Archive of July 17, 2012

Congressional hearing examines violence against Christians in Nigeria

Washington D.C., Jul 17, 2012 (CNA) - Witnesses at a recent Congressional subcommittee hearing discussed continuing attacks by terrorists in Nigeria and ways that the United States can respond to the violence.

Ongoing attacks on Nigerian Christians by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram are “unprovoked and unconscionable,” said Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who chairs the U.S. House subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights.

“People of all faiths - and all people of goodwill – must demand immediate action against this terrorist organization,” he urged.

Smith conducted a July 10 hearing before the subcommittee to examine U.S. policy towards Nigeria in light of violence against Christians and ethnic minorities, as well as other political and social problems in the country.

Stressing that stability and rule of law in Nigeria are critical for the entire region and globe, Smith highlighted the country’s importance as Africa’s largest democracy, most populous nation and largest oil producer.

He explained that Boko Haram – a militant Islamic group in the country – has been carrying out attacks against the Christian community and is reportedly involved with rebels and terrorist groups including al-Qaeda and possibly the Taliban.

U.S. policy in Nigeria must address this violence, as well as other ethnic, political and social challenges in the country, he said, including reactions caused by government brutality, high unemployment rates and “resentment over perceived government corruption.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, testified at the hearing, recognizing that Boko Haram “has created widespread insecurity across northern Nigeria, inflamed tensions between various communities, disrupted development activities, and frightened off investors.”

Carson acknowledged that “our understanding is limited at best,” but claimed that the group is actually “composed of at least two organizations” with different focuses.

He said that the U.S. government recently designated three individuals associated with Boko Haram as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists” in order to help “expose and isolate” the group’s most dangerous leaders.

However, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, president of Christian Association of Nigeria, argued that the U.S. has not done enough to oppose the violence.

Oritsejafor lamented that despite the designation of individual terrorists, the U.S. State Department has refused to designate the group as a “foreign terrorist organization.”

He criticized this decision, saying that the U.S. is sending a clear message to Nigeria and to the world.

“It is hypocritical for the United States and the international community to say that they believe in freedom and equality, when their actions do not support those who are being persecuted,” he said.

Oritsejafor also rejected the idea that Boko Haram is “fragmented and disorganized.”

“Since its creation, the Boko Haram network has never hidden its agenda or intentions,” he explained, adding that the group, whose name means “Western education is sinful,” openly rejects the Nigerian state and seeks to impose Shariah law.

“To this end, Boko Haram has waged a systematic campaign of terror and violence,” he said. “They seek an end to western influence and a removal of the Christian presence in Nigeria.”

With an increasing rate of terrorist attacks against Christians, Boko Haram “is not only a northern problem, but a Nigerian problem with global implications,” Oritsejafor observed.

He pointed to an attack the previous weekend that left 58 people dead in Christian villages in Jos, an attack for which Boko Haram has already claimed responsibility.

“This is outright terrorism, not legitimate political activity or the airing of grievances,” he insisted, adding that it is “only a matter of time” before the militant group attempts to bring its extreme agenda to the United States.

Oritsejafor urged the U.S. to lead the international community in taking action, warning that as Boko Haram “increasingly turns towards genocide” against Christians, “history will not forget the actions or the inactions of your great nation.”

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Russian Orthodox leader to visit Poland, sign reconciliation statement

Moscow, Russia, Jul 17, 2012 (CNA) - During his Aug. 16-19 visit to Poland, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow plans to join the country's Catholic leaders in signing a statement appealing for mutual forgiveness.

The document signals “a new stage and a common perspective on a difficult, common history,” Polish bishops' spokesman Father Jozef Kloch said of the document on reconciliation, due to be signed by the Moscow Patriarch along with Polish Bishops' Conference President Archbishop Jozef Michalik.

Russia's top church leader will be in Warsaw for the first two days of his visit, meeting with Polish state officials and Catholic bishops. He will sign the joint Catholic-Orthodox statement on his second day in the capital, at the city's Royal Castle, Fr. Kloch said during a July 16 press conference.

