Archive of February 8, 2013

Report finds Chinese persecution of Christians rising

Midland, Texas, Feb 8, 2013 (CNA) - A new analysis by ChinaAid found that persecution of Christians by the Chinese government increased in 2012, and focused on the eradication of Protestant “house churches.”

“Last year the...central government continued to adhere to an ultra-leftist anti-Christ ideology, sparing no effort in persecuting Jesus Christ's church in mainland China and plotting and scheming to completely eradicate house churches,” read ChinaAid's annual report, released Feb. 4.

“China's churches...suffered greater pressure and persecution last year; they also demonstrated great endurance and perseverance.”

The report found that the number of people sentenced for Christian faith jumped 125 percent from 2011, and that the incidences of persecution rose 42 percent. The trend of worsening persecution is seven years running in China.

ChinaAid said the reason for the increase was a Sept. 2011 government memo which outlined a plan for eradicating house churches.

The beginning phase, which took place in the first half of 2012, was to “conduct thorough, intensive and secret investigations of house churches throughout the country and create files on them,” according to the report.

Over the following two to three years, the government plans to “clean up” the investigated house churches, and to have completely eliminated them within 10 years.

ChinaAid found that the government used various means to prevent the use of property for house churches; pressured churches to join the officially-sanctioned “Three-Self” church system; detained church leaders; and restricted evangelization on campuses.

Despite this, “Christian churches....have already deeply and comprehensively impacted social culture and the people's ideology,” ChinaAid stated.

Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, said, “nothing can separate us from the love of God, neither persecution or freedom, nor poverty or wealth.”

The study noted the detention of Bishop Ma Daqin, auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, who left the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, announcing his loyalty to the Vatican. In addition to his detention, classes at the city's seminary have been suspended by the government.

The report did offer hope, citing a “power struggle” in the Chinese government which concluded with a purge of the “ultra-leftist political forces.”

The term of the current Chinese president, Hu Jintao, will end in March, and he will likely be succeeded by Xi Jinping. Xi's government “could take another step on the road to reform,” ChinaAid suggests.

ChinaAid is a “Christian human rights organization committed to promoting religious freedom and the rule of law in China.”

Its findings were corroborated by Human Rights Watch, which released a “World Report” which noted that “unregistered spiritual groups such as Protestant 'house churches' are deemed unlawful and the government subjects their members to fines and prosecution.”

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Knights of Columbus celebrate history of breaking down racial barriers

New Haven, Conn., Feb 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - During Black History Month, the Knights of Columbus are noting the Catholic organization's “forward-thinking” attitudes towards racial equality long before they were popular.

Andrew Walther, Vice President for Communications and Media at the Knights of Columbus, told CNA the Catholic fraternal organization “took stands for racial equality in ways that were really stunning, when you think of the 1920s or the 1910s.”

The Knights of Columbus' first African-American member joined the Order in Massachusetts in the 1890s, less than two decades after its founding.

Walther attributed this openness to the organization’s understanding that everyone could contribute as “important members of society.”

“The policy in the Knights of Columbus from the top-down was always in favor of racial harmony and inclusion,” Walther said. “I think the Knights of Columbus was far ahead of its time.”

During World War I, the Knights of Columbus hosted racially integrated rest and recreation facilities for troops in Europe, when no other social service organizations were integrated.

“We were the only ones that were opening the doors to everybody,” Walther noted. “Thirty years before the army integrated, we were integrating the army.”

In 1924, decades before the Civil Rights Movement, the Knights of Columbus published the African-American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois’ book “The Gift of Black Folk,” which focused on black contributions to American life from the time of the earliest colonial settlements.

The book was part of a series that included “The Jews in the Making of America” by George Cohen and “The Germans in the Making of America” by Frederick Schrader.

“Those groups were also often overlooked or looked down upon,” he said.

The Knights of Columbus was founded in New Haven, Conn. in 1882 as a Catholic fraternal and charitable organization during a time when Catholics faced suspicion and hostility.

