Rome, Italy, Aug 19, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Last Sunday, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I presided over the first liturgical celebration at the Turkish monastery of Sumela in nearly 90 years. The celebration raises awareness to the ongoing situation concerning religious freedom in the country, according to one Vatican expert.
The celebration took place on Aug. 15, the Solemnity of the Dormition of the Mother of God in the Eastern tradition, and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the West. Liturgical celebrations had been prohibited at the monastery since it passed into the hands of the Turkish government in 1922.
The Sumela monastery, with a rich and colorful history dating back to the 4th century, was mostly destroyed at the beginning of the 5th century and was eventually made into a museum and tourist attraction.
For these reasons, Sunday's celebration on the mountainside in front of the partially-rebuilt Greek Orthodox monastery was significant.
The concession made by the Turkish government to allow a religious celebration in a previously "off-limits" site is not the first this month, according to Vatican expert Sandro Magister. On Aug. 5, members of the Syriac Orthodox Church were authorized to celebrate the Divine Liturgy in two recently-renovated churches in the Mardin region.
On Aug. 19, the Armenian Orthodox Church will also be allowed to celebrate the liturgy, with the permission of Turkish authorities, at a church renovated and made into a museum in 2007.
Magister wrote on Aug. 13 that the openness seen in these celebrations should not be mistaken. "The concessions made this August by the government of Ankara," he explained, "are being interpreted as a move on the chessboard of Turkey's problematic entry into the European Union, which is impossible without minimal standards concerning religious freedom."
The government is slow to open the doors to religious freedom, he added, in part because a large number of people, believed to be "secret Christians," are currently registered as Muslims and might come "out into the open."
As it is, last Sunday more than 15,000 people attended the liturgy at the monastery, including representatives from the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church, members of parliament from Greece and Russia, Turkish authorities and pilgrims of predominantly Greek and Russian origins.
In an article to mark the occasion on Tuesday, the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano newspaper quoted Bartholomew I as expressing hope for the future of Christian relations with the Turkish government.
He said, "Let us pray that Our Lady of Sumela become the guarantor of the peaceful coexistence of the two peoples, Christians and Muslims who are now gathered at this sacred place, a place of pilgrimage for Christians and Turks, and that this our pilgrimage may become a bridge between the two peoples.
"Today it can truly be said that the Black Sea is once again the Good Sea."
Rome, Italy, Aug 19, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The founder of the Missionaries of Charity will be remembered in celebrations all over Europe, and all over the world, on her birthday and feast day coming up in the next three weeks. At least a dozen cardinals will be presiding over Masses across Europe in her memory.
Blessed Mother Teresa was born Gonxhe Bojaxhiu on Aug. 26, 1910 in the city of Skopje, in what is now the Republic of Macedonia. On that same day this year, she will be remembered for what would have been her 100th birthday.
Motherteresa.org, the official site for the saintly sister, details the broad cross-section of principally European celebrations that began earlier this year and will continue until the final days of 2010. The majority of the memorials have been organized for Rome and former Eastern Bloc nations, but Masses, Novenas and art exhibitions and other initiatives are taking place all over the continent.
Many celebrations will take place on the actual anniversary of her birth, Aug. 26. For example, on that day in Skopje, after flowers are laid at the memorial statue of Mother Teresa, the Macedonian Parliament will observe a ceremonial session and award the national "Mother Teresa" prize. That afternoon, Archbishop of Belgrade Stanislav Hočevar will preside over Mass at the city's Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Eucharistic celebrations will be offered for Blessed Mother Teresa in a variety of other countries as well. Among the high-ranking prelates celebrating Masses in her honor on Aug. 26 will be Cardinal Angelo Comastri at the Church of St. Lawrence in Damascus in Rome and the Emeritus Archbishop of Munich, Cardinal Friedrich Wetter, who will preside over Mass at the Church of St. Margaret in Munich, Germany.
These two Church leaders will be joined by 10 other cardinals celebrating Masses around her birthdate or for the Sept. 5 Feast of Blessed Mother Teresa, including the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Ivan Dias, and Cardinal André Vingt Trois, who will preside over Mass at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
According to the Mother Teresa website, memorial initiatives will be staged from Switzerland to Bulgaria, Albania and the United Kingdom, with a special Christmas Concert being held in Rome on Dec. 19 to mark the final days of the 2010 centenary celebrations.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug 19, 2010 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI sent his apostolic blessing to the participants of the upcoming National Children and Teen Mission Day in Argentina, encouraging them to renew their faith and be missionaries to their peers.
