Vatican City, Oct 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Concluding two weeks of meetings on the future of the Church in the Middle East, close to 200 bishops issued a communique appealing to the world’s Catholics “to safeguard the faith, based on the Word of God, to collaboration in unity and to communion in the witness of love in every aspect of life."
The special Synod for the Middle East held at the Vatican Oct. 10-24 concluded with a "Message to the People of God."
According to the bishops, Christians in the Middle East are at "a turning point" in their history. "The God who has given us the faith in our Eastern lands 2,000 years ago, calls us today to persevere with courage, strength and steadfastness in bearing the message of Christ and witnessing to his Gospel, the Gospel of love and peace."
The message highlighted four of the "many challenges" Christians face to preserving the faith in the Middle East which came to the fore in the two weeks of discussion.
First among the challenges facing the Church is the question of communion between the various Catholic rites and traditions present in the Middle East. This theme came to light often during the synod sessions, especially concerning the realities of the Catholic communities in Iraq, which are suffering violence and discrimination. Elsewhere in the region, relationships among various Eastern Catholic Churches appear to be fractured. In some countries, multiple archbishops serve local Christians depending on their historical tradition.
The bishops listed the second challenge as one "from the outside, namely, political conditions, security in our countries and religious pluralism." During the talks, much time was spent evaluating the social situation and public security in the region. Many referred to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a source of unrest for the entire Middle East.
Talks focused on Palestinian suffering from "Israeli occupation" and Israelis suffering from “an insecurity." They are "anxious about the unilateral initiatives that threaten its composition and risk to change its demographic balance. With all this in mind, we see that a just and lasting peace is the only salvation for everyone and for the good of the region and its peoples."
A further challenge they listed is the continued suffering of the Church in Iraq, marked by killings and displacement. The bishops expressed their solidarity with Iraqis and their Catholic communities and hoped that those who have emigrated will receive support to one day return to a secure nation.
Finally, the challenge of the interactions between Christians and Muslims in the region was highlighted. The bishops said they extensively examined the situation during their talks. The idea of the "common citizenship" which is shared by all people was emphasized.
They continued by explaining, "God wants us to be Christians in and for our Middle Eastern societies. This is God’s plan for us. This is our mission and vocation - to live as Christians and Muslims together. Our actions in this area will be guided by the commandment of love and by the power of the Spirit within us."
As an integral part of society, Christians, they explained, just as Jews and Muslims, are obliged to contribute to the construction of the Middle East.
The message went on to address individual cross-sections of Middle Eastern Christianity, urging each to work for a better Church. The bishops also called for greater cooperation and fraternity with other Christians, Jews and Muslims alike to achieve a lasting peace in the region. The synod fathers asked local governments for the same efforts for peace and a halt to the arms race, which, they said, "will lead to security and economic prosperity and stop the hemorrhage of emigration which empties our countries of its vital forces."
They also called the international community to action to support the communities of the Middle East and take action on their behalf.
The bishops themselves confessed that they "have not done what is possible" or "enough" to better live communion in and among their communities. "We have not done everything possible to confirm you in your faith and to give you the spiritual nourishment you need in your difficulties," they told their faithful.
"The Lord invites us to a conversion as individuals and communities," they underscored.
As they returned to their communities to put the synod's lessons into practice, they made a "humble and sincere appeal" to people in the region that "together we might embark on the road of conversion, allowing ourselves to be renewed through the grace of the Holy Spirit and again draw close to God."
Orlando, Fla., Oct 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican announced over the weekend that Pope Benedict appointed a new shepherd for the Orlando diocese in Florida. Bishop John Noonan, who currently serves as an auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Miami, will now serve over 800,000 Catholics as the 5th bishop of the Orlando diocese.
“Vatican II calls Bishops to be fathers and pastors to the people,” Bishop Noonan said on Oct. 23 in response to the news. “I pray that with God’s help I will be able to be a good father and pastor as Bishop of the Diocese of Orlando.”
