Archive of December 20, 2010

Papal preacher says new evangelization must return to ways of the apostles

Rome, Italy, Dec 20, 2010 (CNA) - The methods and means that served the apostles to evangelize the pre-Christian world are valuable to Christians today as they seek to "re-evangelize" secularized parts of the world, the Pope's preacher told CNA.

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa is a 76-year old Capuchin friar with a big responsibility. He is the official preacher to the Pope, those cardinals that work closely with the pontiff, members of the Roman Curia and religious superiors.

His position, as the official Preacher of the Pontifical Household, has taken him to the heart of the Vatican for the last three decades to give meditations on Fridays during Lent and Advent.

Again this year, he returned to Pope Benedict's Redemptoris Mater chapel to give three meditations which he wrote, drawing inspiration from Jesus' words in the Gospel of John: "Take courage: I have conquered the world."

The theme, he explained to CNA in an e-mail on Dec. 20, was meant to bring a "small contribution of reflection and of encouragement" to mark the creation of the Vatican’s new Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.

The three meditations gave a response of faith, with the help of Blessed John Henry Newman's writings, to three of the "underlying obstacles" that today's culture puts in the way of accepting the Christian message: Atheistic scientism, secularism and rationalism.

In his first meditation, Fr. Cantalamessa discarded the possibility of explaining that God does not exist using science. In the second, he spoke of how Christians can counter the "eclipse" of God and the eternal with faith and evangelization. In the third reflection, the Capuchin noted that the best way to speak to those who make an idol of reason is through concrete Christian witness.

The goal of the meditations was not to be controversial, said Fr. Cantalamessa, but to bring up the themes and put them out on the table.

They were meant to open up the people that heard the talks or read them to the "spirit and core tone ... of dialogue and of serene confidence in the perennial validity of the responses offered by the Gospel," he explained.

For this reason, he chose Jesus' phrase on taking courage as the overriding theme.

It brought the focus home for the idea of the new evangelization. And, as Jesus mandated, the world in every age must be evangelized, said Fr. Cantalamessa.

The papal preacher echoed the words of the Pope when he announced the Vatican's newest department in June and charged it with the task of "re-evangelizing" countries that have strayed from their Christian past.

Fr. Cantalamessa noted that some people have gone so far as to define the current time period as "the post-Christian world."

This means that Christians today are in a situation similar to that which the first Christians confronted in the "pre-Christian world."

As such, he said, "we must discover the method and the means with which they evangelized their world because they are the same (tools) that serve us today. Such means were fundamentally the announcement 'in Spirit and power' of the Paschal mystery of Christ dead and risen, united to the testimony of life."

Now is the time to turn back to the words of St. Peter to the early Christians urging them to be ready to "give reason for the hope" that was in them, he said.

In a time when many might laugh at the idea of life being transformed by thoughts about eternity, it is exactly the "condition" of never-ending life that leads Christians to evangelize, he explained.

And, as "the eternal" entered into our time with Christ's incarnation, Christmas is therefore a "privileged occasion" to direct attention back to eternity "with the same tranquil certainty" of John the evangelist.

Reflecting on his own ministry with the Word, Fr. Cantalamessa called his ministry to two Popes across three decades both "a responsibility and a grace."

The humility of two Popes "to listen to the words of a simple priest of the Church" has been edifying, he said. At the same time, Fr. Cantalamessa explained that his position as preacher to the Pope has made him deeply aware of the Church's problems and her occasions for grace.

Fr. Cantalamessa's meditations are available on his website,

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Christmas should make us more humane, says Spanish cardinal

Barcelona, Spain, Dec 20, 2010 (CNA) - Cardinal Lluis Martinez Sistach of Barcelona, Spain noted Dec. 19 that Christmas “must make us all more humane.”  He explained that the season should bring Catholics to become “more united to those suffering from hunger and thirst, with the sick and the poor.”

The message of Christmas “is profoundly human,” the cardinal said, as “the vocation of every human being is above all love—love received and love given.”

