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Archive of March 4, 2012

Weigel weighs in on HHS mandate during Rhode Island visit

Providence, R.I., Mar 4, 2012 (CNA) - Noted author, theologian and widely read Catholic columnist George Weigel weighed in on the controversy over President Obama’s Health and Human Services mandate during a speaking engagement last week at a dinner meeting of the Providence chapter of the international Catholic business organization, Legatus.

During a dinner at the Hope Club in Providence, R.I. , Weigel expressed optimism that the courts would support the Catholic Church’s position that a religious organization must not be forced to comply with a public policy that violates its religious freedom.

The federal mandate, set to take effect in 2013, requires employers to provide and pay for contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization services as part of the medical insurance coverage it offers for employees.

The president recently revised the mandate in an effort at an “accommodation” with the Catholic Church by placing a buffer between the employer and the insurance company, which would become responsible for providing the services at no cost to the insured. But with many church organizations self-funding their health plans, a diocese such as the Diocese of Providence would still be responsible for paying for coverage that violates its core beliefs.

“This is not a question of tweaking something that’s fixable; it’s about fixing something that is very wrong,” Weigel said. “It seems like we would have a very good chance at a judicial remedy for this.”

Weigel, who serves as Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., said that religious freedom is indeed being challenged in the U.S.

“The mandate is an attempt by the state and federal government to occupy space that it should not occupy,” he said.

But he feels the Church’s fight to retain its religious liberties is a winnable one.

The most important task for the courts in litigating cases opposing the violation of religious liberties is to issue rulings that have no areas of ambiguity.

“(Any ruling) has to involve the full expression of religious conviction,” Weigel said.

“In winning this, we will reestablish the principle of free exercise of religion.”

The author of 19 books, Weigel also related stories of his interactions with the late Pope John Paul II, many of which form the basis of his latest work, “The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II — The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy,” copies of which he signed following his presentation.

“It’s just a great gift for our chapter and our diocese,” said Father Marcel L. Taillon, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Narragansett, R.I., who also guided the formation of the Providence Legatus chapter five years ago and who continues to serve as the chapter’s spiritual leader.

Legatus is an organization comprised of Catholic CEOs and their spouses, with a mission to study, live and spread their faith in their business, professional and personal lives.

“It’s inspiring for all of us to listen to someone who knew Pope John Paul II so well and can translate into layman’s terms what we need to do in today’s culture to foster the culture of life,” said Joseph V. Cavanagh, president of the chapter.

Posted with permission from the Rhode Island Catholic, official newspaper for the diocese of Providence, R.I.

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Italian astronaut glimpsed God's beauty while in space

Rome, Italy, Mar 4, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Italian astronaut who spoke to Pope Benedict XVI from space says that being in orbit inspires deep contemplation and raises the mind and heart to God.

“It’s the beauty,” Roberto Vittori told CNA, “the beauty of the earth seen from space, the beauty of nature, the beauty of the blue planet,” which show “there must be something beyond science and technology.”

On 21 May 2011, 48-year-old Vittori was one of 12 astronauts on board the International Space Station who participated in the first ever Papal videoconference with outer space.

During the 18-minute conversation the Pope asked the Italian astronaut if “in the midst of your intense work and research” did he ever “stop to reflect like this or perhaps say a prayer to the Creator?” Vittori informed the Pope that “I do pray for me, for our families, for our future.”

“A videoconference is something standard onboard the International Space Station,” Vittori explained, but he added that “that videoconference nevertheless was special.”

“That type of opportunity was perceived as special, not only for the technicality, for the beauty of the scenario, but also for the depth of the messages that were filtering through the radio from the Vatican.”

A colonel in the Italian Air Force, Vittori was selected to be an astronaut in 1998 by the Italian Space Agency. He first journeyed into space in 2002 as part of a mission to the International Space Station. He has since twice returned, in 2005 and 2011. Last week on 23 Feb. he took part in a conference entitled “Space and God” which was co-organized by the Diocese of Rome.

He said the experience of being an astronaut “is so unique” that “when you’re back and you try to think about what happened, it almost seems that it never happened. It seems surreal.” He said space travel is an experience that “really captures your eyes and your heart.”

Before leaving on his 2011 mission, Vittori was given a special coin by Pope Benedict. It was engraved with Michelangelo’s “Creation of Man” as depicted in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. During his Papal videoconference, Vittori used the coin to illustrate the effects of microgravity. 

In Sept 2011 he and his fellow Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli personally returned the coin to Pope Benedict at a special audience held at the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.

“Space initially was an area of a competition, if not more, between Russia and the US,” he said, “but today space is putting together many countries including Russia and the US.” That is why he viewed “that particular journey of the coin from the Vatican to the Vatican” as symbolic of that cooperation.

At present Vittori, who is married with three children, is unsure if he will return to space for another mission or if he will opt for a more earth-bound job.

“I shall just have to wait and keep the faith,” he said smiling.

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Jesus is our light in dark times, Pope Benedict says

Vatican City, Mar 4, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The transfiguration of Christ reminds us that Jesus is the light who can overcome any darkness in our lives, Pope Benedict said March 4.  

“Dear brothers and sisters, we all have need of interior light to overcome the tests of life. This light comes from God and it is Christ who gives it to us, he in whom dwells all the fullness of divinity,” the Pope said in his Sunday Angelus address.

Speaking to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope dwelt on today’s Gospel, which recounts the Transfiguration of Jesus.

“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves; and he was transfigured before them,” the Gospel of St. Mark says. The episode is also described in the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Mark.

The Pope noted how there are two essential elements in each retelling of the story: the fact that Christ’s face and clothes “radiated a brilliant light” and that a “cloud enveloped the summit” from which a voice emanated saying, “This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him.”

Pope Benedict summed up those elements as “the light and the voice” -- the “divine light that shines on the face of Jesus, and the voice of the Heavenly Father who testifies for him and commands us to listen.”

This episode, he explained, “is not detached” from the Lenten path that will take Jesus towards “the fulfillment of his mission, well knowing that, to attain the resurrection, he will undergo suffering and death on the Cross.”

Christ had spoken openly of this to his disciples but “they do not understand and, indeed, have rejected this prospect,” the Pope recalled, because “they do not reason according to God but according to men.” 

Therefore, Christ wanted to reveal his “divine glory” and “the splendor of truth and love” to illuminate the hearts of his apostles for their passage through “the thick darkness of his passion and death, when the scandal of the cross will be for them unbearable.”

This “inner light” will protect them “from the assaults of darkness” because “even in the darkest night, Jesus is the light that never goes out.”

Pope Benedict drew his remarks to close with a “wonderful expression” from the 4-5th century theologian, St. Augustine of Hippo. “That which for the eyes of the body is the sun that we see, he (Christ) is for the eyes of the heart.”

Before leading the recitation of the Angelus at noon, he entrusted the pilgrims to the Virgin Mary as “our guide in the journey of faith,” that she may help us “to live this experience in Lent, to find some time each day for silent prayer and listening to the word of God.”

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