Archive of October 7, 2011

Brazilian city hosts world's largest Marian procession

Belém do Pará, Brazil, Oct 7, 2011 (CNA) -

On the evening of Oct. 4, two million people began converging on the city of Belém in the northeastern state of Pará, Brazil, for the largest Marian festival in the world.

The Cirio de Nazaré procession brings Catholics from all over Brazil to show their devotion to Our Lady of Nazareth. Pilgrims spend several hours processing through the streets of Belém, the Portuguese translation for Bethlehem.

The Brazilian bishops said in a statement released earlier this week that putting on another edition of the biggest Catholic celebration in Brazil brings them joy.

“The Cirio is the Family Feast! It is the fellowship! It is the great collective effort to ‘fill the jars with water,’ so that Jesus may turn it into wine, the new wine of peace, justice and commitment to the cause of the Gospel,” they said.

On Oct. 5, dozens of parish groups, lay Catholic movements, and pastoral ministries from the Archdiocese of Belém began a 48-hour session of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament in preparation for the Sunday, Oct. 9 procession.

The procession will depart from the Cathedral of Belém and make its way along a two-mile route to the Shrine of Our Lady of Nazareth. At the shrine, the Virgin's image will be on display for the thousands of faithful who come from all over Brazil to express their devotion and give thanks for graces achieved through her intercession.

The longest procession in the history of the Cirio de Nazaré was over nine hours long.

The devotion to Our Lady of Nazareth began in Portugal. The original image belonged to the Monastery of the Virgin of Caulina, Spain, and according to a popular belief, was originally sculpted in Nazareth by Saint Joseph himself and later taken to Europe.

The history of the procession goes back to 1792, when the Vatican authorized a procession in honor of the Virgin of Nazareth in Belém do Pará.

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HHS director accuses Republicans of demeaning 'women's health'

Washington D.C., Oct 7, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Health and Human Services director Kathleen Sebelius accused Republicans of stifling women's health by opposing Planned Parenthood funding as well as contraception coverage under insurance plans.

Congressional GOP leaders “want to roll back the last 50 years in progress women have made in comprehensive health care in America,” Sebelius said at a NARAL Pro-Choice America event in Chicago on Oct. 5.

“We’ve come a long way in women’s health over the last few decades, but we are in a war,” she told a crowd of around 300 at the 17th annual “Chicago Power of Choice” luncheon.

Sebelius has faced intense criticism in recent weeks from religious leaders after she announced federal rules that will require nearly all new health plans, including those of most religious agencies, to cover all government-approved methods of contraception as well as surgical sterilization.

The guidelines, which were created in response to the 2010 health care law, require new health insurance plans to cover what it calls “women’s preventive services.” These include breastfeeding support, domestic violence screening and contraception without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible.

The U.S. bishops, 19 Catholic universities and colleges and numerous other Catholic organizations have reacted strongly against the proposition.

Religious exemptions under the new rules are so narrow that they could force Catholic charities, health care providers and educational institutions to cover services they regard as immoral, warned Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, Texas.

The only situation where Catholic institutions would be free to act in accord with their religious beliefs is “if they were to stop hiring and serving non-Catholics,” said the cardinal, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ committee on pro-life activities.

Around 40 protestors from the local Pro-Life Action League took to the Chicago streets outside the luncheon on Oct. 5 with graphic photos of aborted babies and signs reading, “NARAL: Stop the War on Unborn Women.”

Sebelius made reference to the demonstrators in her address, calling the protestors' display “a discomfort when you’re coming to lunch.”

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Supreme Court asks: could discrimination claim force female priests?

Washington D.C., Oct 7, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

A Lutheran teacher's lawsuit led to a provocative question being asked in the Supreme Court on Oct. 5: could government efforts to end job discrimination jeopardize the all-male Catholic priesthood?

The case pitting the commission against Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School does not directly concern the issue of women and the priesthood. But justices were quick to connect the matter at hand – involving the Lutheran group's right to hire and fire ministers at their discretion – with the issue of Catholics' and other groups' right to determine who will exercise ministries.

