Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Dec 11, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Ambrose Madtha, the papal nuncio to the Ivory Coast, died on Saturday evening in a serious car accident on his way to an ordination in the West African country.
President Alassane Ouattara read a statement on national television expressing his “deep regret” at the nuncio’s death. He offered his condolences to the Catholic Church and to the archbishop’s family, Agence France Presse reports.
The Dec. 8 accident took place in the western town of Biankouma, according to Vatican Radio. The car collided with another vehicle, killing the nuncio and the car’s driver and injuring the nuncio’s secretary and a religious sister.
The Indian-born Archbishop Madtha, 57, was from Belthangady near Mangalore in the Indian state of Karnataka. He had served as the papal representative to the country since 2008. He had worked for peace between opposing sides in Ivory Coast’s political crisis from 2010-2011, when President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after his rival President Ouattara won the 2010 elections.
The crisis turned violent and Gbagbo barricaded himself in the Presidential Residence. With the backing of French forces, supporters of Ouattara assaulted the residence until French special forces arrested the previous president.
The archbishop did not leave the nunciature even though the fighting was less than a quarter mile away, Fides reports.
The country is still recovering from the political conflict. Gbagbo is awaiting trial in the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity.
The nuncio had intended to celebrate Mass in the town of Duékoué on the Liberian border.
The town was the site of a massacre of hundreds of people during the political crisis. Although the chaos of the time makes it impossible to determine who was responsible for the mass killings, the United Nations said that both sides committed atrocities.
Violence continued in 2012, when several people were killed in an assault on a refugee camp near Duékoué.
Archbishop Madtha had personally promised to aid refugees at a Catholic parish in the area, Fides reports.
Los Angeles, Calif., Dec 11, 2012 (CNA) - Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles is describing Advent as “a season of Mary” and a time for Catholics to “turn to Mary in a new way.”
“We have to take Mary into our homes. Into our lives. We need to love her and learn from her as our mother. She was a perfect daughter of God, so we can learn from her how to act as God’s sons and daughters,” the archbishop said in his Dec. 7 column for The Tidings newspaper.
Two major Marian holy days are celebrated in December: the Dec. 8 Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which honors Mary being conceived without sin, and the Dec. 12 Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which commemorates the appearance of Mary to St. Juan Diego in 16th-century Mexico.
“In my mind, there is a deep connection between these two feast days,” Archbishop Gomez said.
“In God’s plan of salvation, Mary was conceived without original sin to announce the world’s ‘new creation’ in the coming of Jesus,” he said. “Many centuries later, in the apparition at Tepeyac, God was sending Mary to announce the coming of Jesus to the ‘new world’ of the Americas.”
The archbishop said Mary’s life is filled with “silence and hiddenness.” Major events in her life like the Annunciation and the Visitation were “off the radar” and no one “was there to see them or record them.”
In this, he saw a lesson for those who “lead quiet lives.”
“The good that we do will only be seen and known by the small circles of those closest to us – in our families and neighborhoods; in the places where we work,” he said. “Like Mary, we can live as children of God – filling our days with quiet acts of faithfulness. Carrying out our daily duties with love and care for others. Sharing our joy and love for Jesus in simple and natural ways.”
The archbishop recommended that Catholics try to set aside time every day to think about the Virgin Mary or to look at a picture of her.
“Talk to her as her child. Tell her everything that’s on your mind. Ask her to help you grow as a child of God,” he said.
Archbishop Gomez also announced that Los Angeles’ Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels will begin a new tradition of celebrating “las mañanitas,” the traditional songs sung by Mexicans and others for the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The cathedral will host an evening festival of songs and worship on Dec. 11 ahead of a midnight Mass celebrated by the archbishop. The festival will include a concert and Aztec dancers.
The archbishop said the festival is especially fitting because the cathedral’s new chapel now hosts a relic of St. Juan Diego’s tilma which bears the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Devotees may venerate the relic before the celebration. The Mass and “las mañanitas” will be broadcast live in Latin America and in the U.S. by EWTN and live streamed on the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Facebook page.
