Vatican City, Apr 15, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth sent two presents to Pope Benedict XVI on April 15. Her first gift was a telegram containing best wishes for the pontiff’s 84th birthday tomorrow, and the second was a new U.K. ambassador to the Holy See.
Nigel Baker is the man chosen as Her Majesty’s latest representative to the Vatican. According to The Telegraph newspaper, 44-year-old Baker worked briefly at the British Conservative Party’s headquarters in the late 1980s. Interestingly, one of his co-workers there is the now British Prime Minister, David Cameron. Since joining the U.K. Foreign Office in 1989, Baker has held postings in Prague, Havana and most recently Bolivia, where he was ambassador. He also spent three years as Private Secretary to Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales.
The U.K. Foreign Office says Baker knows Italy well, having spent an academic sabbatical in Verona and Naples between 1996 and 1998. While he isn’t a Catholic, his Slovakian wife, Sasha, is. They have one son.
Upon his appointment Baker said, “I am delighted and honoured to be taking up this posting. The last few years have seen the development of a strong and fruitful global partnership between the United Kingdom and the Holy See. The historic visit of Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010 reinforced that relationship and opened new avenues for bilateral and multilateral collaboration.”
The new ambassador said he looks forward to the “challenge of deepening our engagement across the many issues on which we work together.”
Baker takes over from Francis Campbell, the first Catholic to hold the post of ambassador to the Holy See since the English Reformation in the 16th century.
Prior to today’s appointment, there had been speculation that the ambassadorship would be offered to one of several prominent Catholic politicians. Names bandied about included the former Conservative government minister and Catholic convert, Anne Widdicombe, as well as the former Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, Lord David Alton.
The Treasurer of the U.K. Parliament’s All Party Group on the Holy See, Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, told CNA that the new ambassador has big job ahead of him, “Francis Campbell certainly leaves big shoes to fill. So I wish Mr Baker well. The biggest challenge for him will be to build upon the great success of last year’s Papal Visit to Scotland and England.”
Baker will take up his appointment during August 2011.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Apr 15, 2011 (CNA) - Archbishop Jose Maria Arancedo of Santa de la Vera Cruz, Argentina declared that the reported Marian apparitions in the town of Centeno will not be approved by the Church.
A diocesan commission concluded that “there are no signs that guarantee this is a supernatural apparition of the Most Holy Virgin Mary,” the archbishop explained.
Since April 4, 2010, hundreds have gathered in the town of Centeno after a woman claimed that Mary led her to a miraculous fount of healing water.
The 32-year-old woman added that the Blessed Mother also asked for a chapel to be built there.
The commission's study of the messages shows that while some elements “are consistent with the Christian life,” other statements “do not conform to the spirit of the Gospel or to the manner in which the Most Holy Virgin expresses herself in the tradition of the Church,” the archbishop continued.
He noted the alleged visionary’s “lack of compliance” with the Church’s handling of the case, as well as her pressuring of Church leaders for a speedy approval.
The archbishop also expressed disapproval of the woman’s practice of blessing the faithful.
Archbishop Arancedo said the Church values “the recitation of the Holy Rosary, whenever done with a true Catholic spirit and due reverence to Jesus Christ and the Church.”
“As we approach Holy Week, we encourage the faithful to receive the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist, which bestow on us true spiritual strength and the fullness of life that Jesus Christ has given us,” the archbishop said.
Brussels, Belgium, Apr 15, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Belgian bishops' conference acknowledged its astonishment over an interview with Bishop Roger Vangheluwe, who admitted he sexually abused two of his nephews.
The bishops expressed “shock” in their statement and distanced themselves from the April 14 television interview with former Bishop of Bruges, Belgium.
Bishop Vangheluwe resigned last year after admitting to sexual abusing his nephew over a 13-year period, from the time the boy was five. In the recent interview, he revealed that he also abused a second nephew.
“It had nothing to do with sexuality,” Vangheluwe stated. “I don't have the impression at all that I am a pedophile.”
