Vatican City, Sep 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A month-long pilot project to make priests available within the Vatican Museums to offer spiritual counseling to visitors is being hailed a success.
“There are so many themes that are spoken of. We might speak of art and faith or of economics and faith. Some people come to share their experiences or difficulties in their personal, professional or family lives,” said Father Isaac Vondoame, one of two priests who were available in the museums throughout August.
“The most special experience I’ve had is that a woman came to up to me to confess after many, many years. After her confession, she began crying. She found Jesus Christ in one way or another, also here, in this place,” Fr. Vondoame told CNA.
Together with Father Chidi Onwuka, the two Rome-based priests have been positioned at strategic positions within the Vatican Museums. Fr. Vondoame, who is originally from Togo, is a missionary with The Sons of Divine Providence, while Fr. Onwuka is a native of Nigeria and is a Missionary of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
They estimated that “dozens” of people per day have stopped to chat with them.
“When they see a priest at their disposal they are very happy,” Fr. Onwuka said.
The visitors usually ask questions about “the meaning of some of the artworks,” but every once in a while someone uses the opportunity “to share some other things that particularly regard their spiritual lives,” he explained.
The Vatican Museums were founded by Pope Julius II in the early 16th century. They are now home to some of the most renowned classical sculptures and Renaissance art in the world.
Among the most popular exhibits for visitors are the four “Raphael Rooms,” painted by the Italian Renaissance artist and his workshop, and the Sistine Chapel created by Michelangelo.
“When people come here, most of the people are amazed by the beauty, the richness, how the earliest Christians were able to articulate their faith in art,” Fr. Onwuka said, adding that he has also grown in his knowledge of “the relationship between art and faith.”
In 2011 the Vatican Museums broke its own attendance records by bringing in just over 5 million visitors. That makes them one of the most visited museums in Europe, on a par with the British Museum in London, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Prado in Madrid.
Los Angeles, Calif., Sep 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles has dedicated a new permanent chapel inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels that houses a piece of the Tilma of Saint Juan Diego.
“Our Lady of Guadalupe has always had a special place at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and
in the hearts of the faithful throughout our Archdiocese,” the archbishop said Sept. 2.
He said “thousands” of people have venerated the Virgin Mary’s image and the relic of the tilma at the cathedral, which marked its 10th anniversary the same day as the chapel dedication.
“We pray that this new chapel and this anniversary will inspire us to live our faith with new joy
and new strength,” Archbishop Gomez said.
The archbishop blessed the new chapel and placed the relic in a new golden reliquary in the heart of a bronze sculpture of St. Juan Diego. The statue depicts saint at the moment he opened his cloak, on which the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe miraculously appeared in 1531.
A mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe, made in Rome, rests above the sculpture.
In 1941, the Archbishop of Mexico City gave the tilma relic to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles after then-Archbishop John J. Cantwell’s pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
The relic played a central role in the Aug. 5 Guadalupe Celebration at the Los Angeles Coliseum, which attracted over 70,000 faithful.
The new chapel was designed by the firm of Dario Bucheli and Associates. Father José Castaño consulted on the design. The Knights of Columbus and Bill and Helen Close supported the construction of the new chapel.
Islamabad, Pakistan, Sep 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Several witnesses have charged that a Muslim cleric fabricated evidence against a Down syndrome Christian girl accused of violating Pakistan’s strict blasphemy law.
The witnesses include Hafiz Zubair, the deputy imam of a local mosque. He told police that Imam Khalid Jadoon Chishti deliberately stuffed pages from the Quran into a bag with burnt pages of a religious textbook that a young man brought to him. The young man charged that Rimsha Masih had burnt the book.
The imam was arrested Sept. 1 on the deputy imam’s allegations.
Investigating officer Munir Jafferi told the Pakistan Express Tribune that two more witnesses had come forward. The imam could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of desecrating the Quran.
Masih, who is under 14 years old and is likely illiterate, was arrested on Aug. 16. Legal action in her case was first postponed by the Eid holiday and is now delayed until Sept. 7 because of a lawyers’ strike.
