Rome, Italy, Mar 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI’s meditations for the upcoming Good Friday Stations of the Cross ceremony have been written by an Italian couple that has been married for nearly 50 years.
“In all of the moments of the Stations of the Cross, there were special moments within us for the family,” Anna Maria Zanzucchi told CNA in a recent interview.
“They were taken on by Jesus to redeem the family, and this was the strongest thing that we confronted, and the path that we have always followed illumined us, we were illuminated by the grace concentrated in the stations,” Anna Maria explained.
The traditional Catholic practice of praying the Stations of the Cross is done each Friday of Lent. The liturgy involves remembering and reflecting on 14 different moments in the passion and death of Jesus.
Traditionally, the Pope leads a procession of pilgrims in praying the stations on the evening of Good Friday at Rome’s Colosseum. At each station, the Pope recalls the particular moment of Christ’s passion and reads a reflection. This year, the meditations will come from the Zanzucchis.
The Vatican asked 83-year-old Anna Maria and her 92-year-old husband Danilo to write this year’s stations. The Zanzucchi’s explained that they compiled the prayers with the help of the Holy Spirit and their own experience of family life.
The couple has known each other since 1952, when Danilo proposed within a day of meeting Anna Maria. She said “yes” and they were married the following spring. They went on to have five children.
In 1967 they were asked by the founder of the Focolare Movement, Chiara Lubich, to help establish a new families’ movement. It aims to help families to “live the spirituality of unity and to spread throughout the world family values that promote universal brotherhood.”
“It is God who helps the family and society to rebuild themselves, to live as true men,” said Danilo.
He explained that if families “have this disposition of being ready to love others as oneself, for the love of God,” then “they put into practice the words of Jesus that wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am with them.”
This, he said, is a “formidable resource to heal and aid people, without judging anyone because we are all poor people.”
“The family needs to be renewed, to be reinforced, to be united,” added Anna Maria.
“Unity is that love that unites, it is the impetus that forms families, but then humanity is such that – and we all know what can happen – we have arguments, misunderstandings, little things can become big.”
She explained that these obstacles can be overcome by love, which is used in turn to “renew the love that we all carry within.”
“It is like Danilo said, it is about renewing ourselves and then we can look to help others.”
Denver, Colo., Mar 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Father Carlos Martins never expected to be a priest, or to be touring North America to promote devotion to the saints through their sacred relics. For much of his life, he did not believe in God.
“I was raised in a very nominally Catholic family. We didn't go to church,” the 37-year-old priest told CNA on March 27. “The Catholic school that we went to was 'Catholic' in name only.”
“By the time I became an adult, aside from being a 'practical atheist,' I became an intellectual one as well. I thought it was impossible for God to exist, given the state of the world.”
During his university years, some “very committed Catholics” made him question his atheism – leading to a profound encounter with Christ in Eucharistic adoration.
Sixteen years and one priestly ordination later, Fr. Martins helps others encounter God, through another traditional Catholic practice: the exposition and veneration of sacred relics.
He leads the Treasures of the Church ministry, which brings thousands of relics by request to locations in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Its collection includes relics of St. Maria Goretti, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Faustina Kowalska.
Fr. Martins spoke with CNA during his March 25-April 1 tour of Colorado. After a 60-minute presentation explaining the veneration of relics, attendees can spend time in prayer with a selection that includes a large piece of Christ's cross, and fabric from the Virgin Mary's veil.
As his presentation makes clear, the experience is unlike anything that most attendees have experienced before.
“I do not have a 'traveling museum,'” he explained. “What I have, is a ministry of evangelization and healing.”
Fr. Martins refers to the period of veneration, following his introduction to the practice, as the “walk with the saints.” During this time, he promises that those with an open heart will experience God – and the supernatural reality known as the “communion of the saints” – in a new and profound way.
“People aren't just going around and viewing the multitude of relics that are there,” he explained. “They're encountering these heroes of the faith, wanting to connect with them.”
“I guarantee them that there is going to be one saint, that is present at the exhibition, that will communicate with them in a personal way … Their job is to go find 'their saint.'”
“Ever since my own conversion from atheism,” he recalled, “my interaction with the saints was always very personal. I could intuit very specific saints extending an offer of friendship to me, with an uncanny deepness and regularity.”
“That is going to happen, when you encounter the relics,” the priest said. “I guarantee people that's going to happen.”
While some non-Catholics may find the veneration of relics unusual or even strange, it is solidly rooted in scripture and the constant tradition of the Church. Saints and their relics are not worshiped, but honored in a manner that acknowledges God's work in their lives.
