Rome, Italy, Oct 10, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Holy Father entrusted the Synod for the Middle East to Mary's intercession so that the region grows in communion and bears witness to the Gospel message. He welcomed the first day of the two-week Special Assembly for the Middle East, asking also for prayers that it be accompanied by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The Pope prayed the Angelus from his apartment window high above St. Peter's Square after having celebrated the opening Mass of the much-awaited Synod of Middle Eastern bishops.
Ushering in the beginning of the "extraordinary" event, he said that the Church "is called to be a sign and instrument of unity and reconciliation" in the region, which is "unfortunately marked by profound divisions and lacerated by age-old conflicts."
It is not a simple task, Benedict XVI explained, as Christians in the area are often subject to very difficult conditions on personal, family and community levels. But, he said, "this should not discourage. It is in that context that the perennial message of Christ resounds most necessarily and urgently: "Repent, and believe in the Gospel."
He invited all people to pray for an "abundant effusion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit" over synod activities.
Noting the importance of the Rosary during the Marian month of October, which is also called the "Month of the Rosary," the Pope said that "we are called to allow ourselves to be guided by Mary in this ancient and always new prayer, which is especially dear to her because it guides us directly to Jesus."
Reminded of John Paul II's words that the Rosary is a "biblical prayer," Pope Benedict added that it is a "prayer of the heart, in which the repetition of the 'Hail Mary' orients thoughts and affection to Christ.”
"It is a prayer that helps one to meditate on the Word of God and to assimilate Eucharistic communion, on the model of Mary who held in her heart all that Jesus did and said, and his very presence," he explained.
"Dear friends," Benedict XVI concluded, "we know how much the Virgin Mary is loved and venerated by our brothers and sisters of the Middle East. All look to her as a thoughtful mother, close to every suffering, and as a star of hope.
"To her intercession we entrust the Synodal Assembly that opens today, so that Christians of the region are reinforced in communion and might bear witness to the entire Gospel of love and peace."
Vatican City, Oct 10, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Highlighting the special consideration of the Middle East in the eyes of God, Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated the activities of the two-week synod. The Holy Father remembered the region for its role in the history of salvation and called all to bring peace and justice to the Middle East today.
On Sunday morning, the Holy Father opened the Synod of Bishops' Special Assembly for the Middle East with Mass at St. Peter's Basilica. Benedict XVI concelebrated in Latin with 177 Synod Fathers and 69 priests who are collaborating in synod activities.
The synod is taking place at the Vatican from Oct. 10-24 under the theme: "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness."
During his homily, he noted that an "extraordinary motive" marked the Mass, that of the grace of the first Synodal Assembly for the Middle East for which region bishops had all gathered together with "the Bishop of Rome and Universal shepherd."
"Such a singular event demonstrates the interest of the entire Church for the precious and loved portion of the people of God who live in the Holy Land and in all the Middle East," said the Pope.
He gave thanks for the continued presence of Christians in the area since the times of Jesus, "in spite of often difficult and troubling events."
Meditating on Sunday's readings which recount the healings of lepers, regardless of their backgrounds, he pointed out that it is here that the theme of the synod is found. It is in the idea that "salvation is universal, but it passes though a determined, historical mediation: the mediation of the people of Israel, who become then that of Jesus Christ and of the Church," he explained.
The Middle East, he said, makes up these specific "coordinates" of the time and place the Lord chose to build the "'land' of liberty and peace" with men, for men and in men. Pope Benedict went on to say that God saw the region from "a different perspective," noting that "it is the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the land of the exodus and the return from exile; the land of the temple and the prophets; the land in which the only begotten Son was born of Mary, where he lived, died and rose; the cradle of the Church, constituted to bring the Gospel of Christ to the ends of the earth."
"And," he observed, "we also, as believers look to the Middle East with this gaze, in the perspective of the history of salvation."
This, he said, was the reason for his trips to the Middle East and the reason he accepted the proposal of Middle Eastern prelates to hold the assembly. During the two weeks, the prelates will examine the present and future of the population of the Middle East "in the light of Sacred Scripture and Church tradition."
Saying that the synod will focus on communion, "without (which) there cannot be testimony," he labeled the gathering "a privileged moment in which the grace of Pentecost can be renewed in the path of the Church, so that the Good News is proclaimed with frankness and might be accepted by all people."
