Archive of March 1, 2012

National rallies seek religious freedom restoration on March 23

Chicago, Ill., Mar 1, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

On March 23, Catholics and other supporters of religious liberty will demonstrate outside federal buildings nationwide, demanding the withdrawal of the Obama administration's contraception mandate.

“We're going to have thousands of people across the country. It may even reach the tens-of-thousands,” said Pro-Life Action League Executive Director Eric Scheidler, whose group is joining with Citizens for a Pro-Life Society to organize the Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom.

“We really want this to be both a grassroots effort across the nation, and also really a unified effort with a very clear message. And that message is, to stand up for religious freedom and stop Obama's HHS mandate.”

Supporters will spread the message in peaceful protests outside government buildings “from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine, and everywhere in between,” Scheidler told CNA on Feb. 27.

“We're really encouraging people to invite local religious leaders: not just Catholics, but Protestants, Jews, even Muslims, to participate as special speakers at the rallies as well.”

Scheidler stressed that opposition to the federal contraception mandate “really isn't just a Catholic issue. This is a direct attack on the constitutionally-protected right of religious organizations to define their own mission and purpose, which has been abrogated by the Obama administration.”

Organizers chose the March 23 date in order to hold the rally on the Friday closest to the Roman Catholic Church's celebration of the Annunciation.

In a coincidence Scheidler said was both unintended and providential, March 23 is also the date on which, in 1775, the American revolutionary Patrick Henry declared: “Give me liberty, or give me death!”

Organizers of the Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom released a Feb. 27 declaration outlining their criticisms of the Health and Human Services mandate. The rule compels many religious groups to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs through their health care plans.

Scheidler and Monica Miller, the director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, explained that they were standing against “the federal government's definition of what constitutes a religious institution,” through the “narrowly constructed 'exemption' to the HHS mandate” for certain groups.

They also oppose the mandate “forcing all businesses – not just religious institutions – to provide coverage of contraception, sterilizations, and abortion-inducing drugs, if even doing so violates their own moral convictions on these matters.”

Finally, they noted that the rule goes wrong by defining contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs as “preventative care” – a classification that “treats pregnancy and childbirth as a disease.”

In his work for the Pro-Life Action League, Eric Scheidler has taken an exceptionally strong stance against contraception, and the “contraceptive mindset,” as the root cause of many abortions. He believes the contraception mandate may be a learning opportunity for non-Catholics in the pro-life movement.

“A 2,000-year old institution, that is still here today, has this teaching – that it has always had,” Scheidler noted, reflecting on the Church's counter-cultural witness against contraception. “I hope this will be a teaching moment.”

“We're not the Amish, who have some kind of problem with the modern world,” he pointed out. “Catholics are fully participating in all aspects of the 21st century” – while maintaining their ancient and consistent teaching against the intentional sterilization of sexual acts.

Scheidler, an Eastern-rite Catholic who rejoined the Church as an adult, hopes that the outcry over the mandate will also prompt “deep reflection on the part of (Catholic) bishops,” about their obligation to teach clearly on the subject of contraception.

“They really have not stepped up, over the past 40 years, to defend the Church's ageless teaching on contraception the way that they could have – particularly in the wake of 'Humanae Vitae.'”

That 1968 encyclical of Pope Paul VI, reaffirming the teaching against contraception, provoked controversy and even prompted some departures from the Church.

But Scheidler recalled that its teaching actually brought him back to Christ.

“I was an atheist when I walked into my first Natural Family Planning class, about 15 years ago. I walked out of that first class really intrigued by what the science might be able to show me, and willing to go along with the class even though I thought the religious part of it was a bunch of 'hooey.'”

“By the end of that course I had gone back to confession, and was helping my wife to discern whether she was called to become Catholic – which she eventually did.”

“I came to believe the Church was right about contraception before I believed she was right about anything else, even the existence of God himself,” Scheidler recalled.

He came to this conclusion by comparing his own life experience with the predictions made by Paul VI in “Humanae Vitae.”

“I reflected on my own marriage, and I saw that the very problems Pope Paul VI pointed out about contraception – how it would twist and distort a man's attitude towards his wife … I had to admit that I was guilty of so much of what the Church predicted contraception would do. It just rang true to me.”

Scheidler hopes to reach the culture with the truth of this teaching – but his first priority with the Nationwide Rally for Religious Freedom is to secure the Church's freedom to practice its beliefs on the institutional level.

