Baltimore, Md., Jan 13, 2012 (CNA) - The bishops of Maryland urged Catholics in the state to contact elected officials and ask them to consider the needs of the poor as they make public policy decisions in the upcoming year.
“Thousands of our brothers and sisters who are homeless experience the daily reality of a life in crisis,” they said in a statement released before the opening of the Maryland General Assembly’s 2012 session.
Caring for the poor is “an obligation and a requirement of true justice,” they underscored.
The Jan. 9 statement was issued by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., Cardinal-elect Edwin F. O’Brien, apostolic administrator of Baltimore, and Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington.
The bishops recalled the “challenging circumstances” faced by Joseph and Mary, traveling to a foreign city, being unable to find lodging even as Mary was “on the verge of childbirth,” and then being forced to flee to another country to escape danger.
Although many are familiar with this story, people often “forget that this scenario is played out over and over, every day, in the lives of millions of people.”
While Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in America, many of its residents are struggling to meet their basic needs, they explained.
In the last year, the poverty level in Baltimore alone has increased by 20 percent and now affects one in four residents.
Almost 700,000 families in Maryland receive food assistance, and 2010 estimates indicate that more than 10,000 locals are homeless.
Twenty percent of Maryland households with children reported being unable to feed their families at times during 2009-2010.
The bishops voiced their concerns that due to continuing high rates of unemployment, many individuals in the state are struggling to find adequate food, clothing and shelter.
Recalling that we encounter Christ in our interactions with other people, they said that love of one’s neighbor is the duty of every Catholic.
The principle of subsidiarity demands that individual Catholics should donate their “time, resources and voices” to serve the poor, said the bishops, noting that the Catholic community of Maryland serves as “the state’s largest non-governmental provider of social services,” providing assistance to thousands of those in need.
However, because individuals do not have the capacity to meet all of the needs that exist, the government shares in the responsibility of caring for the poor, they said.
While they acknowledged the fiscal crisis faced by many levels of government, the bishops also recognized the necessity of laws that incorporate “the principles of justice and respect for human dignity.”
They emphasized the importance of housing as a “basic human right,” which they said “should be made accessible to all.”
Those in the state should remind members of the Maryland General Assembly that “the budget is a moral document that reflects the public’s priorities.”
Reminding Maryland Catholics of their call to put faith into action in their everyday lives, the bishops asked them to encourage legislators to institute policies that promote the creation of jobs and offer relief for the poor and vulnerable through a “social safety net.”
Lahore, Pakistan, Jan 13, 2012 (CNA) - The Punjab provincial government’s unannounced bulldozing of a Church-owned site that destroyed a church, a school for poor girls, and homes for the poor, elderly and homeless was “a criminal act of land-grabbing,” the local Catholic bishop says.
The families living on the two-acre site in Lahore’s Garhi Shahu district were awoken at 6:30 a.m. On Jan. 10 and told to evacuate their homes. The bulldozers destroyed at least seven houses, which still had the occupants’ belongings inside.
“How can they do such a thing, just to come in, wreck a charitable institution and ruin the lives of people living there? They do not listen to anybody.” Bishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore told Aid to the Church in Need.
He said the Church had proof of ownership of the site dating back to 1887. The incident has caused fears of further property seizures by the province’s government, which is controlled by the Muslim League “N.”
Zoniba Richard, 62, was one of those who lost their homes. Her belongings were destroyed and she was left homeless, without family to go to, she said. She slept out in the cold on the first night after the demolition.
Asked about her plans for the future, she told Aid to the Church in need: “I don’t know. I can only trust in God.”
A number of families and people working in the school had nowhere to go and camped overnight on the demolished site. They have held protest marches against the action.
Fr. Emmanuel Yousaf Mani, the national director of the Catholic Church’s National Commission for Justice and Peace, said that the Catholic Church had not received prior warning of the demolition plans.
“People are very sad. They are very angry. They are still sitting in the place that they call home,” he said.
He said a controversy over the property ownership began a few years ago when the site’s main building was used as a refuge for destitute women.
One of the women who was given refuge converted to Islam and began to harass the religious sisters who ran the refuge. She questioned the rightful ownership of two rooms which she occupied.
State authorities were notified and subsequent discussions with the Church broke down.
Local government officials claim that the site was declared state land by the authorities in 2007. The government notified the owners of the center several times, local newspaper said.
The Anglican Bishop of Lahore, Alexander John Malik, also condemned the demolition and called on the government to rebuild what was destroyed. He said a blasphemy law case should be filed for the desecration of the church and its Bibles and crosses.
