Denver, Colo., Dec 19, 2012 (CNA) -
As the nation mourns the loss of life in the Newtown, Conn. shooting, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver is saying that goodness and respect for human dignity are the best responses to evil.
“We're most often the victims of evil when we become objects — used for someone's else's purposes — instead of treated with the inherent dignity that comes just from being a person,” the archbishop wrote in a Dec. 18 opinion column for the Denver Post.
“Evil is not defeated by policy. Protracted policy discussions on gun control and school safety are necessary and will be forthcoming, but they will not solve the problem,” he said.
“Goodness — sheer and unabashed goodness — protects and promotes human dignity. Evil is defeated by love and love alone,” he insisted.
Archbishop Aquila’s penned his column in response to the evil experienced last week when a gunman killed 20 children, six adults and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The experience, the archbishop said, reminds us that “evil is real,” and that there are moral absolutes.
“In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary murders, all of us can look with certitude and declare that evil exists.”
He also pointed out that evil is a perennial problem in the human condition, noting that Homer's works of nearly 3,000 years ago also grapple with the problem.
Archbishop Aquila reminded his readers that beside the shocking acts of objectification of people such as Sandy Hook, there are also daily instances of injustice and objectification that have deep effects on society.
He mentioned undocumented immigrants who are made objects of xenophobia, poor people who suffer from the greed of others, and children who are made objects of “convenience, or neglect, or rage.”
“And,” he warned, “we can easily get in the habit of using people, rather than treating them with the inherent dignity God bestows on every human being.”
The archbishop upheld the Jewish concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl as someone who discovered that love is the answer to the problem of evil.
In keeping with the responding to evil with love, Archbishop Aquila encouraged the celebration of Christmas, because love is “encapsulated” in Christmas' “message and truth.”
“Many will not be in the mood for Christmas this year, but there has never been a time when we need that message more.”
Washington D.C., Dec 19, 2012 (CNA) -
More than 80 percent of people around the world – about 5.8 billion individuals – identify with a religious group, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center.
“Christians number 2.2 billion, or about one-in-three” of the 6.9 billion people in the world in 2010, the study found, adding that about “half of all Christians are Catholic.”
Released Dec. 18, the study examined censuses, surveys and population registers to determine the size, geographical distribution and age of the world’s major religions.
As of 2012, the world contained about 1.6 billion Muslims, 1 billion Hindus, almost 500 million Buddhists and 14 million Jews, the analysis said.
Furthermore, over 400 million people, or six percent of the global population, adhere to folk or religious traditions. Less than one percent – about 58 million people – belong to other religions, including Jainism, Sikhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Wicca and the Baha’i faith.
In addition, the study revealed that approximately one-in-six people throughout the world have no religious affiliation. Numbering about 1.1 billion, this group is the third largest globally, behind Christians and Muslims.
“However, many of the religiously unaffiliated have some religious beliefs,” the study said, including a belief in God or participation in religious observances.
In six countries – the Czech Republic, North Korea, Estonia, Japan, Hong Kong and China – the religiously unaffiliated make up the majority of the population. China is home to 62 percent of the world’s religiously unaffiliated people.
Overall, the unaffiliated are about equal in number to the Catholic population of the world.
“Overwhelmingly, Hindus and Christians tend to live in countries where they are in the majority,” the study noted, adding that Muslims and the religiously unaffiliated also live in countries in which they are the predominant group, but by a smaller margin.
Out of 232 countries and territories in the study, 157 have Christian majorities, the analysis explained.
“Christianity has spread far from its historical origins and is geographically widespread,” it found, observing that 99 percent of Christians live outside the region where the religion started.
About 37 percent of Christians are members of Protestant, Anglican, independent or nondenominational churches, while 12 percent are Orthodox.
Other traditions that view themselves as Christian – such as Mormons, Christian Scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses – make up about one percent of the Christian population.
As a whole, Christians have a median age of 30, slightly higher than the overall global population median of 28.
In addition, the analysis revealed that Christianity has roughly equal numbers in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa.
“Of the major religious groups covered in this study, Christians are the most evenly dispersed,” it said.
Dublin, Ireland, Dec 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pro-life leaders in Ireland have warned that the Fine Gael-run government’s introduction of legislation to legalize abortion will have consequences for the party at the next election.
Rebecca Roughneen, a spokeswoman for Youth Defence, said Dec. 18 that her organization will make sure the Irish public does not forget that Prime Minster Enda Kenny and his party “broke the pro-life promise” they made before the 2011 election.