Only in the experience of love “can man find the deepest meaning of his life,” he continued.  Christmas “teaches us above all that God is not man’s antagonist, but rather his friend.”

He went on to explain that during the Pope's recent visit to Spain, he stressed that Christmas is about “globalizing love.”  “It is a feast of solidarity, as it is the manifestation of a God who is in solidarity with the world,” the Spanish cardinal said.

During the Pope’s visit to Santiago de Compostela on Nov. 6, he continued, the Pontiff exhorted Catholics to “embrace their brothers and sisters and discover in them the divine image and likeness, which constitutes the deepest truth of their beings and is the origin of genuine freedom.”

Cardinal Sistach ended his letter underscoring that a “Christmas of solidarity” demands Catholics draw close to those who are suffering, “especially during these difficult economic times.”

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A beautiful thing: Dr. Carlo Bellieni’s mission to the unborn

Rome, Italy, Dec 20, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Dr. Carlo Bellieni, a neonatal doctor in Siena, Italy, is working tirelessly to change the way the world looks at unborn children.

In more than 20 years of work and study he has developed new channels of understanding the unborn and the newborn child and new methods of giving them medical assistance.

He is an avid researcher, often collaborating with other scientists and doctors internationally to produce books, scientific papers and new studies examining pre-born and newborn babies. The Italian Neonatology Society, the European Society for Pediatric Research and the Pontifical Academy for Life count him as a member. He is a frequent contributor to the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

His particular passion is researching the way an unborn or a newborn child feels pain and finding ways to alleviate it through pioneering medical methods and strategies that don't use pharmaceutical drugs.

There are many things that go untold about neonatal medicine from the "horrendous" to the "beautiful," the doctor told CNA in November.

His research has led him to make the "very strange" discovery that modern medicine has often created a harsh environment for the prematurely born child due to a lack of understanding and research.

In the 1990s, he found that sound levels and the strength of magnetic fields in incubators were off the charts, for example. Pain scales and pain relief measures for those premature babies needing surgeries were non-existent or inadequate, he said.

These and other examples led him to ask, "Why didn't anyone realize this before?"

According to available research, the unborn child experiences sensations of pleasure, taste, hearing and pain. In a world where these possibilities are often neglected, these studies give the fetus "a human face," said Dr. Bellieni.

At 20 weeks from conception the baby's brain is developed to the point where it begins to process painful stimuli. The fetus responds to pain by releasing the same hormones and exhibiting changed heart-rate frequencies just as adults do in the presence of pain, said Bellieni.

One study has even recorded a baby crying in the womb.

Under normal development, by the time a baby is born, he can feel not only pain but has also begun to prepare for the outside world.

When a baby is born, he is already accustomed to the voice, cadence and even the language of his mother. Her diet will have influenced his food preferences and he will recognize the sound of his mother's favorite sitcom, music and other common ambient sounds.

Bellieni described the studies that relatively recently uncovered these details as "bellissimi," using the Italian word for beautiful, because they shed light on the small world of the womb.

Babies' senses are so advanced when they are born, in fact, that a heel-prick, an injection or other medical interventions that are minor for adults are "devastating" for them, said Dr. Bellieni.

Still, few people are studying the way the unborn child and the newborn feel. According to Dr. Bellieni, the lack of investigation is the result of science treating them as second-class citizens.

That a fetus is alive and has human DNA give the child membership in the human species "and therefore give them the right to be a human being," said the neonatologist.

He explained his case in simple terms. “There is no reasonable person who can say that 'I was never an embryo'.”

"It's clear that I was once an embryo, just as I am a human being. There was never a moment in which I was not me, but some say that certain states of the human being are worth less than others."

Knowing that the fetus is also a human being is not a question of religion, he said, but of science and biology. No university student who answered to the contrary would be passed by a professor of any creed or none at all, he said.

Bellieni blamed ideologies for stacking the deck against the unborn child.

He cited the influence of philosophers who argue that a child has neither sufficient self- awareness nor an adult's pain level up to one year old. And lacking these qualities, they say, it does not have the dignity of personhood.

