Archive of March 27, 2012

Catholic media group creates award to honor Cardinal Foley

Geneva, Switzerland, Mar 27, 2012 (CNA) - A global Catholic media group has created an award named after the great evangelist and communicator Cardinal John P. Foley to honor all those who have promoted healthy relations between the Church and the world “for the betterment of humanity.”

“Cardinal Foley together with our members always found that our organization is a bridge between the Church and the world through ongoing reflection … get-togethers and seminars,” the International Organization of Catholics in the Media said. “Such bridging and encounters are necessary today in our modern world where both young and older generations value freedom, dignity and respect rather than blind submission.”

Cardinal Foley served as editor of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s newspaper The Catholic Standard & Times. He edited Rome’s archdiocesan newspaper from 1970 to 1984. After his ordination as bishop, he served as president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication from 1984 to 2007.

In December 2011 Cardinal Foley passed away in Philadelpia, after suffering from leukemia and other health issues.

Several members and friends of the International Organization of Catholics in the Media asked the group to create an international award in his honor. The cardinal first attended the organization’s world congress in Vienna, Austria in 1977 and regularly attended its congresses and other activities until his death.

“He encouraged the independence of journalists,” the group said, also noting that he had defended the group’s autonomy against proposed mergers.

The Cardinal Foley Award entries can be journalistic works made for publishing or for broadcast since 2009.

Entries can include articles, interviews, profiles, opinion, analysis, news stories, photographs or any other journalistic work.

Written entries should not exceed 1,200 words.

The award will be bestowed at the World Congress of the International Organization of Catholics in the Media in Panama next year.

The organization’s website is

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Dawkins calls for mockery of Catholics at 'Reason Rally'

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2012 (CNA) - At the March 24 “Reason Rally” in Washington, D.C., an estimated 20,000 atheists and agnostics heard author and activist Richard Dawkins encourage mockery of Catholic beliefs and those of other religions.

“Don't fall for the convention that we're all 'too polite' to talk about religion,” Dawkins said, before urging rally attendees to ridicule Catholics' faith in the Eucharist.

“Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated, and need to be challenged – and if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt,” he told the cheering crowd on the National Mall.

“For example, if they say they're Catholic: Do you really believe, that when a priest blesses a wafer, it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?”

If the answer is yes, Dawkins suggested atheists should show contempt for believers instead of ignoring the issue or feigning respect.

“Mock them,” he told the crowd. “Ridicule them! In public!”

The former Oxford professor and author of “The God Delusion” was among the headliners of Saturday's rally, which also featured comedian Eddie Izzard, punk rock group Bad Religion, and magician James Randi.

Dawkins called for atheists to identify themselves in public, for the sake of a more openly secular society.

He also claimed that many self-identified Christians are only nominal adherents of their religion, and should be given a chance to disavow beliefs that they may not hold.

“When you meet somebody who claims to be religious, ask them what they really believe,” Dawkins suggested.

“If you meet somebody who says he's Catholic, for example, say: 'What do you mean? Do you just mean you were baptized Catholic, because I'm not impressed by that.'”

But those who hold to the doctrines of their faith should be openly ridiculed, Dawkins said.

“I don't despise religious people; I despise what they stand for,” he explained.

Elsewhere in his remarks, the former professor praised the “truth” and “beauty” of Darwinian evolution, and the ability of the “incredible process” to produce life with the “illusion of design.”

“How is it conceivable,” he wondered, “that the laws of physics should conspire together – without guidance, without direction, without any intelligence – to bring us into the world?”

It was “almost too good to be true,” he rhapsodized, that this “mechanical, automatic, unplanned, unconscious process” should produce human intelligence.

“That's not just true, it's beautiful,” he declared to cheers from the crowd of agnostics and atheists.

“It's beautiful because it's true,” said Dawkins. “And it's almost too good to be true.”

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Parishes encouraged to use new blessing for unborn children

Washington D.C., Mar 27, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops are encouraging parishes to incorporate into their communities a new blessing for a child in the womb, which the Vatican approved on March 25.

