Archive of March 16, 2012

South African bishops advise Red Bull fast for Lent

Johannesburg, South Africa, Mar 16, 2012 (CNA) -

The Church in South Africa is encouraging Catholics to boycott Red Bull energy drinks and donate the money saved to charitable organizations after the company aired a “Jesus Walks on Water” ad campaign.

“In the spirit of observing Lent,” Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, spokesman for the Southern African Bishops' Conference, suggested that Catholic consumers and business owners, “fast from displaying and consuming Red Bull until Easter” and donate the money that would have been spent on the energy drinks to local charities.

Red Bull quickly halted the South Africa television ad on March 14, just one day after it began to run. The company received numerous complaints from Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths.

The South African Bishops' Conference said they would like to see the ad totally pulled from the air, rather than just a pause in the ad campaign.

“While we welcome the halting of the campaign, we would ask that Red Bull … cancel it completely,” Cardinal Napier said in a March 13 statement.

In one evening, hundreds of people from many different faiths filed complaints with Red Bull and the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa.

“In a multi-faith country like South Africa, where over 70 percent of people profess to be people of faith, the use of faith-based symbols in a satirical, tongue-in-cheek manner, is guaranteed to cause a reaction,” the cardinal said.

The energy drink company issued an apology, saying that they try to focus on “well-known themes” in their advertizements. “It was never our intention to hurt anyone's feelings,” the company added.

Cardinal Napier suggested that the Red Bull marketing department should “make a serious effort to attend sensitivity training” to become more respectful of religious beliefs.

“People are more than consumers,” Cardinal Napier said, “and faith-based symbols are more than marketing opportunities.”

The ad mocks the Gospel account of Christ walking on water by depicting Jesus walking on water because he was bored with fishing. When he steps out of the boat, his disciples ask him if it's due to “another one of your miracles” or because he drank Red Bull, which “gives you wings.”

“It's no miracle, you just have to know where the stepping stones are,” Christ replies.

While walking away, the cartoon Christ slips and takes his own name in vain.

Many voiced their disapproval for the ad, including a reader whose comments were published on South Africa's News24.

He said that although Red Bull might be pleased with the free publicity the controversy has generated, it failed to accomplished anything.

“(Red Bull) blatantly made fun of the most passive aggressive religion on earth.”

All the energy drink makers succeeded in doing with this ad was to make Christians “aware of (Red Bull's) insensitivity to their belief system.”

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First South African sainthood cause goes to Vatican

Tzaneen, South Africa, Mar 16, 2012 (CNA) - The cause for beatification and canonization of the South African-native Benedict Daswa, who was killed for his refusal to support witchcraft, has arrived in Rome.

Bishop Joao Rodriguez of South Africa’s Tzaneen diocese said he hopes devotion to “this apostle of life” will spread and that people “will receive special graces” from Daswa's intercession, especially for “problematic family life relations and bondage to the occult and witchcraft.”

Although his cause is still being investigated, Bishop Rodriguez told CNA March 14 that Catholics may express private devotion to Daswa and report any favors received through his intercession to the Diocese of Tzaneen.

Daswa’s case was sent to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints after he was declared “Servant of God” and diocesan-level inquiries were completed.

If approved, Daswa would be on his way to being declared blessed, making him one step away from becoming the first South African-born saint.

Consistently loyal to his profession of Christianity, Daswa refused to take part in anything related to witchcraft or the occult, which is still very much a part of the local culture.

His denouncement of witchcraft and the occult eventually led to his violent murder in 1990.

Benedict Daswa, born Samuel Daswa in 1946, belonged to the Jewish Lemba tribe in rural Limpopo in South Africa.

Up until the start of the official investigation into Daswa's life in 2005, the members of the Catholic community of the Nweli District gathered every All Soul's Day to pray at his grave.

Daswa grew up observing Jewish customs, but was baptized in the Church at the age of 17. He took the name Benedict after the sixth-century monk and Benedict Risimati, his catechist who instructed him on his faith as a teen. Daswa was confirmed shortly after his baptism.

After his confirmation, Daswa took a particular interest in teaching younger members of his community about Catholicism.

After a series of unusual thunderstorms and lighting strikes in the area, a group of local men suggested hiring a traditional healer to determine the cause. In order to do this, the men collected money from members of the community.

Daswa refused to give any money to the cause. Seeing this act of defiance as derogatory to their cultural beliefs, members of his community conspired to kill him.

While driving home from a visit to his sick sister-in-law, some men blocked Daswa's way with several tree logs. When he got out of his car to investigate, Daswa was violently attacked and beaten to death by men from his own community.

