Archive of January 20, 2012

South Africa's state secrets bill threatens freedom, says archbishop

Cape Town, South Africa, Jan 20, 2012 (CNA) - The Archbishop of Cape Town has asked South Africa’s parliament to amend a major state security bill in order to protect the “freedom of information” and to preserve “open and transparent government.”

“As the Catholic Church in Cape Town we have the duty to continue opposing this bill, not only as members of civil society, but also because there is a moral imperative to serve the common good,” Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town said Jan. 19.

“This bill does not serve the interests of the nation and can be used to damage our democracy and lead us on the road, once again, to a security state,” he said.

The Protection of State Information Bill has already passed South Africa’s National Assembly and now must go through parliament’s upper chamber, the National Council of Provinces.

Backers of the bill say it is necessary to replace apartheid-era secrets legislation and to shorten the list of those who can classify information. They also say it creates a criminal offense to classify information to avoid embarrassment or cover up wrongdoing.

The archbishop said the bill gives “too much power” to the Minister of State Security and there are no provisions allowing the disclosure of information for which the public has “a right to know.”

He also warned of “severe punitive action” against whistleblowers and journalists who possess or publish material deemed to be classified.

Some violators of the bill could face a sentence of 25 years imprisonment.

Archbishop Breslin argued that the legislation “comprehensively protects the State Security Agency from public scrutiny because it allows the agency itself to decide what it wishes to be kept secret.

“Any illegal activity by the agency could therefore easily be hidden from scrutiny and from the legal process,” he said.

The Catholic Church in Cape Town has hung a banner protesting the bill on the front façade of St. Mary’s Cathedral, which faces the parliament building.

Other opponents of the bill include business leaders, news editors, civil society groups, artists and religious leaders such as retired Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu.

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Church publishes catechism for Hebrew-speaking children

Jerusalem, Israel, Jan 20, 2012 (CNA) - The first three books of a Hebrew-language Catholic catechism have been published to help teach the children of Christians who live and work in Israel.

“These books are necessary for Hebrew-speaking children, born in the country, so they may have access in Hebrew to the teaching that explains what our faith is and our practice as Catholics,” said Fr. David Neuhaus, S.J., the vicar of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.

The three translated books are titled “Know the Church,” “Know Christ,” and “Know the Holidays.”

Fr. Neuhaus completed the translation project with Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Franciscan Custodian of the Holy Land. They both work with 35 Hebrew-speaking families at a small church in the heart of Jerusalem.

“They are mainly of mixed Israeli origin, relatives of Jews, children of Jews, some converted Jews and other persons who are not Jewish but have been integrated into Jewish society,” Fr. Neuhaus told Vatican paper L’Osservatore Romano on Jan. 15.

The effort also serves Arab citizens of Israel whose Palestinian ancestors did not flee during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

“So, our catechesis books, our magazine, our website, our liturgy serve this population, even when it isn't their own rite. We insist on Christian formation. Christian in a secular and Jewish environment,” the priest said.

Foreign workers in Israel must send their children to public school, where they speak and teach in Hebrew. The catechesis books are for anyone who attends Hebrew school, Fr. Neuhaus said.

He noted that the project intends to help children, adolescents, and young adults to give them “a sense of the Church and of being Christian, a sense of joy.”

The translation project required addressing questions like how to write “Trinity” and “Immaculate Conception” in Hebrew, whose culture and theology are not acquainted with the concepts.

Fr. Neuhaus said there are about 200,000 foreign workers, whose numbers include many Catholics.

All children of foreign workers and asylum seekers are in Hebrew schools, where they receive a “very good” education. However, they sometimes assimilate to Jewish culture and “do not know the Church,” he said.

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Native Americans overjoyed at news of first saint

Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The recent announcement that Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha has been approved for sainthood is generating great excitement among the Native American community.

“There’s an awful lot of interest,” said Monsignor Paul A. Lenz, the vice postulator of Bl. Kateri’s cause for sainthood.

Msgr. Lenz told CNA on Jan. 19 that he has seen an “unbelievable response” to the news of the canonization, with reactions pouring in from all over the United States and Canada.