“I'm impressed with the beauty of this blessing for human life in the womb,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

“I can think of no better day to announce this news than on the feast of the Annunciation, when we remember Mary’s ‘yes’ to God and the incarnation of that child in her the womb that saved the world.”

The prayer, titled “Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb,” is intended to support parents awaiting the birth of their child and to encourage prayers for the child in the womb, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reports. The prayer is also intended to foster respect for human life.

The blessing will be printed in a combined English- and Spanish-language booklet. It can be offered both during Mass and outside of Mass.

The bishops wanted to make the announcement of the blessing as soon as possible so that parishes might consider how to incorporate the blessing into parish life, said Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship.

“Eventually the new blessing will be included in the Book of Blessings when that text is revised,” he said, referring to the liturgical book that contains all the approved blessings of the Church.

Although CNA requested a copy of the blessing, a media relations official with the U.S. bishops’ conference, told the agency on March 26 that the Committee for Divine Worship is not yet prepared to share the final text. It is still currently being edited to incorporate changes to the English-language version and to include the Spanish-language version.

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Tens of thousands rally for religious freedom in 143 US cities

Chicago, Ill., Mar 27, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

After drawing 54,000 people to 143 nationwide protests, leaders of the Stand Up For Religious Freedom campaign are more determined than ever to end the federal contraception mandate.

“From coast to coast, the response of the crowds at these rallies was a tremendous optimism that we can change the HHS mandate,” said Pro-Life Action League Executive Director Eric Scheidler, who planned the March 23 “Rally for Religious Freedom” with Citizens for a Pro-Life Society.

“People came out for the very first time in their lives, to any sort of grassroots protest activity,” Scheidler said of Stand Up For Religious Freedom's first effort.

“That happened in Chicago. It happened in San Francisco, in Washington, D.C., in New York, Philadelphia, and other large cities.”

Each of those cities drew between 900 and 2,500 people, united in their desire to restore religious freedom by ending the president's contraception coverage rule.

“Before the rally, there was a real sense almost of despair – and certainly discouragement – that the federal government would be trying to strong-arm the religious institutions of this country,” Scheidler said, describing the mood he observed after the controversial rule was confirmed earlier this year.

Health and Human Services' rule, requiring many religious institutions to offer contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing drugs through their health plans, is being challenged in court by eight states. Scheidler said the rallies allowed individuals and communities to take a stand as well.

“People were hearing about it on Facebook, on Twitter, in the 'blogosphere,' and on Christian radio,” the event's co-organizer recalled.

“Finally, in the days before the rally, they were hearing about it through the secular media.”

The result was a broad coalition, drawing citizens of all faiths and none. “Catholic, Protestant, Jewish – even atheists and pagans came out to protest the HHS mandate, in unity with each other.”

Turnout at last week's rallies exceeded Scheidler's expectations, and confirmed his sense that March 23 was “a starting point” for the larger effort.

“I was hoping that we just might be able to reach 10,000 attendees across the country,” Scheidler said. “In fact, we've confirmed over 54,000 people came out, and that number's climbing as I get reports.”

“Every indication is that the rallies were not an end, but a beginning – because people are fired up now.”

Participants at the events were urged to take action in the weeks and months to come, by raising awareness among their friends and neighbors and calling on members of Congress.

Public education is “critical” in fighting the mandate, Scheidler said.

“There's been so much misinformation. This controversy has been so falsely presented to, and by, the mainstream media. We really have to work very hard to educate our neighbors and fellow church-goers.”

He said public officials should also be called upon to defend conscience rights, whether or not this goal can be secured in the short-term.

“We realize that with Barack Obama in the White House, our chances of a legislative victory on this issue are perishingly thin.”

“Yet every time we can raise this issue, every time there's a vote against the mandate – even when we lose a vote … that gives us yet another opportunity to publicly educate on this issue, and apply greater political pressure to have it overturned.”

More than 60 organizations have joined the Pro-Life Action League and Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, in the Stand Up For Religious Freedom movement's “Coalition to Stop the HHS Mandate.”

As that coalition grows, Scheidler encouraged supporters to turn to God in prayer – for their cause, and for those who oppose it.