“I ask that my brother priests and all of God’s people pray for me as I begin my new ministry among you,” he added.
Bishop Noonan will succeed Archbishop Thomas Wenski who led the Diocese of Orlando from 2004 to 2010 and now heads Miami.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski congratulated Bishop Noonan on his appointment, saying the “Holy Father has chosen for the Diocese of Orlando an energetic shepherd who brings to the priests and people of Central Florida many talents and gifts.”
“The Church of Miami, of course, will miss him – and, in the short time that I have been back in Miami as its new Archbishop, Bishop Noonan was a good friend and a valuable collaborator of mine,” the prelate noted. “While I too will miss his assistance in Miami, I am very happy for Orlando. With Bishop Noonan to lead them, the Catholics of Central Florida will continue to witness to the hope that does not disappoint, Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Noonan was ordained to the priesthood in 1983 for the Archdiocese of Miami and has served in the roles of parochial vicar, youth ministry chaplain, supervising principal, and director of priestly life. He was ordained a bishop for the archdiocese in 2005.
The Diocese of Orlando announced that Bishop Noonan’s installation will be on December 16 at 2:00 p.m.
San José, Costa Rica, Oct 25, 2010 (CNA) - The director of the Center for Catholic Studies at the John Paul II University in Costa Rica stated last week that Christians have the right to defend ethical principles in the public square.
In an article published by the Costa Rican daily, La Nacion, the director of the center, Luis Fernando Gutierrez, criticized those who seek to stop Christians from defending the unborn and promoting the traditional family.
Gutierrez called it “inappropriate that the Church should not or could not propose anything in political or public life,” since like any other institution ... in a democratic country, the Church has the right to propose ideas and provide guidance regarding policies that should be adopted by the state.
“There is no reason why any other group, party or non-governmental organization can offer their point of view or ideology but the Church can’t propose her 2,000 years of teaching,” Gutierrez said.
He noted that the Church’s arguments on issues such as abortion, in vitro fertilization, marriage and the family are based on reason. They are “perfectly understandable to anyone, even to those who not share the Christian or Catholic faith.”
Gutierrez said politicians and public officials “have the right and duty to participate in and organize dialogue forums with different members and institutions of civil society,” as it is “in their name that they govern.”
He then lamented that many politicians and public officials in a country with a Catholic majority such as Costa Rica have chosen to “hide or even betray their principles and their religions confession” out of “an inferiority complex.”
He said that while the factions that work against human life and the family get a lot of media attention, “in reality they are only a small number of militants” who only vote “for those politicians who totally identify with their ideological, social and cultural agenda.”
Vatican City, Oct 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican drew fire from the Israeli government for allegedly turning the recent Synod for the Middle East into a "forum for political attacks."
Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, downplayed the criticism, which was lodged by Israel’s deputy foreign minister.
Father Lombardi said the Synod was "largely positive" and that the statements of individual participants did not reflect the overall consensus of the synod.
Tensions flared in response to a statement from one synod participant, Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros of Newton, Mass.
In a press conference Oct. 23, he was asked about a passage in the synod's final communique that stressed that “the Word of God” should not be misused to “wrongly justify injustices.” This, the bishops said, "is not acceptable."
Rather, they said, "recourse to religion must lead every person to see the face of God in others and to treat them according to their God-given prerogatives and God’s commandments, namely, according to God's bountiful goodness, mercy, justice and love for us."
Asked to clarify what this passage meant, Archbishop Bustros responded that Christians cannot speak of a specific "promised land," because Jesus Christ had come to establish the Kingdom of God in the world and to make all who follow him his "chosen ones."
That means, Archbishop Bustros explained, that the idea of the "the promised land cannot be used as a base for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians." He added: "Sacred Scripture should not be used to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestine.”
These comments were met by "disappointment," from Israel’s deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon, the leader of the Israeli delegation that is participating in bilateral talks with the Holy See to determine the official status of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land.
