Archive of November 24, 2010

Pope's publisher defends Benedict XVI's condom remarks

Rome, Italy, Nov 24, 2010 (CNA) - In an exclusive commentary provided to CNA, Fr. Joseph Fessio, publisher of Pope Benedict XVI's books in English, responds to the international media controversy prompted by the Pope’s new book, “Light of the World.” His full remarks are published below.

In the great condom debate, no change in the Church’s beautiful but difficult teaching

By Father Joseph Fessio, S.J.

The Great Condom Debate has entered Round Two. Now it looks like Pope Benedict XVI has really said something he has never said before. That would be news. But it looks like it’s really, really news because now the apparent change (or at least the camel’s nose wedge) in Church teaching is even more dramatic.

It would be sad, wouldn’t it, if in fact the Pope was simply “clarifying and deepening” (Vatican spokesman Father Lombardi’s words on Nov. 21), that same old boring Church teaching? And wouldn’t it be even sadder if this new statement by the Pope were even less unusual than the original one seemed to be?

But that’s the case. Once again Catholic truth is stranger than media fiction.

“But, Fr. Fessio, that’s impossible. This is some Jesuit trick. You Jesuits have always been defenders of the popes, even the worst of them. You even take a vow to say what looks white is black if the pope says so. We know your game. You’re not fooling us.”

Let’s see if I can “clarify and deepen” this. Of course, it’s understandable that the news media would like to see some change in the Church teaching. This isn’t necessarily because of their “pleasure in exposing the Church and if possible discrediting her,” as the Pope says in his new book, “Light of the World.” By profession, and even by definition, they are seeking “news.” What’s not new is not news. So there is a very strong predisposition to find in the Pope’s written text (the book) and in his oral statement (to Fr. Lombardi) something new.

Unfortunately there is not only nothing new here (except perhaps a new level of incomprehension on the part of many otherwise intelligent people). But the second statement (about heterosexual sex) is paradoxically less unusual than the first (about homosexual sex).

First, the Vatican spokesman, who on Nov. 23 said, "I asked the pope personally if there was a serious distinction in the choice of male instead of female and he said 'no.’ Whether a man or a woman or a transsexual does this, we’re at the same point,” had written two days previously about “the same point” we’re at, namely, that the Pope’s contribution “maintains fidelity to moral principles.” Translation: is nothing new.

But we don’t need to take Fr. Lombardi’s word for that. It can be demonstrated.

In the original German text of “Light of the World,” and in the English translation, the Pope refers to a “male prostitute.” Everyone I’ve read so far has assumed, and I believe rightly so, that this refers to homosexual acts. So now that the Pope is said to have said that the distinction between male and female does not affect the point he’s making (and I believe that we can rightly assume that this second statement refers to heterosexual acts), this appears to be a “broader” statement. It applies not just to homosexual but also to heterosexual acts.

This is where the paradox enters. The Pope’s second statement now appears broader, but it’s actually no broader at all. It may include more persons, but it adds nothing to the doctrine. The Church has always clearly taught — to the consternation of many — that the use of condoms in procreative acts is immoral. But the Pope’s initial statement explained that even if the sexual act is not procreative, the Church still opposes condom use. That is really provocative and has been universally taken to be so. Much more provocative than the prohibition of condom use in heterosexual acts.

Put in another way: some may concede that when the Church forbids condoms in procreative acts, at least a reasonable case can be made that this is because the Church opposes the separation of the unitive (sex) and procreative (children) factors in sexual intercourse; but when these factors are already separated, then what’s the problem? The condoms are being used only for protection. Why is the Church against that?

Well, the Pope took this harder case as an example in his initial statement about male prostitutes. That was seen as a possible “breakthrough” or even change in Church teaching. It wasn’t. The Pope merely said that the intention of preventing infection could be a sign of an awakening moral conscience.

The act of sex with a condom can still not be “considered [by the Church] a real or moral solution,” he said in the interview. That is, it is immoral; which is another way of saying that it is an act that is evil in itself.

