Lima, Peru, Jun 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - All public establishments could be required to post a notice declaring that the Peruvian capital supports “gender and sexual orientation equality,” in a new Lima ordinance drafted by the city mayor of Lima, Susana Villaran.
“The mayor should at least respect democracy and open this ordinance up for public debate. If she refuses to do so, it is because she already knows how unpopular her measure is,” said Carlos Polo, Director of the Population Research Institute’s Office for Latin America.
Peruvian media reported that officials would like to see the norm passed before July 2, when the 10th Gay Pride March will take place in Lima.
Polo told CNA that the most troubling aspect of the ordinance is that “while everyone is focusing on the public notices, the ordinance would affect the curriculum at public schools.”
It would be very difficult to convince parents to allow their children to be taught that “homosexuality, transexuality or bisexuality are valid options for living sexuality,” he commented.
Carlos Vega, a spokesman for the city of Lima, told CNA on June 22 that the ordinance is the initiative of a number of city council members, led by Manuel Cardenas.
Vega said the measure would have to be approved by the city council, which won’t meet again until June 30.
Polo said he has contacted various city council members and “none of them has the text of the ordinance, although they were all aware of the mayor’s interest in the issue and even in the date of its promulgation.”
He called it hypocritical that Villaran created difficulties for the builders of a huge statue of Christ that will overlook the Peruvian capital, but is hiding the contents of an ordinance she is seeking to impose on the city.
The statue, dubbed the Christ of the Pacific, rises 121 feet and was financed by former president Alan Garcia and other donors. The mayor of Lima and other left-wing activists have criticized the project. The statue will be unveiled during a ceremony on June 29, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.
Havana, Cuba, Jun 24, 2011 (CNA) - The Catholic Archdiocese of Havana is defending the considerable risks in that the Catholic Church in Cuba took in negotiations with the Cuban government to help secure the release of over 100 political prisoners.
Church leaders weren't “neutral but committed, and the Church took risks and accepted being in the eye of the hurricane,” according to spokesman Orlando Marquez.
He said that throughout the tense situation, the Church effectively showed “pastoral and charitable concern for all,” both “on one side and on the other.”
Marquez gave a timeline of the political saga and defended the Church's role in negotiating with the Cuban regime in a June 22 article published in the archdiocesan magazine Palabra Nueva.
He said that the Church-government discussions began in May of 2010 after the Women in White – an organization for spouses and relatives of political prisoners – met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega of Havana.
When the Church accepted their request to serve as a mediator with the government, Marquez recalled, it faced a two-fold situation: on the one hand the Women in White “demanded family reunification, while their family members in prison demanded political changes.”
Authorities, however, “granted the former but not the latter.”
Marquez said that to “expect or demand that the Church bring opposition leaders to the ‘negotiating table’ with government officials was inappropriate in this process.”
“Negotiation is a term that defines a different phenomenon,” the spokesman explained. “It is a process by which the parties in a conflict seek to resolve their differences and mutually recognize one another, without the need for mediation by any third party.”
“Nevertheless,” he added, “what the Church has done for many years is express its conviction that all those in Cuba who show an interest in contributing ideas and efforts for the good of the country should be heard.”
Marquez recalled that the Women in White were calling for three specific things: the return of prisoners to their places of residence, the releasing of sick prisoners as soon as possible, and the option for their loved ones to leave Cuba, alone if need be, rather than having them remain in prison.
On May 19, Cardinal Ortega outlined these requests to Raul Castro's government, which accepted them. Marquez said this landmark response showed how something “new and unheard of began to take shape in Cuba.”
The prison releases began on June 1 and days later Spain offered to receive any political prisoners who wished to travel there.
By the end of the process, the government had released a total of 126 prisoners, 114 of whom went to Spain with their families – including another former prisoner who had already been released to Spain – totaling nearly 800 people.
Marquez said that Cardinal Ortega met personally with each of the prisoners and gave them his blessing if they decided to go to Spain.
But “he never tried to convince anyone to emigrate,” the spokesman noted. “Only 12 said they did not want to go to Spain and instead wanted to remain in Cuba.”
