Archive of May 23, 2013

Health care includes spiritual needs, archbishop tells World Assembly

Geneva, Switzerland, May 23, 2013 (CNA) - The head of a Vatican delegation to the World Health Assembly on Wednesday called for universal health care coverage and an “integral” approach to health care that responds to a person’s spiritual needs.

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, head of the Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, stressed the need for “integral development.” This approach, he said, does not focus only on health care or economic growth, but also attends to “the spiritual state of the person.”

“Health and development ought to be integral if they are to respond fully to the needs of every human person. What we hold important is the human person - each person, each group of people, and humanity as a whole,” he said May 22 to the 66th World Health Assembly.

The assembly is meeting from May 20-28 in Geneva. It is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, the public health arm of the United Nations.

The archbishop said that health care contributes to the development of nations “and benefits from it.” He said that the Holy See “strongly believes” that universal health care coverage as a goal of government policy is a more certain way to achieve “the wide range of health concerns,” including preserving present advances.

Archbishop Zimowski then turned to efforts to save the lives of millions of people who die each year “from conditions that can easily be prevented.” He praised a resolution before the assembly to improve the quality, supply and use of 13 “life-saving commodities.”

“The Holy See strongly agrees with the need to achieve further reductions in the loss of life and prevention of illness through increased access to inexpensive interventions that are respectful of the life and dignity of all mothers and children at all stages of life, from conception to natural death,” he said.

However, he voiced “serious concerns” about the assembly’s secretariat report and its executive board-recommended resolution that includes “emergency contraception.” He said some of these drugs have an abortifacient effect.

“For my delegation, it is totally unacceptable to refer to a medical product that constitutes a direct attack on the life of the child in utero as a ‘life-saving commodity’ and, much worse, to encourage ‘increasing use of such substances in all parts of the world’,” he said.

The archbishop welcomed the assembly’s proposed global action plan to control non-communicable diseases. He said his delegation was “especially pleased” that the plan recognizes the “key role” of civil society institutions including faith-based organizations in encouraging the prevention and treatment of these diseases.

“Our delegation is aware that Catholic Church-inspired organizations and institutions throughout the world already have committed themselves to pursue such actions at global, regional, and local community levels,” he said.

Archbishop Zimowski also voiced interest in aspects of preventing and controlling diseases in older age, noting faith-based institutions’ long tradition of care for the aged and the rapid growth of the elderly population. He noted that the Vatican will host an international conference Nov. 21-23 about caring for the elderly with neurodegenerative diseases.

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Nigerian bishops lament disunity among local Catholics

Abuja, Nigeria, May 23, 2013 (CNA) - As the Catholics of the Diocese of Ahiara protested the appointment of a bishop from a nearby diocese as their shepherd, local bishops expressed sadness at the disunity in the Church of Nigeria.

Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke – formerly a priest of the Awka diocese – was consecrated bishop of the Diocese of Ahiara in Nigeria May 21, while many residents of the diocese rallied against the move.

Due to the strong opposition among the local Mbaise community, Bishop Okpaleke was installed outside his new diocese, at Seat of Wisdom Seminary in Ulakwo, in the Archdiocese of Owerri.

Bishop Okpaleke was consecrated by Archbishop Anthony J. V. Obinna of Owerri, Ahiara's metropolitan archbishop, with a cardinal and several bishops in attendance, as well as heightened security.

The homily was given by Bishop Lucius I. Ugorji of Umuahia, who said that “acceptance of the papal appointment is a respect for the Pope, while the outright rejection and inflammatory statements and protests are spiteful and disrespectful of papal authority,” according to The Sun of Lagos.

According to the Vanguard of Lagos, Archbishop Obinna said May 19 that “we decided to organize the ordination away from Mbaise so as to give peace a is sad that what we are experiencing is a war between Catholics and Catholics.”

Bishop Okpaleke comes from the Awka diocese, 62 miles from Ahiara, and is not an ethnic Mbaise. The Catholics of the diocese wanted one of their own to be appointed bishop over them.