"In sum," said Dr. Bellieni, "they deny that someone who does not have self-awareness can feel pain."

This philosophy extends to those with senile dementia and the mentally handicapped and is on the way to including those with serious and debilitating diseases, he said.

He warned that there is an ever-growing pool of candidates for those who don't qualify for the "right of citizenship" under these standards.

To explain, he divides human beings into type-A and type-B. Those who have self-awareness and those who are unable to fully exercise their own rights.

Trends show a continual erosion of citizenship, he warned. Being type-B means achieving statelessness, becoming a person that has lost his "citizenship."

"It's as if they came from a foreign state and were blocked at the border. Fetuses, the elderly and the mentally handicapped are blocked at the border of personhood," he said.

There is "no reason" to treat one form of human being with less dignity than another, said the doctor. In the current context, however, "barriers are being created, which means terrible discrimination between equal persons."

In medicine, this discrimination translates into official protocol against treating vulnerable fetuses or premature babies for diseases, malformations, or to help them survive because it could put their future quality of life at risk.

Such questions would never come into play for an adult with a heart attack or stroke, Bellieni noted. They also have a high risk of ending up disabled, yet "any doctor" would rush them in for treatment.

And, he explained, the treatment would be solely in the patient's interests. For the very premature baby, on the other hand, his parents' interest is taken into account and unless they explicitly plead on his behalf, "many doctors and many protocols of many hospitals avoid treating him. They leave him to die."

He called this policy "absurd," citing a fundamental discrimination between two equal human beings in such action.

Much of the problem comes down to ethics, and a lot of the literature out there promotes "the myth of autonomy," said Dr. Bellieni. This "says that you can do everything you decide, you just have to decide it and it's automatically ethical."

What is needed is an ethic of solidarity, he said, one that considers the baby another human being and utilizes current scientific research.

Doctors have seen that babies born just 22 weeks after conception have a hope of survival. In many places including parts of the U.S., however, children are still untreated if born before 25 weeks.

They must be given a chance, Bellieni said, and if the baby does not respond "one mustn't insist in an unreasonable manner."

The point is that standard protocol needs to keep up with research, he said.

He praised the recent legislation in Nebraska protecting unborn children from abortion after 20 weeks of gestation because of their ability to feel pain. This is an "optimal" piece of legislation, he said, because it takes scientific study into account.

However, many laws and protocols continue to be based on old research, he said, while "in the meantime science has moved ahead."

Advances in medicine come little by little, but they are steady. All told, there has been a "huge leap" in progress from the 1970s to today, he said. Most premature babies born under two pounds died at birth back then, while today 90 percent of them survive.

Ten years ago it was possible for babies to survive if born at 25 weeks, now studies show that it's possible, although with a low probability, that they can survive after birth at 22 weeks.

"It seems little, but it's a grand step ahead," said Bellieni.

There are many studies out there that show how science is "always an ally of reason when it says yes to life," he observed.

Advances like operating on a fetus in the womb for certain diseases and malformations so that it is given a better chance of surviving, are "not a fantasy of the future," but today's reality, he underscored.

It all comes down to the fact that when you treat someone who is sick, "è una cosa bellisima," he said. "It's a beautiful thing."

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Haitian bishop: Earthquake recovery enters new phase

Providence, R.I., Dec 20, 2010 (CNA) - With the one-year anniversary looming of the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake that rocked Haiti, killing some 230,000 people, a bishop from the beleaguered island nation says that while the recovery has been slow, it is definitely moving forward with much help from the church.

“There is new involvement of the church preparing projects for the medium and long term, something the Holy Father has encouraged us to think about,” said Bishop Pierre-Andre Dumas, of Anse-a-Veau and Miragoane, who also serves as president of Caritas Haiti.

“These are integral projects of human development: constructing houses and rebuilding cities,” he said.

Bishop Dumas, 48, who leads the Diocese of Nippes, located about 70 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince, on the southern claw of Haiti, commented on the situation in his country during a visit to Providence to attend a board meeting of The Haitian Project.

