Archive of December 7, 2010

Ahead of new Narnia movie, actor’s comments on Aslan cause controversy

CNA STAFF, Dec 7, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Actor Liam Neeson, the voice of the lion Aslan in the latest Narnia film, has drawn criticism for saying the character is a Christ-like figure who also symbolizes other spiritual leaders.

Aslan is a character in all seven Narnia books by the British Christian writer C.S. Lewis. In the climax of the first book “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” Aslan sacrifices his life to save Narnia before rising from the dead.

Speaking ahead of the upcoming release of the Narnia movie “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” Neeson said: “Aslan symbolizes a Christ-like figure but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries.

“That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me.”

The 58-year-old Neeson is a practicing Catholic who grew up in Northern Ireland and was named after his parish priest, the Daily Telegraph reports. The actor has also collaborated with American Catholic priests to produce a CD of Lenten spiritual meditations.

Walter Hooper, Lewis’ former secretary and a trustee of his estate, said that C.S. Lewis would have been outraged by the claim.

“It is nothing whatever to do with Islam,” Hooper told the Telegraph. “Lewis would have simply denied that. He wrote that the ‘whole Narnian story is about Christ.’ Lewis could not have been clearer.”

He attributed Neeson’s remarks to political correctness and a desire to be “very multicultural.”

William Oddie, a former editor of The Catholic Herald who is a lifelong fan of the Chronicles of Narnia series, charged that Neeson had committed “a betrayal of Lewis’s intention and a shameful distortion.”

“Aslan is clearly established from the very beginning of the whole canon as being a Christ figure. I can’t believe that Liam Neeson is so stupid as not to know.”

Lewis himself characterized Aslan as an invented imaginary answer to the question “What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia, and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?”

“The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” will be released in the U.K. on Dec. 9 and in the U.S. on Dec. 10.

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Swiss bishops denounce 'hostility' toward Christian symbols

Rome, Italy, Dec 7, 2010 (CNA) - The Swiss bishops have issued a statement denouncing the government's recent hostility toward Christian symbols in public places.

The statement was issued at the end of the bishops' fall assembly.

The bishops spoke out against the “strong hostility that is manifested against religious symbols in public places,” reported Vatican Radio. Such an outlook is intended “to confine religion to the private sphere,” they continued, noting that the majority of Swiss accept the presence of Christian symbols, particularly crucifixes, in public places.

The bishops also acknowledged that by removing these symbols, there is a risk that “the Christian foundations of our society will be damaged.” Christians have a right to publicly bear witness to their faith and to express it through visible signs, they added.

“Freedom of worship and conscience is the only guarantor of the free expression of faith and that its signs are tolerated by society.  Thus, the prohibition of displaying the crucifix in public places would not be an expression of tolerance, but of intolerance, as it would prevent expression of the Christian faith in public,” the bishops added. 

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Archbishop denounces chaos, fear in wake of Christian couple’s murder

Rome, Italy, Dec 7, 2010 (CNA) - Chaldean-Catholic Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq has expressed regret over the climate of chaos, fear and confusion following the murder of an elderly Iraqi Christian couple.

Speaking on Vatican Radio, Archbishop Sako thanked Pope Benedict XVI for the concern he expressed for Iraq during the Angelus on Dec. 5.

The Pontiff is “truly a father who feels the pain of his sons and daughters,” he said.  “The situation is very difficult for Christians and Muslims” in Iraq because of the constant violence, the archbishop added.

The latest attack involved an elderly Christian couple, “Hikmat Sammak and his wife Samira, who had sold their home and moved north.  They had returned to Baghdad for two days to wrap up their move and sell what they had left,” the archbishop explained.

“Criminals broke into their home and cornered them. There was nothing humane or religious about this intimidating act.  We are a minority and when one Christian is kidnapped or killed, the entire community is afraid.  We don’t know where the country is going.”

Archbishop Sako said the Pontiff is “an important voice in the desert because we are alone in the desert, and his voice is a source of support and hope, a light in the midst of the darkness. This voice, the voice of the Holy Father, the voice of God in prayer and service, gives us strength.”

