Nazareth, Israel, May 24, 2012 (CNA) - High-ranking Catholic churchmen dedicated a new cloister on May 17 at a Benedictine monastery built at the site where Jesus miraculously multiplied loaves and fishes.
At the dedication, the retired Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah said the monastery is "a new witness of the presence of God in the life of this land, a new spiritual actor in the life of this land, a new spiritual companion of all the inhabitants of this land, Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druzes, all of us in search of God, as we are in search of peace."
Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne, France and the apostolic nuncio to Israel Archbishop Antonio Franco participated in the event with several other bishops, including the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Nazareth.
Patriarch Sabbah represented his successor, Patriarch Fouad Twal.
Before the dedication, Cardinal Meisner celebrated a Pontifical Mass in the Monastery Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes in Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee.
Six monks from the Benedictine Priory of the Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem, which has been based in Tabgha since 1939, will use the new cloister.
The monastery was rebuilt because the old building from the 1950s was built without foundations. It was dilapidated and in danger of collapse in a region where earthquakes are common.
Cardinal Meisner is president of the German Union of the Holy Land, the builder and owner of the monastery site.
He told Aid to the Church in Need that the monks are "the men of Galilee who look up to Heaven, just as at the Ascension of the Lord.
"That is their service. Thus they help us to ensure that Heaven is not forgotten."
Because summer temperatures in the area can reach 122 degrees, Aid to the Church in Need provided $63,850 to build a small air-conditioned summer oratory inside the cloister for monks to escape the heat and the noise of visitors.
Patriarch Sabbah said that a monastery that prays is a "vital necessity" everywhere, but particularly in the Holy Land where "God manifested himself."
The residents of the Holy Land are "still living in a long painful conflict situation that needs reconciliation with God and among themselves," he continued.
"Here the land needs to know and to see the real human being, created by God on His image, capable of love as God loves, in order to find the ways of peace and of a real human peaceful life."
Princeton, N.J., May 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The number of pro-life Americans is near an all-time high, while those who self-identify as pro-choice are at a record low, according to a new Gallup survey.
Results from a poll taken in early May show that 50 percent of Americans say they are "pro-life," an increase of five percent since a 2009 survey.
Forty-one percent, however, identify as pro-choice – down eight points since 2009.
The change is even more dramatic since 1995, when 56 percent of Americans told Gallup they were pro-choice while only 33 percent said they were pro-life.
In 2012, Republicans tend to be the most pro-life, with 72 percent identifying as such. About 34 percent of Democrats are pro-life, as are 47 percent of independents. Fifty-eight percent of Democrats say they are pro-choice, as do 22 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of independents.
Dr. Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, said that the results are "the tip of the iceberg."
"In fact, a growing number of Americans are uneasy with the unfettered, under-regulated and unsavory abortion industry as it exists today," she said May 23.
She pointed to surveys showing that 7 in 10 Americans do not want tax dollars to fund abortion. She said there is "tremendous support for commonsense limits on abortion" such as limits on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Gallup's analysis noted several abortion-related controversies in the past year, such as efforts to ban federal funding for the abortion provider Planned Parenthood to investigate its finances. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure anti-breast cancer foundation also became a newsmaker when it decided to suspend its grants to the organization, before retreating under intense pressure from abortion rights supporters.
The controversy over the HHS contraceptive coverage mandate and its effect on Catholic organizations may also be a factor, Gallup suggested, because it highlighted objections to the morning-after pill.
However, the pollster said it is unclear whether any of the controversies caused the shift in Americans' self-identification.
There are also questions about whether changes in Americans' self-labeling will have consequences.
"While Americans' identification as 'pro-choice' has waned over the past year, their fundamental views about the morality and legality of abortion have held steady," Gallup said.
The survey found that 51 percent of Americans believe abortion is morally wrong, while 38 percent say it is morally acceptable. These results are "nearly identical" to a May 2011 survey.
Only 20 percent of Americans said that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, 52 percent said it should be legal only under certain circumstances and 25 percent said it should be legal in all circumstances.
