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Archive of February 11, 2011

Bishop decries lack of state protections for Christians in Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia, Feb 11, 2011 (CNA) - A bishop in Indonesia has strongly criticized national officials for failing to protect Christians and other religious groups after a mob of 1,500 Muslims destroyed three churches, an orphanage and a hospital on Feb. 8.

Religious minorities in Indonesia “have been left without any protection from the state,” Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Amboina said in remarks to Vatican-based Fides news agency on Feb. 9.

Bishop Mandagi – who also serves as president of the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue for the Indonesian Bishops Conference – called for “a decisive step” from the government to put an end to the violence and urged local Christians to practice forgiveness as opposed to revenge.

Earlier this week, an estimated 1,500 Indonesian Muslims destroyed three churches before attacking an orphanage and hospital in Central Java on Feb. 8. The mob was protesting a court's decision not to sentence a Christian man to death for defaming Islam.

Antonius Bawengan, 58, received a five-year prison sentence – the maximum penalty allowed by law – under the “blasphemy law” that has been invoked to silence critics of Islam. However, the crowd  assembled at his trial believed the sentence was too lenient, and demanded his death. They assaulted a group of police officers that reportedly numbered around 1,000 before moving against the churches.

The crowd first attacked the Catholic Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, in an assault that seriously wounded a missionary priest of the Holy Family congregation. The missionary, identified only as Fr. Saldanha, was beaten by the mob as he attempted to defend the tabernacle containing the Eucharist against desecration.

Local priest Fr. Benny Susetyo, who serves as executive secretary for the bishop conference's Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, said in remarks to Fides that Muslims are not the sole perpetrators of conflict in the area.

He said that Protestant “fundamentalist preachers” have added to a climate of “discontent, disharmony, discomfort, and verbal violence.”

“These are Protestant Christian preachers, often makeshift, from evangelical and pentecostal denominations, who have no respect for other religions,” he said Feb. 9. “Their preaching and their language are typical of sects: ‘Islam is evil,’ ‘convert or go to hell.’ All this results in anger and hatred among the population, which then explodes into anti-Christian violence.”

Fr. Susetyo said this is what he believes happened in the situation of Bawengan who was accused and imprisoned for blasphemy. The priest called Bawengan a Christian who spread material that was offensive to Islam.

“On the other hand,” he noted, “there are Islamic extremist groups, of the Wahhabi ideology, which constitute the other side of the problem. They are both small groups, but when fanatics collide, the whole society and all the faithful pay for it.”

All things considered,  Fr. Susetyo added, “the government is absent and does nothing to stop these different extremists, or to protect human rights … which is the basis of peaceful coexistence between religions.”

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Massachusetts bishops: Severe state budget cuts must not ignore social needs

Boston, Mass., Feb 11, 2011 (CNA) - Massachusetts politicians must remember the vulnerable in their spending cuts planned to remedy a $1.2 billion budget gap, the state’s Catholic bishops said.

“In the devastation of shrinking city and state budgets across the country, all face excruciating choices,” they commented in a Feb. 9 statement. They cautioned against the “temptation” to “turn away from the growing social needs confronting our cities and towns.”

Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston and Bishops George W. Coleman of Fall River, Timothy A. McDonnell of Springfield and Robert J. McManus of Springfield signed the statement.

“For many residents--a great many--the reality of the financial crisis, its initial impact and its continuing turmoil, is all too evident,” they said. “From our pastors and most poignantly from our social service agencies, we see and hear of the recession’s impact on families, and especially on the children.”

One food pantry in Boston which normally provides 5,000 pounds of food per month had to distribute 12,000 pounds of food in a single week, the bishops reported. Catholic Charities offices have said that hundreds of families are “doubling-up” in inadequate housing or are squeezing into “already overwhelmed shelters and motel rooms.”

The bishops characterized the budget challenge as one of maximizing the effectiveness of existing programs. Housing, health care, nutrition, education, and employment help ensure a “decent quality of life” and advance the common good.

They urged elected officials and Massachusetts citizens to preserve a special regard for the vulnerable, such as those who must choose between heat and food or shelter and clothing.