“There was a fear of Catholics, both in terms of their religion, in terms of the immigrant aspect,” Walther recounted. “The Knights of Columbus grew up helping people on the margins of society, helping industrial factory workers to protect their faith and protect their community and the financial viability of their families.”

The nativist, racist Ku Klux Klan rose to prominence in the 1920s, targeting Catholics along with blacks and Jews. The Klan burned crosses to protest the presidential run of Catholic – and Knight of Columbus – Al Smith and passed an Oregon school law that banned Catholic education in the state of Oregon, though the law was later ruled unconstitutional in a Supreme Court case funded by the Knights of Columbus.

“With that kind of a backdrop, it wasn’t a great leap to wanting to make sure the country understood the importance of the various groups that have helped to make this country great,” Walther said.

The knights took strong action for racial integration under John W. McDevitt, its Supreme Knight from 1964-1977. When he learned that the New Orleans hotel hosting the knights’ 1964 Supreme Convention did not allow African Americans, he threatened to move the convention to another venue. The hotel changed its policy.

McDevitt also played a role in ensuring that local councils were not racially exclusive.

“When it became apparent that some councils were not following the national policy on integration, John McDevitt really forced the issue and made it very clear that this was not going to be tolerated,” Walther said.

Knights of Columbus are involved in communities of all ethnic and racial backgrounds in the country, with African-Americans in local, state and national leadership positions.

The Order republished W.E.B. Du Bois’ “The Gift of Black Folk” in 2009 to mark the 100th anniversary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons. The new edition has a forward by present Supreme Knight Carl Anderson, a former member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Walther attributed the knights’ work towards racial equality to their understanding of “the fact that all men are created equal” and to their belief that “nobody should be left behind.”

The Knights of Columbus website is

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Archbishop Müller: US ordinariate brings gifts to the Church

Houston, Texas, Feb 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The head of the Vatican’s doctrine office called on Anglican communities that have entered the U.S. Catholic Church to have courage in bringing their patrimony into the larger Catholic community.

“Be courageous pioneers of communion, placing the diversity of your gifts at the service of the universal Church,” Archbishop Gerhard Müller said on Feb. 2. “The distinctiveness of your traditions and manner of prayer and worship are no obstacle to true unity in the Church.”

The archbishop, who is the Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, spoke at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, Texas, during a symposium on the mission of the U.S. ordinariate.

Erected Jan. 1, 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter is a special diocese-like structure that allows entire Anglican communities to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church while retaining certain elements of the liturgy and other customs.

The Holy Father had authorized the creation of ordinariates for Anglican communities seeking to enter the Catholic Church in his 2009 apostolic constitution, “Anglicanorum Coetibus.”

There are currently two other ordinariates for former Anglicans: the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, which covers England and Wales and the Australia-based Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross.

In his talk, Archbishop Müller said that the ordinariates serve Christ’s “vision of unity.”

“It can certainly be said that, in creating this new structure, the Holy Father was responding to a movement of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “It is the Spirit that draws the disciples of the Lord together, fashioning them into the ecclesial Body of Christ.”

Archbishop Müller explained that the communion of the Catholic Church “flows from the communion of the Blessed Trinity,” and its unity is not based on uniformity.

“Uniformity tends toward the elimination of those who do not conform or comply,” he said. “Conversely, another way the world tries to achieve oneness is by simply overlooking or ignoring the differences that do exist, even to the point of allowing contradictory claims to truth.”

But because the Church finds its unity in God, he noted, diversity in liturgical expressions, in some governance structures and in parish culture “does not threaten ecclesial communion.”

“The overarching structure which holds together these expressions is the faith of the Church, ever ancient and ever new, and expressed eloquently in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” the archbishop continued.

Therefore, he said, the ordinariates’ preservation of “distinctive Anglican liturgical and spiritual patrimony” is “a hallmark of their parochial life” and “a contribution to the vitality of the Catholic Church.”

Archbishop Müller told the ordinariate leadership that they have the “delicate but all-important task” of preserving their communities’ integrity while integrating them into “the larger Catholic community.”