The Gallup poll surveyed 1,024 U.S. adults aged 18 and older from May 2-6. It claims a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Washington D.C., May 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - As concerns over threats to religious liberty continue to mount, a growing Catholic organization aims to help lay men and women take action to protect conscience rights and religious freedom.
Maureen Ferguson, senior policy adviser for the newly launched Catholic Association, said the group serves as both “a voice for Catholics in the public square” and a way to educate Catholics on important issues.
Ferguson told CNA on May 23 that the association is currently focused on the defense of conscience rights, which she believes are currently facing serious threats in America.
Chief among those threats is a federal mandate issued by the Obama administration to force employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
The mandate has been widely criticized by individuals and groups across the U.S., including bishops from every diocese in the country, who warned that it threatens religious freedom and could force Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable organizations to shut down.
Ferguson cautioned that the mandate will affect all Americans because the Church is the biggest non-government provider of education, health care and social services.
In discussing the mandate, the U.S. bishops “have repeatedly called on lay Catholics to step up to the plate” and work to defend freedom of conscience, she said.
The Catholic Association is trying to respond to bishops’ call by helping the lay faithful to speak out and act in support of religious liberty.
The organization is currently “preparing a campaign” to support the “Fortnight for Freedom” called for by the U.S. bishops from June 21 to July 4 in response to the current threats to religious liberty.
Dioceses across the country will launch initiatives aimed at prayer, education and public action for religious freedom during the fortnight.
Ferguson explained that The Catholic Association will be reaching out through television and internet efforts, as well as a social media campaign, to mobilize Catholics throughout the two-week period.
The campaign will ask the faithful to perform one simple act per day. These acts may include writing to their Congressional representative, sharing the importance of the cause with a friend or praying to St. Thomas More, the patron of religious freedom.
“This is not a conservative or a liberal organization, said Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow for the association.
She explained that the organization is about reaching Catholics “in all walks of life,” encouraging “grassroots action” and emphasizing the “increasing need” for the lay faithful to take up their rightful place with the clergy in defending the most basic American freedoms.
McGuire pointed to a recent survey by D.C.-based public opinion firm QEV Analytics, which found that about half of Church-attending Catholics recall hearing a statement at Mass about the contraception mandate.
The majority of these people agreed with the bishops’ objections to the mandate and its coercion of religious organizations and individuals, she said.
Recent polls show President Barack Obama losing support among Catholics, a voting group that he won in the 2008 election.
McGuire sees this as a sign that Catholics are realizing that his policies threaten their fundamental rights.
As people continue to see the danger of the mentality behind the mandate, they will continue “rejecting this attack on religious freedom,” she said.
Vatican City, May 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has published guidelines to help the Church worldwide handle claims of private revelations and apparitions.
In his preface to the new publication, prefect Cardinal William J. Levada voiced his “firm hope” that the norms will aid Church leaders “in their difficult task” of discerning apparitions, revelations and “extraordinary phenomena of presumed supernatural origin.”
The norms were drawn-up for internal use in 1978 under Pope Paul VI, and, until now, have never been officially published or translated from Latin.
Yet with many unofficial versions in circulation, however, Cardinal Levada said he believed that “now opportune to publish these Norms, providing translations in the principle languages.”
The decision to publish the guidelines comes as a special commission established by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith moves into its third year investigating alleged apparitions by Our Lady in the town of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Since 1981, it has become a popular site of pilgrimage due to reports of apparitions of the Virgin Mary to six local Catholics.
The committee of bishops, theologians and other experts was convened in March 2010 at the request of Medjugorje’s local bishop and under the chairmanship of the former Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini.
The newly published guidelines set out a three-stage process by which a legitimate church authority can come to a decision regarding claims of apparitions or revelations.
First, the claim should be initially judged “according to positive and negative criteria.” This investigation can include an assessment of the “personal qualities” of any alleged seers as to their “psychological equilibrium, honesty and rectitude of moral life, sincerity and habitual docility towards ecclesiastical authority, the capacity to return to a normal regimen of a life of faith, etc.”
Any potentially authentic revelation must also be of “true theological and spiritual doctrine and immune from error,” and should be producing a “healthy devotion and abundant and constant spiritual fruit” such as a “spirit of prayer, conversion, testimonies of charity, etc.”
