Milan, Italy, Jun 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
At a conference of interfaith leaders in Milan, Cardinal John O. Onaiyekan suggested that Islamist violence in his country of Nigeria, as well as in Syria, has been fueled by external influences.
“Outside funding for Islam in Nigeria is nothing new,” the archbishop of Abuja remarked June 17 at the tenth annual meeting of the Oasis International Foundation.
The conference brought together top Muslim and Catholic figures to discuss the tightrope between secularism and ideology so often walked in the Middle East.
In Nigeria, Christians and Muslims largely coexisted peacefully until a few years ago. The militant Islamist group Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful,” seeks to impose Shariah law throughout Nigeria, and was founded in 2002.
The groups has been responsible for the death of some 2,800 people since 2009, Human Rights Watch reported.
According to Cardinal Onaiyekan, Boko Haram was not initially a terrorist group. He said that in its beginning, the group refused to work with non-Muslims, but that it never resorted to violence.
“The problem is what kind of input are they getting with their outside links, and when they are linked to outside groups that have ideas that are leading to the problems that we have.”
In May, Nigeria's spy agency reported finding an armory belonging to Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group. Three Lebanese nationals were arrested at the arms depot in Kano, located in north-central Nigeria.
“They have different names in different places,” the cardinal said. “In the Middle East they call them al-Qaeda, in Somalia they're called al-Shabaab, in Pakistan they’re called Taliban, and in Nigeria we call them Boko Haram.”
“Not even five percent of Nigerian Muslims agree with Boko Haram, and they’re worried because they’re killing Muslims, too, and giving Islam a bad name,” said Cardinal Onaiyekan.
The prelate also discussed the Syrian civil war, and said he hopes the violence there does not spread to his homeland.
The war in Syria has dragged on for 27 months, and claimed the lives of at least 93,000 people. It began in April, 2011 when the Syrian army began to fire on protestors of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president and leader of the country's Ba'ath Party.
Russia and Iran have been supportive of the Syrian regime, while western nations have favored the rebel groups. The rebels are made up of a number of facets, including both secularists and Islamists such as al-Nusra Front.
The U.S., France, and U.K. have all been giving the rebels non-lethal support since 2012. And on June 14, President Obama said he was prepared to give direct military aid to the opposition, having determined that the regime used chemical weapons on its own people.
“Who is supporting the so-called opposition in Syria,” said Cardinal Onaiyekan. “Is it not the West?”
He claimed to CNA that the Syrian opposition is supported by “some people who don't understand what is happening.”
“America is telling us that they will send more weapons to a group of people who are against their government,” the cardinal said.
Obama has said that assistance will be given to the Syrian National Coalition, which is not aligned with the Islamist al-Nusra Front.
“This is a crazy world, they probably have their reasons,” said Cardinal Onaiyekan. “They know what they want, but it is definitely not the good of the Syrian people.”
Although there are sectarian tensions in Syria, among different Muslim groups and directed against Christians, the cardinal said that “much of the conflicts that are described as religious are not so.”
This week's G8 – Group of Eight Industrialized Nations – talks, held in Northern Ireland, have called for Syrian peace talks to be held in Switzerland “as soon as possible.”
Much concern remains that the Syrian war will spread across the Middle East. At least 1.5 million refugees have fled to nearby countries and least ten percent of Jordan's population is now made up of the Syrian displaced.
Other speakers at the Oasis conference included Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan and the network’s founder; Sami M. Angawi, president of al-Makkiyah al-Madaniyah Institution in Saudi Arabia; La Sorbonne professor Rémi Brague; and Jawad al-Khoei, a Shia leader from Iraq.
Angawi told CNA that religion and authority should not mix, and that religion “should not be imposed. Religion is like love, one cannot have it if one does not want it.”
Cardinal Onaiyekan noted that “those who do not respect religion, say it is not a force for good.”
He said he would like to see the world “enjoy the positives fruits of different religions, admit that God is bigger than any of us, and for Christians to be free to practice their faith.”
“Muslims should also be free to practice their faith, remembering that they shouldn’t do anything to Christians that they wouldn’t want Christians to do to them.”
“We must change the way people look at their religion,” he said. “We need to open up to others, admit that there are other people. Not only tolerating them, but also respecting them, because I don’t want anyone to (merely) tolerate me.”