On the evening of Dec. 15, Archbishop Gomez will celebrate a Mass to launch the Simbang Gabi Celebration, a traditional Filipino novena to the Virgin Mary in anticipation of Christmas.
Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2012 (CNA) - A new initiative in the nation’s capital invites members of Congress to “adopt” international prisoners of conscience to advocate for their release and to highlight the importance of human rights and religious liberty.
“We must shine a light on these prisoners of conscience until they are free,” said Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, who chairs the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
At a Dec. 6 press conference, she explained that the Defending Freedoms project will encourage legislators to “stand in solidarity” with conscience prisoners, work for reform in their countries and send a message to the world about the importance of fundamental human freedoms.
Lantos Swett is the daughter of former Congressman Thomas P. Lantos, the namesake of the congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, which is working with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and Amnesty International USA to spearhead the initiative.
Annette Lantos, chair of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and widow of Tom Lantos, recalled how she and her late husband experienced persecution as young Jewish teenagers in Hungary during the Holocaust, escaping only through the compassionate aid of others.
This experience left her husband with a desire to speak out for those who are persecuted, work that is today continued through this new program, she said.
The Defending Freedoms project allows individual members of Congress to focus on individual prisoners of conscience, standing in solidarity with them, following their plight and publically advocating for their release.
By “adopting” prisoners of conscience, lawmakers can increase attention and support for human rights and religious freedom on an international scale.
Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, said he hopes the project will “promote a new awareness of prisoners of conscience around the world.”
“There are far too many brave people around the world who still languish in jail cells today simply because they are engaged in peaceful protest and exercising the rights to freedom of assembly and expression,” he said.
Noting that a country is more likely to be politically and economically stable when basic human rights are respected, he urged his fellow lawmakers to “make sure that these prisoners of conscience are not forgotten.”
“There is a tremendous opportunity to really make a difference,” said Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), who also co-chairs the commission.
He told stories of how members of Congress have been able to aid prisoners of conscience in the past and said he hopes to have 300 congressional participants in the program by the spring.
“To participate is more than just a letter,” Wolf stressed, saying it means the lawmakers must “engage” in action. He suggested that legislators travel to the home countries of their adopted prisoners and ask to see them and their families as one means of taking steps to spread news of their plight.
Frank Jannuzi, head of the Washington, D.C. office of Amnesty International USA, praised the initiative as an example of the “bipartisan spirit in Washington” that can be so “powerful” when put into practice.
He called for the program to be a reminder of the larger battle for human dignity across the globe.
As the congressmen stand with these oppressed prisoners, he said, “we must also dedicate ourselves to addressing the underlying root causes of that oppression.”
Orange, Calif., Dec 11, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - In his first homily as head of the Orange diocese, Bishop Kevin Vann urged Catholics to help build up the Body of Christ and to shape the culture, not be shaped by it.
“We are gathered here in this God-given moment ... as the Body of Christ, as the family of God, in our common mission to bring once again the good news of Jesus Christ in the world,” he said Dec. 10.
“By the hand of God, I believe, we have been brought together, as the Scripture says, as the stream that gladdens the city of God.”
Bishop Vann was installed as head of the Diocese of Orange in a Mass at the Bren Events Center on the campus of the University of California - Irvine. He previously led the Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas.
About 250 priests, 50 bishops and thousands of Catholic laity attended the Mass. Public officials and religious leaders like Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. also greeted the fourth Bishop of Orange.
The entrance procession included Aztec dancers, Vietnamese incense bearers and a Knights of Columbus honor guard. The Mass readings were in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, while the Lord’s Prayer was said in the various languages used in the diocese.
Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles opened the Mass with the sign of the cross. Cardinal Roger Mahony, the emeritus Archbishop of Los Angeles, presided over the Mass as the senior prelate.
Bishop Vann, 61, gave his homily in both English and Spanish. He said Catholics can be united despite their different backgrounds.
“The sometimes disparate currents of life in faith can indeed be brought together in unity, peace, love and great joy to build up the body of Christ,” he said. “That is the call for each of us here now in Orange.”