Through his work with Treasures of the Church, Fr. Martins has seen God's work continue through the relics of the saints – sometimes in surprising ways.
“People come to a relic exposition for all kinds of different reasons,” he noted.
While some are there because of their devotion to saints, others may attend for different reasons: historical interest, an interest in “antiques,” or curiosity about a practice with which they are unfamiliar.
“They can't believe that there is a 'medieval circus act,' running around with human bones, in this day and age,” Fr. Martins joked.
In the presentation that precedes the “walk with the saints,” the priest makes a promise to all of these attendees.
“I make a public guarantee that they will encounter the living God in that exposition.”
“In the years I've been doing this, the hundreds of thousands of people that have come – I have never had anybody make a 'warranty claim,'” he said.
Instead he has heard testimonies of healing, accomplished by God's grace, through the intercession of the saints.
“I've had thousands of healing stories communicated to me: cancers gone, heart conditions, osteoporosis, you name it.”
But the “most dramatic effect” Fr. Martins sees, following the exposition of relics, is a healing within the human soul.
It is this kind of healing that the priest finds “most exciting” in his ministry. Through their encounter with the saints, those living on earth are called to remove the obstacles to receiving eternal life.
“You can go to heaven with cancer in your limb. You can go to heaven with a bad heart (condition),” Fr. Martins noted.
“But you can't go to heaven with a heart that has shut God out. You can't go to heaven with unforgiveness in your heart. You can't go to heaven by refusing to participate in the sacraments and live your Catholic identity. You just can't. ”
“If I've managed to help God penetrate the human heart, that invigorates and exhilarates me,” he said.
Nashville, Tenn., Mar 29, 2012 (CNA) -
A Catholic student group says it will leave the Vanderbilt University campus at the end of the year over a controversial school policy which bars the group from requiring its leaders to be Catholic.
“The discriminatory non-discrimination policy at Vanderbilt University has forced our hand,” Vanderbilt Catholic chaplain Father John Sims Baker said in a March 26 statement.
“Our purpose has always been to share the Gospel and proudly to proclaim our Catholic faith. What other reason could there be for a Catholic organization at Vanderbilt?” he asked. “How can we say it is not important that a Catholic lead a Catholic organization?”
Student groups cannot require their leaders to have specific religious beliefs under the university’s non-discrimination policy, The Nashville Tennesean reported. Groups must be open to all students and must allow every student member to run for office.
Leaders of Vanderbilt Catholic said that cannot comply with the rule and have decided to become an independent off-campus ministry.
“We are a faith-based organization,” five leaders from the group’s student board said in a March 25 letter, arguing that affirming the policy would be “to lie” to the university.
“A Catholic student organization led by someone who neither professes the Catholic faith nor strives to live it out would not be able to serve its members as an authentically Catholic organization.”
Beth Fortune, vice chancellor for public affairs at Vanderbilt, said
in a statement to The Tennessean that school officials “regret, but
respect, their decision.”
Fortune said the university believes the “vast majority” of its over 400 registered student groups will comply with the policy “easily.”
Vanderbilt Catholic is one of the largest student religious groups at the university. It allows non-Catholics to be members, though not leaders.
“It has become quite clear to the Vanderbilt Catholic students that we either stand for something or fall for anything,” Fr. Baker said. “We choose to stand for Jesus Christ, and we expect that our leadership to do the same.”
He pledged that the organization will “make a greater effort to reach out to all Vanderbilt students and all college students in Nashville.”
Registered campus student organizations receive many benefits. They may use the Vanderbilt University name and may use university meeting rooms and facilities for free or reduced rate. They also receive free organizational consulting and training from administrators, the university’s website reports.
They are eligible to apply for funding from various campus sources. Registered organizations have access to free publicity in publications and may use campus bulletin boards and kiosks to promote organizational activities.
The Christian Legal Society and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes have also opposed the university’s policy.
Trish Harrison, campus minister for the Graduate Christian Fellowship, said her group can’t sign the non-discrimination policy “in good conscience,” The Tennessean reports.
The group’s leadership has not decided whether to try to register without signing the policy.
The Vanderbilt Baptist Collegiate Fellowship, affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention, will apply for registered status as it allows anyone to be a member or apply for a leadership position.
Twenty-three members of Congress signed an Oct. 6 letter in opposition to the policy, saying it is “common sense” for a student group to select leaders that best represent its mission.