Washington D.C., Jun 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - More than $20 million has been distributed to U.S. religious communities to help care for their elderly and retired members this year.
“We continue to be humbled and overwhelmed by the generosity of Catholics across the nation who faithfully support our senior religious each year,” said Sister Janice Bader, a member of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood of O'Fallon, Mo., who serves as executive director of the National Religious Retirement Office.
“With this support, many religious communities have been able to transform their retirement crises into manageable concerns.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced on June 18 that the National Religious Retirement Office recently distributed $23 million to 439 religious communities throughout the country to help support retired priests, nuns and brothers.
The money comes from the national Retirement Fund for Religious collection, held every year in dioceses throughout the country. Last December, the collection raised $29 million for elderly religious.
The lack of retirement benefits in many religious communities has led to financial difficulties in the retirement and elder care of men and women religious in the U.S.
Religious communities must support their own senior members, and money from the Retirement Fund for Religious serves each year to supplement communities’ savings and income, as well as government programs including Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
The retirement fund was founded in 1988 by U.S. bishops to help support retired members of religious communities. The collection and distribution of funds is managed by the National Religious Retirement Office.
The funding will go to help fill needs such as prescription medications and nursing care for communities throughout the United States.
Austin, Texas, Jun 20, 2013 (CNA) -
A pro-life media group's ad campaign encouraging pregnant women to choose adoption has launched its third series of broadcasts after previous campaigns succeeded in reaching hundreds of women.
“We are optimistic that great things will happen over the upcoming weeks, and that lives will be saved as women are put into contact with trusted adoption resources,” Marissa Cope, director of marketing, communication and research at the Austin-based Heroic Media, said June 18.
She said the latest campaign has received “the strongest response yet.”
The commercial, titled “The Adoption Option,” features a pregnant woman who tells the viewer why she plans to put her unborn child up for adoption.
“I’m pregnant, but I’m not in a position to care for this child,” the woman says, placing her hand over her womb. “I want him to be with a family who will love him and give him the things that I can’t.”
“I’ve learned that through adoption, I can choose the family who will raise him. And I can receive help through the rest of my pregnancy,” she continues. “Adoption just seems like the best option. For him, and for me.”
The ad says that the woman can choose the adoptive family for her child and can receive support throughout her pregnancy. The ad refers women to the website or 24-hour hotline of Heroic Media’s partner Bethany Christian Services, which provides resources and adoption counseling for pregnant women.
Since the ad’s third campaign began to air on the Oxygen network on June 10, it has generated 122 calls to Bethany Christian Services, Heroic Media said.
Heroic Media said that one woman who was 22 weeks pregnant had scheduled an abortion in New York, but changed her mind after seeing the ad. The mother made an adoption plan with Bethany Christian Services and decided against the abortion.
Cope said that woman’s story helped inspire the ad campaign to continue.
“We knew we had to keep airing this life-saving commercial after hearing the New York mother's story,” she said. “Too often, women are not aware of all of their options, and we simply want to inform those experiencing an unplanned pregnancy that adoption may be a good option for them.”
The third ad campaign will run through July 21.
The ad debuted in November 2012 on the Oxygen network, generating 240 contacts with Bethany Christian Services through its first campaign. The second campaign resulted in 470 contacts.
Heroic Media has used research-based media campaigns in its efforts to change minds about abortion through television commercials, internet adds, billboards and other media.
Its “Adoption Option” ad can be seen at its website http://www.heroicmedia.org/adoption.
Bangkok, Thailand, Jun 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Local Catholic children in Bangkok participated in fellowship with other faith groups to foster inter-religious dialogue and peaceful relationships among different communities.
The group contained members of diverse faith backgrounds, including Buddhists, Muslims and Catholics, as well as their religious leaders.
The encounter program was organized under the leadership of Fr. Anucha Chaowpraeknoi, chaplain of the Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Emergency Thailand, in collaboration with the Moral Promotion Center of the Royal Thai Government.
Fr. Chaowpraeknoi told CNA that “through this, we aim to explore the ethics of traditions in other religion and impress on the young minds a sense of common good, thus developing their moral values of fidelity and honesty.”
These activities cannot be a “substitute to Catechism,” he stressed, but rather, they “reinforce” the understanding of Catholic doctrine and how it is incorporated into practical living.
