Washington D.C., Dec 7, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Bishop F. Richard Spencer of the military archdiocese arrived in northern Afghanistan on Dec. 5 to spend Advent and Christmas ministering to U.S. and NATO troops and U.S. State Department staffers.
“It is a very humbling experience for me to join these brave military and State Department personnel during this holy season of Advent as they engage in an international effort to reduce outbreaks of terrorism that threaten both the people of Afghanistan and the people of good will everywhere,” Bishop Spencer said.
During his visit, the bishop will also celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation for six U.S. soldiers who have been preparing to enter the Catholic Church.
“Spiritual fitness and resiliency are key tools for our personnel serving ‘God and Country’ in these peace-building efforts, which will hopefully contribute to a better world, just as we prepare the way in our hearts for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, during this holy season,” he noted.
“I am thankful, by God’s grace, to be able to make a small contribution and sacrifice to that worthy cause.”
Bishop Spencer is the Archdiocese for the Military Services’ episcopal vicar for Europe and Asia. He is one of four auxiliary bishops serving under Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio.
The archdiocese approves priests for on-site ministry at more than 200 locations around the world in order to serve Catholics and their families in the U.S. armed forces, medical centers and overseas civilian posts.
An estimated 1.5 million Catholics depend on these priests for the sacraments, counseling and other forms of spiritual support.
The military archdiocese receives no government funding and has no parishes to support its work with weekly donations. Rather, it depends on grants and donations for survival.
The archdiocese’s website is http://www.milarch.org.
Washington D.C., Dec 7, 2011 (CNA) - A new report by the Cardinal Newman Society says a conference series hosted by two Jesuit universities appears to question and even undermine Church teaching on sexuality and marriage.
Many of the conference talks are “clearly shown” as a “vehicle for dissent,” society president Patrick Reilly told CNA on Dec. 6.
Reilly helped produce a report critiquing the fall 2011 “More Than a Monologue” conference series on “Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church.”
The series was the result of cooperative efforts by Fordham and Fairfield Universities—both Jesuit Catholic colleges—as well as non-denominational schools Yale Divinity School and Union Theological Seminary.
Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut had expressed concern about the conferences when they were announced, and the presidents of Fairfield and Fordham Universities promised that they would not be used as “a vehicle for dissent.”
Members of the Cardinal Newman Society, however, say that the universities violated this promise.
After reviewing public online videos of the Fordham and Fairfield conferences, the society issued its report on Dec. 6 outlining instances where the conferences demonstrated a “general theme of disdain” for Church teaching and hierarchy.
The report observed that the event hosted by Fordham in September featured speakers advocating acceptance of gay “marriage” and sex changes, while disparaging priests who refuse to attend same-sex ceremonies.
Criticism of Church hierarchy was present throughout much of the event, with speakers citing “medieval closed-mindedness” and a “controlling patriarchy,” the report said.
The analysis also claimed that New York City priest Fr. John Duffell suggested that a gay man should lie about his past homosexual actions in order to enter the priesthood.
The Cardinal Newman Society said that the October event held at Fairfield University posed similar problems.
One speaker referenced the “privileged ruling class” in the Church and argued that if “the bishops won’t send us priests, we should ordain our own.”
Other participants criticized Church teaching that homosexual inclinations are “disordered” and said that the Church does not respect lesbian nuns who wish to become priests.
The report also expressed concern over conference organizer Paul Lakeland’s defense of a fake “CatholiQ Mass”—the Q standing for “queer”—that was celebrated during the Union Theological Seminary conference.
Both Jesuit universities, however, dismissed the report.
“The Cardinal Newman Society misses the pastoral dimension of what was a thoughtful, reflective, respectful and civil event,” said Bob Howe, director of communications for Fordham University.
“From the University’s perspective, the participants declined to promote the changing of church teachings, either by guile or misrepresentation,” Howe told CNA Dec. 6.
He added that the conference sessions were introduced “with extended and authoritatively stated church teachings.”