Wednesday's case first arose when Cheryl Perich, who taught religious and secular subjects, was fired from a position the Lutherans considered a religious ministry.

Perich, who had narcolepsy, claimed she was illegally fired as a form of retaliation for threatening to pursue a legal complaint against the school under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says a traditional “ministerial exception,” allowing churches freedom in hiring and firing, does not apply to this case.

Hosanna-Tabor, however, says it fired Perich from her teaching ministry not in retaliation, but on religious grounds. They say the fourth-grade teacher lost her job for refusing to submit to an in-house dispute resolution process , thereby violating the church's interpretation of a biblical passage that discourages Christians from suing one another.

“The (Obama) administration has taken a very extreme position,” said Becket Fund Legal Counsel Luke Goodrich, who is leading the religious freedom group's work on the Hosanna-Tabor case. He said the administration was “attacking the very existence of the ministerial exception,” such that “even the pastor of a church could sue the church for employment discrimination.”

“There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the outcome of this case,” Goodrich told CNA Oct. 3, “because the Supreme Court has not decided a case involving the autonomy of religious groups in many years.”

The Justice Department holds that the Lutherans cannot fire Perich for complaining to the government even if church teaching forbids it.

And it was this question – when might the government's interest in preventing discrimination trump a religious group's principles? – that prompted the justices to ask the attorney for the government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during Oct. 5 oral arguments why female priests could not be mandated by the government on similar grounds. 

“The belief of the Catholic Church that priests should be male only – you do defer to that, even if the Lutherans say, look, our dispute resolution belief is just as important to a Lutheran as the all-male clergy is to a Catholic?” asked Chief Justice John Roberts, questioning Leodra Kruger, the U.S. solicitor general's assistant who represented the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

“Yes,” Kruger responded. “But that's because the balance of relative public and private interests is different in each case.”

“Do you believe, Miss Kruger, that a church has a right that's grounded in the Free Exercise Clause and/or the Establishment Clause to institutional autonomy with respect to its employees?” asked Justice Elena Kagan.

“We don't see that line of church autonomy principles in the religion clause jurisprudence as such,” the federal government's attorney replied.

Kruger also said the ministerial exception to discrimination laws was not simply a part of the First Amendment's guarantee of the “free exercise of religion.”

Justice Scalia then pressed Kruger on the difference between ordinary “associations” – subject to a range of anti-discrimination laws – and religious ones.

“There is nothing in the Constitution that explicitly prohibits the government from mucking around in a labor organization,” said Justice Scalia, “but there, black on white in the text of the Constitution are special protections for religion. And you say that makes no difference?”

Kruger's response included her explanation of what the government considers “the core of the ministerial exception as it was originally conceived … which is that there are certain relationships within a religious community that are so fundamental, so private and ecclesiastical in nature, that it will take an extraordinarily compelling governmental interest to (allow) just interference.”

But Justice Breyer pushed the federal government's attorney to say how far she believed the protection extended.

“Suppose you have a religion and the central tenet is: 'You have a problem with what we do, go to the synod; don't go to court,'” he asked. “So would that not be protected by the First Amendment?”

“It's not protected,” Kruger responded.

The government attorney went on to attack Hosanna-Tabor's use of the ministerial exception, which she said would mean “ that the hiring and firing decisions with respect to parochial school teachers and with respect to priests is categorically off limits” to federal regulators.

“We think that that is a rule that is insufficiently attentive to the relative public and private interests at stake,” she said, citing “interests that this Court has repeatedly recognized are important in determining freedom of association claims.”

It was then that Breyer sprung the question of whether a woman might sue over her exclusion from the Catholic priesthood, on the same basis that Perich was suing over a religiously-grounded termination.

Kruger said the two situations were different – not categorically, but rather because “the private and public interests are very different in the two scenarios.”