“The pro-life majority in Ireland will not tolerate this, and Youth Defence will make sure that every Fine Gael voter in the country is made aware of the party’s political cowardice,” she said. “They are bowing to the demands of the Labour Party and other pro-abortion advocates like Clare Daly, as opposed to their voters.”
Niamh Ui Bhriain, spokeswoman for the Life Institute, also reminded the prime minister of his commitment.
“If they break that promise then the pro-life movement will make every person in Ireland aware of what every Fine Gael (legislator) did in relation to abortion,” she said. “In that case, we would make sure that every Irish person knows that a vote for Fine Gael is now a vote for abortion.”
“This issue is the human rights issue of our time, and the lives of mothers and babies cannot be sacrificed to political opportunism,” she said.
On Dec. 18 the Irish government announced that it will introduce legislation on abortion that will legalize abortion in cases where the mother’s life is at risk.
The proposal is meant to bring the country’s laws in line with a December 2010 ruling from the European Court of Human Rights that said Ireland needed to clarify the legal status of abortion, in line with a 1992 Irish Supreme Court decision held that abortion must permissible to save the life of a pregnant woman, including when she threatens suicide.
Pro-life advocates fear that allowing abortion in cases of a suicide threat would in practice allow abortion on demand.
Ui Bhriain said two thirds of the Irish people want the risk of suicide excluded as grounds for abortion.
“The people understand that if the threat of suicide is included in any legislation it will introduce, for the first time, the direct and intentional killing of unborn children into Irish law,” she said.
The Irish government’s action follows the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman who was admitted to a Galway hospital while miscarrying. She reportedly asked for an abortion and later died of a severe infection.
Her death is still being investigated, but abortion advocates seized on her case to claim legal abortion would have saved her life and to push for changes to the country’s laws.
Ui Bhriain said Fine Gael knows Halappanavar’s “tragic death” had “nothing to do with Ireland’s ban on abortion.”
“Yet they are seizing this opportunity caused by public confusion to stream-roller the country into accepting abortion legislation.”
The four Catholic archbishops of Ireland issued a Dec. 18 statement saying the government’s decision to legislate on abortion should be “of the utmost concern of all.”
They said any abortion legislation would fundamentally change the “careful balance” between the right to life of a pregnant mother and of her unborn child in Irish law and medical practice.
According to the archbishops, the lawmakers will now face the question of whether they will “defend and vindicate the equal right to life of a mother and the child in her womb” or instead “choose to license the direct and intentional killing of the innocent baby in the womb.”
The archbishops called for prayers that “wisdom and courage” be given to the public representatives.
Vatican City, Dec 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI continued his series of reflections on faith this Wednesday, saying that at times it includes an element of darkness.
"We encounter moments where God seems absent, his silence weighs on our hearts and his will doesn't correspond to our own as we would like it to," the Pope told pilgrims on Dec. 19.
"But the more we open ourselves to God, we receive the gift of faith and put our trust in him completely, the more he empowers us with his presence to live every situation in peace assured by his loyalty and love," he said during his weekly general audience.
He emphasized that this happens after opening one's soul to God through faith, just as Abraham did after he was asked to sacrifice his son and as Mary did when she had to watch her son be crucified.
Pope Benedict also reflected on Mary's faith and the mystery of the Annunciation during his address in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
"The Virgin Mary has a special place as one that uniquely waited for the fulfillment of the promises of God in faith, accepting Jesus in the flesh in full obedience to the divine will," he affirmed.
When the Bible recounts Mary’s meeting with the Archangel Gabriel, she is called "full of grace," a word that also means rejoice in Greek.
This joy "arises from her communion with God, ... from being the dwelling of the Holy Spirit,” he explained.
According to the Pope, the word "hail" that Gabriel greeted Mary with is present four times in the Greek version of the Old Testament.
"The angel's invitation to Mary is an invitation to a deep joy and announces the end of the sadness that is in the world caused by suffering, death and the darkness of evil, which seems to obscure the light of the divine goodness," he said.
"It's a greeting that marks the beginning of the Gospel and of the Good News," he added.
Benedict XVI then reflected on the angel's words "the Lord is with you," which he described as a double promise made to Israel, the daughter of Zion, that God will come as a savior and will also dwell in the midst of his people.
It is a promise mentioned in the book of Zephaniah, which says "sing aloud, oh daughter of Zion, … the King of Israel, the Lord is in the midst of you," and then again in Luke's narration of the Annunciation.
