Archive of May 4, 2013

Benedict XVI needs new coat of arms, designer says

Vatican City, May 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The cardinal who designed Pope Benedict XVI's coat of arms says he needs a new one now that he is no longer the pontiff.

“The problem now is whether the Pope Emeritus can keep that same coat of arms or not,” said Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo.

“And as a person who has always dedicated himself to this, I say ‘no,’” he told CNA during a May 2 interview.

The cardinal, who served from 1990 to 1998 as the first Apostolic Nuncio to Israel and Palestine, designed Benedict’s coat of arms in 2005.

His fascination with ecclesiastical heraldry is a lifelong interest. And that has led him to design the coat of arms for many Catholic institutions, bishops and cardinals.

But now he believes that the “coat of arms needs to be transformed to show that he is a Pope Emeritus,” he stated.

He has drawn up a new coat of arms, which he believes could be used now by the former pontiff.

He moved the big keys of Saint Peter from the back of the coat of arms to the top part of the shield and made them much smaller.

“That shows that he had a historic possession but not a current jurisdiction,” said the cardinal.

He also included the motto that Benedict used as a cardinal at the bottom, a feature that a papal coat of arms does not include.

“But this is only a proposal, it isn’t official,” Cardinal Lanza di Montezemolo qualified.

“I allowed myself to send him a note with suggestions because the elements of jurisdiction in effect need to be removed,” he stated.

The cardinal told how Benedict replied to him with a note stating that he felt “very unsure” and that he “does not dare.”

“But we will see, because the topic is still open,” said the expert in ecclesiastical heraldry.

He explained that while Pope Francis did not ask for his services, Benedict XVI contacted him as soon as he was elected Pope.

“He called on me the following day at 8 o’clock in the morning at the Saint Martha residency,” the cardinal recalled.

“I asked him what he wanted, he showed me the coat of arms that he had as Archbishop of Munich and as cardinal, and then asked me what I thought about it,” he said.

The cardinal answered him that it was good, but “not very correct” because it had four parts with two repeated elements.

“I suggested to put the main elements in three parts, and he replied he did not want the papal tiara,” said Cardinal Lanza di Montezemolo.

“He had a very clear idea of what he wanted, so I proposed some arrangements and I designed eight trials after working all day and night,” he recounted.

The next day the cardinal returned to the Saint Martha’s at 8:00 a.m. with the eight samples and Benedict chose one “very decisively” and signed it.

“It’s interesting how decided he was in adding and removing certain elements on the design,” the cardinal commented.

“I suggested using the miter, the symbol of the bishops.”

‘But one wouldn’t be able to see the difference between a coat of arms of a bishop and that of a Pope,’” Benedict XVI replied.

The cardinal added the keys of Saint Peter behind the coat of arms. Below, he added the pallium, which had never been done by a previous Pope, to show the collegiality between the Pope and the bishops.

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Global report warns of 'dire' religious freedom plight

Washington D.C., May 4, 2013 (CNA) - A recent report on international religious liberty cautioned that severe threats to freedom of religion exist in diverse communities through the world and should be discouraged through actions by the U.S. government.

“The Annual Report ultimately is about people and how their governments treat them,” said Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, chair of the commission that released the report.

“Religious freedom is both a pivotal human right under international law and a key factor that helps determine whether a nation experiences stability or chaos,” she explained.

The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom gathers information throughout the year by meeting with government officials, citizens, analysts and non-governmental organizations across the globe in order to assess the state of international religious liberty. The independent, bipartisan group then advises the president, U.S. Congress and State Department on recommended actions to be taken.

Issued each year, the commission’s report marks “countries of particular concern” (CPCs), which are defined as “countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of the universal right to freedom of religion or belief.” The State Department has the opportunity to officially label CPCs and decide whether to impose sanctions or other penalties on each country.

The 2013 document recommended 15 countries to be designated as CPCs: Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

While all of these countries were also listed as serious offenders in last year’s report, the State Department has only chosen to designate eight of them as CPCs.