“It began as a game with the boys,” he added.
The bishops' conference responded April 15 stating that “(t)he interview is extremely offensive to the victims, their families and all who face the problem of sexual abuse.”
“It is slap in the face to the faithful as well. Everyone, ourselves included, is undoubtedly upset and troubled.”
“The tone of the interview is completely at odds with the efforts made in recent months to take the problem of sexual abuse seriously, listen to the victims and determine the appropriate measures to take,” they said.
Earlier this week, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ordered Vangheluwe to leave the country to undergo spiritual and psychological treatment.
The director of the Vatican's press office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, said the order was made by the Vatican congregation in order to determine the next steps that would need to be taken.
A definitive decision on Vangheluwe’s future will need the approval of the Pope he said.
Rome, Italy, Apr 15, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on Social Communications says he wants to challenge young Catholics to “be geniuses and creators of a new Renaissance” using social media.
Monsignor Paul Tighe likened the blossoming of social media to the ancient architectural wonders created during the first Renaissance. “The magnificent churches of Rome were built during the first Renaissance using the new technology, art and engineering of the time. Young people can now do the same today using the wonderful new technologies at their disposal including new media,” he said in an April 15 interview with CNA.
The pontifical council Msgr. Tighe works for was established in 1948 by Pope Pius XII primarily to monitor and critique the film industry. Since then its work has expanded as modern forms of communications have proliferated. Presently the Council is helping to overhaul the Vatican’s presence on the Internet, bringing all the Church’s major news agencies together onto one website. That includes the newspaper “L’Osservatore Romano,” Vatican Radio and Fides news agency.
Msgr. Tighe now wants young Catholics to realize the potential of this digital age.
“The first thing is that for young people ‘new media’ isn’t actually new. It’s just everyday life to them. So I want them to have a sense of how things were before and how exciting this digital age actually is. It has big potential,” he said.
He also noted that the social media can be used to draw people to Christ. “It’s interesting how the new technologies are being used by young people as a way of seeking friendship with others. That’s not just a cultural phenomenon. It’s actually in our nature – made in the image and likeness of God - to seek friendship. I’d hope young people can then open up to that ultimate other, God, through the same means.”
Msgr. Tighe pointed to websites such as “Sacred Space” which, he says, provide online “silence and solitude” for anybody seeking God.
Meanwhile, the project to bring all the Vatican’s media outlets onto one website should be complete by Easter Sunday this year.
Mumbai, India, Apr 15, 2011 (CNA) - More than 20,000 Indian Christians will take part in a Good Friday silent march in Mumbai to remember the victims of increasing anti-Christian attacks.
The Good Friday pilgrimage, which will take place on a day of prayer and fasting, will begin at Mumbai’s Sacred Heart Church and end at the Convent of St. Charles, six miles away. Christians of all denominations will participate.
“The community of believers has recognized the need to dedicate Good Friday, the day in which we reflect and pray about Christ's crucifixion, to all the 'crucified' faithful today in India and around the world,” said Joseph Dias, a Catholic layman who directs the Catholic Secular Forum, which is sponsoring the event.
Attacks by Hindu extremist groups are on the rise, Dias told Fides news agency.
“(I)n 2011 there is one attack a day on average. Sometimes the attacks are concentrated in some areas, such as Orissa or Karnataka, but we can't say that any state in India is immune,” he said.
Dias denounced what he called “the criminal alliance between army chiefs and Hindu extremist leaders” responsible for the anti-Christian violence in several Indian states.
In the state of Karnataka, extremist groups have led attacks on churches, schools and the homes of Christians. They have physically beaten hundreds of people.
In February an independent report on anti-Christian violence in Karnataka charged that the violence was covered up by the state government and was backed by the state’s chief minister and home minister. The police, the state administration and the lower judiciary were also allegedly used against Christians and community institutions.