“Pray for those forces in our culture that have been fighting for this mandate,” the Pro-Life Action League's executive director said, citing Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the Feminist Majority Foundation.

“Pray for our president – that he will have a conversion of heart, that he will relinquish this drive to push religious institutions out of the public square.”

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Syrian violence drives 50,000 Christians from homes

Damascus, Syria, Mar 27, 2012 (CNA) - Almost all Christians in the conflict-torn Syrian city of Homs have fled violence and persecution, amid reports that their homes have been attacked and seized by “fanatics” with links to al-Qaida.

With ninety percent of Christians having reportedly left their homes, the violence is driving fears that Syria could become a “second Iraq” with church attacks, kidnappings and forced expulsions of believers.

The exodus of 50,000 or more Christians has taken place largely in the past six weeks. It is part of al-Qaida-linked militant Islamic groups’ “ongoing ethnic cleansing” of Christians, according to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

Homs has been home to one of Syria’s largest Christian populations and Church sources say that the faithful have borne the brunt of the violence. They have escaped to villages, many of which are in mountains 30 miles outside the city.

Islamists have allegedly gone from house to house in the Homs neighborhoods of Hamidiya and Bustan al-Diwan and have forced Christians to leave without giving them a chance to take their belongings.

The crisis in Homs has increased fears that Islamists are gaining influence in the region in the power vacuum left by the overthrow of other Arab governments in the “Arab Spring.”

The comparisons with Iraq are also ominous. Anti-Christian violence in Iraq has helped drive the Christian population from 1.4 million in the late 1980s to less than 300,000 today.

In both Syria and Iraq the Church is being targeted for its perceived close links with regimes under attack from opposition parties and rebel groups.

The uprising in Syria started in March 2011 with protests advocating political reform. The uprising has become increasingly militarized. More than 8,000 people have been killed in the conflict in the past year, U.N. figures say.

Many in the opposition are from the country’s Sunni majority, while religious minorities continue to back President Bashar al-Assad. The exiled Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has said it will not monopolize power in a new regime but will back a democratic state with equality for all citizens and respect for human rights.

On March 26, Syrian government forces shelled Homs and carried out arrest raids. A human rights group says that government forces appear to be preparing to retake rebel-held parts of the city, the Associated Press reported.

The government has accused insurgents of terrorism and international conspiracy, while the government itself faces accusations of torture and massacres of civilians.

The Christian community has suffered from terrorist attacks in other cities.

On March 18, a car bomb explosion targeted the Christian quarter of Aleppo, close to the Franciscan-run Church of St. Bonaventure. Aid to the Church in Need is helping families of the victims.

“The people we are helping are very afraid,” said Bishop Antoine Audo of Aleppo, who is overseeing the aid program. “The Christians don’t know what their future will hold. They are afraid they will not get their homes back.”

The displaced people of Homs are desperate for food and shelter. Aid to the Church in Need has announced an urgent $100,000 aid package to relieve their needs.

Each family will receive $60 each month for basic food and lodging. Organizers of the assistance hope that they can return home by the summer.

Bishop Audo told Aid to the Church in Need that it is very important to help those in distress.

“Pray for us and let us work together to build peace in Syria,” he said.

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In Cobre, Pope entrusts Cuba's future to the Virgin of Charity

Santiago de Cuba, Cuba, Mar 27, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

Pope Benedict XVI committed Cuba's future to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, as he prayed for the suffering and oppressed during his visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Cobre on March 27.

“Let all those you meet know, whether near or far, that I have entrusted to the Mother of God the future of your country, advancing along the ways of renewal and hope, for the greater good of all Cubans,” he announced, after spending time in prayer before the statue of the “Virgin of Charity.”

Pope Benedict's visit to Cuba comes during a Jubilee Year commemorating the 400th anniversary of the finding of the statue, discovered floating off the island's coast. Found by two native Cubans and a young slave boy, the image of Our Lady of Cobre remains a beloved symbol of the Cuban Catholic Church. 

After a private Mass at Santiago de Cuba's St. Basil the Great Seminary, the Pope traveled to El Cobre on Tuesday morning, where he was welcomed by Archbishop Dionisio G. Ibáñez. Pope Benedict  knelt before the statue, lit a candle and recited a traditional prayer.

