Archive of June 29, 2011

Pope greets Orthodox delegation, speaks of St. Peter's unifying role

Vatican City, Jun 29, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his pre-Angelus remarks on the June 29 Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict XVI gave his special greetings to an Eastern Orthodox delegation visiting Rome, and spoke about the importance of St. Peter's primacy among the Apostles.

“Witnessing the love and faithfulness of Saints Peter and Paul enlightens the pastors of the Church on how to lead men towards the truth, and educate them in the faith in Christ,” the Pope told pilgrims in St. Peter's Square on the feast day. He emphasized that St. Peter, in particular, “represents the unity of the apostolic college” which ensures the oneness of Christ's Church.

The Pope, who is marking his 60th year as a priest on the feast day, indicated that St. Peter's primacy among the apostles was no mere human tradition. Rather, he noted, “Peter's primacy is divine preference,” like the priestly vocation itself.

Pope Benedict cited the writings of St. Irenaeus of Lyon, a second-century bishop and theologian, who famously held that the Roman Church “must be the point of convergence of all other Churches, because it has always guarded the tradition that comes from the Apostles.”

This same bond of unity, he recalled, was expressed in the imposition of the pallium on 41 archbishops earlier in the day. The ceremonial vestment “expresses the communion with the Bishop of Rome in the mission to lead the people of God to salvation.”

Pope Benedict drew from both the Latin and Byzantine liturgical traditions in his discussion of the feast day. The Roman liturgy proclaims the blessedness of the city of Rome, which exceeds “every beauty of the world” by being “stained red by the precious blood” of Sts. Peter and Paul.

“As the hymns of the Eastern traditions say, the two great apostles are the wings of God’s knowledge, who traveled the earth till its limits, and rose to heaven,” he explained.

The Byzantine liturgy honors the two saints as “the 'hands' of the Gospel of grace, the 'feet' of the truth of the proclamation, the 'rivers' of wisdom, and the 'arms' of the Cross.”

Although Saints Peter and Paul are the patron saints of Rome, their shared feast receives a heavy emphasis in the Byzantine tradition. June 29 is a Holy Day of Obligation for Eastern Catholics, according to their code of canon law.

In recent times, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople – whose church fell out of communion with Rome in 1054, and separated conclusively during the 1450s – has traditionally sent a delegation to Rome on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. The Roman Church sends its own representatives to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople on the feast of its patron, St. Andrew.

Before praying the Angelus, Pope Benedict offered his greetings to this year's group – along with a reminder that Christian unity is God's unambiguous will.

“I am happy to greet cordially the delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, which is present today in Rome in accordance with an important custom, to venerate Saints Peter and Paul, and share with me hope for Christian unity as willed by the Lord,” he announced.

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Pope Benedict launches new Vatican News website

Vatican City, Jun 29, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has launched a new Vatican News website with his first Tweet. The site officially went live on June 29.

The Pope got things underway with a message posted on Twitter: “Dear Friends, I just launched Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI.”

The new site brings together all the Vatican’s communication outlets into one online location for the first time ever. The list of agencies includes Fides News Agency, the newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, the Holy See’s Press Office, the Vatican Information Service, Vatican Radio and the Vatican television service, CTV. Each will also retain their own independent website.

“The new portal is giving you the possibility of having a direct, immediate approach to the most important pieces of news from the Holy See,” said the President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Archbishop Claudio Celli, in his first interview with Vatican Radio on the new website.

The new site also has a multimedia format, offering live-streaming of papal events, photographs from L’Osservatore Romano, audio from Vatican Radio and video footage that will also be available on the Vatican’s YouTube channel. It also links to other social communication sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr.

Initially only two languages will be on offer, Italian and English, but that could soon change.

“After summer we need to have a restyling of the site and we hope to start immediately with another language – probably Spanish,” said Archbishop Celli.

“But our idea is to then offer the portal in other languages, such as French or German or Portuguese.”

The initial reaction from the online Catholic community today seemed to be overwhelmingly positive.

“Along with other Catholic bloggers, I have been heartened by the website which makes news from the various agencies available easily in one place,” said Fr. Tim Finigan, the London-based creator of The Hermeneutic of Continuity blog.

“The Holy Father has repeatedly encouraged us to use the Internet in the service of the Church and is demonstrating publicly his support for our apostolate,” he told CNA.

“Although the Vatican website itself is still in need of improvement, the website shows what can be done.”

Signs elsewhere also look positive. After only a few hours of going live, the new Vatican site already had over 3,000 “friends” on Facebook and over 36,000 people following it on Twitter.