According to the diocesan investigation, when Daswa saw a man coming towards him with a club to deliver the final blow, he said, “God, into your hands, receive my spirit.”

The Diocese of Tzaneen opened an inquiry into Daswa’s death in 2005 completed it on July 2, 2009. The investigation, which was made public in 2010, resulted in more than 850 pages of testimony from reliable witness to the life and death of Daswa.

A copy of the investigation was sent to Archbishop Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The documents were signed by Bishop of Tzaneen Hugh Slattery, Sister Sally Duigan, diocesan chancellor Father Andre Bohas, and Promoter of Justice Eddie O’Neill.

As one the poorest and most rural dioceses in South Africa, the Tzaneen diocese is accepting donations through a special bank account dedicated to Daswa's cause for canonization.

A 40 minute biography was filmed on location in Limpopo to spread Daswa's story to an even greater audience.

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Under international pressure, Iran shifts charges against Christian pastor

Washington D.C., Mar 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Iran has acknowledged to the international community that an imprisoned Christian pastor has been charged with faith-related crimes rather than rape and extortion, as the regime had previously claimed.

Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, attributed this acknowledgment to increased media coverage as well as the involvement of other nations, especially Brazil, which has a key relationship with Iran.

Sekulow told CNA on March 14 that the Iranian regime is under “so much pressure that they can’t deny” the religious nature of the charges any longer.

Christian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani has been jailed in the country since 2009, when he was arrested after complaining to local authorities about his son being forced to read the Quran at school. He was found guilty of abandoning Islam, the faith of his ancestors, and ordered to recant or die. But despite repeated threats, he refused to renounce his Christian faith.

When questioned about the situation several months ago, Iranian authorities insisted that Nadarkhani had been charged with rape and extortion. The regime repeated this claim in the months that followed.

At a March 12 meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Special Rapporteur for human rights in Iran drew attention to human rights abuses in the country and called for Nadarkhani’s release.

In his response, Iranian representative Mohammad Javad Larijani avoided mentioning the charges of rape and extortion that the regime had previously claimed. Instead, he brought three new allegations against the pastor.

He said that Nadarkhani had been charged with proselytizing minors without the consent of their parents and converting his home into a church without permission from the regime. Sekulow explained that these charges were likely intended to draw the sympathy of other countries in the region that may not have strong relations with Iran but have similar laws on their books.

The Iranian representative added in his remarks to the U.N. council that Nadarkhani had “offended Islam” with his Christian preaching.

Sekulow said that despite its claim of religious freedom, the Iranian regime considers it a crime to present Jesus as the only way to salvation.

However, he said that the new charges mark a significant shift in Iranian rhetoric, as the regime is “finally admitting that this is all about religion.”

Recent months have seen an increase in international pressure on Iran, as more and more countries have called on the regime to release Nadarkhani.

In late February, the American Center for Law and Justice received word from its contacts in Iran that an execution order for the pastor may have been ordered.

In the weeks that followed, the group worked to draw international attention to Nadarkhani’s plight.

Among the countries where efforts to raise awareness were focused was Brazil, which has “key” diplomatic and economic relationships with Iran, Sekulow explained. 

Christianity still plays an important role in Brazilian life and culture, and Brazilian officials immediately called for Nadarkhani’s release when they learned of the situation.

“That’s changed the game,” Sekulow said.

He explained that Iran could not continue to lie to a country with which it has such an important relationship.

This was particularly true, he added, because the international community had already seen the legal documents pertaining to the case, including the original court verdict that had listed apostasy as the sole charge for execution.

Iran “couldn’t back away anymore,” he explained.

Sekulow said that the media – particularly social networking sites – played a large role in publicizing Nadarkhani’s plight.

The religious media in America initially picked up on the story, which was then passed to the mainstream U.S. media, and then spread to Europe and eventually to important Iranian partners such as Brazil.

“Now you’ve got countries asking to go visit him,” he said, adding that it has been confirmed that the pastor was still alive as of March 15. 

Sekulow stressed the need for continued pressure on the Iranian regime, which has a “history of testing” how far it can go with the international community and has been known to carry out secret executions.

A Twitter initiative operated by the American Center for Law and Justice currently reaches more than 1 million people in English, raising awareness about Nadarkhani’s situation.

Sekulow said a Portuguese version will soon be introduced to accommodate Brazilians who wish to help in the efforts to save the pastor.

