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Archive of March 12, 2012

Cubans thrilled over Fr. Varela's step towards sainthood

Havana, Cuba, Mar 12, 2012 (CNA) - The global director of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Paya, said Cubans are overjoyed at recent approval of the heroic virtues of 19th century priest Father Felix Varela.

“It would be very wonderful” if Pope Benedict XVI declared him “venerable” before the pontiff's upcoming March 25-28 visit to the country, Paya told CNA.

On March 6, the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints approved a decree on the heroic virtues of Fr. Varela – who is widely considered the patron of Cuba – which must now be signed by Pope Benedict XVI. The priest would then need a Vatican-approved miracle to become beatified and another before being canonized.

Paya said a declaration by the Pope would be “great news” and is something “desired by very many Cubans” who already believe Fr. Varela lived a holy life. 

Nevertheless, Paya said he respects the Church’s decisions and trusts in her wisdom and inspiration “as mother and teacher.”

Paya said Fr. Varela is very popular among Cubans and that while many need to learn more about his life, “They see him as one of the shapers and founders of our national identity, as the man who spoke to us about national independence and against slavery.”

He said his life and work were the inspiration behind the Varela Project, which the Christian Liberation Movement launched to help bring about a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba.

Felix Varela Morales was born in Havana on November 20, 1788, orphaned at a young age, and raised by his grandparents. At the age of 23, he was ordained a priest and devoted himself to teaching.

In 1821 he was elected to represent of the Spanish colony of Cuba before the government of Madrid.
He left for Spain that year, never imagining that he would never again return to Cuba.

Fr. Varela made three proposals to the Spanish crown that would lead to his exile. He called for the abolition of slavery, for Cuban independence and for self-rule for the colonies in the Caribbean.

With the outbreak of Absolutism in Spain in 1823, Varela fled Madrid and was denied entry into Cuba.  He was forced to settle in New York, where he worked as a pastor and eventually as vicar general. He continued speaking out and writing for the defense of human rights and freedom for Cuba.

His poor health forced him to move to St. Augustine, Florida, where he spent the last four years of his life. He died on Feb. 25, 1853.

“Fr. Felix Varela is an example of holiness, priestly life and patriotism. To those of us who launched this campaign for peaceful change, for reconciliation and for the rights of the person, he is also a teacher and an inspiration,” Paya said.

Fr. Varela’s message is very relevant for present-day Cuba, he continued, “because we are living under a regime that is constantly trying to justify the denial of personal freedoms, the denial of civil and political rights, supposedly in defense of national independence and sovereignty. 

And Fr. Varela, as we know him here in Cuba, taught us that a nation is not sovereign if its people are not free, if their dignity is not respected, if all of their rights are not respected.”

Paya said Cubans who live exile can also identify with this priest who in his own life endured persecution and exile. 

“When speaking of Cubans who live in exile, we must think of them as punished, punished by this regime, because the worst thing for a Cuban to have to do is to leave his homeland. And Fr. Varela suffered this under threat of death.”

“This saintly man – and it’s not for me to proclaim he was, but I believe it myself and thus I have the freedom to say it – was also an example in his poverty, in his care for the poor,” Paya added.

“Like all the saints, his holiness was found precisely in giving of himself with the love that comes from Jesus Christ,” he said.

The Varela Project was launched in 2001 by the Christian Liberation Movement to promote the transition to peaceful democracy in Cuba through a massive drive to collect signatures in support of a referendum. The Cuban government rejected the petition despite massive support.

During his trip to Cuba in 1998, Pope John Paul II called Fr. Varela the “cornerstone of the Cuban nationality” and “the best synthesis between Christian faith and Cuban culture.”

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Vatican commission affirms scripture as 'soul of theology'

Vatican City, Mar 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholic theology can be judged by its fidelity to Biblical revelation, the Vatican's International Theological Commission affirmed March 8 in a new document on the role of theologians.

“Theology in its entirety should conform to the scriptures, and the scriptures should sustain and accompany all theological work,” the commission said in its document “Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria.”

Fidelity to scripture is essential, the commission stated, “because theology is concerned with the truth of the Gospel, and it can know that truth only if it investigates the normative witness to it in the canon of sacred Scripture.” Such investigation “relates the human words of the Bible to the living Word of God,” Jesus Christ himself.

The International Theological Commission assists the Vatican's highest doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in its examination of questions about Church teaching. The commission's current president, Cardinal William J. Levada, is also the prefect of the congregation.

Cardinal Levada authorized the release of the new document, which has been in the works since 2004. Attributed to the commission as a whole, the text was drafted in accordance with further studies led by Monsignor Paul McPartlan, a theology professor at the Catholic University of America.

