Washington D.C., Sep 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The leader of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church has argued that despite reported chemical attacks in Syria, foreign military intervention is a destructive option that will only worsen the situation.
“I am adding my voice to all the statements made by most of my brother Eastern Patriarchs, several Episcopal Conferences, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and especially His Holiness Pope Francis and his representative at the United Nations in Geneva,” said Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III in an Aug. 30 statement.
“I state categorical rejection by Syria’s Catholic Churches, including the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, in Arab countries and those of the expansion, of any foreign intervention in Syria and any attack or intervention of any sort whatsoever.”
Patriarch Gregorios III, a native-born Syrian, is the president of the Assembly of the Catholic Hierarchy in Syria, as well as patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, an Eastern Church in full communion with Rome.
His comments come amid escalating tension in Syria, which has been embroiled for more than two years in a violent civil war between government forces under President Bashar al-Assad and various rebel groups.
Latest figures from the United Nations estimate that more than two million people have fled Syria as refugees, 4.25 million people have been internally displaced within Syria’s borders, and more than 100,000 people have been killed since the violence began.
In late August, reports surfaced that chemical weapons had been used outside Damascus, killing more than 1,400 people.
United States officials say that are confident that the Assad regime is responsible for the use of the weapons, although the regime has denied responsibility and blamed the rebels for the attack. Citing violations of human rights and international norms, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Sept. 1 that he is asking Congress to approve military action against Syria.
Patriarch Gregorios III said that even in the wake of continued violence and reported use of chemical weapons, his “conviction is still sure: no victory through weapons and violence.”
Focusing on “defining the responsibility of this or that side for tragedies, massacres and the use of chemical weapons, though legitimate, is secondary” to reaching a peaceful solution, he stressed.
He explained that violence “leads to violence and weapons to other weapons. The parties to the conflict will continue to fight to the bitter end, as they all have an abundance of weapons.”
“The tragic situation that Syria has been experiencing for the last two and a half years is the strongest evidence of the primary importance of seeking the earliest possible peaceful, diplomatic resolution of the crisis,” the patriarch emphasized, arguing that global involvement has only caused the conflict to escalate.
Over the past two and a half years, he said, “Eastern and Western countries have not stopped sending weapons, money, military experts, secret service agents and Salafist fundamentalist armed gangs of thugs and criminals” to Syria. These forces, he charged, have been “far more dangerous even than destructive chemical weapons.”
Encouraged by outside forces, the patriarch said, these factors have contributed to death, displacement and destruction, “not to mention the wrecking of both infrastructure and institutions.”
They have also led to “rape, extortion of ransom, robberies, assaults on civilians, hatred, enmity, revenge, exacerbation of ethnic and religious conflicts,” he said.
In the face of growing troubles, Patriarch Gregorios III still hopes for “a unanimous, global campaign to be orchestrated to prepare seriously and carefully” for the proposed United Nations-backed Geneva II Middle East Peace Conference that has been tentatively suggested for later this year.
“Contrary to the calls to arms, attacks and military interventions,” he said, “we enjoy listening to appeals from around the world aimed at creating an atmosphere of reconciliation, dialogue, humanitarian solidarity, hope, forgiveness and finally peace.”
In the meantime, the patriarch said, Melkite Catholics “are launching a campaign of prayer in our churches, homes, youth movements and confraternities.”
He added that they “join in the calls for prayer that have been launched around the world for peace in Syria, as that is the real movement for solidarity with Syria.”
Among other calls for peace in the region, Pope Francis has announced a global day of prayer and fasting for peace in the world and particularly in Syria on Sept. 7. He will lead a prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square that evening and is asking people of all faith backgrounds to participate locally “in whatever way they can.”
Frankfurt, Germany, Sep 4, 2013 (CNA) - German officials’ seizure of four home-schooled children last week prompted strong objections from American home-schooling advocates who say the country’s ban on the educational practice violates human rights.
