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Archive of January 14, 2011

New European Union school calendar omits Christian holidays

Strasbourg, France, Jan 14, 2011 (CNA) - A 2011-2012 school calendar published by the European Union has omitted Christian holidays, while continuing to note important Jewish and Muslim celebrations.

The European Union has printed three million copies of the calendar which will be distributed free-of-charge to students who request them.

Former French politician and government minister, Christine Boutin, wrote in her blog Jan. 11 that the calendar leaves out Christianity, “the religion practiced or recognized as forming the cultural assembly of our ‘old’ continent.”

Boutin is a consultant for the Pontifical Council for the Family, as well as president of the Christian Democratic Party in France. She went on to lament that Christianity has “fallen into the limbo of collective ignorance.”

While Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter are missing from the calendar's pages, days commemorating “Sikh Baisakhi-Day, the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday, the Muslim holiday Aid-el-Kebir,” remain in place,” Boutin continued.

The Christian Democratic Party in France called the omissions “unacceptable” and has filed a petition asking that the calendars not be distributed as printed, but that students be given versions that include Christian holidays.

“The role of the Christian religion in the shaping of Europe is an undeniable historical fact” that the European Union cannot omit.  To do so would be to “instruct students while denying that a particular religion has greatly contributed to the foundation and unity of Europe,” the organization said.

The petition states that the Christian religion is “the first of all religions in Europe.  It is therefore unthinkable that it be denied, as it has great importance for the lives of all.”

For more information, visit:  http://www.agendaeurope.fr

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Pope appoints new bishops for Pennsylvania and Indiana dioceses

Vatican City, Jan 14, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Jan. 14, Pope Benedict XVI appointed two U.S. priests to receive consecration as bishops for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in Pennsylvania, and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in Indiana.

Altoona-Johnstown's new bishop will be Msgr. Mark L. Bartchak, previously a diocesan priest and judicial vicar in the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania bishop-elect will replace retiring Bishop Joseph V. Adamec, who submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict in August of 2010 upon reaching his 75th birthday.

Bishop Adamec has played a role in the Church's life both locally and internationally, in five decades as a priest and 23 years as a bishop. He was honored by Pope John Paul II for his work on behalf of the Church in Eastern Europe –particularly his family's home country of Slovakia– during the 1980s.

His successor, Bishop-elect Bartchak, 55, is a past president of the Canon Law Society of America. His episcopal consecration will take place on April 19.

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis will receive its first auxiliary bishop in just over 75 years, with the episcopal consecration of Fr. Christopher J. Coyne, currently a pastor in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Fr. Coyne, 52, served as a media spokesman for the archdiocese during a difficult period that included revelations of sexual abuse by clergy as well as parish closings. He became the pastor of St. Margaret Mary parish in Westwood, Massachusetts in 2006.

The auxiliary bishop-elect will receive his episcopal consecration in Indianapolis on March 2.

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John Paul II's beatification approved for May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday

Vatican City, Jan 14, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The much-anticipated beatification of Pope John Paul II will take place on May 1, the Sunday after Easter, the Vatican announced.

The healing of a French nun with Parkinson's disease is to go down in history as the miracle that made John Paul II a "blessed." The title is given to martyrs and other Christians to whom a miracle has been officially attributed, thus bringing them one step closer to sainthood.

Pope Benedict XVI approved the decree for the beatification of his predecessor during a Jan. 14 audience with the head of the Vatican department for saints' causes, Cardinal Angelo Amato.

John Paul II's cause arrived in the current's Pope's hands for approval after doctors studied the miraculous healing of Sister Marie Simon Pierre Normand and concluded it was "scientifically unexplainable." Following approval from theologians and Church officials, Pope Benedict promulgated the decree with his signature.

The atmosphere was electric at noon in the the Holy See's Press Office with journalists from all over the world expecting news of the beatification decree.

During the rather cheerful press briefing, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi explained some of the details of the process and revealed preliminary plans for the ceremony.