A commission with representatives of both churches has been working for three years to develop the statement.

“We hope it will gradually lead to reconciliation between our nations,” said Fr. Kloch, explaining that the document was a step toward resolving “the painful history of Poland and Russia” on the basis of shared Christian faith.

“We have the same sacraments, similar challenges,” the Polish bishops' spokesman told reporters. “As brothers in Christianity we want to take common positions.”

Leaders of the churches will take a “very important” first step toward that goal as they “forgive and ask for forgiveness.” Fr. Kloch expects Polish and Russian church leaders to build on this progress and sign similar declarations in the future.

Political and religious conflicts between the countries date back centuries, involving the 11th century rift between the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy as well as a series of territorial struggles. More recent tensions have involved the legacy of World War II and geopolitics of the post-Cold War era.

While the declaration is a historic step for the churches in Poland and Russia, Polish Orthodox representative Father Henryk Paprocki said it was unlikely to have any direct effect on the larger continuing ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy.

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Report shows adult stem cell research produces results, draws money

Washington D.C., Jul 17, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A new report on one of the world's largest funders of stem cell research reveals that an emphasis on results has led to a shift in funding towards morally-acceptable work with adult stem cells.

In the field of stem cell research, the “predominant progress” is being made by non-controversial adult stem cells, said Chuck Donovan, president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute, which serves as the education and research arm of pro-life Susan B. Anthony List.

Donovan told CNA on July 16 that an analysis of scientific funding over several years suggests that morally acceptable types of stem cell research offer the greatest promise for a wide variety of effective therapies and treatments.

Research on adult stem cells does not require the destruction of a human embryo and therefore does not pose the ethical difficulties associated with embryonic stem cell research. In addition, adult stem cell research has already contributed to advancing therapies for various diseases.

On July 12, the Lozier Institute released a report titled “The Ethical Stems of Good Science,” which examined changes in the funding offered by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine since 2007.

The California institute was created after President George W. Bush announced in 2001 that his administration would become the first to provide federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research, although this funding was limited to stem cell lines that had already been developed.

Dissatisfied with the limits put in place by the president, California established its own Institute for Regenerative Medicine to distribute $3 billion to stem cell research efforts, with a particular emphasis on human embryonic stem cells and other types of research that received limited or no federal funding.

One calculation found that the institute was “the largest funder of overall stem cell research in the world” from 2007, when it first began issuing grants, to February 2011.

According to the recent Lozier report, the California institute funded more than 100 projects in 2007 involving embryonic research and cloning, while giving virtually no funding to adult or other non-embryonic avenues of stem cell research.

In the years that followed, however, the organization’s grants increasingly went to fund projects using non-controversial forms of research.  

A new category of grants in 2009 was specifically awarded to projects with “the best chance of resulting in clinical trials,” the report observed. Of these grants, only four went to human embryonic stem cell research, while the remaining 10 went to non-embryonic types of research.

This trend has continued every year since 2009, the report found. As grants are awarded “based on their potential to prove therapeutically beneficial,” non-embryonic research receives far more support than embryonic research.

The failure of embryonic stem cell research to yield therapeutic results has also led private investors to put their money elsewhere. Last November, the biopharmecuetical company Geron announced that it had ended a widely publicized embryonic stem cell research study due to “capital scarcity.”

Donovan said that the shift in funding based on results is logical.

In a statement released with the Lozier report, he explained that “despite the millions of dollars spent on this research, cures brought about by embryonic stem cells have continued to prove elusive, while adult stem cell research applications have exploded.”

“As the leading funder of stem cell research, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has made grant decisions that show where the industry sees promise,” he noted. “In the past six years, where that promise lies has become increasingly clear: ethical adult stem cell research.”

