Archive of April 19, 2011

National Geographic documentary examines relics of third-century saints

Rome, Italy, Apr 19, 2011 (CNA) - Two skeletons attributed to two married martyrs from the third century could be authentic, say researchers taking part in a new National Geographic Society documentary.

“All of the evidence we have gathered points toward the relics having belonged to Chrysanthus and Daria,” said investigation leader Ezio Fulcheri of the University of Genoa. “This has been a very rare opportunity to be able to study bones and other relics that relate directly back to a legend that has been passed on for almost 2,000 years. The completeness of the skeletons is also rare for martyrs of this era, implying that these relics were protected and venerated in their entirety at a very early point in history.”

The remains of the saints, martyred around 283 A.D. for spreading Christianity, are said to have been interred in the crypt of the cathedral in the northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia since the 10th century.

A 2008 renovation at the cathedral caused the dismantling of the altar which had been undisturbed since 1651. The remains, nearly 150 bones, underwent tests dating them to between 80 and 340 A.D.

Fulcheri led a team of scientists who considered the authenticity of the relics. Their investigations are the subject of the National Geographic Channel documentary “EXPLORER: Mystery of the Murdered Saints,” which airs on April 19 at 10 p.m. Eastern time.

Max Salomon, senior producer and series writer for EXPLORER, spoke about the documentary with CNA on April 18.

He thought the investigation was one of the first times that the Catholic Church has done a full investigation into a pair of saints dating from their period.

“This is the first time that we can really test the authenticity of what is believed to be the body of a saint. For us, it was really a privilege to have a seat at that table and see its risks,” he said.

Salomon noted that it’s risky for a Church to ask “hard scientific questions” about reputed relics that have been in its possession for perhaps 1,000 years.

“There’s a very good chance when you’re dealing with relics that the relics aren’t real,” he said, noting that the “huge” public interest in relics in the Middle Ages generated a black market for forgeries and false relics.

Auxiliary Bishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni of Reggio Emilia, Italy acknowledged this risk.

“We might discover that these relics are fake. That would be a huge problem for us,” the bishop said in the documentary. “If we find out we have bones like that, then we have to throw them out, destroy them. That would certainly be a scandal for the faithful.”

Salomon said he was impressed that Church leaders intended to remove the relics if the tests did not support their authenticity.

The intersection of faith and science is “always a complicated one,” he explained, because their answers haven’t always been in agreement. He thought the research on the saints’ remains was an opportunity for faith and science to intersect in a different way.

“In a sense, it’s a very modern thing for the Church to do, to embrace science and take on the risks of asking scientific questions,” he remarked.

The presence of two complete bodies presented “a huge opportunity for science” to determine the relics’ possible authenticity, Salomon explained. Often, relics leave “very little to work with” because there is too little material for a dating method like a Carbon 14 test.

The lives of Sts. Chrysanthus and Daria present an inspiring story.

Tradition holds that Chrysanthus was the only son of a Roman senator from Alexandria. He grew up in Rome and converted to Christianity. His father disapproved of his conversion and arranged a marriage between his son and a high priestess named Daria to try to bring him back to the Roman religion.

However, Daria embraced her husband’s religion and worked with him to convert thousands more to Christianity.

Roman authorities arrested the two for proselytizing and buried them alive in a sand mine in Rome around 283 A.D. While a wall was erected around the burial site to protect the grave, their remains were moved numerous times between 757 and 946, when the Diocese of Reggio Emilia entombed them beneath the cathedral altar.

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Vatican newspaper goes online in English

Vatican City, Apr 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - For the first time ever the Vatican newspaper will now provide a daily news service in English.

Up until now L’Osservatore Romano has only printed a weekly English edition. Its daily edition meanwhile has always been in Italian. But now the Vatican’s semi-official paper has launched a new website aimed at providing constantly updated coverage in both English and Italian.

The newspaper says it eventually wants to expand the languages available online to include German, Spanish, French, Polish and Portuguese. However, these offerings would only be updated weekly.