In his message, the Pope expressed his hope that the event, which will take place on August 22, will “contribute effectively to the renewal of the faith and Christian life, such that missionary zeal … might flourish in the diocese and awaken in the hearts of each member of the local churches the desire the share in the perennial mission,” to “proclaim the Gospel to all peoples.”
The national director of the Pontifical Mission Works, Father Osvalde Leone, sent his own message, pointing to the need for children and young people to bear witness to others with their missionary zeal. “Children and young people seek to immediately engage in the mission,” he said. “When they commit themselves, they are true missionaries and animators of the mission in their own families, neighborhoods, schools and among friends,” the priest said.
The day should motivate children and teens to think first about the needs of their local communities, then also find ways to spiritually and materially support children and teens on other continents, Fr. Leone added. “One thing doesn’t exclude the other,” he said, “but rather both are mutually necessary to truly be missionaries.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug 19, 2010 (CNA) - Professors from the University of Buenos Aires have rejected a declaration by the school’s board of directors supporting the legalization of abortion, saying their position goes against the foundations of the university statutes and the country's Constitution.
The professors said the support of the board goes against the university statutes because it does not promote or preserve the culture, it “denotes a lack of a morally upright spirit and a spirit of civic responsibility, and it violates the obligation to be unprejudiced in ideological, political and religious matters.”
They also noted that the country’s Constitution protects both the child and the mother during pregnancy, “and the American Convention on Human Rights establishes that every person has the right to have his or her life respected from the moment of conception and that nobody can be arbitrarily deprived of life.”
“The position of the board is, therefore, clearly unconstitutional and the supposed 'right' being invoked not only lacks legal foundation but is also manifestly criminal,” the professors concluded.
New York City, N.Y., Aug 19, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - As the controversy over the planned building of a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York City grows increasingly heated, Archbishop Timothy Dolan urged the different factions to carry on a “respectful discussion” and offered to mediate between those who support the plans and those who oppose them.
The New York archbishop made his remarks in a brief and impromptu news conference on Aug. 18 at Covenant House, a Catholic facility in Manhattan for homeless youth.
“My major prayer is that what has turned into somewhat of a divisive issue might develop into an occasion of very civil, rational, loving, respectful discussion,” he stressed.
Archbishop Dolan then praised both New York Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson for their contributions to the debate, though both are on different sides of the issue.
"Mayor Bloomberg articulated in a particularly of eloquent way the principles of religious freedom and the hospitality on which this great country and this wonderful community is based," the archbishop said.
Bloomberg supports the plans for the mosque and Islamic center, and according to ABC News, has said it would be a "sad day" if the project is canceled. Governor Paterson, however, has offered to hold discussions with the imam and mosque developers in order to find another suitable location.
“I think the governor’s initiative is welcome," Archbishop Dolan said. "Both of what they (he and Mayor Bloomberg) are trying to do is bring people together to look into this problem.”
The prelate then cited the example of Pope John Paul II, who advised a group of sisters in 1993 to move from their convent at the former Auschwitz death camp after protests from Jewish leaders.
“He’s the one who said, ‘Let’s keep the idea, and maybe move the address,’ ” the archbishop said. “It worked there; might work here.”
“Those who wonder about the wisdom of the situation of the mosque, near such a wounded site, ask what I think are some legitimate questions that I think deserve attention,” he added.
When asked if he would play a part in the ongoing discussions over the planned mosque and Islamic center, Archbishop Dolan replied, “I'd be honored to ... If I can be a part, say but the word.”
“In kind of a backdoor way, I think we already are (a part of the discussion) in the archdiocese,” he added, in “more of a quiet, behind the scenes way – a lot of our pastors in that area and a lot of other religious leaders are part already of the conversation that needs to keep going on.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Aug 19, 2010 (CNA) - The 20 bishops participating in the 156th meeting of the Permanent Committee of the Argentinean Bishops’ Conference recently discussed strategies for confronting the country's new law legalizing same-sex “marriage.”
Speaking to reporters, the bishops’ spokesman, Father Jorge Oesterheld, said, “The bishops agreed that society is experiencing very profound cultural changes and that the Church must see how she can communicate better with society.”
He added that the bishops are very concerned about the impact of the law on gay “marriage” on the educational system, as the country has now recognized a new “understanding of the family.”
“The law poses new challenges to the Church: how to confront this new reality in education, particularly in Catholic schools, with teachers and with students. And also how to address the issue in families,” the priest said.
