Bangkok, Thailand, Aug 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Catholics in Thailand are joining in prayer to celebrate the 81st birthday of Queen Sirikit, respected throughout the country for her various charitable efforts.
Special prayers, programs and Masses are planned for Aug. 12, the queen’s birthday, which is celebrated as both a national holiday and Mother’s Day in the country.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand issued a special announcement asking every parish in Thailand to mark the celebration and offer prayers in the queen’s honor.
Thai Catholics gathered at the Sanam Luang public square in Bangkok for an inter-religious prayer session for the queen.
Representing the Catholic community was Monsignor Andrew Vissanu Thanya Anan, deputy secretary general for the Thai bishops’ conference and former Vatican undersecretary for the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue.
He read a message from the Bishops’ Conference of Thailand encouraging all Catholics to pray for blessings upon the queen and to support her in various projects throughout the country.
More than 250 Catholic schools and institutions also gathered with thousands of students and parents to pray and show respect for the queen.
Catholics compose less than one percent of the population in Thailand, which contains 10 dioceses.
However, Father Joseph Vuthilert, vicar general for the Archdiocese of Bangkok, told CNA that Queen Sirikit is universally loved by the citizens.
“She is the people’s most beloved queen and is called Maha Racinee (Great Queen),” he said.
Thai people revere her with “immense admiration,” the priest explained. They are indebted to her for her goodness and tremendous “charitable works,” such as various “self-sustenance” programs for women and the safeguarding of cultural and environmental works in Thailand.
“The queen was educated at St. Francis Xavier Convent School in Bangkok, and some of the royal families have studied in our Catholic institutions,” he added.
The queen herself is a Buddhist. In 1950, she married King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning head of the State.
Nagoya, Japan, Aug 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The Feast of the Assumption is an important celebration for Catholicism in Japan because of its link to both death and eternal life, according to an Australian missionary priest in Nagoya.
“The Catholic communities spend this day in paying tribute and attending Mass, and the names of all the deceased in the family are read aloud, causing the ceremony to sometimes go on for hours,” said Fr. Keith Humphries, a member of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart who operates the Mikokoro Center in Nagoya.
The feast of the Assumption, a holy day of obligation, falls on Aug. 15, this Thursday. The date coincides with the Japanese commemoration of the nation's announcement of surrender in World War II.
The Japanese surrender came after the U.S. used atomic bombs on two cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing as many as 246,000 people. The anniversary of surrender is observed in Japan as a day of mourning for war dead and praying for peace.
The Assumption has taken root in Japanese Catholicism because it correlates with “Japanese traditional culture in commemoration of death” as the Church celebrations the assumption of Mary into heaven, Fr. Humphries told CNA.
After Assumption Mass is said, Catholics in Japan hold a memorial program, and the faithful spend their day in praying, chanting, and table fellowship.
“This is a strong element of faith,” Fr. Humphries said, adding that Japanese culture “correlates” the Assumption with eternal life.
The Mikokoro - or Sacred Heart - Center hosts three Masses each Sunday, and about 500 people attend each Mass, he continued.
“A large group of the younger generation, as well as children, are visibly active with their families in the Church.”
The Japanese are “wonderful, with a prayerful, meditative heart,” Fr. Humphries reflected.
“Japanese people have the same spiritual needs as others … and God is present in the midst of these people in their local culture.”
Christianity was first introduced to Japan on Aug. 15, 1549, when the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier landed at Kagoshima.
Despite its 450 year history in Japan, Christianity has never gained more than a toehold there, remaining a “Western” religion, with the Church trying to dialogue with the Japanese and to inculturate.
Only about one percent of Japanese are Christians. Most are Shinto or Buddhist, or have no religion. In the Diocese of Nagoya, Catholics represent only 0.2 percent of the population.
The Japanese “can’t get over the thought in Christianity that God is a close friend,” Fr. Humphries said. “But, when they encounter this reality, it hits them and their life changes.”
Washington D.C., Aug 13, 2013 (CNA) - A leading religious freedom lawyer says the HHS mandate controversy involves whether government can force businesses and their owners to disregard their own values as they seek to make a living.
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said that businesses frequently make “decisions of conscience.”
“Starbucks has ethical standards for the coffee beans it buys. Vegan stores refuse to sell animal products because they believe doing so is immoral. Some businesses refuse to invest in sweatshops or pornography companies or polluters,” Rienzi said in an Aug. 11 opinion essay for USA Today.