Ayalon complained that, the "important synod (had) become a forum for political attacks on Israel in the best history of Arab propaganda."
The synod, he added, "was hijacked by an anti-Israel majority."
He added that the Israeli government was "appalled" at Archbishop Bustros' words and called for the Vatican to distance itself from them. The "outrageous" comments, he said, "are a libel against the Jewish people and the state of Israel and should not be construed as the Vatican's official position."
In a message aired by Vatican Radio Oct. 25, the Vatican spokesman aimed to deflate the controversy.
He said the final message is "the only common written text approved by the synod," and that the "great richness and variety of contributions given" by those participating in the synod "must not be considered on their own as the voice of the synod as a whole."
And in their final message, the synod bishops called for all governments in the region to promote “the rights of citizenship, freedom of conscience, freedom of worship, freedom of education and teaching, and access to the communications media.”
In addition, they said: “We appeal to you to redouble your efforts to establish a just and lasting peace throughout the region and to stop the arms race. This will lead to security and economic prosperity and stop the haemorrhage of emigration which empties our countries of its living resources.”
The synod participants hope to enact change in the Middle East through a variety of propositions released at the conclusion of the two-week meeting.
The synod fathers made 44 propositions to Pope Benedict XVI, including the possibility of allowing married priests from Eastern Churches to work outside the historic boundaries of their rites; initiatives for more intensive formation of seminarians and all Christians in the Middle East; and a wide variety of other pastoral ideas for the Churches there, such as broader outreach through the use of new media.
Pope Benedict XVI will examine these propositions and the synod discussion to later issue an Apostolic Exhortation to clarify details of the synod proceedings. This is a papal document in which he studies the situation in the Middle East and offers his teachings to guide the Church's future there.
Brasilia, Brazil, Oct 25, 2010 (CNA) - The National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Brazil has announced it is standing behind Bishop Luiz Gonzaga Bergonzini of Guarulhos. The bishop recently received death threats for speaking out against the pro-abortion stance of the Workers’ Party as the country prepares to hold presidential runoff elections.
Bishop Bergonzini’s criticism of the Workers’ Party—to which Brazilian President Lula da Silva and presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff belong—have made him the target of anonymous death threats.
Two other bishops, Benedito Beni Dos Santos of Lorena and Bishop Nelson Westrupp of Santo Andre, have also received death threats for similar statements.
The president and the secretary general of the bishops' conference, respectively Bishop Lyrio Rocha and Bishop Dimas Lara Barbosa, told reporters that the conference does not endorse parties or candidates, but rather provides guidance for Christian voters as they go to the polls.
Bishop Rocha offered praise for Bishop Bergonzini and said, “His actions are what the Church expects. He has the right and duty, according to his conscience, to guide the faithful” in deciding which candidates to support.
“He is exercising his right as diocesan bishop of Guarulhos and each time he has spoken within his competency, and he has not addressed the entire Brazilian nation. This manner of acting is absolutely normal and the way in which things take place in the Church,” he added.
Rousseff, the frontrunner in Brazil's Oct. 31 runoff presidential elections, has voiced support for the legalization of abortion on numerous occasions. Her stance cost her seven million votes during the first round of voting in the presidential elections. Faced with a runoff, she has said she is personally opposed to abortion and has promised not to send proposals to Congress to legalize the practice. Pro-life activists, however, have warned that these statements are a mere attempt to hide her true stance on the issue.
Vatican City, Oct 25, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - In calling for a “two-state” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the special Synod of Bishops for the Middle East has echoed the solution that Pope Benedict XVI urged on his visit to Israel last year.
“We hope that the two-state solution might become a reality and not a dream only,” the bishops said in language very similar to that used by Benedict on his trip to the Holy Land in 2009
The nearly 200 bishops participating in the two-week synod presented their final communique in a private session on Oct. 22. In addition, they gave the Pope a set of 44 proposals to consider in drawing up his own reflections on the synod, which will eventually be issued in a document known as a post-synodal apostolic exhortation.