“The right to home-school is a human right,” Mike Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said Aug. 30. “Germany has grossly violated these rights of this family.”
On the morning of Aug. 29, the association reports, 20 social workers, armed police officers and special agents took four children from the home of Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, who were educating their children in violation of the national ban on home schooling.
The children range in age from seven to 14. The family lives near Darmstadt, 25 miles southwest of Frankfurt.
“I looked through a window and saw many people, police, and special agents, all armed,” Dirk Wunderlich told the home-school society. “They told me they wanted to come in to speak with me.”
He said three police officers brought a battering ram and were prepared to smash his door. When he let them in, the officers shoved him in a chair and told him they had an order to take the children.
His 14-year-old daughter Machsejah was forcibly taken from the home, he said.
“When I went outside, our neighbor was crying as she watched. I turned around to see my daughter being escorted as if she were a criminal by two big policemen.”
The girl’s mother tried to give her a kiss and a hug goodbye but an agent “roughly elbowed her out of the way,” he said.
Petra Wunderlich said she was “shattered” by the removal of the children.
“We need help. We are fighting, but we need help,” she said.
Mike Donnelly, the home-school society’s Director for International Affairs, questioned why Germany’s leadership allows these “brutal acts.”
“Why is it so important to you to force people into your state schools? The echo of this act rings from a darker time in German history. When will leaders stand up and make changes so that brutality to children like the Wunderlichs no longer happens because of home-schooling?” he asked.
For four years, the Wunderlich family moved across different European Union countries to find a place where they could home-school their children legally. However, the family had to return to Germany from France in 2012 when Dirk Wunderlich failed to find work, the British newspaper The Daily Mail reports.
On their return, German authorities began a criminal truancy case against them and the children were placed in the custody of the Darmstadt Youth Welfare Office. Authorities found the children to be well treated and allowed them to remain in their parents’ care, but seized the children’s passports to prevent the family from leaving the country.
The Home School Legal Defense Society said it obtained and translated the court documents related to the seizure of the children. The group said that the family’s home schooling of their children was the only legal grounds for removal.
The documents include a judicial order authorizing the use of force against the children if necessary, on the grounds that the children had “adopted the parents’ opinions” about home-schooling and their cooperation could not be expected.
The documents did not allege educational neglect.
“The law ignores the educational progress of the child; attendance—and not learning—is the object of the German law,” the society charged.
Farris said that Germany has signed many human rights treaties that recognize parents’ rights to provide “an education distinct from the public schools so that children may be educated according to the parents’ religious convictions.”
Donnelly said that the parents were “shaken to the core and shocked by the event.”
“But they also told me that they had followed their conscience and the dictates of their faith. Although they don’t have much faith in the German state—they have a lot of faith in God. They are an inspiring and courageous family.”
Other German home-schoolers have also faced legal difficulties in their efforts to educate their children.
Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, German Christian home schooling parents, sought asylum in the U.S. for themselves and their children in 2008. They said they faced fines and the possible loss of custody of their children if they returned home. The U.S. 6th Court of Appeals rejected their asylum request in May 2013.
The German law against home-schooling was passed under the Nazi government in 1938. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the law in a September 2006 ruling.
Vatican City, Sep 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Reflecting on the recent World Youth Day held in Brazil, Pope Francis said at his General Audience today that hospitality, celebration and mission are reminders of the event that drew millions.
“Three words: hospitality, celebration and mission. These words are not only a reminder of what happened in Rio, they are also the soul of our lives and of our communities that help to build a world of greater justice and solidarity,” Pope Francis said Sept. 4 at St. Peter's Square.
The Bishop of Rome used his first General Audience after a two-month summer pause to reflect on the pilgrimage to Brazil.
“We think about the meaning of the crowd of youths that met the risen Christ in Rio de Janeiro and who carry their love to the life of others each day, they live it, they communicate it,” he said.
“They aren’t going to appear in newspapers, just because they don’t do violent or scandalous things, they are not news.”
