Archive of May 20, 2013

Rome university launches course on liturgical music

Rome, Italy, May 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A pontifical university in Rome has launched a master's program in Gregorian chant and the use of the organ at Mass so as to build unity among Catholics world-wide.

“The most important thing is that music, when it is truly liturgical, creates community,” Father Jordi Piqué, dean of the Pontifical University of Saint Anselmo's liturgical institute, said May 20.

“When one hears a Mass that is sung or the organ interpreting a beautiful melody, it’s never individualistic, it’s always as a group,” he added at the Benedictine Abbey where the university is located.

Fr. Piqué, who plays the organ, is from the Benedictine Abbey of Montserrat, Spain, and was named dean of the program six months ago.

“The Pontifical Liturgical Institute has always had liturgical sources as its base and since the Second Vatican Council studies have been adapted to spread and make liturgy be valued by the faithful,” he explained.

“A very important part of liturgy is the music and chants, and now we’ve been able to unite with the Pontifical University of Sacred Music and offer this Master's.”

The degree will require that students study Gregorian chant with “a scientific reflection” as well as seeing its central place, “directed within the liturgy.”

Classes for the two-year program will be held every Thursday evening and will be divided into three main topics: liturgy, music, and theology.

The university will regularly invite speakers to lecture on topics such as organ improvisation, the sources of Gregorian chant, and music composition.

Students will also learn about how to use the principles of Gregorian chant to compose chant in their own vernacular languages.

There will also be guests for the course including the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, will lecture on the vision of music within the liturgy.

“The biggest challenge of liturgical music is the same as always been: to take modern-day musical languages and translate them into liturgical languages, or vice versa,” reflected Fr. Piqué.

“We have to invite composers to adapt popular and modern day music, but within the environment of the (Eucharistic) celebration.”

Fr. Piqué believes that music can help people pray, but that liturgical celebrations should include times of silence, as well.

“Music needs silence,” he stated.

In explaining the essential link between Gregorian chant and the Roman liturgy, Fr. Piqué noted Saint Augustine's well-known dictum, “who sings, prays twice.”

St. Benedict directed his monks to “sing with pleasure, sing with wisdom,” he added.

He noted that liturgical participation includes not only singing the chants, but attentively listening to them as well.

“Whoever sings, or listens to music, is praying,” he explained, “because you are praying when you are listening” and that “by singing, you reveal what your heart contains.”

He also believes that sacredness has not been lost, but is “transforming itself and taking on new forms that are related to our times.”

Fr. Piqué noted the increasing use of Gregorian chant at Mass, and interpreted it as a refuge from the hurried pace of modern life.

“But our times are very filled with noise, and so music within the liturgy is taking on again the calm, tranquil and serene aspect that this open and serene dialogue with God needs to have,” he concluded.

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Venezuelan Church to start year-long campaign against abortion

Caracas, Venezuela, May 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A Venezuelan bishop said his country's 13th annual pro-life campaign will extend for the whole year, aiming to defend life and reject abortion “as the killing of a weak and defenseless human being.”

In a statement sent to CNA, Bishop Rafael Conde Alfonzo recalled that for several years the Week for Life has begun on March 25.

However, this year it was postponed because the date fell on Monday of Holy Week and because of political controversy following former president Hugo Chavez's recent death.

Bishop Conde Alfonzo, who serves as president of the Venezuelan bishops' committee on Family and Childhood, said an international campaign exists to impose abortion locally under the pretext that it is a woman’s right.

These organizations do not like the Church’s position in support of the unborn and would prefer the Church adapt herself “to the different trends they are seeking to impose and thus contravene basic principles that are not only religious, but in many cases simply humane,” he said.

However, the “Church’s defense of life is based on the teachings of the Lord, who said that he had come that we might have life and have it in abundance,” Bishop Conde Alfonzo emphasized.

“This statement of Jesus shows us that life is a gift from God...For this reason, it is a contradiction to consider the extinguishing of a life that has just begun as a right. God is the only author of life and He alone has power over it.”

In his statement, Bishop Conde Alonzo called on Christians to fulfill their duty to “be defenders and promoters of the gift of life.”

“Let us ask God that all human beings, especially believers, will learn to be thankful for the gift of life that God has given us and that those who govern the destinies of the nations will establish laws that respect and defend that gift.”

“Jesus, who died and rose, is the Lord of life and wants us to have it in abundance,” the bishop said.

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Courageous prayer leads to miracles, Pope reflects

Vatican City, May 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis encouraged bold prayer and faithful trust in God during his homily at Mass today at Casa Santa Marta in the Vatican.

“A courageous prayer, that struggles to achieve a miracle,” the Bishop of Rome said May 20. “Not prayers of courtesy: 'Ah, I will pray for you,' I say an Our Father, a Hail Mary and then I forget.”

