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Archive of December 9, 2010

First WikiLeaks Vatican Embassy cable discusses ‘green’ Pope

Vatican City, Dec 9, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The WikiLeaks website has released its first U.S. State Department cable from the Embassy to the Holy See. The document concerns American efforts to rally Vatican support for the Copenhagen Accord on climate change.

The cable, apparently created on Jan. 21, 2010, is classified as “Confidential.” It is titled “‘Green’ Pope Supports US Path Forward From Copenhagen.”

It recounts a Jan. 20 meeting between an embassy officer and Dr. Paolo Conversi, calling him the “point person on climate change” for the Holy See’s Secretariat of State. He agreed to encourage countries “discreetly to associate themselves with the Accord, as opportunities arise.”

The Copenhagen Accord is a non-binding expression of commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions and to help developing countries adapt to anticipated climate changes.

According to the cable, Conversi said expectations for the Copenhagen Conference had been “too high.”

The Vatican official also said Pope Benedict had established his “green” reputation by using his New Years’ Day Peace message to highlight environmental protection.

Msgr. James Reinert, the environmental analyst at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told an embassy officer that the profile of environmental issues at the Vatican is “at an all-time high.” He noted that Secretariat of State officers now represented the Holy See at environmental meetings, not his own office.

In its analysis, the State Department cable said Conversi’s offer to support the U.S. is “significant” because “the Vatican is often reluctant to appear to compromise its independence and moral authority by associating itself with particular lobbying efforts.”

“Even more important than the Vatican's lobbying assistance, however, is the influence the Pope's guidance can have on public opinion in countries with large Catholic majorities and beyond,” the cable concluded.

The WikiLeaks website has claimed to have acquired more than 250,000 State Department cables. More than 700 of these involve the U.S. Vatican Embassy, while more than 100 cables from other embassies and consulates are labeled as Vatican-related.

The topics of the cables include intelligence, national security, human rights, and religious freedom issues.

The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See told CNA Dec. 3 that it cannot speak to the authenticity of the WikiLeaks documents. It also condemned “in the strongest terms” any unauthorized disclosure of classified information, saying this could harm individuals and global engagement between nations.

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Senate Republicans block repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

Washington D.C., Dec 9, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Republican congressmen blocked the Senate from being able to vote on repealing the controversial “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” legislation, which bans open homosexuals from serving in the military. 

The move is being hailed by family and pro-life organizations as a victory for servicemen and women and their families.

On Dec. 9, a 57- 40 test vote in the Senate failed to garner the 60 votes needed to progress the bill on to an official vote. The dismissed legislation – called the Defense Authorization Act of 2011 – would have, among other things, repealed the 1993 “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy, as well as enabled military bases at home and abroad to begin providing abortions.

Dr. Chairmaine Yoest, head of Americans United for Life Action, said Dec. 9 that she applauded “the outstanding leaders in the Senate who led the fight to win today’s key vote rejecting taxpayer-funded abortion in the military.”

“We know that more than 70 percent of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortion,” she added, 
“and this vote reflected the moral and fiscal values of Americans.”

Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, also issued a statement after the legislation's defeat, saying that the U.S. Senate “has rejected an insistent liberal social agenda and delivered a victory for the men and women of our Armed Forces.”

Perkins remarked that despite continued attempts by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to “use the military to advance this agenda,” a bi-partisan group of senators has “soundly declared that they will side with the priorities of the American people.”

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Spanish bishop: Vatican II contributes to communion of the Church

Madrid, Spain, Dec 9, 2010 (CNA) - The Second Vatican Council continues to be of great importance as it serves as “the necessary foundation for communion between all those who make up the Church,” affirmed Bishop Jose Ignacio Munilla of San Sebastian, Spain.

The council closed 45 years ago on Dec. 8.

The bishop spoke of Vatican II's importance during his homily on the Dec. 8 Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

“The Second Vatican Council is not the property of any one faction of the Catholic Church. It must not be used for division but rather for communion. To do the contrary would be to manipulate reality,” he said.

Bishop Munilla recalled that the council was opened by John XXIII on the feast of Mary the Mother of God in 1962, and closed by Paul VI on the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, 1965.  “As Pope Benedict XVI has reminded us, Vatican II took place between these two Marian feasts,” he underscored.

Bishop Munilla went on to stress that Vatican II must not be understood as a break with the past, but rather, as Pope Benedict XVI has pointed out, as a continuity with the tradition of the Church, a “hermeneutic of ‘reform'.”

“That is,” he continued, “the council is not a rupture with the previous tradition, but rather a necessary reform in continuity with the Magisterium before and after the Second Vatican Council.”

