Caracas, Venezuela, Jan 12, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The bishops of Venezuela are heavily criticizing a new law which allows the country's President Hugo Chavez to rule by decree until the middle of 2012.
The bishops wrote in a Jan. 11 statement that the new law ignores the wishes expressed by the people in the country's congressional elections in 2010. When the final votes were tallied, the ruling party was stripped of its majority.
The statement by the Venezuelan bishops was released at the conclusion of their 95th Ordinary Assembly.
In a statement issued Jan. 11 at the conclusion of their 95th Ordinary Assembly, the bishops said the new law ignores the will of the people expressed in the congressional elections of September of 2010, in which ruling party was stripped of its majority.
Chavez claims that the new law, known as the Law of Empowerment, will allow him to properly address the recent widespread flooding within the country. However, the bishops noted that the law was passed in order to limit the power of the new assembly that took office on Jan. 4.
The Venezuelan bishops also criticized the outgoing assembly for passing 25 laws in less than one month. The laws, the bishops said, mostly restrict “the rights and guarantees enjoyed by Venezuelans” and also “incorporate proposals for constitutional reform that were rejected by the people in 2007.”
“The new laws have very little to do with the real problems of the country,” the bishops charged. “In fact, the situation in Venezuela is very grave due to the incessant increase in the lack of security ... the growing national debt, the immense lack of housing and the increase in the cost of living,” they added.
New laws on telecommunications and universities place limits on freedom of conscience, in order to squash dissent and bolster the government’s monopoly on the media, they continued.
Other laws undermine the constitutional authority of governors and mayors, the bishops noted.
They also denounced the unconstitutional confiscation of farms, lands and buildings as violations of the right to own property. The government cannot assume total control over the lives of its citizens “nor establish conditions to remain perpetually in power,” the bishops said, drawing their statement to a close.
“It is contrary to Christian values, human rights and common sense to destroy those who think differently or condemn them to silence.”
Tucson, Ariz., Jan 12, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson celebrated a Jan. 11 Mass on behalf of the victims of the Arizona shooting and to comfort a grieving community. With hundreds in attendance, he said that God wants mankind to “resist evil,” to live with integrity, and to act with “civility and respect.”
“Everyone in our community is in grief. We are in tears. We are pained and concerned about what took place. We are a community questioning, struggling, wondering how such violence could happen," Bishop Kicanas said, according to the Associated Press.
The Mass took place in Tucson at St. Odilia Catholic Church, just a few blocks from the supermarket parking lot where on Jan. 8 a gunman fatally shot six people, critically injured U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and wounded more than a dozen others.
Among the dead was 63-year-old federal district judge John Roll, a daily Mass attendee who was known for his deep Catholic faith, professionalism and integrity.
Also killed was nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who had just received her First Communion at St. Odilia’s and sang in the girl’s choir there.
During the Mass, Christina’s mother sat in the front pew as nine girls sang “Amazing Grace.”
“I know she’s singing with us tonight,” Bishop Kicanas said of Christina. Noting the pain of the community, he called for prayers to “rid our communities of violence.”
Kathleen Hunter, a 62-year-old retiree, told the AP she was comforted by the bishop’s words and the sense of community from the Mass. She said she was praying for her friend, Susan Hileman, the neighbor who took Christina to the Saturday event because of the girl’s interest in politics.
Hileman’s husband reported that his wife was holding hands with Christina when the gunshots began. The woman was shot three times but is expected to survive.
"I was praying for healing, for Christina's family, for all the families who have lost loved ones, for the people who've been shot and injured,” Hunter explained.
Jared Loughner, 22, allegedly opened fire in a Safeway parking lot where Rep. Giffords was giving a community address. Loughner, a socially isolated man with a history of mental instability and anti-government sentiments, was reported to have a personal grudge against the congresswoman and was intent on killing her.
The killings prompted some to call for gun control and to make accusations that inflammatory speech incited Loughner to violence.
Some of Giffords’ political opponents were also at the Mass. Yvonne Ignacio, 53, a self-described tea party member, said she felt compelled to come to the Mass. She expressed dismay that the reaction had become political and said it was disrespectful to the victims.
Her husband, 53-year-old Chuck Bolotin, agreed.
"I did everything I could to defeat (Giffords) and yet it doesn't make a difference. It doesn't mean she deserves to be shot," he told the AP.