As he blessed the Cuban faithful gathered outside the shrine, the Pope told them he had “prayed to the Virgin for the needs of those who suffer, of those who are deprived of freedom, those who are separated from their loved ones or who are undergoing times of difficulty.”

Mary's presence in El Cobre is “a gift from heaven for all Cubans,” Pope Benedict said.

“I have placed in her Immaculate Heart your young people, that they may be authentic friends of Christ and not succumb to things which bring sadness in their wake.”

During his time in prayer with the Virgin of Charity, the Pope prayed particularly for the descendents of Africans in Cuba, as well as the inhabitants of nearby Haiti.

He also expressed his care for many rural Cubans “who wish to live the Gospel deeply in their homes and who offer their homes as mission centers for the celebration of Mass.”

“Receive the affection of the Pope and carry it with you from this place,” he told the assembled crowd, “so that everyone can experience consolation and strength in faith.”

“Following the example of the Most Holy Virgin, I encourage all the sons and daughters of this dear country to continue to build their lives on the firm rock which is Jesus Christ,” he declared, calling Cubans “to work for justice, to be servants of charity and to persevere in the midst of trials. 

“May nothing or no one take from you your inner joy which is so characteristic of the Cuban soul. May God bless you. Thank you very much.”

After his visit to the shrine, Pope Benedict departed for the airport in Santiago de Cuba, from which he will fly to Havana.

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Cuban paper attempts to outline similarities of Christianity, Communism

Santiago de Cuba, Mar 27, 2012 (CNA) - As Pope Benedict arrives for his historic visit to Cuba, a major newspaper in the country ran articles attempting to highlight similarities between Catholicism and the island's Communist revolution.

In a March 26 piece titled “Fidel and Religion: a transcendent conversation,” local newspaper Trabajadores – associated with the local Workers' Central Union of Cuba – said the idea that Christians and Communists have no mutual understanding has been “discredited.”

The paper cites Brazilian theologian Alberto Libanio's 1986 book “Fidel and Religion,” which outlines the views of former president Fidel Castro, who argued that communism does not promote the hatred of people but of injustice.  

In addition to the extensive article on Castro and his perspective on religion, Trabajadores also published an interview with 89-year-old Cuban poet Fina García Marruz.

García Marruz told the paper he finds no struggle in declaring himself a Christian and a Communist, noting, “I have had to reconcile nothing in my personal life, as a soldier revolutionary and believer.”

He claimed that the 1950s Communist uprising “has been about a just Revolution” and that both it and the Catholic faith seek “what’s best.” Although “different,” the poet added, both “aspire for the common good.”

Rumors in Cuba continue to spread that Fidel Castro will ask to be re-admitted to the Catholic Church and that Hugo Chávez will ask for a special blessing from Pope Benedict XVI during the pontiff's March 26-28 visit to the country. 

But sources from both the Church and the government have emphatically denied that Fidel Castro has any intention of meeting with Pope Benedict “beyond any simple courtesy.” 

On March 25, Vatican press director Father Federico Lombardi also pointed out that as of that time, there is no plan for a meeting between Pope Benedict and Hugo Chávez.

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Church in Cuba helps elderly make ends meet

