Portland, Maine, Mar 9, 2012 (CNA) -
While some media outlets have presented Bishop Richard Malone of Portland’s new pastoral letter on marriage as a sign the Catholic Church in Maine will not oppose a ballot measure to recognize “gay marriage” in the state, the diocese maintains that is not the case.
“There will be a ballot question committee, it will be established. We will work closely with that ballot question committee to promote the cause of defending marriage in November,” Brian Souchet, director of the Diocese of Portland’s Office for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, told CNA March 7.
“We still have a bully pulpit and the media’s still coming to us and we’re preaching the same message that we preached in 2009,” he added.
The 2009 ballot measure Question 1 passed by a vote of 53 to 47 percent. It overturned the Maine legislature’s law that legally recognized “same-sex marriages” in the state. Advocates of the unions have now secured enough signatures for a 2012 ballot referendum to recognize these unions.
On March 2, Bishop Malone released his new 22-page pastoral letter “Marriage: Yesterday – Today – Always.”
But that effort is distinct from political questions, Souchet explained.
“The pastoral letter is catechesis, pure and simple. People don’t understand properly the significance of marriage in God’s design. We want to make sure they do.”
“Our diocese, like any other diocese, teaches. We teach all the time. The fact that there happens to be a referendum is a separate issue.”
The letter grew out of the bishop’s 2006 launch of an initiative to revamp pre-Cana wedding preparation programs. In 2008, he released new program guidelines under the title “Telling Anew the Story of Marriage.”
The need for the pastoral letter became especially evident after the 2009 referendum said Souchet, who dismissed attempts to portray the letter as “a political document wrapped up in catechesis.”
If there were no marriage referendum in 2012, the diocese would have released the same document “without the same scrutiny.”
He also rejected as “wishful thinking” the depiction of the letter as a step back from a referendum fight and criticized bloggers who implied that the diocese had “raised the white flag.”
There have been some changes in the diocese’s approach to the measure.
Bishop Malone has said that the diocese will not hold a second collection for the political ballot committee like it did in 2009. He also will not solicit funds from other Catholic bishops for the effort.
“For one reason, the money just really is not there,” Souchet said.
He invited Catholics and the general public to read the bishop’s pastoral letter.
In that letter, Bishop Malone said he intends to reflect upon the “greatness and the beauty of marriage” as an “original gift” of God’s creation, as a vocation, and as “the foundational institution of family and society.”
The letter is presented at the website www.beautyofmarriage.org.
Vatican City, Mar 9, 2012 (CNA) - The Vatican’s top diplomat to the United Nations refugee agency told a conference in Rome that despite its challenges, migration is ultimately beneficial to everyone involved.
“In the long run migration has proven to be a benefit for both the countries of arrival and the countries of origin and, above all, for most of the migrants,” Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, the Holy See's Permanent Representative to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told CNA.
Archbishop Tomasi was speaking at a March 8 conference in Rome entitled “Building Bridges of Opportunity: Migration and Diversity” organized by the US Embassy to the Holy See and hosted by the Pontifical North American College.
He explained how any migration process initially brings challenges, which include “tensions, difficulties because of different languages, different habits and cultures which tend to clash.”
But if the native community can “overcome this first phase” they will then see how migrants “become good citizens of the new host country” and can “contribute not only their muscles and their work but their brain and their creativity to make the society a richer and more interesting type of society.”
Joining him on the panel were Miguel Diaz, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Demetrios Papademetriou of the Washington based Migration Policy Institute and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
During the seminar Cardinal Ravasi criticized some rural parts of northern Italy who he says reject immigration into their communities.
“These villages which are known to be very Catholic but actually are not Catholic at all,” said the Cardinal, “because they fight to keep the crucifix in the classroom but they happily take a migrant and throw him to the sea.”
He said that in these areas “being Christian meant going to the procession, devotions, prayer but evidently it had not got into the deepest part of human souls.” Thus he called for “a new evangelization” to catechize people on the issue of immigration.
Archbishop Tomasi said a balance had to be struck between “our Christian tradition of welcome of strangers” and the “need to keep into account the common good of country of arrival.”