A few asked if going to Spain was a condition for their release, to which the Cardinal replied it was not, “and he assured them that they would be released later, and they were.”
“Those who accepted to make the trip were taken to one place and their families to another, separately, while the immigration process took place, in which the Church was not a participant,” Marquez said.
Upon arriving at the airport, they were greeted by Spanish officials who asked them “if it was their will to leave Cuba, and if this was the case, they were asked to sign a statement of agreement, as Spain would not accept transferring any of them by force. All of them gave their consent and signed.”
Referring to what he called unfounded criticism of the Church's role in the situation, Marquez said it's “wrong” to imply that prisoners “were forced into exile or forced to leave as a condition for not remaining in prison.”
“It is even more wrong to assert that the Cuban government and the Church joined together in exiling these persons,” he emphasized. “The best proof against this assertion, perhaps, is the 12 that decided to remain in Cuba.”
In the end, Marquez said, “as incredible as it seemed at the beginning,” the requests made by the women who met with Cardinal Ortega on May were completely granted. “And the governments of Cuba and Spain surpassed those demands.”
Vatican City, Jun 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI met with members of an Eastern Catholic aid organization on June 24, urging them to concentrate on the survival of threatened Christian populations in the Middle East.
“I ask you to do everything possible,” Pope Benedict told members of the Reunion of Organizations for Aid to the Oriental Churches (ROACO), “to ensure that the pastors and faithful of Christ can remain in the East where they were born, not as strangers but as citizens who bear witness to Jesus Christ as the saints of the Eastern Churches did before them.”
ROACO, which coordinates the work of several agencies providing funds to the Eastern Catholic churches, began four days of meetings in Rome on June 21. The Pope's remarks to the group on Friday – one day after the Feast of Corpus Christi – placed an emphasis on the sacramental life of the Eastern churches.
“Never forget the Eucharistic dimension of your objective,” the Pope told the members of the charitable coalition, “so as to remain within the ambit of ecclesial charity, which particularly seeks to reach the Holy Land, but also the Middle East as a whole, in order to support the Christian presence there.”
While interceding with God for these communities, advocates for the Middle Eastern churches should also “be intervening with the public authorities … at the international level,” asking their protection for Christian minorities.
“The East is their earthly homeland,” the Pope reflected. “It is there that they are called today to promote, without distinction, the good of all mankind.” He said Middle Eastern Christians “must be recognized as having equal dignity and true freedom, thus favoring more fruitful ecumenical and inter-religious collaboration.”
Pope Benedict told ROACO's representatives that they represented a human bond between the Holy See and the churches of the Arab world.
“The Pope wishes to express his closeness, also through you, to those who are suffering and to those who are trying desperately to escape,” he stated, expressing his hope “that the necessary emergency assistance will be forthcoming” for them.
But the Pope's most fervent prayer for the Middle East, as he explained, is that “every possible form of mediation will be explored, so that violence may cease and social harmony and peaceful coexistence may everywhere be restored, with respect for the rights of individuals as well as communities.”
Vatican City, Jun 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican’s new initiative aimed at sparking dialogue with atheists and agnostics may soon be coming to North America.
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, told CNA in a recent interview that the “The Courtyard of the Gentiles” may come to three cities.
“Quebec in Canada, which is one of the so-called ‘most secular’ places there is, where it seems like these days the question of faith is almost bothersome,” he said.
“And, also, we’re thinking about two U.S. cities--Chicago on the one hand and Washington on the other.”
The project was launched as an answer to the Pope’s call for a “new evangelization.” It draws upon the Church’s insistence that faith and reason are wholly compatible and can therefore form the basis for dialogue with non-Catholics, non-Christians and even atheists and agnostics.
The invitation list for the event is generous and includes a whole host of intellectuals drawn from both the arts and sciences.
“So it is a real and proper dialogue between reason and faith. And given that freedom you also get some conflict, some mutual disagreements, which is foreseeable,” said Cardinal Ravasi.
Cardinal Ravasi explained that his council is looking at Chicago and Washington as the two possible U.S. locations primarily because of their intellectual and cultural significance.