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Healing of Colombian man could pave way for John Paul II canonization

Bogotá, Colombia, Jul 17, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The testimony of a Colombian man who says he was “miraculously cured” of Parkinson's Disease through the intercession of Blessed John Paul II could allow for the canonization of the Polish pope.

According to the newspaper El Tiempo, the case involves Marco Fidel Rojas, the former mayor of the town of Huila, whose testimony has now been sent to the Vatican office heading the sainthood cause for the late pontiff.

Recounting his story to the Colombian paper, Fidel remembers experiencing the first symptoms of the disease in December of 2005. After a series of examinations, doctors determined he had suffered a stroke, which led to the development of Parkinson's.

Little by little the disease began to get worse. “I felt like I could collapse at any moment. Various times I fell down outside on the street,” he recalled, adding that once he was almost run over by a taxi.

As the years went by and his health continued to deteriorate, Fidel suddenly remembered on the evening of Dec. 27, 2010, that during a trip to Rome he had met Pope John Paul II after Mass and spoke with him for a few moments.

“I have a friend up there,” Fidel thought that night, amid his pain. “And he had Parkinson's. Why didn’t I pray to him before? Venerable Father John Paul II: come and heal me, put your hands on my head.”

After praying, Fidel said he slept perfectly that night, and that the next morning he woke up with no symptoms of the illness.

“Yes, John Paul II gave me the miracle of curing me,” he said. “My great promise to my healer is to spread devotion to him wherever I can.”

El Tiempo reported that Dr. Antonio Schlesinger Piedrahita, a renowned neurologist in Colombia, has certified Fidel’s healing and says he is in good health.

The miraculous healing of a French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre – who also suffered from Parkinson's Disease – paved the way for the beatification of Pope John Paul II, which took place in Rome in May 2011.

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Spanish priest retracts opposition to Church teaching

Madrid, Spain, Jul 17, 2012 (CNA) - In response to questions by the Vatican's doctrinal office, Spanish priest Father Manuel Pousa I Engronat has retracted positions in his book that are contrary to Church teaching.

In his work titled “Father Manel. Closer to Earth than to Heaven” which published in February of 2011, Fr. Pousa said he had “blessed” homosexual unions among prison inmates and that he supported “voluntary” celibacy and women's ordination. He also said he had paid for someone’s abortion.

The priest's retraction was published in the May edition of the Archdiocese of Barcelona’s newspaper, where he stated that believes that “the Magisterium of the Church does not err, and specifically on the questions of abortion, contraception and homosexuality.”

According to the website Germinans Germinabit, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a series of questions to Fr. Pousa in January of this year. His answers were returned on Feb. 5 and on April 20, the congregation ordered that they be published in their entirety.

In his statement, Fr. Pousa explained that his desire to “live the universal brotherhood proclaimed by the Lord Jesus” has occasionally led him to make “erroneous or inaccurate statements, such as that priests are not necessary to celebrate the Eucharist, or that women could be priests, or that many things in the Church could be changed.”

Fr. Pousa pledged he would remove from his book “those phrases that would be contrary to the doctrine or discipline of the Church.  I wish to live in ‘hierarchical communion’.”

“Speaking in the terms of the Second Vatican Council, I believe and state, and I do so in writing, that there is one Church, the People of God and the Body of Christ,” he said.

He concluded his statement by asking that “what he has always publicly and privately manifested be accepted.

That I have lived and wish to live my faith in this God manifested in Jesus Christ and in his Church, through the gift that Jesus and the Church gave me to be able to live it in my priestly ministry, exercised with humility and gratitude, aided by the grace of God and the intercession of the Virgin Mary.”

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Pius X Society will give Vatican final decision 'very soon'

Rome, Italy, Jul 17, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The head of the Society of St. Pius X says the breakaway traditionalist group is on the verge of giving a definitive response to the Vatican’s offer of re-unification.

“All ambiguity has now been resolved among us. Very soon we will convey to Rome the position of the Chapter,” Bishop Bernard Fellay said July 16, following the conclusion of the society’s general chapter in Econe, Switzerland.

