San José, Costa Rica, Jan 17, 2011 (CNA) - The bishops of Latin America announced Jan. 14 that the Second Continental Vocations Congress will be held in Costa Rica Jan. 31 - Feb. 5.
The purpose of the event is to strengthen the vocational culture so that the baptized can respond to the call of Christ in today’s circumstances in Latin America and the Caribbean, reported Fides news agency.
The congress is being organized by the council's Vocations and Ministries Office. In a statement the council said that vocations ministry begins in the family and continues in the Christian community, since “it is the responsibility of the entire people of God.”
Vocations ministry is aimed at “children and young people to help them discover the meaning of life and God’s plan for each one of them.”
Organizers of the congress underscored the need to pray for vocations and for “a greater sensitivity and receptivity to the call of the Lord.”
Delegates from every bishops’ conference in Latin America are expected to attend.
Madrid, Spain, Jan 17, 2011 (CNA) - Brother Jean Pierre Schumacher is one of two monks who escaped death in the massacre of Thibirine, Algeria in 1996. Since then, he has not ceased praying for the conversion of the Muslim extremists who killed seven members of his community.
The Trappist monk granted an interview to the Spanish weekly Alfa y Omega following the debut of the film “Of Gods and Men,” runner-up at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. The film recounts the last three years of the French Trappist monks at Thibirine, who were kidnapped and beheaded by members of the Armed Islamic Group
Brother Schumacher, who today lives at a Trappist monastery in Morocco, escaped death because the kidnappers did not see him.
The monk was the monastery's porter at the main entrance when nearly 20 armed men broke into the building. The men entered through a different door, grabbed the security guard and forced him to guide them to the brothers’ cells.”
The monks of Thibirine were “a contemplative community,” Brother Schumacher recalled. “We did not have social lives. We worked in the fields and the garden.”
He also noted that they got along well with their Muslim neighbors. “We lived on the mountain and our relations with them were positive and very fraternal. We were like a family. The monastery was cloistered, but there was a janitor entertained the guests. We attended religious services and funerals, whatever the people wanted. We had very good relations with them,” he added.
“We had a small gardening association together with four parents who worked with us. Each one had a small plot and sold their crops. At the end of the year, we shared the sales. It was a beautiful way of living together as a family. We didn’t talk about religion much, but we had good relations, and it was a way for us to communicate with their families,” Brother Schumacher said.
Although he doubts his Muslim neighbors were fundamentalists, Brother Schumacher said the community was vulnerable because they were surrounded by Muslims on the mountain.
When the situation became dangerous because of the advance of extremist groups, the monks decided not to leave the monastery because their vocation was “to be with them and share their lives.”
The Trappist monk emphasized that Algeria had strong “relations between Christians and Muslims.” He noted that in the world today, if there is conflict in between cultures and religions, “it is because we don't know each other well enough. When we mutually know each other, we are like brothers,” he said.
Brother Schumacher said he prays that the world may “progress towards universal brotherhood, that despite the differences between religions, nationalities and cultures, we may learn to know each other and mutually help each other.”
“We must forgive. God calls us to love each other,” he continued, noting that the community’s prior, Father Christian, forgave his assassins.
“Do I want to be a martyr? Not at all. We are here to live with the people, not to be killed,” he added.
Atlanta, Ga., Jan 17, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - On the observance of Martin Luther King Day, African-American leaders noted the slain civil rights figure’s Christian position on cultural issues like abortion and sexual ethics. Illinois religious and political leaders also organized to challenge the “hijacking” of the civil rights movement by homosexual political activists.
Dr. Alveda King, full-time director of African-American Outreach for Priests for Life and King’s niece, cited her uncle’s advice columns written for Ebony magazine in 1957 and 1958.
“In advising men and women on questions of personal behavior 50 years ago, Uncle Martin sounded no different than a conservative Christian preacher does now," she commented. “He was pro-life, pro-abstinence before marriage, and based his views on the unchanging Word of the Bible. Today, Planned Parenthood would condemn Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as part of the 'religious right’.”
King reported that one of her uncle’s columns concerned a young man who had impregnated his girlfriend and refused to marry her, resulting in a “crime,” a euphemism for abortion. Martin Luther King, Jr. advised the man that he had made a “mistake.”
He also urged another reader to abstain from premarital sex, saying that such activity was contributing to “the present breakdown of the family.”
"Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of peace, justice, and most of all a man of God," Alveda King continued, suggesting that he would be working today to secure justice for those in the womb endangered by abortion.
