Los Angeles, Calif., Feb 28, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - With the retirement of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez has taken over leadership of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest in the United States.
“L.A. is home for me now,” the Mexican-born archbishop told the cardinal and the assembled worshipers at a Mass marking the transition of leadership on Feb. 27. “I pray that I will be worthy of continuing the work that you have begun here.”
Before a crowd of 3,500 faithful at Los Angeles' Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Cardinal Mahony ceremonially passed on his crozier to Archbishop Gomez, investing him with the traditional staff that symbolizes the leadership of the local bishop. On that same day, his 75th birthday, the cardinal submitted his resignation in a faxed letter to Pope Benedict XVI.
On Sunday, March 6, one week after the transition, Archbishop Gomez will celebrate his inaugural Mass as Archbishop of Los Angeles.
At the transition Mass, Archbishop Gomez graciously thanked the cardinal for his leadership of the archdiocese over the course of 26 years. Cardinal Mahony's legacy, he said, is “a Church that radiates the love of God and the truth of the Gospel.”
“He has shown us what Christ wants his Church to be – a communion of cultures and a communion of saints, one family of God drawn from every country, race, and language.” The archbishop said that Cardinal Mahony “has helped us open our hearts, to love God and to love our brothers and sisters.”
As the largest archdiocese in the country, Los Angeles is home to more than 5 million Catholics, 70 percent of whom are Hispanic. Archbishop Gomez, who was born in the Mexican city of Monterrey and later became a U.S. citizen, will be the first Hispanic Archbishop of Los Angeles.
He told the crowd that he hoped to continue Cardinal Mahony's work by inviting people of all backgrounds to participate in the life of the Church.
“I am inspired by his love for the immigrant, for the strangers in our midst,” Archbishop Gomez said. “I am challenged by his call for us to live the Gospel – to find Christ among the poor, to love the immigrant as our neighbor and our friend.”
Archbishop Gomez also spoke of the centrality of the priesthood to his own life, and the life of the Church.
“Cardinal Mahony knows it. Our brother priests know it,” he reflected. “To be his priests, this becomes the reason why we live. To bring Jesus to people, and to bring people to Jesus.”
“A priest is a priest forever,” Archbishop Gomez pointed out. “And a good bishop never forgets that he is, first of all, a priest.” He told the crowd that Cardinal Mahony was “now able to return to full time priestly ministry.”
“And that is such a beautiful thing – to be a priest,” Los Angeles' new archbishop noted.
While returning to priestly ministry on a smaller scale, Cardinal Mahony will be working on the issue of immigration. He wrote recently that he was “encouraged by the prospects of helping these silent millions in our midst” during his retirement.
CNA STAFF, Feb 28, 2011 (CNA) - The Bishops’ Conference of Colombia is calling on the country’s Constitutional Court to reject arguments in favor of the adoption of children by same-sex couples.
The bishops stressed that the rights of children should be placed above “the affective and emotional needs of same-sex couples.”
The bishops’ call came after the Constitutional Court announced Feb. 23 that it would hear arguments on whether to grant custody of a young girl to her mother and her lesbian partner. The child was conceived through artificial insemination.
The Constitutional Court will issue a final ruling on the case after two lower courts ruled that the adoption should take place.
The secretary general and spokesman of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Juan Vicente Cordoba spoke with CNA on Feb. 25, noting that adoption is a “juridical mechanism” the state of Colombia employs to place a child in a two-parent home made up of a mother and father.
This is meant to “replace what was lost, namely, the child’s biological mother and father, and the child is given a substitute mother and father so he can have a new home,” the bishop said.
Such a process is founded upon “natural law” and is “anthropological,” he explained. “It has nothing to do with faith.”
Bishop Cordoba noted that a poll was carried out recently showing that “82 percent of Colombians do not support the adoption of children by same-sex couples.”
“We told the court not to rule based on the ideas of five or six of its members, but rather on those of 45 million Colombians, of whom 82 percent do not want gay adoption,” he said.
“Five people cannot decide for 45 million,” the bishop explained, adding that the bishops have asked the court “to take into account the will of the Colombian people in its ruling.”
Bishop Cordoba, noting the psychological aspect of the issue, pointed out that children raised by same-sex parents “face great difficulties.”
