Fort Wayne, Ind., Oct 10, 2012 (CNA) -
At a Sept. 28 dinner celebrating Our Sunday Visitor's 100th anniversary, Archbishop Claudio M. Celli emphasized the crucial role of new media in evangelization.
Greg Erlandson, president of Our Sunday Visitor's publishing division, told CNA that the Vatican official's remarks were seen as “certainly encouraging for what we're doing, and what other Catholic publishers are doing.”
During the celebration, Archbishop Celli told the crowd, “It is not enough to ask how we can use the new media to evangelize; we must begin by appreciating how radically our way of living has been transformed by new technologies and how the media environment or landscape has changed.”
The dinner at the Grand Wayne Convention Center followed a Mass at the cathedral in Fort Wayne. Archbishop Celli serves as president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
He focused on the challenges the Church faces as she seeks to evangelize through the new media, and remembered the founder of Our Sunday Visitor, then-Father John Noll, as someone who would today “be at the forefront of the New Evangelization.”
Archbishop Celli suggested that the “new” in “new evangelization” is both “the situation in which we find ourselves” and “the response that is required if we are to be faithful to our abiding mission” to foster encounter with Christ.
People's constant access to instant information and communication represents a paradigm shift in “the very culture of communication,” he said.
Erlandson noted that as part of this paradigm shift, Our Sunday Visitor has a social media manager “using Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook” and that those conversations get shared “internally as well as happening externally.”
Archbishop Celli pointed to the changing nature of internet culture, one that is now more focused on dialogue and interaction than on monologue. He said that while the Church should continue to focus on the content of faith, she must also look to the concerns and questions of her online audience.
He noted that developing “dialogical forms of teaching and presentation” were anticipated by Archbishop Noll, who promptly replied to every letter he received.
There is a need, the archbishop said, to communicate the faith not through text alone, but using “art, music and literature” to show how grace is working in the lives of Catholics.
He noted that the Church must adapt to the egalitarian nature of new media; “it does not automatically recognize or privilege the contributions of established authorities or institutions.”
This, he said, means that Church leaders must convey the gospel such that they can engage and “convince others who in turn will share our ideas with their friends, followers and dialogue partners.”
Erlandson thought that the archbishop's words acknowledging that “these forms of communication demand a back and forth, demand dialogue,” were “a courageous statement.”
He said the dialogue now occurring online is “the essence of evangelization.”
The laity, Archbishop Celli pointed out, are essential to the new evangelization. Their online presence can attract others to Christ and they can help to teach the faith.
“Father Noll provided the faithful with A Vest Pocket Book of Catholic Facts so that they would be able to answer questions about, and address challenges to, their faith. One can only guess what he might have achieved with smart-phones!”
This point was backed-up by Erlandson, who characterized Archbishop Noll as “a classic early adopter.”
Archbishop Celli concluded saying, “Every Catholic should be an apostle, representing his Church creditably before his neighbors and the people among who he works.”
Washington D.C., Oct 10, 2012 (CNA) -
A group of more than 120 bipartisan state legislators have created caucuses in nine states to address threats to religious liberty and learn from the experiences of other lawmakers.
“These are the first state caucuses ever to focus exclusively on religious freedom,” said Tim Schulz, state legislative policy director at the American Religious Freedom Program of the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
“There’s a renewed interest in religious freedom in the country,” he explained, “and this growing attention is bringing together people of all religious faiths and political ideologies.”
The American Religious Freedom Program organized a national teleconference on Oct. 9 to announce the nation’s first state religious freedom caucuses, formed by legislators in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.
The caucuses are designed to unite state lawmakers who share an interest in protecting religious liberty. They will facilitate discussion, cooperation and leadership as each group of legislators works to tailor particular laws to strengthen religious freedom amid the specific circumstances faced by their state.
Schulz explained that the caucuses center around an understanding that “the free exercise of religion is a constitutional right that, together with the other First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press, is foundational to all of our other freedoms.”
Therefore, protection of this right should not be left to the courts alone, he said, but lawmakers also share in this responsibility.
“Also, diverse state communities need a place at each state capital where they can bring their concerns and have total confidence that they will be respectfully heard,” he added, noting that this is particularly important for religious minorities, who are often underrepresented in elected bodies.
The American Religious Freedom Program will help to both produce specific educational materials for each state and form additional caucuses in the hope that all 50 state legislatures will include such caucuses by the end of 2013.
“As someone who’s been involved in my community and schools for years, I can tell you firsthand that a vast majority of Arizonans cherish America’s guarantee of religious freedom, and they want it protected,” said Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko.
She told of work in her state to stand up against the erosion of religious freedom by protecting professors from being denied tenure over their religious beliefs and defending the right of student religious clubs to receive fair treatment alongside nonreligious clubs.
