The Church in China has been divided since 1957 between the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the underground Church, which is not recognized by the Chinese government.

The statement also acknowledged the "necessity to urgently take 'concrete steps' to grow and manifest spiritual links between pastors and the faithful" in China.

Both sides expressed their hope that Chinese bishops will continue in their commitment to promote the unity of faith and life for Catholics in the country, thus avoiding "gestures that contradict communion with the Pope" and "create difficulties" with respect to ecclesial communion.

The participants also expressed their hope and prayer that through "respectful and open" dialogue between Chinese government authorities and the Holy See, bishops and priests in China might be able to exercise their ministries fully and freely.

The note from the Vatican documenting the actions during the sessions also related that Pope Benedict met with participants at the conclusion of their meetings, at which time he underlined the importance of formation being based on friendship with Jesus and of bishops playing an important part in formation.

Benedict XVI also thanked the commission, which he established in 2007, for its continued efforts.

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Stable family life essential to healthy society, Pope emphasizes to Nordic bishops

Vatican City, Mar 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Meeting with the bishops of Scandinavia this morning on the occasion of their "ad limina" visit, the Holy Father placed particular emphasis on the centrality of the family to maintaining a healthy society.  As "the first and indispensable teacher of peace," he said, it is of interest to the entire population "to defend and promote stable family life."

Pope Benedict told the Scandinavian bishops that "one of the most important messages that the people of the Nordic lands need to hear from you is a reminder of the centrality of the family for the life of a healthy society."

He expressed his sadness that, in recent years, there has been "a weakening of the commitment to the institution of marriage and the Christian understanding of human sexuality," the very ideals that "for so long served as the foundation of personal and social relations in European society."

Benedict XVI then underscored children's rights to life and to being brought up "within marriage."

For children, he continued, "it is through their secure and recognized relationship to their own parents that they can discover their identity and achieve their proper human development."

The Holy Father expressed that this "fundamental right is one that one would expect from societies "with a noble tradition of defending the rights of all their members," and that it would trump "any supposed right of adults to impose alternative models of family life."

Quoting from his 2008 Message for the World Day of Peace, he added, "Since the family is 'the first and indispensable teacher of peace,' the most reliable promoter of social cohesion and the best school of the virtues of good citizenship, it is in the interests of all, and especially of governments, to defend and promote stable family life."

In the rest of his message to the bishops of Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Finland, Pope Benedict urged continued commitment to conveying Church teaching on social and ethical questions to the people, thus influencing decisions on matters that regard the common good.

He also encouraged support for priests, who are often rather isolated from one another in the expanses of northern Europe and paid tribute to the "enormous contribution" of religious in the life of the Church in Scandinavia.  He then asked for the continued promotion of vocations among immigrant and native populations.

Pope Benedict XVI met with bishops from the five countries that comprise the Nordic Bishops' Conference just after noon on Thursday.

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