Archive of March 5, 2011

Bl. Junipero Serra sainthood cause just one miracle away

Oakland, Calif., Mar 5, 2011 (CNA) - It’s going to take a miracle for Blessed Father Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions, to become a saint.

And, if it were up to Andrew Galvan, curator of Old Mission Dolores, that miracle would take place right there in San Francisco. Within the walls of the mission church would be just fine.

Serra, who lived from 1713 to 1784, founded the first nine of the 21 California missions. He is buried at Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel.

For Galvan, a member of the board of directors of the Junipero Serra Cause for Canonization, the journey to sainthood for the Franciscan friar has been a long one. And, for some, the fact that Galvan, who traces his heritage to a pair of native people who were baptized by missionaries and are buried in the cemetery grounds for which he is now responsible, is on Serra’s side is a bit of a miracle in itself.

Galvan has assisted in the cause for sainthood since meeting Father Noel Francis Moholy at Mission San Jose in 1978. “When Father Noel found out I was a California Mission Indian descendant who liked Father Serra — gold,” Galvan said.

Galvan was at the Vatican alongside Father Moholy in July 1987, as the miracle attributed to Serra — the cure of a nun suffering from lupus — was being investigated.

Galvan said when people would ask, “Isn’t there a controversy about how Father Serra treated Indians?” Father Moholy would say, “Would you like to talk to my Indian adjutant?”

Galvan returned to the Vatican for the beatification on Sept. 25, 1988.

The man whose ancestry includes Ohlone, Bay Miwok, Plains Miwok, Coast Miwok and Patwin is a scholar of the missions, and notes that in many ways, the image of Serra’s work with the Indians changes with scholarship.

For example, he points out how the availability of documents online and modern science helped refute one long-running contention that Serra did not have the Indians’ best interests at heart. Serra’s papers show he asked what was done in Spain when children were not thriving. Give them more milk to build them up, the answer came. Still, children died. Later, science would show that the native coastal people were lactose-intolerant, something Serra could hardly have known three centuries ago.

In the cemetery at the mission, Galvan has constructed a marker to commemorate the place where Poylemja, who became Faustino at Baptism, and Jocbocme, who became Obulinda, are interred. If you look at the family tree on the wall of the mission museum, you will see that they are Galvan’s great-great-great-great-grandparents.

And the mission is where he also met his own protégé, Vincent Medina Jr., with whom he shares common ancestry. Medina, 24, is volunteering at the mission and is leading some tours of fourth-graders studying missions.

The man Galvan calls J. Serra is one miracle away from sainthood. And if that miracle would happen at his beloved Mission Dolores, nothing would please him more.

Printed with permission from The Catholic Voice, newspaper for the Diocese of Oakland, Calif.

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Christian couple warned not to appeal decision barring them from foster care

London, England, Mar 5, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - After being advised that they had almost no chance of winning their case, a Christian couple in England has decided not to appeal a decision that barred them from becoming foster parents due to their disapproval of homosexual lifestyles.

Under English law, Eunice and Owen Johns – Pentecostal Christians, aged 62 and 65 – could also have been forced to pay the opposing side's legal fees, if they lost the appeal.

That prospect, along with the judiciary's apparent commitment to the verdict as it stood, contributed to their decision not to challenge the ruling they received on Feb. 28.

In their ruling against the Johns, two judges of the Nottingham Crown Court described the couple's traditional Christian view of sexuality as “inimical to the interests of children,” indicating it could endanger a child's welfare.

The Johns' lawyer, Paul Diamond, told CNA on March 3 that Christians in other countries – particularly in the United States – should take a lesson from the judgment, and from England's recent history.

“In the United Kingdom,” Diamond said, “these 'equality' laws are working out as a very anti-Christian agenda. People are at risk of losing their jobs for wearing a cross. People who say the slightest thing in favor of the traditional family may lose their jobs – for being 'sexist' and 'homophobic.'”

“People ask, 'How do your courts come to those decisions?' They think it won't happen in America, that your judges won't do that. What they fail to understand is that it's a hard-nosed political agenda.”

“When these laws were introduced, particularly by Prime Minister Blair, they were not resisted,” Diamond said. “They seemed fair and reasonable. But over the past five or six years, we've had a number of crazy decisions in Britain.

“We once had a millennium's worth of human rights and religious freedom, just built into the culture,” Diamond recalled. “It's inconceivable that these millennium-old freedoms could be overturned in 10 years – but they were. People are getting very scared, and rightly so.”

“Things can change very rapidly. If a few key things happen in America, and a few judicial appointments should be made, you will find that there can be very swift and rapid changes in your basic assumptions of what your rights are.”

“It's got very little to do with the law,” he observed. “You have to see these decisions as political acts. One set of 'rights' is triumphing over another. It's simply masked by this language of 'tolerance' and 'diversity.'”