Vanderbilt University reexamined adherence to its policy after a November 2010 incident in which the Christian fraternity Beta Upsilon Chi asked an openly homosexual member to resign. The member filed a discrimination complaint against the group, prompting the university to investigate.
Havana, Cuba, Mar 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - For the people of Cuba, the recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI is both a sign of hope and a call to spiritual renewal.
On March 28, the Pope encouraged the nation to “look again to the faith of your elders” as a source of “strength to build a better future.”
After facing numerous challenges in recent years, the Catholic Church in Cuba is continuing to overcome obstacles as it proceeds on its journey of faith.
Both its turbulent past and hope for the future are illustrated by the new San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary, which sits on archdiocesan land on the outskirts of Havana.
When the seminary facility was inaugurated in Nov. 2010, it became the most prominent new religious building in the country in over half a decade since Fidel Castro took power in 1959.
The new location provides more space and a quiet, more peaceful atmosphere than the historical seminary, which was built by Jesuits in the mid-18th century and is located in the tourist center of Old Havana.
Both the Knights of Columbus and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops helped to fund the construction of the new facility, which includes classrooms, dormitories, offices and a chapel, as well as a dining room, a library and recreation space.
At almost 6,000 square meters in area, the building can house up to 100 seminarians.
However, it is currently home to just over 50, illustrating the shortage in vocations that the country is currently experiencing.
Cuba is home to about 6.7 million Catholics, making up just over 60 percent of the country’s population of 11 million.
However, the nation has only about 350 priests and 650 religious to serve the people.
While recent years have seen low levels of new vocations in many countries, the Church in Cuba has faced particular challenges, including repression under an atheist state.
The Church is now in a period of recovery in the twenty years since the state ceased its official support of atheism.
When Pope John Paul II visited the island country in 1998, he blessed the cornerstone of the seminary, emphasizing its importance for the future of the local Church.
The former Pope’s historic visit also helped to promote better relations between the Church and state in Cuba. The Catholic Church played a significant role in working to obtain the freedom of 52 Cuban political prisoners in 2010.
Now, the country is turning to the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, who visited the island country on March 26-28.
At a welcoming ceremony shortly after he descended from the papal plane, Pope Benedict acknowledged the impact of his predecessor’s 1998 visit to Cuba.
He said that Pope John Paul II brought “a gentle breath of fresh air” that strengthened the country and “left an indelible mark on the soul of all Cubans.”
Continuing the message of the previous Pope, the Holy Father encouraged the people of Cuba to return to the rich faith that shaped the nation’s history in order to achieve a “rebirth of society.”
In doing so, he emphasized the need to embrace and live out the “spiritual and moral values which fashioned the nation’s true identity.”
Havana, Cuba, Mar 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that the desire to strengthen the relationship between the Church and Cuba prompted Pope Benedict's 30-minute meeting with Fidel Castro.
“The Pope has to take into account the request of the authorities who are his guests and made the visit possible,” Fr. Lombardi told the press on March 28 during the final briefing before the Pope's departure to Rome.
“In this case, he accepted the request made by the Cuban authorities, who highlighted Fidel Castro’s strong desire to meet with the Holy Father” during the Pope's March 26-28 visit to the country.
The Vatican spokesman noted that “Fidel Castro also had an important meeting with John Paul II” during the late pontiff's 1998 trip to Cuba, which made a significantly improved relationship “between the Church and Cuba possible.”
Vatican and local leaders within the Church have been key in negotiating with release of prisoners of conscience after what's known as the “Black Spring” arrests of 75 dissidents in 2003.
Even “the steps, small or great” which were made in the field of human rights after the Pope John Paul II’s visit “were a consequence of that meeting,” Fr. Lombardi pointed out.
“With respect to a possible meeting with dissidents,” Fr. Lombardi said that “a number of the messages (from dissidents) made it to the Holy See before the trip and were quite diverse.”
The Pope, therefore, “has been conscious to have their concerns and those of the entire Cuban people present in his discourses.”
The March 28 meeting occurred after Pope Benedict celebrated Mass in the Revolution Plaza of Havana, which was attended by Raúl Castro, civil authorities, Cuban bishops and other bishops from Latin America.
After the dialogue, Castro and his companions – among whom was his oldest son who helped him stand up – said farewell to the Pope who was accompanied by the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and the Apostolic Nuncio of Cuba, Msgr. Bruno Musaró.
The Pope also met with current of Cuba President, Raúl Castro, yesterday whom he asked to declare Good Friday a national holiday. At the meeting, the Pope also interceded for Cuban dissidents.