In what some have called "record time," the Pope's cause was seemingly expedited through the trials to prove his sainthood. Fr. Lombardi admitted that the cause for the Pope was "facilitated" because of his "great fame of sanctity."

At Pope Benedict's bidding, norms stipulating that saints' causes begin five years after the individual's death were waived. His cause, as those of others Popes and special cases, also leapfrogged others in what is usually a "first in, first examined" process.

This being the case, no corners were cut, the Vatican spokesman assured. He insisted that "each of the legislative steps of the inquiry have been fulfilled, they have been taken with care. They have not been facilitated, rather the cause has proceeded with great attention and fidelity."

Pope John Paul II’s cause is extraordinary in the history of the Church both for the speed with which it was advanced to beatification and because it will be his immediate successor to preside over the ceremony.

The Pope's cause was brought to beatification in just over five years, rivaling that of his good friend Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta for its speed.

His beatification will be celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square on May 1, the first Sunday after Easter.

As Fr. Lombardi explained, the choice is full of significance for the late-Pope, who died just a day before the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005. That year, it fell on April 3.

The date changes from year-to-year, but is always the first Sunday after Easter.

"For those who followed John Paul II's pontificate, it is a special Sunday," said Fr. Lombardi.

It is a "fundamental date in his life and his encounter with the Lord," the Vatican spokesman said. He explained that it is the day the Church celebrates the apparition of Jesus to the disciples in the upper room and the institution of Confession.

The day was particularly important to the late-pontiff because it was the day in 2000 that he celebrated the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska and declared that the Sunday after Easter should henceforth be known as "Divine Mercy Sunday."

Sister Faustina, known for promoting the Divine Mercy chaplet, which is prayed using a rosary, said that all who go to Confession and receive the Eucharist at Mass the Sunday after Easter will be given full remission of their sins.

Divine Mercy is "absolutely fundamental" to the pontificate of John Paul II.

"It's precisely the vision, we could say, of the pontificate of John Paul II that has this theme of the Divine Mercy," Fr. Lombardi said.

The staff at St. Peter's Basilica is already preparing for what is sure to be a grand occasion, drawing pilgrims from all over the globe. Workers are already cleaning the mosaics in the Chapel of St. Sebastian, just next to Michelangelo's Pietà, where the soon-to-be "blessed's" body will lie.

John Paul II's body will be taken from the crypt below and set below the chapel's altar.

Because the process came about so quickly after his death, Fr. Lombardi said that the body will not be exhumed for examination.

A marble stone bearing his name "Beatus Iovannes Paulus" will adorn the coffin.

The body will not be exposed, as others are in the basilica, "at least not for now," said Fr. Lombardi.

Blessed Pope Innocent XI's tomb, currently found below the altar in the same chapel, will be moved nearer the high altar of St. Peter's to make room for the new tenant. His body will be put under the altar located below the famous mosaic rendering Raphael's The Transfiguration.

The transfer will take place some time before the May 1 beatification, said Fr. Lombardi. He said that other logistical details have yet to be decided for the celebration.

During his audience with Cardinal Amato, Pope Benedict also approved two miracles attributed to other figures, recognized the martyrdom of five religious sisters from Bosnia/Herzogovina, and certified that "heroic virtue" was found in the lives of five other candidates for sainthood.

One of the five who were seen to have exhibited extraordinary virtue in their lives is Fr. Nelson Baker of Buffalo, New York. He spent much of his 95 years of life in service to orphaned children.

In an interview with Vatican Radio, the prefect of the Vatican's office for the causes of saints said that all "are fascinating figures whose fame of saintliness is widespread in their countries of origin and who always constitute very current examples in their evangelical testimony."

During the briefing, Fr. Lombardi also noted their significance. "Sainthood in the Church is numerous," he said, "it's just that there some great protagonists."