Lesko was the author of a major Arizona religious freedom law that exempts religiously affiliated employers from the state’s contraception mandate, which had raised concerns similar to those voiced over the current federal contraception mandate.
Elements of Lesko’s conscience freedom legislation have now been enacted in other states. The newly-formed caucuses will provide an avenue for what Schultz described as “a significant multi-state information sharing element” that will help lawmakers “build legislative expertise” and learn from other states’ experiences in fighting similar threats to religious liberty.
Also speaking at the teleconference was Tennessee Rep. John J. DeBerry, Jr., who warned of “a militant assault against those things that we believe and people of faith.”
He explained that religious citizens did not ask for a fight, but were rather forced to defend their views against efforts “to remove our freedoms and to remove any symbol of the things that we believe from the public eye.”
DeBerry pointed to attempts to remove crosses from cemeteries where fallen military heroes have been laid to rest and cautioned that in a culture which views faith as being ignorant and narrow-minded, we cannot take for granted “our ability to speak what we believe.”
“I think that it is our responsibility as Americans, as Bible believing individuals, as people of faith, to make a stand for what we believe is true,” he said, adding that “for us to do anything less is for us to give up.”
Washington D.C., Oct 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - As the number of plaintiffs suing over the controversial HHS mandate reaches 100, a leading religious freedom legal group is hopeful about the outcome of the cases.
Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, explained that “nothing the government has done in the past months changes the fact that the mandate still violates federal law and the Constitution by forcing religious organizations to pay fines for the privilege of practicing their faith.”
Duncan told CNA on Oct. 9 that the Becket Fund is still confident as it moves forward with lawsuits against the controversial federal mandate that requires employers to offer health insurance coverage of contraception, sterilization and early abortion drugs, regardless of their religious beliefs.
In issuing the mandate, the Obama administration failed to offer a religious exemption to any group that serves or employs members of other faiths, as well as for-profit companies.
The administration did create a one-year “safe harbor” delaying the mandate from being implemented against objecting religious groups and has promised a future “accommodation” for religious freedom but has not yet given formal details about it.
The mandate has attracted legal action by more than 100 individuals and organizations, ranging from the first suit filed by Belmont Abbey College in Nov. 2011 – before many Americans were even aware of the mandate – to the most recent lawsuit filed by two Baptist universities on Oct. 9.
The plaintiffs include Catholics, Protestants, private individuals, religious organizations and for-profit businesses.
Among the diverse groups bringing lawsuits against the mandate are Eternal World Television Network, Hobby Lobby, the University of Notre Dame and several manufacturing companies.
Seven states have also sued over the mandate, along with numerous dioceses and Catholic Charities affiliates throughout the U.S.
Most of these cases are still waiting to receive a ruling. Bible publisher Tyndale House Publishers will appear at a hearing on Oct. 16, and Hobby Lobby has a hearing scheduled for the end of October.
One Colorado-based company, Hercules Industries, was successful in securing a temporary injunction against the mandate, while Missouri-based O’Brien Industrial Holdings lost its case in a federal district court but is appealing the decision.
In addition, a few cases have been dismissed as being premature, including those filed by Belmont Abbey College and Wheaton College. Courts determined that these plaintiffs were not facing imminent harm because the promised accommodation has not yet been finalized.
The colleges are appealing this decision, arguing that they are indeed suffering immediate injury under the mandate. They explained that their ability to hire new employees is significantly hindered if they cannot guarantee that they will be able to provide health insurance. In addition, they observed that the “safe harbor” does not protect them from private lawsuits by employees for failing to comply with the mandate.
A D.C. circuit court will hear an appeal that combines the cases of both colleges sometime after mid-November.
Emily Hardman, communications director for the Becket Fund, explained Oct. 9 that predicting a timeline for the rulings in the remaining cases is difficult because “each court can set their own times.”
Even tougher would be guessing a timeline for a potential Supreme Court ruling, because that would require the cases to work themselves through the judicial system and be accepted for review by the nation’s highest court.
However, Hardman observed that many insurance plans renew on Jan. 1, 2013, so the plaintiffs that are not protected by the “safe harbor” are likely to at least receive a ruling on whether they will be granted a temporary injunction by the end of the year.
She also pointed out that the results of the presidential election could offer a wave of relief to all of the plaintiffs at once. Republican candidate Mitt Romney has pledged to repeal the mandate, and his election in November would translate into a victory for everyone who is suing over the mandate.
But even if this happens, there is still need to be cautious, Hardman acknowledged. Some states have similar mandates that threaten religious freedom, although they are generally not as severe.
“The Becket Fund will continue fighting,” she stressed.
Hardman said there is a need to engage the “public discussion” about the importance of religious freedom.
She noted that rhetoric about women’s health and a “war on women” has become prominent in recent months, and this language could be leading people to believe that women have an inviolable right to free contraception at the expense of their employers.
