Archive of March 23, 2012

N.C. bishops criticize Obama stand against marriage amendment

Raleigh, N.C., Mar 23, 2012 (CNA) - President Barack Obama’s reported opposition to a North Carolina marriage amendment is a “grave disappointment” that further escalates the “increasing confusion” about the nature of marriage, the Catholic bishops of the state have said.

“In his comments on the upcoming referendum in our state, the president regrettably characterized the marriage amendment as a matter of discrimination,” Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh and Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte said March 21. “While we are respectful of the office of the president, we strongly disagree with this assessment.”

The bishops said President Obama’s involvement is reported to be the first time he has entered into the issue on the state level.

On May 8 North Carolina voters will decide on Amendment 1, which would recognize marriage between one man and one woman as “the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in the state.”

Early voting on the proposal will start in just over a month.

Cameron French, the spokesman for the president’s North Carolina campaign, said on March 16 that the president does not support the measure.

“While the president does not weigh in on every single ballot measure in every state, the record is clear that the president has long opposed divisive and discriminatory efforts to deny rights and benefits to same-sex couples,” French said.

French charged that the measure would “single out and discriminate against committed gay and lesbian couples,” adding “and that’s why the president does not support it.”

President Obama stated his support for marriage as the union of a man and a woman in his 2008 campaign. However, he has claimed his position is “evolving” and his administration has backed many homosexual political causes.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has refused to defend the constitutionality of federal laws like the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred federal recognition of same-sex couples.

Tami Fitzgerald, chairwoman of Amendment 1 backer Vote FOR Marriage NC, criticized the president’s involvement.

“I believe President Obama has no business inserting himself into the people's business here in North Carolina,” Fitzgerald said, according to the Charlotte Observer.

North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Democrat, praised the president’s statement on Twitter. She charged that the Amendment was “poorly written” and would take away rights.

The Democratic Party will hold its presidential election in Charlotte in September. President Obama narrowly won the state in 2008.

The North Carolina bishops’ response to the Obama campaign was posted on both dioceses’ websites. It was also sent to nearly 6,000 registered participants of Catholic Voice North Carolina, the bishops’ public policy voice in the state, WECT News reports.

Bishops Burbidge and Jugis said that marriage is a vocation from God and a “fruitful union in a mutual self-giving bond of love.”

“Children have the right to the indispensible place of fatherhood and motherhood in their lives,” the bishops added.

Citing Pope Benedict XVI, they said that children have the “fundamental right to grow up with the understanding of the proper place of sexuality in human relationships.”

The bishops also cited Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the U.S. bishops’ conference president, who said the Catholic Church recognizes the “immeasurable personal dignity and equal worth of all individuals, including those with same-sex attraction.”

“(W)e reject all hatred and unjust treatment against any person,” the cardinal continued, saying that Catholics’ “profound regard” for marriage does not negate concern for the well-being of all people.

“While all persons merit our full respect, no other relationships provide for the common good what marriage between husband and wife provides,” he said.

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Egypt remains on US list of worst religious freedom violators

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2012 (CNA) - Egypt is still among the world's worst violators of religious freedom, according to a U.S. commission whose 2012 report has named it as a “country of particular concern” for the second year in a row.

“In Egypt, an epicenter of the Arab Spring, hope turned to dismay, as human rights conditions, particularly religious freedom abuses, worsened dramatically under military rule,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stated in its report released March 20.

The report covers the period from April 1, 2011 – two months after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned – to Feb. 29, 2012. Other countries cited for violations during the same period include Burma, China, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkey, and Vietnam.

During the reporting period, the commission found that Egyptian authorities “continued to prosecute and sentence citizens charged with blasphemy and allowed official media to incite violence against religious minority members, while failing to protect them or to convict responsible parties.”

According to the commission, the police and courts “fostered a climate of impunity in the face of repeated attacks against Coptic Christians and their churches.” In October 2011, security forces were accused of shooting Coptic protesters during street clashes that left at least 24 people dead and 200 injured.

Last year's report marked Egypt's first appearance on the list of countries singled out for concern by the government commission, which maintains a list of countries found to have “engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations” of religious liberty.