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US Embassy to Vietnam sees progress in religious freedom despite anti-Catholic incidents

Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan 14, 2011 (CNA) - A leaked U.S. State Department cable on religious freedom in Vietnam says the country has made progress and should not be re-designated as a “country of particular concern,” despite significant incidents involving the beatings and arrests of Catholics.

The confidential memo from the U.S. embassy in Hanoi, dated Jan. 20, 2010, was published on Jan. 12 on the website of WikiLeaks, a media organization which has obtained more than 250,000 leaked U.S. State Department cables.

According to CNA’s analysis of pre-released cable data, more than 600 of the cables concern Vietnam and religious freedom issues.

In recent years Vietnam’s Catholics and its communist government have disputed the ownership of confiscated properties. The embassy cable noted the government’s “poor handling” and “excessive use of violence” in situations such as the Dong Chiem Catholic parish incident.

On Jan. 6, 2010, the Vietnamese government demolished a crucifix on Dong Chiem church property. Parishioners who responded to the event with peaceful protest were beaten, arrested and suppressed. A Redemptorist brother was severely bludgeoned by police on Jan. 20 of that year for visiting the church.

Another issue was the eviction of nearly 400 Buddhist monks and nuns affiliated with French-based religious leader Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village Order.

Such situations were “troublesome” and indicative of a larger “crackdown” on human rights ahead of the January 2011 Communist Party Congress, the embassy cable said.

However, the embassy characterized the Dong Chiem incident and others as primarily “land disputes.” Though more government transparency and a fair process for adjudicating claims are needed, these disputes do not meet the requirements of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act and the incidents should not divert attention from the “significant gains” in religious freedoms since the CPC designation was lifted in November 2006, the cable said.

“The widespread, systematic religious persecution that existed prior to Vietnam’s designation in 2004 does not exist anymore,” the author of the cable said.

The embassy recommended the U.S. State Department use “high-level engagement opportunities” to press the Vietnamese government for expanded religious freedom in their country.

Pre-2004, Vietnam’s repression of certain religious groups was “systematic and widespread,” the embassy’s summary said. Thousands of Central Highland villagers and other ethnic minorities were restricted from practicing their religion and many were forced to renounce their faith.

On Catholic issues specifically, the Vietnamese government limited the numbers of new seminarians and the ordinations of new priests below the rate necessary to replace those who left, retired or died. Church requests to create new dioceses, appoint new bishops, or form a new seminary also “languished” without formal government approval.

After Vietnam was designated a country of particular concern, the U.S. embassy reports, the country’s government enacted “sweeping changes” to religious freedom policy. Its new legal framework bans forced renunciation of religion and grants citizens the freedom of belief.

Government-conducted training programs tried to ensure compliance with the new laws and central government officials began responding to complaints from religious leaders about their treatment.

Following these measures, religious believers and the Vietnamese government both reported an increase in religious activity and observance in the North and Northwest Highlands. Nearly 1,000 places of worship were legalized in the regions, and the changes also allowed training for hundreds of new Protestant and Catholic clergy.

The U.S. government had listed 45 individuals imprisoned because of their religious beliefs, but all were released by September 2006.

Despite the land disputes, the U.S. cable says, the Catholic Church continues to report an improved ability to gather and to worship. Restrictions on the assignment of clergy have also eased, while the government has approved an additional Catholic seminary and no longer restricts the number of seminary students.

Despite continuing problems, like “isolated” harassment of Christians and some forced renunciations of faith, there are no indications that the Vietnamese government is “backsliding” on its commitment to register and recognize religious groups.

While the U.S. Embassy to Vietnam opposed the designation of Vietnam as a country of particular concern, Members of Congress such as Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) have called for the designation to be re-applied.

In a Dec. 15, 2010 hearing, he cited mounting tensions between the communist government and Catholic parishioners.

A May 2010 funeral procession in the Diocese of Da Nang tried to bury the body of an 82-year-old woman in Con Dau parish cemetery, which had been seized by the local government to build a tourist resort. Police broke up the procession, arrested 59 people and beat over 100 mourners.

