Archive of December 13, 2010

Cuban dissidents detained for promoting human rights

Havana, Cuba, Dec 13, 2010 (CNA) - The coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, has denounced the Cuban government for detaining two dissidents late last week.

In a Dec. 10 statement, Paya stated that both José Ramón Remedio Rojas and Reinaldo Cruz Velásquez were violently detained Dec. 9 by state security agents. Both dissidents were working to promote the Heredia Project in the province of Las Tunas.

The Heredia Project aims to recover the rights of Cubans to travel freely within the country as well as abroad.

Rojas was detained while buying milk rations for his elderly mother, while Velasquez was detained at a bus stop.  Their whereabouts are unknown.

Paya said the repression against those promoting the Heredia Project “has spread to the entire country,” as government officials do not want the initiative to move forward, despite being based on “constitutional and human rights.”

Paya criticized the Cuban government for speaking of changes on the one hand, but “acting brutally” against human rights initiatives on the other.  He also reproached the governments of Europe and America for their silence and refusal to condemn the abuses of the Cuban government.

“Neither the regime’s repression, neglect nor growing conspiracy of lies our people are now suffering will stop us from fighting for freedom and the rights of Cubans,” Paya said.

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Vatican and its observers find little to react to in WikiLeaks cables

Rome, Italy, Dec 13, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Vatican officials are reacting “serenely” to the latest dump of cables in the ongoing WikiLeaks disclosure. That according to Giovanni Maria Vian, director of the semi-official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

The "stolen" documents "reveal exactly nothing," he told the Italian daily, La Stampa.

"If anything,” he explained, “the cables demonstrate scarce initiative on the part of whoever prepared them and show instead, an excessive zeal in referring to opinions circulating in different environments, especially from Italian journalists."

This has been the Vatican’s line, too. In an official statement issued Dec. 11, Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi said the cables reflect only their authors’ "perceptions and opinions" — which are not terribly insightful. He did urge that outsiders read the cables with “great prudence.”

L’Osservatore Romano has diplomatically avoided coverage of the WikiLeaks cables. And the so-called “Vaticanistas,” Italian journalists who cover the Vatican, have largely reacted in a ho-hum fashion to the release of the once-secret documents.

In their accounts they have portrayed the documents as offering no new “revelations,” but merely old news repackaged to appear new.  The value of the documents, these observers agree, is that they offer an interesting, inside glimpse of the way U.S. government officials regard the Vatican and its officials.

Respected Vatican analyst Andrea Tornielli borrowed the words of late-Vatican diplomat Cardinal Domenico Tardini to describe the state of the diplomatic environment.

When the cardinal was told that the Holy See's diplomatic corps was the best in the world, he responded ironically, "Ours the best? Imagine the others.”

Given the circumstances, the "realism" of this light-hearted statement from the cardinal "seems truer in these days of full-immersion in the WikiLeaks files," Tornielli wrote on his blog for the Italian newspaper Il Giornale.

Tornielli said the cables shed little light on Vatican diplomacy. But they do say a lot about the diplomatic blunders of the U.S., which he said, "failed sensationally" in allowing these private communications to become public.

Tornielli said there are no new "revelations" contained in the cables. The information released is already known "in the newspapers and on blogs from the entire world."

Of course, some of the opinions expressed by U.S. diplomats have raised eyebrows.

One cable describes Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone as a "yes man," one who does not contradict the Pope or question the Church’s policies.

It did not take long for the Italian news agency Adkronos to report Cardinal Bertone's cheerful response.

"I am very proud to be described as a 'Yes man'," he said, "given that this colorful description truthfully reflects my support for the pastoral work of the pope."

The Vaticanista Massimo Franco, who writes for Milan-based Corriere della Sera daily, criticized the Vatican’s quick response to the WikiLeaks cables.

He said the Vatican’s statement, which urged “great prudence” in evaluating the cables, appeared both superfluous and defensive."

No matter what the Vatican is saying officially, the leaked cables clearly "touched uncovered and hyper-sensitive nerves," according to Franco.

Vatican spokesman Fr. Lombardi had underscored that quotations and opinions expressed by Vatican officials in the cables cannot be attributed to the Vatican, nor necessarily be considered accurate.

Franco said this attempt to put distance between Vatican officials and the contents of the cables was itself suspicious. It is "almost as if the Vatican wished to exorcise the suspicion, widespread anyway, that the critiques are fed from the inside," he said.

Some Vatican analysts are paying just minimal attention to the cables. A summary of Catholic apologist and Corriere della Sera writer Vittorio Messori's coverage was printed in a post on the new Italian site for veteran Vatican analysts called La Bussola Quotidiana.

According to a brief post, Messori said the cables reveal an American diplomacy "full of holes."

He noted that much of the content reprints "chatter, conversations with some journalists, for the sake of speaking without particular relevance, a little bit of gossip."

Messori did find one sentence in a cable to be "a pearl," however.

In a message ahead of the Pope's trip to Israel and Jordan in May 2009, a diplomat wrote: "Pope Benedict sometimes bewilders politicians and journalists by pursuing what he believes is in the best interest of the Church, such as reinstating the Lefebvrists or considering the canonization of Pius XII."

