Leon, Mexico, Jan 27, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Father Jorge Raul Villegas, the director of logistics for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Leon, said church bells throughout the Mexican city will ring out to welcome the Pope upon his arrival.
“We are inviting all of Mexico to welcome him in this way as soon as he lands, and so we are inviting people to bring small bells.”
Fr. Villegas spoke with CNA on Jan. 18 and outlined details for the Pope’s visit, which is scheduled for March 23-26.
He recalled that during John Paul II’s five visits to the country, Mexicans used small mirrors to reflect sunlight up to the Pope as the papal jet descended.
The priest added that there will be an official song for Benedict XVI’s visit and that young people will have a significant presence during the trip. He also said special catechesis sessions will be provided to young people leading up to the Pope’s arrival.
Fr. Villegas said the greatest gift Mexicans can give the Pope is a deepening in their faith, “to tell him: We are believers, we continue to trust in our only guide who is the pastor of all pastors. We welcome you, Holy Father, as our pastor and we wish to listen to you.”
New York City, N.Y., Jan 27, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, head of the U.S. bishops' conference, says the Obama administration has revoked the religious freedom of groups that do not regard women's fertility as as “disease.”
“The Catholic Church defends religious liberty, including freedom of conscience, for everyone,” the New York archbishop and conference president wrote in a Jan. 25 Wall Street Journal editorial, addressing the government's final decision to require contraception coverage in most new health plans.
With this decision, the cardinal-designate wrote, “the Obama administration has failed to show the same respect for the consciences of Catholics and others who object to treating pregnancy as a disease.”
On Jan. 20 the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed it would impose the contraception coverage mandate on most religious institutions, with a narrow exception for groups whose main purpose is the “inculcation of religious values” among people of the same faith.
“Even Jesus and his disciples would not qualify for the exemption,” Cardinal-designate Dolan noted, “because they were committed to serve those of other faiths.”
Health and Human Services finalized the contraceptive mandate just days before the annual March for Life, an event that mourns the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.
As the U.S. bishops' president observed in his editorial, the decision came despite a landmark Supreme Court case in which all nine justices ruled in favor of religious ministries' right of self-determination.
“Scarcely two weeks ago, in its Hosanna-Tabor decision upholding the right of churches to make ministerial hiring decisions, the Supreme Court unanimously and enthusiastically reaffirmed these longstanding and foundational principles of religious freedom,” he recalled.
The court, he said, made it clear that religious institutions had the right “to control their internal affairs.”
But the Obama administration “has veered in the opposite direction.”
“It has refused to exempt religious institutions that serve the common good – including Catholic schools, charities and hospitals – from its sweeping new health-care mandate that requires employers to purchase contraception, including abortion-producing drugs, and sterilization coverage for their employees.”
Cardinal-designate Dolan called the move “an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience” that forces an “unacceptable dilemma” on believers: “Stop serving people of all faiths in their ministries – so that they will fall under the narrow exemption – or stop providing health-care coverage to their own employees.”
Non-exempt religious groups have been granted an additional year to comply with the mandate, a concession the future cardinal ridiculed – “as if we might suddenly be more willing to violate our consciences 12 months from now.”
First published in August 2011 as part of federal health care reform, the contraception coverage requirement has drawn criticism from a broad spectrum of groups – including Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians, as well as some Catholics known for supporting the president on other issues.
“Hundreds of religious institutions, and hundreds of thousands of individual citizens, have raised their voices in principled opposition to this requirement,” Cardinal-designate Dolan wrote in his editorial.
“Many of these good people and groups were Catholic, but many were Americans of other faiths, or no faith at all, who recognize that their beliefs could be next on the block.”
In Wednesday's editorial, Cardinal-designate Dolan stressed that religious liberty is also “the lifeblood of the American people” and “the cornerstone of American government,” guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.
Now, he warned, this right is jeopardized in the interest of preventing fertility.
“This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.”
Washington D.C., Jan 27, 2012 (CNA) - Despite the White House’s recent effort to honor people committed to Catholic education, analysts are cautioning about seeing the gesture as an appreciation for Catholic teachings.
