Vatican City, Jan 2, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The birth of Jesus causes joy because it gives us the certainty that God “works wonders in weakness,” Pope Benedict XVI said Jan. 2.
“The Nativity of the Lord once again illuminates the darkness that often surrounds our world and our hearts with his light, bringing hope and joy,” he said during his weekly general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall.
The pontiff opened and closed his remarks with Pilate's question to Christ at his trial: “Where do you come from?”
Pope Benedict answered that the Gospels show Christ's “true origin” is from God the Father, and that he “comes entirely from him.”
That Christ “by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,” is a mystery “central to our profession of faith,” he stated.
“At this phrase we kneel because the veil which hid God is, so to speak, lifted and his unfathomable and inaccessible mystery touches us directly,” the Pope reflected.
He said that sacred music composed by the “great masters … lingers especially on this phrase, as if to try to express in the universal language of music what words cannot: the great mystery of God who becomes Incarnate, becomes man.”
The Pope mentioned in particular Mozart's Coronation Mass as an example of the beautiful expression of the Incarnation in sacred music.
He also reflected on how the Creed gives particular importance to Mary, the Mother of God.
“Without her, the entry of God into human history would not have come to its end.”
Mary's acceptance of God into her life is an example for us when we are discouraged, he told his listeners. When we feel inadequate, we can look to the humble maid of Nazareth and take heart.
“God chose a humble woman, in an unknown village, in one of the most distant provinces of the great Roman Empire. Always, even in the midst of the most difficult problems to face, we must trust in God, renewing faith in His presence and action in our history, like in that of Mary.”
With God, the Pope affirmed, our lives are built on solid ground and we can be “open to a future of firm hope.”
He said that the Holy Spirit “overshadowing” Mary as she conceived Christ is an image of the creation of the world and of the cloud which led the Israelites through the exodus from Egypt.
The gift of faith given in baptism, Pope Benedict recalled, allows believers to share in Christ's relationship with God the Father.
“Only if we open ourselves to God … our life takes on a new meaning and a new face: that of the children of a Father who loves us and never abandons us.”
Rome, Italy, Jan 2, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
The newly appointed bishop of Lincoln, Neb., James D. Conley, said Americans nationwide can learn much from the Latino community on how to live their faith.
“They bring a strong sense of family, a great love of the Catholic faith, of the sacraments and of the blessed Virgin Mary,” said Bishop Conley.
“Those are all positives and I think we Anglos can benefit from that because it's almost instinctual for Hispanics,” he told CNA shortly after the Dec. 8-12 Ecclesia in America conference in Rome.
“They're the ones having children, working, looking for jobs, finding their place and so we need to be right there with them,” said Bishop Conley, who was installed as the ninth bishop of Lincoln, Neb. on Nov. 20.
He worked with Latinos for the first time in his priesthood when he lived and served as the auxiliary bishop of Denver, where they currently make up 51 percent of the archdiocese.
“I really came to appreciate their contribution to the Church,” he added. “Over half of the world's Catholics live in Hispanic America so the more we work together, the bigger the impact we can have in the world.”
According to Bishop Conley, the growing Hispanic population in the United States “has an impact and we can't be on the sidelines, but bring them into the full life of the Church.”
The 57-year-old prelate also reflected on the positive impact young people are having on the Church in America.
“There is an infectious joy that's really inexplicable and contagious when young people are living their faith and fulfilling their vows, even in the midst of sacrifice and people want that,” he said.
The bishop noted that “young people are tired of what we face, which is a radical relativist world, where no one believes there is truth or that we can embrace it.”
“They know it exists and when they find it in the Catholic Church they embrace it with great enthusiasm,” he added. “I've discovered that when I worked with young people and the world needs their example of faith, commitment and joy.”
Bishop Conley recalled how he converted to Catholicism when he was a student at the University of Kansas.
“As a convert I've always had a great enthusiasm for teaching and preaching the Catholic faith,” said the bishop, a Missouri native who was raised in a Presbyterian family.
He observed how Pope Benedict's Year of Faith – which opened in October and marks the 50th anniversary of Vatican II – coincides with his new appointment as bishop of Lincoln.