“The government's general interest in eradicating discrimination in the workplace is simply not sufficient to justify changing the way that the Catholic Church chooses its priests, based on gender roles that are rooted in religious doctrine,” she said.

But, she said, the government does have a “compelling and indeed overriding interest in ensuring that individuals are not prevented from coming to the government with information about illegal conduct,” even if the church in question would prohibit its members from doing so on religious grounds.

Justice Samuel Alito pointed out that this distinction between the Lutherans' lawsuit prohibition on the one hand, and the Catholic Church's male priesthood on the other, seemed arbitrary.

Kruger's clearest articulation of the Obama administration's position on religious freedom came in response to Justice Kagan's question as to whether she was “willing to accept the ministerial exception for substantive discrimination claims, just not for retaliation claims.”

The government's lawyer responded that “substantive discrimination” claims, such as those alleging sex discrimination, could also be legitimate grounds for a lawsuit against some religious institutions.

She said the government's interest in regulating Hosanna-Tabor's hiring and firing “extends … beyond the fact that this is a retaliation, to the fact that this is not a church operating internally to promulgate and express religious belief.”

“It is a church that has decided to open its doors to the public to provide the socially beneficial service of educating children for a fee, in compliance with state compulsory education laws,” she said, drawing a sharp distinction between churches and religious ministries.

“Church-operated schools,” Kruger stated, “sit in a different position with respect to the permissible scope of governmental regulations, than churches themselves do.”

The court is expected to hand down its ruling by summer of 2012.

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Uruguayan bishops encourage participation in Marian pilgrimage

Montevideo, Uruguay, Oct 7, 2011 (CNA) - The bishops of Uruguay are encouraging the country's Catholics to participate in a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of the 33.

The Bishops’ Conference of Uruguay issued a press release reiterating the invitation the bishops made last August to take part in the Marian procession.

The event will take place on Sunday, Nov. 13.
The bishops said the pilgrimage will be the culmination of the events organized by the Church throughout the year to celebrate Uruguay’s bicentennial. It will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Pontifical Coronation of the statue of Our Lady of the 33, which took place on March 8, 1961.
One year later, Our Lady of the 33 was named patroness of Uruguay.
“We shall take part in this encounter with our mother at the place where our country was proclaimed free,” the bishops said. 
On April 19, 1825, a group of 33 Uruguayans launched the country’s move for independence from Spain after praying before a small wooden statue of the Virgin Mary. The statue is now venerated in the Uruguayan city of Florida.

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US students remind Romans of Our Lady of the Rosary feast

Vatican City, Oct 7, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) -

A joyful group of young American Catholics spent today on pilgrimage to Rome’s four ancient basilicas, singing the Rosary in Latin for the Feast Day of Our Lady of the Rosary as they went. 

“We’re doing this to celebrate the feast day today and as a pilgrimage,” said 19-year-old Jonathan Wanner from Mandan, N.D. He was leading the procession with a five-foot cross made of palm leaves.

Braving the Roman rain, the party of 10 filed behind Wanner and his cross, each wearing a bandanna and greeting locals with a wave and cry of “Buona Festa!” or “Happy Feast day!” On the whole, the Romans responded in kind.

The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was instituted by Pope Pius V in 1571 to honor the Blessed Virgin for her help in winning the naval battle at Lepanto in the Mediterranean. The conflict saw a coalition of Catholic maritime states decisively defeat the main fleet of the Muslim Ottoman Empire.
“If they hadn’t been victorious, then Europe would have been destroyed and Catholic culture in Europe would be non-existent,” said 19-year-old Elizabeth Rochon from near Detroit,Mich. “And it’s though the intercession of Mary that we were victorious,” she added.
Amidst the singing of the Rosary, psalms and Marian hymns, there was also time for poetry courtesy of 20-year-old John Audino from Albany, N.Y. He offered his rendition of G.K. Chesterton’s “Lepanto.”
“I love the poem. It has a great rhythm to it,” said Audino, who first learned it in high school. He described it as “a very epic poem” that gives “a very good portrayal of Europe at that time” which also carries lessons for Europe today.
“I believe that Europe really needs to go back to Our Lady because Christ came into the world through Our Lady, and it’s only through Our Lady that we can go to Christ.”