Inter-faith dialogue “empowers” the faithful “to live and to love their neighbor,” striving to create a “peaceful society,” he added.
He pointed to Pope Francis, who has urged Church leaders to engage in “fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges between communities.”
Sister Kannikar Eamtaisong, director of Sacred Heart Orphanage, told CNA that Catholics must “live out the teachings of Jesus Christ,” which include the commandment to love and live in union as brothers and sisters.
Our true faith life is complete only when our spiritual life is put into practice through “love and charity,” she said.
“This program unwinds prejudiced mind to know other faiths,” she explained, and this in turn “reaffirms” the understanding and belief of one’s own faith.
Starting at Santa Cruz Church, the children walked to a local temple and mosque, dialoguing with the religious leaders and learning about their beliefs and prayer.
At the Buddhist temple Wat Thewarat Chakunshonvoraviahan, the Superior monk discussed “the importance of honesty” in life.
He encouraged the children to practice “honesty of personality, of time, of the word, of responsibility, of piety and finally honesty of self.”
One student participant told CNA after the event that while she often finds such talks boring, the inter-religious visit and discussions with leaders were interesting and the students now “feel committed.”
Fargo, N.D., Jun 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Bishop John T. Folda was ordained and installed as Bishop of Fargo June 19, calling on members of his new diocese to be witnesses to Jesus Christ and promising to give “all that I have.”
“We walk with Christ in a relationship of love, accepting the crosses that must come, but also drawing from him the joy and the hope and the divine life that he came to share with us,” Bishop Folda said at the close of his Mass of ordination as a bishop.
“We must proclaim Christ, in season and out of season, by our words, whether vocal or written or blogged or tweeted or in any other medium available to us – we must share Christ with all our brothers and sisters around us.”
Archbishop John Nienstedt of Minneapolis-St. Paul celebrated the June 19 Mass at Fargo’s Cathedral of St. Mary. Twenty-eight archbishops and bishops, 185 priests, and hundreds of Catholic laity and others were in attendance, the Forum News Service reports.
Congregants included Bishop Folda’s mother, Mabel, his two sisters and their families.
“I am truly looking forward to our journey together as we make our ways through the joys and challenges of this new century and new millennium, and strive to draw always closer to Our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said.
“As I said on the day of my appointment, I am all yours. And I promise to give you all that I have, and all that I am, in your service.”
Bishop Folda, a native of Omaha, Neb., was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Lincoln in 1989.
He was a parochial vicar at Lincoln’s Cathedral of the Risen Christ and also served as a pastor at several churches. He was a guidance counselor and religion teacher at Lincoln’s St. Pius X High School. He served as rector of Saint Gregory the Great Minor Seminary in the Diocese of Lincoln for almost 14 years until Pope Francis appointed him bishop in April 2013.
Archbishop Nienstedt advised the new bishop never to allow a busy schedule to interfere with his daily prayer life.
“Without Christ, we are nothing,” the archbishop said in his homily. “Moreover, never be ashamed of the truth of the gospel, no matter how compelling the secular world might pressure you through its ridicule, scorn or outright disdain, to make accommodations to that truth.
“You know the one in whom you believe. Be confident that he will guard you in the end.”
The archbishop also advised Bishop Folda to “always be attentive to the needs of the poor, the sick, the marginalized, and the stranger in our midst.”
Bishop Folda in his closing remarks said Catholics must be “a living proclamation of the good news that Jesus is Lord, that he is our savior, that he loves us, and that he continues to dwell among us.”
The Diocese of Fargo has a population of 396,000 people, of whom about 89,400 are Catholics. The diocese has 120 priests, 43 permanent deacons and 126 vowed religious.
Vatican City, Jun 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis stressed that it's false to think our enemies “must go to hell” during his daily Mass at the Vatican's Saint Martha House June 20.
“You cannot pray with enemies in your heart,” he said June 20. “With (both) brothers and enemies in your heart, you cannot pray.”
“They must go to hell, right? I will have nothing to do with them!” the Bishop of Rome said sarcastically.
The Pope told how Jesus noted, “if we do not forgive others, neither will the Father forgive us our sins.”
“It’s so hard to forgive others, it is really difficult because we always have that regret inside,” he said.
