Archive of July 24, 2011

Society depends on well-formed consciences, Pope says

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Jul 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Pope Benedict reflected today on King Solomon's choice to ask God for a well-formed conscience, a gift that the pontiff said is essential for societies and people to become truly good.

“In reality, the true quality of our own life and that of society depends on a person’s rightly formed conscience, and on everyone’s capacity to recognize good, separating it from evil, and to try and bring it about patiently to contribute to the cause of justice and peace,” the Pope said.

Politicians, he added, “naturally have more responsibilities, and thus, as Solomon teaches, need God’s help even more.”

The Pope made his remarks just before reciting the traditional noontime Angelus prayer at Castel Gandolfo. His reflection was based on today's first Mass reading, which comes from the book of Kings.

In the reading, King Solomon asks God for an “understanding heart,” which the Pope said can be understood as “a conscience that knows how to listen, which is sensitive to the voice of truth, and therefore is able to discern good from evil.”

Although Solomon's request was motivated by his role as the king of Israel, Pope Benedict noted that his example applies to everyone.

The Pope said that each person has a conscience so that he can, in a sense, act as a “king.” People are able to exercise this royal command by choosing to follow their conscience, doing good and avoiding evil.

He brought his remarks to a close by asking the Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom, to help people form “a conscience always open and sensitive to the truth, to justice, to serve the Kingdom of God.”

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Abandon the logic of evil, Pope pleads after Oslo attacks

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Jul 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI issued a “heartfelt” plea to all on Sunday, following the terrorist attacks in Norway. He called on everyone to “abandon forever the path of hatred and escape from the logic of evil,” as he offered his prayers for the victims and their families.

The Pope said that the news of the bombing in downtown Oslo and the subsequent shooting at a youth camp caused him deep sorrow and left him grief-stricken.

Catholics in Norway are feeling much the same way.

“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.”

The July 22 attacks began when Anders Behring Breivik—by his own admission—detonated a car bomb at the government headquarters in downtown Oslo. That attack took the lives of seven people and injured many more.

Hours later Breivik appeared at a youth camp for the children of the political Labour Party on Utoya Island and, dressed as a policeman, began a shooting spree. The number of dead stands at 86 as of Sunday, according to Norwegian police.

Police are questioning Breivik, but his motive for carrying out the terrorist attacks remains unclear.

Norwegians gathered Sunday at the Church of Norway's Olso Cathedral for a memorial service that was attended by the country's king and queen.

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Police officers turn to God in stressful job

Omaha, Neb., Jul 24, 2011 (CNA) - Driving to the autopsy of an 8-month-old girl killed by her mother's boyfriend, Omaha Police Sgt. Nicolas Yanez pulled over and prayed.

"I didn't think I would make it," Yanez said of feeling sad and overwhelmed. "Being the father of two daughters myself, it was difficult. I really had to pray: 'why am I being put in this position?' I decided God wanted me to do this job, and he would give me strength."

That kind of prayer life sustains Yanez, a member of St. Mary Parish in Bellevue, and countless other police officers - Catholics and those of other faiths - in squad rooms in Omaha, Nebraska,  across the archdiocese and around the country.

For many officers in the archdiocese it is a private faith practice, shared at critical times though not organized in any way. But it helps officers treat everyone - including suspects accused of horrendous crimes - with dignity and respect, Yanez said.

"Basically, it's treating people the Christian way," Yanez said. "You don't want to abuse your authority. You don't want to mistreat people. It doesn't mean we'll compromise our safety. But we can do it in a way that is not demeaning, and not brute force."

Faith often is part of training police officers, said Brenda Urbanek, deputy director of training with the Nebraska Law Enforcement Center in Grand Island.

Studies indicate a strong faith helps people weather stressful situations and recover from them more quickly, she said.

"It's something I bring up in training, in one of the first classes for recruits," Urbanek said.

Although there are no chapters in the Omaha archdiocese, the importance of faith to police officers also is reflected in national, ecumenical organizations that have formed to support them, including the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers (FCPO) and the Centurion Law Enforcement Ministry, which is affiliated with the FCPO.

