Oslo, Norway, Jul 22, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Catholics in Norway are shocked by what appears to be a terrorist attack on government headquarters in Oslo that killed at least seven people and injured another 15 on July 22.
“We are so used to being this quiet little nation where nothing like this happens,” said Fr. Paul Bratbak, the communications director for the Diocese of Oslo, in a July 22 interview with CNA.
“It's just too much to take in at the moment.”
Following the explosion, a gunman opened fire at a youth camp connected to Norway's ruling Labour Party, killing at least 20 youth, according to the Associated Press.
Responsibility for the explosion and subsequent shooting remains uncertain, though one terror group, the Helpers of the Global Jihad, issued a statement on July 22 claiming responsibility for the attacks.
In the message, the group said the reason they attacked Norway was because of its military presence in Afghanistan and general insults to Muhammad.
The statement has not been confirmed as authentic, adding to the confusion Fr. Bratbak said many Norwegians are feeling.
Fr. Bratbak said he was driving back from a week-long retreat in the mountains when he heard news of the explosion over the radio.
“It's been a bit of a shock coming back to this after a retreat,” he said. “I was just waking up to the world again.”
After hearing the news, he rushed to get to Oslo.
A road had been blocked off on the side of the cathedral, which is near the government buildings that were destroyed in the explosion.
He said that many of the votive candles in the chapel were lit, evidence of the faithful coming in to pray. There were at least 30 people at evening Mass.
“Everything is so chaotic at the moment still so we are just trying to keep calm and pray,” Fr. Bratbak said.
Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi told CNA July 22 that a statement on the attacks would be released if a religious motivation is confirmed.
Madrid, Spain, Jul 22, 2011 (CNA) -
In August Pope Benedict XVI will visit a Spain that faces aggressive secularism and controversies concerning abortion, sexual ethics and marriage. But World Youth Day organizers hope the event can trigger a revival of faith.
In May Archbishop Jose Ignacio Munilla Aguirre of San Sebastian, Spain said he hopes Bl. John Paul II will inspire the young people of Spain to attend the global youth gathering this August.
“In recent years they have endured years of secularization,” he said of Spain’s youth. “We are praying to John Paul II for his intercession, that he touch the hearts of those who need to be touched so that they will come.”
Pope Benedict XVI, during his two-day November 2010 pilgrimage to Spain, drew on the country’s Christian roots and noted the need “to hear God once again under the skies of Europe.”
That need could be met at the upcoming World Youth Day, where over 420,000 young people from around the world have registered.
But the event will take place during a time of tension caused by a secularizing government and society. Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouco Varela of Madrid in November 2010 said that here has been a “revival of radical secularism” that has prompted laws aimed at the basic institutions of society such as marriage, the family and the right to life.
In October 2009, more than two million people took part in a pro-life march in Madrid to oppose an abortion law that allows abortion on demand up to 14 weeks into pregnancy and for limited abortions up to 22 weeks. However, opponents failed to stop the law.
The country has recognized “gay marriage” since 2005, and the Socialist government has implemented a compulsory school curriculum which has come under many legal challenges. Critics say that the curriculum promotes secularism and sexual immorality, imposes an official view of gender ideology, incites 12-year-olds to engage in sexual activity, and violates the rights of parents and their children.
In a population of over 46 million Spaniards, 42.5 million are Catholic. However, less than 15 percent of the total population participates in Church life.
Even so, the Church still has a significant presence and influence.
There are 22,890 parishes, 126 bishops, and almost 25,000 priests in the country, and over 54,000 vowed religious, 2,800 lay members of secular institutes, and almost 100,000 catechists. There are 1,258 minor seminarians and 1,866 major seminarians.
Over 1.4 million students attend 5,535 institutions of Catholic education, from kindergartens to universities. Church-run institutions include 77 hospitals, 54 clinics, one leper colony, 803 homes for the elderly or disabled, and 391 orphanages and nurseries. The Church also runs 293 family counseling centers and other pro-life centers.
Pope Benedict’s visit will take place from August 18 to 21.
Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jul 22, 2011 (CNA) - An Argentinean couple has sent a letter congratulating Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner for the upcoming birth of her first grandchild. Dr. Luis Aldo Ravaioli and his wife, Maria Margarita, urged the president to translate her joy into a commitment to defend the rights of the unborn against attempts to legalize abortion.
The couple reminded President Kirchner that, “from the moment of conception, and not from implantation, the life of your grandson/daughter began as a new, unique, unrepeatable, defenseless, innocent and weak life, a life that has its own human DNA,” reported AICA news agency.
They called on President Kirchner to consider that “many of your officials and lawmakers of your own party and of the opposition support the decriminalization first and then the legalization of abortion. They use false statistics of maternal mortality, of complications from clandestine abortions and other fallacies and lies that are neither scientific nor reasonable.”
“You will fiercely defend your grandchild, and rightly so. By defending your grandchild, you will defend the mother and the father, and you will be an example of love for unborn life, no matter what its biological condition. And you will be a defender of love for life for the elderly, the terminally ill, the disabled, etc.,” the couple wrote.
They urged President Kirchner to rid her government of “all supporters of the ‘culture of death,’ which ends up becoming the ‘death of the culture’.”
The couple expressed their best wishes for safe and healthy delivery of the baby and happiness upon all members of the Kirchner family.
Argentina's Congress is currently debating a measure that would legalize abortion the country. The bill is supported by President Kirchner.
New Dehli, India, Jul 22, 2011 (CNA) - Thousands of Dalit Christians and Muslims known as the “untouchables” or “slumdogs” of India will gather in the streets of New Delhi to protest for equal societal rights.
From July 25-27, over 5,000 local Muslims and Christians of all denominations will fast publicly, and on July 28, march to the palace of India's federal parliament.
The Dalits or “outcasts” are on the lowest level of the social scale in India. Although the country has formally abolished the caste system, it still lives on in cultural practice and social institutions.
Next week's massive protest has been organized by the National Coordination Committee for Dalit Christians, the National Council of Dalit Christians, and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.
At a population of over 250 million people, Dalits comprise nearly one-quarter of India’s society. According to the international advocacy group the Dalit Freedom Network, the group constitutes the largest number of people categorized as victims of modern-day slavery. They also live at the highest risk of violence and human trafficking in the country.
The term “Dalit” translates to “those who have been broken down deliberately by those above them in the social hierarchy.”
Although all Dalits face discrimination in India, Christians and Muslims encounter additional hardships.
The upcoming protests will call on the government to revise current law to extend equal constitutional rights to Dalit Christians and Muslims.
According to paragraph three of India's Constitution or “Scheduled Castes Order,” the law only grants economic, educational and social advancements for Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits.
Organizers say that because of the the stigmas of untouchability and prejudice, Dalit Christians and Muslims are denied limitless societal opportunities.
But the Catholic bishops of India have said that a bigger obstacle than the constitution is the unwillingness of the country's leaders to extend basic rights to Christian and Mulsim Dalits.
“From what is happening in the political corridor, it is rather evident that it is not the Constitutional mandate which is a hurdle, but the lack of genuine political will of the ruling elite of the country to uphold and concede the Constitutional rights to the Muslim and Christian Dalits,” the bishops wrote in a June 22 online post.
The bishops expressed hope, however, that the protests will increase pressure on government leaders and secure constitutional change.
Minsk, Belarus, Jul 22, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek, the former Archbishop of Minsk who survived nearly a decade in the Soviet Gulag, died on July 21 at the age of 96. He witnessed the persecution of the Catholic faith and its revival in Belarus.
The Catholic Church in Belarus gave thanks to God for the gift of the cardinal as a pastor.
“God summoned his faithful servant, a witness of faith and a symbolic figure of the Catholic Church of our time, who lived a long, difficult and even miserable life,” Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz of Minsk said in an announcement on the Church in Belarus’ website.
The cardinal was born in 1914 in a part of the Russian Empire which is now in Estonia. With his entire family, he was deported in the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution. His family settled in Poland in 1922. In 1932 he entered a seminary in the city of Pinsk and he was ordained just before World War II.
He was imprisoned by the invading Soviets but escaped when Hitler attacked in 1941, Polish Radio reports.