“It's not just a few pundits and a few bishops,” he said. “There are people out there who reject the idea that pregnancy and childbirth are diseases that need to be controlled and prevented … There are people who believe this is an encroachment of their religious freedom.”

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Arizona State to offer theology classes through Catholic university

Tempe, Ariz., Mar 1, 2012 (CNA) -

In a very uncommon partnership between state-run and Catholic universities, Arizona State University students will be able to take courses in Catholic theology or Catholic studies under a new agreement announced March 1.

“This is an astonishing opportunity to bring Catholic higher education to the state of Arizona,” University of Mary president Father James Shea said. “About 25 percent of the population is Catholic, but there is not a Catholic college or university here.”

The Arizona public university, with an enrollment of over 72,000, and the Bismarck, North Dakota-based Catholic university of about 3,100 students have been in talks about the endeavor for more than a year, Fr. Shea told CNA Feb. 29.

The courses will be taught at the Newman Center in Tempe, which is adjacent to the Arizona State campus, and will begin in fall 2012. The effort means that students who wish to continue their Catholic education or who are interested in studying theology may do so without going out of state.

Students will be able to earn a major or a minor in theological studies or Catholic studies through the University of Mary.

“Students are deeply enriched, even if they are not Catholic, by the treasures of the Catholic faith and Catholic teaching. Theology is something that strives for an integrated approach to the most enduring questions of human life. Those are the types of discussions which should take place at every university,” Fr. Shea said.

Despite Arizona State’s “impressive offerings,” they do not offer classes in theology.

Fr. Shea explained that the project will expand the Arizona State’s offerings while giving the Catholic university’s best programs a new home.

He credited the project to Arizona State president Michael Crow’s strategic plan to create a university that is “deeply engaged in the immediate needs of the people of the community.” Carr’s pledge for broad and wide partnerships with all interested parties prompted Fr. Shea to inquire about a partnership with a Catholic university.

“I never thought that they’d have any type of interest in this. But they mean what they say. ASU has been so open, and so eager, and so excited, in all of the talks leading up to tomorrow’s announcement. They’ve been a joy to work with.

“They’re interested in the project of Catholic higher education. They want to make it accessible to their students, so that students can get an academic element which is Catholic as part of their ASU degree.”

Arizona State president Michael Crow said March 1 that the university is “dedicated to the inclusion of all” and that he has invited all faith-based groups to “plant their flags deep at the university.”

The state university said this approach has resulted in an expansion of the LDS Institute and new construction at the Catholic Newman Center.

The Newman Center itself has been part of the planning process. According to Fr. Shea, its priests predict that student interest will be “through the roof.” Feasibility studies have also found strong demand for Catholic higher education in the region.

At the same time, the University of Mary has had to be “very clear” that it is not engaged in “proselytism” at a state university.

“That’s important to them, because they’re a public university, and there are tricky issues of church and state. For Arizona State to stick out their neck like this, and for the enterprise of Catholic higher education, that’s really a courageous thing to do. We don’t want them to get burned along the way,” Fr. Shea remarked.

The university has experience teaching non-Catholics, who make up about half of its students in Bismarck.

The priest reflected on the balance the Catholic institution must strike in its new project.

“On the one hand, the reason Catholic universities exist is to evangelize, to be a leaven in the culture, and to bring the truths of faith and reason to the wider world. At the same time we don’t evangelize in the way that a catechetical institute evangelizes. That’s really important.”

While on one level the goal might be to bring people to Jesus, the University of Mary classes do so “in the way that a university does it.”

“We offer programs which are widely open to truth in different manifestations. We educate the minds of our students, such that they’re able to get a taste for truth and seek it in all of its forms.”

Arizona State students who wish to take courses from the University of Mary may register as non-degree seeking students without a formal application or acceptance. Students then register for courses through the Catholic university and pay tuition and fees directly to the school.

Fr. Shea believes the project is without precedent.

He said every Catholic university should find a way to place itself at the service of the Church.

“This is a new way for us to do this.”

“We really want this to be an endeavor that enriches all sorts of people and which is done for the glory of God,” he said. “We’re as interested as anybody to see how it’s going to work out.”

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London Olympics spark fear of human trafficking increase

London, England, Mar 1, 2012 (CNA) -

Catholic leaders in the United Kingdom are worried that London has become the new home for human traffickers with the summer Olympics less than five months away. 