He stressed the need to foster a “culture of communion” with the bishops, the local dioceses and parishes, the Catholic faithful and “those still separated from the Church,” an important task that requires “wisdom, humility, and a firmness of intention to avoid divisiveness.”

The archbishop said that ordinariate communities will face “scrutiny” both from interested members of the Anglican Communion and from Catholics who “will want to know that you are here to stay, strengthening our ecclesial cohesion rather than setting yourselves apart as another divisive grouping within the Church.”

He noted that members of the ordinariate have displayed “great courage” in entering full communion with the Catholic Church, and he continued them to continue exercising such courage. 

At the same time, he warned against taking a “defensive or contentious” position towards Catholic Church authority, saying that “unity is easily undermined by a culture of suspicion.”

“The openness of the wider Catholic community to the rich Anglican patrimony which you bring will be encouraged when they experience in your communities the joyful and peaceful embrace of our common faith,” the archbishop said.

“In a world marked by division and discord, a culture of communion can be an especially eloquent witness to the truth of our faith and in fidelity to our Lord’s prayer ‘that they might be one.’”

Archbishop Müller also noted that the Holy Father has been heavily involved in the ordinariate, assuring its members that they “are very much in his thoughts and prayers.”

Other featured speakers at the symposium were Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C., who had served as the Vatican delegate for establishing the ordinariate, and Monsignor Steve Lopes, an official at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Msgr. Jeffrey N. Steenson, who leads the ordinariate, also spoke, and Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston welcomed the attendees.

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Police disarm explosive device found in Madrid cathedral

Madrid, Spain, Feb 8, 2013 (CNA/Europa Press) - Police officers in Madrid successfully disarmed an explosive device that was discovered in a confessional at the Cathedral of La Almudena on Feb. 7, Europa Press reported.

Officials said the device was rudimentary and contained a small amount of explosive material.

Father Jesus Junquera said that he decided to call the police after finding a suspicious bag in a Cathedral confessional, although he initially had no idea that the bag contained an explosive device.

The priest added that he was stunned by the incident and did not have any clue as to who would have left the device in the church.

“Out of caution, we announced that the Cathedral would be closed,” Fr. Junquera explained. “(W)e said it over the sound system, and the people saw that the police came and they left.”

Inside the bag was a package containing 200 grams of powder, two pounds of nails and a detonator.

Fr. Junquera said the Cathedral maintains constant communication with local police, which ensured that officers could quickly arrive on the scene to resolve the incident.

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Argentinian archbishop stresses opposition to drug legalization

Buenos Aires, Argentina, Feb 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Archbishop Jose Maria Arancedo, president of the Bishops’ Conference of Argentina, has reiterated the Church’s opposition to the legalization of drugs in the country.

In statements to the newspaper El Litoral on Feb. 7, the archbishop said that legalization “would only create the impression that drugs don’t cause any harm.”

His comments came in response to statements by the governor of Santa Fe, Antonio Bonfatti, who said he would be willing to discuss the idea of legalization, especially with regard to “soft” drugs such as marijuana.

“This is an issue that does not belong merely to the private sphere,” but that affects “the public good of society,” Archbishop Arancedo explained.

He dismissed distinctions between “soft” and “hard” drugs as artificial, noting that the potential for harm of all drugs has been scientifically documented by the United Nations Office Against Drugs and Crime.

“It’s not about criminalizing the addict, who needs help and prevention from harm,” the archbishop stressed, but about seeking the good of society.

“When we talk about drug use, we don’t talk about addictions in general, like tobacco for example, even though we know it is harmful,” he said. “To ignore or minimize the irreparable consequences of drugs is a form of passive complicity with their consumption.” 

Archbishop Arancedo noted that young people in disadvantaged areas are the most vulnerable to drugs because they often lack the ability to discern and reject them. 

“Drugs fill a void in their lives from which they unfortunately can’t return,” he said. “They are the first victims.”

He also observed that by failing to acknowledge “the true causes of drug use, it would seem society doesn’t want to address the problem or commit to a response.”

“We need to listen to the family members of drug addicts to get a dose of reality about these issues,” the archbishop continued, adding that “we must not forget or minimize the pedagogical meaning of the law.”

