Archive of November 12, 2012

Cuban dissident calls on EU for human rights support

Havana, Cuba, Nov 12, 2012 (CNA) - A leading Cuban dissident says the European Union should be firmer in demanding the Castro regime respect human rights on the island, including free elections.

“I think that an attitude at odds with the demands of the Cuban people for freedom – free elections and recognition of their individual and collective rights – definitely isolates Spain and the EU from the Cuban people and puts them more in line with Communist regime,” said Regis Iglesias, spokesman for the Christian Liberation Movement in Cuba.

A former political prisoner himself who is currently in exile in Spain, Iglesias called on the EU to maintain the “common position” taken in 1996 that established that its economic relations with Cuba “would depend on improvements in the area of human right and fundamental freedoms.”

“To abandon the common position when human rights are still not respected in Cuba, when peaceful dissidents are imprisoned and even killed, is a very grave error,” he told CNA. “It would totally be the wrong message for the EU to send to Cuba.”

“Respect for human rights must be demanded, but also followed up with the holding of free elections, as more than 70 organizations in Cuba have requested in the declaration El Camino del Pueblo,” Iglesias added.

He noted that in addition to the more than 70 organizations that the support El Camino del Pueblo – which was started by the late dissident Oswaldo Paya – “There are more than 25,000 Cubans who have called for a referendum and the regime has simply ignored it.”

“The European Union should demand this of the Cuban regime every day: That rights such as freedom of expression be respected, that a referendum and free elections take place, instead of just lamenting the state of human rights in Cuba,” Iglesias said.

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Bloggers see opportunity in social media for Catholic Church

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The rapidly developing world of social media provides new and critically important venues for Church leaders to reach out and connect with people in a digital way, according to panelists at a Nov. 11 dialogue.

The discussion, "An Encounter With Social Media: Bishops and Bloggers Dialogue,” was held on Nov. 11 in Baltimore, one day before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops convened its annual fall general assembly.

The event – intended to continue a dialogue started at the Vatican’s blogger conference in April 2011 – centered on a new study, "Catholic New Media Use in the United States, 2012," which was conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.

Mark Gray, research associate at the center, explained that the survey found that the majority of U.S. Catholics – like the general American population – are active on social networking sites, with younger generations more likely to be involved than older ones.

Eight percent of adult Catholics who regularly use a digital device have at least one Catholic-related application, and five percent read blogs on the Church, faith or spirituality. While these percentages sound low, Gray said, they represent millions of U.S. Catholics who can be reached through digital venues.

About half of survey respondents were unaware of any significant presence of the Catholic Church online, and those who attended Mass more frequently were more likely to be aware of the Church’s online presence.

Gray explained that frequent Mass goers, young people and individuals with a high enough income to easily access digital devices make up the core audience for Catholic content in new media.

While the survey found that overall television is still the most used and trusted source of news, younger generations are turning in greater numbers to the internet and word of mouth to receive news. When it comes to obtaining Church-related information, parish bulletins and diocesan newspapers are still the most used and considered the most reliable source.

Less than half of the respondents said that they used or trusted secular news sources to get information about the Catholic faith, and the majority of those who follow Catholic blogs said that they do so to get a balance from the secular press.

Gray also identified an important entertainment dynamic in the new media. He pointed to survey results indicating that younger generations of Catholics increasingly say that a blog must entertain them in order to attract their interest and draw them back.

One of the challenges for the Church is to “incorporate entertainment with information” in order to reach people, he said.

About one in three individuals surveyed said they would like their pastor and bishop to blog. Respondents also expressed interest in seeing websites with Church history, information about saints and answers to moral questions.

Panelists at the dialogue responded to the survey’s findings by stressing the importance of using new media to plant seeds and including digital posts on various topics to open the door to a broader audience.

They also noted the need to recognize the Church’s diversity, including the growing Hispanic community, in social media outreach.

Terry Mattingly, author of the syndicated column On Religion and the blog Get Religion, observed that much of the Catholic media is currently reaching those who already agree with the Church.

“The blogs at this point are serving as a form of continuing education and debate forum for the people who care about Catholicism the most,” he said, explaining that while this use of digital media is important, it is limited and will not draw in those who are not already looking for it.

He urged the bishops to consider offering a broad range of materials online – such as film reviews, dating advice and parenting information – and to consider how to reach non-Catholics through secular sources such as entertainment and media.

Catholic journalist and blogger Mary DeTurris Poust noted that while there has been a decrease in Google searches including the phrase “Catholic,” there has been an increase in searches related to spirituality and religion.

"People are searching,” she said. “They're just not searching for us."

Part of the response to this must be an aggressive use of social media, with a constantly updated and evolving online presence, she said, adding that it is critical to listen to millennials who say they want entertainment and excitement, because this trend is not simply a passing fad, but the future of communications.

