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Archive of November 23, 2012

Vatican nativity set might include animals not at Jesus' birth

Vatican City, Nov 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican has started construction on its annual nativity set in St. Peter's Square, and the display is expected to include a few animals that may not have been at Jesus' birth.

The Pope said in his third book on the life of Christ, "Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives," released Nov. 21, that the ox and the donkey, which are regularly included in nativity scenes, are not mentioned in the gospels.

But they are included in other parts of the Bible, which could have inspired Christians to use them in representations of the birth of Jesus.

"No representation of the manger is complete without the ox and donkey," Pope Benedict says in his new book, explaining that "Christian iconography adopted this motif at an early stage" because it conveys the humble circumstances of Jesus' birth.

The square was first decorated in 1986 under Pope John Paul II and the 19th-century images usually come from the parish of San Andrés del Valle.

The construction of the nativity scene began on Nov. 19 and is expected to finish by Dec. 24, just in time for Christmas Eve.

The Governorate of Vatican City's technical services office designs a new nativity set every year, inspired by different scenes of the life of Jesus.

Although the scenarios of where the statues are located vary each year, the essence is the same.

In 2010 the set included nine Filipino figures in honor of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations with the Holy See. Last year’s scene focused on biblical events where Mary was a key figure, including the Annunciation, the Visitation, the presentation in the temple and, of course, the birth of Jesus.

As of Nov. 21, the area where the display will be in St. Peter’s Square sports the pillars that will partially support the nativity scene. Construction workers have also placed a metal frame next to the obelisk and a tent to protect their work, with scaffolding alongside it.

The nativity will likely include life-size figures of Jesus, Joseph, Mary, shepherds, the Magi and some animals.

The display will be placed next to a 78-foot white fir, which comes from the town of Pescopennataro, Italy and will be donated to the Pope by the southern region of Basilicata.

It will be lit during a ceremony on Dec. 14, although the manger will be inaugurated on Christmas Eve.

Pope Benedict will celebrate a vigil Mass on Christmas Eve at 10:00 p.m. in St. Peter's Basilica.

Updated at 9:22 a.m. MDT on Nov. 28, 2012. Corrects quote from Pope Benedict's book about the presence of ox and donkey in paragraph four.

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Critics find UN contraception push harmful to women

New York City, N.Y., Nov 23, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - A United Nations population report calling for global contraceptive access has drawn fire from doctors and pro-life advocates who say the funding would better spent preventing maternal deaths.

“A push to increase spending on contraceptives in developing countries by the United Nations Population Fund is at best misguided, and at worst harmful to women and families,” Dr. John F. Brehany, executive director of Catholic Medical Association, told CNA Nov. 15.

On Nov. 14, the United Nations Population Fund released its annual report on the “State of World Population.”

This year's report – titled “By Choice, Not By Chance” – links family planning to international development, declares it a global “right” for women, and calls for the removal of any social and financial obstacles to it.

UNFPA included some population control advocacy and depicted access to family planning as a “sound economic investment.” It also claims that the use of contraceptives will “improve” global health.

Dr. Brehany countered, however, that oral contraceptive pills “negatively impact women's health in significant ways – by increasing the incidence of breast cancer, strokes, and STDs.”

He also pointed out that an article in the January issue of 'The Lancet Infectious Diseases' found that the use of injectable contraceptives in Africa has been shown to double the risk of HIV infection.

“Women’s greatest needs,” he said, “are for education and healthcare resources for prenatal care, safe childbirth, and general health. Providing resources for natural methods of fertility awareness and regulation are not only cheaper than artificial contraceptives, they are better for women's health and for the stability of marriages.”

The UNFPA report summary said family planning is “almost universally recognized as an intrinsic right” that should be “available to all.” It said family planning should be promoted as “a right” which enables “a whole range of other rights.”

Wendy Wright, an official at the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and former head of  Concerned Women for America, called this “ludicrous.”

“The UN doesn't have the authority to declare contraception a human right, but particularly an agency of the UN doesn't have the right to declare something a human right; it debases the entire concept of human rights, to declare a commodity or a product a human right,” she said in a Nov. 15 interview with CNA.

“The UN hasn't declared food a human right, and yet we need food to survive. So its ludicrous to think that  contraception would be a human right when the most necessary items for survival have not been considered human rights.”

Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute president, Austin Ruse, stated that “it is precisely such debasement of authentic human rights which puts people in the developing world in grave danger. Human rights are about freedom of religion, democratic self-determination, freedom of assembly.”

Wright considers the United Nations Population Fund's claim that “its products and services should be universally available and paid for by others” to be “crass self interest.”

She also pointed out that “many countries are experiencing depopulation. Sadly, the UNFPA does not recognize the current status of the world's population, and that the most serious problems are ones of depopulation, not over-population.”

The report further claims that meeting the need for family planning for its estimate of 222 million women who lack it would cost some $8.1 billion every year.

Wright said that in light of the current fiscal crisis being experienced by most nations, “right now seems to be a bizarre time for UNFPA to be claiming that its pet project ought to be getting an additional $8 billion a year.”

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