“We can take in people but we cannot hurt the interest and the good of the workers in the country where people are trying to arrive,” he explained.
“The bottom line,” he said “is that migration is good for everybody” but “we need to educate ourselves to overcome the difficulties of the first years of impact.”
Philadelphia, Pa., Mar 9, 2012 (CNA) - After some closings and mergers, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia met with students in an online and in-person forum to discuss the future of Catholic schools in the archdiocese.
The archbishop told participants in the March 8 meeting that the two most important commodities for struggling Catholic schools are the students themselves and increasing enrollment.
Students from 17 Archdiocese of Philadelphia schools were present to offer commentary, ask questions and show support for their institutions.
Archbishop Chaput said that the three most important parts of keeping Catholic schools in the Philadelphia archdiocese alive and well are the students, vouchers and benefactors.
School choice in the form of vouchers, or opportunity scholarships, is essential for making a Catholic education available to students who otherwise would not be able to afford it, Archbishop Chaput told students.
Part of the new enrollment initiative involves the archdiocese's partnering with the Faith in the Future Foundation, which “was created to support and guide the system of archdiocesan high schools.” The recently launched foundation will provide over one million dollars in grants available to students.
Most of the grant money will be distributed in the form of 1,000 grants of $1,000 to incoming freshman students.
The Faith in the Future Foundation will also award a $5,000 scholarship at each high school to the student who refers the most new students for the 2012-13 school year, and one $25,000 grant to the student who refers the most new pupils to high schools across the Philadelphia archdiocese.
Archbishop Chaput announced that the foundation will sponsor a photo contest that will allow students to upload pictures expressing their school pride. Five students whose photos best express their support will receive a $1,000 tuition grant.
The March 8 meeting, streamed live on the archdiocese's website, allowed thousands of students to access the information Archbishop Chaput presented on how to be an ambassador for their schools.
“The danger,” he said, “is when we think someone else will help … it's all our responsibility.”
Today’s meeting between students and Archbishop Chaput followed a Feb. 23 announcement that four schools slated for closure due to lack of funding and low enrollment will remain open, a fact that Archbishop Chaput called “one of the best moments in the recent life of our Church.”
Aside from driving up enrollment as current students, Archbishop Chaput said that he hoped to see students helping their schools after graduation by coming back as teachers, women religious or priests, which would be a way to “generously serve the community.”
Lima, Peru, Mar 9, 2012 (CNA) -
Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani of Lima encouraged local doctors and health workers to always see Christ in the sick, who are a light that the world wishes to “extinguish.”
“When you see the sick, see Christ,” the cardinal said during his homily at a Mass celebrating the 60th anniversary of the San Juan de Dios Home and Clinic.
The San Juan de Dios clinic offers rehabilitation services to handicapped children and young people, especially in the fields of orthopedics.
Cardinal Cipriani expressed “infinite gratitude” for the clinic's work throughout the decades and encouraged doctors and volunteers to continue to care for their patients with devotion.
“As Cardinal and Pastor of this archdiocese, during this Mass I wish to join all the sick of the country and their families in praying to the Lord: give us joy and peace, cure us and encourage us.”
During his remarks, Cardinal Cipriani also noted the commemoration of International Women’s Day on March 8 and sent greetings to all the women of Peru, especially First Lady Nadine Heredia.
“Today as the world celebrated International Women’s Day, I send you my most affectionate blessings. I recall my mother and all the mothers of Peru and all women, especially those who are sick and troubled, that the Lord may fill them with comfort,” the cardinal said.
Madrid, Spain, Mar 9, 2012 (CNA) - New data from Spain's Ministry of Health shows that since the morning-after pill has been made available without a prescription, abortions have risen 1.3 percent in the country.
The figure was outlined by Javier Fernandez-Lasquetty, a health adviser to the Community of Madrid, during a full session of the Madrid Assembly on March 8.
Lasquetty, who said the Community of Madrid distributed the pill according to the law, noted that since it has been made available without a prescription in 2009, abortions have risen 1.3 percent – an increase of 1,150 abortions – in Spain.