“What would it mean for all of the current and potential addicts to say that drugs are legal?” he asked. “Is it right to cause public harm in defense of a supposed private or subjective right?”

Archbishop Arancedo emphasized that the challenge in addressing the problem of drugs is largely cultural. For this reason, he said, a complete education that gives meaning to the lives of children and young people is essential, as well as the strengthening of the family and the limiting of harmful and degrading influences.

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Vatican council examines problem of low emotional intelligence

Rome, Italy, Feb 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Pontifical Council for Culture spent its last session tackling the problem of emotional illiteracy among younger generations and discovering how to restore that among the youth.

“If people learn how to experience intimacy on a natural level, then they are going to be disposed to it on a supernatural level, on a spiritual level,” said Pia De Solenni, just before delivering the final talk for the council’s Feb. 6-9 assembly in Rome.

“Pope Benedict said at the start of the Year of Faith: 'The crisis in faith is happening at the same time as the crisis in the family.'”

“You can't ignore that,” she stressed in a Feb. 8 interview with CNA.

During the session, De Solenni was asked to speak to the council about the “emotive alphabet of youth.”

“It's a term that doesn’t exist in English,” she explained.

“The council came up with it really as a proactive measure. In Italian and English, and I’m sure in other languages, there’s a lot of talk about emotional illiteracy – 'analphabetismo.'”

The Pontifical Council for Culture decided that it wanted to look at what the emotive alphabet would be since, as De Solenni put it, “you need to know the letters before you put them together to make words and sentences and stories.”

Of particular interest to the council was how lower emotional intelligence can impact young people on the spiritual and human levels.

As she delved into the latest research on the topic, De Solenni looked at the work of Daniel Goleman, a researcher that she described as “the grandfather of emotional intelligence,” and another psychologist researcher Jean Tweng.

Tweng found that anyone born during the 70s, 80s, and 90s, was shaped by the Boomer Generation, which she calls “Generation Me.”

“It’s not just the individualism but also the whole self-esteem thing – everybody’s a winner. Everybody gets first prize on the soccer team,” De Solenni explained.

“It’s created this whole culture of people who think they’re very entitled, think they’re very special, and then the world comes crashing down around them because the rest of the world doesn’t think the way they do.”

Goleman, she related, “talks about emotional intelligence, the ability to relate to others and to know oneself.”

Surveying modern society, Goleman points all these negative social indicators that are present and indicate the lack of emotional intelligence.

“The positive thing for youth is that the emotive alphabet is something that has been true throughout history and for everyone,” De Solenni remarked.

“It’s the desire to love and be loved, the desire to be in relation, the desire for intimacy.”

But De Solenni explained that these changes have not left Catholics untouched by any means.

“What’s happened is that we’re at a point in history where families by and large are not succeeding at this” and Catholic schools aren’t either.

The result is that “you have a whole generation of children that are Catholic in identity, but they don’t know their faith. They’re part of the hook up culture, they look just like the secular culture,” she said.

Searching for a solution, De Solenni talked to people that run successful youth ministry programs at the high school and college level.

She found that they all have three things in common that build up emotional intelligence.

The ministries that are successful always build relationships, teach the faith in a challenging way and impart a life of prayer.

Following De Solenni’s talk, the council discussed her findings and then wrapped up their assembly with prayer.

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Gov. Jindal rejects request to halt Ash Wednesday execution

Baton Rouge, La., Feb 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Gov. Bobby Jindal has rejected the Louisiana Catholic bishops' request to halt the scheduled Ash Wednesday execution of a convicted murderer.

The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops on Feb. 4 condemned the “evil and tragic” actions of Christopher Sepulvado, a 69-year-old convicted for the 1992 murder of his six-year-old stepson Wesley Allen Mercer who was beaten to death.

The bishops said that the execution by lethal injection of a “faithful Catholic” on Ash Wednesday would be “inconsistent with the Lenten call for reconciliation and redemption and an unnecessary tragic irony.” They called on Gov. Jindal, a Catholic Republican, and the Louisiana Board of Pardons to halt the execution.