It's a “great and providential thing,” he said. “I'm excited about bringing faith, not only to people who're already Catholic and fallen away from the sacraments, but also to those that have never heard of the Gospel.”
“I'm also looking forward to utilizing the graces of this year of faith to bring the message of hope and truth and the good news to Southern Nebraska, which is already pretty strong in the Catholic faith.”
Bishop Conley said he feels blessed to be the bishop of Lincoln because “faith and family life is very strong" there. “Not only do we have a high number of priests, but they're really good, hard working and holy priests.”
There are currently 153 priests in Lincoln, with an average age of 48, and 44 seminarians. And the bishop believes the city, which has a population of about 260,000, has the highest percentage of seminarians per Catholic in the United States.
Bishop Conley, who will ordain three new priests and six new deacons in May, is hoping this year of faith “will bring about a lot of fruit” by building upon strong family life, strong Catholic identity and strong priests.
Washington D.C., Jan 2, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby says it is willing to pay fines of $1.3 million per day to follow its owners’ religious beliefs, which conflict with the federal mandate that requires coverage of abortion-inducing drugs.
“The company will continue to provide health insurance to all qualified employees,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing Hobby Lobby in the case.
“To remain true to their faith, it is not their intention, as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs,” he explained.
Hobby Lobby’s founder and CEO, David Green, has said that his family – which has owned the company since its 1972 founding – will continue seeking to serve God through their business decisions.
In addition to making significant charitable donations, the company closes all of its stores on Sundays so that its employees can have time to worship and rest with their families.
However, the Greens’ ability to run their company in accordance with their religious beliefs is being threatened by the contraception mandate, which was finalized by the Department of Health and Human Services in Jan. 2012.
The mandate requires employers, regardless of their religious convictions, to provide health insurance plans that cover sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that can cause early abortions. As Christians, the Greens are opposed to facilitating any type of abortion, including those caused by “morning after” and “week after” pills.
Hobby Lobby is one of more than 100 plaintiffs that have sued over the mandate, arguing that it violates the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections.
The federal government has argued that the owners of “secular, for-profit” companies cannot exercise freedom of religion in their business decisions.
Both a district court and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Hobby Lobby’s request for an injunction to block the mandate from taking effect while the lawsuit works its way through the court system.
The company then made an emergency injunction appeal to the Supreme Court.
On Dec. 26, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor – who is responsible for hearing emergency requests from the 10th Circuit – denied the appeal, saying that the case did not meet the extreme standard necessary for the nation’s highest court to intervene.
The Greens can now continue their appeal before the federal appellate court. However, because they were not granted an injunction, they are subject to fines of more than $1 million per day – beginning Jan. 1 – so that they can follow their consciences while their case is being considered.
Duncan emphasized that the case is not over.
“The Supreme Court merely decided not to get involved in the case at this time,” he said. “It left open the possibility of review after their appeal is completed in the Tenth Circuit.”
Vatican City, Jan 2, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has named Boston priest Father Robert W. Oliver as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s promoter of justice, the “chief prosecutor” at the office responsible for promoting and safeguarding Catholic doctrine and morals.
“It is with deep humility and gratitude that I received the news that the Holy Father is entrusting me with this service to the Church,” Fr. Oliver said Dec. 22. “Receiving this assignment during the Year of Faith is inspirational and it is challenging.”
Fr. Oliver has served the Archdiocese of Boston as Assistant to the Moderator of the Curia for Canonical Affairs. He is a visiting professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
In his new position he will investigate serious violations of Church law, including desecration of the Blessed Sacrament, violations of the seal of confession and the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.
Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston said Fr. Oliver is a “distinguished” canon lawyer, describing him as “a gifted priest who has served the archdiocese with distinction.”
“We assure him of our prayers and our support for this important ministry,” he said Dec. 22.
Bishop-designate Robert P. Deeley, the archdiocese’s vicar general and moderator of the curia, said Fr. Oliver will serve “faithfully and effectively.”
He said the priest has been an “important voice” in the decisions of the archdiocese and of the Catholic Church in the U.S.
Since 2002, Fr. Oliver has served as assistant for canonical affairs for the archdiocese’s vicar general, as judge and promoter of justice in tribunals and as a consultant for the Boston archdiocese’s review board on sex abuse cases.