L’Osservatore Romano – “The Roman Observer” in English - is currently marking its 150th year of existence. It was launched in 1861 to defend the Papal States against the Italian political radical Giuseppe Garibaldi in his bid to subsume the Pope’s territories into a newly unified Italy. The paper’s ownership was independent of the Church up until 1885 when the Vatican acquired it during the reign of Pope Leo XIII.

The new website is currently free but will require a subscription by the end of August.

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On election anniversary, Pope praised for his ‘profound goodness’

Vatican City, Apr 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Upon the sixth anniversary of Benedict XVI’s election to the papacy on April 19, Cardinal Raymond Burke told CNA of his “profound goodness” and praised his pontificate as one of “great dynamism” and “intense evangelization.”

Cardinal Burke, the American cardinal who runs what is often called the Church’s Supreme Court, offered as his first reaction, “Well it’s certainly been a period of very intense evangelization.”

“I think the Holy Father has shown he has many outstanding qualities not least his ability to teach very profound things in a very accessible way. Whether that’s through his visits, his Wednesday audiences or his many homilies, without exaggeration he manages to make the very profound very understandable. And I hear that from so many people I meet.”

Certainly, Cardinal Burke is better placed than most to assess the papacy of Benedict XVI. In 2008, the Holy Father personally asked the then-Archbishop of St. Louis to move to Rome to head up the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. That’s the highest court on matters regarding the internal law of the Church, known as canon law. Then, only last year, the Holy Father elevated Archbishop Burke to the rank of cardinal.

So what’s his close-up assessment of Pope Benedict himself? “One of his great qualities is his profound goodness. When you listen to him or meet him personally there’s a thorough goodness to the man that communicates itself to others,” Cardinal Burke said.

“I think too that there’s a great dynamism in this pontificate that some wouldn’t have expected from an older man. He hasn’t been able to do all the things that John Paul II did in terms of travel but he does keep up quite a schedule.”

Cardinal Burke is particularly impressed by this scholarly Pope’s ability to maintain his academic career. “The other extraordinary thing is that he’s been able to publish two volumes on the life of Our Lord. In them he’s given us a way of reading Holy Scriptures that is quite remarkable – very credible scientifically and at the same time very evangelical to those reading it.”

Out of the past six years of service, Cardinal Burke said he was “particularly impressed by his visit last year to the United Kingdom. It was a visit that many people said would meet with nothing but negative reactions. So it was wonderful to see how very receptive people actually were to his various talks and homilies.”

For Pope Benedict, his sixth anniversary will be just another working day, unlike the rest of the Vatican staff, who have the day off.

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Irish Church report going to Pope this weekend

Vatican City, Apr 19, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Archbishop of Dublin said April 18 that the inquiry team sent to Ireland by Pope Benedict XVI will be in a position to report back to him by this weekend.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin told the Irish Examiner on April 18 that the apostolic visitation appointed by Rome to investigate the health of the Catholic Church in Ireland has now completed its work. “They are to present their reports to the Pope by Easter,” the archbishop said.

The inquiry was initiated by the Pope in March 2010. It followed a series of Irish government reports condemning the handling of child abuse accusations by the Catholic Church there.

The four-man team heading up the investigation in four of the key dioceses of Ireland consists of Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto, Archbishop Terence Prendergast, SJ, of Ottowa and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the former Archbishop of Westminster, England. There’s also been a parallel investigation into functioning of religious houses.

Meanwhile Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore are leading a review of Irish seminaries. Last month speculative media reports suggested that they would recommend the closure of the national seminary at Maynooth in County Kildare. The seminary authorities, though, were quick to dismiss such talk as “without foundation.”

Archbishop Martin says he now expects concrete recommendations to emerge from the Vatican before the summer.

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Controversial Barcelona priest not excommunicated, confirms archdiocese

Barcelona, Spain, Apr 19, 2011 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Barcelona in Spain confirmed April 18 that Father Manuel Pousa was not automatically excommunicated after admitting to paying for two abortions.