“You can agree or disagree with the decisions of these businesses, but they are manifestly acts of conscience, both for the companies and the people who operate them,” he said. “Our society is better because people and organizations remain free to have other values while earning a living.”
The Becket Fund is among the opponents of the Department of Health and Human Services’ mandate that requires most employers to provide full insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some drugs that may cause early abortions. The U.S. Catholic bishops' conference has also decried the measure as a massive infringement on religious freedom.
Rienzi said that the Obama administration’s efforts to compel businesses to purchase coverage for abortifacient drugs reject the idea that one can “make money and be religious.”
Acts of conscience are informed by religious views about activities in which one can or cannot participate, he explained.
“Some Jewish store owners cannot sell leavened bread at certain times of the year. Some Muslim truck drivers cannot transport alcohol. Some Catholic prison workers cannot participate in executions,” he said.
“If religious freedom means anything, it means that these people – just like Chipotle, Starbucks and everyone else in our society – are allowed to earn a living and run a business according to their values,” Rienzi stressed.
“In a tolerant society, we should just accept that our neighbors will have different beliefs, and that government-enforced conformity is rarely the best answer to this diversity.”
Vatican City, Aug 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Human life – including the lives of unborn children – must be defended as a gift from God, underscored Pope Francis in a recent message.
Especially in today's throw-away culture that devalues the human person, parents “are called to teach their children to defend life always, beginning with life in the womb, and see it as a gift from God and a guarantee of the future of humanity,” the Pope said.
In a message for the National Week of the Family, which began Aug. 11 in Brazil, he encouraged parents in their “noble and demanding mission to be the first collaborators with God” in educating their children.
Through both their words and their actions, parents are called to pass on fundamental truths about life to future generations, he said in his message, according to Vatican Radio.
He also stressed the need to cultivate shared family practices of faith, in order to help children mature in their spiritual lives.
In addition, Pope Francis noted the importance of caring for the elderly, especially grandparents, whom he described as the living memory of a people, able to pass on the wisdom of life.
The Holy Father concluded by invoking the intercession of Our Lady of Aparecida and praying that families would be “convincing witnesses of the beauty of life sustained by faith.”
Washington D.C., Aug 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - A year after her death, Nellie Gray – called the “Joan of Arc of the pro-life movement” – is still having a profound impact on the annual March for Life that she started nearly 40 years ago.
“Nellie will always have a strong presence,” said Jeannie Monahan, president of the March for Life.
She told CNA on Aug. 12 that while the organization is currently “in a time of transition,” it is not “doing away with the foundation built by Nellie,” but instead “standing on her shoulders” in order to look to the future.
Gray started the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., after the Supreme Court decisions Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton made abortion legal throughout the United States. At the time, she was a federal worker in the Department of Labor, but she quit her job to work exclusively with the March for Life, running the annual event until her death on Aug. 13, 2012.
“She lived, breathed and slept the March for Life,” Monahan said, noting that “her last recorded calls and conversations were about the March for Life.”
Gray’s dedication to the pro-life movement was spiritual as well, Monahan explained, noting that “she prayed for conversion of people who didn’t have the same views,” such as politicians, abortion doctors and women seeking abortions.
“In her own lifetime she did see many conversions,” Monahan continued, pointing to one of the marches in the early 1990s when Gray stood alongside Sandra Cano and Norma McCorvey – the two plaintiffs in the cases legalizing abortion – as well as Dr. Bernard Nathanson, an abortion doctor who promoted laws allowing the procedure throughout the U.S. All three of the individuals had become pro-life activists.
The March for Life has continued since Gray’s passing, with the organization adding additional staff members, expanding its outreach, activating a legislative branch and building an educational segment.
January 2013 marked the first time that the annual march has taken place without Gray, but Monahan said the event’s “positive, peaceful spirit” reflected the approach that its founder always held.
Commenting on the broader society, Monahan said that the past year has seen “the culture moving in a pro-life direction.” She pointed to numerous pro-life laws that have been passed in the last year, including a Texas law banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
In addition, she referenced media and music as two areas in which a cultural shift is starting to be seen.
The goal of the March for Life, she explained, “is not only to change the laws but to change hearts, to create a culture where people wouldn’t want to choose abortion.”
“We are winning in the area of the culture of life in the United States.”