The organization, which has derived much support from the diocese since it was formed at St. Joseph Parish in Providence 25 years ago, operates the Louverture Cleary School, a free Catholic boarding school for 350 academically talented, but financially underprivileged students in Croix-des-Bouquets, a northern suburb of Port-au-Prince.

Bishop Dumas first became involved with The Haitian Project when he served as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Port-au-Prince—with about 2.5 million Catholics—from 2002-2008.

Following the earthquake, as reported by Rhode Island Catholic during a visit to the Louverture Cleary School last March, The Haitian Project expanded its focus to rebuild not only its school, which sustained some physical damage, but also the surrounding neighborhood.

For the equivalent of U.S. $8,000 each, The Haitian Project has to date financed the rebuilding of eight homes for poor families in the school’s immediate neighborhood and beyond who actually own the land upon which they are living.

Despite the recent cholera outbreak, the school, and the surrounding neighborhood have remained free of the deadly disease in large measure due to the efforts of students. They have worked to instruct neighbors and their own families on how to use Clorox supplied them to sanitize their surroundings, according to Haitian Project President Deacon Patrick Moynihan.

Deacon Moynihan says the preservation and advancement of the faith is crucial in order for a community to truly thrive, and he credits Bishop Dumas for his strong involvement and dedication to the youths the school serves.

“The bishop has been instrumental to helping us in one of our truly important activities, bringing young people back into the faith, and advancing them in their sacraments,” Deacon Moynihan said.

The Haitian Project has also partnered with Catholic Relief Services, the largest provider of aid by any religious organization in Haiti, to help with the social and medical needs of Haitians. 

The deacon is frustrated with how the situation in Haiti is being portrayed in the news, however.

“They’re underestimating the tremendous amount of work being done by the Haitian people themselves,” Deacon Moynihan said. “We’ve watched for weeks and weeks the reporting of the terrible situation of the cholera without seeing one major newspaper covering Haitian doctors really treating Haitian people. That’s what our students who’ve become doctors have been engaged in. That makes me sad.”

He feels that portraying Haitians as helpless without the efforts of the international community takes away the possibility of hope and self-reliance being built within the people.

Deacon Moynihan, who read the Gospel this weekend at the Cathedral of SS. Peter & Paul during a Mass presided over by Bishop Dumas, said he feels blessed to have the support of Bishop Tobin, his predecessors, the priests and people of the diocese in helping The Haitian Project to continue its mission.

“It’s the strength they’ve built in us over 25 years that we’ve been able to call upon to be of service to the people at this very critical moment,” Deacon Moynihan said.

The project raised $164,000 in extra funds to do direct relief work, with 90 percent of it already invested in the country. Half of that amount has been dedicated to building permanent housing.

“All of it is making a real progressive difference,” Deacon Moynihan said.

After the earthquake, the church reacted through the efforts of Catholic organizations of charity, including Caritas and Food For the Poor to help rebuild communities from the ground up.

On Jan. 12, the Diocese of Nippes—which serves 500,000 Catholics with only 27 priests— will celebrate the rebuilding of 50 homes, and one new school, built through those efforts for 50 displaced families. Also, micro credit loans have been made available to help build the economy.

It has been such acts of Catholic generosity and Christian service that imbue Bishop Dumas with hope for the future of his country.

“It’s not only rebuilding houses, it is building community spirit, a new spirit and citizenship,” Bishop Dumas said. “It’s about creating a new link between people, and creating communities, not only giving houses to people.”

“The church believes it is possible to help the people to find new hope, to help Haiti rise again and to participate in the spiritual renewal resurrection of our people. Little by little, we’re trying to do that.”

Haiti’s best years, he feels, still lie ahead.

“We want our kids, our boys, our girls, to be part of history,” Bishop Dumas said.

“This is our history, to fight for life. I’m sure we will prevail.”

Printed with permission from Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence.