“Some may grow up to be healthy but many grow up to become homosexuals, bisexuals or they will have identity problems that will affect their ability to sustain a relationship.”
Bishop Cordoba also rejected the statements by some that a child adopted by a same-sex couple would be denied the sacrament of Baptism. “The Church is universal and welcomes everyone,” he said. “The child is not at fault, and if they bring him to the Church to be baptized, the Church will baptize him.
“He will be joyfully accepted in the Catholic Church,” the bishop concluded.
New York City, N.Y., Feb 28, 2011 (CNA) - Chile, a country that does not allow abortion, recently received the International Protect Life Award for being the country with the lowest maternal mortality rate in Latin America.
Nearly 30 representatives of pro-life organizations that work before the United Nations presented the award on Feb. 25 during the 2011 meeting of the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. The meeting is taking place Feb. 22 - March 4 in New York.
A spokesman for the pro-life leaders, Dan Ziedler spoke with CNA on Feb. 25, saying, “It should be noted abortion is not allowed in Chile under any circumstances. Chile respects the life of both the mother and the child, the two are equal under the law.”
“I think we should praise this judicial system and acknowledge that the claim by many abortion supporters – that the practice must be legalized in order for maternal mortality to decrease – is not true,” Ziedler said.
He also said a letter about the award sent by pro-life leaders to Chilean President Sebastian Pinera urged him to move forward with two important programs in defense of the lives of children and mothers.
The “Chile Grows With You” program is “a wonderful example of what a country and a government can do to promote the value of human life in its policies in a sensible and positive way,” Ziedler said. “It helps parents of children under the age of five, including the unborn, to understand that their children need a lot of attention and care both before and after they are born,” he added.
Ziedler noted that the program has been around for years. “It is interesting to note that the program isn’t associated with just one administration or one political ideology in Chile,” he said.
The “Committed to Life” program was established by President Sebastian Pinera and aims to help pregnant women in difficult situations.
The spokesman pointed out that Chile has expressed its pro-life stance on various occasions at the international level, such as in Brazil and Switzerland in 2010. “We must see this as positive, and many Chileans do not realize the great treasure they have.”
“Chile’s example for other countries at the international level is something we need to emphasize,” he added.
For her part, pro-life leader Julia Cardenal of El Salvador, a signatory of the letter sent to President Pinera, said, “Improving maternal health while respecting every human life is the key for every country that really wants to reduce maternal mortality in compliance with the Millennium Development Goals.”
A study by Dr. Elard Koch of the Department of Medicine at the University of Chile, which compared data on maternal deaths from abortion between 1957 and 2008, found that the rate had dropped 97.6 percent during the span of 51 years.
After therapeutic abortion was outlawed in 1989, the rate decreased from 13.62 to 1.65 percent for every 100,000 live births, that is, a drop of 87.9 percent.
Koch said the chances of maternal death from abortion for women today is 0.09 in 100,000.
These results, he explained, show that legislation that protects the life of the unborn does not lead to an increase in maternal mortality or illegal abortions. He added that legalizing or decriminalizing abortion leads to an “epidemic” with grave consequences for the health of women and for the country.
Koch, whose study was presented in January 2010 at the inaugural meeting of the
International Working Group for Global Women's Health Research, in Washington D.C., also said that what has led to a decrease in maternal mortality has been the promotion of “safe pregnancies,” not abortion.
Vatican City, Feb 28, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Abortion “resolves nothing,” Pope Benedict XVI the Pontifical Academy for Life Feb. 26.
The academy was meeting at the Vatican to present studies on “post-abortion syndrome” and the use of umbilical cord stem cell banks for therapeutic treatments.
The Pope told them that the effects on a woman after an abortion reveal “the irrepressible voice of moral conscience and the terrible wound it suffers each time a human action betrays the human being's innate vocation to good.”
The consequences after an abortion “can be minimal or even traumatic and lead to situations of serious psychological unrest, also in the family sphere,” said academy president Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula during his opening speech to the group.
Pope Benedict explained to the group that moral conscience “has the duty to discern good from evil ... so that, on the basis of this judgment, human beings can freely orient themselves towards what is good.”
It is not a purely “extrinsic or optional value,” nor is it only for believers, “rather, it unites all mankind,” he said.