The commission's most recent reporting period was also a time of difficulty for religious believers in the People's Republic of China, where authorities have pursued a policy of nationalistic control over the Catholic Church and other institutions.

In its 2012 report, the commission said the Communist nation “continues to interfere in the religious activities of Chinese Catholics,” particularly through its harassment of both state-recognized and unregistered clergy.

Commission members accused Beijing of blocking Catholic clergy from communicating with the Vatican, and said the government “continues to deny Catholic leaders the right to abstain from activities that contravene Holy See policies.”

Figures from the U.S. government's Congressional-Executive Commission on China, cited by the religious freedom commission in its report, allege that “at least 40 Roman Catholic bishops remain imprisoned or detained, or were forcibly disappeared” during the reporting period.

In his announcement of the report's release, commission chair Leonard Leo explained that governments “too often stand idly by in the face of violent attacks against religious minorities and dissenting members of majority faiths.”

He described religious freedom as “inseparable” from other civil rights, noting that it is often “the first human right threatened by tyranny.”

During 2011, the commission's own work was threatened when a bill reauthorizing its existence was stalled in Congress. According to CQ Weekly, which reports on developments in Congress, the re-authorization stalled because of a “hold” placed on it by Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

The last-minute re-authorization, passed in December 2011, established term limits and travel restrictions on the commissioners. Its provisions called for five of the nine commission members to resign their positions on March 21, one day after the release of its 2012 report.

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More Catholics believe Obama administration unfriendly to religion

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholic Americans increasingly say that the Obama administration is unfriendly to religion, a new survey says, though Americans as a whole appear to be growing more skeptical towards a role for religion in public life.

The Pew Research Center said that there has been a “noticeable shift” among white Catholics’ opinion of the Obama administration, which could be tied to “effects from the controversy over the administration’s policies on contraception coverage.”

In August 2009, 15 percent of Catholics and 17 percent of white Catholics said the Obama administration is unfriendly towards religion. In March 2012, 25 percent of Catholics and 31 percent of white Catholics said the same, the Pew Research Center’s March 21 report said.

However, 42 percent of Catholics believe the administration is friendly to religion, while 25 percent believe it is neutral.

Among all Americans, only 23 percent say the administration is unfriendly to religion, while 39 percent consider it friendly. White evangelicals were most likely to agree the administration is unfriendly, while black Protestants were least likely. About 52 percent of Republicans, 21 percent of independent voters, and only five percent of Democrats think the administration is unfriendly towards religion.

The survey also polled respondents’ beliefs about the major political parties’ religious attitudes.

About 54 percent of Americans said the Republican Party is friendly to religion, while 35 percent said the Democratic Party is. Twenty-one percent said the Democratic Party is unfriendly to religion and 13 percent said the same of the Republican Party.

Another interesting finding involved 51 percent of respondents saying that “religious conservatives” have too much control over the Republicans, and 41 percent saying “secular liberals” have too much control over the Democrats.

The Pew Research Center said that the survey also found “signs of public uneasiness with the mixing of religion and politics.”

Fifty-four percent of respondents said that churches should keep out of political matters, while only 40 percent said they should express views on social and political questions. This is a significant change since 1996, when 54 percent of respondents favored church involvement and 43 percent did not.

Sixty percent of Democrats, 58 percent of independents, and 44 percent of Republicans took a negative attitude towards churches in politics, as did 60 percent of both Catholics and white mainline Protestants. Only the religiously unaffiliated were more hostile to church involvement, at 66 percent.

The split was evident even in the Republican Party presidential primary. Fifty-seven percent of supporters of former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney said churches should keep out of political matters, while only 38 percent of former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum’s supporters agreed.

However, respondents aged 18-29 were most open to hearing churches express their views, with 45 percent favoring this approach and only 50 percent thinking churches should not be involved.

The Pew Center survey polled 1,503 adults from March 7-11. It claims a margin of error for the total sample of plus or minus three percentage points.

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Pope's Mexico, Cuba visit a 'journey of hope'

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic voyage to Mexico and Cuba which begins today is a “journey of hope,” according to Vatican press director Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J.

Fr. Lombardi said the visit will provide “hope for Mexicans, a people with immense resources and potential, but currently afflicted by serious problems which weigh on their present and future, first among them the problem of violence.”