Father John Shakir Nadeem, the director of Radio Veritas’ Urdu-language productions, said that Masih’s case has given Christian and Muslim leaders, opinion makers and NGO leaders “the opportunity to explain the evil dynamics and abuse which (are) being carried out with regards to the blasphemy law.”
The public’s new awareness of the abuses could lead to revisions to the law according to the priest, who is secretary of the Pakistan bishops’ conference’s Commission for Social Communications.
Masih has the support of many moderate Muslim leaders, but tensions continue.
Paul Bhatti, a Catholic who advises Pakistan’s prime minister on religious minorities issues, was forced to remain locked in his government office on Monday because of concerns of possible attempts on his life. He now has a special escort for his safety.
Bhatti is the brother of federal minister for religious minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who was assassinated in March 2011 for opposing the blasphemy law.
A Sept. 4 editorial in the Pakistan Express Tribune denounced the treatment of Masih and called for her release. It criticized the blasphemy law, saying that both the police and the judiciary in Pakistan take the side of the accuser in blasphemy cases to try to defuse the situation. The editorial said that no false accusers have been convicted for their false reports.
The accusations against the girl may have economic as well as religious motivations.
Fides news agency says that some land speculators wanted to drive Christians out of the area to acquire their land and have publicized the blasphemy case for leverage against the Christian population.
Fr. Nadeem told Fides that talk about stopping abuses of the law is “already a big step forward.” However, the law is “a very delicate issue” and reform will be “a long-term process.”
Charlotte, N.C., Sep 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - For the first time in American history, a major U.S. political party has incorporated support for a redefinition of marriage into its official statement of beliefs.
The Democratic Party's platform, formally adopted at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. on Sept. 4, supports "marriage equality," a phrase used by those who wish to redefine marriage to include homosexual couples.
The platform, which outlines the party's official views on a variety of subjects, called for the full repeal of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal purposes and protects states from being forced to recognize the gay unions of other states.
It also called for the passage of the so-called Respect for Marriage Act, which would require the federal government to recognize same-sex “marriages.”
While the document voiced support for the freedom of "churches and religious entities" to determine how "marriage as a religious sacrament" should be administered, it did not include any mention of individuals or groups that hold religious objections to recognizing and supporting civil marriage.
It also noted that the administration has redefined the word "family" in immigration regulations to include homosexual relationships.
Affirming its support of abortion with no restrictions, a redefinition of marriage and free birth control for all women, the Democratic Party said in its official statement of positions that it is committed to "pursuing policies that truly value families."
The platform also recognized the importance of good fathers and noted President Obama's initiatives to support and encourage fatherhood.
"We all have a stake in forging stronger bonds between fathers and their children," it said.
The president has drawn criticism for acknowledging the irreplaceable role of fathers while at the same time undermining this important role by supporting “same-sex marriage,” which renders fathers unnecessary and optional.
The Democratic platform also removed references to "God" but noted that faith-based organizations have played a "central" role throughout American history. It called for "constitutionally sound, evidence-based partnerships with faith-based and other non-profit organizations to serve those in need and advance our shared interests."
"There is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution," the document said, "and a full commitment to both principles is essential for the continued flourishing of both faith and country."
At the same time, the party voiced its support for the controversial federal mandate that requires employers to offer health care plans that include free contraception, sterilization and early abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
Widely criticized for its infringement upon conscience rights and freedom of religion, the mandate has drawn the opposition of individuals and organizations from across the religious and political spectrum, including objections from bishops in every Catholic diocese in the U.S.
However, the Democratic Party's official statement of beliefs argued that the president "has respected the principle of religious liberty" in promoting "affordable family planning services."
The party reiterated its commitment to "safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay" and opposed any restrictions or attempts to "weaken or undermine that right."
In addition, it observed that Obama issued an executive order to repeal restrictions on human embryonic stem cell research and voiced support for "evidence-based and age-appropriate sex education," although it did not elaborate on which types of sex education it considers to meet these criteria.
The platform also said that America must advance its "core set of universal values" around the world.
