Vatican City, Dec 17, 2010 (CNA) - Pope Benedict XVI encouraged Catholics to be faithful and courageous in witnessing to a secularized society in a letter sent to an Italian archdiocese.
The letter, published Dec. 14 by L’Osservatore Romano, was addressed to Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, Archbishop of Naples, Italy to mark the archdiocese's Jubilee Year.
Benedict XVI noted that the religious heritage of Naples “demands consistent fidelity and courageous witness.” He explained that this witness is made difficult by the socio-cultural context of the world today “which is very different from the past.” The world is now characterized by a “secularist view of life and the influence of evil” on civil life, the Pope said.
Amid the negative and erroneous models that affect family and social life, the Pope underscored “the urgency of human and Christian formation for boys and girls, as they are heavily exposed to the risks associated with these deviations.”
“For this reason it is necessary that men and women are taught to have strong personalities, solid faith and to live the Christian life consistently,” he added.
Benedict XVI exhorted parents to teach the faith to the children from a young age, using the signs and words that have always been a part of the Christian community. “The future depends in large measure on the success of this comprehensive educational effort,” he added.
“Christians are called to be operators of the truth and courageous witnesses of the Gospel. Each one can and should strive to ensure that their ethical and spiritual values, translated into their way of life, make a decisive contribution to the building of a more just and fraternal society.”
The Pope said Catholics must form relationships based on authentic charity, with the inspiration and strength that comes from God, and that result in concrete acts of solidarity and service. Thus they will witness to alternative lifestyles that will inspire others and serve as examples.
In this manner, the Pope concluded, Catholics will reinforce the awareness that still today the seed of the Kingdom of God is present and active, and that if that seed is accepted on a personal level and with generosity, even the most difficult situations can be transformed and the city of Naples will be renewed.
Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2010 (CNA) - Archbishop Charles J. Chaput joined his brother bishops in expressing support for the controversial DREAM Act – a bill that would grant citizenship to many children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. The bill is expected to be voted on by the Senate on Dec. 18.
Joining coadjutor Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles in endorsing the legislation, Archbishop Chaput issued a statement on Dec. 17 urging Catholics to contact their local lawmakers to vote in favor of the measure.
The act's full title is the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act. It would allow young people who entered the United States before the age of 16 to apply for legal permanent residence and eventual citizenship, as long as they have finished high school, have no criminal record, have lived in the U.S. for more than five years and have completed two years of college or military service.
While Democrats largely support the measure, Republicans have criticized it for encouraging illegal immigrants to bring their children across unsecured borders. The House has already passed the act, but the Senate vote on Saturday is expected to be close.
Archbishop Chaput said the bill “is about fairness to high school graduates who were brought to this country unlawfully through no fault of their own, since they came with their parents.”
He added that those who would benefit from the act are “talented, intelligent and dedicated young persons who know only the United States as their home.”
He called the bill “a practical, fair and compassionate solution for thousands of young persons in our nation who simply want to reach their God-given potential and contribute to the well-being of our nation.”
“This important piece of legislation is critical for the lives and hopes of thousands of young people across America,” the Denver archbishop said, urging people to contact their federal senators and representatives. Voting in favor of the act “is the right and just thing to do,” he said.
Adding to Archbishop Chaput's support of the bill, several U.S. bishops held a teleconference on Dec. 17 urging Congress to pass the legislation.
Those who participated in the conference included: Cardinal Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, Archbishop Gomez, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City and Bishop Edward J. Burns of Juneau, Alaska.
Vatican City, Dec 17, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican issued a sharp rebuke to China for forcing bishops and others loyal to Rome to take part in elections for Catholic organizations controlled by the ruling communist party.
The incidents “manifest a repressive attitude with regard to the exercise of religious liberty, which it was hoped had been consigned to the past in present-day China,” the Vatican said in a statement issued Dec. 17.
“The persistent desire to control the most intimate area of citizens’ lives, namely their conscience, and to interfere in the internal life of the Catholic Church does no credit to China. On the contrary, it seems to be a sign of fear and weakness rather than of strength; of intransigent intolerance rather than of openness to freedom and to effective respect both of human dignity and of a correct distinction between the civil and religious spheres.”
The strong language reflects growing tensions in Rome’s relations with Beijing.
The statement suggested that Chinese officials have sought to knowingly provoke a confrontation — first by ordaining a bishop without Rome’s approval in November and then, earlier this month, forcing participation in elections for the state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association and bishops' conference.
