Vatican City, Oct 24, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Declaring that the Church exists in order to evangelize, the Holy Father announced on Sunday that the next Synod for bishops, to take place in 2012, will focus on “new evangelization.” The Church must work “to welcome every man and offer him in Christ the fullness of life,” he said.
This is the Holy Father’s most recent initiative to re-propose the Gospel message in historically Christian areas. A new pontifical council was instituted on Oct 12, under the presidency of Archbishop Rino Fisichella, for this very purpose.
At the Mass to close the Synod for the Middle East on Sunday morning, the Pope reported that evangelization was one of the recurring themes of deliberations. The need to “offer the Gospel anew to people who do not know it very well or who have even moved away from the Church” was underlined often, especially by bishops from countries with ancient Christian roots.
To address this theme, he noted he had consulted the bishops of the world and the Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.
“I have decided to dedicate the next Ordinary General Assembly, in 2012, to the following theme: ‘Nova evangelizatio ad christianam fidem tradendam - The new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith’,” he announced.
Before the Sunday Angelus, he explained his choice for the theme of the next Synod as a continuation of recent Church initiatives. Since the Synod for the Middle East and World Mission Sunday 2010 both were developed around the idea of communion, he said, they are invitations to "look at the Church as a mystery of communion that, by its nature, is destined to all man and to all men."
He highlighted the words of Pope Paul VI in this regard, who said in 1975 that the Church "exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection."
And, for this reason, said Pope Benedict, the next world assembly of bishops will examine "new evangelization."
He explained that "in every time and every place - also today in the Middle East - the Church is present and works to welcome every man and offer him in Christ the fullness of life."
The missionary task, he explained, "is not to revolutionize the world, but to transfigure it, drawing on the strength of Jesus Christ."
Pope Benedict concluded his pre-Angelus address by entrusting the Christians of the Middle East and all missionaries of the Gospel to the Virgin Mary, who received from Christ the "new mission of being the Mother of all those who wish to believe in Him and follow Him."
The 2012 Synod will be the fifth of Benedict XVI's pontificate. The first, in 2005, examined the Eucharist and was followed by Synods on the Bible in 2008, Africa in 2009 and this year's Synod for the Middle East.
Vatican City, Oct 24, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Church leaders in the Middle East are asking for an end to separate Easter and Christmas holidays among Christian traditions in the region.
The need to improve ecumenical and interreligious relations has been at the heart of many of the addresses and discussions during the course of the Vatican's Oct. 10-24 Synod for the Middle East. Many are urging better communication among Catholics, other Christians, Jews and Muslims and more knowledge of each other’s traditions as a way to reduce conflict in the Middle East.
The issue of a common Easter and Christmas dates has come up repeatedly as an obstacle to greater communion between Christians in the region.
In all Christian traditions, the Easter holiday changes from year-to-year based on the first full moon after the Spring equinox. However, the holiday often is not shared because of a variation in the calendars recognized in the different traditions. The Orthodox Church uses the older Julian calendar, while the Catholic Church, uses the Gregorian calendar.
Church leaders in other parts of the world have taken steps to make the holidays coincide in all traditions. In a statement on Oct. 1, the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation said that the key today to resolving the issue of a common Easter while remaining true to tradition is to determine the date "using the most accurate scientific instruments and astronomical data available," based on the moon's position in Jerusalem.
Currently, dates differ by more than a month in their celebration of Easter, but every once in a while they coincide. In 2011, 2014 and 2017 the dates will be shared, for this reason, the joint consultation stated, "time is of the essence."
The group called for Church authorities to reexamine the issue, already under scrutiny for years, and make a change. "For the mission of the Church," they said, "a common celebration would support the unity we already share and help to build it further in the future."
Many synod speakers pointed to this separation as an obstacle to better relations between Christians in the Middle East and hoped for the synod to provide the impetus for change.
Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of Alep, Syria told participants that the common date for Easter is a "general request of all Christians of the Middle East.' He said that the synod is the time and place to give attention to the issue, study it and "translate it into reality."