For this reason, he said, if the council is read and understood properly, it can be “an increasingly greater force for the ever-necessary renewal of the Church. In the Second Vatican Council we find the essential foundation for communion between all those who make up the Church,” he concluded.

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State meetings seen as loyalty test for conflicted Chinese bishops

South Orange, N.J., Dec 9, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Dec. 9, two “Catholic Associations” of the Chinese government concluded a three-day meeting to select new leaders. The executive director of the New Jersey-based U.S. Catholic China Bureau said the controversial gathering was meant to test the political compliance of bishops in communion with Rome.

Fr. Michel Marcil, who heads the joint project of the Jesuits and Maryknoll orders, has worked with Chinese and other Asian Catholics for almost 50 years. When he spoke to CNA on Dec. 8, one day after returning from his most recent trip to China, he confirmed reports that police had seized many Vatican-approved bishops to compel their participation in the meetings.

The show of force reminded some observers of the late 1960s and early 70s, when authorities in the Communist country would arrest and imprison Catholics with almost complete impunity. However, Fr. Marcil pointed out that just as conditions have changed since then, so has the Chinese government's approach to the Church.

Neither of the bodies that chose leaders this week –the Catholic Patriotic Association, and the so-called Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China– have received recognition from the Holy See as corporate entities. But many bishops who cooperate with the agencies have also sought and achieved full communion with the Pope.

That situation is unprecedented and delicate for all parties– for the Holy See, the Chinese government, and especially the bishops themselves. While many of them attended the leadership elections under duress, Fr. Marcil explained that the dramatic situation should not be cast as an outright “crackdown” against the Church. Rather, it reflected complex calculations by both the bishops and the government.

The Chinese government, according to Fr. Marcil, is acutely aware that at least 100 bishops who belong to the Catholic Patriotic Association are also in full communion with Rome. The government's priority, he said, was not to punish those bishops for their loyalty to the Pope as such, but to remind them that they must comply with the political aims of the Association and the Communist Party as a whole.

Likewise, he explained, the bishops whom the government had seized and taken to the “Catholic Association” meetings had expected events to unfold in this way. In proportion to the government's serious yet restrained show of force, many of the bishops opted for a significant but not complete show of resistance – forcing the government's hand, to make a statement of their own.

Many of the bishops expected to be arrested and taken to the meetings– but not necessarily because they had actually intended to refuse all participation. Rather, in Fr. Marcil's estimation, “they were obliging the government to use coercion, and then to have it be known that there was coercion.”

According to Fr. Marcil, who had been surveying the situation firsthand in the days before the conference, the arrests essentially represented a kind of demonstration, both on the government's part, and from the clergy. Each side has long understood that the other is trying to keep a delicate balance.

Fr. Marcil explained some of the government's concerns, in the form of implicit questions he said they were putting to the bishops by calling the conference: “Where is your first allegiance? Are you more for the Pope, than me? Or are you more for your country, than for the Pope?”

“They want to really know where each of these bishops stands.” But the bishops' ambiguous combination of resistance and compliance makes it difficult for authorities to get a straight answer.

Government officials did know that media outlets around the world –except, crucially, in China– would be reporting their arrests of the bishops. Fr. Marcil said the government's internal control over news made this an acceptable risk, in terms of domestic policy.

The government wants to ensure the bishops' political loyalty, without provoking mass protests that would endanger its own interests. Likewise, the bishops want to signify their independence, without throwing it away over every possible disagreement with the government.

While these bishops don't generally fear for their safety, Fr. Marcil explained that they may end up under house arrest, or otherwise restricted, if they fail to show enough loyalty to the state. But while loyalty is the government's main concern, it's the “show” –often amounting to perfunctory lip service– that bishops in communion with Rome often end up providing.

The government meetings even have a nickname among some of those bishops, who call them “three hand meetings” – because, Fr. Marcil explained, all they are there to do is “shake hands, raise your hand, clap your hand.”

Fr. Marcil compared the long-running battle of wits between bishops and government officials to a “cat and mouse game,” but it may be more like a game of chess – between government authorities who don't want to give bishops either too much or too little freedom, and bishops who want to exercise their ministries in peace without becoming pawns of the state.

For now, the recent meetings' mixed election results indicate a stalemate. A bishop in communion with Rome will head the Catholic Patriotic Association, while another bishop who lacks papal approval will lead the country's unauthorized “Bishops' Conference.” Both were the only candidates for their posts.

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Seven million Vatican photos to get hi-tech makeover

Vatican City, Dec 9, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Call it the Catholic 20th century in pictures. More than seven million photographs in the Vatican archives — including historic and intimate shots from every pontificate back to Pope Pius XII — are slated for a hi-tech makeover.