Messori said he "could not imagine a better compliment or encouragement for a Bishop of Rome” than that of doing what he holds to be his duty.

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Report finds rising discrimination against Christians in Europe

Rome, Italy, Dec 13, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - In February, patients in the surgery unit of a public hospital in Bad Soden, Germany, watched as hospital workers moved methodically through the unit taking down 12 crucifixes that hung on the walls of the Protestant-run institution. The workers then threw the crosses into trash bags.

Why were the crosses removed? Because a Muslim patient had complained and the hospital had reason to think it might be sued if the crosses were kept hanging.

In November 2008, a veteran family law judge in Murcia, Spain was fired, fined the equivalent of nearly $25,000, and barred from practicing law for 18 years.

His crime? He delayed the adoption of a little girl by the lesbian partner of the girl’s mother.

Judge Fernando Ferrín Calamita, 51, a practicing Catholic and father of seven, made a legal argument that he was acting in the child’s best interest and in conscientious objection to Spain’s adoption laws.

These were among dozens of examples of religious intolerance against Catholics and other Christians documented in a new report by the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe.

The 40-page study was released at the observatory’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on Dec. 10. The report comes just days after the conclusion of a summit of European leaders in which a top Vatican official urged leaders to pay more attention to discrimination against Christians.

While religious persecution and intolerance are usually associated with dictatorships or regimes run by religious extremists, the report details the rise of a secularist attitude in European societies that increasingly leads to intolerance against Christian beliefs.

The Observatory’s director, Dr. Gudrun Kugler, said the abuses included the denial of Christians’ rights to free speech and freedom of conscience.

“Religious freedom is endangered especially with regard to its public and its institutional dimension,” she said. “We also receive many reports on the removal of Christian symbols, misrepresentation and negative stereotyping of Christians in the media, and social disadvantages for Christians, such as being ridiculed or overlooked for promotion in the work place.“

Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi said the new report “deserves attention.”

"It is a base on which to judge the dimensions and the nature of the phenomenon” of intolerance and discrimination” he said in an editorial aired on Vatican television. 

A great many of the cases the Observatory cite involve Christians being punished for expressing their beliefs about homosexuality and defending their beliefs in traditional marriage.

Often, the report said, anti-discrimination laws are applied in such a way that “causes indirect side-effect discrimination of Christians.” In addition, the report said, “Hate speech legislation has a tendency to indirectly discriminate against Christians, criminalizing core elements of Christian teaching.”

For instance, in July, Spain’s socialist government, which backs gay “marriage,” fined a Christian  television network 100,000 euros for running a series of advertisements in favor of the family and opposing the homosexual lifestyle.

Also in recent years, the commission reported, bishops in Belgium and Scotland faced threats of prosecution from members of Parliament for defending the Church’s teaching on marriage. 

The report also raises questions about the neutrality of the European Court of Human Rights, which has gained increasing authority with the push for European unification. The court, for instance, has ruled that crucifixes displayed in Italian schoolrooms violates students’ religious freedom.

The report also cited a 2009 case in which the Catholic University of Milan decided not to renew the contract of a professor who declared in class that Christianity promoted “unmerciful dogmas” and declared original sin to be a “fiction.” The professor also said that “Jesus was through and through a bad human being” and that the Gospel was the “most frightening message ever made known to mankind.”

Later in 2009, the human rights court said Italy had violated the professor’s right to freely express his opinion — effectively placing the professor’s rights to speech above a Christian institution’s rights to preserve and promote its identity through its hiring practices.

The report also details a rising number of what it calls “hate crimes” directed at Christians and Christian symbols, including arson and vandalism of churches across Europe.

At the recently concluded meeting of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, held in Astana, Kazakhstan, the Vatican’s top diplomat, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, echoed many of the themes raised in this new report.

“It is well documented that Christians are the most discriminated and persecuted religious group,” he said in an address to delegates. 

“The international community must combat intolerance and discrimination against Christians with the same determination with which the it fights against hate with respect to other religious communities," he added.

In his comments on the new report, Fr. Lombardi reminded listeners that while Pope Benedict was in England this past September, he also expressed his "concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity ... even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance."

The new report, he said, is an opportunity for reflection and commitment, "not only from those who work for the defense of Christianity and its values, but also of all honest people truly desirous of protecting the values of tolerance and freedom of expression and religion."

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Mexican cardinal highlights St. Juan Diego's humility

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 13, 2010 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Mexico City recalled in a recent homily that St. Juan Diego witnessed the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe because of his “humble heart.”

Cardinal Norberto Rivera addressed Catholics on Dec. 9, the feast of St. Juan Diego, underscoring the simplicity and humility of the Mexican saint, canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

Juan Diego, he said, “embraced one of the most important values: He had a humble heart … and for this reason he was chosen, for his candor, his tenderness and humility.”

Juan Diego’s innocence was rewarded with the chance to see Our Lady in 1531 at the age of 57. He was able to “hear her sweet voice and be her messenger before Bishop Juan de Zumarraga,” the cardinal explained.