Rather, he said, “strong prayer is needed. Humble and strong prayer that enables Jesus to carry out the miracle.”

Highlighting the importance of faith in Christ, he told of how an Argentine girl who fell ill and was expected to live but a few hours was miraculously healed after her father prayed intensely for her.
“Her father, an electrician, a man of faith … took a bus to the Marian shrine of Lujan, 70 kilometers (43 miles) away.”

“He finally arrived after 9:00 p.m., when everything was closed. And he began to pray to Our Lady, with his hands gripping the iron fence and he prayed, and prayed, and wept, and prayed … and that’s the way he remained all night long,” Pope Francis added.

The man returned to the hospital the following morning and found his wife weeping. She told him that the doctors came and said the fever was gone and that she would live.

“This still happens,” the Pope reminded his listeners. “Miracles do happen.”

Pope Francis was reflecting on the day's Gospel, which recounts the disciples’ failure to heal a child, and Jesus intervenes saying everything is possible for those who have faith.

According to him, a prayer for a miracle must be “an involved prayer, a prayer that unites us all.”

He took as models the prayer of Abraham, “who struggled with the Lord” to save Sodom and Gomorrah, and Moses' prayer, when he “held his hands high and tired himself out.”

“When people ask us to pray for the many people who suffer in wars, all refugees … pray. But with your heart to the Lord,” he exhorted.

“Do it, but tell him, 'Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.'”

The pontiff stated there is disbelief when “the heart will not open, when the heart is closed, when the heart wants to have everything under control.”

“It is a heart, then, that does not open and does not give control of things to Jesus,” he concluded. “Prayer does wonders, but we have to believe.”

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Pope tells Catholics to shout 'Jesus' instead of 'Francis'

Vatican City, May 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis asked those gathered for the Pentecost Vigil Mass at the Vatican to chant Christ's name instead of his own, highlighting his role as Christ's vicar on earth.

“From now on no more 'Francis,' only 'Jesus,' alright?” he asked rhetorically during the Pentecost Vigil Mass said May 18 at Saint Peter's Square.
“All of you in the square shouted out 'Francis, Francis, Pope Francis,' but where was Jesus?” he admonished them. “I want to hear you shout out 'Jesus, Jesus is Lord, and he is in our midst.'”

During his homily, he spoke to the more than 200,000 people gathered from ecclesial movements from around the world.

The Pope told how his grandmother was the first to pass on the faith to him, and insisted that a person's faith begins through their family.

“I received my first Christian proclamation right from this woman, from my grandmother. That is something beautiful,” he exclaimed.

“The first proclamation is in the home, within the family. This makes me think of the love of many mothers and so many grandmothers in the transmission of the faith,” he said.

He told mothers to conscientiously transmit faith to their children, because “God puts people alongside us who help our journey of faith.”  

He also told how, at the age of 16, he felt a sudden urge to go to confession one day. It was there that he heard the call to priesthood.

“After the confession I felt that something had changed, I was not the same. I felt a voice call me, and I was convinced that I had to become a priest.”

“This experience of faith is important,” he added. “We say that we must seek God, go to him to ask for forgiveness but when we go, he is waiting for us, he is the first one there.”

Attendants had posed four questions to the pontiff, which he answered during his homily. The first question inquired about how he has achieved “certainty of faith” and how he would guide each of them to “overcome our fragility of faith.”

“Fragility’s biggest enemy, curiously enough, is fear. But do not be afraid,” he advised. “We are weak, we know it. But Jesus is stronger and if you are with him, then there is no problem.”

The second question given him was on the challenge of evangelization for ecclesial movements and how to effectively communicate the faith in today’s world.

“If we push ahead with planning and organization – beautiful things indeed – but without Jesus, then we are on the wrong road. Jesus is the most important thing,” emphasized Pope Francis.

The pontiff underscored the importance of prayer and “letting God gaze at you.”

He said that he prays the rosary daily, but often “nods off” in front of the tabernacle. “But he understands me. I feel so much comfort when I think that he is looking at me.”

The Bishop of Rome underscored the need for letting one’s self be guided by God. He reflected on St. Peter's vision of “the sheet with all the animals,” when Christ told him to eat non-kosher foods, Christ having made them clean.

Though St. Peter was at first reluctant and did not understand, “some non-Jews came to call him to go into a house, and he saw how the Holy Spirit was there.”

“Peter was guided by Jesus to reach that first evangelization to the Gentiles,” Pope Francis said. “Be guided by Jesus' own leadership,” he urged.

The third question was concerning suffering, and how the movements may address it for the good of the Church and of society.

“When the Church becomes closed in on itself, it gets sick,” Pope Francis said, appealing to people to “not close in on themselves, on their own friends and movements.”

