Tokyo, Japan, Jun 10, 2011 (CNA) - Almost three months after the devastating earthquake in Japan, the Catholic relief agency Caritas has launched a new emergency program to provide disaster survivors food, counseling and help in finding employment.
About 24,000 people died from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Over 370,000 houses and buildings were destroyed.
“Life is not easy for people evacuated from their houses,” said Fr. Daisuke Narui secretary general of Caritas Japan. “Our first priority is to make sure our activities last and we are there for the earthquake survivors for many years to come.”
The new program aims to reach 19,000 people through September at a cost of $3.7 million, Caritas reports.
The program will provide blankets and health products, give mental health assessments on the affected community, and support those whose businesses and jobs are affected.
The initial phase will be followed by a three to five-year recovery and rehabilitation project.
While the government of Japan has responded effectively to the needs, Caritas proposes to fill some gaps in relief coverage which still exist.
Immediately after the disaster, Caritas Japan sent a team to Sendai, one of the worst-affected areas. They assessed damage and provided material and psychological support to victims.
Fr. Narui said that over 1,100 volunteers have come to Caritas from all over Japan.
“We host them in parishes and then we send them to people’s houses and to the public shelters to help people,” he reported.
He added that Caritas has received many e-mails and letters from all over the world.
“They send us money and they pray for us. It’s very encouraging to receive such support and we give out the letters to the earthquake-affected people.”
The earthquake significantly damaged three nuclear reactors at the Fukishima power complex, releasing radiation and forcing the evacuation of about 80,000 people. The country is now running only 19 of its 54 reactors, raising the risk of major power shortages.
St. Paul, Minn., Jun 10, 2011 (CNA) - Minnesota’s proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman should be passed to help children flourish and to defend God’s plan for man and woman, Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of Minneapolis and St. Paul says.
“The Minnesota Catholic Conference, made up of the seven Catholic bishops from the state, support this amendment not for prejudicial or political reasons, but rather for reasons that are theological, biological and pastoral,” Nienstedt wrote in his June 9 column for The Catholic Spirit.
While Minnesota law already defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman, backers of the amendment say it is needed to prevent marriage from being redefined through lawsuits or legislative action.
In May the state legislature approved a bill to place the amendment on the 2012 ballot.
The archbishop said that the definition of marriage predates any government or religious denomination. Marriage “reflects God’s plan for man and woman to share in his creative power of bringing new life into the world.”
This understanding is “ratified by Jesus himself” in Matthew 19:8-9, he said. It is also “evident in light of the natural moral law.”
Both the biological and spiritual “complementarity” of the two sexes defines the reproductive nature of their relationship and enhances their “well-being and joy” as “a communion of life and love.”
“Every scientific study,” he said, confirms the reality that children “flourish best” when they have both a mother and a father. While single parents “strive mightily” to raise children as normally as possible, it is “a proven fact” that boys and girls develop better under the influence of both a mother and a father living in the same home.
The archbishop noted that Church teaching is always meant “to uphold and enhance the inherent dignity of the human person as a son or daughter of God.”
“Regrettably, the media and some secular commentators have chosen to mischaracterize this measure as anti-gay, mean-spirited and prejudicial. This is not the case or the intent behind the initiative,” he wrote.
In 2010 Archbishop Nienstedt and the other Catholic bishops of Minnesota authored a pastoral letter on marriage and mailed 400,000 DVDs to Catholics throughout the state. The DVDs explained the importance of traditional marriage and the need for a constitutional amendment to put the definition of marriage “beyond the reach of the courts and politicians.”
The bishops’ defense of marriage drew hostile coverage from several secular media outlets, which highlighted the objections of Catholic dissenters.
Vatican City, Jun 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI told Syria's ambassador to the Holy See that the country's troubled government should respect citizens' desires for reform, and accept guidance from the international community.
“The events of the past months in some nearby Mediterranean countries, Syria among them, demonstrate the desire for a better future in the areas of political, economic, and social life,” the Pope noted in a letter that he gave to Syrian ambassador Hussan Edin Aala on June 9.
“It is greatly desirable, that this evolution not take place in a climate of intolerance, discrimination, or conflict and, sill less, of violence,” the Pope wrote, “but rather in a climate of absolute respect for the truth, for co-existence, for the legitimate rights of the person and the collective, and of reconciliation.”
“These are the principles that should guide the authorities, keeping always in mind the aspiration of civil society and international directives.”
Pope Benedict met with Aala and five other new ambassadors to the Holy See, to receive their credential letters and outline some of the global challenges he has seen emerging this year. After a speech, he presented each of the diplomats with a letter addressing the situation in their respective countries.
The other diplomatic representatives in attendance were Stefan Gorda of Moldavia, Narciso Ntugu Abeso Oyana of Equatorial Guinea, Henry Llewellyn Lawrence of Belize, Genevieve Delali Tsegah of Ghana, and George Robert Furness Troup of New Zealand.
Syria's new ambassador to the Vatican has begun his diplomatic work under especially difficult circumstances, as the government of President Bashar Al-Assad faces continuing popular protests and international pressure over human rights violations.
