Archive of March 19, 2012

Murkowski regrets voting for conscience protection act

Anchorage, Alaska, Mar 19, 2012 (CNA) - Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a professing Catholic who has broken with the church on several fundamental moral teachings, publicly reaffirmed her support for abortion and contraception in early March.

Murkowski’s comments came during an interview with Anchorage Daily News writer Julia O’Malley. Murkowski said she regretted casting her March 1 vote in favor of the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act that would have amended the federal health care law to allow health plans to decline coverage of contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs that are contrary to the religious beliefs of those offering the plan or those purchasing it.

“I have never had a vote I’ve taken where I have felt that I let down more people that believed in me,” Murkowski told the Anchorage Daily News in an article published March 5.

Murkowski explained that she initially voted for the conscience protection measure to affirm her support for religious freedom. She even wrote a letter to the Catholic Anchor in February in which she blasted the Obama Administration for mandating that religious groups offer health care coverage that is contrary to their moral teachings.

“Unfortunately, the Obama administration unilaterally determined that religious hospitals, charities and schools will be required to go against their deeply-held — and constitutionally-protected — beliefs when offering health care services to current employees,” Murkowski said in her letter to the Catholic Anchor.

“Worse still is the olive branch extended by the Department of Health and Human Services: religious institutions have a year to compromise on their beliefs and adhere to this policy,” Murkowski added. “It is insulting that this administration believes that a year delay in implementation of this rule would cause more Americans to change their position — their conscience — their belief — on a fundamental freedom such as this.”

Also in the letter, Murkowski said she agreed with Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz’s February pastoral letter to all area parishes, in which he said “People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom.”

Murkowski even quoted Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York in saying the Obama Administration “has now drawn an unprecedented line in the sand.”

But just two weeks later, after hearing some criticism for her vote, Murkowski told the Anchorage Daily News that if she would not support the Blunt Amendment, given another vote.

“I have always said if you don’t like abortion the best way to deal with it is to not have unwanted pregnancies in the first place,” she said. “How do you do that? It’s through contraception.”

When told that this position contradicts the teachings of the Catholic Church, Murkowski was unmoved.

“You know, I don’t adhere to all of the tenets of my faith. I’m a Republican, I don’t adhere to all of the principles that come out of my party,” she told the Anchorage Daily News. “I’m also not hesitant to question when I think that my church, my religion, is not current.”

She added: “I have taken the position that there are instances where abortion should be made available.”

In a March 9 email response to questions from the Catholic Anchor, Murkowski said she supports conscience clauses.

“However, I have concerns that the Blunt Amendment could have unduly limited American’s access to many health services,” she said.

The Catholic Church has long taught that contraception is contrary to God’s designs because it distorts the purpose and context of sexual relations, which are to bring forth children in the context of marriage between a man and a woman. The unitive aspect of sex, in which a husband and wife are united, is also affirmed by the church, but efforts to space children should be done without thwarting God’s designs. To this end the church teaches that couples should employ natural family planning methods to space children, rather than using artificial contraception.

The church also teaches that abortion is a “grave evil.” The teaching has not changed. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church “abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.”

Posted with permission from Catholic Anchor, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.

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Mexican priests in Rome thrilled over Pope's visit to homeland

Rome, Italy, Mar 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The rector of the Pontifical Mexican College of Rome said local seminarians from Mexico are highly anticipating Pope Benedict's upcoming March 23-25 visit to their native country.

“It is a great joy to know that the Holy Father has set his eyes on our country to come as a missionary, as a pilgrim of faith, as a missionary of hope,” said Father Armando Flores Navarro.

In an interview with CNA on March 16, Fr. Navarro said the Pope's decision to visit Mexico and Cuba is “emblematic” and that his message will be valid for “all of Latin America and the different political, social, economic and cultural circumstances that the countries of Latin America are experiencing.”

He added that the Pontiff's trip comes at a time when Mexico is facing immense challenges, such as the growth of violence and the loss of faith.

Mexicans need to listen to the Pope, the rector emphasized, “and in this sense we expect a message that encourages us to work for peace each day and that strengthens us to embrace the sole mission of the Church, with a spirit of renewal and with joy and enthusiasm, which is evangelization.”

The priests at the Pontifical Mexican College in Rome are from various dioceses in Mexico and have been sent by their bishops to complete post-graduate studies or to earn a specialized degree at one of the Pontifical universities in Rome.

One of the priests who is most excited about the papal trip is Father Emmanuel Leal Montes of the Diocese of La Paz. 

He said the priests in his community in Rome have been preparing conferences on the Pope and his life, as well as his relationship with the media in order to have a better understanding of the upcoming apostolic trip. 

They have also launched a “fan page” and a blog where they are posting articles related to Pope Benedict and his visit.

“We are celebrating this encounter with the Holy Father with joy and also aware of our task to carry out evangelization,” Fr. Montes said.

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Pope mourns passing of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox leader

Rome, Italy, Mar 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI and other Catholic leaders have offered their condolences on the death of Pope Shenouda III, the head of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, who died March 17 at age 88.

The Catholic Church, Pope Benedict said, “shares the grief that afflicts the Orthodox Copts,” and “stands in fervent prayer asking that he, who is the Resurrection and the Life, might welcome his faithful servant. May the God of all mercy receive Pope Shenouda in his joy, his peace and light.”

Born in August of 1923, Nazeer Gayed was honored as the 117th “Pope of Alexandria” by Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt and abroad. Although theological differences separated his church from Catholics and other Orthodox churches, Pope Shenouda himself was known as an ecumenical pioneer.