Second, if the local church authorities come to a favorable initial conclusion they can permit some form of public devotion while continuing “overseeing this with great prudence.”
Third, a final judgment can then be passed “in light of time passed and of experience” with special regard to “the fecundity of spiritual fruit generated from this new devotion.”
Cardinal Levada made clear in his preface to the guidelines that, unlike public revelation, Catholics are not bound to accept the veracity or content of any private revelation, not even those officially approved by church authorities.
Ecclesiastical approval “essentially means that its message contains nothing contrary to faith and morals.” He added, however, that private revelations can have a “certain prophetic character” and can also “introduce new emphases, give rise to new forms of piety, or deepen older ones.”
Vatican City, May 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Before his Wednesday General Audience this week, Pope Benedict blessed a large wooden cross that will travel to the capitals of the world marking the 2000th anniversary of Christ’s Resurrection in 2033.
The cross measures 13 feet tall and serves as a “sign of gratitude to God,” Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano reported on May 23.
The cross has already visited the Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Island, France, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The initiative was started by a group of Ukrainian faithful from the city of Leopoli.
In Rome, the cross visited the Basilicas of St. Peter, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul’s Outside the Walls.
L'Osservatore Romano also pointed out that the initiative is of “great ecumenical value,” like that of Father Vladimiro Timoshenko, pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Russia, who presented the Pope with an icon of St. Olaf for his blessing. The image will be placed in the church to replace an ancient icon that was destroyed.
In addition to other initiatives related to sports that were presented to the Pope, a group of pilgrims also presented him with relics of Blessed Giuseppe Toniolo and Blessed Clemente Vismara.
La Paz, Bolivia, May 24, 2012 (CNA) - The bishops of Bolivia told the country's lawmakers that the State has the duty to protect marriage between a man and a woman, urging them to not adopt a that a bill allowing same-sex unions.
In a statement issued May 23, the bishops warned that the bill is “a grave threat to the family” as it has been understood throughout Bolivian history and society. The proposed bill is currently in committee and no date has been set for it vote before the full congress.
In their remarks, the bishops noted that the country’s Constitution recognizes marriage as “only between one man and one woman.”
Marriage is defined by the fact that it is “a social institution based on sexual complimentarity. This makes the fulfillment of the two equal ends of marriage possible: the mutual love between the spouses and the procreation of children.”
In addition, they added, Christ raised it “to the level of a sacrament, as a sign of his love for the Church.”
Homosexual unions, on the other hand, are incapable of “generating life, ensuring the full development of children and ensuring the continuity of society,” the bishops said.
“Allowing children to live with such couples poses a danger to their normal psycho-social development and is an attack on their rights.”
The bishops also noted that the fact that same-sex relationships are not recognized as marriage does not equal discrimination.
“The civil rights of homosexuals should be regulated by common law, like those of any other citizen. Every human being, as a child of God, deserves to be recognized and respected in his or her dignity and fundamental rights,” the bishops said.
They encouraged Bolivians to “defend the principles and values of marriage and the family as institutions” that bring “true human happiness and contribute to the stability and continuity of society.”
Vatican City, May 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI told the bishops of Italy today that personal holiness is an indispensable first step to reconverting their country and the Western world to Christianity.
"The fundamental condition in order to be able to speak about God is to speak with God, increasingly to become men of God, nourished by an intense life of prayer and molded by his grace,” the Pope said on May 24.
He encouraged his fellow bishops to allow themselves “to be found and seized by God so as to help the people we meet be touched by the Truth.”
Pope Benedict made his remarks to the participants of the 64th General Assembly of the Italian Episcopal Conference, which is being held May 21--25.
The Italian bishops gathered in the Vatican’s Synod Hall, where they heard the Pope lament how for many people in the West, God has “become the great Unknown and Jesus is simply an important figure of the past.”
The Pope said that this is resulting in people no longer understanding the “profound value “ of the “spiritual and moral patrimony” that the West’s roots are in and that “is its lifeblood.” What was once “fertile land,” he said, is now at risk of “becoming a barren desert and the good seed (is in danger) of being suffocated, trampled on and lost.”