It is important to counter these claims with facts, Hardman said. She explained that contraception is already widely available at low cost, so there is no crisis in access.
When people “look at what the mandate is actually doing,” she said, they realize that returning to the system that was in place before the mandate took effect on Aug. 1 would not mean oppressing women, but leaving them free to purchase contraception as they see fit.
Educating the public about the nature of religious freedom is critical, agreed Duncan.
“Even if this mandate is scrapped, the bad principle behind the mandate must not be forgotten,” he said, warning that it could “justify forcing religious people, organizations, and businesses to provide not only drugs their faith forbids, but also services such as abortion and assisted-suicide.”
Vatican City, Oct 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s opening, Pope Benedict XVI described it as a “moment of grace” in the recent history of the Church.
“The Second Vatican Council is a strong call for us to rediscover the beauty of our faith every day, to nourish a deeper understanding of it, a more intense relationship with the Lord, to truly live our Christian vocation,” the Pope said during his Oct. 10 general audience.
“May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and of the whole Church,” he prayed, “help us to realize and to fulfill all that the Council Fathers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, guarded in their heart: the desire that all may know the Gospel and meet the Lord Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
The Pope offered “some brief thoughts … on the great ecclesial event that was the Council” to the more than 20,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
During the 1962-65 council, Pope Benedict XVI attended as the chief theological advisor or “peritus” to Cardinal Joseph Frings of Cologne.
“It was a unique experience for me, after all the fervor and enthusiasm of preparation, I could see a living Church,” he recalled.
The Pope remembered the great sight of over 3,000 bishops from around the world “gathered under the guidance of the Successor of the Apostle Peter” at “the school of the Holy Spirit, the true driving force of the Council.” At few other times, he suggested, have people been able to “almost concretely ‘touch’ the universality of the Church.”
He also recalled the “the surprise of the small group of cardinals” who were present at the Roman basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls when Pope John XXIII announced the convening of the Second Vatican Council in January 1959. Unlike the previous general councils of the Church, there “were no particular errors of faith to correct or condemn,” nor were there “specific issues of doctrine or discipline to be clarified,” Pope Benedict explained.
The reason for the Council, Benedict XVI said, was spelled out by Pope John in his opening speech when he stated that “faith had to speak in a ‘renewed,’ more incisive way” in a rapidly changing world, while “keeping its perennial contents” and “without giving in or compromising.”
“The Pope wanted the Church to reflect on her faith, on the truths that guide her, but this serious, in-depth reflection on faith, had to outline the relationship between the Church and the modern age,” Pope Benedict noted.
Borrowing a phrase from Blessed Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict described the documents that emerged from the council’s discussion as “a sure compass” for the Church in the contemporary world.
Fifty years after the start of the council, Catholics “must learn the simplest and most basic lesson of the Council,” he said, “namely that Christianity in its essence consists in faith in God, which is love of the Trinity, and in the encounter, both personal and communal, with Christ who directs and guides life.” From this understanding “everything else follows.”
Vatican City, Oct 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI opened the first working session of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization Oct. 9 by closely following the proceedings and issuing a call for a “renewed evangelical dynamism” in the Church.
“The Holy Father’s participation has been unbelievable,” said Curtis Martin, founder of the U.S.-based Fellowship of Catholic University Students.
Martin, who is attending the synod as an observer, said that Pope Benedict took a keen interest in the proceedings.
“He’s been taking copious notes, working harder, I think, than anybody in the room. It’s been extraordinary watching this man twice my age working twice as hard as I am.”
In his address to open the Oct. 9 working session of the synod, Pope Benedict explained how the Church is missionary and that there are two branches of its mission.
Those areas are “the announcement of the Gospel to those who do not yet know Jesus Christ and his message of salvation and … the New Evangelization, (which is) directed principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life.”
The Tuesday session of the synod was dedicated to this New Evangelization, “to helping these people encounter the Lord, who alone fills our existence with deep meaning and peace; and to favor the rediscovery of the faith, that source of grace which brings joy and hope to personal, family and social life,” the Pope said.
He was joined in St. Peter’s Basilica by some 262 Synod Fathers – all of them bishops except for 14 priests – the Holy Father gave his opening address from prepared remarks.
Over the next three weeks, the Synod of Bishops will work to map out a New Evangelization of the contemporary world.
One of the Synod Fathers from an increasingly post-pagan society underscored the importance of this mission.
Archbishop Bernard Longley was appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Birmingham in England three years ago, and this is his first time attending a synod. Speaking to CNA early on Oct. 9, he said that the second working day of the synod was particularly significant for the faithful in Great Britain.