In a largely pastoral scope, he added, the synod will concentrate on the Church's mission in the Middle East and also exist as a "propitious" occasion to continue a constructive dialogue with Jews and Muslims.
Delegates from both realities as well as the Orthodox Church are participating in synod activities.
Pope Benedict highlighted that the synod's events are also oriented to the personal, familial and social witness of Christians in the area, which require "a reinforcement of their Christian identity through the Word of God and the Sacraments."
He added that, "in spite of the difficulties, the Christians of the Holy Land are called to revive the consciousness of being 'living rocks' of the Church in the Middle East, in the holy places of our salvation."
In what is sure to be a central idea of the synod's work, Pope Benedict concluded by calling all realities active in the area and in the international community to contribute to creating conditions of peace and justice, which "must be promoted, (as they are) indispensable for a harmonious development of all the inhabitants of the region."
Vatican City, Oct 10, 2010 (CNA) - Pope Callistus I will be celebrated in churches throughout the world as a saint and martyr on October 14. The saint caused a major controversy, including a schism that lasted almost two decades, by choosing to emphasize God's mercy in his ministry. However, the early Pope's model of leadership has endured, and his martyrdom in the year 222 confirmed his example of holiness.
Because no completely trustworthy biography of Pope Callistus I exists, historians have been forced to rely on an account by his contemporary Hippolytus of Rome. Although Hippolytus himself was eventually reconciled to the Church and canonized as a martyr, he vocally opposed the pontificate of Callistus and three of his successors, to the point of usurping papal prerogatives for himself (as the first “antipope”). Nevertheless, his account of Callistus' life and papacy provides important details.
According to Hippolytus' account, Callistus – whose year of birth is not known - began his career as a highly-placed domestic servant, eventually taking responsibility for his master's banking business. When the bank failed, Callistus received the blame, and attempted to flee from his master. Being discovered, he was demoted to serve as a manual laborer in Rome. Thus, under inauspicious circumstances, Callistus came as a slave to the city where he would later serve as Pope.
Matters went from bad to worse when he was sent to work in the mines, possibly for causing a public disturbance, if Hippolytus' account is to be trusted. However, Callistus may also simply have been sentenced due to a persecution of Christians, as he was among the many believers eventually freed on the initiative of Pope St. Victor I.
During the subsequent reign of Pope Zephyrinus, Callistus became a deacon and the caretaker of a major Roman Christian cemetery (which still bears his name as the “Cemetery of St. Callistus”), in addition to advising the Pope on theological controversies of the day. He was a natural candidate to follow Zephyrinus, when the latter died in 219.
Hippolytus, an erudite Roman theologian, accused Pope Callistus of sympathizing with heretics, and resented the new Pope's clarification that even the most serious sins could be absolved after sincere confession. The Pope's assertion of divine mercy also scandalized the North African Christian polemicist Tertullian, already in schism from the Church in Carthage, who also erroneously held that certain sins were too serious to be forgiven through confession.
Considered in light of this error, Hippolytus' catalogue of sins allegedly “permitted” by Callistus – including extramarital sex and early forms of contraception - may in fact represent offenses which the Pope never allowed, but which he was willing to absolve in the case of penitents seeking reconciliation with the Church.
Even so, Callistus could not persuade Hippolytus' followers of his rightful authority as Pope during his own lifetime. The Catholic Church, however, has always acknowledged the orthodoxy and holiness of Pope St. Callistus I, particularly since the time of his martyrdom – traditionally ascribed to an anti-Christian mob - in 222.
St. Callistus' own intercession after death may also have made possible the historic reconciliation between his opponent Hippolytus, and the later Pope Pontian. The Pope and former antipope were martyred together in 236, and both subsequently canonized.
St. Paul, Minn., Oct 10, 2010 (CNA) - The Catholic bishops of Minnesota have issued a brief statement on marriage, saying that having same-sex attractions does not deprive anyone of basic human rights but also does not create the right to “marry” someone of the same sex.
The bishops’ catechetical statement, published in The Catholic Spirit on Thursday, urged the state government, all Catholics and those of good will in Minnesota to support marriage.