Society president Pat Reilly countered that the video record of the event “speaks for itself.” He cited instances of the speakers’ dissent from Church doctrine and insisted that the “examples are neither pastoral nor respectful of Church teaching.”
Martha Milcarek, assistant vice president for brand management and public relations at Fairfield University, maintained that “the position of the Church was fully and fairly presented” at the conference.
She told CNA that participants were presented with “all of the relevant documents of the Magisterium relating to this issue.”
Milcarek acknowledged that the conference participants were not all in agreement with Church teaching, but said “the discussion of disagreement is part of what Catholic universities exist for.”
Reilly disagreed in his comments to CNA, saying that the “purpose of a Catholic university is to teach and explore the truth, which is rooted in faith.”
“Simply pointing to Church teaching and then presenting speakers to undermine that teaching is not a discussion,” he said, but “a heterodox monologue.”
Washington D.C., Dec 7, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - A panel of liturgical experts recently noted that the early weeks of using the new English translation of the Roman Missal should be an occasion for Catholics to grow deeper in their understanding of the Mass.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., said that the new translation provides a “great opportunity” for those who are familiar with the old responses to gain a “deeper grasp of their faith.”
The cardinal participated in a Dec. 6 phone conference to discuss the impact of the new translation, which went into effect in the English speaking world on Nov. 27, the first Sunday of Advent.
“It helps to step back” and reflect on the Mass from time to time, said Cardinal Wuerl.
He explained that in celebrating Mass, he has experienced a deep spiritual engagement with the text, as he has become more aware of the meaning of each word he says.
Dr. Edward Sri, author of “A Biblical Walk through the Mass,” said that after hearing about the changes, Catholics are now beginning to “experience” the new translation for the first time.
Sri, who serves as provost at the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colo., said that the time of transition presents a “wonderful opportunity” to answer people’s questions, “not just about the new translation, but about the Mass as a whole.”
By continuing to preach about the Mass and the “profound significance” of the changes, priests and deacons can provide a “great doorway” for people to enter more deeply into the liturgy, he said.
Father Dan Barron, OMV., editor of “Magnifikid!,” the weekly children’s worship aid published by “Magnificat,” emphasized the importance of personal witness in reaching out to share the faith with others.
A priest for 15 years, Fr. Barron said that he has personally experienced an increased awareness of the mysteries of the Mass and finds himself “more drawn into prayer and contemplation in the midst of the liturgy than ever before.”
Grammy-nominated Catholic musician Matt Maher commented on the continued role of music in the liturgy, saying that music is a humble tool that serves to aid active participation in the Mass.
He noted that this participation requires that people not only sing and respond when appropriate, but also enter fully into moments of silence within the Mass.
Maher added that Catholics should not expect a perfect adjustment after two weeks, but patiently realize that “these things take time.”
He said that he is especially excited for future generations who will grow up seeing the treasures of the Mass “unlocked” by the new translation.
Vatican City, Dec 7, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Knights of Columbus now have a street to call their own in the Eternal City after Largo Cavalieri di Colombo was inaugurated on Dec. 6.
“It is indeed an honor to share this wonderful occasion of the groundbreaking of the Largo Cavalieri di Colombo,” said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson at the unveiling ceremony for Rome’s newest street sign.
“For nearly a century the Knights of Columbus and the City of Rome have shared something wonderful—a relationship that brought together the best of the old and the new worlds, a relationship that has had to overcome an ocean, a language barrier, cultural differences and even a war,” Anderson said.
The naming of the street, which is situated next to Rome’s historic Baths of Caracalla, recognizes over 90 years of charitable involvement by the Knights in the Italian capital.
In the wake of the First World War, Pope Benedict XV asked the Knights to provide activities for the children of Rome. Today, the Knights still run five free sports centers for kids across the city.
The historic bond between the Knights and Rome “is a strong one,” explained Carl Anderson, “precisely because it has been tested and because it has survived each test.”
“It has been able to do this because it has been based on faith, on our common Catholic faith shared on both sides of the Atlantic,” he said.
