Asmara, Eritrea, Dec 4, 2012 (CNA) - The Eritrean government’s practice of forced military conscription means that seminarians and other church workers are being forced into the army, causing a personnel shortage for the Catholic Church.
A source close to the local Church told the charity Aid to the Church in Need that the compulsory military service is “bleeding the Church in Eritrea to death.”
The source, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals, said the government “exaggerates the danger of war, as a pretext to keep people in military service.” The source said the atmosphere of imminent war helps “keep people in line.”
The communist government, which does not set a fixed period for military service, has kept many Church workers and seminarians in military service for more than 15 years in some cases. The government “even wants to arm priests,” the source said.
“In general, military service has led to a situation where there is a shortage of qualified workers in many professions – not just in the Church, the source added.
The government has encouraged all Eritreans to own weapons, even priests and housewives. National service is required for all male and female citizens beginning at age 16. Many people serve as indentured laborers to build roads or to work in foreign-run mines.
Thousands avoid military service by fleeing the country each year. Eritrea’s national soccer team recently defected while on a visit to Uganda, in part because of the compulsory military service, Radio France Internationale says.
Over 2,000 Christians are among those who have refused military service and are imprisoned for their beliefs. Most of the detained Christians are members of non-recognized churches in a country where only four religions are formally recognized: the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and Islam.
Catholic Church activities are also burdened by a 1995 decree that restricts social and welfare projects to the state. The government has unsuccessfully attempted to seize Catholic schools and other projects.
“The government wants us to restrict ourselves to the church and vestry,” Aid to the Church in Need’s source said.
Eritrea became independent from neighboring Ethiopia in 1993 after 30 years of conflict. It has about 5.2 million people, almost half of whom are Christian. Most of the Christian population is Orthodox, while Catholics make up about four percent of the total population.
Indianapolis, Ind., Dec 4, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Joseph William Tobin was installed as the sixth Archbishop of Indianapolis on Monday, calling on Catholics to live the Gospel as a personal encounter with Jesus.
“What we will do together as a Church, we will do with passion, the passion that characterized our patron Saint Francis Xavier,” he said at the Dec. 3 installation Mass at Indianapolis’ Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.
“We will do whatever the Lord asks us to do, in bringing the Good News especially to those who have the least chance of doing it. For those who live on the margin of things, for those who have been hurt by the Church, for those who feel themselves to be forgotten,” Archbishop Tobin told the congregation.
The installation Mass took place in the presence of many bishops, priests, vowed religious, the lay faithful, and representatives from government and other religions. The archbishop is the oldest of 13 children and many of his relatives attended the Mass.
Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., told the archbishop that he prayed that, like the missionary St. Francis Xavier, “your apostolic labors for the sake of the gospel and the New Evangelization will bear much spiritual fruit in this portion of the Lord’s vineyard.”
The nuncio read Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic letter which appointed Archbishop Tobin to Indianapolis. The letter said the new archbishop is endowed with “proven qualities of mind and heart” and cited his experience in Church matters.
Archbishop Tobin, 60, previously served in the Vatican at the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, where he helped oversee the more than one million men and women who are vowed religious.
He is a Redemptorist priest and served as the order’s superior general from 1997 to 2009.
In his homily, the archbishop examined the nature of love. He said that love isn’t “simply an obligation” but “a way of loving the one who has made us his or her beloved.”
Catholics do what they do “not simply because we’re obeying rules,” he explained.
Citing Pope Benedict XVI, he said the Gospel cannot be presented “first and foremost as a list of moral obligations.” Rather, it is “an encounter with a person, someone who has loved us first, and someone who asks us to continue his loving presence in the world.”
Archbishop Tobin’s new archdiocese has nearly 228,000 Catholics. He succeeds Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, who retired in September 2011 for health reasons.
New York City, N.Y., Dec 4, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - The deteriorating human rights situation in China should inspire action on the part of the Chinese government and people, as well as the international community, said pro-life advocate Chen Guangcheng.
“Unfortunately, the human rights situation in China is in fact getting worse,” the blind activist warned.