A constitutional amendment clearly defining marriage as a union of one man and one woman would be one practical measure, but redefining marriage and legitimizing same-sex unions would work against the “socially vital goal” to support marriage between one man and one woman, the bishops said.
Their catechesis also countered the claim that maintaining the definition of marriage as a man-woman union is discriminatory against homosexuals.
“Persons with same-sex attractions are our sisters and brothers, and their same-sex attraction does not define them as persons nor deprive them of their authentic human rights, including the most fundamental rights of all — the right to life and the right to love,” the bishops said. “Consequently, we oppose any discrimination against persons based on their having a same-sex attraction.”
However, meeting “authentic human needs” does not require changing the legal definition of marriage or creating a marriage-like status for those with same-sex attractions.
“As pastoral leaders within the state of Minnesota, we believe that efforts to bestow legal recognition on same-sex unions are mistaken,” they continued, saying it is “erroneous” to think that a “committed homosexual relationship” is a human right and can be legitimately defined as a marriage.
“The specific privileges granted to married persons by the state are not granted for the personal advantage of spouses but to advance the common good,” they wrote. While protecting people from discrimination advances the common good, not recognizing a same-sex union as a marriage is not discrimination “because it does not deny a basic human right.”
The “natural right to love another and to marry” is limited significantly by the nature of the human person and the nature of the institution of marriage, the prelates explained.
In their catechesis Minnesota’s Catholic bishops also discussed Catholic teaching on marriage.
“Based on God’s Word given in divine revelation, we believe that marriage creates a sacred bond between spouses. We hold this to be true not only for ourselves, but for all humanity,” they stated.
The bishops said that God willed marriage to mirror his love for the human family, underlining that Jesus raised marriage to “the dignity of a sacrament” and made it a sign of his sacrificial love revealed on the cross.
“(M)arriage is a constant reminder of God’s love for the human race, as well as a reflection of the permanent, faithful, and fruitful bond of love between Christ and the church,” their statement continued, citing the Manhattan Declaration as an indication that this perspective is shared by non-Catholic Christians and others.
Noting the “universally recognized” importance of stable marriages for the education and formation of children and the “obvious and intimate connection between the conjugal act and conception,” the bishops said that marriage is a public matter that is part of the common good.
“Both faith and reason agree, then, that marriage is an institution central to the life of human society,” they continued. “The committed relationship between one man and one woman calls forth the best of the spouses, not only for their own sake, but also for the well-being of their children and for the advancement of the common good. It is neither possible for us to change the definition of marriage nor wise to attempt to do so.”
For further reading, the bishops recommended the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website www.usccb.org/defenseofmarriage.
Rome, Italy, Oct 10, 2010 (CNA) - Catholics in Israel face a situation in “complete flux,” Vatican expert Sandro Magister says. Descendants of indigenous Christians have been joined by Catholic immigrants who are learning Hebrew and are assimilating into Israeli culture.
While in percentage terms there has been a “slight reduction” of the Christian population in Israel from three to two percent, there are presently 150,000 of them in the country. Most live in Galilee and there are 15,000 in Jerusalem, Magister said.
In his Oct. 8 “Chiesa” column anticipating the upcoming Vatican synod on the Church in the Middle East, Magister discussed the unique situation of Hebrew-speaking Catholics. Though there were only several hundred of them until a few years ago, they now have at least seven communities in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Be’er, Sheva, Haifa, Tiberias, Latrun and Nazareth.
They have a specific vicariate under the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and are entrusted to Jesuit Fr. David Neuhaus, an Israeli Jew who converted to Christianity.
Fr. Neuhaus told Il Regno magazine that these communities have been formed by four contributions.
First, the Jews who came to Israel in a series of migratory waves were joined by Catholics who were either raised in the faith or were converts. They became an “integral part” of Hebrew-speaking Israeli society. The last such migration came from the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The second contribution came from foreign workers in Israel, who number about 200,000. They originated in Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia, with 40,000 from the Philippines. Their children are born and baptized in Israel where they learn Hebrew and assimilate into Israeli society.
Additionally, there are two to three thousand Lebanese Maronite Catholics who moved to Israel after the Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon. There are also African refugees from the southern Sudan.