Msgr. Lenz, who previously worked in the Black and Indian Mission Office in Washington, D.C., said that Native Americans are extremely excited about having a saint come from within their own community.

Although the date for the canonization has not yet been announced, he said that multiple groups are already organizing pilgrimages to Rome to be present when the first Native American is officially elevated to sainthood.

When the date for the canonization is made public, Msgr. Lenz believes it will attract lots of attention in both the religious and secular media.

Known as “the Lily of the Mohawks,” Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha was born in upstate New York in 1656. Her father was a Mohawk chief, and her mother was an Algonquin who was raised Catholic.

She was orphaned at age four by a smallpox epidemic that left her with poor eyesight and a badly scarred face.

After encountering several Jesuit priests, Bl. Kateri was baptized, despite objections from her family.

Her conversion caused her tribe to disown her, so Bl. Kateri fled to Canada, where she lived as an outcast, devoted to prayer and the Blessed Sacrament.

She died at age 24. After her death, witnesses said that the scars on her face disappeared, leaving her skin radiantly beautiful.

In 1980, she became the first Native American to be beatified.

On Dec. 19, Pope Benedict XVI formally recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Bl. Tekakwitha, clearing the way for her canonization.

The miracle involved a young boy in Seattle who was unexplicably cured from a flesh-eating bacteria that had disfigured his face and left him near death.

Msgr. Lenz said that the boy, who is of Native American descent, looked “worse than a leper.”

However, he completely recovered after his family prayed and asked Bl. Kateri to intercede with God for him.

Msgr. Lenz explained that Catholic Native Americans have a strong faith and devotion to Bl. Kateri, whom they are familiar with from the Jesuit writings that have been handed down since the time of her death.

In his 35 years of working with Native Americans, Msgr. Lenz has found that they are almost “always a friend” of Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha.

“They’re very proud” of her, he said.

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Vatican official: Jesus makes Christian unity possible

Vatican City, Jan 20, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The person of Jesus Christ should give all Christians hope that historic divisions can be overcome, says a top official at the Vatican department responsible for promoting Christian unity.

“I think we have to start with theological hope and it’s the prayer of Christ himself that really grounds all the other hopes that we might have,” said Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in a Jan. 17 interview with CNA.

“If we participate in the prayer of Christ, who at the Last Supper prayed that all his disciples might be one so that the world would believe, then we have to be convinced that the Church is not able to fulfill its mission because of the sin of division,” he said.

Bishop Farrell, who hails from Ireland, is one of the primary coordinators of the Vatican’s annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year’s week of prayer began Jan. 16 and will be marked by over 300 churches and Christian communities around the world.

In Rome, Bishop Farrell’s department has lined up a series of events that culminate in solemn vespers at the papal basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls on Jan. 25, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Pope Benedict XVI will lead the service and be joined in prayer by representatives of other Christian bodies.

Their basic aim, the bishop explained, is to break through “the old polemics and controversies and prejudices” and to heal “some of the sad memories of history,” so that “a new brotherhood of Christians can come about” where “we can rediscover ourselves as disciples of the Lord together.”

The cornerstone of all they do must be prayer, he says, because “we can’t build Christian unity on our human effort, it’s a gift and witnesses to the victory of Christ.”

Ecumenical Efforts Worldwide

Because of his involvement with so many Christian communities, Bishop Farrell is able to speak about ecumenical developments across of broad spectrum of belief.

He strikes a hopeful note when discussing relations with the Orthodox churches to whom, he said, the Catholic Church is “very close theologically.” The biggest problem is a cultural one, he observed, based upon “our perception of each other.”

“So it requires a great of reflection, study and conversation to get to the point where we really understand why we have ‘such and such’ an idea of each other and where we stand on the fundamental faith that we have together.”

This includes discussions on “the big question” – the role of the Bishop of Rome. Orthodox Christians recognize the Pope has “a special role,” but how he exercises that role is the big question, said Bishop Farrell.

He explained how much progress has already been achieved on many related issues since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), such that he now has “great hope that if we are patient and we work to overcome the misconceptions that we have of each other, and of each others’ thought, that there is not too much to overcome.”