“This has to garner more attention from the world,” he said. “And the United States, in particular, as a beacon of freedom, needs to play a leading role.”
In a video recorded several days before World Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, Chen detailed the human rights abuses that are still regularly occurring in his home country.
“The violence in maintaining China’s ‘one-child policy’ still extensively exists,” he said, speaking in Chinese. “It is a sin, because life is sacred.”
Chen – a self-taught human rights lawyer – made international headlines in April when he escaped from house arrest and was taken in by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
He has been blind since his youth, and spent years in prison after angering Chinese government officials by exposing brutal practices such as forced abortions and sterilizations tied to the nation’s one-child policy.
Chen said that he and his family had been beaten and refused medical attention during that time. He agreed to leave the U.S. Embassy only after the Chinese government promised that he would be safe and treated humanely.
However, shortly after being transported to a Beijing hospital on May 2, the pro-life activist voiced concerns that China was not keeping its promises.
After several days of heightened international attention, Chen and his immediate family were allowed to travel to the United States, where he was offered a fellowship to study law and learn English at New York University's law school.
In his latest video, Chen thanked everyone who has helped him, while also calling for increased efforts to bring real change to China.
“Today, I am standing here because I am in a free world,” he said. “Yet my family in China, as well as tens of thousands of my fellow countrymen, are still in an authoritarian regime. They are not free.”
“Citizens of the world, let your voice be heard in support of justice,” he said, calling on nations to “shift their focus from trade to human rights.”
Chen reported that the Chinese government has “enacted revenge” on his family members and friends remaining in the country.
He pointed to his nephew, Chen Kegui, who was recently sentenced to three months in jail, as well as others who have been harassed, illegally detained or have disappeared.
“The Communist Party officials at every level continue to act against the state law and humanity,” he said, adding that “no one is safe.”
Chen spoke directly to the Communist leader of China, saying, “Mr. Xi Jinping, the whole nation is watching you.” He warned Xi that his decision on whether to reform the government or simply protect the interests of the party will determine if China transforms peacefully or violently.
“Do not send out the wrong signals to party officials that they can continue acting without any restraint,” he said, urging an end to the government’s abuse of power and the release of prisoners of conscience.
Chen also spoke to the people of his countrymen, telling them that they can and should “join together to work for our own rights.”
“God helps them who help themselves,” he emphasized, calling the people of China to stand up for “a fair and just social system.”
Advocates of life and liberty in China called on world leaders to heed Chen’s message. Bob Fu, founder and president of ChinaAid, said the ongoing human rights abuses should put the international community “on alert that it is time to set a new course for human rights and trade with China.”
Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women’s Rights without Frontiers, said that the one-child policy causes “deep social unrest” in society and “is perhaps the most hated of all the official policies in China.”
“No policy this unjust can last forever,” Littlejohn said. “The leaders of the United States should join Chen in calling for a peaceful transition away from policies that are oppressing and terrorizing the people of China, who are one fifth of the population of the earth.”
Havana, Cuba, Dec 4, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Local Catholics say that the reinstatement of Christmas as a national holiday in 1997 after decades of being outlawed has brought enormous good “to the life of the nation,” but that its deeper meaning still needs to be understood.
“Once again Christmas proves to be a source of happiness: however, we cannot forget that this beneficial aspect of Christmas has its roots and its nature in the religious event of the birth of Jesus Christ,” wrote editors from the Diocese of Pinar del Rio's magazine titled Vitral.
“The more Christmas in Cuba is imbued with its roots and its Christian religious nature, as it was in the past, the more good it will bring to the Cuban people.”
Since its beginning as a nation, Catholic liturgical celebrations were the primary source of unity for the people and were highly important for the new nation, the editors said.
But although “Christmas united Cubans,” the Communist government banned public celebrations of the holiday in 1969.
“Christmas was still celebrated in Catholic and Protestant churches and in Christian homes, but public celebrations disappeared.”
However, during his pastoral visit to Cuba in 1997, Pope Blessed John Paul II asked Cuban president Fidel Castro to reinstate Christmas as a holiday, and it was granted. One year later it was made an official law.