The synod’s final message underscores the aspirations of Christians and the challenges they face in the region. And it calls on the local churches and individual Catholics to take concrete actions to ensure the future of Christianity in the Middle East.
Among the many challenges facing the Church are the ongoing, daily ramifications of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has hung like a cloud over the region since 1948 when Israel was declared a sovereign nation.
The synod fathers urged the international community to “work to find a peaceful, just and definitive solution in the region.” The bishops said the framework for peace must include the “application” of United Nations Security Council resolutions and “taking the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories."
The Security Council in the past has called for Israel to withdraw from territories secured during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and more recently has called for a so-called two-state solution that envisions Israelis and the Palestinians living side-by-side with secure and mutually recognized borders.
The synod also stressed the need for the Palestinians to have “an independent and sovereign homeland where they can live with dignity and security.” In addition, the synod fathers said that Israel must be able “to enjoy peace and security within their internationally recognized borders.”
Addressing the question of Jerusalem, the bishops said that it must be guaranteed “its proper status, which respects its particular character, its holiness and the religious patrimony of the three religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim.”
The final synod communique echoes the positions outlined by Pope Benedict XVI during his farewell address on May 15, 2009 at Tel Aviv, Israel's Ben Gurion Airport. He urged leaders to "break the vicious circle of violence” and to begin the path of “genuine reconciliation and healing."
"Let it be universally recognized that the State of Israel has the right to exist, and to enjoy peace and security within internationally agreed borders,” the Pope said. “Let it be likewise acknowledged that the Palestinian people have a right to a sovereign independent homeland, to live with dignity and to travel freely.”
The Pope added: "Let the two-state solution become a reality, not remain a dream," he implored. "And let peace spread outwards from these lands, let them serve as a 'light to the nations,' bringing hope to the many other regions that are affected by conflict."
Again at the synod's closing Mass on Oct. 24, he made an appeal for peace in all the Middle East.
"Peace is possible. Peace is urgent," Pope Benedict said.
Havana, Cuba, Oct 25, 2010 (CNA) - The leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, has offered his congratulations to Guillermo Farinas, the recipient of the European Union’s 2010 Sakharov Prize, saying that the selection of Farinas proves that “Cubans have a right to rights.”
In a letter to Europe, Paya wrote, “Within Cuba we peacefully fight for these rights and we hope to receive the solidarity of everyone so Cubans themselves can bring about these changes in an atmosphere of reconciliation.”
Paya received the Sakharov Prize in 2002.
The Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Conscience is named after Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. It was established in December of 1985 by the European Parliament in order to honor persons or organizations devoted to the defense of human rights and freedom.
Madrid, Spain, Oct 25, 2010 (CNA/Europa Press) - The Archdiocese of Havana has announced that five more political prisoners from Cuba will soon be released by the country's government and sent to Spain.
The prisoner releases are the result of an ongoing mediation effort being carried out by Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino of Havana and Spain’s Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos.
Those to be released include: Juana Maria Nieves Mena, who was sentenced to 15 years in 1999, Domingo Ozuna Mederos, sentenced to 15 years in 2000, Juan Francisco Marimon Gomez, sentenced to 10 years in 2003, Misael Mena, sentenced to 17 years in 1999, and Jose Luis Ramil Navarro. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation does not have information on Navarro.
The president of the commission, Elizardo Sanchez, confirmed that these five prisoners, like the other three who were recently released, are not part of the 52 political prisoners promised freedom by President Raul Castro. Of those, 39 have been released and sent to Spain, while 13 “do not want to leave Cuba,” Sanchez said.
The 52 have been identified by Amnesty International as “prisoners of conscience.”
Sanchez said sending the dissidents to Spain is in reality sending them into “exile.”
“The real winner continues to be the Cuban government, because it is getting rid of political prisoners,” he added.