A spokesman for the governor on Feb. 5 said Jindal “sees no reason to intervene in the case,” the Associated Press reports.

“The trial was handled appropriately, and the punishment decided on by a jury of Mr. Sepulvado’s peers is proportional to the crime he committed,” spokesman Sean Lansing said.

The Catholic bishops said they acknowledge “the Christian power of reconciliation and redemption” which they said Sepulvado has “embraced.”

“He has expressed remorse for his actions while at the same time embracing his faith and ministering to his fellow inmates,” the bishops said. “Executing Christopher will not bring Wesley back to life, nor will it provide healing, reconciliation, or peace to those involved.”

Citing Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” the bishops said that the Catholic Church and society are “challenged to consistently speak against any assault on human life, including the practice of state-sanctioned killing.”

They said the state has the duty to protect its citizens, but they said non-lethal means are sufficient to do so.

They added that human life is “a gift that is freely and undeservedly bestowed on us by our Creator, and not to be taken away by humanity.”

The bishops offered prayer and solidarity for the victim’s family and for all families of victims of violent crime.

The inter-denominational Louisiana Interchurch Conference has also opposed the execution, the Associated Press reports. Fifty Catholic theologians and scholars from across the U.S. are among the 1,200 signers of a petition seeking clemency for Sepulvado.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans led an interfaith vigil for a reprieve for Sepulvado and for an end to the death penalty on the evening of Feb. 7 at New Orleans’ Notre Dame Seminary. The Archdiocese of New Orleans organized the vigil with the group Louisiana Catholics Committed to Repeal of the Death Penalty.

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Bishops push for immigration reform without same-sex recognition

Washington D.C., Feb 8, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops joined with a broad array of Christian leaders to stress the need for immigration reform, while reportedly voicing objections to a proposal that would recognize same-sex partners.

“As a moral matter, we cannot tolerate an immigration system that exploits migrants, is inhospitable, and fails to offer immigrants the full protection of the law,” said Christian Churches Together, a broad ecumenical coalition of major Christian denominations.

At the conclusion of a four-day gathering in Austin, Texas, the assembly issued a Feb. 1 statement encouraging comprehensive solutions for immigration reform. 

“While immigration is often viewed as an economic, social, or legal issue,” the statement said, “it is ultimately a humanitarian and spiritual issue that directly impacts millions of unauthorized immigrants and the entire fabric of our society.”

“Each day in our congregations and communities, we bear witness to the effects of a system that continues this legacy of separation of families and the exploitation, abuse, and deaths of migrants,” it continued. “This suffering must end.”

The organization issued guiding principles for immigration reform, emphasizing an “earned path to citizenship” for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, a focus on family reunification, refugee protections, and the strengthening of both border security and due process for immigrants.

In addition, the group highlighted the need to examine and address “the root causes” of unauthorized migration.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which agreed to join in Christian Churches Together in 2004, had laid out similar policy guidelines in a 2003 pastoral letter, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.”

But while they have applauded key elements of some major reform plans, the bishops have also expressed concern over proposals supported by President Barack Obama. According to the Associated Press, the Catholic bishops joined with other religious groups in sending a letter to Obama objecting to his proposed recognition of undocumented same-sex partners along with spouses and family members.

A White House fact sheet said the president’s plan “treats same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.”

The signatories have decided not to make the letter public, reported the Associated Press.
Attorney Kim Daniels, coordinator of Catholic Voices USA, voiced hope that “the administration will focus on practical solutions instead of overreaching by adding more controversy to an issue that's difficult enough as it is.”

Daniels told CNA that despite the tension surrounding the issue, “Catholics are called to stand up for all our Church's teachings.”

“Immigration reform is an area in which we can meet on the common ground of respect for human dignity and the rule of law,” she said.

“Catholics are an immigrant Church that brings to the table not only our robust teachings on this issue, but also our long experience serving immigrants day-in and day-out in communities across the country,” she stressed. “That voice should be an essential part of the conversation.”

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