“Today, like it or not, I think Facebook is the new parish hall,” Poust explained.

When used properly, social media outlets provide good opportunities for both catechesis and ministry, she said, pointing to recent uses of Facebook and Twitter in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to check in on other people, find information and offer assistance.

“We can’t look at that as a luxury anymore,” she said. “It’s a necessity.”

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Cardinal Dolan calls bishops to conversion at annual meeting

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The mission of evangelization, which is critical to the calling of every bishop, must begin with penance and interior renewal, said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops' conference.

"We cannot engage culture unless we let Him first engage us; we cannot dialogue with others unless we first dialogue with Him; we cannot challenge unless we first let Him challenge us," the cardinal told his fellow bishops.

"Only those themselves first evangelized can then evangelize," he stressed, encouraging the U.S. bishops to adopt a "spirit of conversion born of our own interior renewal."

The cardinal delivered his remarks to the Nov. 12--15 fall assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is being held in Baltimore.

He acknowledged numerous "urgent issues" that call for the bishops' "renewed and enthusiastic commitment," including the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, the call to a New Evangelization and the challenge of engaging the culture on critical topics.

But it is important to keep "first things first," allowing Christ to remain the center of focus in all of the Church's work, Cardinal Dolan emphasized.

Amid the Church's many efforts to serve those who are in need, the task of evangelization remains a constant underlying calling, he explained.

Cardinal Dolan also touched on the current Year of Faith and the recent Synod of Bishops on evangelization.

Both of these events are aimed at "the effective transmission of the faith for the transformation of the world," he said, recalling Pope Benedict’s words that ‘we ourselves are the first to need re-evangelization."

The final message of the synod on the New Evangelization, he noted, acknowledged that the Church's ordained leaders "should never think that the new evangelization does not concern us personally."

"The invitation to evangelize becomes a call to conversion," the synod message said, noting that the bishops "can never really be equal to the Lord's calling and mandate to proclaim His Gospel to the nations."

Therefore, Cardinal Dolan said, the bishops of the United States must be open to being evangelized themselves, realizing that "the Sacrament of Reconciliation evangelizes the evangelizers, as it brings us sacramentally into contact with Jesus, who calls us to conversion of heart."

Unfortunately, the cardinal observed, while the Second Vatican Council called for a renewal of confession, the sacrament declined in the years following the council.

"We became very good in the years following the Council in calling for the reform of structures, systems, institutions and people other than ourselves," he said.

Cardinal Dolan acknowledged that those reforms have played an important and transformative role in the Church, but said it is also important to remember that "in no way can the New Evangelization be reduced to a program, a process, or a call to structural reform," because it is "first and foremost a deeply personal conversion within."

He encouraged his fellow bishops to "make the Year of Faith a time to renew the Sacrament of Penance," through efforts such as the Keep the Light On confession initiative during Advent and reflecting on a return to embracing all Fridays as particular days of penance.

A personal commitment to the sacrament is also crucial to effective transformation, he explained, so that the bishops may offer the "witness of a repentant heart."

"We work at giving our people good examples of humble, repentant pastors, aware of our own personal and corporate sins, constantly responding to the call of Jesus to interior conversion," he said.

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Pope creates academy to promote knowledge of Latin

Vatican City, Nov 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Pope is launching a new Pontifical Academy for Latin to help priests and academics deepen their knowledge and ability with the language.

"There is a pressing need for greater knowledge and more competent use of Latin in the ecclesial environment as well as in the world of culture at large," Pope Benedict XVI said on Nov. 10.

The new academy was announced in a letter titled “Latina Lingua.” The document is known as a motu proprio, a phrase that means “by his own initiative.”

The academy will have two goals.

The first is “to promote the knowledge and study of the Latin language and literature, both classical and patristic … especially in Catholic educational institutions where priests both train and educate seminarians.”

The second aim of the school will be to promote the written and spoken use of Latin.

"There is a danger of an increasingly superficial knowledge of Latin, also reflected in the philosophical and theological studies of future priests, in contemporary culture and in the context of a general weakening of the humanities," the Pope Benedict wrote in his letter.

"It seems urgent to support the efforts for a more responsible use of Latin and a better understanding of it, both within the Church and in the wider world of culture," Benedict XVI stated.

He told how knowledge of Latin is now more necessary than ever to study sources from which to draw upon, including theology, liturgy, the Church fathers and canon law, as taught by Vatican Council II.

But, according to the pontiff, there is a renewed interest in Latin and culture in a world dominated by science and technology, which involves young people and scholars from different nations.

The new academy will replace the Latinitas Foundation, which was established by Pope Paul VI in 1976.