However, “in terms of the day-to-day situation, we need the help of an international force,” the archbishop added.  “Iraq needs help.”

The Iraqi security forces are not enough “to really guarantee security because often when there is an attack, nothing is ever resolved.  Confusion and chaos take hold, and people have lost confidence. We Christians are a target in Baghdad, in Mosul, and there is no security in these cities,” the archbishop concluded.

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Archbishop encourages trust in God following devastating Colombian landslide

CNA STAFF, Dec 7, 2010 (CNA) - Archbishop Ricardo Tobon Restrepo of Medellin, Colombia expressed sadness and solidarity following the country's recent landslide that has killed 17 and left 100 missing.

The archbishop said that these disasters are an invitation to show solidarity and to “put our trust in God who gives us strength even in the most difficult of trials.”

In an interview with CNA on Dec. 6, Archbishop Tobon, who reached out to the victims immediately upon learning of the landslide, said he felt great “sorrow and dismay at seeing the suffering of so many people.”

“We must reach out in solidarity to help all those affected by the intense rainfall we have had in Colombia, especially in the department of Antioquia,” the archbishop said, referring to the torrential rains that have drenched more than 80 percent of the country in recent weeks.

“All we can do is entrust all of this to God knowing that He can bring good even out such distressing situations and trials that are so difficult to bear and understand,” he added.

 “These tragedies take place partly because people who live in rural areas have been displaced from their homes because of the violence, and they have had to settle in ... geographically unstable areas, where they had no help in urban development,” the archbishop said.

He noted that the Church is helping those affected with shelter and food from the archdiocese’s food banks.

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Catholics weigh in on teens' excessive use of Facebook, texting

Denver, Colo., Dec 7, 2010 (CNA) -

A new study linking teen's excessive use of Facebook and texting to alcohol abuse and sexual activity has ignited discussion among Catholics as to whether or not the drastic rise in impersonal communication among young people can be seen as a good thing.

But no matter one's stance on the issue, Catholics from the parish priest to the tech-savvy teen agree that parental involvement is crucial – and often, sadly lacking.

Business Week sparked debate on Nov. 9 by reporting that teens who “hyper texted” (over 120 messages sent per school day) and “hyper social networked” (over three hours spent on networking sites per school day) showed an increase risk of dangerous health behaviors such as smoking, drinking and sexual activity.

Hyper-networking was also associated with increased likelihood of stress, depression, suicide, poor sleep, poor academics, television watching and parental permissiveness, according to researchers at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland.

Although the amount of texting and hours spent networking online cited by the study might sound drastic to the average adult, many teens don't see it as abnormal.

“Today's young people are raised in a media saturated culture and using these various forms of communication is really like breathing to them,” Catholic author Teresa Tomeo told CNA in a Dec. 4 e-mail.

Tomeo, a former journalist and syndicated talk show host who also writes faith-based books for teens, said that parents are overwhelmed and often can't keep up with their children's ability to communicate through modern technology. She added that many parents are also caught up in “their own addictive media habits” and lack the discipline to challenge their kids to use media responsibly.

“Parents need to be more involved and really get a handle on what their children are doing online,” she stressed. “They need to educate themselves, set and stick to guidelines and not be afraid to be parents or to set limits and restrictions on the amount and types of media usage.”

One unlikely supporter of parental involvement is 16 year-old Jonathan from Omaha, Nebraska, who spoke to CNA on Dec. 6. Although excessive texting didn't land him in rehab, he noticed a sharp decline in his school performance when he got a cell phone earlier this year.

His homework began to suffer and he even found himself losing sleep, carrying on conversations with friends via text long into the night. When his parents noticed on their cell phone bill that he had racked up 3,000 texts in one month, they staged an intervention of sorts.

“They took my phone away,” he recalled. Though he was angry at first, Jonathan said he eventually understood. He said that he felt strangely relieved and noticed one day while riding in the car with his mom that they were actually carrying on a conversation instead of him being perpetually glued to his phone. Additionally, his school work started to improve.

Jonathan also opened up his own Facebook account a few months ago at the urging of his friends. He said his reactions to the online networking site have been mixed.