The Johns have cared for 15 foster children in the past. But their last attempt ran afoul of new foster care guidelines, issued by local authorities in accordance with Britain's Sexual Orientation Regulations and the 2010 Equality Act. 

Diamond pointed out that the local foster care guidelines now contained “a clause called 'Valuing Diversity,'” which he described as one of many “suitably vague clauses that required people to engage in 'tolerance' and 'goodwill.'”

“The Johns were asked, 'What would you do if the child was homosexual?' They were slightly surprised by that question, because they had indicated they wanted a child around age five or six for short-term care.”

“But one of them said, 'Well, we'd try to gently turn him around, but we'd always love him.' And that phrase was what triggered it.”

The Johns received assistance from the U.K.'s Christian Legal Centre in their fight to continue as foster parents. But they were told after losing the case that the prospects for an appeal were dismal.

“If we went to the court of appeal, I believe the outcome would have been worse,” Diamond lamented. “The judgment, which was so bad in terms of Christian rights, would have been reinforced at a higher level. And we have cost rules here, so you can end up paying the other side for your attempt to stand on your rights.”

“I thought an appeal, in the current circumstances, would be hopeless – and would make the situation worse for Christians. The senior court of appeals judge made it quite clear that he believes the outcome of religious practice is 'discriminatory' against homosexuals.”

Andrea Minichiello Williams, who assisted the Johns in her position as the head of the Christian Legal Centre, shared Diamond's concern over what was happening in Britain. Like Diamond, she voiced concern that the United States and other countries could be traveling a similar path, sooner than most citizens might expect.

In England, she recalled, Christians and other religious groups had received “continual assurances” that equality and non-discrimination laws would not be used to subject them to discrimination for their own beliefs.

“And yet,” she said, “the law has very clearly been used to trample Christian rights.”

“What we've got is the imposition of a new political orthodoxy,” Williams explained. “If you don't think or act in a certain way, you will find yourself barred from public office. It's very frightening, and it's very real. We have plenty of cases here at the Christian Legal Centre to prove it.”

“It doesn't take long,” she reflected. “We were not in this position at the beginning of the Tony Blair/Gordon Brown regime.”

“I want to give a warning to America,” Williams stated. “Look at what's happening here, in the United Kingdom. It leads to censorship, and the exclusion of a group of people from the public sphere.”

“I would reckon that it wouldn't take much longer than a second Obama administration,” she estimated, “for America to find itself in the kind of situation we currently have.”

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Opponent of China's one-child policy resentenced as officials worry about revolution

Shangai, China, Mar 5, 2011 (CNA) - A Chinese woman who protested the country's strict one-child policy was re-arrested and taken to an unknown labor camp after she was initially released from a different facility one day earlier on medical parole.

Fifty year-old Mao Hengfeng, who lives in Shanghai, was seized by over 10 security agents from her home on Feb. 23 and transported to an undisclosed labor camp. The move is being seen as the latest effort by the Chinese government to suppress suspected dissidents, following online calls for a Jasmine-style revolution.

Her husband, Wu Xuewei, told Reuters that officials gave him a photocopy of a written notice that claimed his wife had taken part in “illegal activities.” Wu said the charges are completely unfounded, given that in the 24 hours she was home, their house was under constant guard by the police.

“We are very worried,” he added. “We don't know where she is.”

Mao, who has three daughters, has been petitioning authorities since she was fired from her job at a soap factory in 1988 after becoming pregnant with her second child. Her second daughter defied China's stringent one-child policy, which has been in effect in the country since 1980.

She was sentenced last March to one and a half years of “re-education through labor” on charges of “disturbing the public order” for protesting the trial of China's famous dissident and recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo.

However, Mao was released six months early from a labor camp in Anhui province on Feb. 22 because of her declining health. Her blood pressure was listed at “Level III” – the highest-risk level according to the Chinese Ministry of Health.

The World Organization Against Torture reported that Mao's medical exams from the previous labor camp showed that the left side of her head and her lower back were badly injured. She was allegedly subjected to hostile treatment at the Anhui facility, including beatings by guards attempting to force her to admit that she had made disparaging remarks about the communist government.

Catherine Baber, Asia-Pacific deputy director of rights group Amnesty International, condemned Mao's  detention, calling it “totally outrageous.”

“This case is quite unusual for somebody to be released on medical parole and then to be interfered with in this way,” Baber told Reuters Feb. 24.

Mao's re-arrest seems to be one in a series of similar incidents, in which the government has demonstrated fear over anonymous, online references to a planned “Jasmine Revolution”—a reference to the mostly peaceful overthrow of the government in Tunisia.