The Pontifical Academy for Latin, which will have a five year trial period, will be a part of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

On Saturday, Nov. 10, Pope Benedict appointed Ivano Dionigi the president of the new academy and Father Roberto Spataro as its secretary.

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Church cannot live with contraception mandate, bishops say

Baltimore, Md., Nov 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - In the aftermath of the Nov. 6 elections, the U.S. bishops stressed that they will push ahead with defending religious liberty from the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, which cannot be lived with as it stands.

"Currently the HHS mandate is on the books," said Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, who leads the bishops' ad hoc religious freedom committee. "That's what we actually concretely have to deal with now."

"And as it stands, certainly we would not be able to live with it," he explained, "especially the four-part definition of what Church activity is."

"That's just not who we are, and we don't find it appropriate for any government to draw lines in our mission where we don't draw them," Archbishop Lori said.

The archbishop explained that Church leaders are monitoring and engaged in the ongoing federal rule-making process that will determine how religious organizations are accommodated under that mandate, and as that continues, "our range of options will probably become a little clearer."

Archbishop Lori spoke at a Nov. 12 press conference during the U.S. bishops' fall general assembly in Baltimore.

He and other panelists reacted to the outcome of various ballot measures in the Nov. 6 election. The bishops explained that the Church does not identify with any one political party because Catholic social teaching transcends party agendas.

And Catholic teaching should not be seen as divided, added Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, who leads a conference subcommittee on defending marriage.

He called it unfortunate that "a lot of our people view these issues politically, rather than through the lens of the Gospel."

If Catholics saw societal issues through the lens of the Church’s social teaching and the common good, Archbishop Cordileone said they would see "the consistency among all these issues," including life, the economy and immigration.

The San Francisco archbishop said he was disappointed at the outcome of referenda in Maryland, Maine and Washington state that approved a redefinition of marriage, as well as the rejection of a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in Minnesota.

"But rather than being a cause for giving up, it is a call to intensify efforts to strengthen and defend marriage," he said.

The archbishop observed that "this election is a symptom of a much larger problem," namely, that many people do not understand what marriage is.

"Marriage is not a matter of two consenting adults simply coming together for the state to ratify their romantic relationship," he said. "Rather, marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman to each other and to any children born of their union."

"It's child-centered, and its meaning is written in our nature," Archbishop Cordileone told the press. "It's either this, or it's nothing at all."

He stressed the need to continue working to increase educational efforts and to "build a renewed culture of marriage and the family."

Archbishop Lori applauded the passage of a referendum upholding the Dream Act in Maryland, allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition in schools throughout the state.

Although the measure met with significant opposition when it was first introduced into the legislature, the archbishop noted that "there was a change in the public's perception" after a public education campaign helped people understand how the law would benefit society.

He observed that this law continues in the Catholic Church's "long heritage of offering educational opportunities for the disadvantaged."

Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston expressed gratitude to the diverse coalition that came together to inform voters about the negative consequences of a Massachusetts ballot initiative to legalize physician assisted suicide. The measure was narrowly defeated.

With the cooperation of medical organizations, newspapers, religious groups and disability rights advocates, he said, "we were able to stop this terrible assault on human life."

"At the same time, this calls us to be more focused on the fact that we must do more to promote good palliative and hospice care at the end of life," he added.

Noting that the Church has always been committed to compassionate end-of-life care, he offered examples of ways that dioceses can work to improve the quality of such care.

"We are called to comfort the sick, and not to help them take their own lives," Cardinal O’Malley remarked.

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Pope Benedict brings joy to 'peers' at elderly home

Rome, Italy, Nov 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict visited fellow seniors at a home for the aged in Rome on Nov. 12, speaking to their needs and reminding all of them of the special role they play in this “time of sunset.”

“I come among you as the Bishop of Rome, but also as an elder on a visit to his peers,” the Pope told residents of the Long Live the Elderly Home, a project of the charitable Community of Sant'Egidio.

“I understand the difficulties, problems, and limitations of this age,” he said during his remarks to the seniors' assisted-living home located on the Gianicolo Hill near the Vatican.

Looking back on his own life, the Pope called it a natural tendency in one's old age to envy the “fresh energy” of youth and all of those plans for the future. The past can become “veiled with sadness” if considered with remorse, he told the group of seniors, but this is not what God wants.

“It is nice to be elders!” Pope Benedict said emphatically.

“In every age, we must be able to detect the presence and blessing of the Lord and the treasures it contains. Do not ever be imprisoned by sadness! We have received the gift of a long life. In our face there is always the joy of feeling loved by God and never sadness.”

He directed the seniors' attention to the Bible – in which longevity is considered a blessing from God – noting that elders were rightly honored in the past.

But in a modern world “dominated by the logic of efficiency and profit,” the elderly are often pushed to the wayside, considered useless and left to loneliness.