The Vatican announced that it has begun the process of translating the photo archives of its daily newspaper L'Osservatore Romano from negatives and prints to digital images.

In a press conference, the head of the Vatican’s photography department, Father Giuseppe Colombara, said the project would be spearheaded by Solegenia Group, an Italian hi-tech company.

The group has its work cut out for it. Many of the negatives and prints have yellowed and degraded over the years. Restoration in many instances will require painstaking work by hand, with experts forced to review individual frames.

The project will take at least five years and may cost an estimated $3-4 million.

Nearly 80 percent of the photos are in color, with the remainder in black and white. The archives cover seven pontificates, beginning with the photos taken by Francesco Giordani, a Rome-based photographer who began shooting for the Vatican in the 1930s.

Among the extraordinary material in the collection are shots of Pope Pius XII visiting the bombed-out San Lorenzo neighborhood just after it had been shelled by the Nazis in 1943.

By far the most photos are of Pope John Paul II. In addition to a reign of more than 25 years, Pope John Paul was said to have given the Vatican photographer unprecedented access to record informal and private moments with the Pope — including his daily Masses celebrated in the papal apartment.

The Rome press conference used as its backdrop one such memorable photo — the Pope’s famous meeting with his would-be assassin, Ali Agca, in a Rome prison cell.

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Wisconsin chapel approved as first US Marian apparition site

Champion, Wis., Dec 9, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - With approval from Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay, Wisconsin, a chapel in the town of Champion is now the first approved Marian apparition site in the United States.

On Dec. 8, 2010 –the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception– the bishop decreed with “moral certainty” that the Virgin Mary had indeed appeared to a young Belgian immigrant woman, Adele Brise, on three occasions in October of 1859.

Since 1861, the site of those apparitions has been home to a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary under her title “Our Lady of Good Help.” Following a two-year investigation of the alleged apparitions, Bishop Ricken proclaimed them “worthy of belief,” and confirmed his diocese's official recognition of the popular shrine.

During each of those three apparitions, a lady in shining white clothes appeared to Adele. The third time, she identified herself as “the Queen of Heaven who prays for the conversion of sinners.”

“I wish you to do the same,” she told the 28-year-old woman, who had intended to become a nun before coming to America. Adele and her family lived on a small homestead in Wisconsin, which had become a U.S. state only 11 years earlier.

The Virgin Mary also gave her a mission of evangelism and catechesis: “Gather the children in this wild country, and teach them what they should know for salvation … Go and fear nothing. I will help you.”

Adele Brise went on to become a Third Order Franciscan. She traveled throughout the frontier state giving religious instruction to children and adults, striving to fulfill the heavenly mandate. Her work was especially important at a time when Wisconsin severely lacked priests, and simply attending church could involve a strenuous journey.

Near the chapel, her community of Franciscan women also established a school. When a fire ravaged the area near the apparition site in 1871, the chapel and school were the only buildings left standing, along with their convent and a surrounding area of land consecrated to the Virgin Mary.

In 1890, six years before she died, Sister Adele's adopted hometown of Robinsonville renamed itself after the Belgian town of Champion. The Franciscan sister had asked for the change, in honor of a childhood promise she had made to the Virgin Mary to enter a Belgian religious order in that region.

Bishop Ricken told CNA that Sister Adele's own life was among the most convincing testimonies to the validity of the apparition. Rather than calling attention to herself or the apparitions, she had humbly devoted the rest of her life to fulfilling the instructions she had received.

“She went all over this area, and visited the homes that were scattered far and wide,” Bishop Ricken said, recounting the sister's Franciscan spirit of humble simplicity. “She walked most of the time, and she'd spend several days with the children teaching them the catechism and talking with the parents about their faith.”

“She really had an evangelistic spirit … and lived that out, not just immediately after the message, but her whole life long.”

Bishop Ricken said the simplicity and clarity of Mary's message also testified to the truth of the apparitions. Her instructions to Sister Adele were “simple, but very much loaded with the main message of the Gospel and with the teachings of the Church.”

The bishop also recalled discovering “countless stories of answered prayers,” including reports of “what many call miracles,” among those who had visited the shrine to seeking intercession from Our Lady of Good Help.

Although the bishop's approval of the apparitions is new, his recognition of the chapel's status as a diocesan shrine simply confirms what pilgrims have implicitly understood about the sacred place for over 150 years.

Bishop Ricken explained that he has heard “story after story” of “incredible” cures and conversions – and understands that the events of October 9, 1859 are still having life-changing effects among the faithful. Like the famous French apparition site at Lourdes, the shrine in Champion has a collection of crutches that pilgrims have discarded as unnecessary after receiving healing there.