“The people welcomed this decision with joy,” the editors wrote, but since 29 years had passed since the last public celebration of Christmas in 1968, there was now an entire generation of Cubans who had no experience of it.
“Christmas was reinstated as a holiday, but this is not enough to recover the spirit of Christmas that characterizes these days and that is a part of the western world to which Cuba belongs.”
The magazine acknowledged that an authentic understanding of Christmas has begun to spread in the country but that there is still much to be done. For this reason, it argued, the recovery of the religious meaning of Christmas is also a task of the State.
Since a large percentage of the Cuban people are believers, and even non-believers and members of other religions “recognize Jesus of Nazareth as an extraordinary man whose life and teachings had a positive impact on the history of humanity,” the state media should be willing to broadcast public religious celebrations.
“The people have a right to see their religious beliefs reflected in the media, just as much as politics, art and sports,” they wrote.
“How beautiful would it be during Christmas to see positive references to Christmas on television, radio or in newspapers, as is the case in the rest of the countries of the west and in many countries of the east! This doesn’t hurt anyone. It does us all good. It does Cuba good.”
Lima, Peru, Dec 4, 2012 (CNA) -
Catholic journalist Maria del Rosario Loyola Hilario, one of the most beloved members of CNA's sister news agency ACI-Prensa in Lima, died on Dec. 1 from complications after surgery.
“Charito” was born on Oct. 7, 1978, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, to whom her mother dedicated her with great devotion.
The 34-year-old began her work as a journalist with ACI-Prensa last year. She passed away Saturday after contracting pneumonia following a risky surgery to treat a brain condition she had since birth.
The entire staff prays she is enjoying eternal life with God to which she always aspired and that God will bring comfort to her family – especially to her mother, Flavia Hilario, her fiance, and her five older siblings.
CNA executive director Alejandro Bermudez recalled Charito as “not only a skilled and exemplary professional with a keen sense of the news, but also as someone who always edified us with the great charity and patience with which she did her interviews, even those which were of a hostile nature.”
“She always treated everyone with charity and kindness, and I literally cannot think of a single time when she was unwilling or unenthusiastic about taking on a task, no matter how difficult,” he noted.
“During her illness, Charito was always her kind and patient self. We were all hoping to have her back with us after her recovery. God had other plans.”
“Now, saddened by her passing but hopeful because of her good works, the staff of ACI-Prensa commends her to our Mother of Mercies, whose goodness she always proclaimed with untiring apostolic zeal,” Bermudez said.
ACI-Prensa expresses thanks to all those who have offered prayers and condolences for Charito and her family.
Vatican City, Dec 4, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Church leaders from North, Central and South America are meeting in Rome to discuss the New Evangelization across the region and discover how the Church can respond to shared societal problems.
"Three things stand out to me as particularly important for our discussion at the conference next week," said Carl Anderson, head of the Knights of Columbus, the world's largest Catholic fraternal organization.
"Firstly, that America, broadly defined as the entire American continent from Alaska to Argentina, is a key area for the work of the New Evangelization, and that it remains a Christian continent," Anderson said at a Dec. 4 Vatican press conference.
"Secondly, that ‘Ecclesia in America’ reminds us that the laity has an indispensable role to play in that New Evangelization and without it the Church's renewal is impossible," he added.
The final point Anderson made was that “Our Lady of Guadalupe is key to our understanding of the New Evangelization in America.”
The New Evangelization refers to the Church-wide effort to reintroduce the Gospel in areas where the practice of the faith has declined or even been largely forgotten.
Today’s media event was held in anticipation of the Dec. 9-12 international congress in Rome called "Ecclesia in America.”
Besides focusing on the New Evangelization, the summit will also commemorate Blessed John Paul II's exhortation ''Ecclesia in America." The gathering will fall on the 15th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops' Special Assembly for America, which was held Nov. 16 to Dec. 12, 1997.
"The churches of North, Central and South America face common problems developed over the last 15 years," Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet observed.
He pointed to youth violence, drug trafficking and drug consumption as matters of "grave concern and debate," and said that the Church is called to make a major contribution to addressing these issues.