This is the mark of a deteriorating civilization, the Pope asserted, since a community is defined by how it treats its elderly members.

“He who makes room the elderly makes room for life! Whoever receives the elderly welcomes life!” declared the 85-year-old pontiff.

Entrusting the group to the love and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Pope encouraged his fellow octogenarians and upward with these words: “The Pope loves you and is counting on all of you!...God will always be with you and with those who support you with their love and their support.”

He also reminded them that the elderly have a special vocation to prayer, shattering the illusion that the elderly are non-productive members of society.

At the end of his remarks, the Pope called on all people to heed the “wisdom of life” the elderly bear and to support them with love and friendship. The alternative is loneliness, which is so devastating because people are relational beings.

The Pope's visit coincides with the European Year of Ageing and Solidarity. The European continent grows ever older as people live longer and the young fail to reproduce at a rate to sustain current population levels.

Life expectancy in Italy is 79.2 years for men and 84.6 years for women. But the Italian birth rate is the second lowest in the Western world, averaging just over one child per woman.

The result is a dwindling number of younger working people supporting an ever larger number of retirees, which can cause the sort of inter-generational friction, the Pope observed.

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Papal nuncio: Catholic division undermines religious freedom

South Bend, Ind., Nov 12, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano has told the University of Notre Dame that there is a concrete “menace” to religious liberty in the U.S. that is advancing in part because some influential Catholic public figures and university professors are allied with those opposed to Church teaching.

“Evidence is emerging which demonstrates that the threat to religious freedom is not solely a concern for non-democratic and totalitarian regimes,” he said. “Unfortunately it is surfacing with greater regularity in what many consider the great democracies of the world.”

The apostolic nuncio, who serves as the Pope’s diplomatic representative to the U.S., said this is a “tragedy” for both the believer and for democratic society.

Archbishop Vigano’s Nov. 4 speech keynoted the University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life conference. He discussed martyrdom, persecution, and religious freedom, with a particular focus on the United States.

He cited Catholics’ duties to be disciples of Christ, not elements of a political or secular ideology. He lamented the fact that many Catholics are publicly supporting “a major political party” that has “intrinsic evils among its basic principles.”

“There is a divisive strategy at work here, an intentional dividing of the Church; through this strategy, the body of the Church is weakened, and thus the Church can be more easily persecuted,” the nuncio said.

Archbishop Vigano observed that some influential Catholic public officials and university professors are allied with forces opposed to the Church’s fundamental moral teachings on “critical issues” like abortion, population control, the redefinition of marriage, embryonic stem cell research and “problematic adoptions.”

He said it is a “grave and major problem” when self-professed Catholic faculty at Catholic institutions are the sources of teachings that conflict with Church teaching on important policy issues rather than defend it.

While Archbishop Vigano noted that most Americans believe they are “essentially a religious people” and still give some importance to religion, he also saw reasons this could change.

He said that the problem of persecution begins with “reluctance to accept the public role of religion,” especially where protecting religious freedom “involves beliefs that the powerful of the political society do not share.”

The nuncio said it is “essential” to pray for a just resolution to religious freedom controversies, including the controversy over the new federal mandate requiring many Catholic employers to provide morally objectionable insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs.

The issues that the Catholic bishops have identified in this mandate are “very real” and “pose grave threats to the vitality of Catholicism in the United States,” Archbishop Vigano said.

The nuncio also discussed other religious liberty threats.

He cited a Massachusetts public school curriculum that required young students to take courses that presented same-sex relations as “natural and wholesome.” Civil authorities rejected parents’ requests for a procedure to exempt their children from the “morally unacceptable” classes.

“If these children were to remain in public schools, they had to participate in the indoctrination of what the public schools thought was proper for young children,” the archbishop said. “Put simply, religious freedom was forcefully pushed aside once again.”

Catholic Charities agencies have also been kicked out of social service programs because they would not institute policies or practices that violate “fundamental moral principles of the Catholic faith.”

Archbishop Vigano cited several countries that have witnessed severe persecution like China, Pakistan, India and the Middle East. He praised the martyrs past and present who would not compromise on “the principles of faith.”

While some forms of persecution are violent and cruel, others aim to incapacitate the faith by encouraging people to renounce their beliefs or the public aspects of their faith, in the face of “great hardships.”

Fidelity to God and the Church has “hastened martyrdom and persecution for many believers of the past, and of today,” he said.

“In all of these instances, we see that the faithful persist in their fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Holy Church! For throughout her history, the Church has gained strength when persecuted,” the archbishop said.

Religious liberty is a human, civil and natural right that is not conferred by the state, he said, adding “religious freedom is the exercise of fidelity to God and his Holy Church without compromise.”

“What God has given, the servant state does not have the competence to remove,” Archbishop Vigano affirmed.

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