Fr. John Doefler, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help, indicated there could be an even more profound connection between the Blessed Virgin's appearance in Lourdes, and the apparition to Adele Brise. He pointed out that she had appeared to Adele Brise one year after her appearances to St. Bernadette Soubirous, and announced herself in a way that connected both events.

“In Lourdes, Mary identifies herself as the Immaculate Conception,” Fr. Doefler explained. “Here, she identifies herself as the Queen of Heaven … Between the two of them, it encompasses all of the Marian mysteries” – from the very beginning of her life, to its culmination in “the Assumption and the Coronation.”

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Kidnapped refugees in Egypt treated like ‘slaves,’ priest says

Cairo, Egypt, Dec 9, 2010 (CNA) - About 250 Eritrean refugees and others are being treated like “slaves” by their trafficking kidnappers, a priest in Egypt says.

As many as 300 people are reportedly being held hostage in the Sinai Peninsula. The refugees had paid Bedouin traffickers to smuggle them into Israel but were instead taken hostage. The Egyptian government is investigating and has not confirmed the claims, Agence France Presse reports.

However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has voiced concern about media reports that traffickers are demanding payments of $8,000 per person for their release. The captives are allegedly being held in containers and are being abused.

Fr. Mussie Zerai, president of the Habeshia Agency for Cooperation and Development (AHCS), told the Italian bishops' SIR news agency that he is in contact with the captives and their situation is “dramatic.”

“They were made slaves by their kidnappers, who keep them in chains, under threat of violence, and force them to call their parents and friends to ask for a ransom. Those who do not pay are branded so that their families are forced to pay,” he reported.

According to the priest, there are pregnant women and children among them who are forced to live in “appalling hygienic and sanitary conditions.”

He is in contact with the hostages and speaks with them whenever the hostages are allowed to call. He described the phone call as an instrument “to put pressure” on others to provide ransom.

“I believe we should not pay anything,” the priest told SIR. “What has been paid is already too much. To pay means to fuel this human trafficking,” he declared. “It is the state, the international community, that must intervene to free these people and ensure that they are adequately received and protected.”

Fr. Zerai’s organization was founded in 2006 to help support asylum seekers, refugees or people under humanitarian protection in Italy.

He recently addressed the Italian Senate, saying that the kidnapping situation is the consequence of a migration policy that does not distinguish between job seekers and those who are fleeing “war, dictatorship and persecution.”

“In Europe today, there is a widespread tendency to close the borders, with no regard for conventions and treaties intended to ensure protection and asylum,” he lamented.

“What is most striking is that we are only two hours away from Italy by plane and that in the same area there are thousands of tourists on holiday. But they are unaware of what is happening in that country. This is the sad reality,” Fr. Zerai told SIR.

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Twin priests celebrate golden jubilee

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 9, 2010 (CNA) - Twin brothers from Parana, Argentina are preparing to celebrate a combined 100 years of priestly service.

The friends and family of Fathers Cesar and Raul Molaro are planning celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the twin brothers' ordination.

The AICA news agency reported that Catholics in Parana “will celebrate this unique event on Friday, Dec. 17, at 7 p.m. with a Mass at the parish of St. Joseph the Worker, followed by a banquet at the parish hall.”

Both priests said they discovered their vocations at a young age. They explained that they were both inspired by the dedication of a German priest they described as “selfless, dedicated, generous and always joyful.”

The twin priests emphasized that family is very important in the life of a priest. Fr. Raul recalled how their parents, who were simple and humble people, suffered greatly over the deaths of two daughters who died before the priests were born. “Later on, after our ordination, we learned that in the midst of her tremendous suffering, our mother said, ‘If God sends me sons I will consecrate them to the priesthood’,” Fr. Raul said.

Fr. Cesar noted that despite her promise, “It was very difficult for my mother to let us go to the seminary.”  However, “on the day of our ordination, she wept with great emotion during the entire ceremony ... and was proud of her two priest sons. 

“I thought about how much our parents and siblings helped us to be faithful to the priestly ministry with their prayers and support,” he continued. “I have always believed that the family is essential for fidelity and perseverance in the ministry.”

“To be a priest is to discover the love of Jesus and his call to follow and work with him so that others can know and love him,” Fr. Raul said. “It means trying to identify with Jesus as priest and pastor in service of the Church,” he continued.

“To be a priest is a grace, a call from God,” his brother added. “It is a participation in the priesthood of Jesus Christ, and for this reason the priest can work in the person of Christ as the head, as he receives a special consecration and is more profoundly configured to Christ the priest.”

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