In a March 23 editorial, the head of the Holy See's press office also said the trip will bring “hope for Cubans, who feel they are on the threshold of what is potentially a new epoch, in which John Paul II's words on the reciprocal openness of Cuba and the world may be realized in a climate of development, freedom and reconciliation.”

The Pope departed Rome this morning and will arrive in the Mexican city of Leon at 4:30 p.m. local time. He will remain in Mexico until March 26 before traveling to Cuba and then returning to Rome on March 29.

Tomorrow, March 24, Pope Benedict will meet Mexico’s Federal President Felipe Calderon before greeting and blessing children in Leon’s Plaza de la Paz.

The morning of March 25, he will celebrate Sunday Mass in the city’s Parque Bicentenario and later preside at Vespers in the city’s cathedral along with the country’s bishops.

The following day, Pope Benedict will depart for Cuba where he will be welcomed by President Raul Castro. The Pope will then celebrate Mass in the city of Santiago de Cuba to mark the 400th anniversary of the island’s patroness, Our Lady of Charity.

On Tuesday, he will fly to the nation’s capital city of Havana where the Pope will meet with various members of the country’s ruling elite. This is rumored to include former President Fidel Castro, who led the island’s communist revolution in the 1950s. 

Pope Benedict will celebrate Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square on Wednesday, March 28 before departing for Rome where he will arrive on March 29. 

In his remarks, Fr. Lombardi also noted that the Pope’s visit marks the bicentenary of independence for the people of Latin America. 

The Papal pilgrimage shows the desire of the Catholic Church to “continue making her inspirational contribution to the progress of the continent,” he said, “so that human and Christian values may guarantee integral human development, despite the difficulties and dangers of our time.”

This is Pope Benedict's 23rd apostolic visit abroad since being elected pontiff in 2005.

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Italian president predicts success for Pope in Mexico, Cuba

Rome, Italy, Mar 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI set off this morning from Rome on his apostolic journey to Mexico and Cuba with predictions that his visit will provide a well-timed morale boost.

“Great is the attention with which the entire international community looks towards your new mission, … and intense are the expectations and hope of the population that is about to meet you,” Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said in his March 23 traditional farewell telegram.

“I am convinced that your pending visit will transmit deep feelings of closeness and communion with the peoples of these countries and the entire Latin American continent,” he said.

President Napolitano believes the visit will be a “high morale booster for facing, in a spirit of renewed solidarity and unity, the important civil and social challenges facing these nations.”
Pope Benedict departed from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport at 9:50 a.m. He was accompanied to his flight by the Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti.

The 84-year-old Pope used a cane for the first time in public to make the 100-yard journey from his helicopter to his chartered Alitalia flight. He then climbed the stairs of the plane unaided, only stopping to wave to well-wishers.

In total, 107 people are flying on the papal plane, including five Vatican cardinals. As is traditional, the Pope will field questions from journalists during an in-flight press conference. The plane will arrive in Mexico’s Leon Airport after a 14-hour flight, arriving at the Leon airport at 4:30 p.m. local time.

This is Pope Benedict’s 23rd foreign visit since his election in 2005, although it is his first papal trip to the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. He previously visited South America during a pilgrimage to Brazil in 2007. He also hopes to return there for World Youth Day in Rio in 2013.
When he announced his plans to visit Mexico and Cuba in December 2011, the Pope said that he believed now was “a precious time to evangelize” Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Families key to preserving Catholicism in Cuba, dissidents say

Havana, Cuba, Mar 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - As Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba nears, local leaders of peaceful dissent say families were key to maintaining the country's Catholicism amid government repression.

“The process of de-Christianization was one of the initial objectives of the regime and was maintained for decades, because they knew that they could not dominate the people of Cuba if they did not empty them spiritually first,” said Oswaldo Paya, global director of the Christian Liberation Movement.

“And I don’t think they were successful thanks to families,” Paya told CNA.

His remarks on former president Fidel Castro's 1950s revolution and subsequent regime come as Pope Benedict heads to Mexico today for a visit that will include traveling to Cuba from March 26-29.

“For decades the State religion in schools has been atheism,” Paya said. “For many years, fifth grade textbooks claimed that science had proven that Jesus Christ never existed. In other words, they even falsified history.”