He also noted that the current Minister of Health, Ana Mato, has commissioned a study on the pill and has insisted that the issue is not “ideological or moral or anything else but scientific.” She said the Ministry will wait for the results of the study before making any further decisions.
Vatican City, Mar 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - In an address that tackled attempts to redefine marriage, Pope Benedict XVI challenged the bishops of the United States to teach young people an authentic Catholic vision of sex and love.
“The richness of this vision is more sound and appealing than the permissive ideologies exalted in some quarters; these in fact constitute a powerful and destructive form of counter-catechesis for the young,” he said March 9.
The Pope was addressing the bishops of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. They are currently in Rome as part of their “ad limina” visit, which involves discussing the health of their dioceses with Pope Benedict and various Vatican departments, as well as making a pilgrimage to the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul.
“Young people need to encounter the Church’s teaching in its integrity, challenging and counter-cultural as that teaching may be,” he told the bishops.
Children must see this vision “embodied by faithful married couples who bear convincing witness to its truth,” but the wider Church also has to give them support “as they struggle to make wise choices at a difficult and confusing time in their lives,” the Pope said.
The Pope focused his audience remarks on outlining the roots of the “contemporary crisis of marriage and the family.”
This crisis is evident, he said, in the “weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant” and the widespread rejection of a “responsible, mature sexual ethic grounded in the practice of chastity.”
He noted that these decisions have led to “grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost.”
The Pope dealt first with the threat posed by attempts to legally redefine marriage.
He recognized that drive to redefine marriage was being pushed by “powerful political and cultural currents,” which require a “conscientious effort to resist this pressure.”
This has to be done, he said, with a “reasoned defense of marriage as a natural institution” consisting of “a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation.”
“Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage,” he said. This is why defending the institution of marriage is “ultimately a question of justice,” since it “entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike,” said the Pope.
Later this year, voters in Minnesota will accept or reject a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as “only a union of one man and one woman.”
Pope Benedict then addressed how the Christian vision of sex and love is taught to the young.
He said the bishops must “acknowledge deficiencies in the catechesis of recent decades.” This inadequate teaching has often failed to communicate “the rich heritage of Catholic teaching on marriage as a natural institution elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament,” as well as the “vocation of Christian spouses in society and in the Church, and the practice of marital chastity.”
He called for better instruction of both the young and those preparing for marriage, with programs based upon the Catechism of the Catholic Church. These should also address the “serious pastoral problem” presented by “the widespread practice of cohabitation, often by couples who seem unaware that it is gravely sinful, not to mention damaging to the stability of society.”
All Catholic family agencies should also give support and “reach out to” those who are divorced, separated, single parents, teenage mothers, women considering abortion, as well as children suffering due to family breakdown.
The Pope identified an “urgent need” for Christians to “recover an appreciation of the virtue of chastity” which, he reminded the bishops, is defined in the Catechism as an “apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom.”
Fundamentally, he said, the Christian understanding of sexuality is “a source of genuine freedom, happiness and the fulfillment of our fundamental and innate human vocation to love.”
He concluded by telling the bishops that children have “a fundamental right” to grow up with an “understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships.”
Vatican City, Mar 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Confession and true conversion of people’s hearts is the “motor” of all reform and an authentic “force for evangelization,” Pope Benedict XVI told a gathering of priests and deacons March 9.
The Pope reflected on confession in an address to 1,300 participants in the Apostolic Penitentiary’s annual course on the “internal forum,” a technical term for the area of personal conscience and judgment in the priest-penitent relationship.
In a novel speech, he connected the New Evangelization and confession, saying that the effort to spread the Gospel draws life from “the sanctity of the sons and daughters of the Church, from the daily process of individual and community conversion, conforming itself ever more profoundly to Christ.”
“Thus each confession, from which each Christian will emerge renewed, will represent a step forward for New Evangelization.”
Priests are also able to become collaborators in the New Evangelization by hearing confessions, the Pope said. They have as many possible “new beginnings” as sinners they encounter, he noted, because those who truly experience the mercy of Christ in confession will become “credible witnesses of sanctity.”