But the point I’m making here is that the second statement is less surprising than the first, not more. And it doesn’t “broaden” the application of his principle to include heterosexuals as well as homosexuals. The condom prohibition has always applied to heterosexuals, and for stronger reasons because it involves the evil of contraception.

But didn’t the Pope say that sex with a condom to prevent infection is a lesser evil? Well, the Pope didn’t say that, at least in his book. Fr. Lombardi said it. But the Pope could have said it, because in one sense it’s true. (I’ll explain why this is only “in one sense” in a moment.) Unfortunately, however, for those whose profession is reporting news, there is nothing new in this at all.

What may be new is the fact the many educated people no longer understand the ethics of the “lesser evil.” It’s not difficult to understand, though. The crucial distinction is: one may tolerate a lesser evil; one may never morally do something which is a lesser evil.

An example: A gunman is holding 10 hostages. He says that unless I kill the police chief, he will kill the 10 hostages. The death of one person is, in this case, the lesser evil. But I cannot morally kill the police chief. One can never do something that is evil in itself to achieve something good or to avoid some evil, even a greater evil.

In the case of condom usage, the good of protecting against infection cannot justify the immoral sexual act, even though performing that act with a condom may be a lesser evil than performing it without one.

The “may be” in that last sentence refers to what I said above: that condomized sex is in one sense a lesser evil. That is, in the case of a single individual act, the prevention of infection by condom usage makes that particular act less evil. However, it has been shown (and it makes sense) that when there is widespread use of condoms, the sense of security against risk leads to greater promiscuity: more frequency; more partners. And this leads to overall greater risk of disease among the sexually active population. So in this sense, condom usage is the greater evil.

So: Round One went to the Pope: no change in Church teaching, just “clarifying and deepening” the same old, unchanging, beautiful but difficult Catholic teaching about the true meaning of sexuality.

Round Two goes to the Pope as well. Still no change in Church teaching. No broadening of exceptions (there are no exceptions in either case). Still the same old, unchanging, beautiful but difficult Catholic teaching about the true meaning of sexuality.

And no news.

Is it too much to hope that now we can hear about what really is new: a pope responding to so many interesting or controversial questions in a published interview?

Father Joseph Fessio, SJ, is a theologian in residence at Ave Maria University, and the founder and editor of Ignatius Press, the English language publisher of Pope Benedict’s books, including his latest, “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times.”

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At funeral Mass, Pope remembers life of Cardinal Navarrete

Vatican City, Nov 24, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict spoke at the funeral Mass of Cardinal Urbano Navarrete on Nov.24, remembering the Spanish Jesuit – who died at the age of 90 this week – as an “educator of true justice.”

After the Wednesday general audience, the Pope moved to the St. Peter’s Basilica where the funeral Mass for Cardinal Navarrete was being celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals.

In his homily, Pope Benedict called Cardinal Navarrete, who was dean of the Faculty of Canon Law at the Pontifical Gregorian University and rector of the school, a "master of justice.” The 90- year-old cardinal passed away on Nov. 22.

Remarking on the family life and upbringing of the cardinal, who was one of six children, Pope Benedict said that his parents “created a climate of profound Christian faith in their family.”

With three of the Navarrete children becoming Jesuits and two professing vows as nuns, the Pope noted how the family was given “the courage to bear witness to their faith, not putting anything before the love of Christ and doing everything for the greater glory of God.”

The Pope then recalled how Cardinal Navarrete was a legal expert, particularly in the realms of canon and marriage law.

“The meticulous study and impassioned teaching of canon law were the central element of his life,” he said. “Educating the young generations in true justice, the justice of Christ, the justice of the Gospel, was the ministry Cardinal Navarrete accomplished over the course of his life.”

Pope Benedict recounted how the Spanish cardinal gave “three fundamental principles” that guided him in his studies: great love for the past and for tradition, sensitivity towards the needs and challenges of the present, and “the capacity to look and open oneself to the future, not with fear but with hope, the hope that comes from faith.”

“This profoundly Christian vision guided his efforts for God, for the Church and for man in his teaching and his works,” the Pope said.

