Washington D.C., Jan 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Religious leaders in America are being called upon by a U.S. congressman to advocate for those across the globe who are oppressed for their faith.
“We in the West must speak out on behalf of the persecuted church around the world,” said Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) in a Jan. 9 letter to nearly 300 Protestant and Catholic leaders.
“If the faith community in the West isn’t engaged, are we surprised when government leaders turn a blind eye to matters of religious freedom?” he asked.
A long-time advocate of religious liberty, Wolf authored the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 and currently co-chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
In his recent letter, he said that he plans to reintroduce a bill in the new Congress to create a special envoy in the State Department to advocate on behalf of persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia.
While such legislation passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support over a year and a half ago, it stalled in the Senate due to opposition from the State Department and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair John Kerry, who refused to hold a hearing on the legislation, he said.
While he acknowledged that a special envoy will not “single-handedly solve the problem,” Wolf stressed that it would be very helpful to have a high-level official focusing exclusively on religious minorities.
“Furthermore, to do nothing is simply not an option,” he said.
Calling American religious leaders to action, the congressman decried the “fear of persecution and outright violence or even death” that overshadows the Christmas season for believers in much of the world.
“Every day, around the world, men and women of faith are imprisoned, beaten, detained, tortured and even killed,” he said.
While the faithful have always faced oppression, he explained, there is currently “a historic exodus of Christians from the Middle East” underway, while “the silence of many in the West is deafening.”
Wolf observed that the “once vibrant communities” of Jews in the region have been severely depleted. While Iraq was once home to some 150,000 Jews, today there are fewer than 10, he said.
Christianity may face a similar fate, he warned, as entire communities are fleeing from Egypt, Iraq and other countries in the region, drastically reducing their numbers in some areas.
This exodus is particularly troubling, the congressman said, because “(t)he Middle East is the very cradle of Christendom,” a part of the history relayed in Scripture.
However, the oppression of believers is not limited to the Middle East, he explained, noting that “Christians are targeted throughout the world in countries like China, Vietnam and Pakistan.”
Arguing that the silence of good people is what allows atrocities such as the Holocaust to occur, Wolf called on religious leaders in the West to speak up for their persecuted brothers and sisters, overcoming indifference, lack of awareness and pressure to be politically correct.
He encouraged the religious leaders, working within their own spheres of influence, to “raise the profile of this issue” through sermons, writings or media interviews.
“The Church globally is under assault,” he stressed, and the proper response is not simply “drowning out the cries for help from our brothers and sisters.”
Cleveland, Ohio, Jan 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
In a recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Doris Donnelly drew attention to the clerical hero of “Les Miserables;” a character she says has been significantly “pared down” in the musical and film versions.
Although the pious Bishop Bienvenue is central to the plot of Victor Hugo's “Les Miserables” – which has recently been adapted into an Academy-Award nominated musical – his role is minimized outside the 19th century novel.
Dr. Donnelly, a theology professor and head of the Cardinal Suenens Center at John Carroll University in Cleveland, said she decided to write the piece for the Wall Street Journal because “obviously there would be no story without the bishop.”
“It’s just so beautiful, no matter who reads it, you don’t have to be a Catholic to read it, it’s stunning,” she told CNA Jan. 8.
In her article, she described how even though Hugo was anticlerical, he chose to use the character of the bishop as a “catalyst” for Jean Valjean’s epic conversion story. At the same time, he expected corrupt priests of his day “to be shamed and indicted by comparison with a good one.”
Valjean, or Prisoner 24601 as he was known during his nearly 20 years of imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread to save his starving relatives, emerges as “a very mean, angry, dejected, depressed man.”
Unable to find work because of his mark as an ex-convict, Valjean struggles to survive until he is directed to seek refuge from Bishop Bienvenue who was known by his flock to be a particularly benevolent and holy man.
The bishop heartily welcomes Valjean as an honored guest in his home. Valjean is touched, but still desperate, and steals the silver place-settings from his host’s house.
When he is soon brought back by the police, the bishop denies that the pieces were stolen saying that they were, in fact, a gift.
In addition to letting Valjean keep the silver and protecting him from the police, Bishop Bienvenue “buys” the ex-convicts soul for God with two silver candlesticks, telling him to use the treasure to begin a virtuous new life.
Although the event “is a tiny part of the movie,” it shows Bishop Bienvenue’s “intimate connection with Christ.”