“Through moral conscience God speaks to each of us, inviting us to defend human life at all times, and in this personal bond with the Creator lies the profound dignity of moral conscience and the reason for its inviolability.”
The Pope asked the academy also to study the “sometimes-clouded consciences” of fathers who abandon their pregnant partners.
Additionally, doctors must do their part to “to ensure that women's consciences are not tricked into believing that abortion will resolve family, economic and social difficulties, or the health problems of their child,” he said.
The Pope explained that women are often convinced, sometimes by doctors, that abortion is morally acceptable or even a “therapeutic act” to eliminate suffering and remove an “unjust burden from society.”
“In a cultural context characterized by an eclipse of the meaning of life ... doctors are called to show particular fortitude in continuing to affirm that abortion resolves nothing; rather it kills the child, destroys the woman and blinds the conscience of the child's father, often devastating family life,” said the Pope.
He said that this duty extends to the whole of society, which must defend the child's right to life from conception and protect “the true good of the woman who can never, in any circumstances, find fulfillment in the decision to abort.”
It is also important to help those who have already chosen abortion and are dealing with the moral and existential consequences. He pointed to Church initiatives and volunteer organizations that help women recover from abortion through psychological and spiritual support.
“The solidarity of the Christian community must not abandon this kind of shared responsibility,” he said.
In an interview with Vatican Radio on Feb. 23, Bishop Carrasco said that the estimated 42 million abortions per year worldwide have “major 'costs' on a personal, family and social level.”
The academy has studied many aspects of the abortion issue in past meetings. A focus of these most recent talks was to examine the risk for the woman and the existence of social pressures, especially in some parts of the world, to turn to abortion.
“Many times, the woman is forced, many times she is a victim,” said Bishop Carrasco.
Pope Benedict also spoke of the use of stem cells from the umbilical cord during his address. He called use of cord blood “a promising form of scientific research.”
Its use, he said, depends largely on the generosity of parents donating cord blood immediately after birth and the ability of institutions to process donations. He invited promotion of umbilical cord donations through “genuine and well-informed human and Christian solidarity.”
He warned against storing cord blood for a possible personal use, which “weakens that genuine spirit of solidarity which must constantly animate the search for that common good.”
Bishop Carrasco observed that some are already making a business of cord blood. He stressed the importance of making the umbilical cord resource available to all people, “overcoming the temptation to throw it away as if it were 'left-overs' or of conserving it for oneself, despite knowing that there will be a low probability of using it.”
In his words, reprinted in part by L'Osservatore Romano, Bishop Carrasco also mentioned that a group from within the Pontifical Academy for LIfe is taking up for a third theme of study: Infertility and therapies to treat it.
They are not going to look at assisted reproduction or the damaging effects to health tied to it, but alternatives to this procedure.
Couples should know about centers that treat infertility, which have made “enormous steps” forward in recent years, said the bishop.
Italian experts are currently working on this question, which will give rise to a shared international study, he said. Their intention is to produce a publication in which they offer a description of all sterility problems and all of the alternative solutions possible.
Tripoli, Libya, Feb 28, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Catholic Church in Libya is being “purified once again” as its members are forced to evacuate the country amid violent protests, said a Tripoli priest.
Just 15 priests and an estimated 60 religious sisters, led by two bishops, serve the rapidly decreasing number of Catholics in the nation, which has been torn by strife in recent weeks.
Father Daniel Farrugia, the Maltese vicar general in Tripoli, said that before the protests there were about 80,000 Catholics in Libya, accounting for a little over half of the total number of Christians.
The Catholic population is made up entirely of foreigners or migrants and "most of them are illegal" immigrants, he said in an e-mail to CNA on Feb. 28.
In addition to serving as vicar general, Fr. Farrugia is the parish priest of the African and non-Filipino English-speaking community at St. Francis Catholic Church in Tripoli. He also works with the French, Maltese and Italian ex-patriot communities.
Church members come from many parts of the world, including Korea, India and Poland. The majority, however, come from sub-Saharan Africa and from the Philippines.
Masses are offered in about a dozen languages, among them Korean, Maltese, the Eritrean language Tigrina and Tagalog for Filipinos. A group of Vietnamese Catholics arrived at Christmas, he said.
Islam is Libya’s majority religion. But Fr. Farrugia said Catholics are “free” to worship and celebrate Mass in the country’s two churches, located in the cities of Tripoli and Benghazi.