The inauguration was also attended by dignitaries representing both Church and state, including Mayor Gianni Alemanno of Rome.
“Today is a day dedicated to the Knights of Columbus, a deep friendship binds us to them,” Rome’s mayor told the gathered crowd.
The day was rounded off with a concert in the nearby Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, featuring gospel music from the St. Thomas More Choir of Washington D.C.
The Dec. 6 festivities are just part of a week of special events in Rome for the Knights of Columbus.
Looking ahead to Dec. 12, they will attend a special Mass to mark the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, which will be presided over by Pope Benedict XVI. With over 1.8 million members, the Knights have a strong presence throughout North and Central America, particularly in Mexico.
This past Monday, Dec. 5, the Knights attended the unveiling for 15th-century Pope Innocent VIII’s restored tomb, a project funded by the Knights of Columbus.
The tomb, which is housed in St. Peter’s Basilica, was created by the renowned Italian Renaissance artist, Antonio del Pallaiolo. It was the first papal tomb to depict a living Pope rather than a deathbed effigy. The restoration project, which was financially supported by the Knights, took nine months to complete.
Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, thanked the Knights for their support and "profound devotion to the Successor of Peter" that inspired the project, in a Dec. 5 statement.
He described the restored tomb as “one of the most significant monuments of faith and art in the Basilica” and noted that Pope Innocent VIII was the pontiff “right before the discovery of America.”
As a token of thanks, Cardinal Comastri gave the Knights a bas-relief cast of the figure of Charity, which tops the burial monument. He hoped it would be a sign of the gratitude the Vatican has for the “silent, humble and invaluable contribution” offered by the Knights to St. Peter’s Basilica.
Bogotá, Colombia, Dec 7, 2011 (CNA) - Thousands of Colombians in cities across the country demanded the release of those still kidnapped by a local revolutionary group who recently killed four hostages.
“The ideal would be that there be no bloodshed or deaths, that our kidnapped loved ones be returned, that there be no more kidnappings,” said Bishop Juan Vicente Cordoba Villota, spokesman for the Colombian bishops' conference.
In the capital city of Bogota on Dec. 5, crowds gathered in Bolivar Square downtown in a rally calling for the release of all those held by the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia.
Hundreds of Colombians around the world also voiced their solidarity with the country in marches held in the United States, Mexico, Canada, Panama, Argentina, Ireland and Spain.
On Nov. 26, the rebel group assassinated four hostages that had been held captive for more than ten years. A fifth man, Sargeant Luis Erazo, managed to escape and was rescued by the Colombian military. Erazo told reporters that he prayed for his captors and forgave them.
Bishop Cordoba said on Monday that the Church is ready to assist the captives in any way and awaits instructions from the country’s leaders.
“We live in a state governed by the rule of law and for this reason we will not take any steps without the president’s authorization,” he said.
The bishop reiterated that the Church continues to be committed to help bring about the release of those held hostage through non-violent means.
Vatican City, Dec 7, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI told pilgrims at today’s general audience that through prayer Jesus calls the “childlike” into a loving relationship with him and the Father.
In his “cry of exultation,” Jesus “gives thanks to the Father because he has willed to reveal the mystery of salvation not to the wise and learned, but to the ‘little ones,’” the Pope told several thousand pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall on Dec. 7.
Pope Benedict continued his weekly catechesis on prayer with a mediation on the “jewel” of Christ’s prayer, his “Hymn of Joy,” which is found in the Gospels of St. Matthew 11:25-30 and St. Luke 10:21-22.
This prayer, he said, is the “apex of a path of prayer in which Jesus’ profound and intimate communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit and His divine sonship clearly emerges.”
At the beginning of the Scripture passages in question, Jesus says, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth.” This form of address has a twofold meaning, explained the Pope.
First, it shows "Jesus’ awareness and certainty of being ‘the Son’ in close and constant communion” with the Father. This, he said, is the “central point and source of Jesus’ every prayer.”
