Archive of January 3, 2011

Pope begins new year with renewed appeals for persecuted Christians

Vatican City, Jan 3, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Benedict XVI's Christmas and New Year's messages were loaded with calls for peace as violence against Christians marred the year’s end in Egypt, Iraq, the Philippines and Nigeria.

The Pope has spoken out for religious freedom repeatedly in recent months, but his appeals for world peace and an end to persecution reached a peak at Christmas and the turn of the year.

Difficult situations for Christians in the Middle East and continued suppression of religious freedom in places like China and Vietnam left a deep mark on 2010, the Pope indicated in his remarks.

At Mass late on Dec. 24, the Pope made a direct appeal to God that he make "true" the peace he promised with Jesus' coming.

That same evening in villages around Jos, Nigeria about 80 people died in bomb attacks on churches and in subsequent reprisals, according to the Associated Press. Churches were also attacked in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri that night, leaving six dead.

On Christmas Day, during his traditional greeting "to the city and the world" in 65 languages, Pope Benedict offered prayers for the many nations experiencing trials due to conflict and natural disasters. He prayed that God's love might inspire world leaders to protect religious freedom and that Christians of the world would persevere despite persecution.

The was no break from the violence for Christians on Christmas day. In the Philippines, a bomb was detonated in a chapel during the celebration of the Mass.

A priest and 10 churchgoers were injured, according to the AP.

At Christmas, "the desire and calls for the gift of peace have become more intense," said the Pope after a prayer with the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square the next day.

He lamented the attacks on churches in the Philippines and Nigeria as well as bloodshed in Pakistan and asked that "the path of hatred" be abandoned in favor of "peaceful solutions to conflicts.”

He asked that God "touch people's hearts and bring hope, reconciliation and peace."

With the arrival of 2011, the violence did not diminish, but neither did the Pope's insistence on peace.

About 30 minutes into the New Year, as Mass ended in a Church of the Coptic Christian tradition in Alexandria, Egypt a car bomb exploded, killing nearly two dozen faithful as they made their way out of church. Around 80 were injured.

The attack is the worst in a decade against the Egyptian Copt minority, which numbers around six million. According to international media reports, no one knows who perpetrated the attack and the government is pointing the finger at groups foreign to Egypt.

Many Copts took to the streets in protest.

Archbishop Michael Louis Fitzgerald, the Vatican's delegate to the North African nation, told Fides news agency that it was a moment to pray for peace and promote national unity, not one to perpetuate conflict.

The violence, however, was a sign to many that Egyptian Copts still are not receiving adequate protection from the government.

Pope Benedict deplored the New Year's killings, comparing them to the terrorist attacks carried out in Baghdad, Iraq in 2010 to intimidate Christians into leaving.

"This vile act of death ... offends God and all humanity, who only yesterday prayed for peace and began the New Year with hope," he said during the Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square.

The Pope pointed out that this "strategy of violence" against Christians affects the entire population. His prayer was that that church communities would "persevere in faith" and bear witness to the Gospel message of non-violence.

In fact, the violence continued in Iraq during the Christmas season, as an Islamic extremist group made good on its threats to kill more Christians. On Dec. 29, terrorists killed two and wounded 20 in bomb attacks on Christian homes around Baghdad. The threats of violence had led to the cancellation of many Christmas celebrations in Iraq.

Despite the continued violence, Pope Benedict continues to hope for peace.

At Mass on Jan. 1, the 44th World Day for Peace, he encouraged prayers for the "fruitful conclusion" of efforts to achieve an end to war.

"In this difficult task words are not enough, we need concrete and constant commitment from the leaders of nations," he said. "But above all it is vital that everyone be animated by an authentic spirit of peace, which must be implored ever and anew in prayer and put into practice in daily life in all times and places."

Following the Mass, he announced a coming summit of religious leaders for next October in Assisi, Italy.

The meeting will mark the 25th anniversary of the inaugural celebration of a similar initiative through which Pope John Paul II brought leaders from the gamut of religious traditions together to advocate peace in the world.

Pope Benedict called all people to support the cause through their prayers. He said, "those who are journeying towards God cannot fail to transmit peace, those who build peace cannot fail to move towards God."

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New Vatican agency to combat money laundering, terror financing

Vatican City, Jan 3, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has created a new oversight agency and approved tough new measures aimed at ensuring that the Vatican’s bank and other institutions cannot be exploited by those seeking to launder money or finance terrorist activity.