“The Mbaise people wanted their own bishop, who knows what's going on within the community,” George Awuzie, an Mbaise emigrant to California and a representative of Mbaise USA, told CNA May 20.

“They're sending someone from a different community, a different village, that doesn't know what we do within our area.”

The Mbaise are the most Catholic among Nigerian people – 77 percent of the population of 620,000 are Catholic. Surrounding diocese range between 4 and 64 percent Catholic.

Families in the rural diocese foster priestly and religious vocations, with at least 167 priestly ordinations for the diocese since its establishment in 1987.

The diocese is currently served by 127 priests and 113 religious, according to Vatican Radio. The Ahiara diocese covers 164 square miles – roughly one sixth the size of Rhode Island.

With such a wealth of priests, the Ahiara diocese sends many as missionaries to Western countries, and many Mbaise hoped that one of its own would become their bishop.

Ahiara's first ordinary, Bishop Victor A. Chikwe, served from 1987 until his death in Sept., 2010. The diocese was vacant for 26 months until Pope Benedict appointed Father Okpaleke last December.

Bishop Okpaleke was born in 1963, and was ordained a priest in 1992. He has served a pastor, university chaplain, and diocesan chancellor. After his ordination he studied canon law at Holy Cross Pontifical University in Rome, and has served on the tribunal for the Onitsha ecclesiastical province.

Both priests and faithful have made vocal, public protests against Bishop Okpaleke's appointment, blocking access to Ahiara's cathedral and disrupting both automobile and foot traffic in the area.

On May 16, some 400 Mbaise protested the appointment in the streets of the diocese, carrying signs with slogans such as “Awka has 5 bishops, Mbaise has 0 bishops” and asking for an “Mbaise son as Mbaise bishop.”

Conflict over the episcopal appointment highlights tribal tensions in Nigeria. Opposition to Bishop Okpaleke has not suggested any poor administration on his part, but focuses solely on his not being a member of the people whom he is to shepherd.

“They ended up going over (the priests of Ahiara) to get someone from another village; appointed a bishop from another village to be bishop of the Mbaise people,” Awuzie told CNA.

Awka, whence Bishop Okpaleke comes, is located in the state of Anambra. Ahiara, meanwhile, is located to the south in Imo state. Mbaise assert that the Nigerian hierarchy favors Anambra.

Mbaise note the appointment of bishops from the Onitsha province – based in Anambra – while few if any episcopal appointments are made of priests from the Owerri province, in Imo and Abia states.

The Mbaise, who are proud of their identity and strong Catholicism, resent what they call the “Anambranization” of the Church in southeast Nigeria, believing there to be corruption within the Church in Nigeria and a “recolonization” of the Mbaise.

The Mbaise are a tribe of the Igbo, one of the three major ethnic groups of Nigeria. Most Christians in Nigeria are Igbo, and reside in the south-east of the country. Soon after Nigeria gained independence from British colonialism, the government, led by the Yoruba and Hausa peoples, began to persecute the Igbo.

In 1967, the Igbo rebelled, forming the Republic of Biafra, resulting in the Nigerian Civil War. The rebellion was put down by 1970, and the region has yet to recover, having lost as many as one million of its population to war and famine.

Overall, Nigerian society is perceived as struggling with corruption, ranking at 139 among 176 countries considered by Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Perception Index. It is just ahead of Bangladesh, and in the company of Pakistan and Kenya.

In the face of division among the Igbo, brought to light by the controversy over Bishop Okpaleke, there have been calls for greater Igbo unity and identity.

Father Stan Chu Ilo, who is Igbo and teaches theology at the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto, wrote Jan. 11 at “Sahara Reporters” that the crisis has caused him to note that “after the Civil War and the ongoing marginalization of Ndigbo in Nigeria, I believe that the Igbo people should unite and work together as brothers and sisters for the good of the ethnic nation and the wider Nigerian, African and international community.”