“The shining truth of faith in eternal life comforts us each time we bid our final farewell to a deceased confrere,” he concluded. “Cardinal Urbano Navarrete, spiritual son of St. Ignatius of Loyola ... loved Christ and lived in intimate union with Him.”

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St. Catherine of Siena revered priests despite their 'failings,' Pope says

Vatican City, Nov 24, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict focused today on the life of St. Catherine of Siena, saying that although the 14th century mystic was “aware of the human failings of the clergy,” she had the “greatest reverence” for them.

The Pope gave his Wednesday general audience talk in the presence of 7,000 people at the Paul VI Hall in the Vatican on Nov. 24.

He opened his discussion on St. Catherine of Siena by recalling how the Italian saint joined a Dominican community at the age of 16, dedicating herself to a life of prayer, penance and working with the poor.

"As fame of her sanctity spread," the Pope explained, "she became intensely active in the spiritual counseling of many,” including “nobles, politicians, artists, common people, consecrated persons, ecclesiastics ... ”

The pontiff also highlighted how “Catherine energetically and effectively” convinced Pope Gregory XI – who at that time lived in France – to return to Rome.

Named a doctor of the Church, she also traveled extensively and authored the "Treatise on Divine Providence," her "Letters" and a collection of "Prayers."

St. Catherine was also considered a great mystic who had famous visions, the Pope noted. One of them entailed her exchanging hearts with Christ, and involved the Blessed Virgin presenting her the Baby Jesus, who gave her a ring.

“The living center of Catherine's religiosity and of all authentic spirituality,” he said, "is Christocentrism. For her, Christ was as a bridegroom with whom she maintained a relationship of intimacy, communion and fidelity.”

The Pope added, “we can all allow our hearts to be transformed and learn to love like Christ through familiarity with Him, nourished by prayer, mediation upon the Word of God and the Sacraments, especially ... Holy Communion.”

Pope Benedict also emphasized that St. Catherine, "though aware of the human failings of the clergy, always had the greatest reverence for them.”

This, he explained, is “because through the Sacraments and the Word they dispense the salvific power of the Blood of Christ.”

“The saint invited holy ministers,” he said, “to remain faithful to their responsibilities, moved always and only by her profound and constant love for the Church.”

“They called her 'mother,' because, as spiritual children, from her they drew nourishment for the spirit. Today too the Church receives great benefit from the spiritual maternity of many consecrated and lay women, who nurture the idea of God in people's souls, strengthen their faith and orient Christian life towards ever higher peaks,” the Pope said, finishing his teaching.

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CNA interviews Peter Seewald, author of new book on Pope Benedict

Rome, Italy, Nov 24, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -

CNA recently spoke exclusively with German journalist Peter Seewald, author of the new book-length interview with Pope Benedict XVI. 

Last summer, Seewald interviewed the Pope over a period of several days at Castel Gandolfo. The conversations were compiled in his new book, "Light of the Word: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times."

Seewald previously published two books on then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, "The Salt of the Earth," and "God and the World."

CNA's edited interview with Seewald is below:


CNA: Do you consider yourself a friend of Pope Benedict XVI?

Peter Seewald: I should say that we do not have a friendship. I am a journalist, and before Joseph Ratzinger became Pope we crossed paths in different places, and because of his age he could be my father. I met him as a journalist when my editors charged me with writing his biographical sketch and in doing so I came face to face with his work, his writings and his actions.

I was quite surprised to learn that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was not like how he had been portrayed and how I had imagined him to be, but rather that he was someone very apt at analyzing society, who understood very well today’s situation and was capable of profound analysis.


What are the most common misunderstandings about the Pope in the international media?

The first misunderstanding is the idea that Joseph Ratzinger is a Pope who is conservative, harsh, too strict, a man who likes power. None of these characteristics truly reflect the personality of Joseph Ratzinger, a man who, one could say, is one of the greatest minds of the Catholic Church; someone with a great heart and—necessarily so—a fighter by nature, someone who remains standing amidst the storms, someone who is not afraid.

