Brussels, Belgium, Aug 20, 2013 (CNA) - A citizen-led initiative in Europe is nearing the one million signatures needed to prompt a discussion on human life and push for an end to funding of abortion and embryo-destroying research.
The initiative, called “One of Us,” seeks to protect the “dignity, the right to life and the integrity of every human being” at all stages of development.
It asks the European Union “to end the financing of activities which presuppose the destruction of human embryos, in particular in the areas of research, development aid and public health,” according to the organizers’ website.
The petition was introduced as a European citizens’ initiative, a participative democracy project in which the people can submit legislative proposals to the European parliament if they can generate one million signatures from citizens within a year.
Since November 2012, One of Us has received more than 800,000 signatures, needing just under 200,000 more by Nov. 1, 2013 to reach the target.
The campaign has been met with widespread support throughout Europe, gaining the endorsement of 40 pro-life leaders, politicians, scholars and doctors from across the continent.
In addition, it has received the support of numerous Catholic bishops and two consecutive Popes.
“I greet the Movement for Life and wish it success on the ‘One of Us’ initiative so that Europe might always be a place where every human being's dignity is safeguarded,” said Benedict XVI in February, during one of his last public appearances.
Pope Francis has also supported the initiative, asking pro-life activists to sign the petition during Italy’s March for Life in May.
If the petition gains enough votes and the European Commission respects its own rules regarding citizens’ initiatives, the “European Parliament will be forced to schedule a debate on the issue of life at conception,” One of Us explains.
The group’s goal is to enact a ban on the funding of embryo-destroying research and abortions, as well as achieve a greater cultural awareness of the importance of respecting human life from conception.
The petition’s organizers are also calling for a “concrete ethical standard” to be established across Europe regarding respect for all of humanity, regardless of age or development.
Laws on abortion and embryo-destroying research currently vary widely across the continent. First trimester abortion is legal in nearly all European countries, but other restrictions on the procedure – as well as those regulating reproductive technologies and research that takes the life of a human embryo – differ greatly in various nations.
If it succeeds, One of Us will be only the second European citizens’ initiative to garner one million votes. The other successful petition declares water to be a human right and has collected nearly two million signatures.
A number of other citizens’ initiatives that expire this year are expected to fail, falling short of the one million signature mark.
Even if the proposed legislation never becomes law, the organizers are optimistic, saying that it “could be a starting point of a new Europe-wide mobilization of the pro-life movement.”
“Every experience we collect here can be used for campaigns on other pro-life issues in further course,” the group explained. “In that sense, it can be expected that the outcome may be very enduring.”
Rimini, Italy, Aug 20, 2013 (CNA) -
Pope Francis welcomed the 34th Rimini Meeting, an annual gathering organized by the lay movement Communion and Liberation, by encouraging participants to bring Christ to those who do not know him.
“We are poor in love, thirsty for truth and justice, beggars of God,” Pope Francis wrote in an Aug. 18 letter to Bishop Francesco Lambiasi of Rimini, on the occasion of the opening of the gathering.
“The greatest poverty is in fact the lack of Christ, and until we bring Jesus to men we will have done too little for them.”
This year's Rimini meeting explores the theme of “The human person: a state of emergency,” and is being held in the Italian city from Aug. 18 to 24. The gathering is an inter-faith and intercultural encounter meant to foster peace and friendship among peoples.
The theme acknowledges that human persons are today threatened not only by authoritarian political systems, but even in democracies, where “the desire of the heart risks being anesthetized, censured.”
The event includes, Masses, seminars, exhibitions, cinema, theatre, sports and music, exploring how materialism and consumerism leads the heart of man of settle for mediocrity under a culture of standardization.
The meeting this year hopes to show that human freedom is experienced through an encounter with reality that starts from human needs and desires.
“The theme chosen … captures the great urgency of evangelization,” Pope Francis said in the letter sent by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
“Man remains a mystery, irreducible to whatever image society creates and the power of the world tries to impose on him. A mystery of freedom and of grace, of poverty and of grandeur.”
Quoting Blessed John Paul II, Pope Francis said that “man is the way of the Church,” and explained that throughout history – since the original sin – God has sought out mankind, and each man.