The Vatican again emphasized that neither state-sponsored institution is legitimate. It called the election of an unlawfully ordained bishop to head the bishops’ conference “deeply deplorable.” It also criticized as “lamentable,” the election of a bishop recognized by Rome to head the patriotic association.
The Vatican termed these moves, and the earlier ordination, “unacceptable and hostile acts” that have “unilaterally damaged the dialogue and the climate of trust.”
The statement acknowledged that these recent incidents have forced Chinese Catholics to make tough decisions of conscience.
“Each one of those who were present knows to what extent he or she is responsible before God and the Church,” the Holy See said. “The bishops in particular and the priests will also have to face the expectations of their respective communities, who look to their own pastor and have a right to receive from him sure guidance in the faith and in the moral life.”
It urged ordinary Catholics to adopt an attitude of forgiveness and understanding towards those bishops and priests who took part in the illicit ceremonies. “Continue courageously supporting them in the face of the unjust impositions that they encounter in the exercise of their ministry,” the Vatican urged.
As for those forced to participate against their will, the Holy See condemned China’s "grave violation of their human rights, particularly their freedom of religion and of conscience."
The statement praised those who refused to go along with communist authorities and all who “have borne witness to their faith with courage.”
The Vatican statement concluded by emphasizing Pope Benedict XVI's Dec. 1 call for prayers for the struggling Church in China.
“In the light of what has happened, the Holy Father’s invitation … remains pressing,” it said.
Rome, Italy, Dec 17, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - With Christmas fast approaching, Iraqi Christians are coming to the hard realization that there may be a day when there are no more Christians left in their homeland.
“Christians are being extinguished in Iraq, while Iraq remains Muslim,” said Father Georges Jahola, a Syro-Catholic priest from Mosul, Iraq currently studying in Rome.
Those who remain want to leave because they do not feel safe, he said. “They see that there is no longer a place for Christians in Iraq. Even for us as a Church, we cannot deny it.”
For the past five weeks, Fr. Jahola has spent many hours ministering to victims of the Oct. 31 terror attack on Baghdad's Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation. Some of those most badly wounded in the attack, which left 58 dead, were flown to Rome’s Gemelli Hospital.
At Gemelli, he has been there to provide spiritual support to the patients and their families and to serve as an intermediary in an environment where they don’t speak the local language.
His close bond with the people was instantly visible Dec. 16 as he met with CNA in the hospital’s residence foyer, where the Iraqis have been living. The time has come for some to leave, while others remain in treatment.
They all know those who are going home face an uncertain future.
They are returning to Iraq, Fr. Jahola said, because they cannot bear the thought of living anywhere else. “Even if it costs them their lives,” he added.
Attacks on Christians in Iraq have continued since the cathedral massacre. On Dec. 15, Syro-Catholic Archbishop Athanase Matoka of Baghdad, told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France: “The Christians of Iraq live in fear of the future.”
The Catholic archbishops in both Mosul and Kirkuk have already canceled Christmas vigil celebrations and announced sharply limited Mass schedules for Christmas day due to the threat of terrorism, according to the Italian bishops’ news agency, SIR.
Fr. Jahola acknowledged stories that have circulated among the Iraqis who are fleeing their homeland. He said he believes reports that Christian homes have been marked with red crosses as targets for Islamic extremists. The crosses are a warning of violence to come, he said. They are a sign, he said, that “these people are in (the) Church, so they are still alive. … that we still need to eliminate them.”
No place in Iraq, not even the more peaceful Kurdistan region, provides certainty for Christians to live safely, he said.
Fr. Jahola said that since the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, every effort to protect Christians has failed. He criticized the walled compounds erected by the Iraqi government around church buildings as a sign of the government’s “incapacity” to keep the situation under control.
Meanwhile, the “decimation” of Christians continues, Fr. Jahola said. Their numbers have been more than cut in half from a population that 10 years ago was estimated around 1.5 million.
“It is alarming, that an ethnic people — a people who speak the ancient Aramaic language and have Christian roots — is being made extinct in the world. And no one intervenes,” he said.
As he pondered the fate of the many who are leaving Iraq, tears welled up in his eyes.
It is no simple thing to leave one’s homeland, he said, adding: “It's just not possible that all Iraqi Christians leave, but also dying there causes us grief.”
Fr. Jahola said that although it seems “absurd,” to return to Iraq, he plans to do so himself when he finishes his studies.