He hoped that the synod fathers, Catholic Church leaders from all over the Middle East and bordering countries, might be able to make a statement on the matter. "Christians are waiting impatiently to see their unity represented by this symbol." This, he said, "could be the first step towards the longed-for Christian unity."
Speaking of the many ways in which a shared Christian witness is manifested in his country, Archbishop Yasser Ayyash of the Greek-Melkites said that in Jordan all Christians have been successful in celebrating Easter according to the Julian calendar and Christmas according to the Gregorian for more than 40 years.
The director of Caritas in Jordan, Huda Musher, explained that "this means that Christians share their celebrations and their sufferings. In this way they become a single heart and a solid unity."
She thought that "the happiness of Christ Our Lord will be great if all Christians were to celebrate their feasts together."
Auxiliary Bishop William Hanna Shomali of Jerusalem of the Latins hoped also for the unification of holidays. He proposed to take it another step further and establish a shared Lent and mutual observance of abstinence and fasting. This additional unification would be "a positive sign for Christians and also for non-Christians," he said.
Speaking with journalists at the Holy See's Press Office on Oct. 19, Franciscan priest and protector of the Holy Land, Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, said the issue of shared holidays is a "very pastoral and concrete problem" that changes from place to place.
With mixed Catholic-Orthodox marriages among 80 percent of the married population of the area, he said, the separate holiday make things difficult for many. "No one" is interested in the two Easters, he said, noting that some countries have established shared dates. However, he noted, at least in Jerusalem, it is still "a problem that has no easy solution."
It is because of the situation in the city, where "all of the fears ... and the weight of the past come out and become concrete. Until there is a truly serene relationship of the single churches, all the way through," he said, "it will be hard for Jerusalem also to achieve this spirit."
Coptic Patriarch Antonios Naguib of Alexandria, Egypt, the "house speaker" of the synod said in his report at the synod's midpoint that it is "a pastoral necessity, given the pluralistic context of the region, and the many mixed marriages between Christians of different ecclesial denominations." He also asked how this "powerful witness of communion" might be accomplished.
Forty-four proposals have been drafted from synod discussion topics and include the call for greater communion between Christians in the region. Among other initiatives for cooperation, there is the invitation to work towards common dates for Christmas and Easter.
The Holy Father will examine all of the results of the Synod and eventually make a declaration, in the form of an apostolic exhortation, on his findings. In the message or the apostolic exhortation, it remains to be seen if a statement concerning common holidays will also be included in which he implores compromise for greater union.
CNA STAFF, Oct 24, 2010 (CNA) - On October 30, two days before the major feast of All Saints, the Catholic Church will honor a man whose humble occupation gave the world only glimpses of his extraordinary holiness. During his lifetime, Brother Alonso Rodriguez never became a priest, published a book, or advanced professionally. But writings discovered after his death revealed a true mystic, who attended to a rich spiritual life while he worked as a doorkeeper and porter.
Born in Spain during 1532, Alonso married at 26 and worked as a cloth merchant, coming to religious life only through a string of crushing tragedies. His wife and two of their children died by the time he was 31, and his turn toward a life of prayer and penance could not prevent the subsequent death of his third and last remaining child-- nor the discouraging failure of his business.
Without his wife and children, and having few prospects due to his lack of a higher education, the Spanish layman turned his thoughts to religious life. Even there, however, he faced difficulties. In his early years, Alonso had met one of the first Jesuits, Bl. Peter Faber; and with his old life in ruins, he developed an interest in joining the recently established Society of Jesus.
Alonso's lack of education prevented him from pursuing their course of priestly ordination, and he failed to acquire a diploma from the College of Barcelona despite attending for two years. The Jesuit Fathers in Valencia said he was unfit to join. But Alonso's years of prayer had not been in vain: they were answered when a provincial of the society, sensing his dedication, admitted him as a lay-brother.
In modern times, Jesuit Brothers work in a wide range of fields, with few limitations apart from their lack of priestly ordination. During the 16th and 17th centuries, however, the lay-brothers of the Society of Jesus were known as “temporal coadjutors,” and assisted the priests of the order by performing its more routine duties such as cooking, construction and farming.