The fourth contribution to country’s Catholics, in Fr. Neuhaus’ reckoning, came from the Palestinian Catholics who have been in Israel since its foundation. They have citizenship but live in socially disadvantaged conditions. They speak Arabic and are mainly based in the villages of Galilee, but they tend to move to the most economically attractive areas.
As an example Fr. Neuhaus cited the hundreds of Palestinian families who have moved to Be’er Sheva to work in the businesses around the Bedouin villages. According to the priest, they do not live with the Bedouins because they are of a socially and economically lower class.
“They send their children to Hebrew-language schools, and so we have a new generation of Palestinian Arabs who speak Arabic only at home, and can no longer read or write it," the priest told Il Regno.
He said the vicariate works with “limited means,” but its efforts are especially directed toward the children, with the first catechisms ever published in Hebrew.
“In the patriarchate, the Palestinian Christian majority gets more attention, so the Hebrew-speaking Christians are in a certain sense forgotten … As Hebrew-speaking Catholics, we are a minority twice over, both in the state of Israel and in the Church. Sometimes we have the impression of living in a tiny ghetto."
According to Magister, the upcoming synod on the Middle East says in its base text that the existence of the vicariate for Hebrew-speaking Catholics is “a great help” in the dialogue with Judaism.
The Vatican expert also reports that the lamented “exodus” of Christians from the region involves the “geographically flexible” term “the Holy Land,” which extends to the Palestinian Territories and parts of neighboring Arab countries.
While members of ancient Christian communities, such as those in Iraq, are fleeing persecution, elsewhere other Catholics arrive in great numbers for employment. In Kuwait alone there are two million immigrant workers, twice the number of Kuwaiti citizens. There are 350,000 Catholics among these workers, mainly from India and the Philippines.
Rome is considering how to redraw the boundaries of the vicariates in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf to divide the immense vicariate of Arabia, Magister reports.
Newton, N.C., Oct 10, 2010 (CNA) - Every Saturday a small clinic, tucked away inside the parish hall of St. Joseph Church in Newton, N.C., opens its doors to uninsured people who can’t get medical care anywhere else. The waiting room – once not much more than a storage closet – quickly fills up with people hoping to see the doctor, Dr. Douglas Miller.
St. Joseph’s Good Samaritan Clinic has served more than 4,000 people since it opened 15 years ago. That’s about 20-24 people each Saturday, Miller estimates. The clinic doesn’t
ask for payment; patients may give a $5 donation, if they like.
Miller and Miguel Caraballo, both parishioners at St. Aloysius Church in Hickory, worked together to open the indigent clinic after Caraballo prayed to Jesus, asking for help for the Hispanic community. Caraballo was seeing Hispanics neglect their health because they had no means to pay a doctor or because they could not speak adequate English.
The only place they could turn to was the local hospital’s emergency room.
One day while praying in church, Caraballo says, he heard the word “sacrifice” come from the altar, although no one else was present. His mother-in-law, who worked for Miller, urged him to talk with the doctor.
Miller says he was initially hesitant about the idea of an indigent clinic. He already worked long hours at the local hospital, and he and his wife had 12 children. Volunteer
work wasn’t on his agenda. But in prayer, he realized how the Lord had blessed him
and his family, and it was time to give back in thanks to God.
Now, he says, his medical profession is rewarding, but nothing compares to his appreciative Hispanic patients, who offer up prayers for him and his family. He cherishes their prayers.
Besides Caraballo, Miller is joined in the volunteer ministry by an administrator and
translator, Carmen Morales, and nurses Patty Tucker and Jeanne Gerhardt. Morales, a member of St. Joseph Church who got involved with the clinic early on, said the work fills something that had been missing in her life. Tucker also joined the group early after hearing God’s call. Tucker took charge of scheduling the nurses for each Saturday, and she has been a mainstay of the clinic ever since.
Tucker said she believes health care is a right for all people, not a privilege for some. The church and its pastor, Father Jim Collins, support the clinic, she said, because, “The Church has the talent to make it happen, here or anywhere.”
“The clinic is a good ministry for doctors and nurses. I support it because it is an outreach to the community, especially those who need assistance in medical care,” adds Father Collins.
To volunteer or make a donation, go online to www.stjosephrcc.org.
Printed with permission from the Catholic News Herald, newspaper for the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C.