Havana, Cuba, Mar 27, 2012 (CNA) - With 18 percent of its 11 million people over the age of 60, Cuba is the country in Latin America with the second largest concentration of elderly people.
That is due in part to the country’s health care system and longer life expectancies, low birth rates, and a good amount of emigration without the counterbalancing immigration. In other words, while plenty of people leave Cuba, most of them are younger, and there isn’t a lot of immigration into the country to take their place. Meanwhile, the population is getting older and living longer.
For more than 20 years, Caritas Cubana has made it a priority to help care for Cuba’s elderly, who tend to be poor and marginalized. Some 7,000 volunteers throughout the country’s 11 dioceses work together to make life a little easier for older people, many of whom live alone and struggle to make ends meet on the small pensions they receive.
Caritas supported groups—there are about 400 around the island—run soup kitchens (sometimes in the homes of volunteers if no church facility exists) and provide laundry services for the elderly. Some have recently even created informal salons where men can get a shave and women can get their hair done. Workshops help senior citizens learn to sew or make crafts, which they in turn sell to raise money to throw a party or take a day trip.
“Meeting their basic needs is one thing but we also try to create spaces where they can share with other people of the same age and similar interests,” said Maritza Sanchez, Caritas Cubana director. “We want them to get involved, that’s what changes their lifestyle and helps them discover their potential.”
Martiza sent me out yesterday to meet with a group of elderly people who eat lunch at her parish church, San Agustin. There, I met Juana Martinez, an 87-year-old woman who has eaten lunch at San Agustin three days a week for the last 12 years. Juana’s daughter immigrated to Spain about two years ago. Juana now lives by herself and rents out her garage as a parking space for a little extra change to supplement her monthly pension.
Juana worked for 15 years washing dishes at a Methodist school. When it closed, she went to work for the state’s sports facility. After nearly 30 years there, she retired with a monthly pension of about $8. It’s hardly enough to cover her basic expenses but Juana sees life as a struggle. “It’s the struggle that makes life beautiful,” she said.
Lunch at San Agustin and the other church activities she attends are what keep her going.
“I love to dance and when I come into the church, I come in dancing,” she said.
The church family is equally important to Mercedes Hernandez Valdez, 68, the Caritas volunteer who runs the soup kitchen.
Mercedes’ daughters also left Cuba more than 25 years ago (she saw them two years ago for the first time in 19 years) and her husband recently died.
These days, Mercedes spends every waking moment at San Agustin. She not only knows every person who eats at San Agustin by name, she knows where they live, how they get there, and what they need. And she takes it upon herself to get them shoes when she can, a little bar of soap (which was dropped from the state rations a year ago), or a blanket.
Robyn Fieser is CRS’ Regional Information Officer for Latin America and the Caribbean. She is in Cuba this week for the papal visit.

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Vestments for Pope's Mass in Cuba arrive with love from Peru

Lima, Peru, Mar 27, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -

The cassocks and stoles used by over 150 priests and deacons during Mass presided by Pope Benedict in Santiago, Cuba on March 26 were crafted and sent from Peru “full of prayers.”

The vestments were created by Talleres San José (St. Joseph’s Workshop) in Lima, Perú upon the request of the Archbishop of Santiago, Dionisio García Ibáñez.

Verónica Lozada, a consecrated laywoman from the Marian Community of Reconciliation which oversaw the project, told CNA that they had encouraged artisans “to offer up their work for the Pope’s intentions so that the cassocks be full of prayers.”

“It was a very special order,” she said. “We are serving the Church. It’s the reason for our existence.” 

The work of Talleres San José, which includes crafting a variety of liturgical instruments, is headed by the Marian community, a part of the Society of Apostolic Life in the Sodalit Family. The community is present in nine countries of North and South America, Europe and Australia.

Claudia Gómez, a community member known as a “Fraterna” who lives in the Dominican Republic, recalled meeting Archbishop Dionisio when he traveled to the country at the end of January.

She said the the local community used the trip “as an opportunity to show him the design of the first cassock.”

“He tried it on, and was very happy with the work and quality. That’s when he gave the ok to the cassock’s design, and so began the work in Lima.”

In all, Taller San José sent 80 embroidered cassocks, 180 stoles for priests and 20 stoles for deacons to Cuba for the Santiago Mass during the Pope's historic March 26-28 visit to the country.

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In message to youth, Pope asks for ‘missionaries of joy’

Vatican City, Mar 27, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI will challenge young Catholics to be “missionaries of joy” in his message for this Sunday’s World Youth Day.

“Be enthusiastic witnesses of the new evangelization! Go to those who are suffering and those who are searching, and give them the joy that Jesus wants to bestow,” says the Pope in his address, the text of which was issued to the media on March 27.

“Bring it to your families, your schools and universities, and your workplaces and your friends, wherever you live. You will see how it is contagious.”

The Pope’s letter marks the Church’s 27th World Youth Day, which will be celebrated in 2012 at the diocesan level. The theme for this year is taken from Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

“Joy is at the heart of Christian experience,” writes the Pope, “in a world of sorrow and anxiety, joy is an important witness to the beauty and reliability of the Christian faith.”