The monks of the New Mellaray Abbey near Dubuque, Iowa have donated a hand-crafted casket for Christina through their business Trappist Caskets. The red oak casket was engraved with her name, date of birth and date of death.
Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered his condolences shortly after the attack.
“When the target of a violent act is a public official, it shakes the confidence of the nation in its ability to protect its leaders and those who want to participate in the democratic process,” he said.
“As bishops we call once more for respect for the life and dignity of every person as we work together for the common good, seeking to address the various social and political issues that face us as a nation.”
President Barack Obama headed to Arizona on Jan. 12 to attend an interfaith memorial service for the dead. The House of Representatives was also scheduled to vote to condemn the shootings.
Vatican City, Jan 12, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Vatican officials have concluded that a miraculous healing credited to the intercession of Pope John Paul II is authentic.
The decision clears the way for the Church to declare the late Pope “blessed,” the final stage on the road to sainthood. The Pope’s beatification could take place as early as April 2, the sixth anniversary of his death, according to veteran Vatican analyst Andrea Tornielli, who broke the news in the Jan. 12 edition of the Italian newspaper, Il Giornale.
Tornielli reported that cardinals and bishops from the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints had convened Jan. 11 and "examined and approved the miracle attributed to the intercession of John Paul II.”
The case involves the healing of a French religious sister from Parkinson's disease. Doctors had diagnosed Sister Marie Simon-Pierre with the condition in 2001. Her fellow sisters had prayed for the late Pope's intercession, however it was not until Sister Simon-Pierre wrote the pontiff’s name on a paper one night in June 2005 that the miracle occurred.
She was cured by the next morning and immediately took up her work as a nurse in a maternity ward.
As part of the investigation into John Paul II's sainthood, her healing was placed before a team of doctors. According to an earlier report by Tornielli, the team had declared her healing to be "scientifically unexplainable."
The Vatican sainthood congregation has already concluded that the Pope’s writings and teachings are consistent with Catholic teaching — another requirement for beatification and sainthood.
The approval a miracle attributable to the Pope was the final hurdle. And, with "no votes against," the cardinals and bishops gave their consent, Tornielli reported.
The Vatican has made no official announcement of the decision. However, Tornielli has proven in the past to have advance, insider information. In 2009 he reported more than a month before the official announcement that the sainthood congregation had declared John Paul to be “venerable,” the preliminary step in the beatification process.
If the current report proves true, all that is needed for beatification is Pope Benedict XVI’s approval of the congregation’s findings. That would leave only the question of a date for beatification ceremony.
Tornielli suggested this could be either "this spring or next October.” Oct. 16 would mark the anniversary of his election to the pontificate in 1978.
In any case, Tornielli added, the pace of the process suggests that the late Pope's cause is in a state of "acceleration."
Vatican City, Jan 12, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict continued his recent theme of reflecting on women saints during his weekly audience, highlighting St. Catherine of Genoa and her insights on Purgatory.
The Pope said that St. Catherine – a 15th century Italian mystic – didn't focus on the “torments” of purgatory but rather called it an “interior fire” that purifies and inflames our hearts with God's love.
The Pope gave his remarks to 9,000 people in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on Jan. 12.
He opened his talk by explaining that St. Catherine was born into a wealthy family and was married at the age of 16. Although she received a Christian education at home, she initially lived a worldly existence and experienced difficulty in her marriage, which caused her great bitterness, coupled with a profound sense of emptiness.
The Pope said, however, that a unique spiritual experience in which she realized her own sin but also the goodness of God, made her decide to change her life. She then began what the Pope called a journey of purification and mystical communion with the Lord.
“The period between her conversion and her death was not marked by extraordinary events,” he said, “but two elements characterized her entire life: on the one hand, mystical experience, profound union with God and ... on the other, service to others, especially the most needy and abandoned.”
Pope Benedict said that the “place of her ascent to the mystical heights” was the hospital of Pammatone, the largest in Genoa, of which she was director. During her life, St. Catherine would also write two books, “Treatise on Purgatory” and “Dialogues on the Soul and the Body.”
The Pope reflected on the saint's writings, saying that “in her mystical experiences, Catherine never received specific revelations on Purgatory or on the souls being purified there.”