Investigators concluded “with due certitude” that Fr. Pousa did not incur excommunication established by canon 1398 of the Code of Canon Law, reported the archdiocese.

Canon 1398 of the Code of Canon Law states: “A person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

The archdiocesan statement explained that the priest was not excommunicated “because he did not concur in the intention of the offense and was not principally complicit in the abortions that had already been decided and carried out by two girls in a very precarious economic situation.”

Although the priest admitted to paying for the abortions years ago, a new book brought the incident to light again – as well as his blessings of same-sex civil unions, support of "voluntary” celibacy and the ordination of women.

Monday’s statement by the archdiocese quoted a declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued on Oct. 15, 2009, which said, “(t)his dicastery, after having examined the answers that have been submitted, concludes that the Rev. Pousa does not seem to have incurred any canonical penalty.”

For this reason, the archdiocese said, Cardinal Martinez Sistach of Barcelona “has declared that the aforementioned priest has not incurred a latae sententiae censure.”

The archdiocese ended the statement by reiterating that Fr. Pousa’s work “in benefit of the poor and marginalized of society is carried out in accord with the teachings of the Church, with her social doctrine and with respect for every human life from conception to natural death.”

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Venezuela unwilling to dialogue with Church, says cardinal

Caracas, Venezuela, Apr 19, 2011 (CNA) - Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas, Venezuela recently noted that the country's government refuses to enter into dialogue with the Church.

“We are always willing to listen, to talk, and to try to help the country go down the path of peace, to me this just falls on deaf ears,” he said during an April 15 interview with TvRadio.

The cardinal said the Church is very concerned with the recent conflict in the country, especially over political prisoners, the demands of nurses, and universities. The government needs to adopt an openness to dialogue in order to solve these problems, he said.

“I say especially ‘the government’ because the government in Venezuela is one with the baton in almost every area, because it has all the power and money,” the cardinal said.

The cardinal also defended the bishops' rights to express opinions on social and political life in Venezuela. He emphasized that it is the bishops' right and duty to speak out when something will benefit or harm the Venezuelan people.

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US bishops join call for new Middle East peace talks

Washington D.C., Apr 19, 2011 (CNA) - The U.S. Catholic bishops have joined a coalition of Christian, Jewish, and Muslims leaders urging the president and secretary of state to take advantage of a new opportunity for peace between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“We believe the Israeli peace initiative, the earlier Arab Peace Initiative, and the Geneva Accord, taken together, offer key principles and ideas for negotiations to achieve comprehensive Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace,” the bishops and other leaders stated in an April 14 letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

A group of former Israeli government, intelligence, and security officials recently brought forward the proposal to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza according to Israel's 1967 borders. It would also allow Israel and the Palestinians to share control of Jerusalem, and provide for the return of Palestinian refugees according to a consensus agreement between the two sides.

Among the signatories were Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington, D.C., and Bishop Howard J. Hubbard, chairman of the bishops' committee on justice and peace. A collection of Muslim clerics and Jewish rabbis, mostly from Reform denominations, also gave their endorsement.

“We believe the United States … should support these elements being addressed in negotiations on an urgent basis,” the religious leaders told President Obama. “In addition, of particular concern to our communities are guarantees for free access to Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy places.”

“We encourage you to visit Jerusalem and the region soon to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to discuss the next steps toward achieving peace based on the principles and ideas in these peace initiatives.”

President Obama pursued a plan for reconciling Israel and the Palestinians during 2010, in cooperation with the “quartet” that includes the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia. However, those negotiations stalled in September 2010 when a moratorium on Jewish settlements ran out and was not extended. Tension increased when Palestinian radicals killed a Jewish settler family in March 2011.

Larger-scale violence has erupted since that incident. Israeli airstrikes and shelling killed nine Palestinians, at least four of whom were reportedly civilians, in the Gaza Strip on March 22. The next day, a bomb attack killed one woman in a Jewish district of central Jerusalem. Palestinians have also intensified their rocket attacks against Israel, which had never entirely ceased since the 2009 war in Gaza.