He then explains how young people can find joy, experience it more deeply and transmit it to others.

The Pope points out that “a yearning for joy lurks within the heart of every man and woman” and that this is more than just “immediate and fleeting feelings of satisfaction” but a longing for “a perfect, full and lasting joy capable of giving ‘flavor’ to our existence.”

This instinct is particularly true during youth, a time that Pope Benedict characterizes as one of “continuous discovery of life, of the world, of others and of ourselves.” It is a stage in life when “we are moved by high ideals and make great plans.”

But to find what gives “real and lasting joy” people must seek God, the Pope says, explaining that this is because God is “a communion of eternal love” and his infinite joy “does not remain closed in on itself, but expands to embrace all whom God loves and who love him.”

For this reason, God wants each young person to “share in his own divine and eternal joy” since the “deepest meaning and value” of their lives lies in “being accepted, welcomed and loved by him.”

And God’s unconditional love allows young people to say “I am loved; I have a place in the world and in history; I am personally loved by God. If God accepts me and loves me and I am sure of this, then I know clearly and with certainty that it is a good thing that I am alive.”

Pope Benedict then cites the Incarnation, Jesus visiting Zacchaeus’ house, and the Resurrection as times when people encountered Jesus and experienced “immense inner joy.”

These instances, he says, should reminds us that “evil does not have the final word in our lives” and that “faith in Christ the Savior tells us that God’s love is victorious.”

The Pope goes on to urge young people to respond to “spiritual joy” by not being afraid to risk their lives and by making “space for Jesus Christ and his Gospel.”

This is particularly true, he says, if Christ is “calling you to the religious, monastic or missionary life or to the priesthood,” since Jesus “fills with joy all those who respond to his invitation to leave everything to be with him” and “devote themselves with undivided heart to the service of others.”

After experiencing the joy Jesus brings, everyone is called to love others, the Pope says.
“Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls; God loves a cheerful giver. Whoever gives with joy gives more,” he writes, quoting Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

For a young person, this love should inform all aspects of their life so that they learn how love “means to be steadfast, reliable and faithful in commitments” particularly in work, study and friendships.

“Our friends expect us to be sincere, loyal and faithful because true love perseveres even in times of difficulty,” he notes.

The Pope also prays that young people will lead lives “guided by a spirit of service and not by the pursuit of power, material success and money.”

The temptation away from this is a present-day culture which often “pressures us to seek immediate goals, achievements and pleasures,” fostering “fickleness more than perseverance, hard work and fidelity to commitments.” This, he says, is nothing more than the promise of “false happiness.”

“How many people are surrounded by material possessions yet their lives are filled with despair, sadness and emptiness! To have lasting joy we need to live in love and truth. We need to live in God.”

This higher path, he warns, will not be without its occasional falls as “the experience of sin, which is a refusal to follow God and an affront to his friendship, brings gloom into our hearts.”

Yet God in his mercy “never abandons us” and always offers the possibility of “being reconciled with him and experiencing the joy of his love which forgives and welcomes us back.”

“Dear young people, have frequent recourse to the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation! It is the sacrament of joy rediscovered,” the Pope says.

He brings his message to the youth to a close by offering some models of youthful holiness for them to emulate. First among them is the early 20th-century Italian student Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.  Despite experiencing “many trials during his short life, including a romantic experience that left him deeply hurt,” explains the Pope, Pier Giorgio always found the Christian life a joy, “even when it involves pain.”

This experience of joy and pain is why it’s an unfair and untrue to depict Christianity as “a way of life that stifles our freedom and goes against our desires for happiness and joy,” Pope Benedict states.

On the contrary, Christians are “men and women who are truly happy because they know they are not alone” because God is “always holding them in his hand.”

“It is up to you, young followers of Christ, to show the world that faith brings happiness and a joy which is true, full and enduring.”

To read Pope Benedict’s full message for World Youth Day 2012, please visit:

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Spokesman reveals Pope discussed Cuban dissidents with Castro

Havana, Cuba, Mar 27, 2012 (CNA) -

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that Pope Benedict discussed the situation of Cuban dissidents, especially those in prison, during his March 27 meeting with President Raúl Castro.