“Where are you?” – God's question to man -- “reaches its highest expression through the incarnation of the Son,” said the Pope.
He emphasized the relation of each man to Christ, saying that “without passing through Christ, without concentrating on him the gaze of our heart and mind, we would not understand anything of the mystery of the human person.”
If our understanding of the mystery of human nature is not based on Christ, “almost inadvertently, we will be forced to acquire from the world our criteria of judgement and action.”
The world, Pope Francis said, needs humanity to inflate its “economic, political and social power,” and thus tries to “manipulate the masses”and “creates desires to eliminate the most precious thing man possesses: his relationship with God.”
Power, he said, “fears those men who are in dialogue with God because it renders them free and non-assimilable.”
“This is the state of emergency of the human person,” Pope Francis said: “the urgency to restore man to himself, to his highest dignity, to the uniqueness and preciousness of each human existence from conception to natural death.”
He emphasized the necessity of considering the sacredness of man, “and, at the same time, to state strongly that only in relationship with God, that is in the discovery of and adhesion to one's own vocation, can man achieve his true stature.”
The Church, the Pope said, safeguards man's “most authentic possibility of realization,” and stressed that we “do not keep just for us this precious treasure which everyone, aware of it or not, is looking for.”
“Let us meet with courage all the men and women of our time, children and old people, the “educated” and those without education, youth and families. Let us meet everyone, and not wait for the others to look for us!”
“Let us imitate in this our divine Master, who left his heaven to become man and to be close to everyone.”
He emphasized the importance of bringing Christ everywhere, rather than restricting him to the sacristies: “Let us bring the perfume of Christ’s love not only in churches and parishes, but in every environment. In schools, in universities, in workplaces, in hospitals, in prisons; but also in the city squares, in the streets, in the sport centers, in places where people gather.”
“Do not be greedy in giving what we have gained without any merit!”
To announce Christ at all times, “with respect and frankness,” is the task of the Church and of “every Christian,” Pope Francis reflected.
The Church's credibility, he said, is predicated on her “fidelity to Christ.”
"'The emergency of man', then, signifies the emergence of a return to Christ, to learn from him the truth about ourselves and the world, and with him and in him to meet man, especially the poorest, for whom Jesus has always manifested a preference.”
“And poverty is not always material,” he emphasized. “There is a spiritual poverty that grips contemporary man.”
Concluding with his reflection on the spiritual poverty which is answered by Christ, Pope Francis said, “I hope these brief thoughts may help those who are taking part in the Meeting.”
Pope Francis, Cardinal Bertone wrote, “hopes that the meetings of these days may light in the hearts of all the participants a fire that nourishes and sustains their testimony of the Gospel in the world.”
Denver, Colo., Aug 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - At the event's recent anniversary, participants in World Youth Day Denver recalled how the presence of Blessed John Paul II brought joy to the local Church, as well as the call to be disciples without fear.
“What I saw that day was a young, thriving, and alive Church, and I saw people who loved God and who wanted to share that love with others, and I wanted to be a part of it,” said Cara Rhyne, a consecrated laywoman in the Archdiocese of Denver, on Aug. 15
World Youth Day was instituted by Blessed John Paul II in 1985, and is a global event in which youths from every nation around the world are invited to spend a week with the Holy Father in prayer, and in celebration of the Catholic faith.
The Archdiocese of Denver recently commemorated the 20th anniversary of hosting World Youth Day in 1993 by hosting a diocesan-wide celebration which included live music by worship leader Steve Angrisano, testimonies from previous World Youth Day attendees, and Mass with Archbishop Samuel Aquila.
Originally from Denver, Rhyne is a member of the Marian Community of Reconciliation, and remembers distinctly how participating in the 1993 encounter with the Holy Father at the age of 13 planted the seeds of her vocation.
Rhyne stated that she was deeply moved by the words of Blessed John Paul II when he told the youth that “you know how easy it is to avoid the fundamental questions, but your presence here shows that you will not hide from reality and from responsibility.”