Bishop Malik said the destruction shows “unaccounted power” and explains grave injustice and cruelty towards non-Muslims (and) religious minorities in Pakistan.”
Hostility towards minority groups in Pakistan has increased in recent years. Punjab governor Salman Taseer was assassinated on Jan. 4, 2011 for opposing the oppression of minority groups and the country’s strict anti-blasphemy law. Pakistan’s minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Catholic who was the only Christian in the cabinet, was assassinated two months later.
Vatican City, Jan 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published Pope Benedict XVI’s prayer intentions for the year 2013.
Highlights from the 2013 intentions include prayers for participants in World Youth Day, which is slated to take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during July of that year. Other intentions emphasize global respect for human life and the environment as well as specific prayers for the protection of families.
Pope Benedict will also be praying for the Year of Faith, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, and is set to conclude in 2013.
The Pope's entire list of prayer intentions for 2013 is as follows:
General: That during this “Year of Faith” Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and joyfully bear witness to the gift of faith in Him.
Missionary: That the Christian communities of the Middle East, which frequently suffer discrimination, may receive the strength of fidelity and perseverance of the Holy Spirit.
General: That migrant families, in particular mothers, may be sustained and accompanied in their difficulties.
Missionary: That peoples experiencing war and conflicts may be the protagonists in the building of a future of peace.
General: That respect for nature will grow, with the awareness that all creation is the work of God entrusted to human responsibility.
Missionary: That bishops, priests and deacons may be tireless proclaimers of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
General: That the prayerful and public celebration of the faith may be a source of life for the faithful.
Missionary: That the particular Churches in mission territories may be a sign and instrument of hope and resurrection.
General: That those who administer justice will always act with integrity and upright conscience.
Missionary: That seminarians, especially from mission Churches, may always be pastors according to the heart of Christ, fully devoted to the proclamation of the Gospel.
General: That a culture of dialogue, listening and reciprocal respect may prevail among the nations.
Missionary: That in the areas where the influx of secularization is strongest, Christian communities may learn to effectively promote a new evangelization.
General: That the World Youth Day taking place in Brazil may encourage all young Christians to become disciples and missionaries of the Gospel.
Missionary: That throughout the Asian continent, doors may be opened to the messengers of the Gospel.
General: That parents and teachers may help the new generations to grow up with a upright conscience and a consistent life.
Missionary: That the particular Churches of the African continent, faithful to the Gospel proclamation, may promote the building of peace and justice.
General: That the men and women of our time, often immersed in noise, may resdiscover the value of silence and learn to listen to the voice of God and their brothers and sisters.
Missionary: That Christians who suffer persecution in numerous regions of the world may be prophets of the love of Christ by their testimony.
General: That those who feel weary from the heaviness of life, and even long for its end, may sense the closeness of God’s love.
Missionary: That the celebration of World Missions Day may make all Christians aware that they are not only recipients but also proclaimers of the Word of God.
General: That priests experiencing difficulties may be comforted in their sufferings, sustained in the doubts and confirmed in their fidelity.
Missionary: That the Churches of Latin America may send missionaries to other Churches as a result of the continental mission.
General: That children who are victims of abandonment and of every form of violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary: That Christians, enlightened by the light of the incarnate Word, may prepare humanity for the coming of the Savior.
Washington D.C., Jan 13, 2012 (CNA) - The U.S. Supreme Court’s move defending religious groups' right to determine their leaders could significantly affect future cases dealing with religious freedom, a legal expert says.
University of Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett said that the ruling “makes it very clear that the First Amendment would not permit the government to second-guess a religious community’s decision” in appointing church authorities.
Garnett told CNA on Jan. 12 that the decision was important in part because it clarifies that religious freedom properly belongs to religious communities and institutions as well as individuals.
In their unanimous Jan. 11 decision – which was hailed by many as a victory for religious liberty – the U.S. Supreme Court justices upheld the “ministerial exception” that permits religious groups to make employment decisions without government interference.
During the case, speculation had arisen that if the “ministerial exception” was not upheld, the government could force the Catholic Church to ordain women in order to avoid discrimination lawsuits.
Garnett said that although this scenario would never have happened, it was good to have the Supreme Court “explain why that could never happen.”
He also said the ruling could have a significant influence on other religious liberty cases because the justices “unanimously rejected” the Obama administration’s view of what qualifies as religion, sending a clear message that it was “inappropriately narrow.”
