Archive of January 19, 2012

Chaplain: Costa Concordia crew showed personal sacrifice

Rome, Italy, Jan 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Catholic chaplain of the sunken cruise ship Costa Concordia has defended the ship’s crew from reports they were negligent towards passengers during the maritime disaster.

Fr. Rafaeli Mallena was “very upset” by initial reports that indicated the crew was not taking care of passengers.

“But I am a personal witness of people leaving their families and children and I saw personal sacrifice. There was a staff captain, for example, who saved three or four people who could not swim,” the chaplain said, according to Fr. Giacomo Martino, national director of Italy’s Apostleship of the Sea.

Fr. Mallena, who is 70, went to the ship’s chapel after he heard the first sounds of collision. Forty minutes later, hearing the “abandon ship” alarm, he consumed the Eucharist and locked the staff’s valuables in a safe.

He tried to stay aboard to help passengers, but crew members persuaded him that it would be better if he boarded a lifeboat and left the ship.

The priest has since returned to Rome where he is recovering.

Fr. Martino recounted the chaplain’s story to the U.K. newspaper The Catholic Herald.

“The work of cruise chaplains onboard is of great value to encourage and support crew and passengers at difficult moments,” said Fr. Martino. “The crew worked to save passengers with great generosity and a spirit of selflessness.”

Fr. Giacomo asked for prayers for those who have died or are missing. At least 11 are dead and 28 are missing, according to Italian press reports.

The ship sank after it hit a bank of rocks off the island of Giglio to the west of Tuscany. More than 4,200 passengers and crew were aboard.

The priest and parishioners of the island worked during the night to assist those leaving the ship. Many passengers first took refuge in churches and schools.

Local Italian chapters of the Apostleship of the Sea have been distributing clothing and food to the survivors, Vatican Radio reports. The apostleship is an international Catholic ministry serving those who work and travel on the world’s oceans and seas.

Two of the missing include Jerry and Barbara Heil of White Bear Lake, Minn., whom colleagues describe as devout Catholics. Their daughter told Chicago’s WBBM radio that her parents had been looking forward to their 16-day vacation after raising four kids and sending them to college.

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Catholics should take pro-life action, Bishop Conley urges

Denver, Colo., Jan 19, 2012 (CNA) - Catholics must share their pro-life convictions and be serious about helping those who are considering abortion, Bishop James D. Conley of Denver said ahead of the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

“Each of us is called to witness to the dignity of all human life. As uncomfortable as it might be, we are called to share our pro-life convictions with our neighbors, friends and families,” Bishop Conley said in his Jan. 18 Denver Catholic Register column.

“We need not be combative or polemical—but to be serious Christians, we need to be honest. And honesty means telling the truth, in love, about abortion.”

“Make no mistake about it,” he wrote. “Abortion is the killing of tiny human beings in the womb. But for nearly 40 years in the United States, abortion has been a legally protected right by the Supreme Court.”

Bishop Conley, who is apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Denver, encouraged Catholics to engage in charitable work to end abortion, either through Catholic Church programs or by opening their lives to women and families in crisis.

“If we are serious about ending abortion, we should also be serious about helping those who might consider this tragic choice,” he said.

The bishop also stressed the need to pray “at all times,” reminding local Catholics that a pro-life Mass will be celebrated at Denver’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21.

He also considered the distortions abortion has introduced into American society.

“Perversely, abortion is increasingly understood as a safeguard to preserving freedom,” he said.

Bishop Conley cited President Barack Obama’s Jan. 23, 2011 statement in which he said that the Roe v. Wade decision helps ensure that “our daughters have the same rights, the same freedoms and the same opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.”

This is a “tragically confused perspective,” Bishop Conley said.

“In order to protect the rights of our sons and daughters, President Obama, and many more, believe that we must deny the most fundamental, inalienable and God-given right—the right to life.”

Relativism, he said, has made it possible for people to believe abortion is a fundamental right but that life itself is not.

However, Bishop Conley saw reasons for hope in the work of pro-life young people and in the growth of crowds at the annual March for Life in D.C.