St. Catherine, he underscored, did not see Purgatory “as a place of transit in the depths of the earth” or as “an exterior fire.”
Rather, she saw it as “an interior fire.”
Her insights do not “recount the torments of Purgatory and then show the way to purification and conversion,” he added. Instead, “she began from the interior experience of man on his journey towards eternity.”
For St. Catherine, the soul in Purgatory “is aware of God's immense love and perfect justice; as a consequence, it suffers for not having responded to that love perfectly, and it is precisely the love of God Himself which purifies the soul from the ravages of sin,” he said.
Pope Benedict recalled that St. Catherine used the image of a thread of gold linking the human heart to God as a depiction of the relationship between a soul in Purgatory and God.
“In this way the heart of man is inundated with the love of God, which becomes his only guide, the only driving force in his life.”
“This situation of elevation towards God and abandonment to His will, as expressed in the image of the thread, is used by Catherine to express the action of divine light on the souls in Purgatory, a light which purifies and raises them towards the splendor of the dazzling rays of God,” he said.
“In their experience of union with God, saints achieve so profound an 'understanding' of the divine mysteries, in which love and knowledge almost become one, that they can even help theologians in their studies,” the Pope noted.
"St. Catherine's life teaches us that the more we love God and enter into intimate contact with Him through prayer, the more He makes Himself known and inflames our hearts with His love.”
“By writing about Purgatory, the saint reminds us of a fundamental truth of the faith which becomes an invitation for us to pray for the dead, that they may achieve the blessed vision of God in the communion of the saints,” he said.
In his closing remarks, Pope Benedict highlighted the saint's “lifelong humble, faithful and generous service” in the hospital of Pammatone, calling her life “a shining example of charity towards everyone.”
He also said that St. Catherine's work at the hospital is “a special encouragement for women who make a fundamental contribution to society and the Church with their precious efforts, enriched by their sensitivity and the care they show towards the poorest and those most in need.”
Vatican City, Jan 12, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Exactly one year since a catastrophic earthquake took the life of the Archbishop Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince, Pope Benedict XVI has appointed a new leader to help guide the Haitian Church and nation out of the rubble.
The announcement of a new archbishop came as the Vatican remembered the solemn events of the earthquake last Jan. 12 that killed an estimated 250,000 people, creating a humanitarian nightmare and leaving the country’s fragile economy and political system in shambles.
Archbishop Miot was among those who died in the catastrophe. He perished after the earthquake sent him plummeting from the balcony of his home, as he waited for a ride to a ceremony. Besides the archbishop's home collapsing, the city's cathedral, seminary and nunciature were all razed. In the hours following the disaster, a humanitarian nightmare unfolded in the Caribbean nation.
The Pope announced Jan. 12 that Bishop Guire Poulard of Les Cayes, Haiti would replace Archbishop Miot. He also appointed Father Glandas Marie Erick Toussaint to serve as auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese came at the same time.
The 69-year old Bishop Poulard had been the head of Les Cayes since March 2009; previously he served for 11 years as bishop of Jacmel, Haiti.
His new right-hand man, the 45-year-old Fr. Toussaint, was the parish priest of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, which was devastated in last year's earthquake. Since 2008 Fr. Toussaint has also been director of the Port-au-Prince chapter of Caritas International, a global coalition of Catholic relief organizations.
Pope Benedict sent "a word of hope in circumstances still difficult today," to the people of Haiti. His message was delivered by his on-site delegate Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum.”
Cardinal Sarah also delivered $1.2 million in donations for the rebuilding of Haitian churches and schools.
“The time has come to rebuild, not only material structures but also civil, social and religious coexistence," the Pope said. He expressed hope that the rebuilding work in the nation would would involve the Haitian people as the "first protagonist" in the efforts and thanked the international community for their generous assistance.
The most recent statistics show that one million people are still living in tent camps.
The international community has pledged $5.3 billion over two years to rebuild the 60 percent of the nation's infrastructure that was destroyed, but that money has been slow in coming, according to a report from Fides news agency.
Haiti's ambassador to the Holy See, Mr. Carl-Henri Guiteau, told Vatican Radio that foreign aid has been "essential" but that the reconstruction effort is still "miserable."
"It needs to be said that the Haitian people has no other option than that of waiting," he said. "What is important today is that the international community and the Catholic Church feed this hoppe, so that this hope might be an instrument of the change the nation awaits."