Conversely, he said, relations with the Anglican Communion have been made more difficult in recent times by their stance on “moral questions and questions regarding life issues.”

But Bishop Farrell is not overly pessimistic. He thinks that such hurdles “make dialogue more difficult but at the same time more intense, and we must continue.”

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI paved the way for the creation of “personal ordinariates” within the Catholic Church. They are a home for former Anglicans who wish to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church.

Two ordinariates have been created since the Pope made his announcement in 2009. They are the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in England and Wales, and the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter in the United States, which was created Jan. 1, 2012.

“Well, I think, like all things, you have to give it a chance to work itself out,” said Bishop Farrell of the Anglican ordinariates concept.

“It’s only at the very beginning and I think that Anglicans generally understand that the Catholic Church has decided to allow this, or create this ordinariate, precisely because some Anglicans have asked for it.”

“In that sense,” he said, “it is partly ecumenical … these are Anglicans who want to become Catholics.” At the same time, Bishop Farrell said, “it is no longer an ecumenical question but a question of their personal conviction.”

In recent years the cultural changes of the West have also led to a new ecumenical phenomenon of Catholics and evangelical Christians joining forces in addressing the many social and moral issues that have presented themselves.

“On life issues, on moral issues, we are very much in harmony with them – or they with us,” said Bishop Farrell. But, he qualified, “on ecclesiological issues we are very distant” because “we have radically different ideas of what the Church is and how it should be organized.”

Bishops Farrell thinks that “people may be surprised to know” the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has been in “continuous dialogue” with various evangelical groups, including Pentecostals, over the past 30 years.

And this dialogue has led to “some very interesting results,” he said.

Bishop Farrell said that describing a unified Christian Church would be “very difficult” to do, but “theologically speaking, one thing is certain it will have to do with the point at which we can celebrate the Eucharist together.”

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Relics of John Paul II arrive in Colombia

Bogotá, Colombia, Jan 20, 2012 (CNA) - Relics of Blessed John Paul II have arrived in Colombia and will be on display for veneration January 2-22 in the cities of Bogota and Cartago. 

The relics consist of a small vile of the late pontiff’s blood which was extracted by medical officials before his death in April of 2005.

“His blood is the symbol of life, life given for God and for others and its presence reminds us of the Christian vocation to spend one’s life loving God and neighbor,” said Father Slawomir Oder, postulator of John Paul II’s cause for canonization and custodian of the relic. 

Diana Sofia Giraldo, the president of the committee coordinating the pilgrimage of the relic in Colombia, said its veneration symbolically unites “the blood that has been shed in our country to that of Blessed John Paul II as an offering of spiritual reparation for the victims of violence.”

On Jan. 19, the relic will be venerated at a Marian prayer service in Bogota, where Fr. Oder will speak on the meaning of John Paul II’s suffering. The event will be followed by a Mass at the Cathedral of Bogota celebrated by the Apostolic Nuncio to Colombia, Archbishop Aldo Cavali.

The Bishops’ Conference of Colombia said family members of the victims of violence in the country are expected to attend.

On Jan. 21 the relic will be venerated during a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota at the parish of Mary Queen of Heaven. On Jan. 22 the relic will travel to the city of Cartago.

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Protestors in Spain call for removal of offensive Christ image

Madrid, Spain, Jan 20, 2012 (CNA) - The civil rights group urged the mayor of Madrid to remove an offensive picture from a photo exhibit showing a Christ-like figure who is naked with a crucifix covering the genital area.

Group spokesperson Ogla Cuquerella said the photo attacks “the religious sentiments” of believers and the “right of Christians to have their symbols be respected.”

According to Europa Press, over 20,000 signatures have been sent to Mayor Ana Botella of Madrid calling for the removal of the image.

The controversial piece is titled “Inferno,” and was taken by photographer Sergio Parra for an exhibit at Madrid’s Spanish Theater. The show opened in the city on Jan. 13 and has already been targeted by numerous critics.

Similar protests occurred when the photo was put on display last year in the city of Merida, where citizens asked governor Jose Antonio Monago to intervene to have it taken down.