The result of this effort was that at one point “only around 40,000 people attended Sunday Mass, because we were marked, blacklisted in schools, universities and places of work.”

“It was a systematically anti-religious system that was supported by all the mechanisms of repression of a totalitarian regime,” he explained.

“But the Church continued to evangelize, we continue teaching the Catechism even though few children came to church.”

Jose Daniel Ferrer, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, agreed with Paya and said Catholic families are crucial. He noted that his own daughter, who is about to finish high school, “continues receiving an Atheist, Marxist education that is contrary to Christian principles.”

Ferrer said that during the eight years he spent as a political prisoner, his wife and his sister worked to counteract this teaching “with books, Christian literature and stories.”

“But it is hard because they are children and they spend most of the week in schools where everything is politicized,” he said.

Ferrer encouraged parents to put the words of John Paul II into practice when he called on the faithful to “demand respect for our right to choose the kind of education that we want for our children, because that is the foundation of the great moral, political, social and economic problem of our country.”

For Paya, modern Cuba is complex. Despite more freedom of worship and less repression for those who practice their faith, the Department of Religious Affairs, “which keeps the Church and our communities under observation,” continues to exist. 

But he noted that while teachers are still cautious, “they are expressing their faith and no longer give in so easily to repressing children who are believers.”

While “present-day Cuban society has bears the marks of a very strong, very systematic de-Christianization process, it also has a Christian memory and religiosity that could not be uprooted,” Paya said.

“An example of this is the pilgrimage of the statue of Our Lady of Charity throughout Cuba, with millions of Cubans who came out to accompany it, and their faith and the depth of their feelings could be seen on their faces. 

I think that is a victory, because it showed that there is no force strong enough to destroy the bond between God and the human being,” he said.

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Pope goes to Latin America to promote good, fight evil

Aboard the papal plane, Mar 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI says he wants to help Mexico in its struggle against drug-related violence and assist Cuba in discovering a new post-Marxist future.

“I am going to encourage and to learn, to comfort in faith, hope and charity, to console with a commitment to the good and to the struggle against evil,” Pope Benedict said during his in-flight press conference en route to Mexico March 23.

This is the Pope’s 23rd foreign visit since his election in 2005 but his first to the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. He will remain in Mexico until March 26. After that, the Pope will travel to Cuba, before returning to Rome on March 29.

Pope Benedict told reporters that the visit was “a great joy” for him and “one that responds to a desire I have had for a long time.”

When he was asked about the level of drug-related crime and violence that has been afflicting Mexico, the Pope said he knew well “the beauties of Mexico” but also “this enormous problem of narcotics trafficking and violence.”

The Mexican government estimates that over 47,000 citizens have been killed in drug-related violence between 2006 and 2011.
“It is certainly a great responsibility for the Catholic Church, in a country in which 80 percent of the people are Catholic. We must work against this evil, which is destructive of mankind and especially of our youth,” he said.

The Pope also reflected on the first task for the Church around the globe, which he said is to “proclaim God: God the judge, God who loves us but loves us in order to pull us toward the good, toward truth and away from evil.”

This means that the Catholic Church in Mexico must “educate consciences, educate in moral responsibility and unmask evil,” he stated.
In particular, he urged the Mexican Church to “unmask this idolatry of money that enslaves men; to expose these false promises, lies, deceits – we must see that humanity needs the Infinite.”
With regards to Cuba, Pope Benedict described his visit to the Caribbean island as “a way of cooperation and dialogue ... that requires patience, but that leads forward.”
Cuba became communist after the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, who was the country’s president until 2008, when his brother Raul assumed power.

The Pope told journalists that “it is evident today that Marxist ideology as it had been conceived no longer responds to reality” and that “new models must be found.”
The papal visit to Mexico and Cuba also coincides with the bicentenary of independence for the people of Latin America. The Pope said that the Church “must always ask herself whether enough is being done for social justice on this great continent” but stressed that the Catholicism “is not a political power, not a party, but a moral reality, a moral power.”

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Controversial Vatican stem cell conference canceled

Vatican City, Mar 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

A controversial scientific conference which featured pro-embryonic stem cell researchers and was sponsored by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life has been canceled, just one month before it was set to take place.