“We think ‘you did this to me, you wait … I’ll repay him the favor.'”
Pope Francis gave his homily based on the day’s Gospel, which tells how Jesus taught his disciples to pray the ‘Our Father.”
“We have a father very close to us, who embraces us,” the Roman pontiff said.
“All these worries, concerns that we have, let's leave them to the Father; he knows what we need.”
“But Father, what? My father?”
“No, our Father!” he exclaimed. “Because I am not an only child, none of us are, and if I cannot be a brother, I can hardly become a child of the Father, because he is a father to all.”
Pope Francis underscored that if we are not “at peace with my brothers, I cannot say ‘Father’ to him.”
Saying “Father, I have sinned” is “the key of every prayer, to feel loved by a father,” he reflected.
“Jesus immediately gives us a piece of advice in prayer: ‘in praying, do not babble,’ do not make worldly noises, vain noises.”
Pope Francis explained that Jesus teaches us not to turn to God with “so many words” because “he knows everything.”
“And he warned that prayer is not a magical thing – there is no magic with prayer.”
The Bishop of Rome noted “someone once told me that when he went to a witch doctor they said a lot of words to heal him, but that is pagan.”
“You must pray to him who generated you, who gave you life,” Pope Francis said.
“Not to everyone – everyone is too anonymous.”
“To whom do I pray, to a cosmic God?” he asked.
Praying to a 'cosmic God' is a polytheistic model that comes from “a rather light culture,” and is too impersonal.
“To whom do I pray, to the almighty God? He is too far off, ah, I can’t hear him. Neither did Jesus.”
“You must pray to the Father,” Pope Francis affirmed.
“The first” word is Father and it is “the key” to prayer.
He stressed that “without saying, without feeling that word, you cannot pray.”
“Jesus has promised us the Holy Spirit, it is he who teaches us from within, from the heart, how to say ‘Father’ and how to say ‘our.'”
Washington D.C., Jun 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Two bishops have written to Secretary of State John Kerry urging that the United States work to end the Syrian civil war and promote humanitarian assistance to the country.
“The reported use of chemical weapons, the UN estimate of over 93,000 deaths, the displacement of millions from their homes, and the kidnapping of two Orthodox archbishops on a mission of mercy all point to the devastation of the violent conflict in Syria and the urgent need for a negotiated ceasefire and political solution,” said Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines and Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson in a June 19 letter.
Bishop Kicanas is chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services and Bishop Pates is chair of the U.S. bishops' conference Committee on International Justice and Peace.
The Syrian conflict has dragged on for 26 months, since demonstrations sprang up nationwide on March 15, 2011 protesting the rule of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president and leader the country's Ba'ath Party.
In April of that year, the Syrian army began to deploy to put down the uprisings, firing on protesters. Since then, the violence has morphed into a civil war which has claimed the lives of more than 93,000 people.
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 conflict has resulted in human rights abuses against ethnic and religious minority groups, as well as the repression of the freedoms of speech and assembly for Syrian citizens. International governments have also found evidence indicating the use of chemical weapons, specifically sarin gas, by the government against rebel targets.
The bishops appealed to messages by Pope Francis which called for peace and the negotiation of a cease-fire.
“We again echo the Holy Father’s poignant question: How much more suffering must Syrians endure before a political solution is found?”
They supported Kerry’s plans to hold an upcoming peace summit in Geneva, saying that they “stand ready to help in any way we can.”
However, Bishops Kicanas and Pates remained critical of recent vows by the U.S. government to arm the Syrian rebels.
In light of the determination by the U.S. and French governments that the Syrian regime has used chemical agents against opposition targets, President Obama has pledged arms assistance for rebel fighters.
“Instead of arming both sides,” the bishops wrote, “the international community should be emphasizing the need for a negotiated solution to the conflict. The introduction of more arms simply increases the lethality of the violence and contributes to the suffering of the Syrian people.”
Instead of increased armament, the bishops urged that the Syrian people “need a political solution that ends the fighting and creates a future for all Syrians, one that respects human rights and religious freedom.”
“We ask the United States to work with other governments to obtain a ceasefire, initiate serious negotiations, provide impartial and neutral humanitarian assistance, and encourage building an inclusive society in Syria that protects the rights of all its citizens, including Christians and other minorities.”