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Mexican archbishop urges reconciliation instead of violence

Mexico City, Mexico, Dec 20, 2010 (CNA) - Archbishop Constancio Miranda Weckmann of Chihuahua is urging Catholics in Mexico “to seek out reconciliation and forgiveness through all means possible” in order to end the violence plaguing the country.

Archbishop Weckmann explained in his Christmas message released Dec. 16 that Christmas is the season of “peace” and “hope.” It is a time in which “we turn our eyes towards the manger in Bethlehem to encounter Jesus who brings peace to the earth,” he continued.

The “bloody acts of violence” that have become widespread in the country cannot be solved just by the creation of more jobs, improved education and increased police presence, the archbishop noted.  Rather, “the spiritual force within each person must be activated to overcome the threats to human dignity,” he said.

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006, violence caused by the drug cartels in Mexico has left 30, 196 people dead.  In 2010 alone, 12,456 were killed.

According to Jose Antonio Ortega Sanchez, president of the Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Penal Justice, one of the states most affected by the violence in Mexico is Chihuahua, where crime has risen 600 percent in the last three years.

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Pope highlights UK visit, clerical sex abuse in 'state of the Church' address

Vatican City, Dec 20, 2010 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI gave what's considered the “state of the Church” address on Monday, highlighting his visit to the U.K., the Middle East synod, and the task of  combating child sex abuse within the Church and in the world at large.

On Dec. 20, the Pope addressed the College of Cardinals and representatives of the Roman Curia, at the annual gathering which reviews significant events of the year and gives status updates on the Church.

The pontiff opened his remarks by reflecting on the Year for Priests – a prayer initiative he launched in June of 2009 – saying that there was a “great joy” and a “renewed awareness” within the Church of the beauty and gift of the priesthood.

“We were all the more dismayed, then, when in this year of all years and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests,” he said.

Priests who perpetrate sex abuse “twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.”

Pope Benedict noted that the Church “must accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal,” emphasizing the need “to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred.”

He said that penance, reformed priestly formation and the resolution to “ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen” are key in addressing clerical sex abuse within the Church.

Although he acknowledged the “gravity” of abuse being committed by priests, he noted that the Church cannot remain silent “regarding the context of these times in which these events have come to light.”

That context includes the global problems of child pornography and sex trafficking as well as the “psychological destruction of children, in which human persons are reduced to articles of merchandise, is a terrifying sign of the times,” he said.

Pope Benedict then discussed the Synod for the Middle East – a gathering of bishops in October that examined the problems Catholics face in the region. This synod revealed the need to fight against “Christianophobia,” he underscored.

In the Middle East today, “Christians are the most oppressed and tormented minority,” he said.

Although for “centuries they lived peacefully together with their Jewish and Muslim neighbors,” the Pope described how in “the turmoil of recent years, the tradition of peaceful coexistence has been shattered and tensions and divisions have grown.”

He noted that these divisions have caused increased violence “in which there is no longer any respect for what the other holds sacred, in which on the contrary the most elementary rules of humanity collapse.”

The bishops' synod worked to address these problems by developing a “concept of dialogue, forgiveness and mutual acceptance, a concept that we now want to proclaim to the world.”
“The human being is one, and humanity is one,” the Pope stressed. “Whatever damage is done to another in any one place, ends up by damaging everyone.”

“Thus the words and ideas of the Synod must be a clarion call, addressed to all people with political or religious responsibility, to put a stop to Christianophobia,” he said. Everyone in a position of authority must “rise up in defense of refugees and all who are suffering, and to revitalize the spirit of reconciliation.”

During his speech, the Pope also mentioned his “unforgettable” trip to the U.K in September, highlighting his historic visit to Westminster Abbey and the beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman.

He called his visit an “encounter with the world of culture,” saying that the Church made its presence known in the debate over the “question of faith and truth itself.”

The Pope emphasized that laws and policies in a given society can only function if there is a moral consensus that transcends “individuals denominations” and unites everyone. 

He warned of modern society's trend to “eclipse” moral reasoning, and stressed the need to “preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true.”

This, he added, “is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake.”

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