Pope Benedict also reflected on what happens spiritually during the sacrament of confession. The repentant sinner is “justified, forgiven and sanctified,” thanks to the divine mercy, which is the “only adequate response” to humankind’s need for the infinite, he said.
The forgiveness of sins has a direct impact on efforts to spread the Gospel, he explained, pointing out that only those “who allow themselves to be profoundly renewed by divine grace can internalize and therefore announce the novelty of the Gospel.”
The Pope also had some words for priests who hear confessions. He stressed the importance of spiritual and canonical preparation, and reminded them that priests must be the first to renew an awareness of themselves as sinners who need sacramental forgiveness to renew their encounter with Christ.
He finished his talk by urging his fellow priests to always make “novelty of Christ” the focus of their priestly lives so that others will see Christ in them.
Rome, Italy, Mar 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Catholic convert Father Peter Hughes prefers to describe himself as “an Anglican who is now in full communion with Peter.”
“In a personal sense I have made this journey, and it has been both a fascinating and a demanding one,” said Fr. Hughes, the prior of San Gregorio al Celio monastery in Rome, in an interview with CNA.
Fr. Hughes was received into the Catholic Church in 2000, after many years as an Anglican vicar in his native Australia and in England.
This weekend he will experience his life come full circle as he hosts both Pope Benedict XVI and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The two religious leaders will pray Vespers together to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the monastic Camaldolese Order, which has overseen San Gregorio since the mid 1500s.
“The thought of living one’s own ecclesial tradition in a different context and celebrating what is rich in both …is reflected in this whole celebration,” said Fr. Hughes.
He believes this weekend’s events signify the “deepest desire” of the Pope and the Anglican leader “to move towards a communion which symbolically, structurally, sacramentally, institutionally can finally reach its consummation.”
The venue of San Gregorio monastery comes with added significance for English Christians. In the late 6th century Pope Gregory the Great dispatched St. Augustine from the monastery to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, thus making them “not Angles, but Angels.” St. Gregory actually built the monastery on the site of his family home.
“This is the third time that a Pope has met with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the house of Gregory the Great,” Fr. Hughes explained.
“So, this connection with the English, this connection with Canterbury is fundamental to the celebration.”
In recent years, the search for unity has been made more difficult as many Anglican churches have liberalized their stance on moral issues, such as homosexuality.
An internal report published last year also suggested that the rate of decline among Anglican congregations is so severe that the Church of England could be “functionally extant” or effectively dead in 20 years.
But Fr. Hughes is still hopeful for Christian unity.
“We’re always searching for expressions of God’s will. I think the desire for unity is as strong as ever. I think we need to look for ways in which we can stimulate our progress,” he said.
“This weekend is a way of saying, ‘this is another step on the way,’ another way of lifting our spirits and saying this is still something to hope for and this is still something to work for concretely.”
New York City, N.Y., Mar 9, 2012 (CNA) -
A secularist group's New York Times ad that urges Catholics to leave the Church over its' resistance to the contraception mandate is being called “hate speech” by critics.
“Not a single Catholic who reads this ad will be impelled to leave the Church. That is not the issue,” said Catholic League president Bill Donohue. “The issue is the increase in hate speech directed at Catholics.”
The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation ad “It’s Time to Quit the Catholic Church” ran on March 9 and billed itself as an “open letter to 'liberal' and 'nominal' Catholics.”
“Will it be reproductive freedom, or back to the Dark Ages?” it asks. “Do you choose women and their rights, or Bishops and their wrongs? Whose side are you on?”
The ad claims that the church is “an avowedly antidemocratic Old Boys club” and derides Catholic teaching that contraception use is sinful. It also blames the Church for causing misery, poverty, unwanted pregnancies and deaths and attacks Catholic teaching on the ordination of women, parochial schools, and the Church’s response to sex abuse.
The ad, which includes an unflattering political cartoon of a Catholic bishop, claims that the U.S. Catholic bishops' conference has made a “declaration of war against women's right to contraception.”