“Christians are easy victims because they do not respond with violence, nor with revenge, but through prayer and forgiveness,” Dias continued. Often false accusations of proselytism and forced conversions trigger the attacks. He said the real issue is Hindu extremists’ intolerance for the social commitment of Christians in schools and hospitals.
He praised Christians’ “valuable work” in promoting the economic and social situation of Dalits and tribals. Dias said these groups are “downtrodden and discriminated against in society on the basis of caste, and as a result they often ask to embrace the Christian faith.”
On Feb. 21, tens of thousands of Christians rallied in Mangalore against a government report on violence. They called the report “distorted” and “anti-Christian.” A Feb. 18 silent fast at St. Mark University of Bangalore involved 18 Catholic bishops.
In 2008, violence against Christians affected 13 districts in Orissa state and caused over 100 deaths. In Kandhamal district alone, 6,600 houses were destroyed and 56,000 people became internally displaced, according to news reports.
Boulder, Colo., Apr 15, 2011 (CNA) - Although the idea began as a joke, and still elicits laughter from students, an April 17 “Jews versus Catholics” basketball game has a serious purpose for the priest and the rabbi who organized it as a form of outreach to their communities' non-practicing members.
“These are the two main religions of the West, and there are a lot of people who left them,” said Fr. Dave Nix, parochial vicar at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center in Boulder, Colorado. “The second-largest religious denomination in the U.S. is ex-Catholics. This is a link back to people's roots, in a fun way.”
Fr. Nix organized the game along with Rabbi Yisroel Wilhelm, who directs campus ministries for the Hasidic Jewish outreach group Chabad. Rabbi Wilhelm and Fr. Nix, both age 32, hope the game will bring back young adults who have fallen away from their religion.
Catholic team members “don't have to promise they'll go to Mass and Confession,” said Fr. Nix, who says that “if you’re a baptized Catholic and you can make a free throw, you can play.” But he said the game offers reluctant Catholics “a connection to the family of faith, even a chance to be bold about belonging to it, before they're ready to make any kind of commitment.”
Rabbi Wilhelm's organization, Chabad, has the explicit aim of bringing nominal Jews back to the practice of their religion. Fr. Nix observed that the Catholic Church, despite its universal mission, often faces a similar task.
“Our mission is to reach every single person for Christ, whether they're Catholic or not – but of course, our first mission is to reach Catholics. We want to reach people who were baptized as Catholics, but aren't practicing their faith.”
For men, he said, sports can play an especially important role in this kind of “re-evangelization.”
“Sports is a way that people can trust each other, in a competitive environment,” said Fr. Nix. “It's sort of like going to war. You can learn to trust someone, but it's not on the basis of how orthodox they are or how frequently they're going to Mass.”
“The question is, can they be a real man? Can they act competitively?”
“Discipline is an important part of following Christ, and an important part of sports. There's a connection between those who can take up the cross and follow Christ, and those who are willing to be competitive for their team.”
Fr. Nix said he was glad to live in an era where a “Catholics versus Jews” basketball game could take place in a friendly spirit. But he noted that he and his Jewish counterpart were not seeking to downplay the real differences that divide the two faiths.
Catholicism and Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidism are “both pretty black and white religions,” he said, reflecting on both groups' strong truth-claims and adherence to tradition.
Fr. Nix observed that the opposition of his team and Rabbi Yisroel's is not the “gray versus gray” contest that might take place between more liberal Christian and Jewish groups. However, in keeping with Chabad's spirit of tolerant conservatism, many of the Jewish players will come from branches of Judaism that are less traditional than Rabbi Yirsroel's own.
Even the team uniforms will contain an acknowledgment of what Catholics and Jews have in common and what separates them.
“The back, for the Catholics and Jews, is the exact same,” Fr. Nix explained. “The front has a Star of David over the left breast, for all players.”
“But the Catholics have a Cross inside the Star of David,” he said, “almost as if to say: 'Jesus Christ fulfills all of the Hebrew Scriptures.'”