"President Obama and the Democratic Party are committed to supporting family planning around the globe," it said, highlighting the president's decision to overturn the Mexico City Policy, which bans U.S. funds from supporting foreign family planning groups that promote or perform abortions.
Insisting that "gay rights are human rights," the party also said that the State Department is currently "funding a program that finances gay rights organizations" and vowed to "actively combat" the actions of other nations that it believes are engaged in "discrimination."
Vatican City, Sep 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI says the final book of the Bible, which he referred to as the Book of the Apocalypse, provides Christians with a vision of a Church fully in communion with Jesus Christ in prayer.
“The Apocalypse presents us with a community gathered in prayer, because it is in prayer that we gain an increasing awareness of Jesus’s presence with us and within us,” the Pope said during his Sept. 5 general audience at the Vatican.
“The more and the better we pray with constancy and intensity, the more we are assimilated to him, and the more he enters into our lives to guide them and give them joy and peace. And the more we know, love and follow Jesus, the more we feel the need to dwell in prayer with him, receiving serenity, hope and strength for our lives,” he explained.
Pope Benedict flew in by helicopter from his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo to deliver his reflections to over 8,000 pilgrims gathered in the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall. The address formed another chapter in the Pope’s continuing exploration of the “school of prayer” in the story of salvation.
He told the audience that the Book of Revelation “is a difficult book, but one of great richness” which presents the reader “with the living breathing prayer of the Christian assembly, gathered together ‘on the Lord’s day.’”
“In it a reader presents the assembly with a message entrusted by God to John the Evangelist,” the Pope noted. “From the dialogue between them a symphony of prayer arises which is then developed in many different forms up until the conclusion.”
Pope Benedict outlined how the first part of the Bible’s last book presents three different but successive phases of the great assembly at prayer.
The first highlights that “prayer is, above all, a listening to God who speaks.” In a modern world where we are often “engulfed” by “so many words” we are often unused to listening and, especially, to “adopting an interior and exterior attitude of silence so as to attend to what the Lord wishes to say to us,” he said.
“These verses also teach us that our prayers, often merely prayers of request, must in fact be first and foremost prayers of praise to God for his love, for the gift of Jesus Christ which brought us strength, hope and salvation.”
The Pope suggested that this first phase also reminds us that constant prayer “revives in us a sense of the Lord’s presence in our life and history.”
“Prayer, even that pronounced in the most extreme solitude, is never a form of isolation and it is never sterile, it is a vital lifeline which nourishes an increasingly committed and coherent Christian existence,” he said.
In the second phase of the first part of Revelation we then witness how “the relationship with Jesus Christ is developed further,” Pope Benedict taught.
“The Lord makes himself visible, he speaks and acts, and the community, increasingly close to him, listens, reacts and accepts.”
Finally, in the third phase, the Pope pointed to a “Church in prayer” that, in accepting the word of the Lord, is “transformed.”
“The assembly listens to the message, and receives a stimulus for repentance, conversion, perseverance, growth in love and guidance for the journey.”
The Pope finished his general audience by addressing the assembled pilgrims in several different languages.
“Prayer with others, liturgical prayer in particular, will deepen our awareness of the crucified and risen Jesus in our midst,” he told English speaking pilgrims. “Thus, the more we know, love and follow Christ, the more we will want to meet him in prayer, for he is the peace, hope and strength of our lives.”
He then led the pilgrims in the singing of the Our Father in Latin before imparting his apostolic blessing and returning to Castel Gandolfo by helicopter.
Jerusalem, Israel, Sep 5, 2012 (CNA) - Vandals set fire to the door of the Latroun Monastery near Jerusalem on the morning of Sept. 4 and spray painted the walls with blasphemous phrases in Hebrew.
The monks at the monastery were awakened in the early morning hours and found the front door on fire and their outside wall spray painted with the phrases, “Jesus is a monkey” and “Ramat Migron.” The second phrase was an apparent reference to the illegal Jewish settlement in the Palestinian West Bank, which was dismantled by Israeli authorities on Sunday.