“People are simply not aware that this is happening in our own backyards. This is a very important issue that we need to tackle,” said Cecilia Taylor-Camara, a senior policy adviser on migration for the bishops' conference in England and Wales.

In a recent meeting, Taylor-Camara warned Caritas Europa's secretary general Jorge Nuño Mayer that human trafficking is rapidly growing in the U.K. as the July 27 – Aug. 12 global sports event nears.

The two spoke after a meeting with the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community in Brussels in late February.

The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales is working with London Metropolitan police to host an event in May with organizations for human trafficking victims living in Europe.

Advocacy groups from Nigeria, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe – the countries with the highest numbers in human trafficking – will also be attending.

“We want to raise awareness of the growing concern of the spread of human trafficking and to ensure the Church has a collective approach about it,” Taylor-Camara said.

Nuño Mayer added that he's “happy that the Bishops’ Conference is involved with European issues” and said he appreciates Taylor-Camara's work as “it shows again how the Church is committed to people in need.”

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Academics' defense of infanticide supported by pro-choice logic

Denver, Colo., Mar 1, 2012 (CNA) - Abortion supporters can see their own principles and logic reflected in a new article advocating the killing of newborn children, published by the Journal of Medical Ethics in February 2012.

“What we call ‘after-birth abortion’ – killing a newborn – should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled,” Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva argue in their paper entitled “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?”

Minerva and Giubilini are academic philosophers associated with institutions in Italy and Australia. Their defense of infanticide rests on the claims that “both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons,” while adoption “is not always in the best interest of actual people.”

“The proposal of a so called 'after-birth abortion' is not a surprise,” Italian neonatologist and Pontifical Academy for Life member Dr. Carlo Bellieni told CNA on Feb. 29, offering his response to the article.

“It is only a quantitative extension of abortion, but not a qualitative change,” the pro-life physician said, noting that “at birth nothing substantial happens in the body or psyche of a baby” to distinguish it from what abortion advocates call a mere “fetus.”

Dr. Bellieni indicated that defenders of legal abortion have no grounds on which to give a “scandalized response” to the proposed killing of newborns, since “in both cases the life of a human being is terminated.”

In their article, Giubilini and Minerva also emphasized the continuity between traditional abortion, and the killing of newborns which they defend.

The authors say the practice should be called “after-birth abortion, rather than infanticide,” in order to “emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus – on which ‘abortions’ in the traditional sense are performed – rather than to that of a child.”

According to Giubilini and Minerva, both an unborn fetus and a newborn child can be legitimately killed because “both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”

“Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life,’” they state in their article.

They define a “person” as “an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some – at least – basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”

“This means that many non-human animals and mentally retarded human individuals are persons, but that all the individuals who are not in the condition of attributing any value to their own existence are not persons. Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.”

“It is true,” they acknowledge, “that a particular moral status can be attached to a non-person by virtue of the value an actual person, e.g., the mother, attributes to it.”

In such a situation, they explain, the moral status of the alleged non-persons would depend upon the “particular value” that someone else “projects on them” – and “such a projection is exactly what does not occur when a newborn becomes a burden to its family.”

They also argue against the idea that voluntary killing deprives a “potential person, like a fetus and a newborn,” of a right to develop into an “actual person, like you and us.” The fetus or newborn, they explain, cannot be either granted or denied rights they are incapable of possessing.

“So, if you ask one of us if we would have been harmed, had our parents decided to kill us when we were fetuses or newborns, our answer is ‘no,’” Minerva and Giubilin respond.

“They would have harmed someone who does not exist … And if no one is harmed, then no harm occurred.”

After the article's appearance in the international, peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Ethics, various Catholic pro-life advocates pointed to the continuity between its arguments and those advanced by mainstream abortion supporters.

Princeton Professor Robert George is a colleague of the ethicist Peter Singer, who has made headlines for defending infanticide as morally acceptable and equivalent to abortion. In a Feb. 27 online post, George said the Journal of Medical Ethics article showed Singer's position moving to the mainstream.

“Who will raise their voices against this madness?” George asked.

“Plenty of conservatives will, of course,” he predicted. “Will liberal voices be raised? I hope so. Surely if respected philosophers were arguing for a right to kill members of a racial or ethnic minority group, as opposed to infant children, there would be denunciations from left and right alike.”

But George foresaw a dilemma for supporters of a “right” to abortion.

Giubilini and Minerva, like Singer and some other infanticide advocates, are “simply following out the logic of their commitment to ‘abortion rights.’ Or so it seems to them, and to me.”