The second meaning is that it “recalls the great biblical narrative of the history of God’s love for human beings that began with creation.” Jesus, said the Pope, is the “summit and fulfillment” of “this story of love.” Thus, through his use of the phrase “Lord of heaven and earth” we also “recognize how Jesus is the one who reveals the Father,” as well as “the possibility of access to God” to humanity.
Pope Benedict also reflected on how God’s divine revelation does “not occur within earthly logic,” which would say that it is “the wise and powerful who posses important knowledge and transmit it to those who are more simple.” No, God’s logic turns that on its head as “his communication is addressed precisely to the ‘childlike.’”
This childlike state consists of nothing less than a “pureness of heart” that “allows us to recognize the face of God in Jesus Christ.”
“It is keeping our hearts as simple as those of children, without the presumptions of those who are locked in themselves, thinking they have no need of anyone, not even God,” he said.
Jesus concludes his prayer with the offer of rest to those who are “weary and burdened,” because his “yoke is easy” and “burden is light.”
The Pope observed that in his prayer, Jesus asks that “we go to Him, the true wisdom” since the “yoke” he speaks of is “neither a doctrine to learn nor an ethical proposal, but rather a Person to follow: He himself, the only-begotten Son, in perfect communion with the Father.”
This means that “we also can address God with the confidence of sons and daughters,” said the Pope.
And when we call God “Father” when we pray, the Pope taught, we also “have to keep the heart of a child, the heart of those ‘poor in spirit,’ in order to recognize that we are not self-sufficient, but that we need God, that we have to seek Him, listen to Him, speak to Him.”
Through prayer, he said, we open ourselves to receiving this gift from God, “his wisdom who is Jesus himself, in order to accept the will of the Father in our lives and to find consolation in the weariness of our journey.”
At the end of today’s audience, Pope Benedict wished pilgrims a happy feast day ahead of tomorrow’s Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a national holiday throughout Italy.
The day should remind us of “Mary's singular acceptance of God's salvific plan” and that she was “preserved from any stain of sin in order to be the holy dwelling place of the Incarnate Word, she always trusted fully in the Lord,” he said.
The Pope then concluded his audience by leading pilgrims in the singing of the Pater Noster, before imparting his apostolic blessing.
Providence, R.I., Dec 7, 2011 (CNA) - Heavy rains didn’t dampen the spirits of more than 300 who attended the blessing and lighting of the Christmas tree Tuesday night at St. Patrick Church in Providence, R.I.
Chagrined by Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s recent decision to call the State House Christmas tree a “holiday tree,” participants gathered from all parts of the diocese to show their disappointment for the wave of secularism that permeates society and support for Christmas.
Many carried signs that read “Keep Christ in Christmas.”
The enthusiastic crowd joined choristers from Blessed Sacrament School, Mater Ecclesiae College and the St. Patrick Choir and Voces de Los Andes, both led by music director Silvio Cuellar as they sang carols.
At 5:30 p.m., Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin lighted a 14-foot evergreen on the grounds of St. Patrick Parish.
Welcomed by Father James Ruggieri, pastor of St. Patrick Church, Bishop Tobin came to the podium with applause from the crowd.
“I am very proud to be your bishop,” Bishop Tobin told those gathered. “This is a wonderful expression of your faith and devotion.”
For those who propose a secular agenda, the bishop said, “Enough is enough. You may not take Christmas away from us and our community.”
Last week, Gov. Chafee suggested to those staking out positions on both sides of the tree naming issue instead refocus their energy on helping the needy across the state.
Emphasizing that Catholics respond to the needs of those less fortunate in Rhode Island more than any other group, Bishop Tobin asked those present to continue their support of Mary House, a soup kitchen and food pantry sponsored by St. Patrick Church; St. Patrick Academy, the parish’s middle and high school; and “Keep the Heat On,” which, since it was established in 2005, has provided more than $1,000,000 in heating assistance to more than 3,000 households throughout the state.