The bishop recalled his experience of the powerful Mississippi River, which he crossed during trips from his hometown of Springfield, Ill. to St. Louis.
“Certainly, like the currents of the Mississippi, the winds and currents of our culture and society can frighten us and threaten to push our lives in different directions and weaken our unity and mission. But in the end, we know, that can never happen.”
Bishop Vann reminded the faithful that their lives are “directly shaped truly by the hand of God.”
“Like the spire of the old cathedral in St. Louis, we need to remember each day that God is here and that our lives give testimony to that,” he said. “Let us remember always that our mission is to shape the currents of our times with that faith, as the stream that gladdens the city of God, and not be shaped by them.”
He said Catholics do not journey alone. Rather, they journey “with each other in the company of a cloud of witnesses that have made that journey before.”
The bishop mentioned St. Marianne Cope, a 19th-century Franciscan sister who ministered to the lepers of Hawaii; St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first native North American Indian to be declared a saint; Bl. Junipero Serra, the 18th-century Spanish Franciscan priest who established missions throughout California; and Fr. Augustine Tolton, the first African American to be ordained a priest.
Bishop Vann repeated his emphasis on unity with the words of the early Christian St. Ignatius of Antioch: “The strength of the Church is the unity together of everyone with the office of the bishop.”
At the beginning of the installation Mass, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, read an apostolic letter from Pope Benedict XVI which formally appointed Bishop Vann to the diocese. Pope Benedict praised the bishop as “a faithful teacher of God’s word.”
Archbishop Vigano thanked Bishop Vann for his “generosity in answering the call to serve.” He also thanked the retired Bishop Tod Brown for his “many years of dedicated leadership.”
Bishop Vann is the oldest of six children. He worked as a medical technologist before entering the seminary in 1976. He was ordained a priest in 1981 and is a specialist in canon law.
He serves as the Vatican’s delegate for the special pastoral provision that helps Episcopal and Anglican clergy and laity enter the Catholic Church.
He is a member of both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration and of the conference’s Canonical Affairs Committee.
The bishop is fluent in Spanish and Italian and is learning Vietnamese.
There are 1.3 million Catholics in the Diocese of Orange, making up 41 percent of the diocese’s population of 3.2 million people. The diocese is the 10th largest in the country and is the fastest growing in the U.S.
Through the work of Bishop Brown, the diocese purchased the 3,000-seat Crystal Cathedral, a glass church built by the retired Protestant televangelist Rev. Robert H. Schuller. The diocese bought the church rather than build a new cathedral. It has renamed the church “Christ Cathedral” and has begun renovations to make it a fitting space for Catholic worship.
Vatican City, Dec 11, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
An official for the Vatican's Latin America commission has warned against a “gray pragmatism and mediocrity” that he believes has infiltrated Christianity in America.
Professor Guzman Carriquiry, secretary for the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, made his remarks on Dec. 8, the first day of the International Congress Ecclesial in America taking place at the Vatican's Synod Hall.
During his speech, Carriquiry noted a growing tendency among Americans to live the faith with a lack of enthusiasm, lukewarmness and ignorance.
“How many Christians today have buried their baptism under a cloak of consumerism and indifference,” he said.
“How many devotions are practiced without an authentic encounter with Christ in the sacraments,” he said, lamenting “the abandonment of confession” among local Catholics and “superficiality in participation at Mass.”
Despite this, however, Blessed John Paul II's document “Ecclesia in America” has pointed to “the example of numerous saints, heroes, champions of charity and martyrs,” he added, “in order to remind us of the path we Christians of America today must walk in the Third Millennium.”
Carriquiry underscored that encountering Christ requires a radical renewal of catechesis, “which needs to be presented in all of its grandeur, because there is grave ignorance of our faith, especially in the new generations.”
“We are experiencing this crisis of authentic Catholic formation which can be seen in all Christians but especially in those who have the greatest influence in our society.”