Oklahoma University Law Professor Michael Scaperlanda concurred with Professor George and Dr. Bellieni. He told CNA on Feb. 29 that abortion supporters lacked any persuasive, well-grounded reason for rejecting infanticide.

He agreed that Minerva and Giubilini “are following the 'pro-choice' logic in extending this to infanticide. It turns out that, post-conception, there really is no logical line when somebody is 'a person' or 'not a person.'”

Scaperlanda noted that the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who established the court's fetal “viability” criterion in the Roe v. Wade decision and defended it as a “logical and biological” demarcation, actually saw the distinction as arbitrary according to internal court documents.

Pro-life advocates, he said, should press abortion supporters on whether they are willing to accept the logical implications of their position, drawn out by Giubilini and Minerva.

“The logic of the argument's not going to necessarily win the people who don't want to see it,” he reflected. “But there are going to be some people in the population who say, 'Oh, wait – I don't want to support infanticide … This is causing my conscience to be pricked.'”

“What I would say to that person is: Think about it. You don't have to make a decision today, but where would you draw the line and why? Why do you draw it five minutes after birth, or one minute after birth – or at birth?”

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Vatican urges Catholics to help Church in Holy Land

Vatican City, Mar 1, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The Vatican has called on Catholics around the world to give generously to the traditional Good Friday collection for the Holy Land.

“The annual Lenten journey towards the Pasch of the Lord offers a propitious occasion to sensitize the Catholic Church around the world with regard to the Holy Land by promoting relevant initiatives of prayer and fraternal charity,” said Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, in a letter sent to the bishops around the world on March 1.

The annual collection goes not only towards the Church in Israel and Palestine but also to Christians in the surrounding states of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Egypt. Recent political upheaval in the region is creating an uncertain future for many Christians in these lands.

It was in this part of the world, Cardinal Sandri reminded the bishops, that “the Son of God made man” traveled “announcing the Kingdom” before going up “to the Holy City” to be crucified.

From that time, he added, “every Christian finds himself at home in that City and in that Land.”

Cardinal Sandri also reminded the bishops of the “unceasing request of Pope Benedict XVI that the mission of the Church in the Holy Places be generously supported.”

Last month, the Pope told a gathering of 182 ambassadors to the Holy See of his concern “for the people of those countries where hostilities and acts of violence continue, particularly Syria and the Holy Land.”

Pope Benedict also used a Sunday Angelus address to issue a “the pressing appeal to put an end to the violence...for the common good of the whole of society and the Region.”

Cardinal Sandri spoke of the urgent need to support the “schools, medical assistance, critical housing, meeting places,” and other such social services which the Catholic Church provides “to all without exception,” in the region.

By offering its charity to all religious groups the Church thus helps create a form of “fraternity” which can help “overcome division and discrimination” and give “renewed impetus to ecumenical dialogue and interreligious collaboration.”

As for the plight of the Christian minority in the region “Good Friday seems more fitting than ever as a sign of the needs of both pastors and faithful, which are bound up with the sufferings of the entire Middle East,” he said.

Many of the countries in the region have witnesses a dwindling of their Christian populations in recent years due to emigration. Cardinal Sandri said this exodus is “exacerbated by the lack of peace, which tends to impoverish hope.”

His comments come on the day that a report was published detailing how the money from last year’s Good Friday collection was spent. The report was produced by the Custody of the Holy Land, a branch of the Franciscan order with responsibility for the Holy Places.

It explained how the 2011 Good Friday funds were used to restore and maintain numerous shrines, churches and convents in the Holy Land including such places as Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Magdala and Mount Tabor.

A significant part of the proceeds were also used to fund student scholarships, to help small business, and to build houses, schools and play areas for children.

Cardinal Sandri concluded his letter with the hope that Pope Benedict's upcoming Year of Faith will be an opportunity for Christians worldwide to “restore the spiritual patrimony which we have received from these Christians’ two millennia of fidelity to the truth of the faith.”

This can be done, he said, through “prayer, by concrete assistance, and by pilgrimages.”

As for his prayer for this year’s Good Friday, he asked that “around the Cross of Christ, let us be conscious of being together with these brothers and sisters of ours.”

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Future Spanish saint's intercession cured 3-year-old

Rome, Italy, Mar 1, 2012 (CNA) -

On Oct. 21, the Church will celebrate the canonization of Sister Carmen Salles y Barangueras, whose cause for sainthood was approved after her intercession caused the miraculous cure of a 3-year-old Brazilian girl suffering from a brain condition.