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US Catholic Church finds astonishing variety of people joining this Easter

Washington D.C., Apr 19, 2011 (CNA) -

A Muslim, a family of seven, a Marine, a former abortion clinic administrator – these are just a few of the many faces of people from around the country who are slated to join the Catholic Church at Easter.

The U.S. bishops' conference recently profiled a handful of unique stories from individuals in different states, each of whom will be either baptized or confirmed during the Church's universal celebration of the Easter Vigil on April 24.

Although the numbers are still trickling in for this year, the conference reported that in 2010, there were over 43,000 adult baptisms in the U.S. and more than 75,000 people received into full communion with the Church.

Soon-to-be baptized New Orleans resident Ahdija Cheumbike Baker was raised a Muslim. The daughter of a Detroit man and a Tanzanian woman, Baker is one of the 282 catechumens and candidates that the Catholic Church in New Orleans will be welcoming at Easter.

Baker said that she struggled with some of her Muslim beliefs throughout her life and that ultimately,  the “love of the Lord” as well as a love interest drove her to start attending a local Catholic church, St. Peter Claver.

She said that especially after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, “I felt compelled to look for a church to call home so that I could give my thanks to God.”

“If I had gone to a church that gets you in and out in 45 minutes, I probably wouldn’t have changed my religion; but at St. Peter Claver I feel a deep connection. The way that the priest speaks in his homilies moved me. I felt at home and accepted, and they have become my family.”

Eighteen year-old Kalene Laforest is a Marine and feels compelled to join the Catholic Church before going on assignment in June. A catechumen at St. Peter’s Church in LaGrange, Georgia, LaForest said that she wanted a faith with depth, history, deep spirituality, tradition, and “no all-over-the-place craziness.” She is among 1,912 who will join the Catholic Church in the Atlanta archdiocese this year.

Across the U.S. in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, a family of seven will be welcomed into the Church. James and Michelle House, who are parishioners at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, will come into full communion at the Easter Vigil. In the following week, infant David, 2 months old, will be baptized, while his siblings Kristina, James, Alexandra and Joseph will be received into the Church.

Michelle House said the family, who are former Episcopalians, found a welcoming community at St. Catherine's when they moved to northern California.
In Austin, Texas, Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director and author of the bestselling book “Unplanned,” is getting ready to enter the Catholic Church.

Due to a personnel shortage at the abortion clinic she used to work in, she was called in to assist in an ultrasound-guided abortion for the first time in September 2009.

The next few minutes changed Johnson's life irrevocably, as she watched the 13 week-old baby –whom she had believed to be incapable of feeling anything– squirming and twisting to avoid the tube into which it would be vacuumed.

Shocked by what she had seen, Johnson still initially continued her work running the clinic and promoting its work. Just a few weeks later, however, she was in the nearby office of the Coalition For Life, telling its director Shawn Carney –with whom she was well-acquainted, from his years of opposition to Planned Parenthood–  that she could no longer continue helping women have abortions.

Johnson and her husband have grown in their faith during the past year, and are now preparing to enter the Catholic Church. In a Jan. 13 interview with CNA she said that one of the final obstacles, in the course of her Catholic conversion, was the Church's teaching on the immorality of all artificial methods of birth control.

Planned Parenthood's mentality toward contraception, as she explained, stuck with her for a period of time even after she rejected abortion. Even as she became interested in the Catholic Church, she clung to the notion that artificial birth control was an advance for women and society. But she kept an open mind, studying Pope John Paul II's “Theology of the Body” and other sources of Church teaching.

An experience in a Catholic parish finally made her understand the fullness of the Church's teaching on sexuality.

This time, the vision of a child was not shocking, but profoundly life-affirming.

“One day, we were sitting in Mass … I was sitting behind this woman, who I don't know, and this little infant.” Gazing at that child, Johnson said she finally understood the Church's insistence on marriages remaining open to new life.

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