The pontiff stated that in the dialogue between Gabriel and Mary, she represents the covenant of God with the people and is also the daughter of Zion in person.
St. Luke’s recounting of the story also parallels the trial of Abraham’s faith.
"As a father of believers,” he explained, “who responded to God's call to leave the land in which he lived and his safety to begin the journey to an unknown land, possessing only the divine promise, so too does Mary rely on full trust of the messenger of God's words and becomes a model and mother of all believers."
The Holy Father also recalled when Jesus was lost for three days in the temple and told his mother he was in his father's house.
"The ‘yes’ of Mary to the will of God, the obedience of faith, is repeated throughout his life until the most difficult moment, that of the Cross," the Pope underscored.
"Faith tells us that the defenseless power of the child wins in the end against the noise of the powers of the world," after asking people to live in humility and obedience of faith.
Pope Benedict ended the audience by greeting pilgrims in several languages and offered a "special greeting to the young, the sick and newlyweds."
Washington D.C., Dec 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Catholic leaders in the Philippines vowed to continue fighting for life, marriage and family as a controversial “reproductive health” bill passed both houses of Congress in the country.
“If the President will sign this into law, he will give us a moral time bomb wrapped as a gift to celebrate Christmas,” warned Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen Dagupan.
In a Dec. 18 statement, the archbishop cautioned that although the bill won the support of majorities in the legislature, this “does not mean that they are right.”
“It is only a matter of time and then we will see more violations of ‘Thou shall not kill’ and ‘Thou shall not commit adultery’ among our families, our youth and children,” he said.
Archbishop Villegas called for efforts to strengthen families and marriages, to educate couples about Church teaching on natural family planning and to educate the young “so that they can stand strong against the threats to their moral fiber.”
“Let us conduct our own sex education of our children insuring that sex is always understood as a gift of God,” he said. “Sex must never be taught separate from God and isolated from marriage.”
On Dec. 17, both Filipino houses of Congress voted to pass the controversial “reproductive health” bill on its third and final reading. The House of Representatives approved the legislation by a vote of 133-79 with seven abstentions, while the Senate passed it by a 13-8 vote with two abstentions.
A bicameral committee will now reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill before it goes to President Benigno Aquino to be signed into law.
The lengthy process surrounding the debate over the bill has been highly controversial and included accusations of corruption, bribery and threats to obtain the necessary votes.
The legislation would require government-sanctioned sex education for adults, middle school and high school children, as well as a population control program that includes fully subsidized contraceptives under government health insurance.
Catholic clergy in the country have vocally opposed the bill and helped temporarily stall its progress, informing voters about the stances of different politicians on the issue.
Opponents of the bill warned that it would contribute to a breakdown of the family and an increase in a contraceptive mentality and sexual immorality. They also voiced concerns over the health risks posed by artificial birth control and the potential of some contraceptives to cause early abortions.
Currently, abortion is illegal in the country, while contraception is available but not funded by the government.
Officials from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines said they would support efforts by a group of Catholic lawyers to challenge the bill before the nation’s Supreme Court.
They observed that the nation’s constitution charges the government to protect marriage and family, adding that the bill’s coercive nature amounts to a violation of religious freedom.
In addition, Catholic leaders renewed their commitment to spreading Church teaching on marriage and family, as well as the dangers posed by contraception.
“The battle is not over,” said Father Shenan J. Boquet, president of Human Life International.
In a Dec. 17 statement, he decried the passage of the “destructive bill” as “terrible news for the Philippines and for the world.”
He warned that wealthy Westerners are using their money “to exploit the famously corrupt political environment of the last pro-life and pro-family nation in Asia.”
Fr. Boquet noted that widespread adoption of contraception within the United States quickly led to calls for fully legalized abortion, increased attacks on the faith and “the confusion and departure of many of the faithful.”
The Church cannot accept “false compromises,” he stressed, explaining that the Church in the Philippines must “redouble her efforts” to continue the fight in the courts and the public square.
“Prayer and fasting remain the greatest weapons in our arsenal,” he added, emphasizing the importance of both as “the battle enters this new stage.”
Vatican City, Dec 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict XVI on Dec. 19 accepted the resignation of Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, and called the Chaldean bishops to Rome for a synod to elect his successor.
Cardinal Delly, the Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, was elected the Chaldean patriarch on Dec. 3, 2003. Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal in November 2007. The 85-year-old resigned for age and health reasons, the Italian newspaper La Stampa reports.