Political commentator and author Mark Stricherz said that the decision to highlight Catholic educators “is not surprising.”
“Teachers have been a Democratic constituency for four decades at least,” he told CNA on Jan. 26.
“But to most practicing Catholics who follow the news, the president's timing would strike them as a Janus-faced move,” Stricherz said.
“He honors their educators while dishonoring their faith and leaders.”
The White House honored 10 individuals involved with Catholic education at a Jan. 25 ceremony, where they were recognized as “Champions of Catholic Education.”
The event included time for each person to share how he or she was able to help improve Catholic education in the United States.
Currently, more than 2 million children are educated in Catholic elementary and secondary schools across the country.
However, the White House ceremony comes amid growing tension between the Obama administration and Catholics in the United States.
That fact was not lost on the U.S. bishops' conference spokeswoman Sister Mary Ann Walsh. “Irony is the word of the day,” she said in remarks to the Washington Post.
The Obama administration has clashed with Catholic leaders over a series of religious freedom disputes.
Most recently, the administration drew strong Catholic criticism for its Jan. 20 decision to require health insurance plans to cover contraception, including abortion-causing drugs – and sterilization.
Despite concerns raised by religious leaders across the country, the Department of Health and Human Services has refused to allow an exemption for most religious employers who object to such “benefits.”
Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, observed that the mandate seemed unfairly targeted at Catholics and those with similar beliefs.
“The Amish have a conscientious objection to health insurance, and so the law exempts them from buying it,” she wrote in a Jan. 24 blog post.
“Why are beliefs of Catholics and others dismissed?”
Pittsburgh, Pa., Jan 27, 2012 (CNA) - The new federal contraception mandate is “like a slap in the face” that says “To Hell with you!” to Catholics and religious freedom, Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh said.
“This is government by fiat that attacks the rights of everyone – not only Catholics; not only people of all religion. At no other time in memory or history has there been such a governmental intrusion on freedom not only with regard to religion, but even across-the-board with all citizens,” Bishop Zubik wrote in the Jan. 27 edition of the Pittsburgh Catholic.
“Kathleen Sebelius (Health and Human Services Secretary) and through her, the Obama administration, have said ‘To Hell with You’ to the Catholic faithful of the United States,” he charged, adding that the administration has damned Catholics’ religious beliefs, religious liberty and freedom of conscience.
The new rules from the Department of Health and Human Services mandate insurance coverage for “preventive services,” a category which the department ruled covers sterilization and contraception, including an abortifacient drug.
Catholic teaching recognizes the use of these procedures and drugs as sinful, but the mandate’s religious exemption is narrow and will not “practically speaking” apply to many Catholic health systems, educational institutions, charities and other organization, the bishop said. The mandate will apply in “virtually every instance where the Catholic Church serves as an employer.”
Bishop Zubik said the mandate treats pregnancy as a disease and “forces every employer to subsidize an ideology or pay a penalty while searching for alternatives to health care coverage.” It also undermines health care reform by “inextricably linking it to the zealotry of pro-abortion bureaucrats.”
He said the mandate tells Catholics “not only to violate our beliefs, but to pay directly for that violation” as well as to “subsidize the imposition of a contraceptive and abortion culture on every person in the United States.”
The bishop asked Catholics to write to President Obama, Secretary Sebelius, their senators and members of Congress.
“This mandate can be changed by Congressional pressure. The only way that action will happen is if you and I take action,” Bishop Zubik said.
“Let them know that you and I will not allow ourselves to be pushed around (or worse yet) be dismissed because of our Catholic faith.”
Unless the rules are changed, they will go into effect in one year.
Vatican City, Jan 27, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The upcoming 2012-2013 “Year of Faith” seeks to awaken humanity at a critical moment, Pope Benedict XVI said as he addressed the Church's highest doctrinal office on Jan. 27.
“In vast areas of the earth the faith risks being extinguished, like a flame without fuel,” the Pope told assembled members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who met in a plenary session on Friday.
“We are facing a profound crisis of faith, a loss of a religious sense which represents one of the greatest challenges for the Church today.”