I think it is important to say that one of his goals is to share the Gospel. He is someone who does not get stuck in the past or in the present. He is someone who is very much a part of our times, he understands development, he is always well informed, he views things clearly from the perspective of the Church, he understands all of the changes in society and is always concerned about the changes of modernity. Basing himself on the Gospel, the Fathers of the Church, tradition, he always strives to view things critically, he asks questions in order to understand, especially in the framework of these new times.

Joseph Ratzinger is no reactionary. I have always considered him a very modern man, someone who is always accessible, who promotes and seeks dialogue, who is always concerned with understanding other ways of thinking, including those of agnostics, atheists and those of other tendencies. He is someone interested in knowing them and understanding them well as part of our intellectual foundation and as part of our thinking.

If you asked me to describe Joseph Ratzinger I would say he is an upright man and by far one of the greatest figures of our time. I think he is man with a great heart and at the same time, as far as his personality goes, one could say he is an educator, a man of great love. He is a very jovial person, although perhaps he does not show it out of timidity. Moreover, he is man who is always willing to listen, because he is not only a great thinker, he is also a great spiritual teacher.


What are the main characteristics of this Pope that go most unnoticed?

In general there is little discussion about the fact that Pope Benedict XVI is a great educator. That is one of his great qualities. He understands the Gospel very clearly, he always finds new facets and discovers in them ways to deal with secularism and opportunities to discover the position of the Church in these times.

His strong traits as an educator, as a great thinker, and as someone who listens not only to the Catholic world, but to all Christianity is something important that the media needs to see and understand.

I think this is something that is not common, but it is important to point out in this time of crisis in modern society. I say that it is a gift. In a world that is often blind, it is important to have somebody with this unbreakable attitude of openness. I think he will be much better appreciated in the future.


Many in the media have portrayed Benedict XVI as somebody who neither as archbishop, or prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or as Pope has never done enough to prevent the sexual abuse of children. Is this a fair judgment?

Such a stance comes from writers who want these terrible actions to have negative repercussions for the Pope. It has even been said that when he was Archbishop of Munich, a sexual abuse case came before him, and Joseph Ratzinger made a mistake and eventually did nothing.

Ever since his time in Munich, there was no chance that Archbishop Ratzinger would ignore this issue. He has had a proper attitude, and as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he quickly became concerned about this issue. He immediately made the necessary changes and imposed sanctions for these errors.

People said that he let these errors get out of hand, however he has always condemned these actions and as Pope he has sought out the victims. In October of 2006 he met with a bishop from Ireland and told him the truth needed to be found out, that whatever was necessary to keep these unacceptable situations from happening again had to be done.

An important point is that the first thing that needs to happen is for the victim to be helped and to find healing. These things must not be kept hushed, and the guilty must not go unpunished. Ratzinger, as Archbishop of Munich, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as Pope, has always acted uprightly in response to these errors, even though in reality some in the media have not seen it this way and have taken a stance against him.


It is clear that the Vatican’s efforts to communicate with the secular media in recent times have not been very successful. Many papal actions and decisions have not been accurately conveyed and the Holy Father has often been exposed to harsh criticism by the media. What happened in Regensburg with the Muslims, the case of Lefebvrist bishop Williamson, the distorting of the Pope’s statements on AIDS during his trip to Africa are still fresh in our memory. Does this Pope need better PR advice?

My only response can be yes. It is obvious that in this respect there is much to be done and much to learn from the mishaps. The media needs to receive information in advance so that errors about the Pope are not published. Benedict XVI himself has criticized this situation, and in this new book he mentions that this obviously affects the work that has been carried out.

This is a comprehensive effort because the Pope does many things in the world, but he needs to be informed about certain situations. For example, if there is a video that they know is going to be aired, or he should be notified when certain reports are going to be published. I think that in this respect there is much room for improvement.


What issues do you directly address with the Pope in the book "Light of the World?"