The document begins by acknowledging the growth in new areas of theology following the Second Vatican Council. During the same period, however, there has been “a certain fragmentation of theology,” making it difficult for the discipline to maintain “its own true identity.”

While there is room for a legitimate diversity of theological insights, the Church also needs “a common discourse … to communicate the one message of Christ to the world.”

According to the commission members, true Catholic theology “arises from an attentive listening to the Word of God,” “situates itself consciously and faithfully in the communion of the Church,” and is “orientated to the service of God in the world” through the communication of revealed truth.

Remedies for the “fragmentation” of theology, they suggested, can be found in the Second Vatican Council's official teachings – particularly in “Dei Verbum,” its text on the topic of divine revelation.

“The ‘study of the sacred page’ should be the ‘very soul of sacred theology,’” the commission recalled, quoting Vatican II's “core affirmation with regard to theology.” Thus, “biblical themes should have first place” for modern theologians, as they did for the early Church Fathers.

Catholic theology can also be judged by its faithfulness to the Church's constant tradition – which includes its forms of prayer and worship, its formulation of creeds, and the moral rule of life which it sets out for its members.

While pursuing deeper insight into revealed truth, Catholic theology “recognizes the teaching authority of ecumenical councils, the ordinary and universal magisterium of the bishops, and the papal magisterium,” the theological commission recalled.

Theology, according to the commission, is essentially “a work of reason illuminated by faith,” involving both the acceptance of divine revelation and the active engagement of the mind.

The harmony of faith and reason, a key theme of both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, is strongly affirmed in the new document's final chapter – which stresses the value of reason, in contrast with postmodern philosophies that devalue it.

“By the use of reason, the believer grasps the profound connections between the different stages in the history of salvation and also between the various mysteries of faith which illuminate one another,” the commission observed. “On the other hand, faith stimulates reason itself and stretches its limits.”

“Reason is stirred to explore paths which of itself it would not even have suspected it could take. This encounter with the Word of God leaves reason enriched, because it discovers new and unsuspected horizons.”

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Mexico exhibit to feature John Paul II's personal items

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 12, 2012 (CNA) - On March 15, Mexicans will be able to visit the exhibit, “John Paul II in Private,” which features over 200 personal objects belonging to the late pontiff.

During a March 8 press conference at the Cathedral of Mexico City, organizers said the purpose of the exhibit is to convey the strength and love of Blessed John Paull II as “a bridge for dialogue between the different nations and religions.”

According to the News Service of the Archdiocese of Mexico City, the Mexican capital will be the first city to host the worldwide tour of the exhibit of items displayed at the Archdiocese of Krakow Museum.

Some of the objects were used daily by the Polish Pope during his 27 years in office, including his shoes and his bicycle, as well as priceless items such as the Mexican flag and a hat he was given during one of his five visits to the country. The exhibit will feature photos, videos and films on his life as well.

Two private firms are collaborating with the Archdiocese of Krakow Museum to bring the exhibit to Mexico.

During the presentation of the exhibit, organizer Father Jose de Jesus Aguilar underscored the emotional significance it has for not only the Catholic faithful but for non-believers as well.

“This exhibit is of interest to everyone,” Fr. Aguilar said. “It will allow everyone to learn more about Karol Josef Wojtyla than what they already know.”

Alejandro Gou, one of the producers of the exhibit, said Mexico City’s Sports Palace was chosen to host the event instead of a religious venue so that both Catholics and non-Catholics alike would be encouraged to attend.

The 3200 square-foot exhibit will be open to the public March 15 through June 15. Some 200,000 visitors are expected.

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Vatican statistics show Catholic growth

Vatican City, Mar 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The Catholic Church added 15 million new faithful in 2010 and the number of priests continued to steadily increase for the tenth straight year, according to the latest edition of the pontifical yearbook.

The Catholic population increased from 1.181 billion in 2009 to 1.196 billion in 2010, a growth of 1.3 percent. The percentage of baptized Catholics worldwide has remained steady at 17.5 percent.

Priests increased from 410,593 to 412,236. There were about 277,000 diocesan priests and 135,227 religious order priests. The growth trend has continued since the year 2000. The number of clergy increased by 1,695 in Asia and by 765 in Africa. Growth in the Americas and Oceania was only in the double-digits, while priest numbers fell by 905 in Europe.

The figures come from the 2012 edition of the Annuario Pontifico, known as the pontifical yearbook, and the “Annuarium Satisticum Ecclesiae.” These provide a statistical snapshot of the Church.