In Hillside, Illinois more than 40 African-American religious and political leaders gathered on Jan. 17 at Freedom Baptist Church to lament the misrepresentation of King’s legacy. During the Illinois House debate on the issue of civil unions for homosexuals, two backers of the proposal compared same-sex “marriage” to interracial marriage.
Comparisons between homosexual rights and civil rights have become increasingly common in recent decades. In its own Martin Luther King Day message, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s executive director Rea Carey also invoked the leader.
“We believe that were he alive today, Dr. King would be standing with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as we too reach for equality,” she said.
However, the press conference of African-American leaders in Illinois challenged this view. Its announcement denied that opposition to discrimination based on “immutable, non-behavioral, morally neutral condition like race” was equivalent to an effort to “normalize and institutionalize deviant sexual relations.”
David Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, was of a similar view.
“Skin color is not analogous to behavior,” he said.
“Homosexual activists and their allies are advancing their subversive moral and political goals by hijacking the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy,” the Institute said in a press release. It said attempts to associate “philosophical conservatives” with racism and bigotry constituted intimidation.
“We shouldn't allow the exploitation of the legacy of Dr. King to be exploited for the destructive purposes of the movement to normalize homosexuality and demonize traditional moral beliefs.”
A similar press conference was scheduled to take place in East St. Louis.
Vatican City, Jan 17, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - On a day already meant to be celebratory for the Neocatechumenal Way, the Holy See gave the movement more reason to cheer as it announced its approval of the community's series of teachings. The Pope praised the community, but also gave them explicit instructions to work with local priests to carry out their mission.
Way members met in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall on Jan. 17 to witness the Pope bless families and priests as he sent them out to their new posts. Members and supporters of the Way, as well as people from its missions, initiatives and seminaries all over the world packed the venue to capacity.
The Neocatechumenal Way, an international religious community that bases its activity around "post-baptismal" Christian formation in parishes, was founded more than 40 years ago by Kiko Arguello and Carmen Hernandez. Both founders were in Rome for the audience.
Playing his guitar and accompanied by an orchestra and choir, Kiko welcomed Pope Benedict to the audience hall by leading the crowd of thousands in song.
As they all prepared for the papal audience, the president of the Pontifical Council for Laity, Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, made the announcement that the catecheses, or teachings, of the Neocatechumenal Way had been officially approved by the Church.
The cardinal called it a “much awaited” and “very important” day for the community and its catechists.
“The Neocatechumenal Way,” Cardinal Rylko said, “acts according to the proposed writings of the founders ... which will have the title of Catechetical Directory of the Neo-Catechumenal Way,” he announced to thunderous applause.
The work to approve the teachings had already been done once. From 1997-2003, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) revised, modified and approved the teachings, which until that point had only been recorded from founder Kiko Arguello's talks.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Vatican department, saw to it personally that the Way put things on paper.
With the nod from the CDF and conditional approval for a normal five-year "trial period," full recognition of the Way by the Holy See came in 2008. Some remained unconvinced of the doctrinal approval, however, since no one had ever seen the official okay from the doctrine department.
Questions continued to come up about whether certain modifications of liturgical practices proper to the community had been approved by the Vatican. There was confusion about how the Way treats communion, why lay people were asked to preach and what reasons were behind the practice of Way members celebrating Mass "privately" on Saturday evenings.
The prompting led co-founder Kiko Arguello to request that the Vatican's doctrine department confirm their approval of the Way's methods.
Cardinal Rylko said he was authorized to make that announcement to the audience hall this morning. He explained that "so as to give greater security to the actions of the Neo-Catechumenal Way and to offer doctrinal guarantees to all the pastors of the Church," the CDF revisited the 13 volumes of teachings and approved them as the "Catechetical Directory of the Way."
The Pontifical Council for Laity, of which the cardinal is head, authenticated the doctrinal approval and archived the decree on Dec. 26, 2010, he said.
"Your catecheses have thereby received an important seal from the Church," he told them. "It is a compass, a sure compass according to which you will be able to walk."
The cardinal also thanked them on behalf of the Church for "the grand and important work" of "promoting post-baptismal Christian initiation in the Church."
Kiko Arguello, the group's cofounder, told journalists in a press conference following the audience that the new approval “is important because it gives us a guarantee that the theological, exegetical, liturgical formation” that the Way uses is recognized by the Church as “making a Christian.”