Police deliberately beat two pregnant women so as to kill their unborn babies, charged Rep. Smith. In July a pallbearer at the funeral named Nam Nguyen was later kicked and bludgeoned to death by police.

A Dec. 8, 2010 police raid on the Redemptorists’ Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ho Chi Minh City interrupted scheduled liturgical celebrations and ongoing Christmas preparations. Local authorities took provincial superior Fr. Vincent Pham Trung Than in for questioning and the Redemptorists were accused of preaching anti-government sentiment, instigating disorder, inciting riots and violating social media codes.

“Congress, the president, and all those who espouse fundamental human rights ought to be outraged at Vietnam's turn for the worse,” Rep. Smith added. “President Obama should re-designate Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern for its egregious violations of religious freedom.”

WikiLeaks is slowly releasing many of the cables it has obtained, giving a partial view of the U.S. government’s diplomatic relations and its officials’ evaluations of other states.

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Boston archdiocese releases non-discrimination policy after school admittance controversy

Boston, Mass., Jan 14, 2011 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Boston has created a new Catholic schools admission policy in the wake of a controversy over a homosexual couple who tried to register their child for a Catholic school and were denied. The policy says schools must not “discriminate or exclude any categories of students,” while acknowledging the autonomy of local parish and school officials.

The new policy does not define what is considered to be a category of students, The Boston Pilot reports.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley pledged to create a new policy after a May 2010 incident in which a Catholic school in Hingham rescinded the acceptance of the child of a lesbian couple.

St. Paul Elementary school principal Cynthia Duggen and parish priest Fr. James Rafferty told one of the child’s parents that the boy could not attend because the couple’s relationship was “in discord with the teachings of the Catholic Church” which state that marriage can only takes place between one man and one woman.

Archdiocesan officials reacted negatively to the decision but there was no specific policy covering the situation.

The archdiocese’s Secretary for Education Mary Grassa O’Neill commented on the new policy.

"Our schools welcome, and they don't discriminate against any categories of students," she said. "It covers all categories of students."

Fr. Richard Erikson, vicar general and moderator of the curia, said Catholic education is “a treasure of the Church.”

“We want to share that as broadly as we can,” he added. “We will not exclude any category of child from our schools and we expect pastors will be in conformity with the decision.”

The policy says that its designers were guided by previous remarks of Pope Benedict XVI, canon law, and the U.S. bishops’ conference. A team of archdiocesan officials developed the policy. The team included the Presbyteral and Pastoral Councils and principals and pastors, including Fr. Rafferty.

Based on the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that decisions should be made at the lowest practical organizational level, the policy also maintains the rights of pastors, principals and other staff to develop admissions policies for their schools. Admission is dependent both on academic qualifications and the desire to promote “the best interest of the student,” the policy reads.

The archdiocese is encouraging schools to place their own admission policies in their handbooks and to provide prospective applicants with policy information before registering the child.

O’Neill said the new archdiocesan policy ensures Catholic schools are in line with federal non-discrimination standards. As legally sanctioned non-profit organizations, many of the archdiocese’s Catholic schools must sign a non-discrimination clause each year.

Fr. Erikson said the policy means parents enroll their child with the understanding that he or she will be taught the Catholic faith and will be required to participate in religious services that are part of the school’s curriculum.

Parents who enroll their children in Catholic schools should expect that their children “will be taught fully the Catholic faith,” he added.

Fr. Rafferty told the Pilot he welcomed “a clear policy to guide us in the important work of Catholic education.”

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Australian Catholics face long recovery from 'worst-ever' floods

Brisbane, Australia, Jan 14, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

As floodwaters begin to recede in the urban center of Brisbane and other submerged areas, Catholic charities and churches throughout Queensland expect it will take years to recover fully from the worst flooding in the Australian state's history.