“Igbo Catholicism should be the veritable instrument for bringing unity in our communities, parishes, dioceses and states in Igbo land,” he concluded.

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New academic post aims to renew Africa's political culture

Vatican City, May 23, 2013 (CNA) - Cardinal Robert Sarah, the president of Benin and officials from the Pontifical Lateran University presented a new chair whose goal will be to study African politics and form new generations of leaders in the Church’s social doctrine.

The new position, which is named after the late Beninese Cardinal Bernard Gantin, was dedicated May 23, “to recall what his life meant for the people of Benin, for the Church in Africa, and for the universal Church,” explained Cardinal Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

“I hope that this chair in his name – on ‘Socialization Policy in Africa’ – will initiate reflection on politics in the African context and prepare future leaders of African society who are guided by the Church's Social Doctrine,” the cardinal told the press.

President Thomas Yayi Boni was also present at the May 23 press conference to unveil the effort, and he spoke in French about the need for a renewal of the political culture in Africa. Making this a reality will require transforming the system and the individual, he added.

Professor Martin Nkafu Nkemnkia, who heads the university’s Department of Social and Human Science – African Studies, explained that the chair will be responsible for holding courses and seminars, promoting conferences and workshops, and seeking collaboration with institutions to increase and give value to Africa’s political culture.

“The contribution of the chair will be a renewal, but above all a formation of leaders, motivated by deep-rooted ethical principles, to overcome the difficult situation of crisis and corruption, both in politicians as well as in civil society itself, through a just economic vision and a more balanced form of the service that politics should offer,” Nkafu said.

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US bishops praise immigration bill's advance in senate

Washington D.C., May 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops welcomed a U.S. Senate committee's passage of a major immigration bill as an “important step,” urging the full senate to consider the bill as soon as possible.

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, chair of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, lauded the Senate Judiciary Committee’s passage of S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act.

The committee approved the legislation May 21 by a vote of 13-5.

“I applaud Chairman Patrick Leahy and the committee members for their efforts and strong bipartisan cooperation,” the archbishop said May 23.

He urged the senate to amend the bill to widen “the path to citizenship” and maximize the number of people who can “come out of the shadows.”

“To leave a large population behind would defeat the purpose of the bill, which is to bring persons into the light so they can become full members of our communities,” he said.

The senate's 867-page immigration bill would allow the estimated 11 million illegal residents of the U.S. to obtain provisional immigrant status six months after the bill if they meet certain conditions, the Washington Post reports.

Those eligible must have arrived in the U.S. before Dec. 31, 2011 and must have maintained continuous physical presence since then. They must also pay a $500 fine every six years.

After 10 years of provisional status, immigrants can seek a green card and lawful permanent resident status if they meet certain conditions, including paying a $1,000 fine, keeping current on their taxes and learning English. Additionally, they must meet work requirements. Those with a felony conviction or three or more misdemeanor convictions are ineligible.

These conditions are also dependent on whether the Department of Homeland Security develops and enacts adequate border security and fencing plans. Residents may obtain provisional immigrant status six months after the bill passes only if the plans are developed.

They may obtain a green card and legal permanent resident status only if border security “triggers” have been met and if the government has processed all legal immigrant applications pending upon the date of the bill’s enactment.

If passed, the bill would allow those brought to the country as youths to get green cards in five years and citizenship immediately afterward. Those deported for non-criminal reasons may apply to re-enter the U.S. with provisional status if they have a spouse or a child who is a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. Deportees may also apply for reentry if they were brought to the U.S. as a child.

The bishops’ conference has worked to shorten the waiting period for individuals who want to apply for permanent residency and to expand the cut-off date for eligibility. They have also asked for a relaxation of income and work requirements.

The senate bill bars citizens from sponsoring their siblings and allows them to sponsor their married children only if their children are under age 31.

In his statement Thursday, Archbishop Gomez criticized cuts to the family-based aspects of the immigration system.