U.S. Catholics are presently in a battle with the Obama administration over new federal mandates requiring employers, including religious employers, to provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs.
The secularist group’s ad claimed that these Catholic efforts are an attempt “to use the force of secular law to deny birth control to non-Catholics” and claimed that the Church’s effort to defend non-mandatory coverage is a “ruthless political inquisition.”
The foundation’s website says it raised $52,000 to place the ad on page 10 of the Times’ front section.
Donohue harshly criticized the newspaper ad, saying it engages in a “palpable” demonization of the Catholic Church and uses the HHS mandate as a “pretext” to attack the Church.
“Nothing will stop Catholics from demanding that the Obama administration respect their First Amendment rights, this vile assault by (the foundation) notwithstanding,” he said. “Why the Times allowed this ad is another issue altogether.”
Tokyo, Japan, Mar 9, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A year after one of the most devastating Japanese natural disasters in history, Archbishop Leo Jun Ikenaga of Osaka is calling on Catholics to pray for those who died in the earthquake and tsunami and for the reconstruction of the country.
“What happened on March 11, 2011 will never be forgotten in our lifetime,” Archbishop Ikenaga said in a letter to Japanese Catholics.
Archbishop Ikenaga urged the faithful to pray not only that the disaster areas will be reconstructed, but also that those who died as a result of the disaster “will be given eternal repose in the hands of God.”
To mark the first anniversary, bishops from all over Japan will celebrate Masses in their dioceses. Archbishop Ikenaga said it is his hope that these Masses will allow people to pray together “across the nation.”
Despite the horror of the earthquake and tsunami, which left the Japanese “deeply shocked,” Archbishop Ikenaga said he was able to “recognize how wonderful it is for people to support each other” by the generous donations and support of volunteers all over the world.
Koreans showed their support by holding up signs in front of news cameras that said, “We love Japan. Japan will overcome the hardship!”
The archbishop recalled how Japan received donations from “all over the world,” nuclear specialists from overseas offered “generous support,” and locals from “all over Japan” volunteered in the clean up.
“Facing unreasonable and cruel realities, we are largely impressed and encouraged by numerous people at home and abroad who are making every effort to help the affected persons,” Archbishop Ikenaga said.
On Feb. 15, all of the active Japanese bishops offered Mass at Tokyo’s Sekiguchu Cathedral in anticipation of the first anniversary of the disaster that killed an estimated 20,000 people. Approximately 400 people attended the Mass, which was dedicated to the memory of the disaster victims.
In his homily, Bishop Tetsuo Hiraga of Sendai – whose diocese is home to the crippled Fukushima Dai'ichi power plant – offered his thanks to the volunteers who came from Japan and abroad.
Volunteer efforts, mostly being organized by Caritas Japan and the Diocese of Sendai, are now focused on reconstruction and “will be carried on for many years to come.”
“The word 'unimaginable' has become a regular part of my vocabulary in the past year,” Bishop Tarcisius Isao Kikuchi of Niigata and president of Caritas Japan said in a March 11 letter to donors.
Less than a week after the March 11 earthquake, Caritas Japan sent staff to Sendai to work with the local diocese to provide relief and assist in the rebuilding process.
Caritas Japan opened its first relief base in Shiogama, a major fishing and fish processing city, to help clean up homes that were badly damaged but still salvageable. After shoveling mud and debris out of the homes, volunteers drank tea and spoke with residents, giving survivors a “sense of solidarity in rebuilding their lives.”
Ishinomaki, the second largest community in the Miyagi Prefecture, lost 4,000 residents to the tsunami that followed the earthquake. Many survivors were left homeless, but were able to find shelter at Kadonowaki Junior High School, one of Caritas Japan's largest evacuation centers.
In the town of Shizugawa, a fishing town in the Minami-Sanriku district, Caritas Japan opened a cafe-style distribution center “where listening to survivors facilitated relationships.” Since the establishment of temporary housing, Caritas Japan has created “mobile cafes” to distribute supplies and continue “its service of listening.”