“Today in England we’re celebrating the feast day of Bl. John Henry Newman,” said Archbishop Longley. “And I can’t but be moved by his example. He understood the people of his time. He listened to their needs. But he was able to distinguish between what they needed and were really longing for and the things that preoccupied them or kept them from the truth of Jesus Christ. So I hope I can bring something of this tradition to the workings of the synod, especially in the smaller groups.”
Newman is widely regarded as a forerunner of the Second Vatican Council because of his evangelistic orientation.
The Synod for New Evangelization coincides with the beginning of the Year of Faith, which will begin on Oct. 11, the 50th anniversary of the opening of that council.
Mexico City, Mexico, Oct 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Bishop Pedro Pablo Elizondo Cardenas of Cancun, Mexico urged the faithful to live their God-given faith courageously and share it with others during the Year of Faith which opens Oct. 11.
“The commitment of our faith is to share it, the commitment of our faith is to always evangelize, in all places and in every way that the Holy Spirit inspires us,” Bishop Elizondo Cardenas said in an Oct. 5 message.
The Year of Faith, declared by Pope Benedict XVI, is slated to begin on Thursday and will serve to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
In his statement marking the event, Bishop Elizondo Cardenas called faith a treasure “received freely from God,” but adding that it demands “we care for it and protect it, because the enemies of God want to rob it from man’s heart.”
Faced with these threats, the faithful have the example of the martyrs, who “preferred to lose their lives rather than lose the faith.”
While faith is a gift from God, he noted, it is also “a true act of our freedom, and therefore it is up to us to prepare the soil of our souls to be able to receive the gift, make it grow and produce abundant fruit,” the bishop said.
“Believing involves the intellect, the will, the conscience and the heart,” he said. “It changes our life and gives new meaning to our existence.”
“Faith is like the flame of a torch or a candle which when shared, does not burn out but instead multiplies and grows.”
Vatican City, Oct 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - After his recent visit to the Church in Lebanon, Pope Benedict added Arabic to the list of official languages used at his weekly general audiences, launching the effort by offering the promise of his prayers in Arabic.
“The Pope prays for all the people who speak Arabic. God bless you all,” he said in Arabic at the Oct. 10 general audience, which was held in St. Peter’s Square.
For the first time, a priest also read an Arabic summary of the Pope’s remarks on how the Second Vatican Council was a “moment of grace” in the Church’s history. Going forward, Arabic will join the 10 other official languages in which a brief explanation is delivered.
“In the wake of his recent trip to Lebanon … the Holy Father intends to express his perpetual concern and support for Christians in the Middle East, and to remind everyone of their duty to pray and work for peace in the region,” said a Oct. 9 statement from the Vatican Press Office.
The news was welcomed by the Lebanese journalist and translator Tony Assaf. “We are really happy that finally the words of the Pope are to be issued directly from the Holy See in Arabic. The Arab world needs to have access to the wealth of wisdom that Pope Benedict offers,” he told CNA on Oct. 9.
Assaf praised the decision for giving Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, the ability to “connect directly with what the Pope is saying” and giving them “direct contact with the Pope … in their own language.”
Washington D.C., Oct 10, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney reiterated his pro-life views after he made a statement in an interview that sparked concern about his dedication to protecting the unborn.
"I think I've said time and again that I'm a pro-life candidate and I'll be a pro-life president," Romney told reporters in Ohio, according to Politico.
The former Massachusetts governor said that he would immediately "remove funding for Planned Parenthood."
"It will not be part of my budget," he stated.
"And also I've indicated that I will reverse the Mexico City position of the president," he added. "I will reinstate the Mexico City policy which keeps us from using foreign aid for abortions overseas."
The comments came one day after controversy was raised by reports that the GOP contender had contradicted his previous position on abortion.
In an Oct. 9 interview with the Des Moines Register, Romney said, “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”
He explained that he would use an executive order rather than legislation to revive the Mexico City policy, which President Obama had removed. Recent presidents have used executive orders to either remove or reinstate the policy according to their views on abortion.
The statements caused a stir among those who feared that the former governor was backing off of his commitment to the pro-life cause.
Some of Romney’s critics have been skeptical of his claim that he had a pro-life conversion in 2004, after he confronted the issue of embryonic stem cell research and saw that it was wrong to create a human life simply to later destroy it.
However, Romney’s advocates say that he has maintained a solidly pro-life record since his conversion, even in difficult political situations. As governor, he supported abstinence education in schools and vetoed legislation to allow the morning-after pill to be sold over-the-counter.
Spokeswoman Andrea Saul reiterated that Romney is “proudly pro-life” and “would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life.”
Romney has previously voiced support for the Hyde Amendment, which is already part of current law and largely prohibits the use of taxpayer money for abortion, as well as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would prevent abortion from the point at which unborn children can feel pain.
He has also repeatedly promised to appoint judges who adhere to the Constitution rather than activist judges who seek to define it in alignment with their own views.