“For this reason,” he said, “we need to completely re-think the Christian formation of the faithful, whether for initiation or re-initiation, in order to achieve a growing and solid formation of mature persons in the faith.”
The fundamental reference for this process, the professor noted, “must be the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which Pope Benedict XVI has put front and center in this Year of Faith.”
“Christian families need more hope in this fundamental service of educating in the faith; especially if one considers the vast network of Catholic schools and universities, whose fruits in evangelization are rather meager, especially if one considers the human investment involved.”
“I think that it is time to profoundly reevaluate the role of Catholic education in Latin America and North America,” he said.
“I hope that this congress will be a providential occasion for a firm and unbreakable affective and effective communion of the churches on the American continent, around the successor of Peter, so that the Church throughout the continent will have a more effective presence in public life,” Carriquiry added.
This unity could help to put an end to the prejudice that exists among some in the United States who see Hispanic immigrants as “invaders” who threaten the American experiment, he said. Hispanics should for their part understand themselves as “a providential contribution to the national life with their productivity, as well as with their sense of the supernatural.”
“The Catholic Church respects the legitimate laws of each country, but she cannot cease to care for immigrants from a human and charitable point of view,” he noted.
“In all of America, the Church only asks and demands the freedom that is rightfully hers. She does not ask for any privilege,” Carriquiry said.
Carriquiry concluded by recalling that half of the world’s Catholics live in America, and therefore “it is impossible to ignore the historic role that belongs to this portion of the People of God today and in the future. That was the dream of Blessed John Paul II and it is the vision of Pope Benedict XVI.”
Montevideo, Uruguay, Dec 11, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Nearly one hundred doctors in Uruguay filed a lawsuit on Dec. 7, arguing that the country's new abortion norms to not allow for conscientious objection.
According to the newspaper El Observador, the doctors state that because they are directly responsible for implementing and administering the regulations, they feel obliged to denounce “several grave illegalities” they contain.
The abortion law took effect on Dec. 3, when it was signed by President Jose Mujica. Fifteen pro-life groups in the country are collecting signatures for a referendum to revoke the measure, as Uruguay's Catholics bishops continue to voice their opposition to it.
The physicians, who belong to the association Doctors for Health and for Life, charge that the norms “seek to limit fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution,” such as “independence in the moral and civic conscience of every dependent worker.”
The conscience clause in the regulations is “restricted to the execution of an abortion and to the personnel that directly participates in such execution.”
“There are other aspects of the Law which health care personnel might object to, and such a right is explicitly excluded from this decree,” the doctors said.
Conscientious objection to performing a abortion by health care workers is also prohibited if the attending doctor determines that it would threaten the woman’s health.
“The life of the mother must always be safeguarded, but the decree arbitrarily defines the concept of 'grave risk to health,' eliminating the word 'grave' and including 'any risk to the bio-psycho-social health of the mother, whether they are grave or not,'” the doctors added.
Uruguay’s abortion law requires that women seeking the procedure receive counseling from a team of health care experts, including information on the choice of adoption, but “these tasks are omitted from the duties that experts that make up the team are supposed to carry out,” the doctors said.
Such restrictions turn the team of experts into a mere “preamble for abortion,” they said.
Vatican City, Dec 11, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The Chinese government has suspended a Catholic bishop who resigned from the government-run Catholic association, leading the Vatican's spokesman to describe the Holy See as deeply concerned.
The controversy comes after the government-run Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church of China – which is not recognized by the Vatican – revoked auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin’s appointment as coadjutor bishop of Shanghai.
Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Vatican's position was “authoritatively expressed” in a recent article by Cardinal Fernando Filoni in Tripod, a quarterly published by the Diocese of Hong Kong's Holy Spirit Study Centre.
The cardinal criticized the segregation and detention of some bishops and priests, saying this happened in the case of Bishop Ma.
Cardinal Filoni said the bishop had declared his intention to “dedicate himself full-time to the pastoral ministry, laying aside offices that, among other things, are not even within the competence of a pastor.”