The book in general deals with the crisis in the Church, with his pontificate, as well as with the dramatic problems of society. It also addresses the sexual abuse scandal, how this pontificate is directly confronting it and what this will lead to. It addresses how reform in the Church will take place, what the Church’s stance is towards Islam and how this crisis is affecting us today.

The question lies in whether the crisis of our times is something that we have not seen throughout the Church’s history. Even within the Church there are some who will not be pleased that the Pope is so open, but they will be astonished at his prophetic words in this book.

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Vatican rebukes China for conducting bishop ordination

Vatican City, Nov 24, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican has issued a sharply worded rebuke to China for ordaining a new bishop who was not appointed or approved by the Pope.

The Nov. 20 ordination of Father Joseph Guo Jincai in the northeastern city of Chengde was “a painful wound upon ecclesial communion and a grave violation of Catholic discipline,” the Vatican said in a statement issued Nov. 24 in Rome.  

Pope Benedict XVI received news of the ordination “with deep regret,” according to the statement.

“This ordination not only does not contribute to the good of the Catholics of Chengde, but … humiliates them, because the Chinese civil authorities wish to impose on them a pastor who is not in full communion, either with the Holy Father or with the other bishops throughout the world,” the Vatican said.

Father Guo, now faces what the Vatican called “painful repercussions” — automatic ex-communication.

The Vatican also condemned Chinese authorities for putting several bishops loyal to Rome under house arrest in an attempt to force them to participate in the ordination.

The Vatican called these strong-arm tactics “a grave violation of freedom of religion and conscience.” It promised to investigate the incident further and make “a detailed evaluation of what has happened.”

The ordination complicates an already tense situation between Rome and Beijing.

Since the communist takeover of China in 1949, Catholics have been forced to worship in state-approved “patriotic” churches, with communist leaders picking their bishops. Catholics faithful to Rome have remained underground and are served by bishops and priests ordained secretly and approved by the Pope.  Underground Catholics have faced persecution from the Chinese government, including being placed in jail for years.

In recent years relations have warmed. Rome has recognized many of the bishops appointed by Chinese authorities, and communist leaders have shown a willingness to cooperate with Rome in appointing new bishops. In a 2007 letter to China’s Catholics, the Pope expressed a new desire to normalize relations.

The ordination of Fr. Guo, a top official in the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, throws these hopeful developments into question.

And the new Vatican statement is unusually blunt and forceful in responding to the provocative nature of the ordination.

Chinese officials’ “claim to place themselves above the bishops and to guide the life of the ecclesial community does not correspond to Catholic doctrine; it offends the Holy Father, the Church in China and the universal Church, and further complicates the present pastoral difficulties,” the statement said.

The statement took the unusual step of singling out by name Liu Bainian, the vice chairman of the government-backed Church. Under his “influence,” the Vatican said, the state-approved Church has “adopted attitudes that gravely damage the Catholic Church and hamper … dialogue.”

According to the statement, Church officials had been working behind the scenes throughout the year to try to stop Fr. Guo’s ordination. “In spite of this,” the Vatican said, “authorities decided to proceed unilaterally, to the detriment of the atmosphere of respect that had been created with great effort.”

The Vatican statement concludes with a sharply worded prayer for the people of China and their communist rulers:

“The Catholics of the entire world are following with particular attention the troubled journey of the Church in China: the spiritual solidarity with which they accompany the vicissitudes of their Chinese brothers and sisters becomes a fervent prayer to the Lord of history, so that he may be close to them, increase their hope and fortitude, and give them consolation in moments of trial.”


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‘Martyrs’ of Iraq should be recognized as saints, Arab Christian group’s petition exhorts

Jerusalem, Israel, Nov 24, 2010 (CNA) - Those killed for their faith in Iraq should be recognized as saints, a group of Arab Christians says.

“We ask that the martyrs of Iraq be canonized, because the example of their lives and their sacrifice is an inspiration to us all as Christians, Arabs and non-(Arabs) alike, living in the Middle East,” the group commented, according to Fides.