Federal government figures put Massachusetts’ unemployment rate at 8.2 percent. Over 12,000 foreclosures in the state were reported in 2010.

“We all face a punishing intersection of rising human needs and declining resources that threatens the dignity of the human person and the stability of family life,” the bishops continued.

They pledged to do everything possible to enable Catholic institutions to continue to “do their best in extending their help to our neighbor in need,” not only to the poor but also to those recently unemployed.

Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed spending plan would cut 1.8 percent of the state budget, about $570 million. Cuts would affect school health services, services for the mentally ill, a program for low-income pregnant women and an early intervention program for children with delayed development.

Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray said that the administration is doing its best to save money without hurting services, but painful cuts are probable because of a loss of stimulus money and a diminished rainy day fund.

“There’s no doubt that poor people and vulnerable populations are going to be impacted by this budget and this economy, and we’re trying to do our part,” he told the Boston Globe. “I applaud the bishops for their willingness to try to do more; the governor and I have said we need individuals, businesses, and faith communities to step up and fill this gap, because government cannot do it alone.”

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Web initiative lends support to 'Protect Life Act'

Washington D.C., Feb 11, 2011 (CNA) - As the House of Representatives debates the Protect Life Act, a proposal that would ban abortion funding throughout the federal budget, a website has been launched to allow citizens to voice their support for the bill.

“Relying on an Executive Order is not effective in protecting the sanctity of life in the health care law," said Matt Smith, Vice President of Catholic Advocate Voice, explaining the motivation for his organization's new initiative at www.protectlifeact.org.

Through the new website, supporters of the act can sign a petition voicing their concerns, contact their representative in Congress to urge passage of the act, and find out who its supporters are in the current Congress.

The Protect Life Act would amend the health care reform law so that federal funds cannot be used to  subsidize abortion or health care plans that cover it. It would also strengthen conscience protections for individuals and institutions which refuse to perform abortions. 

Smith described the Protect Life Act as a “positive step in restoring the Hyde amendment language to the health care law.” The Hyde Amendment has been routinely appended to Congressional appropriations bills to prevent abortion funding in the past, although such language did not make the cut when Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010.

“The Protect Life Act will finally codify these protections,” Smith observed, “and remove any doubt about taxpayer funded abortions opposed by an overwhelming majority of Americans.”

The act, under debate since Feb. 8, has received the endorsement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Despite their support for expanded health care coverage, the U.S. bishops have maintained that the 2010 health care reform law was “profoundly flawed in its treatment of abortion.”

Although President Obama issued an executive order that purported to ban such funding, the bishops' legal advisers and pro-life secretariat have pointed out that it does so only in certain cases rather than across the board.

The Catholic Health Association – despite its support for the health care law, which it insists does not fund abortion – has also endorsed the proposal to amend it using the language of the Hyde amendment, as the Protect Life Act would do.

 

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Chicago pro-life project helps women halt second trimester abortions

Chicago, Ill., Feb 11, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - With the help of two pro-life groups in the area, a Catholic hospital in Illinois has become one of the first in the U.S. to assist women who've changed their minds and want to stop the process of a second trimester abortion, which can often take several days.

Resurrection Medical Center in Chicago – in partnership with the Pro-Life Action League and local Women's Center – officially launched an initiative called the “Bethlehem Project” in January, which entails immediately treating women who enter the hospital and want to halt their second trimester abortion.

Pro-Life Action League vice president Ann Scheidler explained in a Feb. 10 interview with CNA that the abortion  procedure at that stage of fetal development can take place over multiple days.

She said that a woman seeking a second trimester abortion is initially medicated with laminaria – seaweed sticks bound together – which cause the cervix to soften and dilate. Depending on how late into the pregnancy the abortion is and the size of the baby, the woman may have to return to the clinic a second day to have more laminaria inserted.

“Once the cervix is sufficiently dilated, the laminaria are removed in order to proceed with a dilation and evacuation abortion,” Scheidler said. “The baby is dismembered in the womb and sucked out through a cannula into a jar.”

Since October of last year, four women have entered the hospital to stop the process and three of them have had their abortions prevented.