“Think of a closed room, a room locked for a year, when you go in, has a smell of damp,” he said. “A Church that is closed in on itself is just the same – it is a sick Church.”

When Christians are “starched,” speaking “of theology calmly over tea,” rather than being courageous and encountering non-Christians and the poor, the Church is sick, he said.
The pontiff believes people cannot rest in peace knowing that a starving child is not news worthy.

“We cannot become starched Christians, too polite, who speak of theology calmly over tea, we have to become courageous Christians,” he said.

Catholics must themselves reach out to the poor and assist them on a personal level, he stressed.

“A poor Church for the poor begins with going to the flesh of Christ,” which he called the poor.

Personally helping the poor, for Pope Francis, is a theological response to Christ's own poverty. It is a loving response to God's own solidarity with us, since he “humbled himself” and “became poor, walking with us on the road.”

He also emphasized the danger of letting worldliness creep into the Church. “There is a problem that is not good for Christians: the spirit of the world, the worldly spirit, the spiritual worldliness.”

The final question asked of the pontiff regarded how Catholics can help and support those who are persecuted for their faith.

“We must try to make them feel, these brothers and sisters, that we are deeply united to their situation,” he said, highlighting the importance of praying in solidarity with them.

“In the prayer of every day we must say to Jesus, 'Lord, look upon this brother, look at this sister who suffers so much,'” he concluded.

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International religious freedom report notes persecution

Washington D.C., May 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Secretary of State John Kerry released on May 20 the annual International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, which documents violence and persecution towards global religious minorities.

“Whether it be a single deity, or multiple deities, or no deities at all, freedom to believe – including the freedom not to believe – is a universal human right,” the reports said of the freedom of religion.

“The search for this freedom led the Pilgrims to flee Europe for America’s shores centuries ago, and is enshrined in our own Constitution. But it is by no means exclusively an American right,” it added.

“The right to religious freedom is inherent in every human being. Unfortunately, this right was challenged in myriad ways in 2012.”

An annual report on the state of religious freedom around the world is required by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

The 2012 analysis follows the recommendations submitted to the State Department by the independent United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, released in April.

The document notes trends of governments promoting violence against persons of faith, government restriction of religious practice, persecution of minority religions or sects, and failure to hold responsible citizens who themselves persecute persons of faith, and marks steps the United States took during 2012 to promote religious freedom.

Additionally, the report designated eight countries as “Countries of Particular Concern” for the “severe violations of religious freedom committed by these governments:” Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uzbekistan.

In these countries, as well as others whose offenses were not as severe, the the most prominent offenses against religious liberty were:  government restrictions on the practice of a person’s faith, use of the law to target specific groups, forced conversion, societal violence against members of a given faith, and lack of accountability for violations of religious freedom.

Religious freedom leaders in the House of Representatives, however, criticized the report for not expanding the list of “Countries of Particular Concern” since 2011.

In a letter released May 20 before Secretary Kerry released the report, Representatives Chris Smith (R- N.J.), Frank Wolf (R- Va.), and Joe Pitts (R- Pa)  asked Kerry to abide by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 and designate new “Countries of Particular Concern” in its yearly report.  

Rep. Smith is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, and Wolf co-chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. In addition, Smith and Pitts are members of the Human Rights Commission.

In their letter, the congressmen noted that the report released in 2012 covering abuses of 2011 did not designate any “Countries of Particular Concern.” They asked that the State Department re-designate the eight countries that were listed in the May 20 report, saying that if these countries were not re- designated, sanctions placed on these nations would expire in August 2013.

However, they also asked that the department designate another eight countries that the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom found to commit serious offenses to religious liberty: Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan Turkmenistan, and Vietnam.

The report also noted a rise in anti-Semitism around the globe that was particularly notable and violent in Venezuela, Egypt, and Iran.

The document also listed a number of ways in which the United States is attempting to advance religious liberty. These efforts include criticizing of unjust laws across the globe, working through diplomatic avenues to promote religious freedom and “rescind unduly and inappropriately restrictive laws,” and using a variety of avenues to promote respect and tolerance for religious freedom in countries around the world.  

Secretary of State John Kerry called the report an “important step” in global diplomacy and urged “all countries, especially those identified in this report, to take action now to safeguard this fundamental freedom.”

Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Suzan Johnson Cook, also spoke on the report, saying the document “makes clear” that there is “much work remains to be done” to promote and protect religious freedom.

She also noted, however, that there have been improvements since last year’s report, saying that while the Vietnamese government still restricts religion, “the government took a step forward by allowing large-scale worship services,” and that Turkey has “loosened its restrictions on religious attire,” allowing headscarves in certain Islamic schools and classes.

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