Pope Benedict hopes the Year of Faith, which will run from Oct. 11, 2012 to Nov. 24, 2013, will contribute “to restoring God's presence in this world, and to giving man access to the faith, enabling him to entrust himself to the God who, in Jesus Christ, loved us to the end.”
“The renewal of faith,” the Pope announced, “must, then, be a priority for the entire Church in our time.”
His remarks to the doctrinal congregation came two days after the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, the final day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
The Pope spoke about the quest to reunite all Christians, as he acknowledged that ecumenical efforts had not always served to strengthen believers' faith.
Along with the “many good fruits that have emerged from ecumenical dialogue,” there are also “risks of indifference and of false irenicism” – which give the appearance of unity, without regard for truth.
In today's world, the Pope observed, there is an “increasingly widespread” perception “that truth is not accessible to man, and that, therefore, we must limit ourselves to finding rules to improve this world.”
“In this scenario,” he noted, “faith comes to be replaced by a shallow-rooted moralism,” which can cause the dialogue between Christian groups to become superficial.
“By contrast, the core of true ecumenism is faith, in which man encounters the truth revealed in the Word of God.”
Pope Benedict told officials of the doctrine congregation, the office he led before his election to the papacy, that controversial issues cannot be downplayed or ignored in talks between the Catholic Church and other Christian churches and communities.
Matters of faith and morals, he said, “must be faced courageously, while always maintaining a spirit of fraternity and mutual respect … In our dialogues we cannot overlook the great moral questions about human life, the family, sexuality, bioethics, freedom, justice and peace.”
By defending the Church's authentic tradition, he observed, “we defend man and we defend the creation.”
Lima, Peru, Jan 27, 2012 (CNA) - The new president of the Bishops’ Conference of Peru, Archbishop Salvador Pineiro Garcia Calderon of Ayacucho exhorted Peruvians to work for forgiveness and overcome the hatred sown by terrorism.
In a Jan. 26 press conference at the bishops’ conference offices, Archbishop Garcia Calderon called for peace and reconciliation but also said Peruvians must not forget “those difficult hours of humiliation, vengeance and hatred” they lived through during the 1980s and 90s because of the Shining Path, a Maoist rebel group.
His comments came as the Peruvian government rejected a request by the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights to form a political party. The organization is led by Manuel Fajardo, who is the attorney for the Shining Path’s leader, Abimael Guzman. The violence that took the lives of some 70,000 people finally abated in 1992 when Guzman was captured by the Peruvian government.
Archbishop Garcia Calderon also commented on the dispute between the Archdiocese of Lima and the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, which has refused to follow the statutes of Pope John Paul II’s “Ex Corde Ecclesia.” Last December, the Vatican appointed Cardinal Peter Erdo to mediate in the conflict.
“This is an issue that should have been studied as a family, without the media intervening. We should not forget that the Catholic University was born in the Church. Moreover, in the dialogue with culture, we must not forget the issue of faith,” he said.
Archbishop Garcia Calderon called on the media to practice “moderation in your lives and solidarity with those most in need, and to help us expand the work of the Church.”
Rome, Italy, Jan 27, 2012 (CNA) - The Catholic seminary in Rome where young Englishmen are trained for the priesthood turned 650 years-old on Jan. 27.
It was on that day in 1362 that the forerunner of the Venerable English College, a house for English and Welsh pilgrims to Rome, was founded. In the 16th century it became a seminary.
“It is right in the heart of Rome. It is a wonderful location,” said vice rector Fr. Mark Harold, as he gave a tour of the college to CNA.
The English College “is a really historic place and we believe it is the oldest English institution in the world outside England,” he explained.
The pilgrim house, which is tucked away on Rome’s Via di Monserrato, was in operation for about 200 years and enjoyed royal patronage.
Beginning in 1412 its front wall was emblazoned with the English Royal Coat of Arms – a crest that is still there today. During the reign of Henry VII it was known as the “King’s Hospice,” while Henry VIII described it as “Our Hospice.”
But that all changed in the 16th century when the English monarchy turned against the Catholic faith, fueling a Protestant Reformation in England.