“The positive thing about Facebook is that you stay connected with people to a certain extent,” he said, adding that he can chat with friends and catch up with people he may have lost touch with.

The negatives though, he added, are that it's “time consuming” and often includes interactions with others that are “superficial” and can leave one feeling empty.

“It doesn't really match talking on the phone or going out for coffee with somebody,” he said.

Jonathan also cited safety concerns regarding online social networking such as stalking or predators baiting underage kids.

“Your parents shouldn't have to stand over your shoulder,” he noted, “but they should know what's going on. You should be open with them about what's happening.”
As parochial vicar of a thriving parish in downtown Denver, Fr. Michael Warren, an Oblate of the Virgin Mary, said he is concerned about the spiritual and the interpersonal risks of these new technologies. Aside from the dangers of early drinking and sexual behaviors outlined in the study, he found deeper, more ominous affects of faceless communication lurking beneath the surface.

He cited intense isolation and the inability to form real, selfless relationships with others as results of excessive texting and online networking.

“In real face to face encounters you stand before me as a real person in your own right, invested with value that does not originate in me,” he said in a Dec. 6 e-mail. “But in the cyber world I am the determiner of all value and therefore am free from the demands of the face to face encounter.”

Through online communication, he added, “the only value you have in my eyes are the values I permit you to have in my own small world.”

Fr. Warren said an additional concern is having this mentality spill over into one's spiritual life.

“As a person becomes habituated to living this way, it is not likely that God will be spared this indignity,” he said.

“Like everything else in my cyber world, God will have the value I allow him to have, and I can 'defriend' Him just as easily as I do everyone else."

However, despite the dangers of texting and Facebook, both Tomeo and Fr. Warren agree that they can be used in proper context.

“The Church in Her wisdom recognizes the advantage of online communication for faith outreach,” Tomeo said, noting both Pope Benedict XVI and the U.S. bishop's encouragement on technology being used for evangelization.

Fr. Warren added that as “with all things human, moderation is the key.” The important thing, he and Tomeo stressed, is parental involvement.

“The domestic church (the family) is a place where children should develop the essential virtues of social communication face to face,” Fr. Warren said.

“Parents should also help their children to know what the true ends of friendship and communication are,” he added. “These discoveries help the young know that they cannot define themselves but are to understand themselves as part of a larger world over which they do not have command.”

“There is simply no substitute for time spent together as a family,” he said.

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Religious leaders’ open letter reaffirms protection of man-woman marriage

Washington D.C., Dec 7, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. Catholic bishops have joined other American religious leaders in signing an open letter reaffirming their commitment to the protection of marriage as “the permanent and faithful union of one man and one woman.”

“As religious leaders across different faith communities, we join together and affirm our shared commitment to promote and protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” the Dec. 6 letter notes. “We honor the unique love between husbands and wives; the indispensible place of fathers and mothers; and the corresponding rights and dignity of all children.”

The letter, titled “The Protection of Marriage: A Shared Commitment,” notes that marriage is fundamental not just to the well-being of religious communities but to the well-being of “all of society.” Marriage is a “great good” in itself and serves the good of society in “innumerable ways,” the leaders say.

“The preservation of the unique meaning of marriage is not a special or limited interest but serves the good of all. Therefore, we invite and encourage all people, both within and beyond our faith communities, to stand with us in promoting and protecting marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” the letter concludes.

The letter was released on the same day that oral arguments on the Proposition 8 federal lawsuit were set to begin. In August, Judge Vaughn Walker ruled the California ballot measure to be unconstitutional, claiming that the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman lacked any rational basis and reflected religious-based hostility to homosexuals.

“Today is the moment to stand for marriage and its unchangeable meaning. We hope this letter will encourage just that,” commented Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) and a signatory to the letter.

He said the letter reflects a “broad consensus” across religious divides.

“The law of marriage is not about imposing the religion of anyone, but about protecting the common good of everyone,” he explained. The legal recognition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman reinforces “the foundational cell of human society.”