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On his 60th anniversary, Pope reflects on his vocation

Vatican City, Jun 29, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

“Thanks to the Lord for the friendship that he has bestowed upon me,” Pope Benedict said to a packed St. Peter’s Basilica as he celebrated his 60th anniversary of becoming a priest, a day that is also the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

“Thanks to the people who have formed and accompanied me. And all this includes the prayer that the Lord will one day welcome us in his goodness and invite us to contemplate his joy,” the Pope said.

Pope Benedict was ordained to the priesthood, along with his brother Georg, in the Bavarian town of Freising on June 29, 1951. Georg is with him in Rome today.

Appropriately, the music throughout today’s ceremonies seemed to have a distinctly Germanic feel, with pieces by Mozart, Bach and Handel included.

In his homily, the Pope repeatedly drew upon the words of Christ that were quoted to him by the bishop ordaining him 60 years ago: “I no longer call you servants, but friends.”

“Sixty years on from the day of my priestly ordination, I hear once again deep within me these words of Jesus that were addressed to us new priests at the end of the ordination ceremony by the Archbishop, Cardinal Faulhaber, in his slightly frail yet firm voice.”

“At that moment I knew deep down that these words were no mere formality, nor were they simply a quotation from Scripture. I knew that, at that moment, the Lord himself was speaking to me in a very personal way.”

At today’s Mass, Pope Benedict was wearing red vestments in remembrance of Saints Peter and Paul shedding their blood when they were martyred in Rome during the 1st century. He said that the life of the Christian – and particularly the life of the priest - is one that grows through joys and hardship. He drew upon another analogy of Christ’s – the vine and the branches – noting that for grapes to ripen and produce good wine “sun is needed, but so too is rain, by day and by night.”

“Is this not already an image of human life, and especially of our lives as priests?” asked the Pope as he looked back on his own experiences over the past 60 years.

“We need both sun and rain, festivity and adversity, times of purification and testing, as well as times of joyful journeying with the Gospel.”

“In hindsight,” he said, “we can thank God for both: for the challenges and the joys, for the dark times and the glad times. In both, we can recognize the constant presence of his love, which unfailingly supports and sustains us.”

The Pope said it is a close friendship with Christ that sustains the Christian – priests included – during such moments of darkness.

“What is friendship?” Benedict XVI asked, answering with an ancient Latin maxim.

“Idem velle, idem nolle – wanting the same things, rejecting the same things: this was how it was expressed in antiquity. Friendship is a communion of thinking and willing.”

The Pope then gave advice as to how to deepen that friendship with Jesus.

“The friendship that he bestows upon me can only mean that I too try to know him better; that in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in prayer, in the communion of saints, in the people who come to me, sent by him, I try to come to know the Lord himself more and more.”

Today’s papal ceremonies at St. Peter’s also included the bestowal of the pallium upon 41 new metropolitan archbishops from around the world.

The pallium is a white woolen liturgical vestment emblazoned with six black crosses. It symbolizes an archbishop’s pastoral authority and his unity the Pope.

Among the U.S. bishops present were Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle and Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio.

At the end of the Mass the Pope processed out to the applause of the congregation and the strains of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

To read Pope Benedict's full homily, visit:

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Spanish bishops celebrate shared ordination anniversary with Pope

San Sebastian, Spain, Jun 29, 2011 (CNA/Europa Press) - Two Spanish bishops are celebrating their priestly ordination anniversaries on June 29, the same day that Pope Benedict XVI marks 60 years as a priest.
Bishop Jose Ignacio Munilla of San Sebastian and Bishop Emeritus Jose Maria Setien of the same diocese will celebrate a special Mass at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd on Wednesday evening.

Bishop Munilla will mark his 25th year as a priest, and Bishop Setien will celebrate his 60th year.
Pope Benedict XVI celebrates his 60th anniversary as a priest on June 29, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. 

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New efforts challenge Kyrgyzstan's bride kidnapping epidemic

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Jun 29, 2011 (CNA) - A top human rights advocate hopes that new efforts will end Kyrgyzstan's widespread and violent practice of  “ala-kachuu” or bride kidnapping.

Through education initiatives and better law enforcement, “I believe the practice can be significantly reduced very quickly,” Russell Kleinbach, a professor emeritus in sociology from Philadelphia University, told CNA.

Around one-third of Kyrgyz women today, some as young as 13 years old, are abducted and forced into marriage.

Bride kidnapping in the central Asian country typically involves a young man and his male friends or relatives taking a young woman by force or deception to the home of his parents or a near relative. If the young woman resists the marriage, she is often kept overnight or raped.

This threatens her with the cultural shame of no longer being considered a “pure” or marriageable woman if she manages to escape.