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Protestors removed from Catholic Church in Cuba

Havana, Cuba, Mar 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - After requests from the archdiocese, local police have removed protestors from a Catholic Church in Cuba who had occupied the building for two days insisting on a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

“Nobody has the right to turn churches in political trenches,” said spokesman for the Archdiocese of Havana, Orlando Marquez.

“Nobody has the right to disturb the celebrative spirit of the Cuban faithful and of many other citizens, who are awaiting the visit of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to Cuba with joy and hope.”

Th group of 13 protestors were removed without resistance from the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Charity on March 15 after Cardinal Jaime Ortega spoke with local officials.

“Cardinal Jaime Ortega addressed the competent authorities to invite the occupiers to abandon the sanctuary,” read a statement from the archdiocese.

The group, all members of Republic Party of Cuba, entered the church on March 13 and had insisted on an audience with Pope Benedict during his March 25-28 visit to the country in order for him to mediate a list of grievances with government officials.

Although their demands were heard by the rector of the basilica, Father Roberto Betancourt, and by the chancellor of the archdiocese, Msgr. Ramon Suarez, the dissents had refused to leave the church.

Despite Church authorities' history of support and empathy for other groups of political dissidents in the country, Marquez called the recent incident “illegitimate” and “irresponsible.”

Prior to police arriving, “every attempt to persuade them was useless,” he said, adding that by Wednesday morning, “we learned that similar situations had taken place in other churches in the country, where the occupiers had already decided to leave.”

Within the last week, other protestors had occupied the Church of St. Isidore in Holguin, the Cathedral of Pinar del Rio, and the Church of St. Jerome in Las Tunas. 

Marquez called it an “organized strategy by various groups in different regions of the country,” charging that the events were “not a coincidence, but something well thought out and apparently aimed at creating difficult situations as the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba approaches.”

He noted that every day thousands of the faithful pray in the churches of Cuba for political prisoners, for those suffering injustice, for the deceased and for those in need. 

Churches are houses of prayer “open to all those who seek an answer to their spiritual and even material needs from God, or to give thanks for a grace they have received.”

“For this very reason, every act intended to turn a church into a place for public political demonstrations, ignoring the authority of the priest, or the right of the majority who goes there in search of spiritual peace and a place for prayer, is certainly an illegitimate and irresponsible act,” Marquez said.

While the Church welcomes all, she “cannot accept attempts to distort the nature of her mission or that put the religious freedom of those who visit our churches in danger,” he underscored. 

“We invite those who think and act this way to change their outlook, and if they are men and women who consider themselves Catholic, to begin to act like one.”

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Vatican finds Pius X Society’s response insufficient for unity

Vatican City, Mar 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has said that the theological position of the breakaway Society of St. Pius X is insufficient to restore full unity with the Church at present.

Pope Benedict XVI has reviewed a January 2012 letter from Bishop Bernard Fellay, superior general of the society. In that letter, the bishop responded to a doctrinal statement intended to be a basis for full reconciliation with Rome.

However, following the decision of the Pope, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has found that the position Bishop Fellay expressed is “not sufficient to overcome the doctrinal problems which lie at the foundation of the rift between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X,” a March 16 communiqué from the Holy See Press Office said.

The congregation is concerned to avoid “an ecclesial rupture of painful and incalculable consequences” and has invited Bishop Fellay to clarify his position “in order to be able to heal the existing rift, as is the desire of Pope Benedict XVI.”

Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre founded the Society of St. Pius X in 1970 in response to what he saw as errors that had arisen in the Church after the Second Vatican Council. The society broke from the Church in 1988 when its founder ordained four bishops against Pope John Paul II’s instructions, resulting in their excommunications.

Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunications in 2009 as a prelude to talks about reconciling the society with the Church. At the time he said that the society would have to show “true recognition of the Magisterium and the authority of the Pope and of the Second Vatican Council” to restore full communion.

Vatican officials said that the restoration of unity could come in the form of a personal prelature, a special Church jurisdiction without geographic boundaries.

In September 2011 Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, presented Bishop Fellay with the doctrinal preamble, a statement of principles that outlines points of doctrine which the breakaway group needed to accept to restore communion.

In November 2011, Bishop Fellay said that the society cannot endorse the preamble. He said he particularly wanted to discuss what the Vatican meant when it said there is “leeway” for a “legitimate discussion” on the documents and legacy of the Second Vatican Council.

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Pope confirms September 2012 visit to Lebanon

Rome, Italy, Mar 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Rumors of a papal trip to Lebanon have been confirmed by the head of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, which will welcome Pope Benedict XVI at the start of his Sept. 14-16 visit.