As a theologian, Dr. Donnelly said she found this scene interesting since God is the only one who can ransom souls. This act shows that in his role as bishop, the cleric is “so confident and so comfortable” acting as a mediator of Christ for Valjean.
“Once you know the story, you can connect it with the movie,” she said.
Due to this confidence in Christ, she said the bishop and Sister Simplice – a character who is not clearly defined in the recent musical – are able to lie in order to spare Valjean’s life.
Similar to how the bishop tells the police that Valjean did not steal the silver, Sister Simplice tells antagonist Javert, who is tracking Valjean for violating his parole, that she does not know where he is even thought he is hiding in her convent.
This event illustrates God’s mercy because technically, the cleric and the nun tell lies, but do so for the purpose of saving a human life, Donnelly said – something that Javert could never understand.
“He has no flexibility whatsoever and that’s what drives him mad,” she said. “He’s just a law and order person and doesn’t get it.”
Because of the depth of the novel, many details are unable to be included in the modern adaptation which is why Donnelly said that the original, unabridged version of the novel is “worth reading.”
Springfield, Ill., Jan 11, 2013 (CNA) -
A priest of the Diocese of Springfield is on leave after he dialed 911 asking for help getting out of handcuffs – a call that has been replayed across the internet.
Diocesan spokeswoman Kathie Sass told CNA Jan. 10 that Father Tom Donovan, pastor of St. Aloysius Church in Springfield, approached Bishop Thomas Paprocki about the incident prior to Christmas and before it attracted media attention.
Sass said the priest “asked for help and was granted leave to deal with personal issues.” She added that he is “away from the parish.”
Sass told CNA that the police gave assistance to the priest. The police report indicated that there was no crime, she said.
Although the incident took place in November, it first drew widespread media attention in early January. A recorded audio file of the priest’s 911 call published on the Illinois Times website has been played over 95,000 times.
In the phone call, which the priest made from the church early on the morning of Nov. 28, he tells the 911 dispatcher he is stuck in a pair of handcuffs and is the only one in his church. He said he feared a medical emergency if he was not helped.
Police said the priest was wearing an orange jumpsuit and a mask with a gag in his mouth, the St. Louis NBC affiliate KSDK reports.
“It's hard to see something happen to one of our priests and we continue as a diocese, especially the parishes where Father Donovan worked, continue to offer our prayers for his well being,” Sass told KSDK.
Madrid, Spain, Jan 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Spanish athlete Ivan Fernandez Anaya made news when he allowed another runner who was leading a race to finish first, despite the other runner's huge blunder that should have cost him the win.
In comments to CNA on Jan. 10, Anaya recounted what happened on Dec. 2 during the Burlada Cross race in the city of Navarra.
Anaya was trailing Kenyan runner Abel Mutai, an Olympic medalist in the 2012 London games, as they were nearing the finish line.
Mutai was leading the race and thought he had reached the finish line when he stopped running.
Unable to speak Spanish, he did not understand as spectators tried to tell him he was still a few meters short. Fernandez caught up to him and instead of taking advantage of the situation to win, he encouraged the African to continue running and cross the finish line.
“With 150 meters left to go, he was ahead of me by 20 meters and just before entering into the home stretch, I saw Abel Mutai stop before the finish line and I was a little bit surprised, because I didn’t know if he was aware that he had not crossed it and that he still had 50 meters to go,” the 24-year-old Spanish runner said.
He said Mutai “looked back and saw the people telling him to keep going, but since he doesn’t speak Spanish he didn’t realize it. So I came up from behind and pushed him to go towards the finish.”
Asked if they spoke after the race, Fernandez said, “We talked a little bit but we didn’t understand each other much. He thanked me for allowing him to win.”
“We train above all to do the best we can, we train hard, and I want to remember that above winning and above everything else is the personality of each person and sportsmanship with our fellow athletes.”
“On this occasion I let myself win because my heart told me that he was the winner of the race,” Fernandez explained.
He told CNA that he does not practice his faith but he does live by the values he received from his family. “I come from a very structured family and I have had the fortune to have my parents and neither of them has failed me,” he said.
Fernandez maintains a friendly and grateful relationship with his fans. On his blog he recounts his athletic experiences and shares his thoughts “with an open heart.” When he told the story of the race he said, “What has made today a special day is to have shared it with you.”
The multi-national champion runner has represented Spain in numerous world cross-country and long distance races.