Although the protests –inspired by current uprisings in the Middle East – haven't taken place in the country yet, Chinese officials have begun a sharp crackdown. Foreign journalists have been harassed and threatened with expulsion from the country and simple activities such as walking down streets at certain times in certain cities could be viewed as an act of defiance, according to NPR.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders released a statement March 2, criticizing officials for canceling Mao's medical parole, despite “her alarming health situation, and fears for her physical and psychological integrity.”

The observatory – a joint program of the World Organization Against Torture and the International Federation for Human Rights – called upon Chinese authorities “to take prompt action in order to immediately and unconditionally release” Mao, and “to put an end to the harassment against her, which seems to merely aim at sanctioning her human rights activities.”

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After appeal by faith leaders, House Speaker agrees to defend Marriage Act

Washington D.C., Mar 5, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Speaker of the House John Boehner agreed March 4 to legally defend the Defense of Marriage Act, after the Obama administration refused to do so. Boehner’s decision came after Catholic and other interfaith leaders urged his involvement.

House Speaker Rep. Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a statement on March 4 promising to convene a bipartisan legal advisory group to defend the marriage act, after the Obama Administration recently said the law discriminated against gay couples and that it believes the measure is unconstitutional.

“It is regrettable that the Obama Administration has opened this divisive issue at a time when Americans want their leaders to focus on jobs and the challenges facing our economy,” Boehner said.

“The constitutionality of this law should be determined by the courts – not by the president unilaterally – and this action by the House will ensure the matter is addressed in a manner consistent with our Constitution.”

In a March 3 letter to Rep. Boehner, Catholic, Protestant and Sikh leaders said they were “very troubled” by the decisions of the Obama Administration and U.S. Justice Department to “no longer protect the traditional definition of marriage and defend existing law.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced Feb. 23 that the administration now believes the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act – which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman and denies marital benefits to homosexual partnerships – is unconstitutional because it discriminates against gays.

Holder cited a “changed” legal landscape – including a Supreme Court ruling that laws against homosexual conduct are unconstitutional. He also pointed to Congress’ decision late last year to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that prevented homosexuals from serving openly in the military.

The March 3 letter from the religious leaders said that by choosing to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court, “the Obama Administration has undermined the rule of law and the separation of powers.”

However, they emphasized to Rep. Boehner, the “House has the authority to rectify this lapse in judgment.” 

The leaders then implored the Speaker “to lead the House to take the important, necessary step to protect American law, American families, and American values,” by defending the act and “protecting the true meaning of marriage.”

Catholic signatories of the letter included Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, California, chairman of the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Defense of Marriage.

Protestant leaders who signed the letter included Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Dr. Glenn C. Burris, Jr., president, International Church of the Foursquare Gospel; Archbishop Robert Duncan of the Anglican Church in North America and Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

The letter was also signed by Dr. Tarunjit Singh, secretary general of the American Region of the World Sikh Council.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Bishops' Conference, also reacted to the Obama administration's move in a March 3 statement. He called the failure to defend the marriage act “an alarming and grave injustice.”

“Marriage, the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife, is a singular and irreplaceable institution,” he wrote.

“Only a man and a woman have the ability to bring children into the world. Along with that ability comes responsibility, which society historically reinforces with laws that bind mothers and fathers to each other and their children.”

Archbishop Dolan said that the family unit represents “the most basic and vital cell of any society, protecting the right of children to know and be known by, to love and be loved by, their mother and father.”

“Every person deserves to be treated with justice, compassion, and respect, a proposition of natural law and American law that we as Catholics vigorously promote,” he said, noting that unjust discrimination “against any person is always wrong.”

Rather than the Defense of Marriage Act being discriminatory, he said, “it merely affirms and protects the time-tested and unalterable meaning of marriage.”

“The suggestion that this definition amounts to 'discrimination' is grossly false and represents an affront to millions of citizens in this country.”

Archbishop Dolan closed his remarks by saying the administration’s current position “is not only a grave threat to marriage, but to religious liberty and the integrity of our democracy as well.”

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Despite Christians being murdered, Church chooses dialogue over barbarity

Rome, Italy, Mar 5, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - In light of the murders of two high profile Catholics leaders who strongly believed in inter-religious dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran is emphasizing the value of communication for peaceful coexistence.

Bishop Luigi Padovese, the leader of Catholics in Turkey, was stabbed to death in June 2010 in the city of Iskenderun by his chauffeur, Murat Altun, under circumstances that are still under investigation.

Authorities immediately said that the murder was not politically-motivated. Local Catholics continue to appeal for a legal process to take its course to discover Altun's true motivation. Religious extremism has not been discarded.

Cardinal Tauran was on hand March 4 at Franciscans' Pontifical Antonianum University in Rome to help with the inauguration of a new professorship for spirituality and inter-religious dialogue in memory of Bishop Luigi Padovese.