Bishop Ma was the first bishop to quit the government-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association publicly. He announced his decision at his Vatican-approved ordination July 7.
“With this ordination, I will be devoting my heart and soul to the episcopal ministry and to evangelism. Hence, there are some positions that will be inconvenient for me to hold on to,” the bishop said, according to Xinhua news agency.
“From today's ordination onwards, I will no longer be a member of the CPA.”
Since his announcement, he has been in “retreat” at the Sheshan Regional Seminary in a suburb outside of Shanghai, UCA News reports.
The diocese has suspended him from ministry and from his position parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Tangmuqiao. However, he can still meet with people and update his blog on occasion.
He is reportedly forbidden from making public appearances for the next two years.
The 44-year-old bishop had announced his resignation from the association in front of several state officials before a congregation of about 1,000 people in Shanghai's St. Ignatius Cathedral.
UCA News says the communist government sees Bishop Ma’s ordination as “one of the most serious incidents” in the Catholic Church in China in the three decades since religious activities were again permitted.
Fr. Lombardi said the Vatican has no information “other than what has appeared in the media.”
In his article, Cardinal Filoni – who serves as Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples – stressed the need for religious freedom.
“Control over people and institutions has intensified, and recourse is had more readily to indoctrination sessions and pressure,” the cardinal said.
“In the absence of freedom of religion or in the presence of strong limitations, does it not pertain to the whole Church to defend the legitimate rights of Chinese faithful, and primarily to the Holy See to give voice to those who have none?”
Washington D.C., Dec 11, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Three Mennonite Christians who own a wood manufacturing company in Pennsylvania have filed a lawsuit challenging the federal contraception mandate for threatening their right to religious freedom.
“Being told that we must provide a health plan that includes a provision that violates the Christian beliefs of our family and the Christian values that our company was founded on is deeply troubling,” said Anthony Hahn, president and CEO of Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation.
“Forcing Americans to surrender long-standing, deeply-held principles in order to own and run a business is not merely troubling but unnecessary and unconstitutional,” he added.
Hahn is challenging a federal regulation that requires employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. Conestoga would be required to comply with the mandate when its insurance plan renews on Jan. 1, 2013.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the mandate by religious employers who argue that it forces them to violate their sincerely-held beliefs. The federal government has argued that businesses which are deemed “secular” do not have the constitutional right to freedom of religion.
On Dec. 4, attorneys with Independence Law Center filed a legal challenge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Conestoga’s founder Norman Hahn, and his sons Norman Lemar Hahn and Anthony Hahn, who manage the company.
A family business with some 950 full-time employees throughout the U.S., Conestoga is a manufacturer of wood cabinets, doors and other specialty products.
The Hahns have always sought to “operate Conestoga in a manner that reflects their sincerely held religious beliefs” as Mennonite Christians, the lawsuit says, noting that the company’s mission statement includes a commitment to “the highest ethical, moral, and Christian principles.”
The family believes “that their Mennonite faith prohibits them from separating their religious beliefs from their daily business practice,” the suit stresses.
Given their conviction that “God requires respect for the sanctity of human life,” the Hahns believe “it would be sinful and immoral for them to intentionally participate in, pay for, facilitate, or otherwise support any contraception with an abortifacient effect,” the legal challenge says.
The Hahns currently provide health insurance that does not include drugs such as Plan B and ella, which can kill a newly-conceived human embryo. Coverage of these drugs is required under the mandate.
The family is now asking the court for an injunction to block the enforcement of the mandate. Several other for-profit businesses have secured initial injunctions in similar lawsuits while their cases progress through the court system.
The Independence Law Center noted that Mennonites have faced a long history of religious discrimination and persecution, and many of them were attracted by the promise of religious freedom to settle in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s.
“People of faith should not be punished for making decisions according to the deepest convictions of that faith,” said attorney Charles W. Proctor III in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
“Americans should be free to honor God in the way they see fit whether at work or at home or at church,” added attorney Randall Wenger. “To ask us to do otherwise would show extreme disrespect to our freedom of conscience.”