Cuquerella voiced hope that Mayor Botella “would be receptive to this civil petition as Jose Antonio Monago was.”

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Obama administration refuses to change contraception mandate

Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The Obama administration announced Jan. 20 that it will not expand an exemption for religious groups that object to its requirement for health insurance plans to cover sterilization and contraception – including abortion-causing drugs – free of charge.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said in a Jan. 20 statement that religious employers who object to providing the coverage will be required to comply with the new law by Aug. 1, 2013, one year later than the initial deadline. 

Sebelius noted that “important concerns” had been “raised about religious liberty.”

Those speaking out against the mandate included many Catholic organizations, such as schools, hospitals and social agencies, which serve all people in need, regardless of their religious affiliation.

During the comment period that followed the announcement of the rule, the administration received an outpouring of criticism from believers of various religious backgrounds.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee, argued against the regulation, warning that Jesus himself would not qualify for the religious exemption. 

In December, a group of more than 60 evangelical, Baptist and Jewish leaders voiced their objection to the mandate in a letter to President Obama. They observed that “religious organizations beyond the Catholic community have deep moral objections” to the proposed mandate.

Sebelius said that those concerns were given “very careful consideration” and asserted that the final rule “strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”

While the rule will take effect for most employers on Aug. 1, 2012, Sebelius said that there will be a one-year “delayed implementation” of the mandate for nonprofit employers who do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans due to religious beliefs.

“This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule,” she said.

Sebelius added that these employers will be required to inform employees “that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support.”

The announcement comes one day after Pope Benedict XVI warned of “grave threats” to religious liberty in the U.S.

In an address to a group of U.S. bishops visiting the Vatican, the Pope voiced great concern over “certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.”

He said that it is “imperative” for “the entire Catholic community” in the U.S. to realize that the threats are “hostile to Christianity.”

Concerns about freedom of conscience were raised in Aug. 2011, when Sebelius issued an interim final rule outlining the initial “preventive health services” requirement.

Although the interim rule included an exemption for religious employers, many religious organization said it was too narrow and would not include many church ministries.

To qualify for the exemption, an employer must have the purpose of teaching religious values, and must employ and serve primarily those who share its religious beliefs.

The Health and Human Services Department is currently being sued by attorneys for The Becket Fund in separate lawsuits on behalf of Belmont Abbey College and Colorado Christian University.

Hannah Smith, senior legal counsel for The Becket Fund, called the move “a shameless attempt to kick the can down the road in an election year.”

Smith said that the Obama administration knows that the mandate “cannot survive constitutional scrutiny” and is therefore “trying to delay the inevitable judgment day.”

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Religious leaders blast HHS over contraception mandate

Washington D.C., Jan 20, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Numerous religious leaders slammed the Obama administration for violating consciences by refusing to reverse a contraception mandate and instead delay its full implementation by only a year.

“Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

“This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”

He called the decision “literally unconscionable” in a Jan. 20 response statement and said that the government is essentially “saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”

The cardinal-designate vowed that the bishops will work to overturn the mandate and institute freedom of conscience protections for all Americans. 

On Jan. 20, Department of Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the administration would not expand a religious exemption for employers who object to its “preventative services” mandate.

The policy, originally introduced in an Aug. 2011 interim rule, requires health insurance plans to cover contraception – including drugs that cause abortion – and sterilization free of charge.

To qualify for a religious exemption under the policy, religious organizations must employ and serve primarily members of their own faith and must exist for the purpose of teaching religious values.

Many religious organizations objected to the rule, saying that they would not qualify because they provide education, health care and other services to people of all religions. 

But the Obama administration dismissed their requests, saying that the religious exemption would not be expanded. 

In what she described as an “appropriate balance” between religious freedom and “preventative services,” Sebelius announced that religious employers who object to providing the coverage will have an additional year to do so.

They will be required to comply with the new law by Aug. 1, 2013, one year later than the original deadline. 
Americans United for Separation of Church and State said it was “grateful” that the Obama administration had rejected the arguments of “powerful religious lobbies that are bent on imposing their theology on everyone.”