But even more importantly, Cardinal Ouellet stressed that the Church must stand strong in areas where the institution of the family is suffering a serious assault.
The international congress will also offer a chance for building “networks of friendship throughout the continent, with a true sense of belonging to the Church,” he added, referring to it as "one of the first major events of the Year of Faith.”
Over 200 participants are expected at the congress, organized by the Knights of Columbus and the Commission for Latin America with the help of the Institute for Guadalupan Studies.
The Ecclesia in America congress will open with Mass at Saint Peter's Basilica and a speech by Pope Benedict, and will include cardinals from Toronto, Boston, Guadalajara, Santo Domingo and Tegucigalpa, as well as bishops and archbishops from across the region.
Religious, supervisors of the Roman Curia and those residing in Pontifical Colleges in Rome from North and South America will also attend.
The event will also include the Rosary, which will be prayed on Dec. 11 at the Vatican Gardens, a devotional event with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, “Guadalupan” hymns and a scientific research presentation on the St. Juan Diego’s cloak that bears the famous image of Mary.
The conference will conclude with proposals on cooperation between the continents.
The results of Ecclesia in America will then be given to the Roman Curia and the respective bishops’ conferences.
Rome, Italy, Dec 4, 2012 (CNA) - A young pro-life American activist is expanding her work overseas after speaking at her first international conference in France.
Lila Rose, who spoke at the International Symposium for Life, held in the southwestern town of Biarritz from Nov. 30 to Dec. 1, is planning on more work abroad.
The conference, drew doctors, pro-life advocates and bishops from the United States, Russia, Spain, France, Canada and the Holy See, and was aimed at raising public awareness, challenging political leaders and educating young people about love and life.
But Lila Rose, who has received death threats and promises of legal action for her undercover work in abortion centers, did not want to release much information on her plans for Europe.
"We don't want to release too many details of our work abroad, but every country in Europe is being affected by abortion," Rose told CNA on Dec. 4.
"The idea is to encourage and come up with some strategies that may have been effective in the United States and use them in Europe," said the 24-year-old, who is originally from California.
"Here in Europe there's definitely a climate of quietness and apathy about this issue out of fear," she said.
Rose works for Live Action, a pro-life group she founded nearly a decade ago that is known for its undercover investigations and exposés on abortion centers.
Europeans have often told her they thought they couldn't do her work and that they would receive attacks they could not withstand.
But Rose said that “if you employ professionalism and put your mind into persuading, you can overcome the challenges you're told you will face.”
In fact, she was initially told that no one would listen to her, but over time she learned to be persistent and bold.
Rose explained that she is expanding her work to include Europe because "America has exported its pro-abortion ideologies, and so our interest must also look beyond the United States.
"We have to pay attention to what is happening internationally to help our investigative program."
Looking at both the present and the future, Rose maintains that abortion is the greatest current human rights abuse, and yet, she maintains a positive attitude because of the changes she is seeing.
"The day for abortion's legal end and a revolution in our culture is already happening," said Rose.
"We've some high hills to climb, but abortion numbers are going down," she said, “and I believe that, because of the cultural changes and successes, the day of the end of abortion is coming soon.”
Live Action has documented many abuses over the last five years in the United States, including alleged sex trafficking and sex abuse cover-ups, which she says have an international component.
"There are certainly efforts abroad with the (pro-life) march in Spain and Irish movements run by young people, but the youth movement in the U.S. is really thriving," Rose stated.
"I think it's because there is a lot of synergy and encouragement, which is starting to build up now in Europe," she added.
"Abortion and the culture of death is ruining our countries and it's time to stand up," she said, adding that "a lot of that is beginning to come from the youth and it is only growing."
She called on all Catholics to communicate persuasively to young people about human sexuality and the Theology of the Body, saying it is our responsibility.
Her tips for young Europeans are to not be afraid and to think courageously and creatively.
"You can do more than you think, you're called to do more than you think, and you're needed to do more than you think," she said.
"Discouragements will come, but be brave, stand up and make a difference in your country and God will give you every grace you need, and you will change your country."