Even many baptized people in the West “have lost their identity” and “do not know the essential contents of the faith, or they believe they can cultivate faith without ecclesial mediation,” he warned the bishops.
The practical impact of this, Pope Benedict said, is that while many baptized “look doubtfully at Church teaching,” others have reduced “the Kingdom of God to certain broad values, which are certainly related to the Gospel but which do not touch the central nucleus of Christian faith.”
But the Pope did not finish his remarks without offering a solution to the Italian bishops.
He pointed them to the New Evangelization, which has its roots in the prophetic words of Pope John XXIII. At the opening of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, John XXIII said that the council would help “transmit pure and integral doctrine, without any attenuation or misrepresentation” but in a new way “according to what is required by our times.”
This, explained Pope Benedict, is the key or “hermeneutic” of “continuity and reform” required to properly understand the council today.
He repeated, though, that any new evangelization will not be achieved simply by “new methods of announcing the Gospel” or by “pastoral activity” but only through personal conversion.
“We must begin again from God, celebrated, professed and witnessed,” said the Pope. “Our primary task, our true and only task, remains that of dedicating our lives to the one thing that is truly dependable, necessary and ultimate.”
Before concluding with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, Pope Benedict assured the bishops that the Catholic faith preached by word and example still has the power to draw all people to Christ.
“Where space is given to the Gospel, and therefore to friendship with Christ, man realizes he is the object of a love which purifies, warms, renews, and makes us capable of serving mankind with divine love,” he said.
Washington D.C., May 24, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Advocates of religious liberty have announced plans to launch religious freedom caucuses in all 50 state legislatures in order to fight against the erosion of religious liberty at the local level.
The caucuses will be “a focal point for those who are working on religious freedom in the states to direct and generate their efforts,” said Brian Walsh, executive director of the American Religious Freedom Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Working alongside a wide variety of faith communities and other groups, the American Religious Freedom Program is helping form and support the caucuses, which will allow state legislators to share information and connect with religious and public policy organizations as they focus on threats to religious liberty.
The caucus initiative was announced at the 2012 National Religious Freedom Conference in Washington, D.C. on May 24.
Concerns over religious freedom have escalated in recent months, reaching a peak with the Obama administration’s federal mandate that will require employers to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
The mandate has been widely criticized as an attack on religious liberty. Catholic bishops from every diocese in the U.S. have spoken out against it, warning that it could force Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies to close their doors.
Organizers of the state caucus initiative said that many threats to religious freedom begin or are found at the state level.
These attacks include attempts to require individuals to perform health care procedures that violate their beliefs, censure of policy arguments that incorporate religious beliefs, and efforts to weaken religious groups’ ability to choose their own leaders.
Concerns have also been voiced over the threat to religious freedom posed by a redefinition of marriage so that it includes homosexual couples. In states that have legalized “gay marriage,” lawsuits have already been filed against those who object to cooperating with them, threatening the conscience rights of adoption agencies, church halls and photographers, as well as other individuals and organizations.
Walsh described the developing caucuses as “a place for religious freedom expertise to reside.”
He explained that the creation process has already begun in a dozen states, including Colorado, Pennsylvania, Florida, Missouri, Virginia, Kentucky, Delaware, Idaho, Kansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Utah.
Walsh expects these caucuses to be up and running soon. He said that a total of about 25 caucuses are anticipated by the end of this year, and nearly every state is expected to have a caucus by the end of 2013.
The effort has drawn praise from a diverse group of religious leaders, many of whom will be helping create and support the caucuses.
“Since the founding of our Nation, we have never before witnessed threats of this magnitude from all levels of government,” said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ religious freedom committee. “Citizens who care about this fundamental American right must take action to protect it.”
“Blessed by two centuries of First Amendment protections in the United States, Jews must speak up when the liberties of conscience afforded their fellow Americans are being threatened,” added Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University.
“The Religious Freedom Caucuses will be a central tool in addressing these threats to religious rights before the courts are left as the only recourse,” said Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Walsh explained that the effort to build caucuses has received strong support at the state level.
This is not “a partisan issue,” but “an American issue,” he said. “Religious freedom is at the core of what it means to be American.”