According to Syrian activists, over 1,300 people have died at the hands of security forces since anti-government protests began in March.
Although Pope Benedict called for an end to violence and a respect for human rights in his letter to the Syrian ambassador, he also praised the country's “example of tolerance, concord, and harmonious relations between Christians and Muslims.”
Sunni Muslims make up around three-quarters of Syria's population. Around 16 percent practice some other form of Islam and 10 percent are Christians. The Melkite Greek Catholic Church, one of the largest of the Eastern Catholic Churches, has its headquarters in the capital Damascus.
Madrid, Spain, Jun 10, 2011 (CNA) - The Spanish Bishops’ Conference reminded the baptized of their commitment to live the faith with authenticity and to not be content with mediocrity in the Christian life.
On some occasions, the bishops on the committee for lay apostolate warned, all of the baptized “run the risk of getting used to living the faith” and “forgetting that they were grafted into the life of the Christ in virtue of the Sacrament of Baptism.”
They called on all Christians “not to be content with a mediocre and monotonous Christian life,” and said that there is an increasing number of people who call themselves believers but do not live the faith.
The bishops message was delivered in a message to mark the Solemnity of Pentecost on June 12, as well as the Catholic Action and the Lay Apostolate Day. They pointed to secularization, religious indifference and superficiality in society as some of the causes of the increase in non-practicing Christians.
The bishops also underscored that the baptized who “do not wonder about the meaning of life, easily fall prey to relativism and subjectivism because, in their judgment, they are terrified at having their own beliefs and being different from others.”
Often “they worship the idols of money, pleasure and power, unconsciously drifting away from the true God and the Church that begat them in the faith,” the bishops said.
In response to this reality, they called on priests, religious and the laity to engage in a “new evangelization” and not stand by idly waiting for the obstacles to go away.
Rome, Italy, Jun 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Father Pedro Opeka traveled to Rome this week to share his testimony as a missionary and to raise awareness in the world of the opportunity to eradicate poverty.
“The poor have evangelized me!” exclaimed the Argentinean missionary priest who works in Madagascar.
Fr. Pedro is giving three talks in Rome this week entitled, “Overcoming poverty: the testimony of Fr. Pedro.”
Fr. Pedro explained to CNA that he wants to send the message of the Gospel to the world so that “everyone on this earth, everyone on this planet, will be brothers and sisters and (will) help one another.”
“In this world where there is so much wealth, there should not be thousands of people who live in hunger. This is an injustice that cries out to heaven.”
Africa and Madagascar is a continent of great suffering, said Fr. Pedro, who has been working in Madagascar for 40 years.
“My message is one of solidarity, of sharing what we have, because the wealth we have has been given to us to share, because what I don’t need goes to waste. There is an Indian proverb that says, ‘Why save something when there is a neighbor who needs it?’” the priest said.
Fr. Pedro said poverty can be overcome by imitating Jesus Christ.
“I can say today, it is possible to overcome poverty. It is possible to return to the poor their dignity as children of God. I live amidst a people in poverty, a people living in extreme poverty, and with dignity, faith and compassion we lift ourselves out of this extreme poverty,” he said.
Father Pedro’s story
Pedro Pablo Opeka was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1948. His parents, Luis Opeka and Maria Marolt, were Slovenian immigrants who came to the country in January of 1948 to escape communism in Slovenia.
At the age of 18, he entered the seminary of the Congregation for the Mission of St. Vincent de Paul in San Miguel, Argentina. Two years later he traveled to Europe to study philosophy in Slovenia and theology in France. He then spent two years as a missionary in Madagascar.
In 1975 he was ordained a priest at the Basilica of Lujan, and in 1976 he returned to Madagascar, where he has remained to this day.
Upon seeing the desperate poverty in the capital city of Antananarivo, especially at the landfills where people live in cardboard boxes and children compete with pigs for food, he decided to do something for the poor.
In 1990, he founded the Akamasoa Humanitarian Association, which means “Good Friends,” in order to serve those in need.
With help from abroad and the work of the people of Madagascar, he founded small villages, schools, food banks, small businesses and even a hospital.
Today, the five villages he founded are home to more than 17,000 people, 60 percent of which are children under the age of 15. Some 9,500 children attend his schools and the Association provides employment to more than 3,500 people.
Some 300,000 people have received aid in one form or another from the Association.
Father Pedro has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on numerous occasions and has been the recipient of numerous awards in Europe, including the Cardinal Van Thuan Prize for Development and Solidarity, given to him by the Vatican in 2008.
Braintree, Mass., Jun 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - On June 2, the Archdiocese of Boston opened the canonization cause of Father Joseph Muzquiz, a priest who helped establish Opus Dei in the United States.
“The spirit he lived was precisely the spirit of Opus Dei,” said John Coverdale, who wrote a biography of Muzquiz entitled “Putting Down Roots: Fr. Joseph Muzquiz and the Growth of Opus Dei,” and is himself a member of Opus Dei. “That message which comes across very strongly in his life is one that's very important for our society.”