The initiative came about after a young woman approached two Pro-life Action League employees standing outside a Chicago abortion clinic last July and asked for help. Desperate, she explained that she had undergone the first step in a second trimester abortion the day before but had decided on her way home that she didn't want to go through with it.

“She called several medical clinics for help in reversing the procedure, but no one could help her,” recalled Scheidler. “They just told her to go back to the abortion clinic and ask them for help.”

Scheidler said that the employees then took the young woman to a pregnancy resource facility called the Women's Center, just around the corner, where staff members recommended that the sidewalk counselors take the woman directly to the nearby Resurrection Hospital.

At the hospital, the emergency room personnel referred the woman to the obstetrics unit where she “happened to get a good pro-life doctor and nurse,” Scheidler said. 

Although neither the doctor or nurse had ever done the procedure of removing laminaria to reverse an abortion, “they went ahead with the removal, monitored the woman for a couple of hours and all was fine.”

A few weeks later, another sidewalk counselor encountered a woman who had initiated the late-term procedure the day before, Scheidler said. Although the woman was ambivalent about her abortion, she agreed to go to Resurrection Hospital to have the laminaria removed.

“But once she got there she again had doubts,” Scheidler said. “In private consultation with the doctor she told him she felt pressured to change her mind and the doctor chose not to influence her either way.”

Sr. Donna Marie Wolowicki, CEO of the hospital, “intervened to help calm the girl and it seemed she would choose life,” Scheidler said. “But in the end she did not continue the process of reversing the abortion procedure.”

Scheidler explained that it was at this point that both the Pro-Life Action League and the hospital recognized that it was important to “establish a protocol for these eventualities.”

In October, the Pro-Life Action League arranged to bring Dr. Anthony Levatino – a former abortionist who is a practicing gynecologist – to the hospital to advise doctors and staff on removing the laminaria.

Scheidler said that as far as she knows, Resurrection Medical Center is “breaking new ground with their protocol” and that “they are more than willing to assist any other Catholic hospitals that would like to put such a program in place.”

She said that Sr. Donna Marie Wolowicki is planning to introduce the protocol at the five other hospitals they operate in the Chicago area and that members of the Bethlehem Project are currently looking into the question of whether an early chemical abortion can be stopped once it has begun.

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West cannot understand risk of 'Islamization,' Iraqi archbishop warns

Kirkuk, Iraq, Feb 11, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The secular western world is incapable of fully understanding the threat of a “reawakening of Islam” in the Middle East, according to an Iraqi archbishop beset by radical movements in his own archdiocese.

In an interview with the Italian bishops' SIR news agency, Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk, Iraq, called the Middle East a “scary volcano” because of the possible consequences of widespread unrest.

“There are Islamic forces and movements that wish to change the Middle East, creating Islamic States, caliphates, in which Shariah (law) rules,” he warned.

Radical groups present in Iraq such as al-Qaida and Ansar al Islam are calling on citizens in other Middle Eastern nations to inject an Islamic influence into otherwise general protests in places like Tunisia and Egypt.

For Archbishop Sako these calls have “the clear intention of fueling ... a total religious change” in the area.

“They are voices that could find fertile ground in Egypt and elsewhere and therefore should not be underestimated, also because there are regional powers whose leaders have defined these revolts as the 'reawakening of Islam',” he said.

In practice, the goal of these fundamentalists is “to create a void to be able to fill it with religious themes, convinced ... that Islam is the solution to everything.”

In Egypt, protesters insist that the widespread protests are not driven by religion or ethnicity, but rather a universal grievance against extremely poor social and political conditions.

Some fear, however, that organized Islamic associations such as the Muslim Brotherhood are in an optimal position to take advantage of the confusion for political benefit.

Because unrest could be manipulated by fundamentalist opportunists, Archbishop Sako called the Middle East “a scary volcano.”

Should Egypt become an Islamic state, he said, it would be “a problem for all” and have “undeniable, negative aftershocks for Christian minorities.”

According to the archbishop, Europe and North America are blind to the possibility of such an “Islamization” of the Middle East.

“The western mentality does not allow it to fully comprehend this risk,” he said.

He explained that politics and religion are interwoven in the Middle East, whereas there is “a tremendous void” between them in western nations.