Cases involving religious freedom in the U.S. have abounded in recent months. A controversial mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in August of 2011 requires health insurance providers to cover contraception and has very narrow religious exemptions.
Catholic Charities in Illinois and Boston have recently been forced to discontinue their adoption services in recent years because they were not willing to place children with homosexual couples.
Last fall, the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services was denied its application for a federal grant renewal to aid victims of human trafficking – despite excellent reviews – after it refused to offer referrals for abortions, contraception and sterilizations.
Garnett explained that although the Hosanna-Tabor ruling does not set a direct precedent for such cases, it has “thematic connections” to them that could influence future court decisions.
The case dealt with Cheryl Perich, a teacher at Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School of Redford, Mich.
Perich, who had a sleeping disorder, returned from disability leave to find that a substitute had already been hired to replace her for the year. When she threatened to sue to get her job back, she was fired.
Hosanna-Tabor argued that Perich had been fired for religious reasons because she had violated the church’s commitment to internal conflict resolution rather than suing in court.
The decision, which was penned by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., was based largely on the courts’ determination that Perich qualified as a “minister” and that “ministerial exception” therefore applied to her.
The court noted that Perich had been “commissioned as a minister” and was considered a “called teacher,” who had received a calling from God to fill the position. She taught both religion and secular subjects, and she regularly led students in prayer and devotional exercises.
However, in a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas went further, arguing that the court should not have tried to make its own determination of whether Perich was properly considered a minister.
Thomas contended that “the Religion Clauses require civil courts to apply the ministerial exception and to defer to a religious organization’s good-faith understanding of who qualifies as its minister.”
He noted that the broad span of religious structures and teachings present in the United States means that “the question whether an employee is a minister is itself religious in nature, and the answer will vary widely.”
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote a separate concurring opinion. Joined by Justice Elena Kagan, he asserted that the term “minister” is not the central factor in the case.
“What matters,” he said, is that Perich “played an important role as an instrument of her church’s religious message and as a leader of its worship activities.”
He observed that the word “minister” is rarely used “by Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists.”
Rather than a debate about title or ordination, he suggested that the case was truly about the importance of safeguarding the autonomy of religious organizations to govern their internal affairs in accordance with the First Amendment.
Madrid, Spain, Jan 13, 2012 (CNA) - A new collection of testimonies from the Spanish martyrs is aimed at teaching young people about the strength of faith, love for God and forgiveness of one’s enemies, says its author.
“I realized what a treasure these souls were,” Father Santiago Cantera said of his new book “Thus They Went to Their Deaths,” which features accounts from those who lived and died during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.
The book focuses primarily on the martyrs of the faith at that time who “confronted death in a Christian manner,” Fr. Cantera told CNA on Jan. 11.
While all of the book's testimonies have been previously published, the priest's work is the first to preserve them all in a single volume.
“In addition to preventing them from being forgotten, my intention was also to present attractive and generous models to the young people of today,” the priest said.
He noted that the testimony of the martyrs urges today's society to understand the transcendence of life – “that death is a passage into eternity and that there is no time to lose in this life.”
Fr. Cantera also observed that it is not only the often brutal deaths of the Spanish martyrs that need to be emphasized, but the choices they made throughout their lives to follow Christ.
“Martyrdom is a grace, a gift from God, and He can grant it at the very moment of death, but it is usually not something spur-of-the-moment,” he said. Rather, it's “the final conclusion of an intense spiritual life.”
In his remarks to CNA, Fr. Cantera said that the martyrs ultimately “teach us the greatness of forgiveness and of love; love for God and for neighbor, including our enemies.”
“And they teach us courage, strength, firmness in our principles and in the faith – something which is badly needed today,” he added.
The lives of the Spanish martyrs also show that “only in Christ can we understand the mystery of life and mystery of death and truly be happy in life and in facing death.”
Madrid, Spain, Jan 13, 2012 (CNA/Europa Press) - New data shows that despite over 70 percent of Spaniards identifying themselves as Catholic, only 13.6 percent say they practice their faith and attend services on Sunday and holy days.
A new study from the Center for Sociological Studies in Spain showed the number of those who claim to be Catholic remains practically unchanged from last year, with just a small 0.2 percent decrease.
According to the data, of all those polled by the survey who claim to be believers – both Catholics (73.4 percent) and those of other religions (1.9 percent) – 58.2 percent “almost never” attend Mass, up from 57.8 percent last year.