Examples of offenses in these nations include sectarian violence against minority Christians and Muslims in Burma, repression of non-state religious groups in China, and Iran’s imprisonment of Christians, including U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini, on account of their faith.

The commission’s report also lists a number of “Tier 2” nations whose violations of religious liberty are serious and troubling but do not meet all the criteria of abuses against religious freedom to be recommended as a CPC. This designation replaces a previous “Watch List” category in earlier annual reports.

Countries placed in the second tier in the 2013 report are: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos and Russia.

The document also highlights the status of religious liberty in other countries that do not fall into either of the two tiers. These nations and regions include: Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Ethiopia, Turkey, Venezuela and the entirety of Western Europe.

According to Lantos Swett, the commission’s annual report is critical because effective foreign policy “recognizes the critical role religious freedom plays in each of these nations.” In addition, many of these countries “top the U.S. foreign policy agenda, and religion is a core component in their makeup.”

Some signs of hope were seen across the globe. The report found that Turkey is “moving in a positive direction with regard to religious freedom.” Due to the reforms it has enacted, the nation was removed from the recommended list of “countries of particular concern,” although its status is still being monitored by the commission.

Overall, however, the status of global religious freedom is “increasingly dire,” said Lantos Swett.

She pointed to factors contributing to the instability, which “include the rise of violent religious extremism coupled with the actions and inactions of governments.”  

“Extremists target religious minorities and dissenters from majority religious communities for violence, including physical assaults and even murder,” she added. “Authoritarian governments also repress religious freedom through intricate webs of discriminatory rules, arbitrary requirements and draconian edicts.”

Other broad concerns raised in the report include constitutional changes that fail to adequately protect religious liberty, anti-blasphemy laws, restrictions of religious freedom in former Communist countries, imprisonment of conscientious objectors and religious freedom problems in non-governmental organizations.

Lantos Swett called for swift action by the federal government to acknowledge and address severe offenders of religious liberty, as well as the forces that add to instability.

“We recommend that the White House adopt a whole-of-government strategy to guide U.S. religious freedom promotion and that Secretary of State Kerry promptly designate CPCs, before currently designated actions expire later this year,” she said.

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Pastor's move to solitary confinement in Iran sparks worry

Washington D.C., May 4, 2013 (CNA) - A U.S. citizen being held in an Iranian prison for his Christian activities has reportedly been moved to solitary confinement, prompting concerns over his health and safety.

“We believe that he is being beaten in solitary confinement. We have no way of finding out about his health,” said Naghmeh Abedini, whose husband, Saeed, has been imprisoned in Iran since last fall.

 “There will be no more visitations allowed and we will have no way of knowing how Saeed is doing,” she explained.

Pastor Saeed Abedini is an American citizen born in Iran who is currently serving an eight-year sentence in Iran’s Evin Prison. Raised Muslim, Abedini converted to Christianity in 2000, and after marrying an American woman, he became an American citizen in 2010.

He spent time working with house churches in Iran until the government ordered him to stop. Since 2009, he has worked exclusively with non-religious orphanages in the country.

But despite complying with the government’s demands, he was arrested in the fall of 2012 during a visit to these orphanages. He was charged with posing a threat to national security through his previous work with the Christian churches, even though the churches are technically legal in the country.

Family members in Iran say that Abedini is weakened from torture and beatings and has sustained internal injuries that have not received medical treatment for months. They also warned that his kidneys may be failing.

According to the American Center for Law and Justice, which is representing Abedini’s wife in the U.S., the pastor was one of a number of prisoners in his ward who signed “a letter expressing to prison officials their concern about the lack of medical care received and the threats and harsh treatment facing family members who come to visit.”

In addition, the prisoners “expressed their dissatisfaction in a peaceful, silent protest in an outside courtyard at the prison.”

Ten prisoners, including Abedini, were then placed in solitary confinement, and family members have said that they were turned away from seeing him, being told that he is not allowed to have visitors any longer.

Abedini “was most likely on a list of prisoners the prison wants to break,” a former Iranian political prisoner told the American Center for Law and Justice.  

He suggested that the pastor was placed in solitary confinement “to put pressure on his belief and faith.” 