This results in two extremisms, he said. The Middle Eastern mentality is dominated by Islam, while a secularism that denies its Christian roots and relegates Christian values to the private sphere reigns in the West.

Although “material violence” does not appear in the West, the general privatization of Christianity is “against democracy,” he said. “In the East, however, it is the opposite: religion pervades all.”

He called the future of the Middle East “unknown and scary” and said the international community is “incapable of moving” in reaction to the recent turn of events.

Iraqi Christians – plagued by violence and a lack of security – look to the Egyptian crisis with “sadness,” he told SIR news. They are afraid that the North African nation might fall into the same ethnic and religious division.

Archbishop Sako's own archdiocese has been struck hard by extremist violence. Nine Christians have died and another 104 have been injured in Kirkuk.

The fear the survivors have about Egypt, said the Church leader, is that it will become “a new Iraq.”

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Colombian bishops: Church ready to facilitate peace process

Bogotá, Colombia, Feb 11, 2011 (CNA) - Bishop Ruben Salazar Gomez, the president of the Colombian bishops' conference, said the Church will act as a facilitator between the government and the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) as soon negotiations become serious.

The bishop added that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos “is completely convinced” this will take place.

“We are always willing to provide guidance based on the Social Doctrine of the Church so Colombia can take steps towards peace and progress,” the bishop said in a statement released on Feb. 10.

Bishop Salazar Gomez also expressed his confidence during the bishops' 90th assembly that President Santos sees peace “not only as sitting down for negotiations with the guerrillas but also as creating all of the necessary conditions in the country to put an end to the conflict.”

“It’s not only the armed conflict, it is the entire social conflict: the problem of poverty, the redistribution of wealth, of land, etc.

“The country’s problems are very complex, diverse and widespread, and therefore (President Santos) understands clearly that these problems must be addressed in all of their complexity in order to create the conditions for peace,” the bishop added.

Recently, Bishop Julio Cesar Vidal Ortiz of Monteria, Colombia spoke out, saying he is confident the Catholic Church can help bring about the eventual surrender of the criminal organization, Bandas Criminales.

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Vatican Radio celebrates 80 years, focuses on digital future

Vatican City, Feb 11, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican’s radio station is celebrating its 80th anniversary — with a nod to its distinguished past but clearly focused on the digital future that lies ahead.

The station held a press conference at the Vatican Museums on Feb. 10 to mark the special occasion and offer a glimpse of eight decades of Vatican history through a new exhibit.

Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, president of the Vatican City’s government, spoke of the many important moments since Pope Pius XI inaugurated the station on Feb. 12, 1931.

The cardinal remembered its function as a source of independent news during the Second World War and its services that connected families with their sons and fathers separated by the conflict.

During the Cold War, he said, the Church’s voice reached where others could not, bringing reliable information and hope.

He praised its history of uniting Catholics and all listeners from the farthest reaches of the planet with Rome and the Popes. Evangelizing and offering the Pope’s moral teaching to the world remains its mission today, he said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman and director of Vatican Radio, defined the radio station’s work as carrying out the “splendid mission” of bringing the Pope’s words to the people of the world.

It employs 355 people who produce programs in 45 languages. Fr. Lombardi mentioned that this likely makes Vatican Radio the radio station with the broadest reach in the world.

Its staff is dedicated to transmitting the Pope’s messages “effectively, in a clear and understandable language, and in such a way to reach so many people, to reach their minds, their hearts, possibly touch them,” he said.

For these reasons, the message must be produced in so many languages, tailored for the different cultural contexts and offered with the appropriate technology of the day.

They no longer limit their activities to strictly radio services. They also maintain a website, www.radiovaticana.org, in 38 languages. In recent years, the station has also established its presence on Twitter and YouTube. A new program called “Vatican TIC” aims to soon guide online viewers through papal events.

Msgr. Peter Brian Wells of the Vatican’s secretariat of state said it is important for the Church that the station maintains an open channel with the believers of the world, using every means technology permits.

He spoke of smart phones and iPads, podcasts and micro-blogging.

The Holy See, he said, is currently working on a platform to combine the efforts of its media services “to establish the permanent presence of the Holy See in the world of new media.”

Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli announced in a January press conference at the Holy See that he hopes this new platform will be ready by Easter.

Radio forms an essential part of this mix of media services along with television and Internet and telecommunications services, explained Msgr. Wells.

“Vatican Radio must be the voice of the Church that contests those who say the Church is not capable of inner renewal, showing instead the tireless desire for purification expressed by her supreme pastor.”

It “needs to be the voice that promotes religious freedom in the world” and “the voice that calls for dialogue and harmony in a world that turns increasingly to hatred and violence to solve conflicts,” he added.

To do so, the bishop concluded, it must continue to implement new technologies “to be the engine of new forms of consciousness, of awareness: in other words, of a new culture.”

According to Fr. Lombardi, the station’s qualification as a “radio” provider is now insufficient.

He described it instead as “a great community of communicators and technicians at the service of the mission of the Holy Father, that ... seeks to use the best ways to communicate, in collaboration with all those who can contribute to this mission.”

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Number of priests growing worldwide, Vatican reports

Vatican City, Feb 11, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - There are more than 5,000 more Catholic priests globally in 2009 than there were in 1999, according to official Church statistics.

The Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper anticipated the news from the soon-to-be released 2009 almanac prepared by the Vatican’s Central Office of Church Statistics.

The statistics reveal that there were 410,593 priests in the world in 2009 compared to 405,009 in 1999. The number of diocesan priests among these increased by over 10,000 while the number of those belonging to religious orders fell by nearly 5,000.

In North America, as well as Europe and Oceania, the numbers decreased for both diocesan and religious priests. Africa and Asia, however, brought up the overall figures with a more than 30 percent increase on both continents.

Europe still has nearly half of the world’s priests, but the “old continent” is gradually losing weight on the world stage.

More seminarians are studying for the priesthood from Africa and Asia and fewer from Europe. But, there is also the issue of the number of deaths of priests in the different areas.

In Europe, the average age of priests is higher than in Africa and Asia. The number of European priests is falling as new ordinations do not surpass the numbers of those who die.

But in Asia and Africa the number of deaths was only one-third of the total new ordinations.

North and South America’s numbers combined show a positive trend over the decade since 1999, according to L’Osservatore Romano. In Oceania, the death-to-ordination ratio was equal.

The Vatican’s publishing house prints the volume of Church statistics annually. It includes names and biographies of major Catholic figures and offers a variety statistics on all those who work in apostolates and evangelization efforts the world over.

It also offer shorter term statistics. They report, for example, that between 2008 and 2009 the number of priests in the world increased by 809. According the Vatican newspaper, this is the highest jump since 1999 and a reason “to look to the future with renewed hope.”

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Poll shows strong opposition to abortion, same-sex 'marriage' in Peru

Lima, Peru, Feb 11, 2011 (CNA) - A recent poll is showing that more than two-thirds of Peruvians are against abortion, same-sex “marriage” and the legalization of drugs.

A poll carried out Feb. 1 – 6 by the Peruvian Company for the Study of Markets and Public Opinion revealed that the Peruvian people “defend morality and overwhelmingly oppose these ideas,” stated a press release from the Archdiocese of Lima.

Over 92 percent of those surveyed opposed the legalization and consumption of drugs in Peru.  Likewise, 76.3 percent said they were against abortion. Over 74 percent rejected gay “marriage,” and 69.5 percent said they opposed civil unions for same-sex couples.

Abortion, gay “marriage” and the legalization of drugs have been key issues in the presidential campaign for the April 10 elections.

On Jan. 17, the vice presidential candidate for the Peru Posible Party, Carlos Bruce, told the newspaper El Comercio that his party would implement gay “marriage” if its presidential candidate, former-President Alejandro Toledo, is elected.

Toledo has also brought the issue of legalized abortion and drug use into the presidential debates, although in the past month he has attempted to modify his position.

Candidates Luis Castaneda of the National Solidarity Party and Pedro Pablo Kuczynski of the Alliance for Major Change Party said they oppose gay “marriage” but support civil unions that would grant same-sex partners economic rights.

Both said they oppose abortion, but Castaneda said he would allow the procedure to the save the life of the mother.

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