“But if they stay united to Jesus, build up his Kingdom, build fraternity and sharing, they are a potential force to make the world more just and beautiful, to transform it!”
He said the experience of World Youth Day is a reminder of “the true, great story of the news, the Good News, although it does not appear in newspapers or television: we are loved by God, who is our Father, and that he has sent his Son Jesus to be close to each of us and to save us.”
“He sent Jesus to save us, to forgive us all, because he always forgives: He always forgives, because he is good and merciful.”
The Pope challenged the youths present in the square, commissioning them to have the courage to transform themselves in hope, opening doors “to a new world of hope.”
He had begun his address by thanking God for the providence of having made South America the destination of his first international trip as Roman Pontiff: “For me, coming from the Americas, it was a beautiful gift!”
He also thanked all the Brazilians who made possible the pilgrimage, saying, “the reception by Brazilian families and parishes was one of the nicest features of this World Youth Day.”
“Good people, these Brazilians. Good people!” he remarked. “They have a great heart.”
Noting that pilgrimage “also involves discomfort,” he said the warm hospitality pilgrims received from their Brazilian hosts “helped to overcome this” and transformed it into “opportunities for knowledge and friendship.”
Pope Francis added that the celebratory nature of the event was “a sign for everyone, not just for believers.”
“But then there is the biggest celebration which is the feast of faith, when we praise the Lord together, singing, listening to the Word of God, remaining in the silence of adoration: this is the culmination of World Youth Day, the real purpose of this great pilgrimage.”
He described Mass as the high point in “the great feast of faith and of fraternity, which begins in this world and will have no end.”
“But this is possible only with the Lord! Without the love of God there is no real feast for man!”
It is the celebration of the feast of faith, Pope Francis explained, which leads to the mission of spreading hope and the Gospel.
The shore of Copacabana beach, he said, “suggested the shore of the Sea of Galilee,” where Christ commissioned his first disciples.
“Only through Christ can we bring the Gospel … with him, however, united with him, we can do so much. Even a boy, a girl, who in the eyes of the world counts for little or nothing, in the eyes of God is an apostle of the Kingdom, is a hope for God!”
Pope Francis then renewed his invitation made on Sept. 1, calling on everyone throughout the world and of any religion to fast and pray intensely on Sept. 7 for peace, particularly in Syria.
“Next Saturday we will live together a special day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world,” he said. “Even for peace in our hearts, because peace begins in the heart!”
“I renew the invitation to the whole Church to live intensely this day, and even now, I express gratitude to the other Christian brethren, to the brethren of other religions and to the men and women of good will who want to join in this, in the places and ways of their own.”
He said he urged especially pilgrims and Romans to participate in the prayer vigil to be held that day at St. Peter’s Square at 7:00 p.m.
“We plead with the Lord for the great gift of peace. May a powerful cry for peace go up from every land!”
Denver, Colo., Sep 4, 2013 (CNA) - The second installment of the popular “Catholicism” series by Fr. Robert Barron is being released this month, with a focus on the New Evangelization and the Church’s response to secularism in the West.
“While the content of the Apostolic Faith remains the same, all Catholics are called to share it with new ardor, new expressions and new methods,” said Fr. Barron in a statement announcing the Sept. 3 release.
“We need to reach out to those in our culture and invite them to know Christ and also reach out to those who have already been baptized, but have drifted. We are called to awaken their faith and bring them closer to Jesus Christ and to his Church.”
Fr. Barron is founding director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, a nonprofit media organization to support Catholic evangelism through the lives of the saints and through the Catholic traditions of art, architecture, poetry, philosophy and theology.
A noted author, speaker and theologian, his cultural commentaries on YouTube have been viewed collectively more than eight million times.
The new documentary, “Catholicism: The New Evangelization,” explores the Church’s mission of “actively sharing the beauty, goodness and truth of Catholicism” amid the challenges posed by contemporary Western culture.