He believes the Iraqi population, shrinking though it may be, has a “unique destiny to maintain with the faith.”
The Baghdad cathedral attack inspired in him strength and resolve that he did not know he had.
“This for me is the strength of the martyrs who witnessed to their faith in the Church,” he said. “For me, I haven't yet done what I need to do, so that awaits me.”
Washington D.C., Dec 17, 2010 (CNA) - The repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which could endanger religious freedom in the military, has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Its success or failure depends upon whether it is scheduled for a Senate vote as Congress comes to a close.
On Dec. 15 the House voted 250 to 175 to repeal the policy barring open homosexuals from military service.
The Senate apparently has enough votes to overcome a filibuster, with Republican Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) supporting the policy change, the Boston Globe reports.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has vowed to call for a vote before the Senate adjourns.
“We are very quickly running out of days in this Congress. The time for week-long negotiations on amendments and requests for days of debate is over,” he said, characterizing the policy as “discriminatory” and calling on Republican senators to join in the vote.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll claims that about eight in ten Americans favor allowing open homosexuals to serve in the military.
Marine Corps commandant Gen. James F. Amos has opposed changes to the policy, noting Marine combat veterans’ beliefs that repealing the policy would harm unit cohesion. He also suggested open homosexuals could cause distractions and risk units in combat.
Some military chaplains have been told by their superiors they should leave the military if they have problems of conscience as a result of the policy change.
Daniel Blomberg of the Alliance Defense Fund, a repeal opponent, told CNA in November that chaplains are concerned that religious faith “will be discriminated against in favor of the new political correctness that will be imposed by the Obama administration.”
Archbishop for the Military Services Timothy J. Broglio has opposed repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." In an October interview with CNA, he warned of a “latent” danger to religious liberty in the agenda advanced by some people in the name of tolerance.
“(T)here is an agenda to force everyone to accept as normal and positive behavior that is contrary to the moral norms of many religions, including the Catholic Church,” he commented, voicing concern that teaching morality or forming young people in their faith could be misconstrued as intolerance.
Strasbourg, France, Dec 17, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - The European Court of Human Rights ruled Dec. 16 that Ireland's abortion ban breached the rights of a woman who filed suit against Ireland after she had to leave the country in order to procure an abortion.
Pro-life groups in the U.K. decried the move and are urging Irish lawmakers to resist what they believe to be lobbying pressure to legalize abortion in the country.
The ruling comes after three women – in the case ABC vs. Ireland – filed suit against Ireland for having to travel to another country for abortions. Although the cases of the first two women were dismissed by the court, judges ruled in favor of the woman known as “C,” who had a rare form of cancer that she believed could resurface during her pregnancy.
Woman “C,” a Lithuanian who lived in Ireland, told the court that she feared that her cancer would come back if she reduced her chemotherapy treatment during her pregnancy and that the baby could be harmed if she didn't. She was unable, however, to find a doctor to substantiate these claims.
Ireland's 1861 abortion ban was challenged in 1992 in what's known as the “X case.” The country's Supreme Court ruled that abortion was lawful in Ireland if there was a significant risk to the life of the mother as a result of her pregnancy. Yet for the last 18 years, the ruling had remained in limbo because Irish lawmakers refrained from taking any substantial action on it.
On Dec. 16, however, the European court found that because woman C's life was allegedly in danger, the situation allowed for an abortion under the 1992 provision. The court also found that her right to “private and family life” – under Article 8 in Ireland's constitution – was violated. The country was then ordered to pay her 15,000 euros, or about $20,000.
Jim Smeaton, director for the U.K.-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, argued against the ruling as a further step in the push to legalize abortion in Ireland.
“The Irish Constitution does not confer any right to abortion, nor can the right to life of unborn children in any way be held to be in competition with the right to life of their mothers,” he said. “If implemented in law, this judgment would legalize abortion in a wide range of circumstances.”
Smeaton added that the case “was never about helping women faced with a crisis pregnancy. It was instigated by the international abortion lobby, which has the ultimate aim of forcing governments across the globe to recognize access to abortion as a legal right.”
Despite the decision being described as a landmark ruling, questions remain about how Irish lawmakers will have to respond to the court's Dec. 16 decision.
“It’s a mixed bag,” Joseph Meaney, director of International Coordination for Human Life International told Vatican Radio, saying that the ruling “doesn’t change an extraordinary amount.”