More than 50 were killed in an Oct. 31 massacre at the Syrian Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad. The dead included two priests, Fr. Thair Sad-alla Abd-al and Fr. Waseem Sabeeh Al-kas Butros.

"Their names join the list of Christians who have died in Iraq for their faith, as Christians of the region continue to face a serious threat," the petition states. The organizers say they want to reaffirm their desire “to live our Christian faith in the same land where Christ died and rose for our salvation and where his apostles proclaimed the Good News to our ancestors.”

Asking that the martyred be recognized and honored as saints, they particularly mentioned the two priests and their companions killed at the Baghdad cathedral; the Chaldean sisters Fawzeiyah and Margaret Naoum, who were killed on March 26, 2007; Chaldean priest Fr. Raghid Aziz Ganni and subdeacons Yousef Aoud, Wahid Hanna Isho and Gassan Issam Bidawid, who were killed in Mosul on June 3, 2007.

They also listed Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul Paulos Faraj, who was found dead on March 13, 2008, after being kidnapped by militants.

The list includes several Orthodox Christian priests and a Protestant minister.

The website for the petition is located at

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Charities work to address joblessness as Thanksgiving nears

Washington D.C., Nov 24, 2010 (CNA) - As Thanksgiving Day approaches, unemployment and the need for Catholic Charities persists.

The U.S. workforce is “still waiting for a recovery,” Catholic Charities USA said in a “snapshot survey” released on Nov. 23. There is a “steady increase” in the number of working poor seeking help for basic needs, especially emergency financial assistance.

In the second quarter of 2010, over 70 percent of Catholic Charities agencies reported an increase in aid requests from the working poor. In the third quarter, 81 percent reported an increase. Asked how the recession has affected clients, about 84 percent of agencies blamed increased unemployment, 65 percent blamed increased underemployment, and 58 percent blamed increased foreclosures.

An extension for federal unemployment benefits expires on Nov. 30 and could push more Americans to seek assistance.

Jennifer Buell, development director of Catholic Charities Terre Haute, Indiana, told CNA her office often receives phone calls from individuals who have lost their jobs. They are “for the first time seeking assistance in meeting the daily needs for themselves and their family, especially food and rent assistance.”

The Catholic Charities affiliate’s food bank serves more than 32,200 individuals and works as a distribution center for more than 75 member agencies like food pantries, soup kitchens and emergency shelters which provide food directly to those in need.

Citing a 2009 survey, Buell reported that the member agencies’ clients are predominantly white and not senior citizens. Forty-one percent are 17 years of age or younger and 73 percent have an income at or below the federal poverty level.

“The most frequently mentioned source of income (51%) was (a) non-welfare governmental source such as social security, unemployment compensation, Disability/Workers compensation, and Supplemental Security Income,” Buell told CNA.

Catholic Charities Terre Haute was “excited” to receive a refrigerated truck from the Walmart Foundation, which also made a $70,000 grant through the Walmart State Giving Program. Buell reported that the donations will be “especially helpful” to deliver nutritious food to the service sites within the Catholic Charities affiliate’s seven-county service area.

In addition to the food bank, Catholic Charities Terre Haute operates a homeless shelter, a youth center and household exchange and a clothes closet.

“Each of these programs has seen an increase in the number of individuals seeking assistance. More and more individuals are seeking assistance with clothing, especially for children; rent assistance because they are facing eviction; utilities (electric and heat) assistance; and even gas for their vehicles to get to work.”

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Dioceses around the world joining Pope's 'unprecedented' pro-life vigil

CNA STAFF, Nov 24, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Catholic bishops across the U.S. are urging all of the faithful to unite their prayers with Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday, Nov. 27, in an unprecedented worldwide vigil for unborn life.

The Pope will celebrate a special Vespers service that Saturday evening at St. Peter's Basilica, heralding the first Sunday of Advent. Pope Benedict has recommended that “parishes, religious communities, associations and movements” join him for evening prayer, in “churches throughout the world.”

The season of preparation for Christmas, the Pope said on Nov. 14, “is a favorable time to invoke the divine protection of every human being called into existence, and to give thanks to God for the gift of life we have received from our parents.”