In his March 18 message to the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Benedict recalled the leader's “commitment to Christian unity,” shown in meetings with Popes Paul VI and John Paul II. In 1973, Pope Shenouda and Pope Paul VI issued a declaration affirming key points of theological agreement.

Pope Benedict showed the same ecumenical warmth, as he mourned Pope Shenouda's “departure to God, our common Father,” and offered his “most sincere brotherly compassion” to the Coptic synod of bishops as well as their priests and faithful. 

Tens of thousands of Egyptians have come to Cairo's Cathedral of St. Mark to honor the late Pope of Alexandria and view his body, which was vested and placed on the episcopal throne he occupied for four decades. He will be buried at a northern Egyptian monastery following a March 20 funeral.

The loss of the Coptic Orthodox leader comes at a difficult time for Egyptian Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population. Concerns about their future have intensified following the country's 2011 revolution, which was billed as non-sectarian but has led to the rise of Islamist political parties.

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land, mourned the loss of Pope Shenouda's leadership in his March 18 message.

The Coptic pope, he said, was “not only a religious leader for his church but also for all Christian churches,” particularly those of the Eastern traditions.

Patriarch Twal recalled how Pope Shenouda “continued his Christian mission in a firm confidence and a deep faith in the midst of a whirlwind of events that marked the Arab world.”

“We accompany with our prayers and send our condolences to his church and his beloved children, in recognition of all the great services to his church, his country and for all Christians in the Middle East. Grant him, O Lord, eternal rest, and may thy perpetual light shine on him.”

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Pope Benedict will receive keys to Mexican city of Guanajuato

Mexico City, Mexico, Mar 19, 2012 (CNA) - The mayor of Guanajauto, Mexico says locals are are excited to host Pope Benedict XVI on his “historic visit” to the country where he will be presented with symbolic keys to city.

In comments to CNA March 14, Mayor Edgar Castro Cerrillo said the people are hopeful that the Pope's message will be one of peace and encouragement “in the face of the violence that has become widespread.”

He added that he believes the pontiff's presence and words during his March 23-25 visit  “will fill us with solidarity, so that those of us leading the government will make the best decisions for our citizens.”

Castro Cerrillo said the state of Guanajuato is a destination for the Pope's trip because “it has experienced calm and is eminently Catholic, full of tradition and customs.” 

“We are very proud that the Vatican has chosen us,” he emphasized.

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Pope Benedict celebrates his namesake

Vatican City, Mar 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the March 19 Solemnity of St. Joseph, his namesake, by delivering a sermon on the saint's virtues.

Pope Benedict XVI, who was baptized Joseph Ratzinger, offered his thanks for all the prayers said on his behalf during his Sunday Angelus address on March 18.

“Dear friends,” he said, addressing the pilgrims who gathered in St. Peter's Square for the noon prayer, “tomorrow we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph. I sincerely thank all those who have remembered me in prayer in the days before my name day.”

St. Joseph’s feast day is normally a holiday at the Vatican because he is the patron saint of the Church. But during the reign of Pope Benedict the holiday has an additional significance, given his name.

The festivities for today’s feast were low key since the Pope is preparing for his March 23-29 visit to Cuba and Mexico.

“In particular, I ask you to pray for the apostolic trip to Mexico and Cuba that I will begin next Friday,” he said at the Sunday Angelus.

Pope Benedict did make time for a brief telephone call in which he exchanged best wishes with Italian prime minister Mario Monti, whose birthday is on the feast of St. Joseph.

Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said that the Pope spoke about his patron “in a beautiful sermon that expressed not only his devotion, but also the inspiration he receives from this humble and sublime model.”

“Saint Joseph guided his family ‘as one who serves,’” Father Lombardi said. “He teaches us that one can love without possessing, and he reveals to us the secret of living in the presence of mystery. In him there is no separation between faith and action, because his faith had a decisive effect on his actions."

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US bishops launch prayer campaign for religious freedom

Washington D.C., Mar 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The U.S. bishops have launched a nationwide prayer campaign to defend religious liberty against recent threats such as the federal contraception mandate.

The campaign centers around a newly-released “Prayer for Religious Liberty,” which asks God to grant “a clear and united voice” to all who gather to defend rights of conscience “in this decisive hour in the history of our nation.”

At a Washington, D.C. administrative committee meeting on March 13-14, leaders of the U.S. bishops' conference called for the campaign in response to imminent threats to religious liberty, including the Obama administration's controversial contraception mandate.

Bishops from every diocese in the country have spoken out against the mandate – announced by the Department of Health and Human Services on Jan. 20 – which will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

In a March 14 statement assessing the threat to religious freedom posed by the mandate, the bishops urged all people of faith to engage in “prayer and penance” for the protection of conscience rights in America.

“Prayer is the ultimate source of our strength,” the bishops said, observing that “without God, we can do nothing; but with God, all things are possible.”

The bishops’ conference website offers campaign resources including suggested prayers of the faithful for religious liberty and more information on the mandate.

It also offers a bulletin insert with instructions on how to contact members of Congress and ask them to support legislation to protect religious freedom and conscience rights under the health care law.

The new “Prayer for Religious Liberty” can be downloaded in both Spanish and English on the website, and prayer cards featuring Mary Immaculate and Our Lady of Guadalupe can be ordered in bulk.

The prayer acknowledges that man’s “right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” comes from the “provident hand” of God the Creator.

It recognizes both “the right and the duty” to worship God by living out one’s faith “in the midst of the world.”

“We ask you to bless us in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty,” says the prayer, which requests “strength of mind and heart to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened.”

It also asks for “courage in making our voices heard on behalf of the rights of your Church and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.”

The prayer asks God for help to overcome trials and dangers that so that future generations may continue to experience the greatness of America as “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

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