It builds on Fr. Barron’s previous documentary, “Catholicism,” which explained various elements of Church teaching. Released in 2011, the original documentary was well-received, airing on PBS and EWTN, and being used as a formation program at the parish level.
The latest installment will focus on how to turn Church teaching into action in the modern, secular culture, examining initiatives that have been successful in reaching out to contemporary society.
Among the topics addressed by the new DVD are moral relativism, “new atheism,” media and evangelization, the use of culture in spreading the Gospel, and every Christian’s call to evangelize.
Presented in six parts, the 90-minute documentary begins by reviewing the definition and history of the New Evangelization before highlighting “numerous examples of individuals and groups proclaiming the Gospel with creativity and innovation.”
Among the new methods being used to evangelize are the fantasy works of J.R.R.Tolkien and the television show of Venerable Fulton Sheen, along with various modern internet endeavors.
The new documentary also includes interviews with young Catholics and prominent Catholic thinkers, such as papal biographer George Weigel and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.
Accompanying the new series is a study program for adults written by Brandon Vogt, a Catholic blogger and advocate of the New Evangelization.
Bangalore, India, Sep 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Huge crowds started gathering in Bangalore, India, last week, as the city's novena leading up to the Nativity of Mary began with the city's archbishop raising a Marian flag in prayer.
“The Virgin Mary is the Mother of God and also our heavenly mother, and thus people tend to venerate her motherly affection and dress her in local culture as their mother,” said Father J. Sandhayagu, administrator of St. Mary's Basilica in the capital of the south-western Indian state of Karnataka.
The statue of Mary found in the basilica is daily dressed in an elaborate sari, often laced with gold thread and jewelry, offered as a fulfillment of vows.
“The Nativity of Mary is an important feast for the Archdiocese of Bangalore,” Fr. Sandhayagu continued. He told CNA on Aug. 30 that millions of people, irrespective of culture and religion, flock to participate at the city's Marian novena.
Archbishop Bernard Moras hoisted a Marian flag on Aug. 29 in the presence of some 15,000 devotees to initiate the novena, or nine-day period of prayer. In his homily, he reflected on the Year of Faith as an opportune time for renewal and spiritual richness.
The novena continues through Sept. 7, the vigil of the Feast of Mary’s Nativity - or birth - and is crowned by a procession and a festive Mass celebrated on the feast day itself.
During the novena, around 30,000 people participate in Mass, Adoration, Anointing of the Sick, Confession, and other events each day, said Fr. Sandhayagu.
“Over the years the numbers of devotees have tremendously increased their participation in the liturgies and in Confession.”
St. Mary's Basilica, he said, “has been witnessing numerous miracles and healings. People receive grace, hence people of all faith, including Hindus, Muslims, and other religions, rush every day to seek blessings.”
During the novena, Mass is said every half hour in the basilica from 5:30 in the morning until 9:00 at night, with up to 5,000 people attending each Mass.
The government of Karnataka provides security during the novena, and ministers, bureaucrats and leaders – even those who aren't Catholic – participate in the festival and seek blessings.
The vast presence of devotees flocking to Bangalore is “evidence of faith, and prayerful and spiritual graces,” Fr. Sandhayagu said, with pilgrims bringing offerings of flowers, candles, clothes, jewelry and food to the basilica.
The basilica is the oldest church in the Bangalore archdiocese, having been consecrated in 1882 on Mary's Nativity. It was named a minor basilica by Paul VI in 1973.
Vatican City, Sep 4, 2013 (CNA) - The Vatican has launched an investigation of the Apostolic Nuncio to the Dominican Republic, Polish Archbishop Joseph Wesolowski, in the wake of accusations of grave sexual conduct.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi announced on Wednesday that the Holy See has also accepted the resignation of the nuncio.
Speaking to Reuters, Father Lombardi said Archbishop Wesolowski “has been relieved of his duties and the Holy See has launched an investigation.”