Kleinbach, who co-founded the women's advocacy group, Kyz Korgon Institute, said the practice has had devastating effects on the country's women in recent years. 

“For most, their education stops, their choice of spouse is denied, most lose their choice of occupation and place of residence,” he said.

“All are at increased risk of domestic violence, divorce, and suicide.”

Kidnapping victims often suffer domestic abuse not only from the husband, but also from his family members. Once married, brides can also be expected to take on substantial home or farm-related work and have a household status similar to a servant.

Kleinbach said a common abduction scenario involves a young woman – sometimes an acquaintance or complete stranger of the young man – being taken by force to the abductor's house. Once there, the man's female relatives try to calm the woman and convince her to tie a white wedding scarf on her head. The traditional white shawl is called a “jooluk” and is a symbol of her submission.

Although many of the women try to fight their captors, around 80 percent eventually succumb, often at the urging of their own parents. When the woman agrees, all relatives are notified and a marriage celebration takes place in the following few days.

Kathleen Merkel, who traveled to Kyrgyzstan in 2010 and 2011 for her work with the U.S. bishops' aid agency, Catholic Relief Services, recalled an unsettling experience where she learned about the prevalence of the practice.

“I first heard about bride kidnapping when I was invited to a family wedding out in the village of one of my Kyrgyzstani colleagues,” she told CNA.

As the night went on and it got late, she remembers one of her co-workers calling her to make sure she hadn't been kidnapped.

“I was absolutely certain he was joking until I heard the serious note of concern in his voice,” Merkel said.  

“Like me, he was a foreigner, and unnecessarily alarmed about a context that we did not totally understand – I was having a wonderful time and was treated as an honored guest by my colleague’s family,” she explained. 

“But it was at that rather inopportune moment that I learned that bride kidnapping is actually still practiced in the country.”

“I must admit, I kept my eyes and ears open until all the rowdier revelers had gone home and I was safely tucked in for the night on the family’s comfy floor mattresses.”

Merkel later met a Kyrgystani female college student on a plane. Correctly guessing that Merkel worked for an non-government organization, the young woman asked her if she had come to the country to educate people about bride kidnapping. 

“She proceeded to tell me that growing up, she did not know that bride kidnapping was illegal in Kyrgyztan,” but because of what a human rights group taught her, the girl was able to talk openly with her parents about her fears, Merkel said.  

The young woman told her that it's customary for a girl to write a letter to her parents once she's kidnapped to ask permission to marry the boy. However, the girl’s parents are expected to give their consent, as the she is already in her “new home” by the time her parents are notified.    

“Together she and her parents devised a code,” Merkel said.

“With her newfound knowledge of her legal rights, this girl was able to tell her parents that if she puts a period at the end of the final sentence on the letter, that means that she would indeed really like to stay at her new home and marry this boy.”

However, if she were to leave the period off the sentence, it would be a cry for help, and her parents would come rescue her. 

“Luckily for this girl it never came to that,” Merkel said. 

“To be completely fair, I’m sure there are examples throughout the country of men and women who have started their marriage in this non-consensual way, but have grown to love each other and had a fruitful family life as a result,” said Merkel.

“I just don’t see how the end could justify the means.”

Although the custom allegedly dates several centuries back, Prof. Kleinbach said that prior to the Soviet era in the 1920-90s, the practice of bride kidnapping “was very uncommon and a serious legal and cultural violation.”

But the seizure of private property during Soviet rule caused less family resources for gifts, bride price and dowry – and more freedom of choice in selecting marriage partner. As a result, a benign “consensual kidnapping” between couples started to emerge.

This form of elopement became popular as a less expensive wedding alternative and an effective way to avoid marriages arranged by parents.

However, the practice gradually became more prevalent during the Soviet era and “increasingly non-consensual,” Kleinbach said. 

Given the strong cultural expectation for traditional weddings and expensive gift-giving that still exists today, kidnapping is seen by young men and their families in modern Kyrgyzstan as faster and less pricey.

Kleinbach said the practice is fueled by ignorance on the part of citizens and law enforcement officials that the practice is illegal under Kyrgyz law.

Local laws provide “nominal guarantees” of sexual equality and the government has ratified all major human and gender rights conventions. But often “these laws and conventions are not enforced, and sometimes not even acknowledged as legitimate,” Kleinbach said.

Recently, however, the country's Parliament proposed a law banning marriage without prior registration  and prohibiting marriage of girls under age 16. Kleinbach said a major goal of the bill is to prevent clergy from performing non-consensual kidnap marriages that have not been registered with the state. 

The registry certificates also protect women’s property rights and children born from the marriage.