“We must not abandon our focus on families, which are the backbone of our society,” he said. “Family unity, based on the union of a husband and a wife and their children, must remain the cornerstone of our nation's immigration system.”

The U.S. Senate is expected to consider the legislation in June, though its passage is not certain.

The senate bill’s counterpart in the House of Representatives faces opposition over whether federal healthcare should be prohibited for undocumented immigrants as they transition to legal resident and permanent resident status, Reuters reports. Several House Republicans have said that the senate bill will not pass the House.

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Mideast Christians unite in prayer for abducted bishops

Aleppo, Syria, May 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Orthodox and Catholic Christians in the Middle East gathered this week to pray for and appeal for the realease of two Orthodox bishops who were kidnapped in Syria one month ago.

“We renew our request for the abductees to...release the two Archbishops without hurting their health or physical situation; and release all other abducted priests and innocent civilians,” the Syriac and Greek Orthodox archdioceses of Aleppo said May 22.

“We trust that the mercy of the one God whom we all believe in, will guide the abductees and induce them to release the Archbishops without any pre-conditions, because there is no price equals the freedom of the two Archbishops, and no condition equals their safe return to their communities and churches.”

Just over a month ago, on April 22, Archbishop John Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yagizi of the Greek Orthodox Church were kidnapped by armed men who killed their driver, Deacon Fatha' Allah Kabboud.

The bishops were abducted on their way back from the Turkish border, where they were negotiating the release of two priests, Fathers Michael Kayyal and Maher Mahfouz, who had themselves been kidnapped Feb. 9.

Last weekend, Christians in Aleppo gathered for an ecumenical prayer service at the city's Greek Orthodox cathedral. It was attended by Bishop Antoine Audo, the Chaldean Catholic bishop of the Aleppo eparchy.

He told Vatican Radio that it was a “sad” occasion, those attending having “tears in their eyes.” He said the situation has been confusing, as the kidnappers have made no ransom demands for their release, and added that “it's not a question of money.”

The Greek Orthodox in Damascus gathered May 20 to pray for Bishops Ibrahim and Yagizi, and Patriarch John X met May 22 with Eva Felipi, the Czech ambassador to Syria. They discussed the grievous Syrian civil war and the need for the return of the bishops, as well as all others kidnapped in the country.

In neighboring Jordan, some 2,000 Christians participated in a candlelight procession from a Greek Orthodox church to a Syriac Orthodox church in the capital, Amman.

Archbishop Maroun Lahham, an auxiliary bishop of the Jerusalem patriarchate, prayed at the procession for “tranquility and stability in beloved Syria” and for the release of the bishops, whom he called “two of the most significant Arab Christian personalities of our time.”

He told Fides after the prayers that “we prayed so that Jordan is not plagued by conflicts that are causing suffering to the peoples of neighboring countries.”

Two weeks ago, Syrian refugees already represented 10 percent of the Jordanian population. The nation's foreign minister said it could reach 25 percent by the end of the year. The flood of refugees are straining resources in the area.

The situation is so desperate that some refugee families are arranging marriages for their teenage daughters, or selling them, to older men so that they might have stability and escape the unsanitary conditions of the refugee camps.

The Syrian civil war has dragged on for 26 months. The United Nations estimates that 80,000 have died in the conflict. There are 1.5 million Syrian refugees in nearby countries, most of them in Jordan and Lebanon.

An additional 4.25 million Syrian people are believed to have been internally displaced by the war.

The Syriac and Greek Orthodox of Aleppo added that they are daily “living the nightmare” of lacking their abducted shepherds.

“ day after day our sadness and increasing pain about the abduction and the absence of these two eminent Prelates, and what they represent in terms of their holiness, their local and international rank, their active role on all levels including the spiritual, the thoughts, the academic, the education and the social (spheres).”

“But above all,” the archdioceses noted, “the humanitarian work which they were carrying within the current crisis which is engulfing our country Syria.”