Respondents who said they attend religious services – excluding weddings, First Communions or funerals – “several times a year” increased from 16.4 percent to 17.7 percent, while those who practice their faith “once a month” fell from 10.1 percent to 7.3 percent.
The poll also showed that believers of other religions decreased from 2.5 percent to 1.9 percent, while those who claim to be non-believers fell from 15 percent to 14.7 percent.
Vatican City, Jan 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In a bid to end violence against Christians and other religions, Pope Benedict XVI used a Jan. 13 speech to Italian police to call for educating young people in the true meaning of justice and peace.
“Even the past year, unfortunately, was marked by violence and intolerance,” he said in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on Jan 13.
“Frequently, in different parts of the world, the object of reprisals and attacks were Christians, who paid with their lives for their adherence to Christ and to the Church.”
The Pope made his comments to a gathering of those Italian state police who are charged with patrolling and protecting St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican.
The Pope said that while young people often hear the words “justice” and “peace” being mentioned, not enough is done to explain what the terms really mean.
“Justice,” he explained, “is not a mere human convention.” If it is viewed as such, he added, it can end up being dominated and subverted by the “criteria of utility, profit and material possession.” Pope Benedict said that when justice is corrupted in this way, the value and dignity of people can be “trampled underfoot.”
In reality, justice is a virtue that guides the human will “prompting us to give others what is due to them by reason of their existence and their actions,” he said.
Similarly, “peace” is not merely defined as the “absence of war, or the result of man’s actions to avoid conflict.”
Instead, it is primarily “a gift of God which must be implored with faith, and which has the way to its fulfillment in Jesus.” Therefore, “true peace” must be “constructed day after day with compassion, solidarity, fraternity and collaboration on everyone’s part,” the Pope said.
The Pope’s comments reflected his message earlier this month when he dedicated the Church’s 45th World Day of Peace on New Year’s Day to the education of the young in justice and peace.
He concluded his remarks today by holding up the police officers present as “true promoters of justice and sincere builders of peace,” and commending all present to Mary “the Mother of God, Queen of Peace.”
“To her we entrust this year of 2012, that everyone may live in mutual respect and strive after the common good, in the hope that no act of violence will be committed in the name of God, supreme guarantor of justice and peace.”
Edinburgh, Scotland, Jan 13, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A 14th-century letter asking Pope Boniface VIII to look favorably upon the Scottish patriot Sir William Wallace during his visit to Rome has been returned to Scotland.
“This document is an enigma,” said George MacKenzie, head of National Records of Scotland at the unveiling ceremony in Edinburgh on Jan. 12.
“It’s a letter from the French king to his officials at the Vatican mentioning Wallace, but we don't know what his business was with the Pope. What we do know is that the document still fascinates, 700 years after it was written.”
The life of Sir William Wallace was famously portrayed by Mel Gibson in his 1995 Oscar-winning film “Braveheart.” Until Jan. 12, the letter about the real-life Wallace was held in England, since being discovered in the Tower of London in the 1830s.
The letter was originally written in 1299, when Wallace traveled to the court of Philip IV of France to try and persuade him to support the Scots against Edward I of England. A year after Wallace’s arrival, Philip IV wrote the letter in question to his agents in Rome.
The letter, begins, “Philip by the grace of God, king of the French, to his beloved and loyal people appointed at the Roman Court,” and commands the French officials to “ask the Supreme Pontiff to consider with favor our beloved William le Wallace of Scotland, knight, with regard to those things which concern him that he has to expedite.” It is signed at the royal castle of Pierrefonds on the Feast of All Saints, Nov. 7, 1300.
“We do not have a lot of tangible links with Wallace as most of the documentation has been destroyed, so to have something that Wallace actually touched is a massive boost for Scotland,” said Duncan Fenton of the Society of William Wallace, who had campaigned for the return of the letter.
The document suggests that Wallace intended to visit the papal court of Pope Boniface VIII, but it is unknown whether he actually reached Rome.
Wallace was later betrayed and captured by English forces near Glasgow in 1305. He was then taken to London where he was executed following a show trial at Westminster Hall. Scotland’s freedom was subsequently secured, however, when Pope John XXII recognized the country’s independence in 1320.
“I am delighted to welcome the Wallace letter back to Scotland,” said Scottish Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop. “To have it here in Scotland, where it can be viewed by the Scottish public, is very significant indeed.”
The historic document will now go on public display this summer at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, alongside another rare letter associated with Wallace that dates back to 1297.