“I am infinitely relieved that the Church has avoided a major blunder which would have confused the faithful for decades to come,” said one member of the Pontifical Academy who asked for anonymity in commenting to CNA.

The 3rd International Congress on Responsible Stem Cell Research was scheduled to take place at the Vatican April 25-28, concluding with an audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

The key lecture was to be given by George Daley of Harvard Stem Cell Institute, a practitioner of embryonic stem cell research. The Catholic Church says that research with embryos is unethical because it involves the willful destruction of human life.

“The Holy Spirit has certainly shown to be present through those faithful members who drew attention to the ambiguity of the choice of speakers. I hope and pray that a review will be affected of the basis on which these congresses are planned,” said the unnamed academy member.
Other contributors for the four-day event included Alan Trounson of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and John Wagner of the University of Minnesota’s Stem Cell Institute. Both men are vocal supporters of embryonic stem cell research.

“The news of the cancellation of the Congress is an enormous relief to many members of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who felt that the presence on its program of so many speakers, including the keynote speaker, committed to embryonic stem cell research, was a betrayal of the mission of the Academy and a public scandal,” said another member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, who also did not want to be named.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells which can generate all 200-plus types of tissue present in humans. Their incredible versatility means they have the potential to provide replacement tissue to treat numerous disorders.

The Catholic Church approves of stem cell research but disapproves of those cells being culled from the destruction of an embryo or fetus. Instead, the Church advocates the use of “adult” stem cells which are taken from a donor’s existing stem cells or from the placenta or umbilical cord at birth.
Officials within the Pontifical Academy for Life had previously defended the inclusion of embryonic stem cell researchers in the April congress. They stressed that the scientists in question were also experts in adult stem cells and would not use the conference to promote views contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

“Since the Superiors of the Academy had for months resisted requests that these speakers should be removed from the program, one assumes that they were obliged to take the decision to cancel in virtue of directives coming from a higher level in the Curia,” added the second academy member.

The conference was organized in conjunction with three other Catholic organizations – the Foundation Jerome Lejeune, the World Federation of Catholic Medical Associations and the Comite Consultatif Bioethique Monaco.

Contributors are being sent notice of the cancellation by the organizing committee, with the promise of a letter of explanation to follow soon. The news of the cancellation has not yet been made public.
The Pontifical Academy for Life was founded by Pope John Paul II in 1994 as an international forum for bioethicists who are committed to studying, upholding and promoting the Church’s teachings on the sanctify of life.

Article 6 of its founding statutes suggests that the Academy should cooperate with non-Catholic and non-Christian bioethicists but only if they “recognize that the dignity of man and the inviolability of human life from conception to natural death, as enunciated by the Magisterium of the Church, is the essential moral foundation of the science and art of medicine.”

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Americans speak up for religious freedom at nationwide rallies

Washington D.C., Mar 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Men and women of all ages raised their voices in support of religious liberty in the nation’s capital on March 23, speaking out against the federal contraception mandate and joining with those who participated in the Rally for Religious Freedom in locations across the country.

“I think it’s remarkably important because it’s a gateway move by the government,” said Libby Barnes, age 22.

Barnes told CNA that she is “used to the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception being unpopular.”

But while she has become accustomed to having Church doctrine mocked, questioned and misunderstood, she believes that the mandate reaches a new extreme.

Barnes said that she took time off work to attend the D.C. rally. While she does not routinely miss work, she said that she made an exception in this case because she believes that the issue is critical to the future of the nation.

It is “hard to believe” that the government could try to remove a right that is so clearly protected in the U.S. Constitution, Barnes said. “The bottom line is they’re taking away religious freedom.”

Barnes joined a crowd of Americans who gathered at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services building in Washington, D.C. at noon on March 23 to stand up for religious freedom.

Tens of thousands of individuals were expected to participate in rallies taking place in about 150 cities across the country.

The rallies were organized by pro-life groups to voice opposition to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, which will soon require employers to offer health insurance plans that include coverage of contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs, even if doing so violates their conscience.

Rally participants said the mandate infringes upon their First Amendment right to religious freedom.

Joseph Jablonski, a freshman at The Catholic University of America, said that he “joyfully” accepts the Church’s teaching on contraception and human sexuality.