In an interview with the Italian bishops’ SIR news agency, the Pope's lead diplomat to Haiti, Archbishop Bernardito Auza said the fact that the one million left without homes are being housed in tent camps is a testimony to the vast international aid effort.
What is needed in the immediate future, he said, is the removal of the rubble and more efficient programs to provide housing. About 300,000 houses are needed to shelter them all.
The problems facing them are complex, Archbishop Auza said, and to resolve them "we need a long time."
From Rome, the Vatican's secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone celebrated Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major for the earthquake victims on the Jan. 12 anniversary. He was joined by many other members of the Vatican curia.
Cardinal Bertone prayed for the dead, for all Haitians and the international community so that "from the suffering of entire populations precious teaching might be drawn and the solidarity, justice and respect due to each person be brought to the fore."
He also relayed the Pope's exhortation to the world community "to promote and carry forward every useful initiative to contribute, in solidarity and fraternally, to the full rebirth" of the nation.
Baltimore, Md., Jan 12, 2011 (CNA) -
A year after the January 2010 earthquake that left Haiti's capital in ruins, a million residents of Port-au-Prince remain homeless amid a spreading cholera epidemic and political unrest. But Catholic Relief Services remains committed to Haiti's recovery and self-sufficiency, despite overwhelming challenges.
In the run-up to the one year anniversary of the earthquake that killed an estimated 250,000 people on January 12, 2010, some observers insist that foreign governments and non-governmental organizations have failed Haiti. Others suggest the country's own government is to blame for the slow progress in rebuilding, and the spread of a cholera outbreak that could likely have been prevented.
But Tom Price, Senior Communications Manager for Catholic Relief Services, told CNA on Jan. 11 that outside observers should think carefully about Haiti's extreme circumstances before assigning blame for the continued suffering. Both the pre-existing condition of Port-au-Prince before the earthquake, and the subsequent disasters that have hit the country, are contributing to the painstaking rate of recovery.
The island nation's capital, he explained, could not possibly be restored to anything like its former state– which, in itself, was already an unsustainable improvisation of hillside structures, tightly-packed slums, and haphazard architecture.
The overcrowded city was already comparable in some ways to a sprawling refugee camp even before the earthquake made it into one. It was already filled with individuals and families seeking to find work, and escape even worse conditions of rural poverty. Too many Haitians, Price said, were put in a position of staking their hopes on a city that had never developed in a sustainable manner.
He explained that Port-au-Prince was “built with the idea of 200,000 people in mind, and it ended up with close to two million” people living there. Although a million of those residents are now homeless, it is by no means clear how the capital might accommodate them in a more acceptable and permanent way. Price noted that 70 percent of these people were previously renting their housing in “slum conditions.”
When the earthquake hit, government ministries collapsed along with slum housing. A third of the country's civil servants –who might have been competent to help organize in the aftermath, and head off subsequent threats to public health– died in the disaster. The Haitian Church, another refuge for the desperately poor, lost its archbishop and found the Port-au-Prince cathedral in ruins.
Some critics of Haitian relief efforts have termed the island a “republic of NGOs” (non-governmental organizations), pointing out that these various agencies lack coordination with one another, and have failed to help Haitians find many long-term solutions.
Price did not share this estimation of this past year's work, however, and defended the record of non-governmental agencies operating in Haiti. Their work, he said, “has had great impact.”
“People in the camps, at least their needs are being met. The Catholic Church and NGOs were in place to tackle cholera quickly, when it hit. We could move supplies around the country quickly, to counter the effects of Hurricane Tomas.” That tropical storm hit Haiti on Nov. 5, 2010, flooding a refugee camp in Port-au-Prince.
Price explained that many NGOs had been charged with providing relief to areas they could barely access– since the city's roads, not built for modern vehicles in the first place, were filled with rubble that aid agencies lacked the time or technology to remove. Often times, he suggested, the generosity of donors and governments had not been a match for these sheer logistical challenges.
“I'm not sure that NGOs in general could have really done more than they have,” Price reflected, saying he was satisfied with the efforts of Catholic Relief Services' partners to overcome virtually impossible circumstances and deliver aid. Likewise, he said, “I would hesitate to criticize a government that lost a third of its civil service and half of its buildings.”