Although it is common for the Pope to encourage prayer for particular intentions, the request for a coordinated worldwide vigil –to be held on the same date and approximately the same time, in all dioceses–  is highly exceptional. Several bishops' comments have indicated that nothing comparable has ever occurred in the history of the Church.

While many Americans may be occupied with the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving and the shopping blitz of “Black Friday,”  bishops across the country are encouraging believers not to neglect the Pope's historic call to prayer.

“At this moment in history,” Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco wrote, “when societies are endorsing the killing of human beings as a solution to social, economic, and environmental problems, the Holy Father is reminding us of the necessity and power of prayer to protect human life.”

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta stressed that those Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church should nevertheless join their prayers with those of the Pope and his flock throughout the world. He also encouraged those who cannot attend a vigil service, due to other commitments, to participate to the best of their ability.

“I invite all Christians to begin the Advent season uniting in prayer for God's protection and help for human life,” he wrote. “All are welcome to take part in a special prayer on November 27 whether at home or traveling over the Thanksgiving holidays.”

The Diocese of Davenport in Iowa has produced a booklet that will allow families who are unable to attend the full services, to join in some of the same prayers that Pope Benedict XVI will pray at St. Peter's on the night of the vigil. That booklet is available from the diocese's website, at

All of the vigils will feature exposition of the Eucharist and and benediction, with most slated to include the Church's traditional evening prayer of psalms and petitions. Some parishes will also be hosting Marian processions and recitation of the Rosary. While most participating parishes will hold services during the evening, some have scheduled them earlier, or in conjunction with a vigil Mass.

Those planning to attend should confirm times and parish participation, either through the Internet or by contacting their local diocese before the Thanksgiving holiday, since offices may be closed the following Friday.

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Jesuit astrophysicist: Hawking’s theory on origin of universe is unscientific

Valencia, Spain, Nov 24, 2010 (CNA) - Renowned astrophysicist and Jesuit, Father Manuel Carreira spoke out Nov. 23, noting that British scientist Stephen Hawking's theory that the universe created itself from nothing lacks “scientific rigor and validity.”

Fr. Carreira said Hawking’s theory is “unscientific” because it contradicts the laws of physics and provides no proof for its claims, according to AVAN news agency. The priest's comments came during a conference in Valencia, Spain titled, “Dialogue with Stephen Hawking on Creation.”

Fr. Carreira said Hawking’s theory “does not contribute to knowledge in any way.”  While he praised the British scientist for his determination in battling his physical limitations, he said Hawking’s new book is “a highly revealing description of what 20th century science has accomplished and what remains to be done.” But, he added, the book “does not offer anything new.”

The book is only “original” in its illogical denial of human freedom in chapter one and its claims in the final chapter that “through the force of gravity, a universe created itself from nothing.”  “Nothingness does not have any force or properties,” Fr. Carreira noted. It is “purely the absence of all reality.”  What is evident, he continued, is that “gravity is the result of mass,” such that “since nothingness has no mass, it cannot have gravity either.  It would be like saying from zero you could get a bank account.”

Fr. Carreira also noted the “compatibility” of science, philosophy and theology in discovering truth.  “They are all partial ways of understanding a reality that is very rich and that cannot be known by just one methodology.”  All three can “complement each other in bringing about the development of human knowledge,” he added.

Science “only speaks of how matter acts,” but it “cannot give a reason” for why that matter exists.  The question of the meaning of the universe or of life “is outside the bounds of science and one must seek an answer in another order of reasoning,” the priest said.

Thus science is “a way of knowing what is observable and subject to experimentation, but it cannot be asked to speak of what it cannot prove,” such as “the desire to know, freedom, finality, ethics, art, family or social relations,” he stated.  For this reason, “reducing human reality to the four forces of matter is a totally unscientific claim that goes against our experience,” Fr. Carreira explained.

Fr. Carreira is a doctor in physics and professor of philosophy at the Comillas University in Spain.  He is also a member of the Vatican Observatory.

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