The BBC reported that Israeli police have launched an investigation into the attack on the monastery, which is located in Palestinian territory just 15 kilometers from Jerusalem. They said the attack may have been committed by pro-settlement Jewish extremists as revenge for the eviction of 300 Israelis from Ramat Migron, which has become a symbol for hard-line groups that oppose any withdrawal from the West Bank.
In a Sept. 4 statement, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said it was “indignant” over the “disgraceful and hideous” attacks which “dishonor Christian sites in Israel and attack the person of Christ, Son of this Holy Land.” The patriarchate oversees all Roman Catholic churches in the Holy Land.
The patriarchate also condemned any attempt to “create divisions between the communities” and called for tolerance and values that “bear witness to human greatness.”
The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land issued its own statement asking, “Why are Christians still in the crosshairs?
“What is happening in Israeli society to the point that Christians are the sacrificial lambs of such violence?”
“Those who left their hate-filled graffiti expressed outrage at the eviction of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But why are they taking it out on Christians and their places of worship? What kind of scorn for Christians are they teaching in their schools and homes?” the bishops asked.
The attack on the monastery was also condemned by the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
In February of this year, the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem was also vandalized. It is built on the place where, according to tradition, the tree that was used to make Christ’s cross was grown. In that case, vandals painted the words “Death to Christians” on the monastery.
The Catholic Bishops of the Holy Land questioned why “those responsible have not been found and brought to justice. The time has come for officials to act to put an end to this senseless violence and ensure the teaching of respect in schools.”
Charlotte, N.C., Sep 5, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Concern for the environment and a desire to care for one's neighbor through the federal government were among the ways Democratic speakers described their faith in action at a religious gathering at the party's national convention.
Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said that her work to protect the environment stems from her faith, which drives her in an attempt to build "our country as a community that takes care of each other."
Jackson decried the plight of "a child who has asthma" and struggles with "dirty air." She also praised faith communities for uniting to embrace new standards that address mercury pollution from power plants.
"This president has done so much in the areas I care about," she added.
Jackson was a featured speaker at a Democratic National Convention faith council gathering, which was held at the Charlotte Convention Center in North Carolina.
Speakers at the Sept. 5 event described faith as an "integral" part of the Democratic Party and blasted critics who objected to a decision to remove a reference to God in the party's official platform.
A reference to God was later reinserted into the party's platform, drawing both cheers and boos from numerous Democratic delegates.
The faith council meeting included numerous speakers who offered prayers and reflections, as well as panels on various topics. A panel on voter outreach was introduced by James Salt, executive director of the pro-Obama organization Catholics United.
Speeches at the gathering included repeated references to being "our brother's keepers" and maintained that the biblical admonition must be carried out through federal government programs.
The government was described as the Good Samaritan and tax cuts for the wealthy were criticized. Other prominent issues raised by speakers included education, immigration concerns and health care.
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the social justice lobby NETWORK, promoted a "faithful budget" that raises revenue by taxing the wealthy.
Sr. Campbell asserted that taxes are “a faith position” and encouraged people "to be bold and speak out for revenue because that is the responsible faith way forward."
Faith was also connected to the "freedom" to choose abortion.
"I'm protecting my faith as strong as I do when a man comes into my way and tells me that I can't make decisions about my body," said Reverend Regina Thomas.
Speakers largely avoided concerns about religious freedom raised by Catholics and other people of faith in light of the Health and Human Services mandate that requires many religious employers to violate their firmly-held beliefs by offering health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.
Kathy Dahlkemper, a Catholic and former lawmaker who describes herself as a "whole life Democrat," defended the Affordable Care Act as "the most pro-life piece of legislation that we've ever passed in this country," despite the fact that it funds abortion-inducing drugs and granted the authority to issue the controversial HHS mandate.
Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, also defended the health care law, adding that he fears that "there is a movement in our nation to try to make us a homogenous people."
Bishop Yvette Flunder of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, a lesbian African American, also spoke at the faith council gathering, arguing for "radical inclusivity" and "a divine reformation."
"We need a new definition of righteousness," she said.