Havana, Cuba, Mar 29, 2012 (CNA) - Oswaldo Paya, a peaceful dissident and global director of the Christian Liberation Movement, said Cubans have “opened our hearts to hope” after attending the Mass Pope Benedict XVI celebrated in Havana.
In a statement posted on his website on March 28, Paya said that despite harassment and widespread surveillance by government agents, he was able to attend the Mass in Havana, “where the People of God heard the words of the Holy Father.”
Paya also denounced the recent arrests made by the Castro government to prevent dissidents from participating in Pope Benedict XVI’s historic March 26-28 visit to the country.
“Our first words are for hundreds of our fellow dissidents who were not able to be here because of the wave of fear. There was a great absence of precisely those of us who defend human rights,” he said.
“I speak of them and in the name of those who have no voice and have only suffered scorn and repression, and we must remember.”
“But we prayed with the Holy Father, we opened our hearts to hope,” Paya emphasized. “As John Paul II said: we have to be the protagonists of our history.”
“Liberation is a task for the Cuban people – now with greater hope because we are definitely on the verge, on the threshold of truth and liberation. That is our hope,” he said.
Although CNA has interviewed Paya on multiple occasions, the agency was unable to contact Paya via phone this week as the local operator claimed the number was incorrect.
Carlos Paya, who represents the Christian Liberation Movement from Spain, said Oswaldo Paya's number in Cuba “is being blocked” and that he does not have access to internet.
Carlos Paya said information about the CLM has to be published out of Spain because of the restrictions that exist in Cuba.
Washington D.C., Mar 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Inadequate conscience protections may lead the Supreme Court to reject the 2010 health care law, a Jesuit priest and legal scholar predicted after three days of arguments in the historic case.
“I think there are sufficient problems with the bill, as passed, that the justices could say: 'This is unconstitutional,'” Father Robert J. Araujo, S.J., told CNA on March 29.
“There are certainly those problems that have been in the news, and I think there are some other ones. For example – the question of conscience, and conscience protection.”
“This is a very complicated law, and the more we examine it, we see more problems and concerns,” noted Fr. Araujo, who holds the John Courtney Murray Professorship at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
“I tend to think that's on the minds of the lawyers and the justices: 'Are we going to see more litigation, if we don't resolve these conscience-protection and other issues?'”
“That's why I see an opportunity for the court to say: 'Look, there are some serious problems with this legislation. Congress has done a lot of work, (but) it's their responsibility to write a law that will pass constitutional muster and judicial review.”
The court's March 26-28 period of questioning focused on the law's “individual mandate,” which requires virtually all citizens to obtain health insurance.
Most observers believe the law's fate will hinge upon whether the requirement is judged to be a means of regulating interstate commerce – as the Obama administration maintains – or an unconstitutional overtaking of states' power by the federal government.
Fr. Araujo thinks the law is unlikely to be upheld either fully or in part.
“Having followed the arguments and the questions, I don't think the likelihood of a complete vindication is very strong,” the Loyola University professor predicted on March 29.
He also has doubts about the law being upheld with some portions removed – because legislators did not include a “severability” provision that would allow some parts to stand if others, such as the individual mandate, were struck down.
Although the main issue before the court is the individual insurance mandate, the Jesuit professor thinks other aspects of the law will factor into the court's decision as well – including the widely-criticized contraception and sterilization mandate, a federal rule made as part of the health care law's implementation.
The Supreme Court justices, he said, realize that there are constitutional concerns surrounding “who exactly is going to be paying for what” under the law, and “how that might affect their own moral concerns, which are constitutionally protected.”
If the law is upheld, the justices could reasonably expect challenges to continue on different constitutional grounds – including the free exercise of religion, a factor in eight states' current lawsuits against the law's contraception mandate.
The result could be “a repetition of what we've seen so far,” with various lawsuits advancing in federal court seeking “review of the legality of certain provisions” in the health care law.
“There are lots of concerns with this legislation,” Fr. Araujo said. “Do we want to have another 'go-around' in the not-too-distant future, on other elements?”
Health care, the priest and professor noted, is a pressing issue that seriously affects millions of people.
But the Obama administration, he suggested, should not have attempted to solve it in a manner that was both constitutionally questionable and morally provocative.
Although the Church regards health care as a right that should be secured for all members of society, opinions differ as to how this should be achieved in practice. The Catholic notion of “subsidiarity” requires that problems be solved by the lowest level of competent authority.