Fr. Ruggieri described the tree lighting and blessing as a “moment of evangelization” as Christians come together as they prepare for the birth of Jesus Christ.
St. Dorothy Sister Dorothy Schwarz, regional superior of the Sisters of St. Dorothy, said she attended the ceremony to “stand for her belief that Christ should not be eradicated from our society.”
Sister Schwarz, who ministers as a pastoral assistant at St. Augustine Church, Providence, added, “publicly celebrating Christmas is not a violation of the separation of church and state.”
Noting that she has witnessed an “attempt to obliterate Christianity from society” during the past 15 years, Sister Schwarz, a religious for 49 years, added that Christians must stand up for their beliefs and not “be like lambs being led to slaughter.
“We have a right to express our beliefs publicly,” she said.
Matthew Grossi, a diocesan seminarian and a parishioner of Sts. Rose and Clement Church, Warwick, said he attended the Christmas tree blessing “to show his support for keeping Christ in Christmas.”
The second-year theology student said when he first learned that the State House tree was being called a “holiday tree,” he experienced anger and frustration.
“This is what we are called to do – to stand firm and deliver our message peacefully and respectfully,” Grossi said.
Fr. Derek Puleo, assistant pastor of SS. John and Paul Church, Coventry, noted that he addressed the issue of secularism in his recent homilies.
“This is a symptom of a larger issue of the secularists trying to push God and Christianity farther to the margins,” he said. “According to some people, the three most offensive people in our society are Jesus, Mary and Joseph.”
St. Patrick parishioner Jennifer Gederman said that the governor “doesn’t make sense.
“Christmas is Christmas,” she emphasized.
Michael Krzywonos, a parishioner of Blessed John Paul II Parish, Pawtucket, said that the large crowd standing in the rain made a “statement that the Christmas tree does matter.
“It’s a Christmas tree because it’s Christmas time, not holiday time,” he said.
Krzywonos said that the crowd also was a testament to the fact that most people in Rhode Island believe that the evergreen displayed at this time of year is a “Christmas tree” and should not be known by any other name.
Printed with permission from Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence, R.I.
Vatican City, Dec 7, 2011 (CNA) - Religious freedom advocates are praising the Vatican's proposal to establish an international day against the worldwide persecution of Christians.
People are “used to defending animal rights, the rights of people with disabilities, the equality of women, the need to respect ethnic and cultural diversity—and rightly so,” said Neville Kyrke-Smith of Aid to the Church in Need.
However, there is often a “deafening silence” when it comes to protecting the rights of Christians, he told CNA on Dec. 7.
“Particularly in the light of the worrying fall-out from the Arab Spring,” Kyrke-Smith added, the Vatican's proposal “is in itself an important sign that our brothers and sisters in Christ are not forgotten.”
Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s Secretary of Relations with States, announced the need for an international day on Dec. 6 at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Ministerial Council gathered in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.
“There may be more than two hundred million Christians, of different confessions, who are in difficulty because of legal and cultural structures that lead to their discrimination,” Archbishop Mamberti said.
He noted that a celebration of a day against the discrimination of Christians “might prove to be an important sign that governments are willing to deal with this serious issue.”
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe explored the issue of anti-Christian persecution at a special conference held in Rome in September of this year.
Archbishop Mamberti said that the meeting had “revealed the possibility of constructive dialogue toward mutual understanding and respect among Christians, members of other religions, and nonbelievers.”
The security organization was created in the 1970’s and now comprises of 56 member states drawn from three continents—North America, Europe and Asia.
Over the years, the organization has “carved out for itself” an “impressive commitments in favor of the defense of fundamental freedoms and human rights,” the archbishop said. This, he added, has included the right to freedom of religion which “continues to be widely violated today.”
Aid to the Church in Need estimates that 75 percent of all religious persecution worldwide is anti-Christian.
Last year in his message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Benedict XVI lamented that “many Christians experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom.”
He described the situation as “unacceptable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity.” The Pope also called it a “threat to security and peace” and an obstacle to “authentic and integral human development.”