Opus Dei is a Catholic organization founded by St. Josemaria Escriva, a Spanish priest whom Blessed John Paul II referred to as a “saint of ordinary life.”
The organization promotes spiritual growth and discipleship among Catholic laypersons, teaching them to use work and ordinary activities as a means of encountering God.
Fr. Muzquiz met St. Josemaria in 1934, at the insistence of a friend, when he was a 22 year-old engineering student in Spain.
“There was talk about this priest that was particularly dynamic and a great preacher and doing interesting things,” Coverdale recalled. “(Fr. Muzquiz) mostly went out of courtesy and curiosity.”
Josemaria Escriva, the future saint who had established Opus Dei in 1928, made a strong impression on the engineering student. Very early into their meeting, he told Fr. Muzquiz: “There is no greater love than the love of God.”
Fr. Muzquiz began attending St. Josemaria’s formation classes while continuing his engineering studies. A top student, he graduated in 1936 and began work as a railroad engineer.
Even as he was working, he “sought to sanctify his work … and carried out an extensive apostolate among his peers,” said Rev. David Cavanagh, the postulator of Fr. Muzquiz’s cause, in the June 2 tribunal's opening remarks.
The Spanish Civil War broke out six months after his graduation, and Fr. Muzquiz spent the next three years in the army as an engineering officer.
His conviction to dedicate his life to God and the Church grew during these years, and he joined Opus Dei shortly after his demobilization.
Fr. Muzquiz became the one of the first men to be ordained a priest of Opus Dei in 1944.
Fr. Cavanagh said it was his “human and supernatural maturity, and the sincerity and generosity of his response to God's call” that led to St. Josemaria “relying heavily on him.”
In 1949, the Opus Dei founder commissioned Fr. Muzquiz to bring Opus Dei to the United States. When he and two other members arrived, they had no money, knew no one, and could hardly speak any English.
“It was quite an uphill battle,” Coverdale said.
The message of the universal call to holiness that he came to spread was also unfamiliar to the United States.
Despite the difficulties he faced, Fr. Muzquiz had “complete confidence that Opus Dei was a work of God and that therefore it would succeed,” said Coverdale.
Fr. Muzquiz worked to jump-start the U.S. branch of the organization that now boasts nearly 3,000 members across the nation. Within 10 years, he had established Opus Dei centers in St. Louis, Milwaukee, Boston and Washington.
He also laid the foundations for the organization in Japan and Canada.
Opus Dei has become a well-established part of the global Church since Fr. Muzquiz's death in 1983.
Its focus remains the same, giving lay Catholics spiritual and practical support in the quest to become saints. Members strive to live out a prayer-filled plan of life that includes daily Mass, recitation of the Rosary, times of prayer and meditation, and regular confession.
Fr. Muzquiz's cheerful attitude and gentle, patient manner helped to make Opus Dei's intense spirituality accessible to Americans.
“He always lived in such a way so as to avoid attracting attention to himself or seeking any special consideration, even though many were extremely grateful to him for his role in bringing Opus Dei to this country,” said the postulator for his cause, Fr. Cavanagh.
The tribunal that met on June 2 considered first-person testimonies about Fr. Muzquiz, seeking to determine the holiness of his life. A separate tribunal will examine evidence of possible miracles.
“We are happy that the Archdiocese of Boston is taking this step,” said Brian Finnerty, U.S. communications director for Opus Dei. “Fr. Joseph helped spread to many thousands of people … the message that we are called to try to be saints.”
Vatican City, Jun 10, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict welcomed new students enrolled in the Vatican’s diplomat school on June 10, telling them that the foundation of their lives and service to the Church must be based on deep, personal formation.
He emphasized that true diplomacy requires a “deep inner balance,” which entails openness, sacrifice, patience, constancy, and “even firmness in the dialogue with others.”
Pope Benedict received both teachers and students from the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy which trains candidates for the Holy See diplomatic service.
He explained that pontifical diplomacy has had a long and influential tradition of shaping relations between countries across the globe.
The necessary qualities of those who serve the Vatican in this capacity, the Pope said, are that they be “first a priest, a bishop” and “a servant of the Word of God,” who has received a mission that “requires him to be, with his entire life, an echo of the message that has been entrusted to him, the Gospel message.”
“Loyalty, coherence, and a profound humanity,” Pope Benedict added, “are the fundamental virtues of any envoy, who is a called to put, not only their work and their qualities but, in some way, their entire person at the service of a word that is not their own.”
He noted that priestly identity, “very clearly and deeply lived,” is fundamental to the task of being “the bearer of the word of the Pope.”
Pope Benedict also said that Vatican diplomatic service “allows one to live in constant and profound reference to the catholicity of the Church” by bringing the pontiff's ministry and pastoral charity to churches and the institutions around the world.
Ultimately, “in the exercise of such a delicate ministry, the care of one's own spiritual life, the practice of human virtues, and the formation of a solid culture are interwoven and mutually sustained,” the Pope said.