The ongoing presence of abortion in America witnesses to our “deeply troubled times,” he concluded.

“But we do not live alone—we live in Christ. And in Christ, each of us can work together to end ‘the dictatorship of relativism.’ Together, we can hope, we can work and we can pray, for the flowering of a culture of life.”

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Extreme abortion rate for disabled leads to DC conference

Washington D.C., Jan 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - An upcoming conference in the nation’s capital will address the staggering 90 percent abortion rate of babies with disabilities, while emphasizing the often unknown joys of caring for the disabled. 

Many people have a “complete misunderstanding of the gift of a disabled baby,” said organizer Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.

At the Jan. 21 “Council on Poor Prenatal Diagnoses and Therapeutic Intervention,” speakers will raise awareness about the dignity of all human life, including those with serious disabilities.

“It is hard, but it’s a gift,” she told CNA on Jan. 18, noting that many Americans are unaware of the joys that come along with having a disabled family member. 

A study published last October in the American Journal of Medical Genetics revealed that 99 percent of adults with Down syndrome reported being happy with their lives.

The majority of parents and guardians surveyed also said they had a more positive outlook on life, and most siblings said they believed they were better people because of their family member with Down syndrome.

Yet babies who undergo “poor prenatal diagnoses” are among the most targeted groups for abortion, amounting to what Monahan described as “essentially genocide.”

Current estimates indicate that between 85 and 90 percent of Down syndrome babies are aborted, which shows the dramatic need for pro-life genetic counseling programs across the country, she said.

Her concerns over the issue increased in October of 2011 when researchers launched a new blood test that could detect Down syndrome even earlier during pregnancy.

While the technology itself is not problematic, Monahan worries that greater availability of testing may lead to more abortions.

In response to the growing problem, she helped organize the Jan. 21 conference, which is intended to reach out to doctors, genetic counselors and others in the medical community, in order to bring attention to the amount of research and treatments available for those with disabilities. 

Members of the public are also welcome to attend the conference or to watch it on a live webcast from the Family Research Council headquarters.

The conference will feature talks by numerous medical professionals, as well as panel discussions, presentations of medical research and personal anecdotes, including the testimony of Samuel Armas and his mother, Julie.

Samuel was diagnosed with Spina Bifida before he was born. While undergoing surgery, his hand was photographed reaching out of his mother’s womb and holding the finger of the doctor. The image has since become an internet phenomenon and has been widely circulated by pro-life groups.

Today, Samuel is a “very active and healthy 12-year-old” with strong pro-life convictions, Monahan said.

She ultimately believes the high number of disabled abortions stems from “a profound misunderstanding of the dignity of the human person,” as well as a cultural lack of perception on the meaning of suffering.

The conference not only aims to help people realize that all life is a gift from God, but will inform people on the “plethora of treatments” available for those with disabilities, as well as support groups to help their families and caretakers, she added.

For expectant couples who fear being told their unborn child is disabled, Monahan stressed the joy that those with disabilities bring to everyone around them.

“This isn’t a death sentence,” she said. “It’s a gift from God.”

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Pope warns of 'grave threat' to religious freedom in US

Vatican City, Jan 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI warned today of a “grave threat” to religious liberty in the United States that requires American Catholics to respond with intelligence and courage.

“It is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres,” he said Jan. 19 in an address to a group of American bishops visiting the Vatican.

The Pope said he was particularly concerned with “certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.”

Pope Benedict’s address was delivered to the bishops from the Mid-Atlantic states region, which includes the Archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore. They are in Rome this week on their regular “ad limina” visit to discuss the health of the U.S. Church with the Pope and Vatican officials. The two bishops from the Archdiocese for the U.S. Military Services are also participating in the meetings.

Pope Benedict said that over the past few days many of the bishops have expressed concern over attempts in the U.S. to “deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices.”

Meanwhile, other bishops raised the “worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship” without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.