The group was drawn from three Catholic colleges in the U.S.--Thomas More College in New Hampshire, Ave Maria University in Florida and Aquinas College in Michigan. Each of the students is part of a larger group spending a semester in Rome as part of their studies.
“I think the young who are really getting involved in their faith now are really getting involved in the Rosary,” said 25-year-old Corinne Mannella from Somerville, N.J., “And I think a lot of that is thanks to Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict who have really encouraged young people to grow close to Our Lady and to grow in holiness.”

“I find the Rosary a way to come closer to Christ through the eyes of Mary,” said 20-year-old Deidre Littleton from Chicago. “I find it a really soothing prayer actually.”

At the rear and carrying the home-made banner depicting Our Lady surrounded by the four key Roman Basilicas was 22-year-old Adam Kubiak from Albany, N.Y. He likes to “pray the Rosary as a meditative prayer, getting lost in the repetition.” He also likes to attach a special intention to each mystery.

CNA caught up with the group just as they had completed their visit to St. Peter’s Basilica. The group had already made it to St. Paul Outside the Walls and was set to visit St. John Lateran and, finally, St. Mary Major. The deadline for completion of the pilgrimage was 2 p.m., when the group planned to catch a train to Assisi – for another pilgrimage.

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Possible contraception link to HIV spread in Africa

Seattle, Wash., Oct 7, 2011 (CNA) -

Contraceptive use in Africa may increase the risk of acquiring HIV for both men and women, a new study says.

HIV-negative women who use hormonal contraception injections have nearly twice the risk of contracting HIV, while the HIV-negative male partners of infected women also face an increased risk.

The study, led by University of Washington researchers, was published in The Lancet Infections Diseases journal. It involved 3,800 couples in Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In each couple, either the man or the woman was already infected.

The study could mean that the promotion of hormonal contraception in Africa has inadvertently fueled the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The progestin hormone in injectable contraceptives appears to have a physiological effect. Researchers said it could cause immunological changes in a woman’s genitals or could increase the virus’ ability to replicate.

Oral contraceptives also appeared to increase the risk of infection and transmission, but the number of contraceptive pill users was too small to be statistically significant.

There are about 12 million women between ages 15 and 49 in sub-Saharan Africa use injectable contraceptives. The injectable contraceptives used were probably generic versions of Depo-Provera, the researchers said.

Isobel Coleman, director of the women and foreign policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations told the New York Times that if it is proven that contraceptives help spread the AIDS epidemic “we have a major health crisis on our hands.”

Mary Lyn Gaffield, an epidemiologist in the World Health Organization’s department of reproductive health and research, said the organization would be re-evaluating its clinical recommendations on contraceptive use.

“We want to make sure that we warn when there is a real need to warn, but at the same time we don’t want to come up with a hasty judgment that would have far-reaching severe consequences for the sexual and reproductive health of women,” she told the New York Times.

Researchers cautioned that study participants’ contraceptive use was self-reported and the study itself was not designed to examine the contraception issue.

Backers of contraception, in an article accompanying the study, said that curtailing contraception could result in increased maternal mortality and morbidity, more low-weight babies and orphans.

Kenya’s Director of Public Health Shahnaaz Sharif on Oct. 5 said that the contraceptives are “perfectly safe” and cited other studies showing that HIV risk increases with pregnancy and that previous studies have not shown an increased risk among contraceptive users.

Dr. Edward C. Green, president and director of the New Paradigm Research Fund, told CNA Oct. 6 that many experts in the field of family planning do not see this latest study as “the last word on the matter” and there is a “complex debate” around these issues.