"I think if you asked officers, many would say faith is a big part of their lives," said Lamar Moore, executive director of the FCPO.

Moore and Steve Norden, chairman of the public relations committee of the International Conference of Police Chaplains, said they didn't know what percentage of police officers around the country claim a religious faith. But U.S. Census data indicates about 80 percent of adults lay claim to a religious community, and about 75 percent are Christians.

Police officers probably track with the general population, but the intensity of their job might drive the number of religious claimants a bit higher, Norden said.

"The reality is police work brings one into contact with some of the worst elements of life," Norden said. "Some grow deeper in their faith because of that, some become more jaundiced."

Child abuse, homicides, robberies, drug trafficking, gang violence, sexual crime - it can be a long and difficult litany of crime and punishment.

Omaha Police Sgt. Jeff Baker, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Omaha, said it took more than a year, but family and friends, faith and frequent confessions helped him learn to forgive after Robbie Hawkins shot and killed eight people and wounded four before killing himself four years ago in the Von Maur store at Westroads Mall in Omaha.

"I was the third man in the door that day," Baker said. "The scene was the worst I have ever taken in during 23 years as a police officer. I had a murderous feeling toward Robbie Hawkins."

Trying to understand the demons that drove Hawkins also helped, he said.

"I had to confess a lot of times," he said. "And during confession, I believe there is a grace you receive."

Now, Baker said, he prays for Hawkins.

"The moment that bullet passed through his brain, I hope and pray that he had a moment of repentance, and now he is in heaven on his knees, praying for those he hurt and the families of those he killed," Baker said.

To help keep faith foremost in his mind, Omaha Lt. Gregg Barrios takes time about once a week while supervising officers on patrol to visit a church and light a candle, pray or attend Mass.

"If I can keep God in my life, at work, at play, I can be a better police officer, a better father and a better husband," said Barrios, a member of Church of the Holy Spirit Parish in Plattsmouth.

Yanez said faith enters conversations among officers who are struggling, and even when police question suspects.

"'What do you think God was thinking?'" Yanez said he might ask a suspect during an interrogation. People with some religious feeling often reflect, he said, and sometimes confess to a crime.

"'I won't do this for you,' they might say, 'but I'll do this for God.'"

Yanez, who now works at police headquarters and helps investigate crimes on the north side of Omaha, wore a medal of St. Michael, the patron saint of police officers, while working on the street as part of the narcotics unit several years ago. Suspects would sometimes comment on the medal, he said.

"I'd tell them I'm a Catholic and I believe I'm here to protect people from what you're doing," Yanez said, adding that it was time he got back to wearing that medal.

Sgt. Alan Reyes, 43, said his Catholic faith has helped him through 17 years as an Omaha police officer, including his own crisis - chemotherapy 12 years ago for cancer of the lymph system - as well as challenges at work.

Early in his career, Reyes said, a suspect died while he and other officers were trying to arrest him. A grand jury investigation found for the police, and a wrongful death lawsuit against the officers failed.

But it was stressful, said Reyes, a member of Holy Rosary Parish in Glenwood, Iowa.

"I prayed to God, to let him have the worry," he said. "I had to realize that we're not always in control. That's difficult overall for police, not to be in control."

The kind of faith that helped Reyes also gave Yanez the strength he needed to get through that autopsy two years ago. As chief investigating officer, he had to be there in case it produced any clues - and the autopsy did provide critical information, Yanez said. In the end, the suspect pleaded no contest to child abuse resulting in death. This month, he was sentenced to 22 years to 25 years in prison.

"It was amazing the strength I had through this," Yanez said of the fruits of his prayer. "It was very difficult. But I was able to be professional and remain on track with the task."

Printed with permission from the Catholic Voice, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Omaha, Neb.

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Chinese government will ordain more bishops, leader says

Beijing, China, Jul 24, 2011 (CNA) - China’s state-backed Patriotic Catholic Association will ordain more bishops without papal approval when “conditions are right,” a top leader in the organization said.

Bishop Joseph Guoa Jincai of Chengde, vice-chairman of the group, told the state-run China Daily newspaper that local churches are preparing for the ordinations of bishops in seven dioceses.