The first priority is to provide shelter and other accommodations for evacuees throughout the second-largest and third most-populated area of Australia, which is larger than Texas and California combined. 

During the deluge's third week, on Jan. 11, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh declared three-quarters of her state to be a disaster area– including the city of Brisbane, which is home to almost 2 million people.

The Auxiliary Bishop of Brisbane, Rev. Brian Finnigan, told the Archdiocese of Sydney's Catholic Communications office that parishes and schools throughout the Archdiocese of Brisbane were “opening their doors to assist those affected.” Other church ministries, however, were in a position of waiting for relief rather than offering it.

“Our central archdiocesan office is closed,” the auxiliary bishop noted, “and we have no power, no lifts and no lights.”

According to local clergy, many individuals are exhibiting a generous spirit of helping others cope with the disaster while dealing with its impact themselves.

Fr. John Conway, a priest of the Archdiocese of Brisbane, is the administrator of three parishes in the southeastern Queensland city of Toowoomba. He said that flood victims throughout the archdiocese were “reaching out even in the midst of their own crises.”

“Many places still have no drinking water,” he said. “We can't get fuel, milk, bread. We're basically rationing everything.” Nevertheless, he said, “I've seen people who have been evacuated from their homes working in emergency centres.”

The St. Vincent de Paul Society, Australia's major Catholic charity, is providing substantial assistance to Queenslanders facing the loss of their homes and livelihoods. Its “flood appeal” has dramatically increased in scope, as the water swept through rural areas and reached Brisbane's urban center.

That charity is also in a position of simultaneously coping with the disaster and helping others do so. Some of its own facilities are submerged, leaving clothing and other resources ruined beneath the muddy waters. Because of damage to roads and other infrastructure, the charitable society is not able to ship out goods to many areas, though it is transferring funds for relief.

Brian Moore, the President of St. Vincent de Paul in Queensland, announced on Jan. 13 that the charity had formed a flood relief committee. “We are appealing for money ... to give concrete support to those affected,” he said. Once the water subsides,  he said, the society would “be there for months meeting the needs of people.”

He described the human impact of the floods –which have killed at least 19 people and left 61 missing,   as “heart wrenching.” In Brisbane alone, more than 25,000 homes may be left uninhabitable, while damage to Queensland's rural areas could take a toll on its agriculture and mining industries for years to come.

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John Paul II named patron of 2011 World Youth Day

Madrid, Spain, Jan 14, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The general coordinator of World Youth Day 2011 announced Jan 14 that John Paul II has been named patron of the upcoming youth event in Madrid, Spain.

The 2011 World Youth Day will be celebrated August 16-21.

The event's general coordinator,  Auxiliary Bishop Cesar Franco of Madrid made the announcement shortly after Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, disclosed that John Paul II will be beatified on May 1.

Cardinal Rylko announced the beatification to the more than 400 representatives attending the International Meeting of Delegates meeting to prepare for World Youth Day. The representatives broke out in prolonged applause upon hearing the news.

The World Youth Day organizers emphasized that John Paul II always had a special affinity for young people.  In 1985, when the first World Youth Day took place, the late-Pope said: “The entire Church ought to be ever more committed at the worldwide level to support young people in their anxieties and desires, in their openness and their hopes, in order to meet their expectations and communicate to them the certainty who is Christ.”

Delegates are meeting in Madrid this week to finalize details for the upcoming World Youth Day, including hospitality, transportation, visas, online information and other issues.

Madrid’s Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon, told the delegates, “World Youth Day is not just another gathering, but rather an event that will be a vital experience for the thousands of young people coming from all over the world.”

He said officials would do everything possible “to make everyone feel at home and to make Madrid the best World Youth Day host city so far.”

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Pope rejects plan to expel Neocatechumenal Way from Japan, will appoint delegate

Niigata, Japan, Jan 14, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Updated Jan. 15, 2011. New version explains that the Japanese bishops were called to Rome after an appeal by the Neocatechumenal Way. Number of Way missionaries going to audience with Pope changed to 230. 