Although the decision is advancing “a right to abortion in the case of the life of the mother,” Meaney said it also clearly states that “countries have the right to make their own laws with regard to abortion on demand, with regard to abortion for social reasons, with regard to 99 percent of abortion cases.”
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Dec 17, 2010 (CNA) - Bishop Luis Stockler of Quilmes, Argentina reflected on the celebration of Christmas, pointing out that the image of Christ in the manger “shows us how much God loves us.”
The bishop explained in his Christmas message, released Dec. 15 that as “we set up our nativity scenes … and place the baby Jesus in the manger, let us look upon him with amazement and fervor, because this child shows us how much God loves us.”
“The faith of our ancestors becomes even stronger in us Christians, because we know that in Jesus, God truly looked upon us with human eyes and listened to us with human ears,” he said.
The baby Jesus “shows us that the greatness of man lies not in the riches he accumulates but in the riches He bestows on us. He opens our eyes to our dignity as children of God—which we are from the moment of our baptism—and which no one can take away from us.”
Bishop Stockler concluded his message praying that the baby Jesus “show us how we can overcome the barriers that separate us in our personal lives … and that he give us the strength to take the first step ourselves.”
Caracas, Venezuela, Dec 17, 2010 (CNA) - The vice president of the Venezuelan bishops' conference, Archbishop Baltazar Porras, warned that granting President Hugo Chavez the power to rule by decree would result in greater division and “corruption.”
Chavez asked the National Assembly on Dec. 10 to pass a law allowing him to rule by decree for one year in order to address the country's flooding crisis.
If approved, the measure would give Chavez direct power over land use, the military and police forces, transportation and public services. He would also have greater control over the treasury and the tax code, urban and rural development, international relations and the emergency response to the flooding.
Opposition leaders argue the president is only seeking to limit freedoms in the country.
Aid can be provided to those impacted by the recent floods without the new law, Archbishop Porras explained on Dec. 15. The torrential rains and subsequent floods have left 30 dead and 130,000 homeless.
The archbishop warned that the president's proposal is part of a strategy that would further divide the country. He pointed out that the law would ignore the will of people expressed in the Sept. 26 elections, in which the opposition party won 67 of the 165 seats in the National Assembly.
Archbishop Porras cautioned that measures passed without the public's knowledge and without any debate result in increasing restrictions on the little freedom and democracy that remains in Venezuela.
Such measures are cause for alarm for the Church and other institutions because they indicate that “we seem to be moving towards a dictatorship” with no room for opposing views. It will only result in greater violence and corruption, he added.
The National Assembly will vote on the law Dec. 17.
Port au Prince, Haiti, Dec 17, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Haiti's bishops have appointed the leader of an architecture and engineering unit, which will oversee the reconstruction of church property damaged in the January 2010 earthquake.
On Dec. 16, the Haitian bishops' conference confirmed the appointment of Yves Lacourcière, a Quebec native and civil engineer with 30 years of international experience in construction, project management and economic development.
Lacourcière also holds an advanced business degree and has done doctoral work in the field of ethnology. He is married to a Haitian woman, Sherly Saint-Jean, and speaks both French and Creole in addition to Spanish.
He will serve as the director general of the agency, “Proximité Catholique avec Haïti et son Eglise,” a name that translates as “closeness to Haiti and its Church.”
The Haitian bishops formed the agency with assistance from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Catholics in the U.S. have donated a total of $33 million to the bishops' collection for rebuilding Haitian churches, in addition to the $50 million collected to provide aid to residents.
In the nation's capital of Port-au-Prince, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption completely caved in during the catastrophic earthquake on January 12, 2010, along with the archdiocesan headquarters. Archbishop Joseph S. Miot and Bishop Charles Benoit both died in the collapse.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the papal nuncio in Haiti, stated at the time that “all the great churches” and “all the seminaries” were destroyed by the earthquake.
Many observers noted at the time that the capital had not been built to endure an earthquake of such magnitude, resulting in higher death tolls and more severe damage to property. The government said in February that 200,000 people died in the earthquake, and one million were left homeless.
Archbishop Louis Kébreau, president of the Haitian bishops' conference, described the appointment of Lacourcière as “an important step forward in putting the necessary structures in place that will ensure that such a tragic loss of life can be avoided in the future.”
He said that the rebuilding of the Church's property would help its ministries to “respond to the needs of every Haitian.”
Foremost among those needs is relief from the impact of a growing cholera epidemic that has reportedly killed at least 2,300 people and infected more than 100,000 Haitians.