“When we are talking about poor, malnourished overworked African women, for example, the evidence shows that the health and even survival of both mothers and their babies is greatly increased if births can be spaced by three or four years, as opposed to a woman having a baby every year until she drops, exhausted or dead, or her babies are born underweight or have other serious problems,” he said.

But, Green cautioned, “there are tradeoffs.”

If hormonal contraceptives cause increased vulnerability to HIV infection, he said, that would “certainly be a big tradeoff for Africans or anyone else where HIV infection rates are high.”

Green, an anthropologist and former director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, said the New Paradigm Fund grew out of the Harvard project. His organization has “strong views” on AIDS prevention.

“Basically, neither condoms nor drugs are the solution, especially in Africa, where I have done most of my professional work,” he said.

The New Paradigm Fund advocates “behavior prevention strategies” such as changing sexual behavior or reinforcing positive behaviors, instead of advocating more condoms, testing or drugs.

It is a “big mistake” for AIDS funding to go to technology-based prevention strategies and to keep that funding from religious organizations, he added.

Most people become infected through having multiple and concurrent sexual partners and by starting sexual intercourse at an earlier age, he explained.

Religious organizations are “closer to the real solution” in advocating fidelity to one partner at a time and delaying sexual debut than the technology promoted by the United Nations, the United States, the World Bank, the European Union and other global leaders, he said.

Green expands on his criticisms and recommendations about AIDS prevention in his book “Broken Promises: How the AIDS Establishment Has Betrayed the Developing World.”

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Indonesia can be beacon of religious freedom, Pope says

Vatican City, Oct 7, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI told Indonesia’s bishops Oct. 7 that their country can be a shining example of religious freedom for the rest of the world.

“Your country, so rich in its cultural diversity and possessed of a large population, is home to significant numbers of followers of various religious traditions,” observed the Pope.

“Thus, the people of Indonesia are well-placed to make important contributions to the quest for peace and understanding among the peoples of the world.”

The Pope was addressing the Indonesian Episcopal Conference at the end of their regular “ad limina” visit aimed at updating the pontiff and Vatican officials on the health of the Church in the vast Asian country.

According to the 2010 census, 85 percent of Indonesia’s 245 million people are Muslim, with Christians making up only 13 percent. Only about a quarter of those Christians are Catholic. There are also smaller but significant numbers of Hindus, Buddhists and Confucians.

Despite such a religious mix, the Pope noted, “Indonesia’s constitution guarantees the fundamental human right of freedom to practice one’s religion.”

But the Pope also stressed that religious tolerance is not the same as religious indifference, because “religious freedom” is not “merely a right to be free from outside constraints.” It is also “a right to be authentically and fully Catholic,” including “inviting everyone to intimacy with the God of mercy and compassion made manifest in Jesus Christ,” he said.

“In everything,” he urged, the Church in Indonesia should “strive to make the Triune God known and loved through Jesus Christ.” 

This “courageous witness,” he told the bishops, will “also strengthen Indonesian society by promoting those values that your fellow citizens hold dear: tolerance, unity and justice for all citizens.”

The religious harmony of Indonesia has been shaken in recent years by the rise of fringe Islamist groups. The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need has reported an increase in violence against Christians since 2009, ranging from church buildings being burnt down to Muslim fundamentalists forcing Easter services to be cancelled.

Pope Benedict said Christians should always model their response to such incidents on Jesus Christ who “suffered unjustly” and “taught us to respond in all situations with forgiveness, mercy and love in truth.” 

As already happens in Indonesia, he said the Church should work in tandem with other religions where possible, since “common endeavours for the upbuilding of society will be of great value when they strengthen friendships and overcome misunderstanding or distrust.”

He concluded by observing that just as Indonesia is “composed of thousands of islands; so too the Church in Indonesia is made up of thousands of Christian communities,” which he described as “islands of Christ’s presence.”

The Pope encouraged Indonesia’s Christians to “always be united in faith, hope and love” to each other and imparted his apostolic blessing.