He helped train diocesan officials across America to implement the U.S. bishops’ 2003 reforms crafted in response to sexual abuse by clergy, the Boston Globe reports. The Boston archdiocese itself was thrown into crisis in 2002 by sex abuse scandals which led to the resignation of then-Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law.
Fr. Oliver is a member of the Brotherhood of Hope, a small Boston-based Catholic association of the faithful involved in campus ministry work. He was born in New York City on April 7, 1960 and raised on Long Island. His late father, Robert W. Oliver, served as a justice on the New York State Supreme Court.
He attended the Catholic University of America, the Pontifical Gregorian University, and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
He was ordained to the priesthood in Boston’s Holy Cross Cathedral in May 2000.
Fr. Oliver said he “humbly” asks for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in assisting Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prefect Archbishop Gerhard Muller. The Vatican congregation was headed by the Pope before his election to the papacy in 2005.
The American priest succeeds Monsignor Charles Scicluna, whom Pope Benedict recently named auxiliary bishop of Malta.
Bishop-designate Deeley said Fr. Oliver’s “experience, intelligence, understanding, compassion and respect for all of God’s people” have prepared him well for the congregation’s “important ministry of justice.”
“Fr. Oliver's talents and good counsel will be missed here in Boston but we are comforted in knowing that his presence will be felt across the universal Church,” the bishop-designate said Dec. 22.
Tehran, Iran, Jan 2, 2013 (CNA) - A Christian pastor who spent nearly three years in an Iranian prison for his religious conversion was reportedly arrested again on Christmas Day, contrary to a previous agreement.
“Iran has historically cracked down on the Christian community over the Christmas season; this year was no exception,” said Tiffany Barrans, international legal director at the American Center for Law and Justice, which has been monitoring the case of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani.
Barrans told CNA on Jan. 2 that through the timing of the arrest, “the barbaric regime wanted to send a strong message that no Christian is beyond reach of its persecution.”
Nadarkhani was initially arrested in 2009 after complaining to local authorities about his son being forced to read the Quran at school.
As a convert, the 35-year-old pastor was found guilty of abandoning Islam, the faith of his ancestors, and ordered to recant or face execution. However, he refused to renounce his Christian beliefs, despite numerous threats.
In Feb. 2012, reports of an execution order for the pastor arose. The American Center for Law and Justice worked to keep international attention on Nadarkhani’s plight, leading to pressure from the United Nations and Brazil, one of Iran’s key economic partners.
After months of international attention, Nadarkhani was acquitted in September of the apostasy charge and allowed to return to his family. The court preserved his three-year sentence for “evangelizing to Muslims” but said that since he had already spent nearly three years in jail, he could serve the remaining time – about 45 days – on probation rather than in prison.
However, Iranian sources reported that the pastor was rearrested and taken into custody on Christmas Day to serve out the remainder of his sentence.
Barrans is hopeful that Nadarkhani will be released from prison when his sentence is over. However, she warned that “(g)oing back on its word is nothing new to the Iranian regime.”
She noted that the Nadarkhani’s attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, was thrown into prison shortly after the pastor’s release, leaving him very little legal recourse if the regime fails to free him after his sentence is completed.
Iran has already violated the terms of the pastor’s initial release by throwing him back in prison, she explained, and this is a great cause of concern.
Barrans also voiced apprehension over the recent arrest of Iranian-born U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini, another pastor who has been imprisoned because of his faith.
A 32-year-old pastor, Abedini helped start house churches after converting from Islam to Christianity, she explained.
However, in 2009, he came to an agreement with the Iranian government that allowed him to travel freely in and out of the country as long as he stopped working with these underground churches.
In keeping with this agreement, Abedini turned his focus toward humanitarian efforts with non-religious orphanages in the country, she said. But during a trip to work with these orphanages and visit his family, he was imprisoned and has been held illegally since September.
Abedini’s family in Iran is under house arrest, while his wife and children are in the United States, calling for his release.
Barrans called for prayers as the American Center for Law and Justice works to secure the safe release of both men.
“We will continue to engage with various world leaders to ensure that Iran be held responsible for its violations of fundamental religious freedoms,” she said.