The Holy See’s Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the Substitute for General Affairs to the Secretary of State, presented the compilations to Pope Benedict XVI on March 10.

The number of bishops has increased from 5,065 to 5,104. Africa again showed the largest growth, adding 16 bishops, while the Americas added 15 and Asia added 12.

The permanent deacon population increased by 3.7 percent from 38,155 to 39,562. Almost 65 percent of this deacon population is in North America, while over 33 percent are in Europe.

The numbers of non-ordained male religious increased slightly and stood at 54,665. Female religious declined from 729,376 to 721,935, with almost a three percent drop in Europe, though their numbers increased in Africa and Asia.

The major seminarian population dropped by 10.4 percent in Europe and by 1.1 percent in the Americas, but showed a 14.2 percent increase in Africa, a 13 percent increase in Asia, and a 12.3 percent increase in Oceania.

The number of students of philosophy and theology in diocesan and religious seminaries has increased constantly over the five years through 2010. They numbered 114,439 in 2005 and 118,990 in 2010.

The two works presented to the Pope also record new events in the life of the Church.

In 2011, Pope Benedict erected eight new episcopal sees, one personal ordinariate and one military ordinariate. One archdiocese and eight dioceses were elevated to the rank of metropolitan see.

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Hackers reportedly launch second attack on Vatican website

Vatican City, Mar 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The loose-knit group of hackers known as Anonymous have reportedly launched a second attack on the Vatican website, after failing in its initial attempt to bring the site down on March 7.

The latest attack on Monday has not yet been confirmed or denied by the Vatican. The vice director of the Holy See's Press Office, Father Ciro Benedettini, said the March 7 attack was not successful, as the hackers failed to post their distinctive logo on the Vatican website.

On March 12, the hackers stated on their Italian blog that they expect the Vatican to publicly excommunicate them. They accuse the Holy See of damaging public health with the antennas of Vatican Radio and also claim to have broken into the site’s database.

According to the hackers, the attack was in “response to the doctrines, liturgies and absurd and out-dated precepts that your organization (Roman Apostolic Church) propagates and spreads throughout the world in the interests of profit.”

Anonymous began in 2003 but achieved notoriety around 2009 through its attacks on the websites of important government institutions and businesses in diverse countries. The group claims the attacks are a form of legitimate protest.

The FBI was able to capture one of its leaders after another group leader, Hector Monsegur, offered to provide information to the agency in recent weeks.

Monsegur and other group members are accused of identity theft and stealing money from a U.S. financial entity.

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Priest at center of Communion denial placed on leave

Washington D.C., Mar 12, 2012 (CNA) -

A Maryland priest who recently denied Communion to a woman because of her lesbian relationship has been “placed on administrative leave with his priestly faculties removed” amid investigations of “intimidating behavior.”

A March 9 letter to priests of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. said that the decision was the result of “credible allegations” that Father Marcel Guarnizo had “engaged in intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others that is incompatible with proper priestly ministry.”

The letter did not mention Fr. Guarnizo’s Feb. 25 denial of Communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral.

The incident – which gained national attention – occurred at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Gaithersburg, Md., which falls within the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

Barbara Johnson, 51, said that Fr. Guarnizo covered the host and told her that her lesbian relationship was sinful in the eyes of the Church. She had previously introduced her lesbian partner to the priest before Mass.

However, Johnson has identified herself as a Buddhist in an online academic paper as well as on the website of the art school that she founded. This led to speculation that rather than truly wishing to receive the Catholic sacrament, she was attempting to attract attention to the Church’s opposition to “gay marriage,” which was recently legalized in the state of Maryland.

After the incident, Johnson wrote a letter to Fr. Guarnizo, warning him that he would “pay dearly” for his actions. She has said that she is seeking to have him removed from parish ministry. 

However, a letter read at parish Masses over the weekend of March 10-11 did not mention Fr. Guarnizo’s interactions with Johnson, but instead referenced other recent allegations of intimidating behavior.

The letter, which was signed by Monsignor Knestout, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., said that due to the grave nature of allegations, as well as the confusion and concerns of the parishioners, Fr. Guarnizo has been prohibited from exercising priestly ministry in the archdiocese until matters can be resolved.

Expressing “hope” that Fr. Guarnizo “might return to priestly ministry,” Msgr. Knestout explained that the priest’s assignment at St. John Neumann Parish has been withdrawn while an inquiry into the accusations is completed.

A native of Columbia, Fr. Guarnizo was raised in the Washington, D.C. area and has spent numerous years working to rebuild the Church in post-Communist Europe by promoting ideas of political and cultural freedom. He has served as parochial vicar at St. John Neumann parish since March 2011.

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