“There certainly hasn't been enough progress,” he acknowledged. “It's unacceptable to have a million-plus people in tents.”
“But with the level of devastation, and the lack of leadership –because of what happened to the Haitian government, and the wrangling over the elections right now– it's understandable how this has happened, if not acceptable.”
The results of Haiti's presidential election, held on Nov. 28, 2010, have been bitterly contested among rival parties and their supporters. Two candidates, Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigot, were recommended by the Organization of American States for a January runoff vote, following rival claims of victory.
More optimistically, Price highlighted the progress that the Haitian Church had made in 12 months– from standing in need of immediate aid, to reestablishing itself as a pillar of Haitian society capable of leading relief efforts.
“We had to work with them, to build them back up,” Price recalled. “But by the time we got to the cholera outbreak, they were taking the lead.” He described how Catholic ministries throughout Haiti took charge of setting up clinics and ensuring that international donors' resources went where they were needed.
He found that turnaround “very encouraging” to see, “less than nine months after the quake.”
He felt similarly encouraged by the progress of agricultural projects in the south of the island, “designed to give people an alternative to going to Port-au-Prince.” Price also spoke enthusiastically about an international collaboration bringing in world-class architects to redesign Haiti's church structures.
Most fundamentally, Price said, the Haitian Church was providing spiritual support in the midst of tragedy, bringing residents of the island together in a way that both encompasses and looks beyond their current sufferings.
“The anniversary itself” –which will be marked by memorial Masses– “is not just about looking at the purely material side of things,” Price noted. “It's a day to stand with Haitians – and pray.”
St. Paul, Minn., Jan 12, 2011 (CNA) - Attorney Jeff Anderson, who claims to have won more than $60 million from the U.S. Catholic Church in clerical sex-abuse lawsuits, has extended his practice to the U.K.
Anderson – a lawyer based in St. Paul Minnesota – has filed more than 1,000 sex-abuse cases against the Catholic Church in the U.S. and is starting a new firm in London in the hopes of continuing lawsuits aimed at the Church. The new practice will involve London-based solicitor Ann Olivarius.
The lawyer told the U.K newspaper The Guardian on Jan. 10 that he was "deeply concerned" and had "every reason to know" that the Church was "recycling offenders" – moving them from parish to parish – and failing to turn in abusive priests to authorities.
Anderson, given his track record, may also try to implicate the Vatican in his U.K. lawsuits.
In recent months, Anderson's most high-profile cases have included suits against the Vatican filed in Oregon, Wisconsin and Kentucky, which have attempted to implicate the Holy See in obstructing justice for clerical perpetrators.
A recent setback for Anderson, however, involved plaintiffs in the Kentucky case – O'Bryan vs. the Holy See – who chose to withdraw their lawsuit in August. Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi reacted to the decision by saying the accusations against the Holy See were ultimately proven “unfounded.”
Earlier court rulings recognizing the sovereign immunity of the Holy See influenced the outcome, as well as the fact that most victims had already sought compensation from their dioceses.
U.S. Vatican lawyer Jeffrey Lena, who has been critical of Anderson's efforts, said at the time that the dropping of the Kentucky case shows there has never been a Vatican policy requiring concealment of child sexual abuse.
Lena added that although the case against the Holy See always lacked merit, it does not mean that the plaintiffs themselves did not suffer as a result of sexual abuse. The attempted lawsuit, he said, only served to distract from the important goal of protecting children from harm.
On the Milwaukee case, which is still currently underway, Lena described the lawsuit as "completely without merit," because it "rehashes old theories already rejected by U.S. courts."
As for the involvement of the Holy See in the case, the Vatican's lawyer told CNA in April 2010 that it had "no role whatsoever in causing plaintiff's injuries," having not known about the cases "until decades after the abuse occurred."
This lawsuit, he said, is "simply the latest attempt by certain U.S. lawyers to use the judicial process as a tool of media relations."
Santiago, Chile, Jan 12, 2011 (CNA) - Young Catholics in Chile are building chapels for rural communities whose parishes were damaged in the country's February 2010 earthquake.
The group plans to build six chapels, each large enough to seat 50 people, reports the Diocese of Talca.
More than 120 Chilean young people were divided into two groups for the project. In addition to working on the chapels, they also plan to share their faith with nearby families.
The project is being financed through donations.