A papal delegate will soon be appointed to kick-start dialogue between the Japanese bishops and officials of the Neocatechumenal Way. A December meeting in the Vatican left them at odds about the movement's future in the nation.

Although the Way has been present in Japan for almost 40 years, recently relations between the country's Catholic bishops and the movement have been shaky.

In 2009, the bishops closed the Way’s seminary, saying that the group had become a divisive force in many local Catholic communities. After an appeal to the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Laity by the Neocatechumenal Way, a delegation led by Archbishop Leo Ikenaga, head of the bishops’ conference, was summoned to Rome in December 2010 to discuss their decision to suspend the movement's activities in their nation for a period of five years.

Alvaro de Juana Hernandez, a spokesman for the Way told CNA Jan. 12 that Pope Benedict XVI had rejected the bishops’ plan. During the meeting, he said, "the Holy See communicated that the Neocatechumenal Way cannot be suspended, cannot be thrown out or taken out of Japan."

The bishops and the Vatican instead agreed to the naming of a papal delegate to promote dialogue between the two sides. "This delegate will have to have love for the Way, that is, know the Way, and also pay attention to the problems of the bishops, and start dialogue," said Hernandez.

Bishop Isao Kikuchi of Niigata, Japan, one of the give bishops who took part in the meeting, said the idea for the delegate came from the Pope.

This delegate, Bishop Kikuchi told CNA on Jan. 14, will come "from Rome or somewhere else" to investigate the situation in Japan. He said the delegate will likely be chosen by Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who has already asked the Japanese bishops to propose a candidate.

"Then, later on the Holy Father may decide on something. I don't know what he is going to decide," the bishop added.

Bishop Kikuchi said he thinks the Pope "wants to make sure of what is actually going on," because many cardinals support the Way.

Several years ago, the bishop recalled, the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples sent the late-Cardinal Stephen Kim of Seoul, South Korea to carry out a similar investigation into the Way.

Bishop Kikuchi expressed disappointment that they would have to "go through the same process again." But he said, it is different this time, because the investigation has been requested by the Pope himself.

"The Holy Father wants to know what is going on because, I believe, out of our discussion in Rome, I felt that some of the cardinals in the Holy See are feeling some kind of a problem with the Neocatechumenal Way, but they are not so sure about that," the bishop said.

In his own experience, the "biggest problem" had to do with the seminary. He said the Way had caused "deep divisions" in his diocese.

Way missionary priests and families were first called into his diocese to build up the minority Christian presence in a traditionally strong Buddhist area.

The Catholic community is small in the area, numbering only 4,000 out of a total population of about four million. Individual churches number between 100-200 parishioners.

"When there are only 100 people in the parish and such a strong group with a strong charisma comes in, it maybe creates a division among a small group of the people," the bishop said.

Because of the "strong character" of the movement, he explained, "they tend to divide the people and to force the parishioners to decide whether they belong or not, and that is a big problem."

He even said that the "lay faithful are forced to make the extreme decision of either 'yes' or 'no' to be a member of the movement."

Based on the statutes of the Neocatechumenal Way, local bishops are free to decide the future of the movement's activities in their dioceses.

This policy "has never actually functioned well," Bishop Kikuchi said. He believes that in the future, the bishops conference will leave it up to individual bishops to decide whether to permit the Way’s functioning within their diocese.

He was unsure of what he would do in that case. He has had good experiences with individual members of the Way. But the movement as a whole has been damaging, in his opinion.

"They are very good Catholics,” he said, “but the modus operandi of the entire group is the problem I'm seeing."

His main worry is that if something does not change, those Catholics who said "no" to joining the movement might fall away from the Church. He is also concerned about small communities choosing not obey their bishops.

That was the original motivation for the bishops' proposal to suspend Way operations. The bishops wanted to give movement leaders an opportunity to "reflect on the past experience and make amendments for their modus operandi in Japan," he said.