The Vatican spokesman’s announcement followed statements made during a press conference today by the Attorney General of the Dominican Republic, Francisco Dominguez, who said no formal accusations have yet been made against the nuncio.
Dominguez said the investigation is still in its initial phase and that he has appointed an official to coordinate with the Vatican.
A report on Dominican Republic television alleged that the Nuncio had frequented poor neighborhoods in Santo Domingo seeking sexual favors from minors.
The Apostolic Nunciature in the Dominican Republic, which also serves Puerto Rico, has not issued any statement, but according to official records, Archbishop Wesolowski stepped down from his post on August 21.
Father Lombardi also said that the archbishop was relieved of his duties “in the last few weeks,” in the wake of the accusations made against him.
The bishops of the Dominican Republic announced that they would hold a press conference on the matter on Thursday.
Washington D.C., Sep 4, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The U.S. bishops are encouraging Catholics in the country and all those concerned about ongoing violence in Syria to join with Pope Francis in a worldwide Day of Fasting and Prayer for Peace.
“We are anguished by the terrible suffering of the Syrian people and again affirm the need for dialogue and negotiation to resolve this conflict that has wrought so much devastation,” said Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, in a Sept. 3 statement.
“As our nation's leaders contemplate military action, it is particularly appropriate and urgent that we in the United States embrace the Holy Father's call to pray and fast on September 7 for a peaceful end to the conflict in Syria and to violent conflicts everywhere,” they continued.
Cardinal Dolan is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Pates chairs the conference’s Committee on International Justice and Peace.
The two Church leaders echoed the words of Pope Francis, who called on the whole Catholic Church to take part in a day of fasting and prayer this Saturday, Sept. 7, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace.
“There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming,” the Holy Father said in his Sunday Angelus message on Sept. 1.
His call for prayer and fasting comes as nations including the United States discuss the possibility of military action following reports that chemical weapons were recently used against civilians in Syria, killing more than 1,400 people.
Those in or near Rome on Sept. 7 are invited to gather in St. Peter’s Square from 7 p.m. to midnight, while local dioceses and parishes throughout the world are encouraged to hold their own events.
Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Pates asked “all U.S. Catholics and people of goodwill to join us in witnessing to the hope we have in our hearts for peace for the Syrian people,” uniting themselves to those praying and fasting in Rome.
In their statement, they affirmed that the use of “chemical weapons is particularly abhorrent and we urgently pray for the victims of such atrocities and for their loved ones.”
But despite the atrocity of the reported use of such weapons, the bishops reiterated their earlier warnings against the use of military force as a response, instead stressing that “the path of dialogue and negotiation between all components of Syrian society, with the support of the international community, is the only option to put an end to the conflict.”
Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Pates also thanked those who are already working to bring peace to those affected by the violence, applauding “the work done by those bringing humanitarian aid to people affected by this crisis.”
Asking for the intercession of Mary, Queen of Peace, they voiced hope that “our prayers, fasting, and advocacy move our nation to promote a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria.”
Bishops from other countries have also embraced the Pope’s call for prayer and fasting.
Prayer vigils will be held in dioceses across Spain with the theme, “Vigil for Peace, United with Pope Francis.”
The Archdiocese of Madrid announced that all the Masses celebrated this Saturday will be offered for peace in Syria, and Bishop Demetrio Fernandez Gonzalez of Cordoba asked that church bells be rung at noon to remind Catholics to pray the Angelus to Mary Queen of Peace.
Bishop Gines Garcia Beltran of Guadix invited the faithful to spend time in Eucharist adoration and said that a collection taken up on Saturday and Sunday would be sent to help the millions of refugees who have fled the violence in Syria.
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, encouraged parents to pray and fast with their children, while explaining to them the harsh realities of global violence and the peace offered by Christ.
He suggested inviting grandparents or elderly friends to a “small lunch,” according to Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
“If one of them has lived through a time of war,” the archbishop said, “they will be able to explain what it meant to experience the bombs and the uncertainty of tomorrow and what prayer meant during those days.”