The French cardinal, who is the head of the Vatican's council for inter-religious dialogue, spoke about seeking “genuine” relations and mutual understanding between religions and cultures during his address at the "Antonianum."

After the event held in Bishop Padovese's memory, he spoke of the murder of another Catholic who was committed to improving Christian-Muslim relations.

Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's minister for religious minorities, was assassinated by Muslim extremists in Islamabad, Pakistan on March 2. His opposition to the country's “blasphemy law,” which is designed to prevent any offense to Islam or its prophet Muhammad, put him on extremists' radars. Christians are frequently the victims of false accusations under the law, as Muslims seek to get even with those they hold grudges against.

Bhatti was aware that his life was in danger. Salman Taseer, the Muslim governor of Punjab, was murdered in January for opposing the same federal law, which carries the punishment of death or life in prison.

Cardinal Tauran's voice was filled with sadness as he recalled Bhatti's murder. “Evil,” he said, was behind the killing.

Al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban Movement claimed responsibility for his brutal murder. His body was reportedly riddled with between 25 and 35 bullets.

Cardinal Tauran remembered the last time he met with the minister. It was just before Christmas, when he paid him a visit in Pakistan. They had met with moderate Muslims to speak about religious liberty and solidarity during his three-day trip.

Just before the cardinal boarded a flight back to Rome, Bhatti told him, “I know I will die assassinated, but I am happy for the truths of Christ and inter-religious dialogue.”

His murder shocked the world, but especially local Christians in Pakistan. The nation's bishops have already pledged to pursue his cause for martyrdom in Rome. For his part, Cardinal Tauran will preside over a memorial Mass for him in Rome on March 6.

He was a champion for equal rights and religious freedom. Like Bishop Padovese in Turkey, Bhatti tirelessly promoted communication between Islam and Christianity to achieve peaceful coexistence and solidarity between citizens.

Cardinal Tauran suggested that the threat of being misunderstood exists everywhere. Even in Europe, he told reporters, there is a threat of “Christianophobia.”

“We shouldn't be disillusioned,” he said. “Christianity has always been combated because Christ 'disturbs'.” He said that Christian values and evangelization are “in contradiction” to a prevailing secular mentality in many parts of the world.

Christians “must not accept these circumstances” of persecution, “because they are occasions for us to give witness,” said the cardinal.

Even in places where Christians are small percentage of the population, “we need to have the courage to say that even though we are often in the minority, we are a minority that counts.”

The cardinal offered his solidarity with Pakistani Christians, who, “feel completely unprotected” after Bhatti's murder. It is a situation where, “for the moment, the dark side dominates,” he said.

Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, expressed his gratitude to both Bhatti and Taseer in his weekly Vatican television editorial. “Both,” he said, “were killed for the same reason: because they opposed the blasphemy law, a law that is truly blasphemous in itself, because it is the cause of injustice and death in the name of God.”

Their assassinations "paradoxically also inspire a bit of hope because they associate a Muslim (Taseer) and a Christian (Bhatti) in blood spilled for the same cause," he said.

"It is no longer only dialogue of mutual knowledge or dialogue in common commitment for the good of people. From dialogue in life they pass on to a dialogue of their witness in death ... so that the name of God it is not twisted into an instrument of injustice," the cardinal reflected.

Cardinal Tauran noted that he is seeing “steps forward” in inter-religious dialogue worldwide. One area is a wider acceptance and appreciation for Catholic schools.

He recounted the example of a diplomat from a majority Muslim population who approached him recently to say thank you for the Catholic education he received. 'Everything I know, I know thanks to you ... and I must say that I was never the object of proselytism.'

"I think it's the most beautiful comment that could be made," said Cardinal Tauran.

During his address earlier, the cardinal noted some obstacles to a true understanding of Christianity. For example, he underscored the ongoing problem that some history schoolbooks in the Muslim world refer to Christians as “unbelievers.” Such references, he said, are “not OK.”

Believers are called to promote an authentic solidarity, a peaceful coexistence and inter-cultural dialogue, said the cardinal.

By working together and promoting mutual understanding, all believers in one God can work together in a world that has “too many gods,” he said. The monotheistic religions have a responsibility to propose a united front, said the Vatican's head for inter-religious relations. “We believers, especially Jews, Christians and Muslims, have this mission to remember with the coherence of our lives that 'man doesn't live by bread alone'.”

The cardinal hoped that Pope Benedict XVI's Day of Prayer for Peace planned for Assisi next October will be an opportunity for another step forward. The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue plays an important role in organizing and preparing for the event.

“We hope that this is also inspirational,” said Cardinal Tauran.

“Between dialogue or barbarity, we choose dialogue.”

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