Most other Church properties were seized by the government following the revolution led by Moammar Gadhafi in 1969. The Cathedral of Tripoli was made into a mosque in 1970, while the cathedral in Benghazi was closed and is now being restructured for a possible conversion into a museum.
One old Catholic building that had been abandoned for years has been reopened for use by the country’s tiny Anglican community.
Fr. Farrugia said there are strict limits on religious practice outside of the church buildings. Catholics, for example, are prohibited from praying the Rosary in public or giving out Bibles.
“We cannot have property or build churches as foreigners,” he added.
Charitable activities are based out of a small center on the Church premises. Anything off-site is prohibited.
Sisters from the 16 religious communities active in the nation are allowed to work in hospitals.
The apostolic vicar of Tripoli, Bishop Giovanni Martinelli, who gives regular reports through the Italian media, says many of the sisters are still working but some have been sent to their home countries because work has become “precarious.”
Hospitals are busier than ever with the injuries of protests, but the sisters have pledged to stay as long as they can.
A Feb. 26 note from the Apostolic Nunciature of Malta and Libya to the news agency Fides emphasized the appreciation of Libyans for the work of the Church in the nation. Libyans have made “concrete gestures of solidarity and protection” towards them in recent days, they said.
St. Francis Catholic Church in Tripoli is quieter than usual these days. Many of its members have fled, been evacuated or are staying at home. Some have taken refuge in the church itself.
Fr. Ferrugia said they are not involved in the protests as they are all from foreign nations. For the last two days, he said, “there is a certain normality in the city.”
People have lined up at banks to receive the 500 dinars (just over $400) the government is paying out to all individuals. Shops are re-opening, normal traffic is returning.
He noted a lack of armed police or military vehicles in the streets. “In the evenings there is a strange silence all around and no sign of protest,” the priest said in the early afternoon of Feb. 28.
The Church is spending this time “in prayer and in solidarity with those who are left here and the locals who are living very difficult and sad moments,” he said.
Much has changed in the Church since Feb. 16, when the uprising began. No one showed up for Mass on Friday, Feb. 25, for example. “Usually it is a real joy on Friday mornings with the songs and fervent prayer of our people,” said Fr. Farrugia.
The Church is concerned about the situation for the immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa that remain in the country. “We are mainly worried for hundreds of Eritreans who are stranded here and no one cares for their evacuation,” he said.
Bishop Martinelli made an appeal for the nearly 2,000 Eritreans who have sought help from the Church in recent days. He told Fides on Feb. 28, “It pains our hearts because we cannot do anything for them.”
He said that there is no one thinking of them. “We try to help them in any way we can, contributing to the rent of their houses,” said the bishop. What they need, however, is a way out and a place to go, he urged.
Of the hundreds of immigrants the Vicariate of Tripoli has registered for evacuation, so far just 54 individuals will be evacuated to Italy.
They are also doing what they can to provide financial help to all Catholics and locals, but they are rapidly running out of basic necessities. International donations are being collected through Caritas Libya, particularly to keep immigrant assistance going.
Caritas Internationalis estimated that 1.5 million sub-Saharan immigrants were living in Libya before the conflict. Tens of thousands have reportedly fled, but many remain in hiding across Libya as the unrest continues.
Fr. Ferrugia suggested that the protests are founded on just principles.
The nation's youth, he said, are seeking a decent salary and means to start families. “They rightly seem to thirst for more freedom and justice.”
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi confirmed the right of young people “who desire human growth for a greater freedom” to ask for it, in his weekly editorial on Feb. 25. He condemned the violence, but spoke of the hope for a new springtime from the Arab world.
“To us,” he said, “it seems that besides due respect there needs to be willingness and initiative for concrete assistance in the situations of difficulty that each profound transformation brings with it, and also friendship and dialogue among the peoples and cultures, today more than in the past.”
At the Feb. 27 Angelus prayer, Pope Benedict XVI asked Christians to pray “that justice and dialogue might prevail over violence and profit.”
The Church, concluded Fr. Farrugia, sees with the mass exodus of immigrants a repeat in her historical fortunes in Libya that has seen the Catholic presence erased and rebuilt several times over the millennia.
He repeated words he heard from Bishop Martinelli in recent days. “Our Church is being purified once again.”