Madrid, Spain, Aug 19, 2010 (CNA) - The latest two dissidents to be released from prison by the Cuban government have denounced the repression and “abuse” suffered by the mother of deceased Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata.
Reporter Fabio Prieto Llorente and activist Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta of the group Young People for Democracy, the two latest political prisoners to be released, arrived at the city of Alcoron in Spain, where they were met by fellow Cubans who expressed their support.
Speaking to the press, they denounced the harassment Zapata’s mother has been suffering—sentiments echoed by Amnesty International as well—and they said that despite the release of prisoners, they do not see signs of openness in the Castro regime.
Washington D.C., Aug 19, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Speaking to CNA in an interview, Msgr. Anthony Sherman, executive director for the USCCB Secretariat for Divine Worship, gave an update on the status of the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal. Msgr. Sherman stated that the changes will need to introduced with “due sensitivity,” and the opportunity for catechesis presented by the translation “will need to be firmly grasped.”
As the implementation of the revised Roman Missal approaches, workshops have been offered around the United States to prepare priests and diocesan officials for the changes to the liturgy. The latest version of the Roman Missal incorporates the most significant changes to the liturgy since 1974, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Speaking about the new translation, Pope Benedict XVI told the Vox Clara Committee in April that he welcomed the news that the new English translation of the Roman Missal "will soon be ready for publication." While expressing his hope about the arrival of the new edition, he also highlighted the need for a transition with "due sensitivity."
Commenting on the progress of the seminars that are being held across the U.S., Msgr. Sherman told CNA in an e-mail interview that the “workshops have been going well” and that they have provided “the benefit of moving many dioceses into giving serious consideration as to how they are going to encourage parishes to implement the new translation.”
The workshops have also “enabled diocesan leaders to realize that, at this moment, we will have more than a one year period of time to prepare the people for not only receiving the new translation but also proving them with an overall catechesis on the liturgy,” a step that “may or may not have happened after the Second Vatican Council.”
Msgr. Sherman also explained that the workshops have also provided people with the most up-to-date information about the state of the translation, and “as further information comes from Rome it is communicated to people as quickly as is possible.”
“People also, at the workshops, have the opportunity to express their agreement or disagreement with the translation,” he said. For some, “even if they are not totally content, they leave the workshops with a more positive attitude, ready to implement the translation as best they can.”
“For the sake of the Church, diocesan leaders and pastors are moved to try and introduce the new texts in a manner that creates as little discontent and polarization as possible,” the Divine Worship Secretariat director explained.
Commenting on the positive aspects of the translation, Msgr. Sherman said that “one of the wider benefits afforded by the new texts is the opportunity to provide a broad catechesis on the liturgy in general to our people.
“Once the texts are in use, it is hoped that there will be theological reflection on the new texts that will enable priests to even give homilies based on this material. Obviously everyone will have the opportunity to read these new texts and reflect upon them.”
CNA asked the executive director what the general reception of the changes has been.
“When it comes to translations almost everyone has an opinion and many have been open about their agreement or disagreement with the new texts,” Msgr. Sherman responded, noting that the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments is “responsible for the final text that is approved for use.”
The text, he explained, is the result of a “consultation process that has involved thousands of people within the Church.”
“The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was intimately involved in the process and made thousands of suggestions and changes along the way,” he added. “The other English-speaking countries of the world also made their suggestions. The whole process was a truly international English effort. Still it is important to keep in mind that the final product is limited by the shortcomings faced in any human endeavor such as this.”
“I do think the changes will work in the American Church,” Msgr. Sherman underscored. “Human nature always looks for something to be discontented about and by its very nature translation will not always please everyone.”
“The important thing, however, is that we approach the implementation with a positive frame of mind. There will be much that helps us continue in our spiritual growth and development. When that is found it should be highlighted.”
“Some things will be found that the next generation will maybe want to take a look at, but we need to be open and allow the Spirit to help us appreciate the positive elements these new texts can offer us,” he noted. “Above all it is an opportunity for all of us to grow in appreciation of the importance of the liturgy in general.”
“Many will find it hard to adjust to unfamiliar texts after nearly forty years of continuous use of the previous translation,” Msgr. Sherman noted. “The change will need to be introduced with due sensitivity, and the opportunity for catechesis that it presents will need to be firmly grasped.”
“I pray that in this way any risk of confusion or bewilderment will be averted, and the change will serve instead as a springboard for a renewal and a deepening of Eucharistic devotion all over the English-speaking world.”