“Chicago is one of the liveliest of cities from a social and cultural point of view,” Cardinal Ravasi said, going on to explain the Vatican’s working links with scientists at both Notre Dame University and Harvard.
“And Cardinal Wuerl of Washington has already involved us in a series of specific events, most of all for science and faith, and he’s also my companion of the cardinalate. We became cardinals together at the same time!”
“And it is perhaps a city, being the capital, which is another emblem of the United States,” he said.
The title “Courtyard of the Gentiles” is a reference to a part of the Temple of Jerusalem. It was the furthest non-Jews could enter into the compound and a place where they could interact with Jews. In the Gospels, Christ clears the money-changers from this area.
Pope Benedict has said previously that it was “cleared of extraneous affairs so that it could be a free space for the Gentiles who wished to pray there to the one God, even if they could not take part in the mystery for whose service the inner part of the Temple was reserved.”
Any visit of the Courtyard of the Gentiles to North America is likely to take place next year.
Rome, Italy, Jun 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - June 24 is the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist's birth and that means a very busy day for Father John Fitzpatrick, the rector of the Church of San Silvestro in Capite, where the decapitated head of St. John is kept on public display.
“It is very important to keep the head of St. John the Baptist from the point of view of telling his story, because he was the forerunner of Jesus Christ,” the Pallotine priest told CNA.
“People come here to lay flowers, light candles and pray. They come from everywhere, even from Russia or Romania, and in great numbers to visit the relic. In fact, it would be difficult to count the number of pilgrims who come to the Church,” he said.
St. John the Baptist was the last great prophet to herald the birth of Jesus Christ. In fact, he was related to Jesus as the son of Elizabeth who was a cousin of Mary, the mother of Christ.
The Gospel of Luke states that Jesus was conceived when Elizabeth was about six months pregnant. For that reason, the Church places today’s feast day six months before Christmas and the birth of Christ.
Fr. Fitzpatrick said that the head was brought to Rome by Greek monks in the year 1169. The monks then founded a church dedicated to the 4th-century Pope St. Sylvester and to the decapitated head of St. John—a dual tribute reflected in the church’s name.
In the Gospel accounts of John the Baptist’s death, King Herod had the prophet imprisoned for denouncing his marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias. The King then had John beheaded following a request from Herodias’ daughter, Salome.
The head in St. Silvestro in Capite is kept on a red velvet cloth within a clear plastic box.
There are other religious sites around the world that also claim to house the remains of St. John the Baptist, including the Umayyad Mosque in the Syrian city of Damascus.
Beijing, China, Jun 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The state-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association sparked intense controversy on June 23 by announcing its intent to ordain up to 40 bishops without the approval of the Pope.
Joseph Kung, an expert on the persecuted Church in China, told CNA that the move indicates the Chinese government does not have “an iota of sincerity and respect” that would allow “a trustworthy relationship, be it diplomatic or spiritual, with the Holy See.”
The state-backed organization– known as the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association – announced that it would appoint new bishops, since 40 out of the country's 97 diocese are without one.
Association spokesman Fr. Yang Yu said on June 23 that the bishops will be appointed in an “active and prudent” way based on what he called national conditions and pastoral and evangelizing work.
The recent development worsens the already tense relationship between China and the Vatican, which appeared to improve in early June when association leaders halted the planned ordination of a bishop.
Chinese government authorities were attempting to ordain 50 year-old Fr. Shen Guoan on June 9 as bishop of Hankou, despite having no approval from Pope Benedict and protests being raised by local Catholics.
Although the cancellation brought temporary relief to Church leaders, Thursday's news reignited criticism among Catholics toward the government for its disregard of the Pope's authority.
“The Chinese government and the Patriotic Association simply do not have the authority to call themselves Catholic while they knowingly and willfully break one of the most fundamental dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church,” Kung said.
Kung, president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation which advocates for persecuted Chinese Catholics, emphasized that Pope Benedict XVI “represents Christ on Earth.”
“Therefore, he is the only one, according to the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, who has the authority to appoint the bishop,” he said.
The backdrop to the new bishop ordinations is the continuing attempt by China’s communist regime to control all aspects of Chinese life, including the Catholic Church. The Chinese government forced local Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951 and created and continues to run the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which has not acknowledged the authority of the Pope.