The society has spent the past month considering a June 13 offer from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that would give the traditionalist group personal prelature status within the Church.

A personal prelature is a Church jurisdiction without geographical boundaries designed to carry out particular pastoral initiatives. At present, the only personal prelature in the Church is Opus Dei.

In return, the society would have to agree to certain doctrinal statements, including, it is presumed, an acceptance of the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

Bishop Fellay said all the documentation relating to his Vatican negotiations was put before the Society’s General Chapter between July 9 and 14. The gathering brought together the 40 most senior figures in the organization to decide on Rome’s offer.

“This made it possible for us to conduct direct discussions which have cleared out the doubts and dissipated any misunderstandings, resulting in peace and unity of hearts, which of course is something to rejoice about,” he said.

The July 2 appointment of Bishop Gerhard Muller as the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith seems to have become a significant stumbling block for Bishop Fellay. He believes the former bishop of Regensburg “does not like” the society, which has a seminary in the bishop’s former diocese, and said that he treated them “like lepers” even after Pope Benedict XVI lifted the excommunication on the society’s four bishops in 2009.

“He is the one who stated that our seminary should be closed and that our students should go to the seminaries of their dioceses of origin, adding bluntly that ‘the four bishops of the SSPX should resign,’” recalled Bishop Fellay.

The Society of St. Pius X was founded in 1970 by the Frenchman Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in response to errors he believed had crept into the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council.

The society has had a strained relationship with the Church since its founder ordained four bishops against the will of Pope John Paul II in 1988.

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Cardinal Dolan sees US as 'mission territory'

New York City, N.Y., Jul 17, 2012 (CNA) - The U.S. and other Western nations are “mission territory” for the Catholic Church in modern times, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York stressed in a July 17 online posting.

“I was raised – as were most of you – to think of the missions as 'way far away' – and, to be sure, we can never forget our sacred duty to the foreign missions,” the New York archbishop wrote on his “Gospel in the Digital Age” blog.

“But, we are a mission territory, too. Every diocese is. And every committed Catholic is a missionary. This is at the heart of what Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI call the New Evangelization.”

Cardinal Dolan voiced his agreement with Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who observed in a June 2012 speech to the Catholic Press Association that his own archdiocese was “now really mission territory … for the second time.”

While the Philadelphia archbishop's statement may seem startling, Cardinal Dolan said it was “right on target” – not simply due to troubles facing the Church in Philadelphia, but because of the larger crisis of faith sweeping through Western societies.

“Our beloved Archdiocese of New York is also mission territory,” the cardinal and U.S. bishops' conference president observed. Although his local church is financially and administratively sound, it faces the same spiritual challenges that prompted Archbishop Chaput's remark.

“Maybe, we have gotten way too smug. We have taken our Catholic faith for granted,” the New York archbishop suggested.

The entire Church, he said, can no longer “coast on the former fame, clout, buildings, numbers, size, money, and accomplishments of the past.”

On July 12, the Gallup polling organization released figures showing a historic drop in U.S. resident's confidence in religious institutions. Only 44 percent of Americans, from various faith backgrounds, now say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in “the church or organized religion.”

That figure marks the lowest point since at least 1973, when religious organizations were ranked as the country's most trusted institutions with around 66 percent confidence. The figure has generally declined since then, reaching previous lows of 45 percent in 2002 and 46 percent in 2007.

But Catholics should not be “depressed” by Western countries' shift away from religious belief and practice. Instead, they should be “awakened and challenged,” Cardinal Dolan said.

Today, he said, the Church is “with the apostles on Pentecost Sunday as we embrace the New Evangelization.” The campaign to re-evangelize historically Christian societies is the topic of an October 2012 synod in Rome, which will begin the Year of Faith called by Pope Benedict XVI.

“You and I are missionaries,” the New York archbishop told the faithful, emphasizing that the conversion of others “starts inside” with one's own conversion.

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