She stated that after hearing those words, as she continued to grow in her faith, she felt “more and more” compelled to share that faith with others, and that this experience was “a seed for me to understand my call to consecrate my life. I had received a great joy and I had to share it.”
“When he asked me to follow him, when he asked me to give my life and consecrate my life, I remembered these words of JPII, 'young people of World Youth Day, the Church asks you to go in the power of the Holy Spirit, to those who are near and those who are far away. Share with them the freedom you have found in Christ.'”
Rhyne, who has attended four different World Youth Days, including leading a group of teens to Rio last month, also commented on Pope Francis' call for a deeper theology of women in the Church, saying that “if we really want to understand what it means to be a woman in the Church we need to look to our mother Mary.”
Mary's role marks “the importance of being a faithful woman of God, a woman who is open, ready to receive, to listen to God's call and answer it with a full heart,” she said.
“That's the call of each one of us, in wherever we are, to go out and to love and to give of ourselves fully. To trust in the Lord, to be women of faith, that's the call that the Lord has for each one of us; to look to Mary, to see her, to be close to her is how we're gonna be able to do that.”
Ana Galván, editor of the weekly Spanish television program “Fe Catolica Viva,” also gave her testimony at the celebration.
Galván, who was new to her faith at the time of World Youth Day in Denver, shared in Rhyne's experience of seeing a young Church excited about Jesus.
“I couldn't believe the multitude of people at my parish, at downtown. Everywhere, everybody was happy and friendly, and joyful,” she said.
“We were singing and laughing and praising, and I can still hear the echo of the people singing, or shouting 'John Paul II! We love you!'”
Recalling the walk to Cherry Creek State Park for the final Mass, Galván expressed that it was in that moment that she understood what it meant to be Catholic. “It was just amazing how everybody was joyful at that time, and I know now that then I was being Catholic.”
She shared that she has always had a special joy at having been at the final Mass celebrated by Blessed John Paul II, saying that “I have all my life to share with others the joy, the happiness, the pride of being Catholic.”
Among the others who gave their testimonies were Denver native Marybeth Bonacci, who had traveled around the world giving speeches on Blessed John Paul II's “Theology of the Body” prior to his visit to the city, and Katherine Bauman, who proclaimed the first reading at the Papal Mass in Rio de Janiero with Pope Francis.
Both women shared the joy of being with each Pope, and spoke of the impact that each pontiff has had on them, as well as the universal Church.
Bonacci, who after World Youth Day wrote a book on the speeches of Blessed John Paul II, claimed that many “did not hear most of the talks,” but that “it was the grace, the holiness of the man John Paul II, it was the Holy Spirit working through him,” that helped open the hearts of those present to the Holy Spirit.
“He became our spiritual grandfather. And when your grandpa dies you don't just get a new one. A new holy father comes, he will be that spiritual grandfather to the generation who went to Rio.”
Bauman affirmed this statement, saying that she was deeply moved by Pope Francis' “simplicity and his humanity,” and that he reminded her of Jesus, and how accessible he became to us through his Incarnation.
“He's very dear to my heart now, and I know to a lot of young people's hearts,” she said, stating that Pope Francis' example shows that being a disciple “comes in not just big extravagant situations in our lives, but in the very most basic encounters of our everyday lives.”
The celebration was held at Denver's John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization, which was built after the pontiff's 1993 visit, and houses Denver's two seminaries and the offices of the archdiocese.
Correction, Aug. 20, 11:56 am: An earlier version of this article stated that the final Mass of Denver's World Youth Day was held at Mile High Stadium. It was in fact held at Cherry Creek State Park.
Rome, Italy, Aug 20, 2013 (CNA) - A priest in southern Italy believes that local mafia members may be behind a recent attack on his parish after he preached critically about them and called them to conversion.
According to the Italian daily Avvenire, Father Stefano Giaquinto – pastor of Saint Mary of the Victory in Casagiove – was surprised on the night of Aug. 15 by a fire at the “Nazarene” parish center, a clinic for drug rehabilitation which he founded and directs.
The fire took place days after the priest had denounced the mafia of the region from the altar, describing them as “the cancer of our land.”
“I can name names,” Fr. Giaquinto had said. “I believe in a Church that denounces in order to proclaim.”