“We came to him and now he's coming to us,” said Patriarch Gregorios III, a major participant in the 2010 synod of bishops that brought many Arab Church leaders to the Vatican. He confirmed recent talk of a papal visit during a March 15 press conference at the Melkite Catholics' headquarters in Rome.

The Pope “will come to support Christians so that they are united,” the patriarch said, according to Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper.

The Melkite Catholic leader will give a discourse in the Pope's presence on the afternoon of Sept. 14, at the Church of St. Paul at Harissa.

Patriarch Gregorios, who is based in the Syrian capital Damascus, said the Pope would be making the visit “for all of the Middle East.” Pope Benedict may even stop over in Syria “if the situation improves,” according to the Eastern Catholic patriarch.

Along with a “message of peace” for all people of the region, the Pope will deliver a document – known as the post-synodal apostolic exhortation – dealing more specifically with themes of the 2010 Synod for the Middle East.

That gathering gave top priority to the preservation of Middle Eastern Catholics and other Christians in their historic homelands. It took place only months before the Arab world erupted in a series of ongoing and often violent revolutions.

Concern over some Middle Eastern churches' survival has grown in the meantime, following the rise of political Islam in Egypt and the prospect of a civil war in Syria.

Lebanon, by contrast, is considered a model of stability and religious coexistence in the Middle East. The country's power-sharing system divides different offices of leadership between Muslim groups and Maronite Catholics, who are led by Patriarch Bechara Rai and make up 21 percent of the population.

The Pope was invited to Lebanon by its Sunni Muslim prime minister Najib Mikati, during his November 2011 visit to the Vatican.

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Costa Rican archbishop supports national day for the unborn

San José, Costa Rica, Mar 16, 2012 (CNA) - The head of the Costa Rican bishops' conference says that a proposal declaring March 25 as a Day of the Unborn Child would be a valuable challenge to societal threats against life.

Archbishop Hugo Barrantes Urena of San Jose said he supports the pro-life measure which was recently presented by Costa Rican legislator Rita Chaves Casanova and is slated to be officially announced on March 21.

“Her proposal is a very valuable and important gesture now that we are immersed in the so-called culture of death with laws that go against life,” he told CNA.

Archbishop Barrantes contrasted the proposal with others “that are waiting in line to be approved, including one legalizing in vitro fertilization and another recognizing same-sex unions and still others dealing with reproductive health.”

The Inter-American Human Rights Court has been pressuring Costa Rica to approve in vitro fertilization, which many analysts believe poses a wider threat of abortion legalizing throughout Latin America. 

Archbishop Barrantes said the court is not above the constitution of Costa Rica, “which recognizes that the right to life is inviolable.”

The archbishop noted that the Church will always defend life “from the moment of conception,” and supported the Chaves proposal as one that “openly defends the dignity of the life of the unborn.”

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Catholic appreciation offered for retiring Archbishop of Canterbury

London, England, Mar 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has announced that he will step down as the highest clergyman of the Church of England in December 2012 after 10 years in office. The announcement prompted praise for his tenure from Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols.

“In the last three years I have grown to appreciate more and more the fine qualities of Archbishop Rowan: his kindness, his sharp intellect, his dedication to striving for harmony between peoples, especially within the Christian family, his courage and his friendship,” Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster said March 16.

“These will be much missed when he steps down from his demanding office in December. I will miss him.”

Archbishop Nichols thanked the Anglican archbishop for his service and particularly recalled his “warm welcome” to Pope Benedict XVI at Lambeth Palace during the 2010 papal visit to the U.K. He also noted that Archbishop of Canterbury met and prayed with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on Saturday.

Williams said he was stepping down to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. He will be 62 at the time of his retirement.

“It has been an immense privilege to serve as Archbishop of Canterbury over the past decade, and moving on has not been an easy decision,” he said March 16.

The Anglican churchman said he is “abidingly grateful” to friends and colleagues who have supported him and his wife.

“I look forward, with that same support and inspiration, to continuing to serve the Church’s mission and witness as best I can in the years ahead.”

After his announcement, the Anglican archbishop told the Press Association that he wanted to give his organizer time to organize for the 2018 Lambeth Conference, the worldwide assembly of the bishops of the Anglican Communion.

He listed several of his accomplishments like the Christian-Muslim “Building Bridges” seminars, new mission outreach programs, and new relief and development programs.

“The best part of the job has certainly been seeing churches at grass roots worldwide – seeing why and how they matter to people,” he said.

Williams also does not think Christianity is losing a “battle against secularization,” but he lamented that there are many people “who don’t really know how religion works, let alone Christianity in particular. And that leads to confusions and sensitivities in the wrong areas.”