Bishop Zbigniew Kiernikowski of Siedlce, Poland—who was at the press conference as an apparent sign of solidarity—said that he has seen positive effects of the Way's catechesis in his diocese. Now that they can come with their word and "with this book," bishops will know that “this is no deception, not a fictitious thing,” he said.
If they believe the instruction they receive, bishops will give their “people a reality that can transform them,” the Polish bishop added.
Arguello added later that the announcement is "marvelous" because the decree approves the teachings for official proclamation. "It has been revised by the Holy See and completed. It's correct."
"This is from the Church!" he exclaimed.
But the Way still encounters bumps in the road when it comes to its relationships with local pastors, a fact that Arguello alluded to in his next statement.
The directory, he said, "will be very important because now a parish priest who says something, we can say, 'Look father what it says here on page 427, this was approved by the Church'."
"It's a great strength. It gives us a great strength."
The Pope familiarized himself with the community originally as an priest in 1973 in Germany and has long been at their side to guide them to full recognition in the Church. He sees something special in their work, and while being well aware of complaints against them, he continues to encourage them to continue their work while forming better relationships with priests.
"With these seals of ecclesial approval," said the Pope during the morning audience, "the Lord today confirms this precious tool which is the Way and again entrusts it to you so that, in filial obedience to the Holy See and the pastors of the Church, you may contribute with renewed energy and ardour to the radical and joyful rediscovery of the gift of Baptism, and offer your own original contribution to the cause of new evangelization."
The Church recognizes a "particular gift" of the Way to "insert itself" in the Body of the Church, he said.
"In this light," the Pope said, "I exhort you always to seek profound communion with pastors, and with all members of the particular Churches, and of the very different ecclesial contexts in which you are called to work.
"Fraternal communion between the disciples of Jesus is, in fact, the first and greatest witness to the name of Jesus Christ."
The influence of the group took an additional leap forward during the audience. Pope Benedict blessed the 230 Way families being sent out into the world on mission.
The Way's mission families had previously numbered around 600.
A couple from Spain with 10 children and another baby on the way were delegated to greet the Pope in representation of the many other mission families present. Their destination was to be the Ukraine, where they will work to evangelize in a local community.
The Pope handed an additional 13 priests a silver cross to go out and do the same.
These hundreds join over a million others around the world who carry out the Way's mission.
Asked at the press conference what the Way might do to counter some of the resistance it has found in the world, Arguello said that they will continue their work and do their best to improve understanding of who they are.
It's not something that you can just understand after "a half-hour talk," rather it's something you have to make people experience, said the co-founder.
For this purpose, the community has been hosting encounters with bishops and priests around the world to explain what they do.
Arguello reported success through past encounters with more than 200 bishops on the island of Santo Domingo and another 78 in India. On Jan. 26, they'll be meeting with more than 200 bishops from places including the U.S., Canada and Australia who "truly wish to know the way."
"What we do is make them truly know the Way."
Vatican City, Jan 17, 2011 (CNA) - Pope Benedict met with prominent Israeli Rabbi Shlomo Riskin on Jan. 12, who updated the pontiff on the efforts of the Jewish community to support local Christians in the face of mounting tensions with Islamic militants.
Riskin, chief Rabbi of Efrat and chancellor of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, briefed the Pope in a recent audience on the work the organization is doing in Israel.
“We are taking Your Holiness’ call to stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters in Israel and advocating on their behalf,” Riskin said.
Riskin added that local members of the Jewish faith are looking for ways to alleviate poverty within the Christian community, as well as “opportunities to dialogue on those areas where we must cooperate.”
These areas, he underscored, include “our united faith in a God of love, compassion, morality and peace rather than a God of will, power and Jihad.”
Rabbi Riskin also explained to Pope Benedict the opportunities the organization provides for Christians visiting Israel to learn more about the Jewish foundations of the Christian faith.
According to Rabbi Riskin, Pope Benedict affirmed his remarks and responded, “we need to work together.”
After the audience, the Center's Executive Director David Nekrutman spoke about the group's focus in 2011 to address the needs of the Christian community in Israel.
“For the first time in history Jews as a majority are coming face to face with religious minorities. It is Judaism’s obligation to adhere to the biblical mandate: You shall love the stranger in your land.”
Nekrutman also noted that each religious and ethnic community in Israel has different needs, saying, “we cannot just lump everyone into one melting pot.”
He stressed the organization's desire to become a trusted partner in dialogue with local Christians, explaining that to achieve this end, they first “must address their individual concerns.”