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Pope Francis urges Christians to not be 'museum pieces'

Vatican City, May 23, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis reflected May 23 on Jesus Christ's exhortation to be “salt of the earth,” warning that Christians who do not live their faith become “flavorless salt” and are fit to be museum pieces.

The pontiff said that God gives Christians the “salt” of faith, hope and charity. This salt should not be hoarded “because if the salt is preserved in a bottle it does not do anything: it is good for nothing.”

“We can show the salt: this is my salt – and how lovely it is! This is the salt that I received in Baptism, this is what I received in Confirmation, this is what I received in catechesis,” he said. “But look: museum-piece Christians! A salt without flavor, a salt that does nothing.”

The Pope’s comments came in his homily during morning Mass at the chapel of St. Martha's residence in the Vatican, Vatican Radio reports. The day’s gospel reading, from the Gospel of Mark’s ninth chapter, contains Jesus’ question to his disciples: “if salt becomes insipid, with what will you restore its flavor?”

Pope Francis said that faith preached with this salt helps others receive it according to their own individual circumstances, as when it is used judiciously on food.

“Each with his own peculiarities receives the salt and becomes better,” he added. “The Christian originality is not a uniformity! It takes each one as he is, with his own personality, with his own characteristics, his culture –  and leaves him with that, because it is a treasure.”

He said this “salt” also gives something more. “It gives flavor!” he said. “This Christian originality is so beautiful.”

He said those who want everything to be salted in the same way risk a situation where a cook throws in too much salt.

“One tastes only salt and not the meal,” he said. The Christian originality is this: each as he is, with the gifts the Lord has given him.”

He urged Christians to “get out there with the message, to get out there with this richness that we have in salt, and give it to others.”

The Pope said Christians may give this salt both in service to others and in service to God. The “salt” of faith also keeps its flavor through preaching, prayer and adoration.

“With the worship of the Lord I go beyond myself to the Lord, and with the proclamation of the Gospel I go out of myself to give the message,” he said.

He repeatedly encouraged Christians to share their faith.

“Salt makes sense when you (use) it in order to make things more tasty,” he said. “The salt that we have received is to be given out, to be given away, to spice things up. Otherwise, it becomes bland and useless.”

He said Christians should pray that God not let them become “Christians with flavorless salt that stays closed in the bottle.”

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Boys Scouts of America lifts ban on openly gay members

Washington D.C., May 23, 2013 (CNA) - The Boy Scouts of America has voted in favor of a resolution that lifts the ban on openly gay members but will not allow gay adult troop leaders.

During its annual meeting in Grapevine, Texas, some 1,400 Boy Scouts delegates voted on whether or not the groups should lift its ban on openly homosexual youth members.

The resolution, which allows gay youth members, was passed with an over 60 percent majority of votes.

In a May 22 op-ed for USA Today, Boy Scouts of America President Wayne Perry said the resolution to lift the ban on openly gay scouts “reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and that any sexual conduct, heterosexual or homosexual, is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.”

The resolution, he explained, will not allow “the use of the organization to promote or advance any social or political positions or agendas.”

The announcement of the resolution follows several months of policy review after the Boy Scouts lost funding from high-profile donors such as UPS, Merck and Intel over the old rules, which barred openly gay members. In 2000, the Supreme Court upheld this policy as a constitutional expression of free speech.

The organization decided to delay a vote on the issue back in February, citing the complexity of the issue and need for dialogue and review.

The new resolution, which will go into effect Jan. 2014, will continue to prevent gay adults from serving as troop leaders.

The resolution affects only the national policy and allows each local unit to set its own guidelines, allowing “the religious, civic, or educational organizations that oversee and deliver Scouting to determine how to address the issue.”

Many pro-family groups, including Concerned Women for America, Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute and Family Research Council, had urged the scouts to continue their old policy, arguing that it helps to protect scouts from sexual abuse and aligns with the group’s founding morals.

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