"We want them to start all over again from the beginning."

These themes and more will be brought up next between the Japanese bishops during their Feb. 14-18 general assembly. In the meantime, they are waiting for the appointment of the papal delegate.

When this might come about is still unknown.

Way spokesman Hernandez said that everything now "depends on the Vatican. The process is beginning, but there is no date.”

"What's important," he added, "is that the Holy See has officially communicated this after the meeting, that the Neocatechumenal Way has to continue in Japan and cannot be expelled.”

“The episcopal conference asked for five years to look at some things. For the Holy See and the Vatican, the Pope has said that this cannot be done," Hernandez said.

The founders of the Neocatechumenal Way will be meeting with the Pope to speak about other things on Jan. 17. In a more public audience in the Vatican with thousands of the movement's members, seminarians and priests, Benedict XVI will send 230 missionaries out into the world to bishops who have requested their presence.

None of these is destined for Japan.

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Church leaders react to beatification decree for John Paul II with ‘great joy’

Denver, Colo., Jan 14, 2011 (CNA) - Polish Catholic leaders reacted to the announcement of John Paul II’s beatification with enthusiasm and gratitude, praising the late Pope’s example to Poland and to the Church. The Archbishop of New York also reacted with “great joy” as he recalled memories of the Pope’s visits.

In a Jan. 14 audience Pope Benedict XVI approved the decree for the beatification of his predecessor. Doctors studied the miraculous healing of Sr. Marie Simon Pierre Normand and ruled it was “scientifically unexplainable.” Following approval from theologians and church officials, Pope Benedict promulgated the decree.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul II’s longtime personal secretary, expressed the “great pleasure” of the entire Archdiocese of Krakow and of the entire Polish people. He expressed “a huge thank you” to Pope Benedict XVI for the decree confirming the miracle.

He invoked the Italian phrase “santo subito,” which roughly means “saint now.” It was a phrase on the lips of many of John Paul II’s mourners who wanted him declared a saint immediately after his death. This phrase has been “fulfilled,” the cardinal said in a statement from the archdiocese.

"For us, John Paul II is a patron and protector. The life of the Holy Father was our guide to the direction of the sovereignty and independence of our country."

“Today we need such a guide, because in today's world it is not easy,” he commented.

The Polish bishops reacted to the decree of beatification with “joy and hope,” the Archdiocese of Warsaw reported. Bishops’ spokesman Fr. Jozef Kloch called the announcement “good news,” as John Paul II was a role model both as a man and as a Christian.

Fr. Kloch voiced hope that his teachings will be remembered, as they can “unite us again” in what is important both for the Church and for Poland.

In Katowice, Poland the faithful gathered at 9 p.m. in the crypt of the Cathedral of Christ the King. They held a candlelight procession to the nearby statue of John Paul II and then returned to the cathedral for prayers.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York gave an American reaction to the beatification announcement on his blog “The Gospel in the Digital Age.”

The announcement of John Paul II’s beatification is “an occasion of great joy and grace,” he wrote. Archbishop Dolan recalled the Pope’s three visits to New York.

“In so many ways we consider him to have been an honorary citizen of what he famously referred to as ‘The Capital of the World’,” the archbishop said. He recalled the late pontiff’s visits to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, his celebrations of Mass in Yankee Stadium in Central Park, his visit to St. Charles Borromeo Church in Harlem and to St. Joseph Seminary in Yonkers.

These visits are “still fresh in our minds,” Archbishop Dolan continued. He recounted stories from people across the globe whose eyes “still sparkle with grateful memories.”

He said that those who had the chance to meet John Paul II felt that “that for those moments he was focused completely and totally on you, and that he truly saw in you a reflection of the image and likeness of God.”

The New York archbishop asked for prayers that John Paul II will soon be raised to the altars and be declared a blessed and eventually a saint of the Church.

John Paul II’s beatification was approved for May 1, 2011, Divine Mercy Sunday.

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