To commemorate the one-year anniversary of Gray’s passing, Monahan and the March for Life are asking pro-life supporters to “do something positive or beautiful for life” and share it via digital media with the label #marchforlife.
The March for Life’s website explains that these beautiful acts can include “prayer, an act of charity, a donation to a pro-life group, praying in front of an abortion clinic.”
“If Nellie were here today,” the website states, “she would not want to be praised for her work; rather she would want everyone to do something concrete that will help to build a culture of life.”
Vatican City, Aug 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Following a century of Popes who have been enthusiastic about sports, Pope Francis met with the Italian and Argentine soccer teams, urging them to contribute to the common good in their calling.
“This is a social responsibility! Let me explain: In the game, when you are on the field, you find beauty, generosity, camaraderie. If a game is missing this, it loses its might, even if the team wins,” Pope Francis told the teams during an Aug. 13 audience at the Vatican's Clementine Hall.
Calling the values of generosity, camaraderie and beauty the “amateur” attitude of sports, he said that “when an athlete, even as a 'pro,' cultivates this 'amateur' dimension, he is contributing to the good of society, he is building up the common good.”
The Italian and Argentine national soccer teams are in Rome for a friendly match to be held Wednesday night to honor Pope Francis' pontificate. They will play in the city's Olympic Stadium, and the Pope will be watching it on television.
He began his address, which was delivered half in Italian and half in Spanish, by thanking them for organizing their match, and expressing relief that it is for fun and won't contribute to FIFA standings.
“Really, it would be a little difficult for me to be a fan, but fortunately it’s a 'friendly,'” the Argentina native joked.
Pope Francis reminded the players that they are watched “both on and off the field,” making their lives a “social responsibility.”
He emphasized that the professional sportsman is first and foremost, always, a human person, a “bearer of humanity.”
“Before being champions you are human beings, human persons, with your strengths and your flaws, with your hearts and your ideas, your aspirations and your problems. And then, even if you are personalities, you remain persons, in sport and in life.”
The pontiff reminded the managers that though soccer is a “big business,” they should promote the amateur dimensions of beauty, generosity and camaraderie among their players.
“When teams go along this road, the stadium is enriched in a human way.”
In Spanish, Pope Francis recalled going as a child with his family to see San Lorenzo, the Buenos Aires soccer team. “We went home happy, especially during the season of '46!” That year, San Lorenzo won all its home matches in its blue and red jerseys, and went on to beat both the Spanish and Portuguese national teams.
“Let’s see if any of you have the courage to score a goal like Pontoni,” he jested, referring to San Lorenzo's star player who played professional soccer from 1940 to 1954.
“I ask you to that you live your sport as a gift from God, an opportunity not only to bring your talents to fruition, but also as a responsibility. Dear players, I want especially to remind you that the way you behave, both on the field and off it, in life, is an example.”
Pope Francis impressed on the athletes that “the good you do makes an impression … you are a model, for good or ill, for so many people.”
“Set an example of loyalty, respect and selflessness.”
While Pope Francis' love for soccer is well-known – be became an honorary member of San Lorenzo in 2008 – he is only the last of a series of pontiffs who have focused pastoral attention on the value of sports.
In an interview with Bavarian Radio in 1978, Joseph Ratzinger, then the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, explained that soccer fascinates above all because “it leads the man to self-discipline”, so that “through the training man gains more self control, and through self-control he gains superiority, and through superiority, freedom.”
The future Benedict XVI also asserted that since soccer is played by teams, “this sport joins all players through a common goal, and the success or the failure of the single coincide with the success or the failure of the whole team.”
Ratzinger's words explain very well the reason why Popes have always cared about sports.
Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the International Olympic Committee and the father of the modern Olympics, wrote in his diary that Pius X supported the candidature of the city of Rome to host the 1908 tournament.
Three years earlier, on Oct. 8, 1905, that Pope had told a group of young people that “the exercise of the body has a wonderful influence on spiritual exercise, since every exercise will distance you from idleness, and since even friendly matches will lead one to emulate the exercise of virtues.”
Though the 1908 Olympics were held in London, the Games came to Rome in 1960, and athletes from all over the world gathered in St. Peter’s square to receive the greeting and blessing of John XXIII.
And John Paul II took part in a soccer match between the Italian National representatives and a selection of all stars on Oct. 29, 2000 for the Jubilee of sportsmen.