He did not provide a schedule for the ordinations, saying preliminary work is “complicated” and involves various parties. Candidates must submit applications to the local commission of religious affairs for approval, while bishops from other dioceses have to coordinate schedules.

Fr. Joseph Huang Bingzhang was illicitly ordained as bishop of Shantou in China’s southern Guangdong province on July 14.

In response, the Vatican declared that he incurred an automatic excommunication and lacks authority to govern the diocese.

Vatican expert Sandro Magister said Church authorities have “prudently” indicated that only the newly ordained have definitely incurred excommunication.

“For the consecrating bishops, they are suspending judgment until they ascertain whether they acted freely or under constraint,” Magister said in his July 24 column on his website “Chiesa.”

However, the participating bishops are presumed to be culpable, and they too will not be able to exercise their episcopal ministry until they prove they acted under compulsion. Priests and faithful will have to avoid receiving the sacraments administered by them, he wrote.

Magister characterized the dispute as centered upon whether bishops are united to the successor of Peter or are created to act as officials of the Chinese government.

Bishop Huang Bingzhang’s ordination was the third illicit ceremony in nine months.

Anthony Lam, senior researcher at the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, told the BBC News that the bishops ordained without papal approval had no credibility within the diocese and were unable to work effectively.

The government “interferes” and wants bishop candidates to be ‘limited to their preference.”

The consecration of these bishops is “harmful and painful to the Catholic Church,” Lam added.

The Chinese government has said there are about 40 dioceses in need of new bishops and they have pledged to appoint bishops with or without papal approval.

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Sts. Joachim and Anne, parents of the Virgin Mary, honored July 26

Denver, Colo., Jul 24, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - On July 26 the Roman Catholic Church commemorates the parents of the Virgin Mary, Saints Joachim and Anne. The couple's faith and perseverance brought them through the sorrow of childlessness, to the joy of conceiving and raising the immaculate and sinless woman who would give birth to Christ.

The New Testament contains no specific information about the lives of the Virgin Mary's parents, but other documents outside of the Biblical canon do provide some details. Although these writings are not considered authoritative in the same manner as the Bible, they outline some of the Church's traditional beliefs about Joachim, Anne and their daughter.

The “Protoevangelium of James,” which was probably put into its final written form in the early second century, describes Mary's father Joachim as a wealthy member of one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Joachim was deeply grieved, along with his wife Anne, by their childlessness. “He called to mind Abraham,” the early Christian writing says, “that in the last day God gave him a son Isaac.”

Joachim and Anne began to devote themselves to rigorous prayer and fasting, in isolation from one another and from society. They regarded their inability to conceive a child as a surpassing misfortune, and a sign of shame among the tribes of Israel.

As it turned out, however, the couple were to be blessed even more abundantly than Abraham and Sarah. An angel revealed this to Anne when he appeared to her and prophesied that all generations would honor their future child: “The Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth; and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.”

After Mary's birth, according to the Protoevangelium of James, Anne “made a sanctuary” in the infant girl's room, and “allowed nothing common or unclean” on account of the special holiness of the child. The same writing records that when she was one year old, her father “made a great feast, and invited the priests, and the scribes, and the elders, and all the people of Israel.”

“And Joachim brought the child to the priests,” the account continues, “and they blessed her, saying: 'O God of our fathers, bless this child, and give her an everlasting name to be named in all generations' … And he brought her to the chief priests; and they blessed her, saying: 'O God most high, look upon this child, and bless her with the utmost blessing, which shall be forever.'”

The protoevangelium goes on to describe how Mary's parents, along with the temple priests, subsequently decided that she would be offered to God as a consecrated Virgin for the rest of her life, and enter a chaste marriage with the carpenter Joseph.

St. Joachim and St. Anne have been a part of the Church's liturgical calendar for many centuries. Devotion to their memory is particularly strong in the Eastern Catholic churches, where their intercession is invoked by the priest at the end of each Divine Liturgy. The Eastern churches, however, celebrate Sts. Joachim and Anne on a different date, Sept. 9.

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