Washington D.C., Aug 19, 2010 (CNA) - At an August 18 hearing in Washington D.C., Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) condemned the human rights violations of Catholics in Vietnam, calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “postpone indefinitely taking U.S.-Vietnam relations to the 'next level' until the Government of Vietnam can prove that they too are concerned about and willing to stop rampant abuse in their country.”
A press release announcing the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Hearing on Aug. 18 noted that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2010 Annual Report recommended that the State Department re-title Vietnam as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) on account of the Vietnamese government’s repression of religious activities.
Rep. Smith opened his remarks on Wednesday by thanking those in attendance for joining the “emergency session to voice our collective concern for the brutal murders and systematic mistreatment of Catholics in Con Dau.”
“This past Sunday, August 15, 2010, marked the 80th anniversary of the founding of Con Dau, a Catholic village in the Diocese of Da Nang, Central Vietnam,” he explained. “What should have been a joyous occasion has been marred by unspeakable violence.”
“A few months ago during a religious funeral procession, Vietnamese authorities and riot police disrupted that sad and solemn occasion, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, beating mourners with batons and electric rods,” the congressman said. “More than 100 were injured, dozens were arrested, and several remain in custody and have reportedly been severely beaten and tortured. At least two innocent people have been murdered by the Vietnamese police.”
“The Vietnamese government justifies this violence, torture and murder because the villagers of Con Dau had previously been ordered, some through coercion, to leave their village, property, church, century-old cemetery, their religious heritage, and to forgo equitable compensation in order to make way for a new 'green' resort.”
“Nothing, however, not even governmental orders, grant license for government sanctioned murder and other human rights abuses,” he insisted.
“As you will hear shortly from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, this is unfortunately not an isolated incident. In fact, according to the 2010 Annual Report, 'property disputes between the government and the Catholic Church continue to lead to harassment, property destruction, and violence, sometimes by 'contract thugs' hired by the government to break up peaceful prayer vigils.'”
“In recent years,” he added, “the Vietnamese government has stepped up its persecution of Catholic believers (by) bulldozing churches, dismantling crucifixes, and wrecking havoc on peaceful prayer vigils.
The New Jersey congressman also said that persecution of religious followers “is not limited to the Catholic Church in Vietnam.”
A staff member at the commission's office confirmed to CNA that those who gave testimony at Wednesday's hearing included Ted Van Der Meid, Commissioner, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Tai Nguyen, brother of Nam Nguyen, who died after a police beating; Quang Nguyen, brother of Lieu Nguyen, who escaped to Thailand; Luan Nguyen, sister of Liem & Minh Nguyen, who are still detained and T. Kumar, director of international advocacy, Amnesty International.
“While I am eager to listen to the testimony of the witnesses who are here, I am disappointed that the U.S. Department of State declined the invitation to testify,” Rep. Smith said. “It was just a few weeks ago that Secretary Clinton met with officials in Hanoi and expressed concern over Vietnam's track record of human rights abuse and violations of religious freedom.”
“I call on the Secretary to postpone indefinitely taking U.S.-Vietnam relations to the 'next level' until the Government of Vietnam can prove that they too are concerned about and willing to stop rampant abuse in their country and hold officials accountable for known or reported abuses,” he stressed.
“I also respectfully ask Commissioner Van Der Meid, on behalf of the International Religious Freedom Commission, to visit Vietnam and report back to this commission and to Congress on the situation in Con Dau and the violence and harassment faced by Catholic villagers throughout the country.”
Madison, Wis., Aug 19, 2010 (CNA) - The state of Wisconsin is working to expand a program which uses federal Medicaid funds to provide free contraception and vasectomies to poor and low income people. One pro-life leader challenged claims the program saves money, warning it supplies contraceptives to minors no matter their family’s income and without parental knowledge.
The program is made possible by the federal health care overhaul passed in March 2010. According to the Wall Street Journal, previously federal funding was conditional and states had to reapply regularly. The new legislation allows states to establish permanent programs and to secure federal funding more quickly.
At present, women qualify for the program if they make up to $21,600 per year as an unmarried person, twice the federal poverty level. In June the Wisconsin government applied to raise the qualifying limit to $32,490.
Jason Helgerson, Wisconsin’s Medicaid director, said the program helps prevent unplanned pregnancies.
Wisconsin spent $18.4 million on the program in 2008. About 53,000 people receive extra “family planning help” under Medicaid, the Wall Street Journal says, with federal Medicaid reimbursing 90 percent of the costs. The state health department estimated that the program prevented 11,064 unplanned pregnancies, claiming savings of $139.1 million which would otherwise have been spent to support the children.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has said it opposes the health care legislation’s provision to facilitate such programs and will alert its bishops at the state level.
Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, told the Wall Street Journal that providing coverage for family planning and nothing else reflects “a very dismissive view of women” and tells them “the reproductive system is the only part of you we're interested in, and our interest is only to make sure it doesn't produce.”
In a Wednesday phone interview, CNA spoke with Matt Sande, legislative director of Pro-Life Wisconsin, whose organization has opposed the program since its inception in 2003.
Sande challenged the Wisconsin health department’s claim that the program saves money through preventing pregnancy. He cited the non-partisan Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s report on the program, which declared “estimates of program costs and savings must be based on a number of behavioral assumptions that cannot be reliably predicted.”
“All costs and savings are speculative,” the report said, according to Sande.
He explained that Pro-Life Wisconsin holds that government-funded birth control “fuels teen sexual activity and encourages it.”
Sande especially objected to the provision of taxpayer-funded birth control at no cost to minors aged 15 to 17 and the law’s prohibition of parental notification.
“Parents are naturally concerned about sexual health of their teen children, to protect them physically and to guide them morally. State should be protecting that relationship, not undermining it.”
A 15-year-old can enroll in the family planning program and “can literally be receiving hormonal contraceptives that day, including the morning-after pill.”
“Their parents don’t know. I’ve had parents call me and just be shocked and saddened that their child was on the morning-after pill.”
Sande also claimed that minors’ family income is disregarded, so even a wealthy girl could qualify. “Virtually every teen girl in this state is eligible for this program,” he charged, later adding, “That should make taxpayer irate.”
Opponents of the program have concentrated on raising the minimum eligibility age to exclude minors, but the last legislative effort lost by one vote.
He said that the program is “enticing” to states because federal funds provide 90 percent of costs instead of the typical 60 percent.
He also noted that the Wisconsin program was approved under the George W. Bush administration.
Pro-Life Wisconsin opposes all contraception, Sande told CNA. “The idea that pregnancy is a disease, that a child is a problem to be taken care of, that fosters the abortion mentality.”
Sande thought it was “sad” that so many young girls and boys are enrolling in the program. “Their sexual mores and their thought processes are being guided by the nation’s number one abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.”
“This is the culture of death in full swing here.”
“Constantly pushing contraception … is giving the green light to early teen sexual activity,” he remarked. “Planned Parenthood knows that these hormonal contraceptives fail, and they reap the profits when children become pregnant and get abortions.”
Glasgow, United Kingdom, Aug 19, 2010 (CNA) - The surprise music sensation Susan Boyle will sing for Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the U.K., a spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland has confirmed. Boyle will be joined by music star Michelle McManus, who is already scheduled to sing before the Papal Mass in Glasgow.
Responding to an inquiry from CNA, Peter Kearney, director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office (SCMO), said on Wednesday, “Susan will sing.”
He added that organizers hope to release more details at the beginning of next week.
Boyle, a middle-aged Scottish woman who sang in her Catholic parish’s choir for decades, became a sensation after her appearance on a British talent show. While the show’s audience reacted with hostility to her plain-looking appearance at first, they cheered with deep appreciation after her high-caliber rendition of the song “I Dreamed a Dream.”
The singer’s first album has sold millions of copies.
Other high-profile music performers will also participate in the papal visit.
Television and pop music star Michelle McManus has been scheduled to perform before the Sept. 16 Papal Mass in Glasgow during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit.
McManus will perform “Home,” a song composed by her 22-year-old cousin Michael Brady. She will also sing the popular song “From a Distance,” the SCMO reports.
The singer became famous after winning ITV’s Pop Idol show in 2003. She is now a popular television presenter on the STV nightly show “The Hour.”
McManus has dedicated part of her time to caring for handicapped children on pilgrimage to the French Marian shrine of Lourdes.
A crowd of up to 100,000 people is expected at Bellahouston Park for the Mass and the event will have a potential broadcast audience of one billion people.
“I am truly honored to have been asked to perform at Bellahouston Park on the 16th September in celebration of the Pope’s visit to Scotland,” McManus commented. “What an amazing event to have staged here in our own country and as a very proud Scot and someone of faith I am delighted to be involved.”
Peter Kearney of the SCMO said organizers were “absolutely delighted” that the singer will perform at the Papal Mass. Her performance of a song written by her cousin will be “a very special moment” on what looks to be “a very special and historic day for Scotland.”