The Chaldean bishops oversee a Church of more than 1.5 million members in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Australia, Canada, the U.S. and Europe. Chaldeans are the most numerous Christian group in Iraq, with eight dioceses, 100 parishes, and about 500,000 faithful, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association says.
However, Iraqi Chaldean numbers have fallen drastically since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Patriarch Emmanuel, whose see is based in Baghdad, led Chaldean Catholics at a time when Iraqi Christians suffered from bombings, kidnappings and murders due to a lack of security. Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho and three companions were abducted in February 2008 and subsequently murdered.
Pope Benedict in 2007 said his choice of Patriarch Emmanuel as a cardinal showed his “spiritual closeness and affection” for Iraq’s Christians, Vatican Radio says.
The Chaldean bishops' synod will take place Jan. 28, 2013 under the leadership of Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches.
On Dec. 14 Cardinal Sandri presided at the Mass that consecrated the restored Syro-Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baghdad. The cathedral was the site of a deadly terrorist attack on October 31, 2010 that killed two priests and 50 other faithful.
He praised the “honorable sacrifices” that allowed the cathedral to reopen and said that God “encourages Eastern Christians, and especially those of Iraq, to communion and testimony.”
Pope Benedict has appointed Archbishop Jacques Ishaq as administrator of the Chaldean Church until the next patriarch is elected.
The Chaldean Catholic Church has been in unbroken communion with the Roman Catholic Church since the early 19th century. It uses Syriac as a liturgical language.
The Chaldean Catholic Church has two U.S. dioceses: the Southfield, Mich.-based Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of the Chaldeans, headed by Bishop Ibrahim Ibrahim; and the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle of the Chaldeans in San Diego, headed by Bishop Sarhad Jammo.
Washington D.C., Dec 19, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Religious freedom advocates applauded a federal appeals court’s decision to hold the government accountable for revising its controversial contraception mandate.
Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, called the decision “a win not just for Belmont Abbey and Wheaton, but for all religious non-profits challenging the mandate.”
“The D.C. Circuit has now made it clear that government promises and press conferences are not enough to protect religious freedom,” he said in a Tuesday statement responding to the ruling.
On Dec. 18, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said that it will hold the government responsible for following through on its promises to issue a proposed revision of the federal contraception mandate for objecting religious organizations by March 2013.
The mandate requires employers to offer health insurance plans that cover sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that may cause early abortions. Exemptions to the mandate were only granted to a small number of religious employers that meet the government’s requirements of existing to teach religious values and primarily hiring and serving members of their own faith.
After a wave of protest from non-exempt individuals and organizations, the government announced a one-year “safe harbor” to delay the enforcement of the mandate against objecting non-profit religious groups. It said that it would create an “accommodation” for their religious freedom during this time.
However, critics have said that the early suggestions put forth by the Obama administration are inadequate. And while the plan for an accommodation was announced in February, the government has not yet issued its formal proposal with the details of the new rule, and its promise to create one was not legally binding.
More than 40 lawsuits have been filed against the mandate, drawing split rulings from district courts. Among for-profit businesses that are not protected by the safe harbor period, four out of six have been granted a preliminary injunction blocking the mandate from being enforced against them.
Several lawsuits filed by religious non-profit groups – including Belmont Abbey and Wheaton Colleges – were dismissed by district courts as premature because of the government’s promise to amend the mandate.
However, a federal judge in New York determined on Dec. 6 that a case by the local archdiocese was mature despite the government’s promise, noting, “There is no ‘Trust us changes are coming’ clause in the Constitution.”
In making its Dec. 18 decision, the appeals court observed that the government had said during oral arguments that it would “never” enforce the mandate in its current form against morally objecting religious institutions.
“There will, the government said, be a different rule for entities like the appellants,” the court noted, “and we take that as a binding commitment.”
The judges also pointed to the government’s statement that it would issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the new rule by the end of March 2013 and would publish the Final Rule before August 2013.
“We take the government at its word and will hold it to it,” they said, ordering the Obama administration to report back every 60 days on the progress of the accommodation. The colleges’ lawsuit will be postponed during this time.
The ruling was hailed by supporters of religious freedom around the country.
Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor for The Catholic Association, applauded the court for fighting the “disinformation” surrounding the mandate and showing the serious threat to religious freedom facing religious employers.
Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life and a graduate of Wheaton College, called the decision “a first step toward halting the anti-life coercion in the healthcare law.”
Duncan, who argued the case before the appeals court, explained that the decision offers hope to all of the religious plaintiffs throughout the country.
“The court is not going to let the government slide by on non-binding promises to fix the problem down the road,” he said.