Jablonski said that he might one day own a business, and he fears that the contraception mandate may infringe upon his ability to do so in accordance with his faith.

The regulation prohibits free exercise of religion because it prevents the Catholic Church from “being able to spread her joy,” he explained.

Cindy Harris attended the rally with her three young children to show that she is “totally, totally against this mandate.”

Harris said that she is “very annoyed by the media turning this into a women’s issue.”

The Church is not threatening to prevent women from accessing contraception, which is already widely available at low cost, she said.

Rather, she explained, the federal government is “coming into our churches and our institutions” and telling them what to do.

She warned that the mandate may be a “slippery slope” to further government intrusion on people’s lives that could eventually lead to a type of “tyranny” in America.

Harris hopes that her presence, as well as that of the others at the rally, will encourage members of all faiths and religious backgrounds, so that “all religious institutions, not just Catholic ones, will stand up and fight this.”

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Mexican press office inaugurated for Pope's visit

Leon, Mexico, Mar 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Archbishop of Leon, Mexico urged journalists to help Pope Benedict's voice resound worldwide as he inaugurated the country's international office press office in honor of the Pope's visit.

Archbishop Jose Guadalupe Martin Rabago told journalists during the March 23 blessing of the press office that every Christian is called “go out to the ends of the earth to preach the Word of God.”

“Today, you are present to make this call a reality.”

The archbishop then encouraged the men and women of the press to “faithfully complete their task as communicators, and to help them make the Pope’s voice resound.”

“May it resound with clarity; may it be heard; may it be understood and reach the hearts of the many who will hear this Gospel message,” he said.

Msgr. Carlos Aguiar Retes, president of the Mexican Catholic Episcopal Conference, spoke of the need for communicators to present the Pope's March 23-25 trip to the country to the “effect of those physically present at the event.”

“You are called to do this, hopefully in a very positive light” and with adequate interpretation, he emphasized.

The governor of Guanajuato, Juan Manuel Oliva, called the inauguration a “historic moment” and noted how over 1500 members of the press will be covering the papal trip.

The International Press Office in Mexico will provide live feed of the Pope’s activities. There will be 300 laptops computers and it will be open 24 hours a day. Fifteen translators will be on hand as well as bus service so that journalists can get to the numerous papal visit locations.

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Pope Benedict lands in Mexico as 'pilgrim of faith, hope, love'

Leon, Mexico, Mar 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

After the papal plane landed in Guanajuato, Mexico this afternoon, Pope Benedict told the enthusiastic crowds that he arrives to their country as a “pilgrim of faith, hope and of love.”

During his official welcome address at the beginning of his March 23-26 visit, the Pope said to those gathered that he wished to strengthen and encourage those who believe in Christ.

He urged local Catholics to “act as missionaries” in order to contribute to “a respectful and peaceful coexistence” which comes from “the incomparable dignity of every human being” and which “no one has the right to disregard.”

“This dignity,” he emphasized, “is expressed especially in the fundamental right to freedom of religion.”

Noting recent violence that has plagued the area, the Pope called on the people of Mexico and all of Latin America to live out their hope in God in order to make a “practical commitment” to build a “better world.”

From 2006 to 2011, the Mexican government estimated that over 47,000 citizens have been killed in drug-related violence.

He prayed especially for “those who suffer” due to “all forms of violence,” but said that he knew he was in a country “which is proud of its hospitality and wishes no one to feel unwelcome.”

Pope Benedict was especially grateful to God “for allowing me to realize the desire” that he had for a long time to finally visit the “great nation” of Mexico.

He said that he hoped even those Mexicans who are, “far from their homeland” may not “lose the wish to see it growth in harmony and in authentic integral development.”

In recent years, many of the Latin American countries have celebrated their bicentennial anniversaries of independence. The Virgin Mary, who's intercession was “invoked fervently” showed the people that “the Lord loves all people and gave himself for them without distinction.”

The Pope invoked the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe for the people of Mexico to “be true to the faith which you have received.”

Of his 23 foreign visits since his election in 2005, this is the first trip to Latin America. The Pope will remain in Mexico until March 26, after which he will travel to Cuba before returning to Rome on March 29.

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