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Catholic Church responds to Horn of Africa crisis

Vatican City, Oct 7, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Catholic Church has announced a range of humanitarian initiatives to help alleviate the consequences of drought, hunger and armed conflict in the Horn of Africa.

“Having lived and worked in this part of Africa for over 35 years I am deeply saddened to witness again a tragedy of biblical proportions that is unfolding,” said Ken Hackett, President of Catholic Relief Services at an Oct. 7 Vatican press conference.

“I thank the Holy Father for calling the Church’s and the world's attention to the plight of hungry and distressed people across the Horn,” he said.

The Horn of Africa refers to the group of countries situated on the Somali peninsula in the northeastern part of the continent. The region includes Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia.All three states plus Kenya, which borders to the south, are currently facing severe drought.

Somalia is also affected by conflict and a lack of government, leading to hundreds of thousands fleeing the country to neighboring states. The U.N. estimates that some 13 million people are now in need of emergency assistance.

“The Holy Father is supporting efforts made by local churches in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti, donating $ 400,000 for preliminary assistance to victims, while special collections have been made at parishes in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France and Ireland,” Cardinal Robert Sarah, President of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” told the press conference. Globally, the amount given by the Catholic Church so far totals over $81 million.

That money is going towards “food aid, supplies of tents, medicine and first aid, and supplying water,” said Michel Roy, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella body for the 164 Catholic relief services around the world.

He said water is of immediate importance for improving hygiene and sanitation. Roy also added that “spiritual and psychological care” were also crucial as “these people also need a human response beyond the material response.”

Cardinal Sarah said the present situation is one of the main concerns of Pope Benedict XVI, who has made various appeals to the international community in the past few months, most recently during his Oct. 5 general audience.
“The millions of displaced persons who are currently wandering in an attempt to survive, will become tomorrow's refugees, illegal migrants, stateless persons, people without a home, job or community,” said Cardinal Sarah. He stressed the need for increased investment in education when the present crisis passes so that it will hopefully be less likely to happen again.
“For this reason, today I would like to launch an appeal, most of all to Christians. Let’s commit ourselves to building schools,” he said, coining the slogan “one school for every village!”
“It’s not just about building primary schools,” Hackett explained to CNA, “but educating for peace and reconciliation to thereby create opportunities.”
“We're not saying we're going to fix everything, all the problems, but education in the broader sense is always an important thing,” he said.

The press conference panel also stressed the need for developing water sources such as wells, investing in better agriculture, improving veterinary care for herd animals and strengthening political structures.

In the shorter term, they said things should get better if the rains arrive this autumn. However, they cautioned, it will take time and support for drought-affected families to recover from the loss of livestock and of one or two crop seasons.

They also hoped Catholics in the developed world wouldn’t be too enveloped in their own financial crisis to help their fellow human beings.

“While millions in my own country suffer from job layoffs, loss of homes and income,” said Hackett, “I can only expect that their compassion, their concern for those who suffer at death’s door after weeks of journey under harsh conditions will be appreciated now that the Holy Father has called their attention to it.”

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Growing Islamist violence threatens Church in Indonesia

Vatican City, Oct 7, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The President of the Bishops Conference of Indonesia says the rise of radical Islam is resulting in increasing problems for the local Catholic Church.

“I have to say that we’ve become worried over the last 10 to 15 years because these groups really are making themselves present and felt amongst Indonesians,” said Bishop Martinus Situmorang in an Oct. 6 interview with CNA .

Catholics make up about 3 percent of Indonesia’s 245 million-strong population. According to the charity Aid to the Church in Need, the Asian country has seen a rise in Islamic fundamentalism since early 2009, with reported violence ranging from church buildings being burnt down to fundamentalists forcing the cancellation of Easter services.
“It is quite alarming in a sense, but it’s also alarming our Muslim brothers and our Muslim leaders are not happy with them. But they don’t know who they are or how to deal with them,” he said.
Bishop Situmorang stressed that relations with Muslims in Indonesia – who make up 85 percent of the population – are generally very good. He said that there are “bad incidents” of Christians being targeted but qualified that “(we) are not persecuted.” Indonesia is “a free country and very democratic,” he added.