Rome, Italy, Jan 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
One of the closest collaborators of Blessed John Paul II, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, recounted in Rome a little-known story about the late pontiff's vocation to the priesthood.
Cardinal Re served at the Vatican Secretary of State and later prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
On Jan. 9 at the Conciliaziones Auditorium – during the presentation of the recital “The Pope and the Poet,” inspired by the life of Karol Wojtyla – he recalled an unpublished episode from the life of the late pontiff.
The cardinal told reporters that in 1939, young Karol Wojtyla had to quit college and work at a quarry to support himself and keep from being deported to Germany.
“There he worked with a miner who set explosives in the mines, and one day the miner told him, 'I think you would make a great priest.'”
“John Paul II told us that until that moment he had never thought of being a priest. He said, that man who I worked with already saw me as a priest,” Cardinal Re said.
During his presentation, Cardinal Re spoke about the young Wojtyla as a philosopher, theologian and mystic, but especially about his facet as a poet and actor.
“Poetry is an interesting element that had an impact later on his ministry as Pope: many themes are reflected in this exercise of poetic art and it helped him in his ability to reach people, to speak to the masses, to hold peoples’ attention,” he added.
Cardinal Re explained that what stands out in Wojtyla’s poetry is the defense of human rights, life and the dignity of man and woman, and solidarity within the universal human family.
“His poems were always an exaltation of man and elevated the soul to God,” he added.
On the possible canonization of Pope Johan Paul II, Cardinal Re said many miracles have been attributed to him and that the late pontiff could soon be made a saint.
“Although it’s the doctor who decides if a miracle has occurred – which is the supreme requirement for canonizing a saint,” he said.
The recital “The Pope and the Poet” mixes music, dance, poetry and theater, and is a response to the invitation by Pope Benedict XVI to bring the contents of the faith into today’s culture, in the framework of the Year of Faith.
Vatican City, Jan 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Benedict's mass of 2.5 million followers in eight languages during his first month on Twitter has one Vatican priest calling the pontiff's online presence “a new frontier” of evangelization.
Father Paolo Padrini, a collaborator of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, said it is good that the Pope has so many followers, but it even more important that the Pope “seeks to co-exist and share on Twitter.”
“Being present in social media is evangelizing, if just for the fact that he is present with his words,” he told CNA Jan. 11.
“It’s a great joy to see the Pope’s words being disseminated, a joy that is held by all believers.”
Twitter is a social media service that allows users to send out 140-character messages, called “tweets,” to other users who follow their accounts. Followers and others may then share these tweets with their own followers with a “re-tweet.”
The Pope’s first tweet on his personal account went out on Dec. 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Over 64,000 people retweeted his introductory message on his English-language account “Pontifex,” while over 33,000 did so for his Spanish-language account “Pontifex_es.”
As of Jan. 11, he has sent out only 21 tweets. He has shared his favorite memory of Christmas, asked for prayers for an end to the Syria conflict and exhorted others to look to Jesus Christ.
“Following Christ's example, we have to learn to give ourselves completely,” the Pope said on Twitter Jan. 9. “Anything else is not enough.”
Anyone on Twitter may interact with any other user. Those who have replied to the Pope range from the devout, the appreciative and the inquisitive to the flippant, irreverent and even obscene.
The Pope’s followers are numerous indeed. His English-language account has over 1.4 million subscribers, his Spanish-language account has 575,000 and his Italian-language account has 265,000.
His tweets also go out in French, German, Polish, Portuguese and Arabic. His Arabic-language account is the least popular but still has a respectable 18,000 followers.
By comparison, President Barack Obama has acquired 25 million followers in almost five years. The Dalai Lama has about six million followers on Twitter.
U.S. religious figures on Twitter include Christian speaker and author Joyce Meyer with over 1.6 million followers; Texas televangelist Pastor Joel Osteen with over 1.2 million followers; the California-based evangelical Pastor Rick Warren with 840,000 followers; and non-denominational Texas Pastor T.D. Jakes with 790,000 followers.
The Pope’s Twitter following quickly surpassed Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who has 72,000 followers.
Claire Diaz Ortiz, Manager of Social Innovation at Twitter, said the company is “thrilled” any time a leader joins their network to connect with his or her followers.
“For the Pope, the decision will be a way for him to better connect his flock of 1.2 billion. That many of those interactions can now take place on Twitter is an inspiring fact for believers everywhere,” she told CNA Jan. 11.
She said that the company has seen a wide range of spiritual leaders form large followings on Twitter.