“The outline of requests, which were humanitarian in nature and which were received by the Holy See (from Cuban dissidents), was discussed,” Fr. Lombardi said during a press conference held in the National Hotel of Havana on Tuesday.

“I confirm that the topic was discussed during the personal encounter, but I don’t have information on the specifics,” he said. 

Fr. Lombardi was responding to questions posed by journalists on whether the Vatican had presented a list of prisoner dissidents, and specifically if the list contained the name of Alan Gross.

Ross, an American who tried to help the Jewish community on the island giving them independent means of technology to access the internet, is currently in prison on charges of spying.

The spokesman confirmed that the Holy See’s delegation had interceded for another dissident who yelled “freedom” during the Mass presided by the Pontiff in Santiago, Cuba on Monday. 

But, he said that could not offer any further details on the subject. “Our interest for the person and for his status exists,” he added.

The plight of the dissidents “is certainly present in the Holy Father’s heart,” Fr. Lombardi added.
He then explained that it was impossible to schedule meetings with dissidents, such as the “Damas en Blanco” (Women in White) because of the time constraints of the trip.

“Let’s remember that the Pope on this trip hasn’t even met with specifically Catholic groups: there hasn’t been a meeting with seminarians, with priests, with religious, or with committed lay people,” he said. “Another group, whether it is inside or outside of the Church, simply couldn’t be fit in the visit.”

However, Fr. Lombardi noted that “when the Pope speaks, he has present the suffering of these people. It’s no coincidence that the Pope speaks of the expectations of all Cubans, in their varied and specific circumstances.”

“If you listen to the discourses, you will see for yourselves how the Pope receives the messages he’s received, and how he responds to these perspectives.”

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Pope asks Raúl Castro to declare Good Friday a Cuban holiday

Havana, Cuba, Mar 27, 2012 (CNA) -

During a personal meeting that lasted over 40 minutes, Pope Benedict XVI asked Cuban President Raúl Castro to recognize Good Friday as a holiday in the country over its importance in the Catholic calendar.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi reported on the conversation and noted that a similar request was made by Blessed John Paul II to Fidel Castro about Christmas when the late pontiff visited Cuba in 1998. 

As a consequence of that request, the Cuban government re-established Dec. 25 as a national holiday. Christmas had previously been suspended from the calendar with the success of the local Communist revolution in the late 1950s.

“Of course, this is a matter for the Cuban authorities, and we hope for a response in the not too distant future,” Fr. Lombardi told members of the press.

He added that during the meeting, Raul Castro gave the Pope “a beautiful wooden sculpture of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre.”

Pope Benedict returned to favor, giving the president a “facsimile copy of an ancient volume from the Vatican library, the Latin translation of Ptolemy’s Geography,” the spokesman said.  

“It includes a map from 1400 and the latest update includes a world map from 1530 in which the American continent appears, and which points out the location of Cuba.”

The Pope continues his historic March 26-28 visit to the country on Wednesday by traveling to the capital city of Havana, where he will preside at Mass in José Martí Revolution Square.

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Benedict XVI meets his 'spiritual Godmother' in Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba, Mar 27, 2012 (CNA) -

After beginning his day on Tuesday with a private Mass in Santiago de Cuba, Pope Benedict XVI met a religious sister from India who has been his “spiritual Godmother” for 20 years.
The Pope celebrated the private Mass during his historic March 26-28 visit to the country before departing for the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre. The service was attended by 10 religious sisters from the contemplative branch of the Missionaries of Charity, which was founded by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
When the Mass ended, Cuban Archbishop Dionisio García, presented Sister Teresa Kereketa to the Pope. Following the practice of her order, 20 years ago she received the task of praying daily for a specific priest, thus becoming his “spiritual Godmother.” The priest whom she was assigned was Cardinal Josef Ratzinger.
During the emotional encounter, and following an Indian tradition, the sister presented a crown of flowers to Pope Benedict. 

“The Pope was quite moved meeting her,” said Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, during a press conference.

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