The miracle occurred in Sao Paolo in 1999 when 3 year-old Maria Isabel Gomes de Melo Gardelli was suffering from acute cerebral ischaemia, which left her with paralysis and facial deformities.

With no hope of recovery, her treatments were stopped and her parents, themselves doctors, brought her home to care for her until her eventual passing. Together with Maria Isabel’s classmates at Maria Inmaculada School in Sao Paolo, the family began a novena to Sister Carmen Salles for a miraculous cure.

The postulator for Sister Carmen’s cause for canonization, Mother Maria Asuncion Valls Salip, told CNA it was “on the fifth day of the novena that she was cured…the prayers of children are very powerful.”

Doctors were skeptical that she was completely cured. Even if she received years of therapy and treatment, they said, she would be at serious risk of epilepsy and other secondary illnesses.

Since the time of her healing, Maria Isabel has undergone 27 different medical examinations “and absolutely no long-term effects remain,” Mother Valls said. Now at age 15, she has even been offered careers in modeling.

Mother Valls said she is also a “brilliant student” with “a great ability to comprehend.” 

“There is no doubt this is a miracle,” she added.

A recent CAT scan shows scars from her condition remain visible on her brain, which Mother Valls said demonstrate the miraculous nature of her recovery.

Born in the Spanish region of Catalonia in 1848, Carmen Salles founded the Missionary Conceptionists of Hope, a religious order dedicated to helping women through education and formation. She was a pioneer in proclaiming equality between men and women and in defending the dignity of women in the home and in society at large.

She was beatified by Pope John Paul II on March 15, 1998, and her canonization is set for October 21, 2012.

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Senate rejects Blunt amendment to defend religious freedom

Washington D.C., Mar 1, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

An amendment to ensure that a religious exemption would be included in the federal health care overhaul was killed by a narrow margin in the U.S. Senate on March 1.

Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who introduced the amendment, said that he was “truly disappointed” with the vote and vowed that he would continue working to defend religious freedom.

“This fight is not over,” he stated.

“The need to defend citizens’ rights of conscience is the most critical issue before our country right now,” said Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who heads the U.S. Catholic bishops’ religious liberty committee.

He vowed to continue working to “build on this base of support” and defend conscience rights “through all available legal means.”

The Senate voted 51-48 to “table” the proposed amendment, effectively killing it by preventing an up-or-down vote on the amendment itself. The move was made possible by the vote of multiple Catholic Democrats to defeat the legislation.

The discussion and vote came only after overcoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) procedural attempt to block the Blunt amendment, which he called “senseless.”

The proposed amendment would have allowed health care providers to opt out of providing coverage that violates their “religious beliefs or moral convictions.”

Blunt argued that his amendment was necessary to protect the First Amendment guarantees of religion freedom against the demands of the Obama administration’s contraception and sterilization mandate.

The federal mandate requires employers to purchase insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs, even if doing so violates their conscience.

Both religious and secular groups voiced strong objections to the mandate. In response, President Barack Obama announced a Feb. 10 “accommodation” for religious freedom. Instead of having employers directly purchase the controversial coverage, the promised revision would require them to buy health care plans from insurance companies that would be required to offer the coverage for free.

Critics have argued that the proposed revised rule is insufficient to protect religious freedom, noting that insurance companies will likely pass the costs of the “free” coverage on to employers in their premiums. 

One day before the March 1 vote, Blunt noted that his amendment would not block “the mandate itself” but merely ensure that religious providers have an exemption from it.

He also observed that the amendment did not directly mention “contraception” or any other procedure. He explained that it was “not about a specific procedure” but about “a faith principle that the First Amendment guarantees.”

By amending a transportation bill that was already up for debate in the Senate, Blunt’s legislation would have addressed concerns about the mandate immediately. 

However, other legislative efforts to fight the mandate are still being considered, including the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which was introduced by Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and has received the support of 219 cosponsors in the House of Representatives.

The U.S. bishops have joined numerous other groups and individuals in opposing the contraception mandate. They have called for legislation to repeal the mandate and defend religious freedom for Americans.

“Religious freedom is at the heart of democracy and rooted in the dignity of every human person,” said Bishop Lori. “We will not rest until the protection of conscience rights is restored and the First Amendment is returned to its place of respect in the Bill of Rights.”