At present, the Obama administration is considering imposing a contraception and sterilization mandate that would require all insurance companies to provide those services free of charge. The regulation has a religious exemption clause, but it provides very few exceptions for Church organizations.

Some states are also pushing Catholic adoption agencies out of business or severely limiting their work because they refuse to compromise the Church’s beliefs on same-sex “marriage.”

Pope Benedict said these issues highlight the need for an “engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture.” The American laity must have the “courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate,” he said.

The preparation of such “committed lay leaders,” he told the bishops, should be the “primary task of the Church in your country.”

He noted that his visit to the United States in 2008 afforded him an opportunity to reflect on America’s historical experience of religious freedom, “specifically the relationship between religion and culture.”

“At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not,” he said, “is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing.”

In the United States this consensus is “enshrined in your nation’s founding documents,” which are grounded in a worldview shaped by faith and a commitment to ethical principles, he observed.

Today, however, that consensus has been eroded “in the face of powerful new cultural currents” which are “not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity.”

Despite such hostility, American Catholics are still called to proclaim “a Gospel which not only proposes unchanging moral truths but proposes them precisely as the key to human happiness and social prospering,” Pope Benedict stated.

He also responded to those who attempt to restrict Christians’ voice in the public square or argue that their contribution should be ignored because of “majority rule.” This is a threat not just to Christianity but “to humanity itself and to the deepest truth about our being and ultimate vocation, our relationship to God.”

Pope Benedict said that the Catholic Church’s tradition of respect for both faith and reason means that it can play a critical role in opposing current trends which are based on “extreme individualism” and promote “notions of freedom detached from moral truth.”

The pontiff also touched on what he called the “legitimate” idea of separation of Church and State. This does not mean, however, that the Church must be silent on certain issues or that the state can choose to ignore “the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.”

Pope Benedict said he appreciated the efforts of the U.S. bishops to maintain contacts with Catholics involved in political life and help them “understand their personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith.”

This is especially true when it comes to key ethical issues of today, which he identified as “the respect for God’s gift of life, the protection of human dignity and the promotion of authentic human rights.”

He concluded on an optimistic note by observing the rise of “a new generation of Catholics” in the United States whose “experience and convictions will have a decisive role in renewing the Church’s presence and witness in American society.”

The hope promised by this younger generation should be reason enough “to renew our efforts to mobilize the intellectual and moral resources of the entire Catholic community in the service of the evangelization of American culture and the building of the civilization of love.”

To read Pope Benedict's full address, please visit:

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Byzantine Catholics in Pittsburgh archeparchy receive new archbishop

Washington D.C., Jan 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Bishop William C. Skurla to be the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Byzantine Archeparchy of Pittsburgh.

Bishop Skurla, who currently leads the Eparchy of Passaic, N.J., became the administrator of Pittsburgh after the death of Metropolitan Archbishop Basil M. Schott in June 2010.

The appointment was announced by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, apostolic nuncio to the United States, in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 19.

Bishop Skurla was born June 1, 1956 in Duluth, Minn., where he attended both public and Catholic elementary schools.

In 1981, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in New York. He later attended Mary Immaculate Seminary in Northampton, Pa., earning a master of divinity degree in 1986 and a master of theology degree in 1987.

Bishop Skurla entered the Franciscan community in Sybertsville, Pa. and was solemnly professed in 1985. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1987 and later served as Vicar of Holy Dormition Monastery in Sybertsville.

He was incardinated into the Eparchy of Van Nuys, Ca. in 1996 and named bishop of the eparchy in 2002. He has served as the bishop of the Eparchy of Passaic since 2007.

The 55-year-old bishop will be enthroned in Pittsburgh on April 18.

The Archeparchy of Pittsburgh, which is home to more than 58,000 people, encompasses all Byzantine Ruthenian Rite Catholics in Western Pennsylvania and several counties in Ohio, as well as the entire states of Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

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Vatican official urges universities to present Christ-based vision of man

Vatican City, Jan 19, 2012 (CNA) - The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Antonio Canizares, recently recalled that Catholic universities have the duty to present a vision of man based on Christ.