“I continue on my path, I will not stop. I am just a priest, not a hero. And my doors are open to all, to them as well. But this land needs to change,” he posted on his Facebook page.
The priest is regularly the target of threats, but has rejected bodyguards, even though mafia members have entered his church with weapons.
The fire last Thursday was not the first time his parish center has come under attack. Two months ago, intruders also set fire to some parts of the center and damaged a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Each Sunday, Fr. Giaquinto celebrates five Masses, and last Sunday more than 1,000 people took part in a Mass for the feast of the Assumption celebrated in the town square.
During his meetings with young people participating in different parish activities, he offers a reminder of the words of Pope Francis: “Do not allow others to rob you of hope.”
“My social commitment is daily, it’s nothing special,” the priest said. “It is based on the noble Christian values instilled in me by my family. A simple family.”
Fr. Giaquinto said he would continue to openly fight against the mafia and call on them to lay down their weapons and convert their hearts to God.
Vatican City, Aug 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Francis sent a message to the president and citizens of Hungary today, praying for the nation as it celebrates the feast of its founder and first king, St. Stephen of Hungary.
“I ask God that the Hungarian people might find within themselves, and their human and spiritual heritage, the moral resources necessary in order to build a future of peace and fraternity,” he told president János Áder in an Aug. 20 message, Vatican Radio reported.
The Holy Father invoked “an abundance of Divine blessings” on the nation’s leaders and all its citizens as they gathered to celebrate their national feast day.
Saint Stephen is celebrated each year in Hungary on Aug. 20 and celebrations include Mass in the Basilica of Saint Stephen in Budapest and the procession of the saint’s incorrupt right hand, known as the “Holy Right.”
Saint Stephen founded the country of Hungary nearly 1,000 years ago, and worked to convert the nation to Christianity.
He sent Abbot Astricus to Rome to ask Pope Sylvester II for the royal dignity and the power to establish episcopal sees in order to convert Hungary into Christianity.
Pope Sylvester accepted and also presented him with a royal crown on Aug. 17, 1001 at Gran.
St. Stephan then went on to found a monastery in Jerusalem and hostels for pilgrims in the cities of Rome, Ravenna and Constantinople in modern day Turkey.
After his son died, several of his nephews quarreled about the right of succession and some tried to organize a conspiracy to kill him.
Although his feast day is on Sept. 2, his homeland celebrates it on Aug. 20 because his relics were taken to Buda, Hungary on that day.
He died on the Feast of the Assumption, 1038 and was canonized by Pope Gregory VII in 1083 alongside his son, Saint Emeric.
Vatican City, Aug 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Pope Francis plans to hold a consistory Sept. 30 to formally approve the sainthood of Blesseds John Paul II and John XXIII, during which the official date of the canonizations will be announced.
Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, made the announcement during an Aug. 20 interview with Vatican Radio, saying that only Pope Francis knows for sure the date that the canonizations will occur.
“John XXIII was the great prophet and creator of the Council,” the announcement stated, and “John Paul II is the one who put it into practice and developed it, in all its aspects and in all its potential.”
The former Popes were lauded as being “two pillars not only of Christian culture, but also of Christian holiness.”
On his return flight from Rio de Janiero in late July, Pope Francis had mentioned Dec. 8 as a possibility for the canonization, but said that it would mostly likely not be that day, as the poor who will come from Poland will most likely travel by bus, and the roads would be icy and dangerous.
Two other possibilities that the Pope mentioned were either Christ the King Sunday, or Divine Mercy Sunday of next year – but that they would need to be confirmed, as there might not be enough time after the consistory in September.
Pope Francis made the announcement of the canonizations on July 5, after signing a decree accepting the second miracle needed in order to pave the way for Blessed John Paul II's canonization.
However, in the case of Blessed John XXIII, there is only one miracle which has been formally approved by the Vatican, when normally two miracles must be approved before a person can be canonized.
Although such a decision is unusual, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican's press office director, explained that it is within the authority of the Pope to waive the second miracle for a canonization cause.
Blessed John XXII is most known for his encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” and for calling the historic Second Vatican Council. The Church is currently celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the council as part of the Year of Faith, declared by Benedict XVI last year.