The Jesuits sent Rodriguez to the college of Montesión on the island of Majorca, to work as a porter and door-keeper. He assumed the responsibilities of receiving visitors and guests and carrying their luggage, tracking down students or priests when they were needed, delivering messages, and distributing alms to the poor. While other Jesuits traveled the globe evangelizing whole nations, and undertook a vast reform of the Catholic Church throughout Europe, Alonso carried bags and ran errands for 46 years.
But students began to seek him out, realizing that their doorkeeper was a man of unusual wisdom and faith. His Jesuit superiors started to take notice as well, and asked him to begin a private record of his life and thoughts. Rodriguez struck up a notable friendship with one young man, Peter Claver, and advised him to volunteer for the South American missions. Following his advice, St. Peter Claver eventually catechized, baptized and spoke out for the rights of 300,000 slaves in South America.
When Brother Alonso died in 1617, his superiors examined the written records he had left behind describing his spiritual life. What they found was the life of a saint and mystic. His approach was simple: Christ was appearing in every person who appeared at the door; the task was to encounter God in any task. From this awareness, he proceeded to a life of contemplation akin to the renowned saints of his era (such as St. Ignatius or St. Teresa of Avila), whose grand achievements are better known.
Brother Alonso Rodriguez was declared a saint in 1887. He is buried on the same island of Majorca where he answered the door and carried bags for five decades.
Toronto, Canada, Oct 24, 2010 (CNA) - Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto urged citizens to vote "conscientiously" on Oct. 25 in the city’s municipal elections. The prelate stressed in particular the need to elect Catholic School Board Trustees who live according to the ethos of the faith.
“The political leaders who serve at the municipal level have an immediate, practical, and profound influence on the well-being of the whole community,” Archbishop Collins wrote on Oct. 22. “It is vital that each citizen vote for the candidate he or she considers most qualified to serve the common good.”
Reiterating concerns listed in a pastoral letter last month, the bishop said it “is especially important that Catholics vote, and vote wisely, in the election of Catholic School Board Trustees.”
Speaking on the necessary qualifications, Archbishop Collins said that first and foremost, a “Catholic School Trustee should be a faithful practicing Catholic.”
Additionally, a “Catholic School Trustee should be exemplary in personal integrity and conduct, always striving to foster the good of the children, and not personal interest.”
“We need to elect trustees who will represent us with honor and dignity, as worthy stewards of Catholic Education, so that we may all be proud of their stewardship.”
“Competence, wisdom, maturity, fiscal responsibility, respect for the law, and the capacity to work effectively with fellow trustees for the common good of Catholic Education,” he added, “these are essential qualities in a Catholic School Trustee.”
In his concluding remarks, Archbishop Collins said, “I urge each eligible parishioner to assess rigorously the candidates for the vitally important position of Catholic School Board trustee, holding them accountable to the highest standards, and to vote conscientiously on Monday, October 25.”
Newton, Mass., Oct 24, 2010 (CNA) - Beige is a good color to paint a house, but not for practicing the Christian faith, said Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin. "It is not acceptable for a Christian commitment to be beige, to just blend in with everyone else around you," Bishop Tobin said during the Massachusetts Family Institute's 19th annual fundraising banquet on Oct. 14.
"Christians have to be vibrant, bold and stand out to make a difference."
Bishop Tobin was invited to give the keynote address to the Massachusetts Family Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan research and education organization dedicated to strengthening the family.
Michael Gilleran, director of the Massachusetts Family Institute, introduced Bishop Tobin by highlighting his support for the unborn and marriage, and credited him for "pulling the mask" off politicians who "claim to be part of the faithful."
The bishop's speech focused on the role that the faith community can play in shaping the culture.
"I believe Jesus wants us to be involved in the life of the world," he said.
"Jesus sent his church into the world to teach, to preach and to lift up the people. I believe I was not ordained a priest or a bishop to be irrelevant."
The faith community's efforts to engage an increasingly secularized society is not always welcome, the bishop noted, adding that whenever he speaks publicly on an issue such as abortion, embryonic stem-cell research or immigration, the blogosphere heats up with commentary about him violating the separation of church and state.