Other signatories to the letter were Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Nathan Diament, director of the Institute for Public Affairs for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America; Presiding Bishop David Burton of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and Metropolitan Jonah of the Orthodox Church in America.

Signatories also included Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Methodist leaders as well as the secretary general of the World Sikh Council’s America Region, Manmohan Singh.

Downloadable copies of the letter are available at the USCCB website at

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Rep. Driehaus files defamation lawsuit over SBA List’s abortion funding claims

Washington D.C., Dec 7, 2010 (CNA) - Outgoing congressman Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) has filed a federal defamation lawsuit against the Susan B. Anthony List, charging that the political pro-life group’s campaign against his election deprived him of his livelihood. The group denied the charge.

The SBA List’s campaign statements against Rep. Driehaus, a self-described pro-life Democrat, claimed that he supported taxpayer-funded abortion because he voted for the national health care law.

Driehaus said the claim is false and the legislation bars any federal funding of abortion.

"A lie is a lie," Driehaus' lawyers wrote in his federal defamation lawsuit, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. "The First Amendment is not and never has been an invitation to concoct falsehoods aimed at depriving a person of his livelihood."

SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser claimed that the lawsuit was an attempt to shut down criticism, stating that the voters, not the pro-life group, deprived the congressman of his position. She said the congressman “caved” on the health care vote and “paid the price on Election Day.”

“Now he wants exclusive rights to describing that vote to his constituents and, in a democracy, that just isn't possible,” she continued.

Dannenfelser argued that all major pro-life organizations and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops concluded that the health care bill allows taxpayer funding of abortion.

“The SBA List will continue to defend that truth and the right to criticize our elected officials," she said.

In October Driehaus filed a criminal complaint against the SBA List charging that the organization violated Ohio law against making false statements in a campaign advertisement. He later asked that the complaint be dropped.

Driehaus lost the November 2010 election to Steve Chabot, a Republican, by 52 to 45 percent.

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Chinese officials forcing bishops to attend state-church meetings

Beijing, China, Dec 7, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Two of the Chinese government's “Catholic associations” are meeting from Dec. 7-9, with many bishops loyal to the Vatican reportedly being coerced into attending the gatherings.

With the exception of two articles in Beijing's official Catholic newsletter, almost no information has come out about the assemblies themselves, including in the Chinese media. However, several Chinese Catholic sources have reported bishops being kidnapped or arrested, in order to compel their participation.

The Catholic Patriotic Association and the so-called “Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China” are both seeking to fill a leadership position that has been vacant for several years. A government-appointed bishop, Michael Fu Tieshan, headed both agencies –and occupied a leadership position in the Communist country's national legislature– until his death in 2007.

Ahead of the meeting, around 100 police officers and other government officials in Hebei province converged on the residence of Bishop Feng Xinmao, whom a group of nuns and lay faithful had previously managed to rescue from forced isolation. After a dramatic siege that lasted several hours, authorities recaptured the bishop to take him to the meetings in Beijing.

In the same province, police have declared Bishop Li Lianghui Cangzhou to be a fugitive, after he disappeared in order to avoid the state-church meetings. Other sources within the Chinese Church have described local bishops going into hiding to avoid a similar fate.

Many bishops have not managed to escape, and have been detained and taken to the event. Others, facing similar threats, have reluctantly agreed to attend. However, they are reportedly refusing to concelebrate Masses with excommunicated state clergy.

In Hong Kong, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission protested the meetings with a rally at government offices. They wore purple ribbons to signify the suppression of Chinese Catholics' religious freedom, and the recent renewal of government pressure on bishops who are loyal to Rome.

In November 2010, the Catholic Patriotic Association forced a group of Vatican-approved bishops to participate in an unauthorized episcopal consecration. Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged on Dec. 1 that Chinese Catholics were now “going through a particularly difficult time,” despite past indications of reconciliation between Beijing and the Holy See.

Although the Vatican has given approval to certain bishops who pledge their obedience to the Pope while operating within the state-approved “Catholic associations,” neither the Catholic Patriotic Association nor the self-described “Bishops' Conference” has ever received the recognition of the Holy See.

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