However, religious groups across the country are arguing that the mandate violates their rights of religion and conscience.

“This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and First Amendment rights,” said Franciscan Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairman of Franciscan Alliance, Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals.

“I cannot understand it at all.”

“We are very disappointed in the decision,” added Galen Carey, vice president of Government Relations for the National Association of Evangelicals.

Carey told CNA on Jan. 20 that the mandate “fails to uphold” America’s “historic commitment” to religious liberty.

In December, the National Association of Evangelicals sent a letter to President Obama on behalf of more than 60 evangelical, Baptist and Jewish leaders.

The letter objected to the mandate, arguing that “the Federal government is obligated by the First Amendment to accommodate the religious convictions of faith-based organizations of all kinds.”

Carey said the association will continue to speak up and work with lawmakers in the hopes that Congress will pursue legislation that will restore protection to the religious liberty of all Americans.

Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said that the “outrageous” decision meant “bad news” for the protection of religious liberty and freedom of conscience in America. 

“It’s analogous to giving a man on death row a one-year stay of execution,” he said. “You can follow your conscience for one more year.”

Dr. Land added that the decision will likely lead many people “to hope and pray” that a new administration will be in place “to provide a reprieve from this squelching of conscience before the deadline arrives.”

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Vatican approves Neocatechumenal Way’s prayers

Vatican City, Jan 20, 2012 (CNA) - The Vatican announced Jan. 20 that the Neocatechumenal Way’s prayers and non-liturgical celebrations have been approved.

“This is a great grace, after so much suffering and work, today is a great relief,” said the cofounder of the movement, Francisco “Kiko” Argüello, in a Jan. 20 interview with CNA in Rome.

Argüello was joined in Rome today by his fellow cofounder, Carmen Hernández, and 7,000 members of the Neocatechumenal Way for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall.

“Over these decades of life of the Way, your firm commitment has been to proclaim the Gospel of the risen Christ,” the Pope said to gathering.

“You achieve this on a path which helps those who have already been baptized to rediscover the beauty of the life of faith, the joy of being Christian.”

The Neocatechumenal Way draws its inspiration from the practices of the early Catholic Church, providing “post-baptismal” Christian formation in small, parish-based communities. The movement is present all over the world, and has an estimated membership of more than 1 million people.

But the way the movement works in parishes has led some critics to accuse it of being divisive. One common complaint is that members of the Way celebrate Mass together on Saturday evening, thereby separating them from the rest of the parish, even though the liturgies are open to all.

The Pope used his address today to stress that the Way should always be fully engaged in mainstream parish life.

“It is important not to separate oneself from the parish community, and particularly in the celebration of the Eucharist which is the true place of universal unity, where the Lord embraces us in our various states of spiritual maturity and unites us in the one bread that makes us one body,” he said.

The Pontifical Council for the Laity made public on Jan. 20 that the prayers contained in the movement’s Catechetical Directory received a “nulla osta” or “no impediment” stamp of approval from the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Pope Benedict said during his audience with the group that while the approved practices are “not strictly liturgical,” they are “part of the itinerary of growth in the faith.”

The Church, he said, has accompanied the Neocatechumenal Way “attentively and with patient discernment,” so that “she understands your richness but also looks to the communion and harmony of the entire ‘Corpus Ecclesiae’ (Body of the Church).”

During today’s ceremony, Pope Benedict also sent out more than a dozen new Neocatechumenal missions to three different continents. Each mission consists of three or four families who, accompanied by a priest, go to live in an area where Christian practice has lapsed or never been established.

“Sometimes you find yourselves in places in which a first announcement of the Gospel is needed: the ‘missio ad gentes,’” said the Pope, “at other times you are present in areas which, though they have known Christ, have become indifferent to the faith, areas in which secularism has eclipsed the sense of God and obscured Christian values.”

“May your commitment and witness be as a leaven which - patiently, respecting times and with a ‘sensus Ecclesia’ causes the dough to rise.”

The Statutes of the Neocatechumenal Way were given approval by the Vatican in 2008, while its Catechetical Directory was approved two years later, after consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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