“If this bill becomes law, information about it will become part of our public education project,” Kleinbach said.  

The Philadelphia University professor also sees signs that the anti-bride kidnapping movement is beginning to gain traction in the country. He points to education programs, demonstrations, TV shows featuring debates on the issue, parliament activity and U.N. convention teams approaching the Kyz Korgon Institute for collaboration.

It also helps that the movement is aided by Kyrgyzstan's relatively high literacy rate, and widespread access to media. 

More recently, protests took place in late May after two local women committed suicide within months of each other as a result of being abducted.

About 200 people gathered in the northern Issyk-Kul Province, home to 20 year-old victims Venera Kasymalieva and Nurzat Kalykova, who were both students.

The rally, called “Spring without Them,” was organized by local women's groups and other activists, who called on authorities and community leaders to put an end to the practice of bride abductions.

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Catholic seminary Washington Theological Union to close in 2013

Washington D.C., Jun 29, 2011 (CNA) - The Catholic graduate school and seminary Washington Theological Union announced on June 27 that its closing at the end of the 2012 - 2013 academic year.

“This was a difficult decision for us, not least because of the excellence of the education and formation our students are receiving,” said board of trustees chair Fr. James Greenfield, OSFS.

“We remain proud of all we’ve accomplished as a community, and of the many successes and contributions our  students, faculty, staff and alumni are making to the Church.”

The Washington, D.C. seminary – which boasts 1,400 religious and lay alumni worldwide – has decided to shut its doors after 40 years, citing financial challenges, low enrollment and a decline in the number of religious vocations.

Earlier this month, the board of trustees decided to close enrollment to new students after September of 2011. Classes will keep going for current students, who will be accommodated so that they can finish their degrees before the end of the 2012 - 2013 academic year. 

The board also said that the seminary's facilities will continue to host nationally recognized conferences and workshops, offer lectures and programs for the Church community and keep its conference center open during this time period. 

“We will enter this final phase with dignity, a sense of accomplishment, and gratitude to God,” said Fr. John Welch, O. Carm., who is a board member and the Provincial of the Chicago Carmelite Province.

“Let this be a time to celebrate the Union's contribution to the Church, to honor the various constituencies that made it possible, and to reaffirm the Union's values, still much needed.”

The school's graduates throughout the years have included bishops, theologians, presidents of universities, missionaries in every part of the world, pastors and lay associates.

Its faculty has also consisted of world renowned scholars, homilists, pastors, pastoral counselors, and spiritual directors.

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Changes to Pakistan’s religious minorities ministry could aid persecutors

Lahore, Pakistan, Jun 29, 2011 (CNA) - The Pakistan government’s plan to abolish its national Ministry for Religious Minorities risks giving a “green light” to persecution and could eliminate the legacy of slain Catholic minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, Church sources in the country say.

“We are disappointed and saddened,” a Lahore priest told Fides news agency about a proposal to split the ministry into provincial divisions. “Thus the rights of Christians will be put further into obscurity and disappear from the national political agenda. We will be even more helpless. For the fundamentalists this will be a 'green light' to new aggression, violence and persecution against Christians.”

Unless there are last-minute changes, the Pakistan government plans the move as part of a “devolution” effort that will begin July 1. The government has said the moves will provide provincial autonomy.

Other ministries involved are the health, environment, sports, food and agriculture, women’s development, and labor and manpower, the Associated Press of Pakistan reports.

One unidentified source in Pakistani politics said that the measure will remove issues about minority rights from the agenda of the central government.

“So this kills the late Minister Shahbaz Bhatti a second time: the first was his physical elimination, the second is to eliminate his project and his political legacy, on which he had dedicated so much time,” the source told Fides.

Ackram Gill, a Catholic who is the present Minister of State for Minorities, has vigorously protested the abolition. He has led a delegation of parliamentarians and politicians in a meeting with Prime Minister Raza Gilani. He has also organized a protest outside of Parliament.

The plan has also faced strong opposition from the Permanent Committee of the Pakistani Parliament for Minority Affairs, and Christians and Hindus have also organized press conferences and public meetings calling for a reconsideration of the decentralization measure.

The project to eliminate the department was already a factor in the reorganization of Pakistan’s cabinet announced in February 2011. However, Bhatti had forestalled that proposal and had obtained strong support from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Bhatti was murdered by Islamic extremists on March 2. He had received death threats from extremists angered by his opposition to the nation’s strict anti-blasphemy law, which prevents any public criticism of Islam or its prophet Muhammad.

Islamabad police are seriously considering closing the case for lack of evidence, but Gill has demanded the formation of a judicial commission to investigate Bhatti’s murder.

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