His fear, though, is that some elements within the national and local governments are struggling or unwilling to uphold a national constitution that enshrines the principle of religious freedom.

“The authorities at all levels are not always dealing with Muslim fanatics,” he said, suggesting that such groups are given “too much space to do what they want” which allows them to avoid arrest and punishment.

While only one province is Indonesia is completely governed by Islamic Sharia law, more than 50 districts in 16 of the country’s 32 provinces have passed Sharia-inspired legislation. This has made it more difficult for Catholics to build churches in certain areas.

Bishop Situmorang says the response of Catholics is “to be always friendly and with a high spirit of dialogue,” while working with other religions to “eradicate poverty, illiteracy and this spirit of fanaticism.”

At the same time, he also wants to see better law enforcement by security forces and a greater commitment to the constitution by the civil government.
Along with the rest of the Indonesian bishops, Bishop Situmorang is in Rome for their regular “ad limina” visit to update the Pope and the Vatican on the health of their dioceses.
He said they told Pope Benedict that “the Church in Indonesia is alive and we know we have to do a lot more to make the Catholic Church in Indonesia the Church of Jesus Christ.”
Despite that, he told the Pope that they were “thanking God because we see his graces, his blessings in the number of vocations,” as well as “the number of lay people who are very committed in all fields,” including public life.
In response, Bishop Situmorang said Pope Benedict told them that “it is true that the Church in Indonesia will be a significant contributor for the goodness of the universal Church now and in the future.”
The Indonesian bishops are now on pilgrimage in Assisi, Italy, before returning home over the weekend.

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House leaders highlight importance of life, marriage at summit

Washington D.C., Oct 7, 2011 (CNA) - Prominent members of the U.S. House of Representatives spoke about the importance of defending life, marriage and religious freedom at a summit in the nation’s capital on Oct. 7.

“Respect for life has never been a political issue for me,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio).

He explained that he has 11 siblings and was raised in a household that valued life.

Speaker Boehner was one of several members of Congress who spoke at the Values Voter Summit at the Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington, D.C.

The speaker also expressed his “disappointment” over the Justice Department’s refusal to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act.

“As the Speaker of the House, I have a constitutional responsibility,” Speaker Boehner said. He explained that he would work to uphold the act, which was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) called for a renewed effort “to once and for all eliminate government funding to any and all organizations that perform abortions.”

“During the debate over Obamacare, the president promised that no taxpayer dollars would be used to pay for abortions under the bill,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is not the way things played out.”

“Next week, we’ll stand up again,” Rep. Cantor said. “We will bring to the floor a bill to ensure that no taxpayer dollars flow to health care plans that cover abortion and no health care worker has to participate in abortions against their will.”

Rep. Cantor also called on the nation’s leaders to “stand up and unite” to defend principles of religious freedom in the face of the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

“As we sit here today, Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani is literally fighting for his life in Iran, simply for refusing to denounce his Christianity,” he said.

“For us in America, it is unthinkable that someone should be put to death because of their faith.”

Rep. Cantor called on America “to stand up and lead for the pastor Yousefs of the world.”

He urged them to fight “against the assault that we’re witnessing on the very values we cherish here at home.”

Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) also spoke at the summit, emphasizing the need to support strong marriages in America.

Rep. King, who helped author Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act, called marriage “a sacred relationship.”

“It’s established by God,” he said.

“All of our human experience points to marriage as being the essential foundation stone to civilization,” said the congressman.

“We pour through marriage all of our values.”

Rep. King promised to continue the fight for marriage, which he described as being “under assault today.”

The congressman also reaffirmed his commitment to protecting the “great gift of life,” which he called the “highest priority” outlined by the Declaration of Independence.

 “We can do all things to expand our liberty, provided we don’t trample on life,” he said.

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