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Papal preacher’s homily themes for Lent 2012 revealed

Vatican City, Mar 1, 2012 (CNA) -

The Preacher to the Papal Household has revealed the topics for the four homilies he will preach to Pope Benedict XVI during Lent.

“Every time we will be at the school of one of the ‘four great doctors of the Eastern Church’ – Athanasius, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa – to see what each one says to us today about the dogma” each of them championed, Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., said in a statement issued March 1 by the Vatican.

Those teachings were, respectively: “the divinity of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Trinity and the knowledge of God,” he explained.

The sermons will be held in the Vatican’s Redemptoris Mater chapel at 9 a.m. over the four Fridays of Lent, March 9-30.
The overarching theme this year is “The Fathers of the Church, teachers of the faith,” which was inspired by a quotation from St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews 13:7 – “Remember your leaders and imitate their faith.”

With the Church’s Year of Faith beginning in October, Fr. Cantalamessa said his sermons “are intended to draw momentum and restore freshness to our belief, through renewed contact with the ‘giants of faith’ of the past.”

“The Church Fathers” is the term used to denote the most influential Christian thinkers of the early Church whose teachings have set precedents for the subsequent centuries.

St. Athanasius was a 4th-century bishop of Alexandria in Egypt. He was the leading opponent of the Arian heresy, which taught Jesus was not co-equal with God the Father.

The three other Church Fathers who will feature in the Lenten papal homilies are known collectively as the “Cappadocian Fathers,” since they hailed from Cappadocia region of what is now Turkey.

Sts. Basil and Gregory were brothers who were also bishops during the 4th- century. They led the dioceses of Caesarea and Nyssa, respectively. The final Cappadocian Father was a close friend of the brothers, named St. Gregory Nazianzen, who became the Patriarch of Constantinople.

All three made major contributions towards the definition of the Holy Trinity which was finalized at the First Council of Constantinople in 381. It was there that the final version of the Nicene Creed was agreed upon.
Fr. Cantalamessa, 77, has been the official preacher to the Papal Household since 1980. His job consists of giving a meditation every Friday of Lent and Advent to the senior members of the Roman Curia, including the Pope.

That means Fr. Cantalamessa has been preaching to Pope Benedict – who was previously Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – for all of his 30 years in Rome.

“It is actually a very simple ministry because the Pope at that moment is just a listener among other listeners,” he told CNA in December 2011.

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Mexican bishops announce papal Mass tickets are free

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 1, 2012 (CNA) - Bishops in Mexico announced that tickets to attend the Mass Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate on March 25 in the city of Leon are not to be sold and are available free-of-charge.

Tickets will be made available starting March 12, first in the Archdiocese of Leon, and then to other dioceses throughout the country. 

The Bishops’ Conference of Mexico and the government’s consumer protection agency, PROFECO, warned Mexicans to be on the lookout for scalpers attempting to profit from the papal visit by fraudulently selling tickets to the Mass.

Official information on the papal visit set for March 23-26 can be found at the bishops’ website at and at the official website for the visit at

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Illinois diocese prays for storm victims

Belleville, Ill., Mar 1, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The Diocese of Belleville prayed for victims and pledged its help after storms and tornados in southern Illinois killed at least six people and destroyed hundreds of buildings, including a Catholic church.

“We pray for the souls of those who were killed in the tornadoes. And we pray for the deliverance of all those who are injured and homeless,” Fr. John Myler, the diocese’s communications officer, told CNA March 1.

Six died in the town of Harrisburg, which was hardest hit. Five of the deceased lived in duplexes on the same street, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Over 300 buildings there were leveled by the Feb. 29 storm, whose winds reached up to 180 mph in speed. The National Weather Service has initially classified the tornado in its second most powerful category.

The town of Ridgway witnessed no loss of life, Fr. Myler said, but its gothic-style St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was “completely destroyed.”

He said that knowledge of the situation is “very difficult” because communication links are down.

“A lot of what we know we’re getting form the news, and from visiting and seeing,” the priest reported. A tornado is “a force of nature which is awesome but also, sometimes, awful.”

He said the local diocese has promised assistance for the victims.

“As the needs become more apparent, we are ready to react to the physical and the spiritual needs of the people. They have good pastors in those towns and parishes who are responding well,” Fr. Myler said.

Other storms hit Missouri, Kentucky, and Kansas in recent says causing additional deaths and heavy damage.

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