“Then, Pope Gregory XIII met with Cardinal William Allen who was resident here in the hospice,” explained Fr. Harold. Pope Gregory said, “‘why don’t you found your seminary for the English here in this place on the Via Mosserato?’” Portraits of the two founders still claim pride of place in the seminary’s dining room.
Since its foundation in 1579 the English College has produced numerous martyrs who were killed for their Catholic faith upon return to England. The roll of honor in the college’s grand entrance hall is a litany of 10 former students who have been declared canonized saints, 28 who have been declared beatified, and four others who are venerable.
The impressive list of martyrs led to the college being bestowed with the title “Venerable” in 1818.
“It is very much part of the tradition of this college, a tradition of mission for the Catholic Church, a mission showing witness, showing martyrdom for Christ by giving their life,” said Fr. Harold.
He related how the college’s first martyr, St. Ralph Sherwin, was executed at Tyburn in central London in 1581, only two years after the seminary was founded.
His fellow students quickly developed a tradition that whenever an alumnus was martyred they would assemble in front of the college chapel’s altar piece to sing a “Te Deum Laudemus” in thanksgiving. That tradition will be repeated after Mass on Jan. 27.
Over the past 650 years the college has hosted many distinguished guests – from the poet John Milton to Cardinal John Henry Newman to Blessed John Paul II in 1979.
“It is also reported that William Shakespeare, who was a recusant Catholic – so many people say – visited Italy and the college. He certainly wrote widely about Italy in his plays,” claimed Fr. Harold.
This weekend many alumni will return to the college to celebrate the 650th anniversary, including Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who was also rector for six years in the 1970s.
They return to an institution that seems to be in good health with numbers of seminarians on the up and up. When Fr. Harold joined the staff three-and-a-half years ago the college had 25 students. Today it has 45. The majority come from England and Wales, while four hail from Scandinavia.
A former student himself, Fr. Harold says it is “a real privilege” to be a seminarian in Rome because it gives young men six years at the heart of the Church to develop both intellectually and spiritually.
“That spiritual development is particularly important – your life with Christ in prayer, to make it become part of you. Seminary life is not just about acquiring knowledge and skills. It is about growing in Christ,” he said.
Vatican City, Jan 27, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski told those affected by leprosy that God's love will never fail them.
In statement for the 59th World Leprosy Day, which will be observed on Jan. 29, the archbishop addressed survivors of the disease and those still suffering from it around the globe.
“He who is in suffering and … prays to the Lord is certain that God's love will never abandon him,” the Archbishop told those who are suffering from the disease.
Archbishop Zimowski, who heads the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, said that those currently being treated for leprosy can and must “express all the riches of their dignity and spirituality.” He also counseled them to be in solidarity with others who have been “equally afflicted and have been marked indelibly by this infection.”
Those who have been cured of the disease can “communicate their gratitude in a practical way” by providing moral support to those still suffering from leprosy and contributing to the identification and prevention of the disease, he said.
“Those who have attained a cure can in this way communicate all their interior riches ... as people touched by suffering and involved in working for the health of the community to which they belong.”
Leprosy, which is also called Hansen’s Disease, has not been eradicated from the modern world, although it continues to decrease every year. The World Health Organization estimated a total of about 200,000 cases in 2010 – 2011.
Archbishop Zimowski said that God's love and the love of the Church, which is an extension of God's work, “will never fail” them.
Pope Benedict XVI recently chose the gospel passage of Luke 17:19, “Stand and go; your faith has saved you” as the theme for the 20th World Day of the Sick, to be held on Feb. 11.
The archbishop pointed out that those afflicted by leprosy can find particular comfort in the Pope's scripture selection because it speaks of Christ's healing of the 10 lepers who were “readmitted to the community and reintegrated into the social occupational fabric.”
He expanded on the scripture passage by pointing out that the leper who returned to thank Jesus showed that “reacquired health is a sign of something more precious that mere physical healing.” The healing that the leper experienced was also a sign of salvation through Christ.
Archbishop Zimowski noted the many volunteer organizations that have helped in reducing the number of cases of leprosy, especially the Raoul Follereau Foundation based in Bologna, Italy.
He urged those involved in treating leprosy to fight against the disease and to continue their work “tenaciously” to reduce relapse cases.