Some Catholic critics of the health care law have invoked this concept as a criticism of the federal health care reform, which they say could have been better handled by the individual states.
“I think in its own way, the U.S. Constitution – under the Tenth Amendment – in part addresses this important concept of subsidiarity,” Fr. Araujo said, citing the provision by which the powers not given to the federal government by the constitution “are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
“What might be proper for Florida may not work in California,” the Loyola University professor noted. “The states do have a proper, lawful role in determining what is good and what is not for their citizenry. That's how I see the subsidiarity rule playing out in the U.S. Constitution.”
“The program Massachusetts legislated a few years ago is not without its problems or faults,” Fr. Araujo observed, recalling legislation signed by then-Governor Mitt Romney. “But the state was addressing the issue of health care for its citizens.”
CNA also spoke on March 29 with Professor Michael Scaperlanda, who teaches at the University of Oklahoma and contributes to the Catholic law blog “Mirror of Justice.”
Scaperlanda has criticized the federal government's individual insurance mandate as unconstitutional. On Thursday, however, he held off from making any predictions as to whether the health care law would be upheld in part or in full by the Supreme Court.
But he noted that there were good reasons for Catholics to prefer state-level solutions to the problem of securing health care for all.
At the state level, he noted, a requirement for individuals to purchase insurance could be squared with both the Constitution and Catholic social teaching.
If the federal health care law is overturned, Scaperlanda is hopeful that solutions for the uninsured, and those with preexisting conditions, can be found at a lower level of authority.
“One reason would be, that our state legislators are much more accessible to us than our federal legislators,” he explained.
“I'm Facebook friends with several of my state legislators; I can have conversations with them. They're much more in tune to the values of people in the community than people in Washington.”
Similarly, individual states would have greater freedom to experiment to see which policies best solve the complex problems of health care reform. Other states could adopt policies that are shown to work, and more local control would make it easier to change those that do not achieve results.
“Multiple heads are better than one,” Scaperlanda said.
“Having different proposals and solutions, and watching to see what works, leads to a better solution than having a small group of policy experts tell us what's going to work and then hoping for the best.”
Vatican City, Mar 29, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican's doctrinal office has confirmed the excommunication of four priests expelled from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, who asserted themselves as rivals to its bishops.
“These priests continue to challenge ecclesiastical authority, causing moral and spiritual damage, not only to the Basilian Order of St. Josaphat and the Greek-Catholic Ukrainian Church, but also to this Apostolic See and the Catholic Church as a whole,” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said March 29.
“All this provokes division and bewilderment among the faithful,” the Vatican's highest doctrinal office observed. The comments were made in a March 29 notification intended “to inform the faithful, especially in the countries of origin of the so-called 'bishops,' about their current canonical status.”
“This Congregation … formally declares that it does not recognize the validity of their episcopal ordinations, or of any and all ordinations that have derived, or will derive therefrom. Moreover, the canonical status of the four so-called 'bishops' is that of excommunication.”
Fr. Elias Dohnal, Fr. Markian Hitiuk, Fr. Metodej Spirik, and Fr. Robert Oberhauser are ex-members of the Basilian Order, a society of priests within the Ukrainian Catholic Church. Ukraine's Eastern Catholics make up one of the largest eastern churches in communion with the Roman Catholic Church.
In 2008, the four priests were declared excommunicated by the Ukrainian Catholic Church, which follows its own procedures of canon law. They claimed to have been ordained as bishops, in rites that Ukraine's Eastern Catholic hierarchy regarded as both illegitimate and invalid.
According to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the priests insisted on the validity of their ordinations, and sought to be recognized by state authorities as leaders of the “Ukrainian Orthodox Greek-Catholic Church.”
“The Holy See, concerned to protect the unity and peace of Christ's flock, had hoped in the repentance and subsequent return of the aforementioned priests to full communion with the Catholic Church,” the doctrinal congregation's head Cardinal William J. Levada and secretary Archbishop Luis Ferrer said.
“Unfortunately the most recent developments - such as the unsuccessful attempt to acquire State registration … demonstrate their continuing disobedience.”
Catholics are instructed “not to adhere to the aforementioned group as, to all canonical effects, it is outside ecclesiastical communion. The faithful are invited to pray for the members of the group, that they may repent and return to full communion with the Catholic Church.”
“Furthermore, the use of the name 'Catholic' by groups which are not recognized by the competent ecclesiastical authority is to be considered as illegitimate,” the prefect and secretary noted.