The cardinal made his comments at the end of the Pope’s Jan. 18 general audience which he attended with a delegation from the University of Avila, Spain.  The group presented the conclusions of the first world congress of Catholic universities, which took place in Avila Aug. 12-14, 2011.

In statements to L’Osservatore Romano, the Spanish cardinal recalled that “Catholic universities today more than ever have the duty to present a vision of man that reflects the truth of Christ.”

Cardinal Canizares, who served as Bishop of Avila from 1992-96, said that it was then-Cardinal Ratzinger who encouraged him to found the University of Avila under the patronage of St. Teresa.

During his trip to Spain in August 2011 for World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI met with a group of university professors and reminded them that universities should embody “an ideal which must not be attenuated or compromised, whether by ideologies closed to reasoned dialogue or by truckling to a purely utilitarian and economic conception which would view man solely as a consumer.”

Speaking at the monastery of El Escorial, the Pope recalled his own years teaching and encouraged professors to overcome the idea that “the mission of a university professor nowadays is exclusively that of forming competent and efficient professionals capable of satisfying the demand for labor at any given time.”

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Bishop encourages children to become 'little missionaries'

Madrid, Spain, Jan 19, 2012 (CNA) - Bishop Gerardo Melgar of Osma-Soria, Spain sent a letter to children reminding them that Jesus is counting on them to be “little missionaries.”

“Jesus is counting on you as his disciples, that is, as persons who encounter him and strive to follow him,” Bishop Melgar told them in his letter marking the Day of Missionary Children.

The day will be celebrated Sunday, Jan. 22.

The Lord “counts on you also as his missionaries, that is, as believers who not only live your faith, but also try to communicate it to others by speaking of him, praying together and helping them discover how important God is to you.”

Bishop Melgar invited the children to spend the day with their families. “Let us pray together to the Lord that the Gospel will reach everyone, beginning with our families,” he said.

In a section aimed at adults, he underscored that everyone is called to be a missionary. “It is us who have to show children by our own lives that Christ is truly important to us and that we are truly interested in making him the center of our existence,” the bishop said.

In this sense, he noted, the faith is not something that should be hidden. “We cannot hide it for ourselves, but rather we must spread it to others so they may know the Lord and his Gospel, be converted and saved,” he said.

Bishop Melgar concluded his letter by urging Catholics “to help children become ‘little missionaries’ to their families and their friends; and together let us be leaven and light amid a society filled with loneliness and emptied of God.”

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Pope Benedict creates new science and faith foundation

Vatican City, Jan 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI launched a new foundation at the Vatican aimed at building a “philosophical bridge” between science and theology.

“I don’t think most people necessarily see science and faith as being opposed but I do think there is confusion as to where to put faith and where to put science in their life,” said executive director Father Tomasz Trafny.

“So the question for us is how to offer a coherent vision of society, culture and the human being to people who would like to understand where to put these dimensions – the spiritual and religious and the scientific,” he told CNA on Jan. 19. 

The Science and Faith Foundation will be headquartered at the Holy See under the leadership of Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

The new foundation builds on the work of the STOQ project – Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest – which was created by Pope John Paul II in 2003. For the past 9 years it has promoted a dialogue between theology, philosophy and the sciences working in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Culture and Rome’s pontifical universities.

Their stated aim is to explore “the possibility of being believers at the dawn of the Third Millennium without renouncing scientific progress.” Together they have initiated study programs and research projects as well as highlighting the fruit of their work through such vehicles as publications and conferences.

STOQ created headlines last year when helped broker the Vatican’s first ever commercial agreement with an outside company in June 2011. The deal saw the Catholic Church and U.S. based bio-pharmaceutical firm Neostem come together to advance ethical stem cells research.

The new Science and Faith Foundation will now have its own “legal personality” in both Church and civil law.

“This is an important step,” said Fr. Trafny, “because we are moving from being a simple project to merge learning between the pontifical universities in Rome to being a new entity recognized by the Holy Father as a reference point for all dialogue involving science and faith.”

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