The American Center for Law and Justice has voiced concerns that the pastor is “likely to be beaten again, in private, away from other witnesses and prisoners.” Given his internal injuries, possibly failing kidney and lack of medical treatment, the group warned that Abedini is “facing perhaps his most grave situation since his imprisonment last fall.”

The organization has been working for months to raise awareness and support of Abedini, calling on the U.S. government to intervene on behalf of the American citizen in the face of Iran’s international law violations. More than 40,000 people have sent letters of support and encouragement to the pastor.

Abedini’s wife said that the pastor had previously been placed in solitary confinement and described the experience as “the hardest time in his life.”

She is now pleading urgently for prayers on behalf of her husband.

“Please pray for his health and healing. Pray for his release. Pray that the Lord would use this for His Glory and salvation of many,” she said.

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Pope: Mary helps us not be 'teenagers for life'

Rome, Italy, May 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - After praying the Rosary this evening, Pope Francis reflected on how Mary “gives us health” by helping Christians mature in their faith and not remain “teenagers for life.” 

“Dear brothers and sisters, how hard it is, in our time, to make the ultimate decisions! The temporary seduces us. We are victims of a trend that pushes us to the temporary ... as if we wanted to stay teenagers for life! We should not be afraid of the agreed commitments, commitments that involve and affect the whole life! In this way, our lives will be fruitful!” the Pope said May 4.

The occasion for his reflection was a trip he made to take possession of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major Basilica, one of the five major basilicas of Rome that every Pope oversees. Pope Francis symbolically took possession of the basilica by kissing the crucifix.

His visit began at 6:00 p.m. with a brief visit to the icon of Our Lady Salus Populi Romani (Our Lady Saving Health of the Roman People), where he prayed in silence for a few minutes.

Pope Francis was then greeted by the archpriest of the basilica, Cardinal Santos Abril y Castelló, and then prayed the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary with the faithful. Following the Marian prayer, the Holy Father offered a meditation on how Mary is “our health” and “gives us health.”

“Tonight we are here in front of Mary. We prayed under her maternal guidance that she lead us to be more and more united to her Son Jesus, we have brought our joys and our sorrows, our hopes and our difficulties, we invoked with the grand title of ‘Salus Populi Romani,’ asking for all of us, for Rome, for the world, to give us health,” the Pope began.

He then reflected on the meaning of Mary maintaining “our health,” saying, “I think mainly of three aspects: she helps us to grow, to face life, and to be free.”

“A mother helps children grow,” Pope Francis said, “which is why she trains them not to give in to laziness … not to recline in a comfortable life which is content to just have things.

“Our Lady does just that with us, helps us to grow humanly and in faith, to be strong and not give in to the temptation of being human and Christian in a superficial way, but to live with responsibility, to strive higher and higher,” he pointed out.

And when a child meets obstacles, the Pope explained, their mother helps them “be realistic about the problems of life and not to get lost in them, but confront them with courage, not to be weak, and to know how to overcome, in a healthy balance that a mother ‘feels’ between the areas of safety and risk.”

“Mary experienced many difficult moments in her life,” he recalled, from “the birth of Jesus, when ‘there was no place for them to stay,’ up to Calvary.

“And like a good mother she is close to us, because we never lose courage in the face of adversity in life, in front of our weakness, in front of our sins, she gives us strength, shows us the way of her Son.

The final way that Mary keeps her children’s health is by showing them how to make important decisions with full freedom, as she did when she “answered ‘yes’ to God’s plan for her life,” the Pope said.

“But what is freedom? It is certainly not doing everything you want, being dominated by passions, moving from one experience to another without discernment, following the fashions of the time,” he counseled.

“Freedom,” the Pope stated, “is given to us because we make good choices in life!”

Through her motherhood, he said, Mary “teaches us to be fruitful, to be open to life and to be more fruitful in goodness, joy, hope, and to give physical and spiritual life to others.”

Pope Francis concluded by praying, this “we ask you tonight, O Mary, Salus Populi Romani, for the people of Rome, for all of us: give us health that only you can give us, to always be signs and instruments of life.”

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