Blessed John Paul II became known throughout the world during his 27-year papacy for his charismatic nature, his love of youth and his world travels, along with his role in the fall of communism in Europe.
The beloved Polish Pope died in 2005, making his 2011 beatification one of the fastest in recent Church history, and the first where a Pope beatified his immediate predecessor.
Washington D.C., Aug 20, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - An increase in the number of religiously unaffiliated in the U.S. does not necessarily mean that the country is growing significantly more secular, said experts at a recent panel.
Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup, explained during a panel discussion held by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., that the data indicates the rise in self-described “nones” is simply the “already unreligious who are just changing the way they label themselves.”
Claude Fischer, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, added that despite these changes, “Americans have long been, and still remain, the most religious people among the peoples of the Western nations, both in faith and in practice.”
Also speaking at the Aug. 8 panel event were Michael Hout, sociology professor at New York University, and Greg Smith, director of U.S. Religion Surveys for Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project.
Panelists discussed a 2002 article based on data from the General Social Survey and a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center showing rises in the number of U.S. adults who do not affiliate with any religious tradition, also known as “nones.”
Fischer explained that the two studies should be taken in the context of American history, adding that “church membership and religious activity have waxed and waned and cycled over American history, but over the long run, over two centuries, both membership and activity have in net increased.”
He noted that even with the downward trend in religious involvement from its peak in the 1950s, “religious involvement is still higher than it was a century ago” and is a part of American life and community.
Recent changes in identification are “changes in politics, rather than changes in faith,” Fischer said, suggesting that shift may be attributed not to deep theological changes but to “liberals and moderates declaring no religious preference as a way of rejecting the growing connection between churches and conservative politics.”
Hout reinforced Fischer’s hypothesis, pointing to research showing an increasing gap over the past several decades between people claiming no religious affiliation in different political ideologies.
“There’s still not much of a trend toward no religion among people who describe themselves as politically conservative,” Hout explained, “whereas for those who describe themselves as politically liberal, it is continuing upward and is in the neighborhood of 40 percent now.”
He also noticed that, within age cohorts, the number of people claiming or rejecting religious affiliations has been relatively steady. It is between age groups that large gaps in religious identification are found, with “60 percent of the overall trend away from organized religion” found in adults born between 1966 and 1995.
Within these age groups, the shift away from religious affiliation is occurring among persons that already do not participate actively in a religious community, Newport explained.
He suggested that “what we’re seeing here is a change in labeling, rather than a change in underlying religiosity,” pointing to an increase of 3.2 percent in self-identified “nones” from 2008 to 2012 without a corresponding decrease in other religiosity indicators such as church attendance.
Newport also observed that among those who do not actively participate in their religion, Catholics are the least likely to give up their affiliation and religious identity.
“Catholics – it’s more of an ascribed characteristic, as I’ve talked about, for Catholics, than it is for Protestants,” he explained, adding that Protestants switch affiliations more regularly. He speculated that among non-observant persons, “it may be easier, the hypothesis would go, for somebody who is a Protestant to change to a ‘none’ than a Catholic.”
Smith’s comments supported Newport’s findings. He explained that two-thirds of everyone who was raised Catholic is still Catholic, a higher percentage than those who were raised “nones” and are still “nones.”
Furthermore, while the group distancing itself from religious identity is large and continues to grow as younger generations come of age and older ones disappear, Smith explained that this trend is not “necessarily an indicator of secularization.”
The “religious ‘nones’ are not uniformly secular, and to equate them with nonbelievers would be a real mistake,” he stated.
He noted that more than 70 percent of the “nones” do not identify as atheists or agnostic, and that four in 10 “nones” reported praying at least once a month.
However, these individuals do not necessarily identify as a group searching for particular religious practices, Smith warned, cautioning pastors against thinking that the “nones” are “just searching, just waiting, just looking for the religious organization or religious community that’s right for them.”
At the same time, he said, this “trend toward disaffiliation could have serious consequences for religious institutions and for the way that religion is practiced in the United States,” even if Americans as a whole maintain steady levels of religious practice and belief.