It’s estimated there are some 6 million Catholics in China, although millions more are worshiping outside the official state-controlled Patriotic Association.
Diplomatic progress seemed to have been made in recent years, with some bishops receiving the approval of the Pope. But on Nov. 20, 2010 Chinese officials proceeded with the ordination of Fr. Joseph Guo Jincai as Bishop of Chendge, without the backing of Pope Benedict. The consecration of Bishop Jincai earned a sharp rebuke from the Vatican and was seen as a serious setback.
“The Vatican must let the Chinese government know clearly, without any slight doubt – and if necessary keep repeating it – that there are certain issues … that are not negotiable,” Kung said.
“Appointing bishops with the Pope's mandate is one of these,” he said, adding that the government's failure to recognize to this dogma will likely result in serious consequences.
Pope Benedict has carefully negotiated relations with China during his pontificate and has taken a pointed interest in keeping dialogue open with Chinese Catholics. It is uncertain, however, what the latest news will mean for the Vatican's future relationship with the country.
Rome, Italy, Jun 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican has introduced a new way of keeping silence in their churches while also informing tourists – the iPod.
Today is the first full day of a trial which sees pilgrims to the basilica of St. John Lateran given the audio-guide with a special app explaining the 1,700-year history of the church, which serves as the Pope’s cathedral.
“I can easily say that in Italy there are no examples of experiences like this in religious contexts, probably not even those in museums,” Jelena Jovanovic said to CNA. Her company, Antenna International, created the handheld device.
The multi-lingual guide offers audio, video, photos and texts to give an interactive experience to pilgrims. It also provides historical re-enactments narrated by actors.
Tourists can now listen to the experience of their fellow pilgrims from centuries past or even a “first-hand” account of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, when the Emperor Constantine saw a cross in the sky and converted to Christianity.
But the primary purpose of the guide is not entertainment or even education - it’s prayer and silence.
Bishop Luca Brandolini, the head of Pastoral Care for the Diocese of Rome, explained to CNA that “Unfortunately, our basilicas have become more like noisy meeting places at many times.”
“We need to bring back a place and time for silence. So I think this audio-guide will help achieve that.”
The Managing Director of the Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, the Vatican body that oversees all pilgrim activity in the Diocese of Rome, agrees.
“Those who want to enter into a basilica to pray must be able to pray. So this multimedia guide helps with that,” said Fr. Caesar Atuire.
“Everyone can now do what they have to do without disturbing others.”
There is no charge for the use of the guide, but pilgrims do have to leave a document, such as a passport, as security.
The Vatican will monitor the experiment at St. John Lateran until December. Then officials will decide whether or not to roll the scheme out to other basilicas and churches in the Diocese of Rome.
Washington D.C., Jun 24, 2011 (CNA) - The U.S. Catholic bishops have given their support to the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed standards to limit toxic pollution from power plants.
“Such standards should protect the health and welfare of all people, especially the most vulnerable members of our society, including unborn and other young children, from harmful exposure to toxic air pollution emitted from power plants,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, in a June 20 statement.
The EPA proposed the standards in March 2011, saying they would keep 91 percent of the mercury found in coal from being released into the air and prevent nearly 17,000 premature deaths each year.
Since the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, the EPA has been actively reducing mercury admissions from many of the highest-emitting sources. Until recently, however, this reduction effort did not include power plants.
Mercury can have many serious effects on the natural environment and on human beings. It is especially harmful to a child's developing brain, affecting memory, attention and motor skills. Toxic power plant emissions can also lead to heart attacks, bronchitis and asthma.
Bishop Blaire said the U.S. bishops supported the new standards because of the need to “care for God's creation” and protect the dignity of every human person, “especially the poor and vulnerable, from conception until natural death.”
Installation and operation of equipment needed to implement the proposed standards will create more jobs for American workers, according to the EPA. But the new standards will come at a cost to companies and consumers.
Bishop Blaire said that the short-term costs of implementation are outweighed by the significant health benefits involved.
He added that poor and vulnerable people should not bear “a disproportionate share” of the implementation costs, or the effects of toxic air pollution.