Faced with the incredulity of the bishop, Juan Diego was told by the Virgin Mary to gather the roses blooming out of season and bring them to him as sign of the authenticity of her message. Upon unfolding his tilma before the bishop, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe miraculously appeared before their eyes. 

The tilma is kept at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

Mary told St. Juan Diego she desired that a special place be set apart on Tepeyac Hill—the site of the apparitions—not only so it could become a basilica, but so the faithful would more firmly establish the Church in Mexico City, the cardinal said.

In Our Lady of Guadalupe, society can rediscover the values of hope and simplicity, Cardinal Rivera concluded.

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The family is a masterpiece of the Creator, teaches Argentinean bishop

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 13, 2010 (CNA) - Auxiliary Bishop Sergio Buenanueva of Mendoza, Argentina explained that the family – founded upon the marriage between one man and one woman – is a “masterpiece of the Creator.” 

He emphasized that the family is “not the mere product of man’s cultural evolution.”

During the celebration of Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, Bishop Buenanueva explained that for Christians, marriage between man and woman “is enriched with the grace of the sacrament.”

He expressed his concern about the attacks against marriage and the family in Argentina, such as the recent legalization of homosexual unions.  Only through God’s grace, he said, “can the family find the strength needed to continue being the home of life amidst the challenges of today.”

This can even demand “intense resistance to the dominant culture, which is particularly aggressive towards family bonds.”

Bishop Buenanueva then called on the congregation to turn to the Blessed Mother as “a sign of hope,” strength and comfort.

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Connecticut couple spearheads Uganda water effort

Milford, Conn., Dec 13, 2010 (CNA) - When Jane Holler and her husband, Daniel Marecki, first visited Africa in 1997, their five-star tented camps were so luxurious "that we had no idea about the poverty that was all around us," she said.

"Everything was like a Disney World kind of safari," Ms. Holler recalled. "We didn’t see local people, just those in the tourist camps."

But that all changed when St. Gabriel Parish in Milford, Conn. established a relationship with St. Brendan Parish in Tanzania and priests began coming to visit their seaside parish.

"I made a point of entertaining them and getting to know them, and as a result, my husband and I have made several visits to Tanzania and Uganda," she said, adding that they slowly were immersed in the impoverished culture, the people and their needs.

The result is Uganda Farmers Inc., a nonprofit the couple started in 2007, that already has raised thousands of dollars for people in Uganda to buy goats and provide water to one village.

"We realized that we could tap into our parish only so much, so we started the nonprofit to help out our friends in Uganda," said Ms. Holler, who shares a law partnership with her husband in Milford.

Now, after a visit this past summer from Father Emmanuel Kakaaga Byaruhanga, rector of a minor seminary with 250 students, the couple is working to raise $26,000 for his villagers in Uganda to drill a well for water.

Father Byaruhanga said his small village of Rwesigiire has no water or electricity. Villagers have to walk two miles each way to the nearest spring to collect water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and watering animals.

Initial plans for the water project, which will benefit 300 people, call for a borehole to be drilled in the center of the village for manually pumped water. If engineers need to go beyond 300 feet, additional funds will go toward the purchase of a generator for pumping water at deeper levels.

Ms. Holler insisted that their fund-raising is well worth the effort.

"We’ve been so blessed to be involved in this project," she said. "Every time we go to visit Africa, the people are so kind and grateful for all the assistance.

"It’s so beautiful to see," she continued. "The people were so thrilled to show us their progress, and get all dressed up to express their respect and thanks. They’re just such kind people, and work together as a community to benefit all.

"It’s a very spiritual, prayerful gathering," she noted. "In fact, every meeting and every trip begins and ends with prayer to thank God, knowing that everything comes from him."

Three years ago, they worked with Holy Cross Father George Muganyizi in Kyembogo to help raise funds to buy 350 goats at $25 each that provide milk for families; drill a well, and purchase land and a tractor for agricultural projects. Now, when she and her husband go to Africa, they opt to stay in the homes of villagers. "There’s no electricity or running water, but it’s not important," said Ms. Holler. "They meet to tell stories, review the homework of their children who have no books, sing together, and pray until it gets dark. It’s just a beautiful, simple time to gather together as a family."

She recalled that during one visit, they spent a week at a parish house going with the priests to remote villages for Mass.

"When the priests arrive, the villagers are dressed and waiting," she said. "Then the music starts and the Mass lasts from three to three-and-a-half hours. It’s just such a joyous occasion."

"Every time we go to Africa, we come back with so much more than we brought," she said. "The rich prayer life, the praising and gratitude to God is so evident. We learn so much from their humility and try to emulate them in our own world where we have so much."

To raise funds for the water project, Uganda Farmers is organizing a 5K race and a golf tournament for the spring, and is seeking sponsors for both events.

People can also contribute by purchasing a "share" in the water project. A tax-deductible donation of $80 will provide water for one person for life and vastly help to improve the quality of life and standard of living in the village, the couple said.

"We’ve been given this opportunity as a conduit to make the world a little smaller and hopefully better by connecting people," she said. "Clearly, it’s the Holy Spirit who has been guiding our lives."

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Printed with permission from the Catholic Transcript, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn.

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