“Many religious leaders have embraced Twitter to minister to their community, listen to their concerns and share meaningful content,” she said.
Diaz said the Pope’s Twitter debut showed an “incredible emphasis” on internationalization.
“Launching in eight languages was an unprecedented use of the platform by any large leader,” she said. “Although the dynamic brought with it many challenges that the Vatican worked hard to address, ultimately the current eight accounts (with more to come) are wonderful examples of how one leader can connect in many different languages with Twitter followers throughout the world.”
Fr. Padrini, who has developed and implemented pontifical council communications initiatives like the website pope2you.net and the iPhone app iBreviary, said that he thinks the Pope’s success on Twitter is “major.”
“It has really warmed my heart. It’s a beautiful thing. But I didn’t have any doubt in my mind that it would be successful,” he said.
Judging from what he has read and heard in informal conversations, he thinks the Pontifical Council for Social Communications must be “very happy” that Pope Benedict’s communications are “more widespread than ever thanks to social media.”
The priest was optimistic about Twitter as a medium, even though little can be said in a single tweet.
“One hundred and forty characters are few but the number of years of Jesus on earth were also few,” he said. “The important thing is to be present and to do so with quality.”
Fr. Padrini added that the Pope has helped inspire others on the internet.
“I feel that because of the Pope’s presence online, all of the work of all of us who work in evangelization online is also valued.”
Port au Prince, Haiti, Jan 11, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Three years after the island nation of Haiti was rocked by a devastating earthquake, efforts to rebuild the local Church have made progress, but there is still much to be done.
“With the earthquake, we have many more problems that are urgent to manage,” said Bishop Launay Saturné of Jacmel, Haiti, in a video posted online by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Speaking through a translator, he explained that many buildings were damaged or destroyed, and the country’s economic problems have compounded the situation.
“So now we have to redouble our efforts to reconstruct the country and the diocese of Jacmel,” he said.
“Progress has been achieved,” Bishop Saturné acknowledged, noting the construction of a multi-use hall and repairs to a local school building.
However, he continued, the local Church is “not yet at the end of the road” and will require additional assistance to rebuild materially.
On Jan. 12, 2010, a 7.0-magnitude earthquake ripped through Haiti, destroying much of the nation’s capital city, Port-au-Prince. More than 200,000 people were estimated to have been killed in the earthquake and one million more left homeless.
Following the natural disaster, the U.S. bishops held a special collection in every diocese throughout the country, raising more than $85 million for earthquake assistance.
The bishops designated 60 percent of the money to Catholic Relief Services, the official U.S. Catholic international humanitarian agency, which worked to supply food, water, medicine and shelter to victims, as well as to aid in long-term relief efforts.
The remainder of the money was set aside for reconstruction of Church infrastructure in the country. Repair costs for these buildings were estimated to be higher than $150 million.
The U.S. bishops conference later joined with the Church in Haiti and other countries to form the Partnership for Church Reconstruction, known as “Proche.” The group was created to efficiently coordinate and mandate reconstruction efforts, ensuring that new buildings could withstand future natural disasters.
Archbishop Bernardito Cleopas Auza, apostolic nuncio to Haiti, observed that the process has not been easy. Poverty and political instability have created an environment that makes recovery difficult.
Reconstruction efforts “have been hampered one way or another by several factors,” he said, “but now I can say that we have come a long way, and I must say that progress has been rapid in the last few months.”
The nuncio offered thanks to God that the work of rebuilding has been increasingly “crowned with tangible results.”
Nearly 40 projects are currently underway, funded by Proche and other groups.
These include the reconstruction of Marie Dominique Mazzarello College, studies to repair the Old Jacmel Cathedral, the building of transitional seminary facilities and the reconstruction of parish churches and schools throughout Port-au-Prince.
The projects are in various stages of completion. Sacré-Coeur church in Port-au-Prince – a major reconstruction project – is still in the design phase, while the St. Francis of Assisi church in Grand Goave is nearly finalized.
However, the construction unit of Proche has received more than 100 project applications, and more work is needed. The U.S. bishops have pledged their continued aid in helping the local Church rebuild its infrastructure.
Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros of Brooklyn explained that during his first visit to the devastated regions of Haiti, he saw “the incredible, challenging environment in which reconstruction needs to happen.”
“This approach needs our continued support and our vigilance to ensure the continuation of progress in the reconstruction of the church in Haiti,” he said.