The measures announced on Dec. 30 establish harsh penalties, including jail time and fines, for Holy See employees and others having financial dealings with the Vatican if they are found engaging in financial misdeeds such as unlawful transactions, fraud or counterfeiting. The measures also outline penalties for activities such as illegal arms distribution, drug dealing, and even environmental pollution.

The newly created Financial Information Authority will police the financial and commercial dealings of all Vatican agencies, including the Vatican Bank.

The authority’s president and the governing council will be appointed by the Pope to serve a five year term and will make an annual report to the Vatican’s Secretary of State. Criminal investigations and any penalties would be carried out by Vatican City State officials in cooperation with Italian authorities.

In an apostolic letter announcing the new laws, the Pope said the new authority would help combat the "Inappropriate use of the market and the economy" and the "terrible destruction of terrorist violence." The new controls and monitoring will enable the Vatican to ensure that donations or investments by the Church are not rerouted to support terrorist activity, a prospect officials are obviously eager to avoid.

The new laws will go into effect April 1.

The timing of these new provisions is not incidental. Investigations in 2010 turned up the heat on the Vatican to raise the bar on its financial practices to meet international standards.

Last June, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples, was accused of giving a cut-rate real estate deal to an
Italian politician who, in turn, approved state funds for the Church.

The former head of the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples denied the accusations, saying he acted with "maximum transparency."

The Vatican's "bank," the Institute of Religious Works, is currently under investigation by Italian authorities who froze 23 million Euros (more than 30 million U.S. dollars) last September, citing suspicion of money laundering.

The Institute's president, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, has consistently denied any misdealings and blames the situation on a "misunderstanding."

In October, the Italian court denied an appeal attempt and has not yet freed up the sum due to the ongoing investigation. The prosecutor's office later stated that although the Vatican had expressed a will to adopt international standards, there was "no sign" that it was going to do so.

Tedeschi has made no secret of his wish to bring the Vatican up to European Union standards against money laundering. His aim is to have the Vatican accepted for inclusion on Europe's  "White List" for anti-money laundering compliant states.

The Pope's new measure represents a major move in that direction. The Financial Information Authority will be working in open association with European agencies.

Vatican spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi hailed the stiffer measures as in a Dec. 30 statement.

They "cannot but be of benefit to the Church," he said. "Vatican organizations will be less vulnerable in the face of the continuous risks that inevitably arise in the handling of money."

Previous errors that caused scandal "will be avoided," said Fr. Lombardi. The result, he explained, is that "the Church will be more 'credible' before the members of the international community, and this is of vital importance for her evangelical mission."

In a parallel statement, the Holy See's Secretariat of State called the new measures part of "efforts to build a just and honest social order.

"At no time," the statement reads, "may the great principles of social ethics like transparency, honesty and responsibility be neglected or weakened."

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Pope appoints second auxiliary bishop to US military archdiocese

Vatican City, Jan 3, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict named Fr. Neal J. Buckon, a priest from the diocese of Cleveland, as a new auxiliary bishop of the U.S. Military Archdiocese today.

The Jan. 3 announcement was warmly greeted by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Military Archdiocese, who called Fr. Buckon an “effective shepherd.” In a Jan. 3 statement, Archbishop Broglio highlighted the bishop-elect's past experience in the armed forces, saying it will “certainly contribute to the richness of the episcopal ministry to which he is now called.”

Bishop-elect Buckon, 57, retired Dec. 31, 2010 after serving as a military chaplain in countries such as South Korea, Germany, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. His last assignment was as the Eighth U.S. Army Chaplain for Current Operations and Catholic Chaplain in Yongsan, Korea.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, he attended local Catholic schools and eventually served in the U.S. Army from 1975 to 1982. He later attended St. Mary’s Seminary in Cleveland and was ordained a priest in 1995.

Archbishop Broglio praised the appointment as “a very concrete sign of the paternal care our Holy Father has for us” and asked for prayers for the new bishop-elect and all of those serving in the Military Archdiocese. Bishop-elect Buckon will be ordained at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. on February 22.

He will join Archbishop Broglio, as well as recently installed Bishop F. Robert Spencer, who was also appointed as an auxiliary bishop in May of 2010.

The Archdiocese for Military Services serves more than 220 installations in 29 countries, 153 Veteran's Affairs Medical Centers and all the federal employees serving overseas in 134 countries. Bishop-elect Buckon will help Archbishop Broglio and Bishop Spencer shepherd more than 1.5 million men, women and children.

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