He noted major upcoming Church of England events that are “watersheds,” such as church legislation on women bishops. He expressed hope that there will be “goodwill” to make the controversial legislation work.

His comments touched on the theological and moral controversies in the Anglican Communion, which have caused some national churches to break communion with other Anglican bodies.

“The worst aspects of the job I think have been the sense that there are some conflicts that won’t go away, however long you struggle with them. And that not everybody in the Anglican Communion or even in the Church of England is eager to avoid schism or separation,” Williams said. “I’ve certainly regarded it as a real priority to try and keep people in relationship with each other.”

In 2003, the Episcopal Church’s ordination of a bishop in an open homosexual relationship caused major controversy within global Anglicanism.

“Crisis management is never a favorite activity, I have to admit, but it’s not as if that has overshadowed everything,” Williams remarked. “It’s certainly been a major nuisance, but in every job that you’re in, there are controversies and conflicts and this one isn’t going to go away in a hurry. So I can’t say that there's a great sense of ‘free at last.’”

The next Archbishop of Canterbury will be named by the Crown Nominations Commissions, which will submit a preferred candidate and a second acceptable candidate to the Prime Minister. He will then advise Queen Elizabeth II, the head of the Church of England, on the appointment.

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HHS announces comment period on mandate accommodation

Washington D.C., Mar 16, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - After repeatedly stating that it will not back down on its controversial contraception mandate, the Obama administration has announced a 90-day comment period on possible ways to implement its Feb. 10 accommodation.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that the administration is taking the “next step” in respecting religious freedom while ensuring that women receive free contraception.

On March 16 the administration issued an advanced notice of proposed rule making as it examines several possible ways to implement its “preventive services” mandate.

The Obama administration has drawn heavy criticism over the mandate, which will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their firmly-held religious beliefs.

The mandate includes a limited religious exemption that only applies to non-profit organizations that exist to inculcate religious values and that serve and employ primarily members of their own faith.  The narrow scope of the exemption sparked outcry because most religious groups and even some churches would fail to qualify for it.

The notice made it clear that this exemption will not be changed. Rather, it said, the current discussion will involve a second group, consisting of non-profit religious organizations that do not qualify for the exemption but still object to the mandated coverage.

This second group of religious institutions may fall under a later proposal that was announced by President Obama on Feb. 10 amid widespread protest over the regulation, it explained.

Under that scheme, religious organizations would not directly purchase the controversial coverage, but would instead be required to buy insurance plans from companies that would be required to provide the coverage for free.

Critics, including the U.S. Catholic bishops, have said that the accommodation as announced was inadequate because it failed to address the concerns of self-insured companies or religious individuals running for-profit, secular businesses.

The notice said there is a need to determine which religious organizations will qualify for the accommodation and who will administer it, as well as how to handle religious organizations that object to some but not all of the required coverage.

The administration simultaneously issued a final rule on student health plans, which will require colleges to treat student health care plans like employee plans, making them subject to the mandate as well.

Under the rule that the administration is considering proposing, insurance issuers would be required to provide “separate coverage” for contraception and would not be allowed to charge a premium for this coverage to the religious organization, plan participants or beneficiaries.

Instead, it said, the issuer would pay for the coverage from “the estimated savings” of eliminating the need for “services” that arise from not covering contraception. It did not acknowledge a recent survey of insurance companies indicating that the mandate will not actually cut costs.

For self-insured religious organizations, which were not addressed in the Feb. 10 accommodation, the notice outlined several possible approaches to having a “third-party administrator” assume responsibility for the coverage.

These suggestions included using revenue from drug rebates and service fees, credit from a reinsurance program, funds from a private non-profit organization or a contract between the Office of Personnel Management and an insurer offering a multi-state plan.

Over the next 90 days, the administration will be seeking feedback from the public through comments, all of which will be made available to the public.

After the comment period ends, the process will involve the Obama administration creating a series of rules, leading to a final rule that will be entered in the Federal Register.

The notice said that information is also being requested about the number of insurance issuers, religious organizations, plan participants and beneficiaries that would potentially be affected by the accommodation, as well as the average cost and savings of providing contraceptive coverage.

In addition, it said, the administration is seeking input on whether an exemption or accommodation should be extended to health instance issuers or third-party administrators who object to the coverage on religious grounds.

Finally, the notice observed that many states with similar mandates include wide exemptions for religious employers.

It explained that in states where religious exemptions are currently broader than the final federal regulations, “the exemptions will be narrowed to align with that in the final regulations because this will help more consumers.”

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