"As I understand it, the doctrine was meant to protect the church from the state and not the other way around," Bishop Tobin said. "This philosophy is not intended to cleanse society from every religious influence. Indeed it's been abused and confused."
The bishop said the nation's founders never envisioned a public square where religiously-informed debate was disallowed. He said the growing secularism is not religiously neutral, but rather anti-religious.
"A truly secularized United States would be a nation without a soul, a nation with a hole in its chest," said Bishop Tobin, who urged those in attendance to not be intimidated into silence.
"You have every right to be part of the conversation," he said.
Hope Hallett, of Dartmouth, Mass., said she enjoyed the bishop's speech, which was peppered throughout with jokes.
"I think he gave us a well-balanced encouragement to press on with Christian values with humor and insight," she said.
Philip Moran, the president of the Pro Life Legal Defense Fund in Massachusetts, said the bishop's remarks were "fabulous."
"I thought his analogy of Catholics in particular being beige was just directly on point as to what's wrong with the Catholic Church today," Moran said.
Bishop Tobin said people of faith have an obligation to fill their historic prophetic role in speaking truth to power, and to offer hope in the midst of suffering.
"Without a doubt, we have problems and challenges, but as believers, we speak of spiritual values, a better way, a higher road that points beyond this world to the world to come," he said.
Printed with permission from R.I. Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence, R.I.
Vatican City, Oct 24, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Peace is possible and urgent in the Middle East, where wars, violence and terrorism have gone on for “too long,” said the Pope at the concluding Mass of the Vatican's synod on the Middle East. He invited prayers for the region and assured its Christian inhabitants that they are “never alone.”
The synod, two weeks of discussions on the state of Christians and the Church in the Middle East, concluded on Sunday with a Eucharistic celebration that showed the "unity in diversity" of the Catholic Church. Joining Pope Benedict XVI in the celebration of the Mass were 177 bishops from all over the Middle East and neighboring nations who had taken part in the summit.
The meetings brought many challenges, hopes and concerns to light while maintaining a focus on the synod's theme: "Communion and Witness: now those who believed were of one heart and soul."
Among the matters receiving the most attention during the sessions were communion among the variety of Eastern Catholic traditions; problematic emigration from the Middle East; and inter-religious relations and dialogue. The topics of violence, peace, and religious freedom were also prominent.
During the homily at the synod’s closing Mass, Pope Benedict called the encounter a "truly extraordinary experience," not just for participants, "but for the good of the Church." He told the many Synod Fathers that they now return home from this "powerful moment of ecclesial communion" to their missions, knowing that they are united and remain in God's love.
He hoped that the positive experience of being "united, heart and soul, in faith, in hope and in charity," would be repeated in Middle Eastern communities. Guided by prayer and by living true unity, he said, Catholics in the region will also be able to pursue dialogue with other Christians more readily.
While Christians in the region are few, the Pope observed, "they are the bearers of the Good News of the love of God for man ... and it is the only Word which is able to break that vicious circle of vengeance, hate and violence." He prayed that initiatives for peace might arise from all levels of society.
"Conflicts, wars, violence and terrorism have gone on for too long in the Middle East," he emphasized. "Peace, which is a gift of God, is also the result of the efforts of men of goodwill, of the national and international institutions, in particular of the states most involved in the search for a solution to conflicts.
"We must never resign ourselves to the absence of peace. Peace is possible. Peace is urgent," he said.
It is also the "indispensable condition for a life of dignity for human beings and society" and "the best remedy to avoid emigration from the Middle East," he added.
Referring to Psalm 122's call to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, he said "we pray for peace in the Holy Land. We pray for peace in the Middle East, undertaking to try to ensure that this gift of God to men of goodwill should spread through the whole world."
Christians can also contribute to the promotion of "authentic freedom of religion and conscience" in the region, he said, proposing this as a topic of Christian-Muslim dialogue.
Turning to Christians in the Middle East, headed: "may the experience of these days assure you that you are never alone, that you are always accompanied by the Holy See and the whole Church, which, having been born in Jerusalem, spread through the Middle East and then the rest of the world."
He also announced during the homily that the next assembly of bishops would take place in 2012 to examine "new evangelization."