After the Soviets returned, the future cardinal was deported to Siberia in 1945. He spent nine years of hard labor in the brutal Gulag system until his release in 1954.
He returned to Pinsk, now part of the Belarusian Socialist Soviet Republic, where repression of the Catholic Church would remain strong until the late 1980s.
When freedom of worship began to return, then-Fr. Swiatek helped organize the restoration of the cathedral in Pinsk. He also became active in working with nascent Polish associations.
Pope John Paul II appointed him bishop in 1989, and then the Archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev in 1991.
In 1994 he was made a cardinal as a result of his work on the revival of the Church in Eastern Europe. Though he retired in 2006, he remained active and respected.
Cardinal Swiatek suffered from poor health towards the end of his life and underwent several operations which Archbishop Kondrusiewicz characterized as a “new Golgotha.”
“From my heart I thank all those who were close to the cardinal in the difficult moments of his life and prayed for his intentions,” Archbishop Kondrusiewicz continued.
“I appeal to all of you, dear pastors, nuns and faithful people to pray for the eternal peace of our beloved pastor, that he be happy in heaven, living in the light of God's glory.
Funeral Masses for the cardinal will be held in the Archdiocese of Minsk and in Pinsk from July 23 to 25.
Los Angeles, Calif., Jul 22, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The July 22 Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene is a time to recall the holy woman’s life and her “beautiful story” of God’s life-changing love and mercy for everyone, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles said. He contrasted her life with an American culture that is “quick to condemn.”
“God is kind and merciful. There is no one who is beyond the pale of his redemption. There is no one whom God cannot redeem and use for his purposes,” the archbishop wrote in his July 22 column for the archdiocesan paper The Tidings.
“I worry sometimes that we might be forgetting that in society,” he added.
The archbishop cited people who seem “so angry and judgmental” on the Internet, the radio and television.
“Everywhere in our culture, people seem so quick to condemn. It is very hard to find words of mercy or understanding for someone who has done something wrong,” he said, noting that there are “many good people out there saying things they know they shouldn’t be saying.”
He recounted Mary Magdalene’s life and how she was possessed by seven demons until Jesus set her free.
She believed Jesus’ promises that “no matter what sins we have in our lives, God is ready to forgive.”
God turned her into “a great witness of his love.” Though the apostles and other followers of Jesus ran away when he was arrested, she did not run and stood by him during his trials and sufferings, and execution.
She helped take Jesus’ body from the cross and readied it for burial. She was the first witness to his resurrection from the dead.
Mary Magdalene, the Los Angeles archbishop observed, experienced in her own life the “healing power of Christ’s tender mercy.”
At the same time, he acknowledged that it is hard for people to believe that God can love everyone. “But he does! God cares for you very deeply. And he cares for the greatest sinner just as deeply,” he said.
“People make mistakes. They sin. Some people do evil that causes scandal and grave harm. We can condemn the offense and work for justice — without trying to destroy the person who committed the sin,” the archbishop added.
“We need to reject every temptation to shame or condemn people. Let us never be the cause of turning someone away from seeking God’s forgiveness and redemption.”
Christians’ job is to help sinners find Jesus Christ, who alone can set them free from their demons.
“Let us pray for one another this week,” the archbishop concluded, saying we should ask the Virgin Mary to “give us a faith like Mary Magdalene and hearts to forgive.”
Avila, Spain, Jul 22, 2011 (CNA/Europa Press) - The World Congress of Catholic Universities will be held August 12-14 in the Spanish city of Avila. The event will bring together 90 university representatives from 40 countries.
The conference will be an opportunity to “reflect on the role that Catholic universities play in the world” and their contribution to present-day society,” explained the event director Rosario Saez Yuguero.
Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of the Vatican's congregation for Catholic Education, will inaugurate the event and Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela of Madrid will preside at the closing ceremonies.
On August 19, a group of rectors, professors and students from the congress will meet with Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Spain for World Youth Day.
The congress will include various activities including a sound and light show on August 13 on Avila’s famous wall, near the site where Pope John Paul II celebrated a Mass in 1982 during his visit to the city.